We have painted two vivid and extreme imagery of village in our minds. One is what we drew from our rosy imaginations of how peaceful and rustic the village life; looked idyllic in our drawing classes. The other draws from the information the media imprints with snippets of tragic cover stories. It’s easy to get carried away with these notions and create strong impressions … The first misconception was destroyed by the lush green hill ranges that graced us. Obviously, my idea of Rajasthan as a singularly desert state can now rest in peace.
The rural immersion learning of going beyond what our single story was hard hitting and important to prime us for getting us to the point where we understand the dynamics of society and well as the structures that we, in our lofty ambitions, seek to change or reform. To make this experience possible, we relied on the program team to make arrangements with the local NGO who in turn hoped that the local volunteers would ease the process of immersion. The immersion’s authenticity relied on the community as well as the individuals of the village. The discoveries from rural immersion for me include:
- Like an outsider: It is a no-brainer to know that if you travel to an unknown location, You don’t belong there but somehow the regular chanting of “India is my Country” has saturated my beliefs that I am supposed to belong and feel at home here. However, since safety is always a number one concern for any novice traveller, we seeked safety which is probably why we were in groups of three.
- Like a female: Patriarchy is more than a social construct and since I consider myself well aware in this regard, I was surprised to find myself so unconsciously at the bottom of that particular hole. I volunteered to help with preparing food and found myself in the familiar territory of womanly conversations of household management and family affairs whereas the men discussed the difficult issues of earning and other important problems. There were women who approached me individually and asked questions in a one on one setting, however they seemed to disappear into the background in larger mixed group setting and appeared to pop out to only provide tea.
- Like expecting kindness is my constitutional right: In hindsight, it seems obvious that we should have been with distrust and exclusion rather than the kindness and curiosity we received. To walk into tightly knit community of 170 odd families and be as bold as to ask for accommodation, food and water as well as insight in to the lives should have been too much to ask. But since we had an objective to achieve these apprehensions carried less weight on our conscience. Quid pro quo is taught to us very early in life through wise words and actions. There is unsubstantiated reinforced belief in my head that we can develop on our own with as little help as possible. This rural immersion experience challenged this cynical notion of mine that money rules the world and possibly there is little room for unfettered generosity.
- Like an intruder conducting a survey: ALMOST every individual we met assumed that we were from the survey or research department of the government and were discreetly disappointed. We intruded like leeches into their daily and made them apologetic for their lives as if they were denying us a standard set of benchmarks that they have been failing to achieve and provide us. To achieve our objective of understanding their lives, we unleashed a volley of introspective questions and expected sophisticated answers as if they were sociologists explaining a social phenomenon.
- Like a superhero: As if my urban upbringing gave me superior intellect or skill-set to change the system and make the world a better place to live in, the conversations seemed surreal to my ears.
- Like an amazed child: I was thrilled by stark green pastures and reddish-brown soil contrast that seemed untouched and preserved in its remoteness. I was astonished by the lack of concrete boundaries or sign boards that claimed ownership of the fields. I was surprised at how easily the 4 year old son of our host family was able to learn about clicking pictures on my tablet and how quickly he explored and contributed to my gallery. It was beautiful to experience how much of an icebreaker a football can be and how it can create engagement beyond words.