“Aap kabhi kendo nahi khaaye ho didi? Hum aaj tod ke khilaate hai aapko kendo.” (“You haven’t had Kendo yet? We will pluck some for you to eat today.”)
“Thora sa dudh pee lijiye didi- ghar ka gai ka hai. Accha lagega aapko.” (“Try this milk- it is from our home. I am sure you will like it.”)
To be honest, ever since I began my academic journey post schooling, I wanted to lead the professional life I am leading right now- to explore, learn about and work with the rural communities and grassroots in India- as if it has always been my calling!
My journey to rural India started with getting placed as a Development Apprentice (DA) in PRADAN. Every little and most common fact of rural hinterland mesmerized me, like “KHET” and “BAARI” are practically different land types. It was the first time I was having food like Konar flower, corn crapes, tur and kendo and I loved to explore different local tastes as I have never had the chance to see this side of the world- the rural rawness.
As the months passed by, I realised that the moments I am happiest are when I have the most informal interactions with Didis in the village.
Radhika didi and Yashoda didi took me to the forest hinterlands in Sariya and plucked Kendo fruits from the trees as they wanted me to try these “Dehati” fruits. Nagina didi welcomed me the first time I went to her home with a glass of warm milk from their cattle which they have kept solely for the purpose of feeding the children in the house. Ailin didi showed me Sarhul paintings which I had always been curious about. This year's Eid was particularly special as I was invited to Sewai at Rubina Didi’s house. I celebrated Eid with community women whom I had not met earlier- talked to them about their lives and family. Everytime I went to Sonam Didi’s house late in the afternoon, they knew I must be super hungry. They gave me the special mixture that her husband sent her from Maharashtra.
One day, Sonam di’s Mother-in-law asked, “Kitna bhai behen hai? Ghar se itna door rehti ho, gharwale kuch kehte nahi?” (“How many siblings do you have? You stay so far from home, don’t your parents don’t say anything about it?”) I replied, “Mai eklauti bacchi hu, bhai behen nahi hai. Mummy Papa toh khush hi hai ki khud se kamaa rahi hu.” (“I am a single child, I don’t have any siblings. My parents are happy that I am earning on my own now”). To which she replied, “ Ye toh sahi baat hai. Ghar ke log madat nahi karenge, toh kaise adki bahar jaake kaam karegi? Bahar nikalna zaroori hai apna samajh badhaane ke liye. Yaha Sonam bahar jaati hai meeting me, toh hum hi uska baccha ko rakhte hai.” (“This is right. Unless we support our daughters, how can they go out to work? Going out of home is important for increasing their knowledge about the outer world. When Sonam goes out for her meetings, I look after her child at home.”) I loved how supportive and open-minded she is of Sonam Didi’s work and that she looks at her as her own daughter rather than “a daughter-in-law with the obligations of one that she must partake in.
In the village of Hatwe, women communicate with you only if they trust you and feel that you would genuinely contribute to their wellbeing. I remember the time, when I started visiting the village, initially, I felt like I was being shunned by the community as not a single soul would come to talk to me. But after several attempts and visiting them, now Didis in Hatwe, trust me enough to sit and talk to me, and most importantly, they talk in Hindi in front of me even when their native language is Santhali so that I can understand them better.
This journey of DAship has been a ride full of all sorts of thoughts, emotions and experiences. But all these little experiences and wonders are what keep me sane,grounded, and humble. The community understands that I still do not know a lot about rural ecology but they accept me for who I am and they acknowledge the fact that I am trying my best to know their ways too.
Receiving all this love from the community made me realise that it is the little things, little gestures, little moments, and ‘little wonders’ that matters the most.
I feel, in the rat-race of life, we forget about gratuitous giving and innocuous sharing. These experiences are motivating me to be more humane, loving, and caring- without any expectations in return- bringing-out sides of me that I seem to have lost. These villages and the villagers are teaching me the ways of life which I could never have learnt in big cities. This will be my biggest take away from the journey as I sit in anticipation of what awaits me in the future in my life as a development practitioner.