During my early days as a SBI Youth for India fellow, I was staying at the Kannivadi office of the Partner NGO, MSSRF, before moving to the nearby town of Oddanchtram which was 25 kms away. Searching for accommodation armed with just one Tamil phrase – Veedu Kedikuma [House available for rent?] was a challenge. The universal answer was ‘No’ for bachelors. My companion Bala, another SBI Youth for India fellow and I, began to look around for someone dressed in a shirt and trousers, in the hope that he might understand or speak either English or Hindi.
One day when Bala and I were roaming the streets, much like nomads, I finally spotted a man dressed in the attire we were so desperately looking for. The next moment, I found myself beside him, asking “Veedu Kedikuma?”We thanked God that he was able to speak in English and he agreed to help us get a room. He walked around with us and finally guided us to a complex, where he guaranteed we would find accommodation. We managed to get the room only by lying to the owner that we were SBI employees.
From then on, each day I travelled 25 kms from Oddanchathram to get to Kannivadi, and then walked for another 2 kms. Lunch comprised of rice and rasam every day. By now, I was totally exhausted with the travel and food. On one occasion, I needed to stay at Thonimalai hills with my assistant for three days, for work. After getting down at the main bus stop, I realized that there was an additional 10-kms walk required to reach the place where we were to stay – a place occupied by the supervisor of an abandoned farm. After we finally got there, we found a man who could understand Hindi, with whose help I was able to visit the farms for a preliminary survey in order to identify the problems and determine the project objectives. However, the ground reality was that I had to walk for 10 kms each day, to get to different farms. Once I was back in Kannivadi, I felt like I had fallen into a trap. I realized that I was not going to be able to contribute anything during the fellowship year, unless I was first able to settle in myself.
After staying at Kannivadi for two months, I was able to shift to the Wayanad centre of MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF ) in Kerala.
This time around as well, life there began with house hunting in a place that did not trust bachelors. I think they were just old-fashioned. Many-a-times, this experience made me consider starting this as a business venture, as it was so tough for bachelors to get a place on rent. In fact, my real transformation, rather my interest in the inclusive development of society began here, as I learnt from this experience.
After spending some time in the fellowship, I was deeply influenced by the importance of development. Things which seemed mundane earlier now become interesting.
People have often described this fellowship as meant to expose the Fellows to rural India and for them to contribute to rural development in India. But I would say that it teaches us a lesson in humanity and to make it a part of our daily lives.
The fellowship program was an enlightening experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I admit that this experience has dominated all my previous experiences and views. I am indebted to the State Bank of India for launching such an initiative.
My learning from this experience will surely be tested in the future, but I am confident that I will draw from it and add a bit more humanity to all that I do. During this fellowship, I was lucky to experience happiness from helping others without expecting any returns.
- SBI YouthforIndia Fellow, Pruthvi Raj. His project was on ‘Revitalising Traditional Coffee Agro Forestry System’