Ever had the feeling where you were kicking yourself for leaving the good life behind? From being a reasonably well-off graduate student in Toronto, enjoying first-world comforts, to being completely drenched and hanging on for dear life, on the roof of an overcrowded Jeep, moving towards a village called Dehri in the border of Gujarat and Rajasthan.
“O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!”
All of Shakespeare’s collected works couldn’t drag my mind off the princely situation I was in because of the cumulative efforts of my ‘esteemed’ decision making system over the last four months. But as they say, India Fellow is about discovering your journey. It speaks volumes of the journey when the facilitators text you after a two-day village immersion, asking if you are alive and kicking.
Jokes aside, the village in focus was Dehri of the Kotda block, located about 150 Kms from Udaipur. The thrilling journey to the village had garnered much introspection out of the three of us, mostly our un-explainable desire to be away from comfort. Comparing our situation with that of Matt Damon in ‘The Martian’ might be a bit of an exaggeration but we did follow his advice of solving one problem at a time to survive (!) in this foreign terrain. Once accommodation and food was taken care of, a full-scale immersion was launched without delay. Having never lived in a village, there was a romanticized version of an Indian village painted inside my head. The reality, as observed over the next two days, made me realize that the painting is far more complex.
The physical beauty of Dehri is breath-taking with its lush green fields, extensive farmlands and undulating terrains surrounded by forested hills on all sides. A parallel set of metaled roads serve as the connection between Dehri and its surrounding villages. The houses which are a combination of mud and brick houses, are spread out along the expanse of the village. There are pages one can write about the way this village has been molded by nature and the inherent beauty of the landscape. However, the most interesting and consequently, enriching aspect of this village are its habitats. It is the people that make the village as it is today. There is a harmony that these people share with nature that brings out the best of the village. I would like to turn the limelight upon these incredible individuals who were simply the highlights of my village immersion experience.
The first name that comes to the mind is our contact person in Dehri, *KamlaBai, the ex-
sarpanch. She was an extremely empowered woman in a village that was mostly run by men, otherwise. People all around the villages, from Chikla to Medi recognized her instantly by name and looks of scepticism turned into complete reverence and acceptance when we associated ourselves with her. She apologized profusely for not being able to provide accommodation in her own house and kept on earnestly contacting us until we found proper accommodation for the night.
The experience that turned it around for me was on the morning of the second day when I was walking alone on the village road and was nearing a village called Dhopamari. A distressed looking person whom I had spotted from a distance suddenly jumped and knelled in front of me trying to do a pranaam. As I reacted apologetically and tried to move away, he stood up and started saying something in his local language. From what I could understand from his gestures, he wanted money, a mere Rs. 20. My futile attempts at a negotiation using the half-eaten packet of Parle-G biscuits notwithstanding, I was increasingly becoming awkward and trying to find a way out of this predicament.
With my mind almost made up to make a run for it, a group of 5-6 people wearing white kurtas and dhotis appeared out of nowhere and reprimanded him for begging and told him to go and ‘earn’ his money like everyone else. I was then asked to accompany them and they apologized to me on the guy’s behalf. While accompanying these strange group of people, we must have only talked just once or twice but they made sure I was on the right track and knew where I was headed. We parted at an intersection without a word. Very few words were spoken or details exchanged but I knew they had my back. It was one of those moments of actions speaking louder than words. In that instant of time, at that moment of realization, I felt gratitude like I’ve never felt it before.
Finally, the person who took us in, without hesitation, the moment we asked for a place to stay, provided us with food, water, beds, mattresses and even a mosquito net despite him having a big family to take care of was *Saleem Khan. If there ever was a knight in a shining armor, I can’t imagine someone better suited than him. I, being from the city, was completely taken aback by the care and hospitality his family offered to complete strangers without a second thought of doubt or suspicion. I couldn’t have done it. There is a lesson to be learnt here somewhere for sure.
Before I digress from my focus completely, the journey was a complete cavalcade of emotions and experiences which made me realize one of the fundamental principles of human behavior. The question of why we are social animals and not isolated singularities of consciousness. Because, believe it or not, we were meant to look out for each other and have each other’s back.
*Names changed to protect identity