Today, we held our second meeting at Shreeji ka Kheda. About fifty people showed up, most of them children. The prospect of working with these kids excites me, because through them we’ll be able to reach out to their families. Around 16 women were also present, many of which watched from distant doors and slowly sat with the crowd.
One of the first people we met was Chunnilal, a leader from the village. He had run for the position of Sarpanch in the recent elections, but lost to Ram Singh. Chunnilal was a gracious host and showed us a storage room, our potential home for the next few months. As the light was turned on, I saw a mouse scurry up a wall’s corner. Lovely. This was a phobia I had to get over.
Shantaji’s presence was significant in the hour we spent in Shreeji ka Kheda. Chunnilal knew her already. In fact, there were many who recognized her as a comforting presence. A woman gifted Shantaji a handful of ber. She offered me some. The small fruit was dry on the inside, with a large pit in its centre. I was famished, but took a polite two.
In the meeting, Taraji introduced a program we would be doing on March 6, in honor of International Women’s Day (technically on March 8). Once again, the same message was reiterated: we would be working with them, not for them. Many kids displayed their curiosity by sitting close to us. Two boys started chatting with Nikhil. Pragya is too difficult of a name for them to pronounce, so I was introduced as Paro. I asked a young girl what her name was, and she shyly turned away. A small group of women gathered around me. One of them identified the sheepish girl as Durga. A woman holding a baby introduced herself as Tulsi.
At 7 pm, a bell started ringing in the Shiva temple next to us. Women got up and left. The sun had set. Dinner time was approaching and meals had to be made. This signaled us to leave as well. As our Maruti bounced toward the road, a group of kids banged vigorously on the trunk of our slowly moving vehicle.