Hospitality is not something alien to us Indians. Padharo, Aaiye, Aavo or Swagat Hai – all are known to us. But do I always mean that to my guests? In fact, will I ever invite some strangers to live in my house over the weekend? Have I ever insisted any passer-by to dine with me? How can I share my secrets and stories with someone without knowing him well? Will I ever trust a group of strangers so much so that I allow my daughter to walk them around the town? The answer to these is a negative for me, but not in their case! The residents of Neechla Thuriya, a small village in the Kherwada block of Rajasthan, were welcoming to us.
When we reached the village it was already five in the evening. As far as I could, I saw mountains painted green. After the heavy shower earlier that day the sky was clearer now, but it was still drizzling. Bewildered by the beauty of the landscape, I wondered if all this was a part of the Rajasthan i had pictured. Drenched in rain, as we got to our assigned host family we were served hot tea. Never liked tea, but I couldn’t say no to it that day for reason best unknown. *Pushpa, the daughter of the house, has been volunteering with Jatan Sansthan for a year and a half. She insisted on accompanying us around the village along with her friend *Lata. As we went around, people greeted us with a big smile. Every household that we visited wouldn’t let us leave with a cup of tea. At one such occasion, I tried not to make the old man in the house uncomfortable, and so I tried asking my male friend to occupy the space next to him. The lady of the family understood my hesitation and said,
“Humare gharme bhi tumhare jaise hi ladkiyaan hai, toh araam se baitho!“.
That left me a little embarrassed, but their love and the values had already won my heart. Back in our host home, we had aamras, dal and roti for the dinner. That was surely not what I thought that Rajasthanis would have for dinner! Now my body was tired and tummy was full, and I was prepared for a sound sleep. But then, we had some more visitors. A young couple from the neighbourhood had come to greet us. The lady shared stories of her family, college days, marriage, honeymoon travel, career plans and much more. She left me wondering if it was so easy to trust someone with the intricacies of my life. Wrapped in my thoughts, I slept peacefully through the night.
The following day, we went around the fields to see the village ponds. Some people were seen fishing there. It turned out that those were the tribal community from the nearby villages. The girls accompanying us took us to the house of one of the tribal, who had just retired from the army. I did not expect the Patel community to be at so at ease while visiting the house of a tribal, especially in a rural setup like this. But it seems, I was wrong! As time passed by I realised that every family had enough space to grow their food and to feed their cattle. And so there was enough for everyone’s need. They had found their own solutions to counter their problems – water logging, irrigation, agricultural practices and so on. There was absolutely nothing that the villagers complained about. I thus concluded that the village accurately defines the feeling of wholeness. But something was still missing.
Many of the villagers had graduated as engineers and science students, but now worked as painters and electricians abroad as it gave them a better monetary return. Girls or boys, all were sent to private schools, but were not allowed to stay far away from their families for their college studies or jobs. There was no evident caste based discrimination, but they could not tolerate the idea of alcohol and meat consumption by the tribal community. There were toilets, but many were seen bathing and defecating in open spaces. Despite of having all the resources, there was no desire to increase the crop yield to earn more profits. Why didn’t these problems never drew people’s attention? Maybe, those were problems for me, but not for the villagers! Have they deliberately chosen to live like this? Is “development” a relative term? What matters the most – development or simply sustenance? What is more important – to fare forward or to fare well?
*Names changed to protect identity