As I picked up my backpack to leave, *Seema Kaki (with whom I was staying for past two days) smiled and asked, “achchaa laga yaha?” I replied, “hanji, Bahut achcha laga. Aap logo ne hume bahut pyaar se rakha.” She asked, “achcha! Jab *Reena (her 23 years old daughter) ki shaadi hogi to aoge na?” I replied, “ji bilkul”.
It was a simple goodbye, yet a special one! My two nights’ stay at Sundara village in Kherwara block of Udaipur district, Rajasthan changed the way I used to view rural life. Before this village trip, I consciously or subconsciously associated rural life with lack of development, education, infrastructure, proper sanitization etc. However the reality was quite different when I reached Sundara. It was very clean and green, populated with approx. 600 people living in different colonies. Each colony belonged to a particular family and consisted of 7-8 houses clustered together. Most of the houses were pakka houses with toilet and bathroom facilities. Pretty much all houses had proper boundaries and entrance gates. There were a couple of big grocery stores, a ration shop, a government school and adequate transport facilities. Out of all the villages that I have seen or visited so far, Sundara was the most developed one in terms of community living, infrastructure, administrative system and even the mindset.
I was very surprised and impressed with Seema kaki’s response when I asked her about Reena’s marriage. She proudly said, “abhi ni karte iski shaadi. Bakhat hai abhi shaadi karne ko?” Even though early marriage, ghunghat pratha, and division based on caste and religion are still practiced there, the villagers seemed pretty tolerating and accepting towards the change. Girls who dropped out of the school got married whereas girls like Reena (NGO worker) who wanted to study and work were not pressurized by the community or family for marriage. In fact, a couple of villagers I interacted with praised Reena and other girls for working in the NGO for their community development.
One thing that amazed me the most in Sundara was the cost effectiveness and the efficiency of the villagers as a community. People grew hundreds of cactus plants as a boundary fence to mark their territories instead of investing money on building walls or fences. Despite of wash basin and multiple hand-pumps or wells in the village, people stored water in buckets for daily usage to avoid water wastage. Besides from effective resource management the village community also focused on collective action and sense of sharing. Within each colony people would help each other in farming, cattle grazing, and household works as well. By the end of my two-day visit I realized that development is not just about better facilities and infrastructure. The most crucial part of development is the positive mindset which helps an individual or community to grow rapidly. Simplicity and humility of these villagers made them very flexible and easily approachable.
Sundara is a great example of a progressive community which deepens its roots while moving upwards with the time!
*Names changed to protect identity