In pursuit of living…
A small step towards empathy
Watching the movie ‘Fandry’ the other day yet another time, I realised how slowly I was growing oblivious to the rampant basic discrimination going on in the Indian culture and how people staying in small villages, with barely any resources go about their lives. That was when I remembered one of the trip I had, to one such remote village to teach young children what we could offer. Incidentally, this could be flouted as another #10YearChallenge!
10 years ago I had the opportunity to go for a NSS camp to Durgawadi, tal. Mhasala, dist. Raigad, Maharashtra. At the time, I just looked at it as my first village photography to add to my portfolio while some other students had the 10 marks in mind. Mumbai University Engineering was granting 10 marks for attending a NSS camp you see. However, none of us even dreamt of what life had in store. So along with an NGO: SHARE, we students of Fr. Conceicao Rodrigues College of Engineering, set aboard the ship to help mankind!
Mumbai university was astonishingly grateful enough to grant us our new year. They almost always scheduled an exam on the 2nd of January. So with the last paper on the 30th December, our bags packed, we were in full of zest to celebrate the new year’s eve with friends at an outing.
Having precisely no idea as to what work was to be done at the aforementioned village, everyone prepared themselves as though it were the most inhospitable place on planet Earth.
Armed with sleeping bags, spoons, plates, mugs, glasses, mosquito repellents, cold creams, moisturisers, torches, headphones, me with my camera and extra memory cards, trolley-type bags, hiking shoes, handkerchiefs, paracetamols, aspirins, combiflams, relisprays, chlorine for water purification, deodorants, and the list goes on and on……..
This start made us all miserable. After a bumpy bus journey, we had a really long walk to the village with our heavy bags on our backs. We were greeted with cow dung thatched all over the place, with no young crowd to be seen, no shops even for candy. Sleeping bags were rendered useless as the space constraint was such that 40-odd people were to be adjusted in a single room. Using plates that we had brought, too, was of no point since the food included only rice. Yes, rice at lunch, rice at diner and if that wasn’t enough, breakfast was also made of rice derivatives! Cups were useless since no one over there seemed to know what coffee was and the tea was devoid of milk and that void was filled by water. No point of mugs since there was no time to have a bath, and if by some means we found time, finding place to bathe was the next problem. Bathrooms didn’t have doors let alone any lighting, and don’t even get me started on the toilets! So yes, things were miserable.
Mosquito repellents, cold creams, deodorants, relispray, paracetamols, combiflam, torches all however, came to aid.
Sport shoes came in handy to save us from the creepy crawlers day in and day out, and to walk all the distances transporting tens of 50-odd kg sacs, but more on that later. It didn’t matter whether they were Nike/Reebok/Adidas etc. cause today they all look the exact same — brown.
During the later part of this first day, we learnt what we were supposed to do in this camp and how it would be beneficial for the villagers. So to make it sound like a report — we were to help build smokeless chulha in their houses, the population of the village being about 65 families. The villagers were still used to cooking food via traditional means, by burning of wood, which as we all know, emits SO2 and CO2 and other harmful gases. This caused the women in the village to suffer from respiratory diseases. Smoke also caused cataract amongst the villagers. There was a major drop in the haemoglobin levels amongst the villagers. Thus, the smokeless chulhas, still used wood as fuel, however streamlined the outflow of smoke out of their houses, thereby reducing all the above and further decreasing wood consumption by almost 50%.
So the Fr.CRCE Chapter of NSS, paid for these chimneys and other related necessities. We students had contributed towards the camp and the cause. All the students in the camp were designated to complete work of smokeless chulhas of 5–6 houses. This included transporting bricks, cement, and other raw materials from where it had been placed, to respective houses. This job, however, saw a bit of mismanagement when all the students parted in groups were given only the name of the person to whom the materials were to be delivered. Thus boys and girls roamed throughout the village carrying much more than half their own weight in search of directions that would point out to the name written on the chits which by the way was not in English!
The other work was that of the nursery wherein the saplings which didn’t bloom were supposed to be replaced with new ones which the villagers could later sell.
Just a visualisation for those reading this who weren’t a part of the camp, Durgawadi is a pretty small village. Not even existing on Google Maps. If you stretch out your left hand, the little finger would represent the only tar road in the village. Where it joins the palm of your hand represents the only water source in the village. Durgawadi got its first water connection by rainwater harvesting in December 2000, yes during the Y2K fervour, around the same time everyone reading this opened their first Yahoo account on the Internet! Earlier the villagers had to walk 8–10 km everyday to fetch a pail of water. Even now no house has a tap, all that is available is at the palm of your left hand! The ring finger goes to the only school wherein classes till 5th std are conducted. Further learning desires meant a 10km walk to the foot of the hill. The middle finger represented the central, cow dung thatched road on which was the us boy’s dorm. The index finger took us to the group of houses wherein one of them had a marriage ceremony in a few days. The thumb meant more climb up the hill for a bit more settlement.
It was the new year day. The first day of 2011. If we were in Mumbai, this day would have started around 12–1 in the afternoon. That’s if we were in Mumbai. But our new year’s eve plan were cancelled due to the sad demise of an elderly in the village. However, when the villagers came to know of we cancelling our plans, they invited us to the wedding I mentioned earlier. The whole village was present. Rather than the bride and groom, we seemed to be more in the limelight! We danced, sang, played games, had lots of fun!
Everyday work was done on time, it was very nice to see the villager’s promising faces about their new chulhas. We were slowly and steadily becoming one amongst them. Even they were sporty when we called them to sing and dance along with us. It was surprising to see them get out of their shells and open up!
Another exhilarating experience was teaching students at the school. We taught them to dance on the song they’ve never heard! It was so overwhelming to see them try to lip sync all the songs while learning. This was followed by a small drawing competition wherein all the students of Durgawadi showed us their talents. Even the few of us who speak Marathi, didn’t know the names of the colours in Marathi! We realised we were so oblivious to such tiny things. In spite of not knowing the names of the colours, the kids drew wonderfully.
You must be wondering I didn’t mention about sleeping at nights, cause, well we didn’t! We used to roam in the village, play cards and what not! But even at 3 a.m. in the night, if we sat down at someones doorstep to play cards, they would give us a mattress to sit on and light a lamp for us! Contrary to Mumbai, if we disturbed anyone at 3 a.m., we would be in jail! Rather the villagers used to be happy that we chose their veranda to sit on!
I could go on and on with all that I’ve learnt from this trip, from giving away spoons and forks, and sitting on ground to eat, to carry own water bucket for bathing, forgoing western commodes and what not!
With the camp coming to an end, it was time for us to head back home. We walked till the main road where the bus was waiting for us. Finally we sat on cushioned chairs! The bus stopped at a dhaba on the way and we literally ordered everything that they could possibly make. It was long since we had any variety in food. As we got up to wash our hands instinctively going to the wash basin we turned on the tap and there was water. We never imagined that such a simple task of water coming from a faucet would be so moving for us after being days away from what we consider the basic necessities. Our eyes glanced above the taps and that was the first time we saw a ourselves since. And the mirror did not just reflect how bearded and tanned we had gotten…
Every life is different, we here, have different needs, different wants; they over there have minimal needs and are not even acquainted with our wants.
Trying my hand at a picture series.
Originally published at www.facebook.com.