The 7 pm train to Bhilwara seemed like a good idea. That is, until my slumber was unintentionally interrupted by the cacophony of snores that echoed in our berth. The problem with overnight trains is that you have to be tired enough to tune out the obnoxious. Since we would reach Bhilwara at 4 am, I couldn't sleep soundly even if I wanted to.
When we arrived at the Bhilwara station, we were approached by some autorickshaw walas offering their services. The soliciting in Delhi could be called an out-pouring of sympathy-less-won't-take-no-for-an-answer. In comparison, the drivers in Bhilwara were merely a trickle.
We boarded a six-seater rickshaw with great difficulty. It wasn't a matter of fitting us; rather, it was our nine bags that needed accommodation. That's right, we chose to pack light, but in small bags. With one rolling suitcase, a plastic wrapped blanket, a backpack, my laptop, and jhola, I was a shining example of balance...except the every few seconds I stopped myself from tripping.
We met Amrit, Taraji's son, in front of Mahavir Hospital. He hopped into the auto, directing the driver to Taraji's home. Within minutes, we said our hi/hellos, notified Meenu Bua that yes, we have reached safely, and went back to sleep.
The honking, door knocking, and construction work played a minor role in the next few hours. I woke up to find the ground floor empty. Upstairs, Taraji was reading the paper, and her open balcony was welcoming a flood of sunlight into the room. It wasn't the Delhi kind of sun that teases you and quickly gets tinted by the smog. No, this was pure, heat-saturated, so-bright-it-hurts-your-eyes, gorgeous warmth. I sat on a wooden stool, basking in this glorious vitamin D overdosage. We had a delicious breakfast of aaloo parathas and fresh yogurt, topped off with my favorite dessert, mango pickle.
The afternoon passed slowly, but with much discussion and planning for the next few days. Tomorrow, we go to Shreeji ka Kheda for initial introductions. In the meantime, we must devise an efficient system for scanning, labeling, and organizing the hordes of documents Taraji has stored in quickly disintegrating plastic bags.
Freshly inspired, Nikhil and I went to the local market to purchase a voice recorder. We didn't find one. So we looked for a compact FM radio instead. They had a radio, but we couldn't use it. You see, Bhilwara doesn't have FM radio. Seriously, none. Ah, the joys of simple living in a small town.
Really now, Bhilwara isn't in the boonies. Amrit often jams to Akon. There are sculpted dolphin fountains in the middle of the road. As I begin to peel the layers of this city, I'm finding this place has more to offer than delicious food and minimal traffic.
It's 7 pm and strangely silent, allowing me to reflect on the bits of information I gleaned through discussions with Taraji.
- As you talk to people, create a list of needs the locals are vocalizing. Notice which conflicts are repeated often. Of this list, prioritize those you can realistically meet.
- Win the trust of the community by grabbing the attention of the children. Start with their education. Slowly, allow for a separate focus on girl children. If kids come, so will their parents.
- Never, ever make promises you can not keep. Stay credible.
- Take suggestions from everyone. If there's a problem, your job is to help them find a solution.
- The issue of an individual is not yours to solve. What takes precedence is the issue of a community.
- Befriend the youth volunteers. They are your bridge to the people you want to build relationships with. They are also in your age group, so you can relate to them more easily.
I hope to use these words of wisdom to build visible results. For now, a toast. Here's to first days. *Clink *