Excerpts from a Fellow’s Diary – Sweet Memories


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’


Parveen Shaik – What is she doing now?

Shaik Parveen
Shaik Parveen

Working as a lawyer in the District Courts of Aurangabad, Maharashtra for close to 5 years, Parveen noticed that 80% of the people coming to court were from rural areas. They were usually illiterate and would travel long distances, spending time and money, simply to be told that they need to come again at a later date.

There was a flicker of anger in her eyes when she said, “There is a lot of corruption. Everyone is out to make money; no one is willing to help.” This was the primary reason why she quit. Continue reading “Parveen Shaik – What is she doing now?”

Excerpts from a Fellow’s diary – A home away from home

SBI Youth for India alumni Vineet, adding manure to a field.
SBI Youth for India alumni Vineet, adding manure to a field.

In this write up, I wish to share my views about migration, especially related to the youth, from the little experience I have in this area. What does “migration” really mean? During my school days, my understanding about this term was just as much as the next person. Continue reading “Excerpts from a Fellow’s diary – A home away from home”

Ankit Walia – What is he doing now?

Ankit Walia -SBI Youth for India Fellow
Ankit Walia

Ankit had worked with Capgemini in Mumbai and on location in Abu Dhabi for 4 years before he joined SBI Youth for India. It was his previous experience of working with under privileged kids that drove him towards joining the fellowship program.

Ankit was on a sabbatical from his company, and hoped to explore and contribute to rural India while understanding the intricacies of traditional life and technology. His larger aim over time was to bridge the gap between rural and urban India. Continue reading “Ankit Walia – What is he doing now?”

Excerpts from a fellow’s Diary – Farming Needs Improved Techniques

Taher's Excerpt

Ever since my maiden visit to villages, one scene stands out in my mind. The sight of burnt trees forming hedgerows, the result of a tradition of burning forests before sowing seeds. The sight of those leafless, burnt stumps still standing was a shocking reminder of how we have damaged our planet. Continue reading “Excerpts from a fellow’s Diary – Farming Needs Improved Techniques”

Excerpts from a Fellow’s Diary – Blind Fear

Parveen's Excerpt

While my friends and colleagues share their beautiful experiences of village life, I have a very different tale to share, about a facet of rural life that is rarely talked about. Nevertheless, the story of my colleague in BAIF Dhruva, is worth recounting.

I visited a remote village once with my colleague from Dhruva and was struck by the silence. I stopped one of the villagers and asked him questions about the village. Our light-hearted conversation came to an abrupt halt, when the villager and my colleague saw a woman in her mid-40’s coming toward us. They moved aside suddenly and I was puzzled by their behaviour. My colleague’s sudden silence puzzled me and made me wonder about the reason.

I questioned my colleague about it as soon as we were out of the village. My questions were all about the woman whom we had encountered there. My colleague’s replies were incoherent, but the gist of it was a shocking piece of information about the villagers’ belief in things like black magic. The entire village held on to this belief and considered one family in the village, as Dacan (a witch) family, having knowledge of black magic, which is passed on from one generation to the next. According to the villagers, the Dacan woman doesn’t like to see anybody being progressive or enjoying life. If she witnesses these, she casts a spell and something bad happens the next day. This belief is very strong in the village and can be sensed immediately by the silence in the village as soon as one enters it.

The next day, when I reached the office, I was given the news that my colleague had met with an accident, which not only kept him bed-ridden for almost 2 months but he also suffered a permanent disability in his leg. When I went to see him in his house in the village and asked him about the incident, he did not open up initially. After some probing he said that the Dacan lady, whom we had seen the previous day, had her eyes on him; she was not happy about him having a new bike and a progressive job. It appeared as if she had cursed him, which resulted in the accident. I was shocked to see this blind faith that he and his family had in such theories. Not only that, they had called the traditional village healer to their home and he also informed them that this was all because of the Dacan’s black magic.

The story does not end here. I came to know that the villagers believed that the Dacan lives a normal life in the day-time, but after midnight she performs black magic, turns into a cat, a fire ball and rides on a dog but if anybody sees her riding on the dog, that person dies of serious health problems within a few days. The Dacan can also be heard crying at night, which is audible to the villagers. She also teaches black magic to others with a caveat, a prior contract, whereby she would claim a life from somebody in their family. If anyone breached the contract, that person would become mentally ill. Due to such beliefs, the people from that village tie a thread around their neck, arms, ankles, etc. to protect themselves from the ill effects of the Dacan.

The ‘power’ that the Dacan wields over the lives of the people in that village seemed absolute, as they went about their activities in mortal fear of her. Education alone did not seem to provide an answer, as seen in my colleague’s case. The only option that the villagers felt they had, was to leave the village and search for a better future elsewhere, far away from the ‘evil eye’ of the Dacan.

–  SBI Youth for India, Parveen Sattar Shaik. Her project was on ‘Child Nutrition, Health & Legal Awareness amongst Rural Women’

Excerpts from a Fellow’s diary – Compromise!

Ankit Walia's Excerpt

While being a Fellow with SBI Youth for India, I had a heart-warming experience during a career awareness program that will always strike a chord when I remember those tear-filled eyes. One day an elderly man walked into the Village Resource Centre with his daughter, which seemed natural to me at first. There was curiosity in the girl’s eyes but the father appeared relaxed. The girl spoke simple English but the father didn’t.

The girl enquired about biotechnology and its career prospects. From my knowledge about a friend who had worked in a good Bangalore-based pharmaceutical company, I told them that the course had good career prospects if she was able to get admission into a reputed college. The girl was not satisfied with my answer and she wanted to know more about the colleges offering Biotechnology and the placements they provided. We called one Biotechnology professor whom I happened to know, to get answers for her queries. She spoke with the professor for a while and his opinion was that the field of biotech is still growing in India and though there is a lot of scope for research work, placements after a Bachelor’s degree are not assured.

I could see that she was disheartened. She conveyed what the professor had said, to her father in Tamil. Her father’s expression did not change much, he still appeared content. I however, felt that he still wanted his daughter to pursue the course, even though placements were not assured. By now, the girl’s eyes had moistened. I enquired more about how they earned their living and she told us that her aged father owned a small shop. I realized that the girl’s family was not well-off, rather they lived in poverty. I asked her why she wanted to opt for Biotechnology. She said that she was not sure, but I noticed that she was hiding her moist eyes from me. I tried to empathize with her by saying that when I started studying engineering, I was also not sure why I was doing it. I did well in maths and science and I liked computers, so I chose Computer Engineering.

My colleague at the Village Resource Centre, who was documenting and translating, looked at me hopefully. I sensed that he wanted me to suggest some career options for the girl. I paused to look at the girl and her father with admiration. I realized that like every other normal family, they had self-respect and did not want to talk about their financial problems, especially in front of a stranger. I thought to myself how could a compromise between her interests and the employment opportunities that were available to her, be justified. I thought for a while and asked her if she would like to opt for Engineering in Computer Science which could provide her a job in the currently flourishing, Indian IT industry. After graduation, she could work for a while and once she had earned enough to support her family, she could take up a Master’s degree in Bioinformatics; one of my friends had similarly studied Electronics and Communication Engineering and is currently working towards a PhD in Bioinformatics. Although Bioinformatics is not the same as Biotechnology, it involves the concepts of both, Information Technology and Biology. Once I had said this, the girl’s face lit up.

I don’t know if my suggestion was the ideal one but I asked myself the same question, regarding ‘Compromise’ – how justified is it? Some people can always find a way to be content with being hopeful. My friend, I feel that the life of a less-privileged person is a series of compromises, though there may be exceptions. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist Movement, said “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.”

– SBI Youth for India fellow, Ankit Walia. His project was to set up a ‘Farmer’s Helpline using IVR’.