… that which we are, we are; Tennyson quotes with such eloquent contradiction to the Buddhist ways of changing your mind. Am I who I am or am I the end result of my life? It took just two weeks of dis-connectivity for me to have a blast of existential questions in my head.
It’s weird how addictively connected we are to the rest of the world. Mobile networks, internet access, roads, daily interactions – take all these away and distance hits you out of nowhere. It’s indeed a long way from home, NITK, where six months ago, I sat in my room playing Dota 2, ordering omelets and parathas till 5am. It dint even occur to me how far away I’m from home, physically and mentally, until recently. Of all the places I’ve been to during this program, none were so far that an email couldn’t reach me. I’d always assumed that I am a person who isn’t connected much to the rest of the society, considering the negligible time I spend on social media. But now that it’s all gone (from basic electricity to public transportation), I find myself faltering in every step throughout the day. A few representative examples –
- I’m starting to feel grateful to the broken walls I have to cover myself while taking bath; on the first day I’d laughed with disbelief when I’d noticed no indoor bathrooms or doors in the place I’m staying. A long way from crying for hot water and Japanese toilets in the middle of night.
- We do all kinds of jugaad here to charge our phones, from wiring tractor batteries to borrowing solar panels from neighboring village. Having no electricity came as such a shocker to me; All I could think for a while was – How do people even survive here?
- Forget the hundred plus menu choices in Foodpanda or Dominos, there is no dinner if I don’t go to the market before work early in the morning at around 5:30am.
- How you draw money here in Rahmatpur – go to nearby town (nearby translates to 30km in UP), give this medical shop guy aka ATM bhaiyya your debit card, he swipes it for you and charges you for some fake bills, pay him his service charge of 50 bucks and then he gives you your money.
- I just drank some local non alcoholic drink called sirka, so that I wouldn’t have to feel the extreme low temperatures at night time as I’ve to sleep outdoors here. Though it is an absolute pleasure to sleep under the stars in between the rice fields, the chills start to get in your pants by day two.
- To choose OLA or Uber was the big question then; but now the only question is whether to walk or walk faster. There is literally no public transportation of any sort in the village I’m living in, or even decent roads for that matter – and yet, people are extremely content with their representative in the parliament.
- I never assumed that something as personal as cuisine choice would be a matter of discussion in a public meeting. They now call me cheeti bhaiyya in this village. One random conversation about food preferences during tea time here can lead to people coming from other villages to have a look at this alien creature. And it’s not the case in just rural mental space. Even when I was in Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh, I remember these 4-5 yr old kids in one of the Anganwadis calling me nakli baal wala referring to my then long hair and beard. Considering the state of affairs here, if Bear Grylls ever decides to come to UP, I doubt he will survive even a day here without getting lynched or worse.
Four questions arise in me at the awake of all these experiences – Is it all worth it? Am I who I am? To what end am I doing this? Is this is all something I cannot do sitting in an AC office in Bangalore? I’ve chosen to take an unexplored path for the first time in my life – trust someone other than myself. I guess it’s not always necessary to answer every thought in my head, myself. The organization and the people I’m working with are clearly experts in their own fields (plus music – it’s scary how good everyone is at singing in CLR, except me). After a lot of DISCOs and respect provoking conversations, I’ve started to notice in myself tangible results rather than a web of abstract musings. I still remember CK’s words in our Raipur office, ‘We set ourselves up for self-sabotage in such clever ways’. That’s when I realized, this is what happens when I apply Henri Bergson and Plato in my daily life. There is this unburdening beauty in simple doable actions that no amount of brain raking can deliver. From learning about sensibilities to being responsible, analyzing scientific papers on human behavior effortlessly translated to making breakfast for people in a short span of time. I was a person who would go onto write an extensive causal factors report on why Banaras is dirty and a satire on how Indian politics is a joke. But right at this moment, as I sit here on the disgusting banks of Ganga under the fleeting blood moonlight on a boat (and not smoking up with babas), my thought process gives me only two choices – either pick up a broom and start cleaning or keep my mouth shut, for now.