Pusa diaries: Part 2

In continuation of his Fellowship experience, Somil writes about the problems of superstition in India that even haunts Pusa! 

Of men of god

In the wake of the recent crackdown on the self-styled godman Rampal and his so called ‘ashram’, that has conjured up a nationwide demand of putting behind bars such self-proclaimed messengers of god, I suddenly recalled that I had witnessed something similar, just a few weeks before – another example of how the marginalized and weaker sections of the society are exploited even more by dastardly acts of such corrupt individuals.

About a month and a half back, I used to travel up and down 25 km from Pusa to Sakra, when I was still deciding which location I wanted to work in. I would travel in a shared auto, the seating capacity of which was around 7-8, but on an average 12 people managed to sit inside, all crammed up, with some even hanging outside behind the auto, making it a bumpy, uncomfortable and yet eventful ride. The concept of sharing autos is very common here in Bihar- even in the capital city of Patna, the autos run only on sharing basis, unless one is in a hurry. Barring the safety aspect (I heard that a couple of autos turned upside down in the past), I think it is a good concept- it reduces the cost of travelling significantly and at the same time the driver gets all his returns on investment with a good profit margin. It also has a direct impact on the environment- instead of ten different autos for ten people; the job is done using one!

Pusa 5

During one such ride I was sitting right next to the driver right on the front seat. I always preferred sitting on the front seat- it was less congested, airy and relatively more comfortable. I used to look outside, think about the tasks that needed to be done that day, about this completely different world I had come to live in, which until now I had only either heard of or read about, and sometimes wonder about life and its meaning. That day, about half way through the journey, I noticed something different. There was a grey tent, roughly 10 metres long, right at the edge of the highway. In front of the tent, there were two rows of around 100 people each, seated facing each other with a gap of about a metre in between. It looked like they had made a path for someone to come out of the tent and bless them one by one. I noticed that they all were carrying a liquid that looked like oil, yellow in colour, packed in a small plastic bottle. Curious, I asked the people in the auto what it was all about. What I heard next was unbelievable! ‘Kuch dino pehle yaha phook baba prakat hue. Ye jab logo pe tel phookte hai toh unki saari beemariya aur saari dikkat khatam ho jaati hai!’ (A few days ago, phook baba appeared here. When he blows oil on people, their illnesses and problems vanish!). Apparently the liquid that the people were carrying was also an ‘exclusive’ product that phook baba had manufactured! “What foolishness! And people really believe in all this?”, I thought to myself instantly. But it was a rather pre-mature thought I later realized when I sat in rumination that night- were the people really at fault?

Over next two days, I saw swarms of people travelling 20-30 km, pay the auto fare and spend three-four hours to get their problems solved by one blow of phook baba. In a place where people do not have access to safe drinking water and bare minimum access to electricity, they pinned all their hopes in this one man who had just arrived a couple of days before! In our field visits, we saw that a lot of people were not at their homes- when we asked where they were, their answer was as expected- they had gone to visit the new problem solver! It wasn’t surprising that the news had spread like wild fire within two days. Everywhere everyone was talking about him, relieved that god had finally sent a savior.

It is extremely disheartening, the way such godmen function, thriving on the vulnerabilities of the poor and exploiting them on their insecurities. But there is no stopping such individuals, because if today you catch hold of one, tomorrow someone else will crop up. So whose fault is it in the end? Who is to take the blame? These questions linger on.

Instead, this issue must be tackled from the other end – the people. Any development activity being undertaken in an area should be coupled with extensive awareness. This can be done by building deep relationships with the community and breaking these archaic superstitions, while mobilizing and motivating them to think progressively. Because it is only then that the community will really be “empowered”.

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Excerpts from a Fellow’s Diary: an Alternate Theory of Relativity

Playing Around Freely
Playing Around Freely

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?

* The accompanied photo is indicative.

Excerpts from a Fellow’s Diary: Little time to Talk

Rainy Night Sky from a hut-top in a village

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.

Excerpts from a Fellow’s Diary – beneath the cost of Brinjals

Indian woman vending vegetables
She knows the market well.

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.