I have spent all my life in big cities. I grew up in Kolkata and Mumbai. I always thought that I couldn’t sleep without the sound of cars honking and people screaming. Most of my ideas of villages came from terrible Bollywood movies. I knew that my ideas were stereotypical but I did not know what should replace these stereotypical images with. There was a lack of more authentic and genuine representations of rural Indian life.
So, two days in Nichla Thuriya in Kherwara in South Rajasthan seemed scary and intimidating. I knew it was my privilege that made me feel this way. I knew there is no logical reason for me to feel like this. But there I was in a jeep built for 11 people and carrying at least double of that number, on my way to The Rural Immersion for the next two days, nervous and not knowing what to expect. I went in with as open a mind I could have, hoping to leave with at least some answers. I definitely didn’t get any answers. But I left with more questions than what I came with. Nichla Thuriya is a small village with about 100 houses of the Patel community. The houses are close to each other. People lived in a joint-but-nuclear family set-up, i.e. extended family members stayed in the same compound but each family had a clear boundary of their spaces. We lived with a village family who willingly opened up their homes to three intrusive and nosy strangers. We spent our time exploring the community and the physical surroundings of the village.
On the last day of the immersion, I was sitting on the edge of a small pond, Purana Talav, with one of my co-fellows. Both of us had spoken to several village members over the last two days and wanted some space to think and contemplate about our experiences. We were largely silent, staring into the half-filled, blue and brown pond. I revisited all the conversations with the women in the village. The men in Nichla Thuriya were largely absent. They had all moved to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to earn a living for their families. The women spent their mornings taking care of buffalos and their fields. Afternoon onward, they were usually free and would spend their time talking to each other and watching TV.
I sat by the pond thinking about how these women spent their time. I tried to imagine myself having days like that. Would I enjoy it? How long would I enjoy it? When would I start getting bored? I did not have answers to any of these questions. So, I did the next best thing I knew. I asked some more questions.
I wondered why I was feeling this way, where did this need to constantly fill my time with activities and meetings and chores come from. Am I inherently a person who likes to be busy and working or am I the product of my environment? Has capitalism played such a shaping influence in my life that I cannot think of leisure time without feeling uncomfortable? Why can’t I be more at peace with nothingness? People always claim that they’d want to move to a village to experience the peace and serenity. But is this really enough? By being okay with the current environments don’t we become complacent and unmotivated for future technological and other innovations. So, if we imagine a world full of brilliant inventions and new ways of living, then should we encourage so much leisure?
Then started my third set of questions. Why did I feel that I am productive and these women were not? These women were working in the fields and taking care of their cattle – work that clearly involves a level of physical exertion that I cannot imagine doing; and yet I was judging and evaluating. What right did I have? I contemplated on how we as a society have decided that sitting in front of a computer for 8 hours a day, making a pivot table on Microsoft Excel requires more effort and therefore more reward than a woman who wakes up at 5 am to feed her kids before school, feed her cattle, work in her fields to provide food on her table. None of these made any sense to me.
I had no answers to these questions. Neither did my co-fellow. We kept posing question after question without being able to answer any of them. Eventually we knew that there would be no end to our questions. So, we decided to embrace the confusion. We sat silently looking at the setting sun’s reflection turning the pond water yellow-orange. I felt comforted that there was someone with me who was just as confused as I was.