It seems just yesterday when I decided to leave my job and enter a program that would supposedly help me to help my rural brethren. My reasons for doing so were many, so many that it is hard to pinpoint one of them as ‘the reason’ but the bottom line was that somehow I managed to convince myself to take the step.
There were questions of course, from others, from family and last but not least from my own self. Questions that were rooted in fears and inner contradictions riddled with self-doubt and colored in uncertainty.
The most common one, Will this benefit your ‘career’? (In essence, how will it help me make more money in the future?)- A concern, I found reflected across the tiny set of humanity that had leisure enough to give my life choices a thought and me advice.
I quenched their fires of criticality (or at least I hoped to) through stories of how this will help me in my higher studies, how the best universities value this stuff and how this will be a great learning. As for me, I was not sure of any one of them. Not that these things are not so – it was me who wasn’t sure if those were really my reasons.
There were other queries, like why are you doing this? This question it seemed was a tenacious little prick and had the knack of cropping up at the most uncomfortable of places (especially when meeting important personalities and delegations) and to add to the confusion I found myself giving a new answer each time, each one more and more unbelievable.
I have my doubts about my motivations, my conscience constantly pits my actions against beliefs, judging, unforgiving and ever so critical. Was it twists in personal life, or a genuine want to serve others? Was it a pure scholarly pursuit of learning, or a self-serving charade for getting into institutes of higher learning? Was service to others supreme or were the actions rooted in a want of appreciation?
Predictions were made, and many experienced elders commented that it was a mere phase, a break I needed from the routine and I would be back to their worldly ways soon.
A year into the fellowship, I have a few words to say though. All the academics in the world may write as much as they want, in as many fancy words as they can about this country and its people, their plight and their struggles but it will always be wanting. For it cannot and never will hold comparison to what is out there to be seen, to be felt, and to be heard on our own.
A year into the fellowship, gone were all the definitions and differentiations, washed away in a deluge of experience. No more was I able to see others as rural or urban, rich or poor, literate or illiterates, upper castes or dalits. Everywhere, all I could see as far as I could see were people. Same, in their needs and wants, their hopes and aspirations, their obstinacy and inertia, their efforts and struggles.
Gone were all delusions of ‘uplifting them’, wanting to make them more like us and it was replaced by shame, shame about my own superfluous sense of superiority that had led me to believe that my way of life was something better and worth being forced upon them.
The grass always seems greener on the other side. And what works elsewhere may never work here. We are unique, as like everyone else, no better, and no worse.
Inclusion is achieved not through criticism or rejection but only through deeper understanding. So I have quelled that bit in me that thought I am going to save the world and help the poor, for I believe I am poorer than them. The only way I can help is to serve but only after I have understood them myself. Only when I have walked the same paths as them, eaten the same bread as them, slept the same space, breathed the same air, shaken out of my trance of knowledge only then can I even start dreaming about service.
– SBI Youth for India fellow Akshay Kapur