Swetha clicked this in a Phulwari in Chattisgarh during a field visit.
I happened to do the India Fellow program at that point of time in my life, when everything was going bad. I was disappointed that I hadn’t gotten into Teach For India (TFI). At home, my grandpa had been sick and hospitalized. I felt, nothing was going right. Just when I had lost all hope, I received an email from TFI listing all the available opportunities out there, which were similar to them.
That’s when and how I got to know about India Fellow. I didn’t inform my parents that I had applied for the fellowship. Just when I applied, my grandpa passed away and my parents had been busy with all the rituals. Also, I wasn’t sure if I would clear the first round and would be called for the interview. So, I didn’t feel like telling them about the fellowship. But one fine day, I received a call from Rahul, the co-founder of the fellowship. He informed me that I have cleared the application round and was being interviewed for the telephonic round. Pot that I was called for the face-to-face interview round in Bangalore. The dreaded moment had arrived; it was time for me to inform my parents about my interview and the fellowship program. I wasn’t sure how they would react. My mom was supportive when I informed her but, my dad was apprehensive from the word go.
So it had started, the beginning of many firsts. I travelled alone for the first time to Bangalore for the interview. I was slowly coming out of my cocoon. For an introvert like me, it wasn’t easy.
I cleared the interview, got into the fellowship and was called for a orientation training to Udaipur. I got to make new friends who had come from across India. It felt like I had known them all my life. I was then placed with this organisation called Centre for Learning Resources (CLR) in Pune, after Udaipur. None of us, the fellows, were ready to part ways after the initial few days of our orientation training. I travelled to Pune from Udaipur with mixed emotions. I was already homesick as it was the first time that I was on my own, away from home.
After reaching Pune, I realised that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it to be. My colleagues at CLR were very friendly and helped me find a place to stay, right behind my office. It was an outhouse, initially in a shabby condition. But my landlady got it repaired in about a week’s time and it felt quite cosy when I moved in. I wanted to make the most of my fellowship. I decided to live on my own, pay my own bills, cook my own food and do my chores without hiring a maid. I felt very independent and self-sufficient.
I was constantly travelling to Chhattisgarh on work assignments. The long train journeys were meditative. I could reflect on so many things. During the course of time, I got to meet many people and shared many stories with them.
My work in Chhattisgarh involved traveling extensively within the state to different places. Few of them happened to be remote too. This helped me mingle with communities; understand their culture and simple lifestyle. And surprisingly, I enjoyed going to the villages and interacting with the communities. The simple daal chaaval (lentil rice) which was cooked on firewood tasted delicious.
There were many incidents which touched my heart. But the one I cannot forget, when one of the mothers gave me her child’s share of milk. I felt guilty for drinking that, but the mother was adamant and wanted me to have the milk. She was telling me how difficult it was for her to make both ends meet and hence, she bought milk everyday, only for her kid. They have their own cows, but the milk given by the cows was sold. That was their only source of income. She felt insulted when I refused to have the milk and insisted that I have it. Such selfless gestures by the villagers, inspite of their meagre income, used to touch me every now and then. I learnt so much from them, in terms of how to be selfless, how to help someone when they are in need and how welcoming and warm one could be to a total stranger. In cities, we hardly get to see such acts.
After my fellowship ended, I was torn between the city life and the simple, yet memorable village life. It took me awhile to adjust to the ways of the city again. But in the end, I made peace with it. Deep down, my heart still belongs to the villages though I am living in a city now and working with a SAAS (software as a service) company. A part of me was left behind. And a whole of me changed – for the good.