Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bird Poop and Walking...A Lot

We bid Taraji goodbye and headed to Baneda right after breakfast. For the next few days we planned to stay with Shantaji and visit our two foci, Shreeji ka Kheda and Kalyanpura. An hour's bus ride from Bhilwada, Baneda is a large village, bustling with activity. As soon as we got there, Shtanji was ready to go. A tempo took us to Kalyanpura. Shantaji waved down a tractor on the way. Its adolescent driver dropped us in the village proper where we met with a few women in their home. Most of the villagers were at work, so we didn't manage to speak with too many people. Those that gathered around us were given a simple message - there's a celebration for women on March 6 at 2 pm, at the school. Be there and spread the word. As we sat under the shade of a magnificent tree surrounded by an array of fascinated eyes, I felt something warm and wet on my hand. Sure enough, a blob of bird poop had found its mark. I tried to appear calm, as if a bird defecating on my hand was the most normal thing in the world. Inside my head, a voice was screaming Shit. Shit. Shit.

While I was contemplating on how long to keep my hand still Shantaji called the NREGA-in-charge of Kalyanpura and Shreeji ka Kheda. She called to see if he would give the women March 6 off, post 2 pm in order to attend the Women's Day celebrations we were organizing. He agreed.

Was there anyone Shanta Nuwal did not know? Everywhere we went she was greeting with gracious "Ram Ram"s. Many villagers knew her through the Nuwal family's kerosene business. Moreover, a tenant of hers was the person who gave salaries to NREGA workers and pensions to widows. In fact, two of the women on the tempo were coming from Baneda after collecting their NREGA salaries and widow pensions. It was comforting to know that amidst the dreadful corruption there were still some systems that worked.

We decided to visit the nearby village of Kharolia Kheda. Turns out it wasn't so near after all. A woman was heading in that direction. We followed her and ended up spending an hour at her isolated farm. Stepping through deeply creviced dirt and avoiding thorned branches we finally reached her home. The door was a wooden brush of thorns, branches, and wire, fashioned into two thick gates which the woman opened by lifting and dragging the man-made bush.

The woman lived with her two young boys and an older girl. They owned two bigas of land which cultivated a fruitful crop of cotton, methi, jeera, wheat, and brinjal, amongst other things. We roasted a cluster of freshly sickled wheat stalks in a makeshift fire. I helped crush these stalks, rubbing them between the palms of my hands until tiny toasted grains clunked into a steel plate. As a delicious breeze cooled our resting bodies we chewed handfuls of these crunchy treats. "We had a good crop this year," the woman said, "worth Rs 45,000." They were doing well, this woman and her kids. I refer to her as "the woman" because this whole time she didn't tell her name and we didn't ask. It wasn't important.

We left the woman's abode feeling fresh and walked some more. After about forty minutes we reached Kharoliya Kheda. For a while, Shantaji spoke with the master of the local school as he regularly popped his head into the classroom to bark at his chatty class. He had left 40 kids in a room by themselves. Clearly, this man was an outstanding teacher. But I digress.

This village was too far from Shreeji ka Kheda and Kalyanpura. We couldn't expect the women here to walk an hour just to attend a celebration with people they didn't know. Hence, it was decided that we would focus our efforts on SKK and Kalyanpura only.

Back in Baneda Shantaji introduced us as people who had lived abroad and wanted to "fix" a small, neglected village. . The admiration in the listeners' eyes at the mention of "foreign" quickly turned into horror and surprise at the mention of "they will live in that village." It was as if the latter made us more alien than the former. The "why" is harder to explain than I imagined. The concept of forcing oneself into a foreign reality is not easy to grasp.

1 comment:

  1. you know as you explained your journey of walking and the gratitude of eating toasted grains, it reminded me of the inner beauty of pragya: simplicity. i dream of india as lahris of good food, the colors, the faces, the festivities... but I have so much to learn. About the Real face of India- in its every shape and form. Starting from the tiniest of disease-striken villages. Thank you for opening my eyes! I always crave to be rejuvenated by your novel experiences and touching stories of reality! :) miss you dear! take care and say hi to Nikhil for me!