I have always felt that to get a clear picture of a situation, one should look at both sides of the coin and with this experience of the last one year, it has only been strengthened. Even government officials and Sarpanchs come across so many problems and pressures in their day-to-day working and to simply blame them for anything that is wrong will definitely not solve the problem. There are a few Sarpanchs who I felt are doing a tremendous job, despite a meagre salary of around 3000 Rs. Well, before coming here, I think most of us were managing a specific area or hardly about ten to twelve people and getting around 15-20 times the salary of that Sarpanch. Shouldn’t we ponder over statements like “Since the Sarpanch is a representative of the people, why does he need any salary?” Yet, of course he has to do everything right in the first instance.
I feel this tendency to blame the government for every ill happening in this country needs to be changed. Well, don’t mistake me for a blind supporter of this or that government, neither am I giving a clean chit to every act of a government; but the point I am trying to make is that how many times are our reactions based on pure logic and deep thought instead of an outside impulse. And as soon as that incident is over, everything goes back to absolute normalcy again. With every terror attack, every disclosure of a new scam, every new Jan Andolan; our nationalistic feelings rise to a maximum, get displayed in social networking sites and then again dies down as fast as it was aroused.
Well, to sum up the proceedings, I would like to say just one thing about my stint here – I don’t know what are the best ways or thoughts that I came across, neither have I figured out what are the best ways to resolve the prevailing chronic issues here, or what are my ‘takeaways’ from this stint, or whether I have made any difference by being out here; but the thing I realize and I care about is that I have changed as a “PERSON”, with a bit more compassion and understanding of realities.
Once during a field trip to a tribal hamlet, I took some time off to visit the nearby anganwadi. I came to know from the anganwadi teacher that it was difficult to get kids to attend anganwadis. The teacher would have to go to each and every house and gather them by force. In case anyone saw her coming beforehand, they would escape into the forest announcing the teacher’s arrival aloud, warning others in the process. They would rather spend their day playing or roaming in the forest than being constrained to a closed space, even if it meant sacrificing an assured meal.
Before leaving the hamlet that day, I caught up with some teenagers who were roaming around the place. Whether attending school or not, everyone had a readymade answer to the question ‘Which class do you study in’. But thanks to their naïve expressions, it was easy to make out who was telling the truth and who was not. Having spent some time with them, I noticed one thing – no matter how they chose to live their lives, these children seemed way happier than any child you would come across elsewhere. It reminded me of the age old conundrum – Is happiness relative?
– SBI Youth for India fellow Midhun Rajagopal
Note from SBI Youth for India team: Midhun’s brief experience makes us take a relook at the education system in its present form. Is education – a classroom with a teacher to impart lessons? Or is it engaging directly with nature out in the open? Are these teenagers unaware of the world that we live in today? Or are they more aware of their own reality, their surroundings, their roots, their natural reserves? How do we bridge this dichotomy? How can our education system add on to the knowledge of the tribals without bulldozing and making them lose their natural wisdom?
Out there it was a somewhat unfamiliar world – not there in books, nor depicted in cinema. It was during the initial phase of my deputation with Seva Mandir, when the final project and location had not yet been decided that I once found myself sleeping under the sky, which though unusual, was not a new experience. The only addition was the background music. Scores of species were at their best, singing to all their folks in the dark. The crackling sound of dried leaves (you could only play a guessing game about which reptile it was – the only clue being that they were all deadly) and the regular barking of dogs was harmonic. Though the platform where our bed was laid was higher than the habitat of these musicians, yet the darkness had removed that visual barrier for the mind to be consoled by the fact.
During the day, I accompanied two of our fellows and the owner of the house Jhaluramji, to the project location. The day was tiring and that night, tiredness was the only morphine that I had to fight the background music. It must have been just a few seconds before I would have started snoring, Jhaluramji then asked “क्या airport पे जहाज ऐसे ही खड़े होते है जैसे बसदिपो में बसे ” I was pushed to consciousness and could see a moving light in the sky. (Could I have drawn this comparison had I not seen an airport). “Kind of very similar” I replied and then the conversation jumped from one subject to the other. It continued for a while till I had to formally request for permission to sleep, giving the excuse of the day’s tiredness.( you can curse me and so did I when the next day I saw him starting his day at 5.00 am and none of his work was less physical than that of the others) While departing he said “माफ़ कीजियेगा कल रात में आप को सोने नहीं दिया, आप लोगो से बात करने का मौका बहुत कम मिलता है ”. I don’t remember what I said but I knew that it was I who had lost an opportunity.
On the way back, one of the Seva Mandir staff narrated to us that once during a fruiting season all the fruits of Jhaluramji’s lemon tree were plucked and stolen at night. Next morning, he did not discuss this matter with anyone in the village. In a few days, he developed lemon saplings and planted it himself at many of the households of the village. “अबअपने गाँव में किसी को निम्बू चुराने की ज़रूरत नहीं”. The interaction with Jhaluramji left a great impression on me for I do know that this is tied to my experience, and will ever be……
– SBI YFI FELLOW Manish Dwivedi
* The accompanied photo was taken from a hut-top on a stormy night, and is indicative. Presently, we do not have a photo of Jhaluramji.
It may be an urban psychology but when we see an old person or a small child selling something, we prefer to buy from them. It may be just to give a helping hand or may be in sympathy.
On one of the days when I was visiting the local tribal Haat (weekly market) of Doraguda, my eyes were drawn towards an old lady of about 50 to 52 years selling brinjals. I had the instinctive feeling to ask her the price of the brinjals she was selling. She looked at me from head to toe with wary eyes. For an instant I thought that it had been wrong for me to ask her the price or perhaps it was my appearance (I usually wear a pant and shirt everyday, which is fairly unusual attire in such tribal locations). After a few seconds, she replied, literally like, Babu (Sir) “What we sell is mud and what we buy is gold”. I was stunned by her answer and it made me think deeper about what she had said.
Somehow I maintained my composure and bought approx. 1 kg. of brinjals from her. (The farmers here are usually not used to weighing their produce; they sell it in a pile). I gave her Rs.10 instead of the Rs. 5 that she had demanded. She handed me the balance and I told her to keep the change, as I would buy something from her at the next haat session. She laughed.
That one statement of hers, defined my project. I worked on the marketing of produce of tribal communities in Jeypore district of Odisha.
– SBI YFI FELLOW Soumyashree Omprakash Sahoo
* The accompanied photo is indicative. The woman in the story refused to be photographed.
Lakshmi is a master trainer in coir rope making. She sells her produce in the local market and simultaneously trains other women in the same skill. She has studied only till the 5th standard, but she actively monitors several Self Help Groups and manages their accounts. Lakshmi is striving to earn as much as she can through odd jobs here and there, apart from coir rope making and her role as an animator. I once paid a visit to her house for a case study and we were both going back on a bus to the same place. I was still wondering if I should be paying for her bus fare too but before I could even make a move she had bought tickets for both of us and quite stubbornly refused to accept money for the same. She said I was her guest that day. I was moved. Here was a lady who was saving all that she could for her three girls and when every paise counted, she didn’t think twice before paying for my ticket. Not that the bus fare was much, but if this was to happen in an urban setting, the person would’ve thought twice before he/she paid for the other person. She taught me an important lesson that day, always value people more than money.