Today I am very happy. I am not entirely sure why, because it is not as if anything out of the ordinary happened. But there were small moments throughout the day, magnified many-fold based on my fairly positive emotional state of being, and as a result, the level of happiness I was experiencing increased exponentially.
The morning started out normally enough. I woke up later than usual, 9 instead of 8. Nothing spectacular. I simply felt content with life and the feeling of spectacular-ness increased as the day went by. Today was a Bharat Bandh, which meant that all stores and restaurants were closed, including the dhaba where we usually eat. Roads were jammed with stalled trucks, turned off and forming imposing physical barriers, preventing normal functioning for the people of Chatarpur. The strike didn’t really affect me – I was safely cocooned in the VSK office. When it was time to go to the field, Mankiji took a detour, so we didn’t encounter any major jams. The only ‘jam’ I saw was on the narrow, winding road to the village, where two trucks were awkwardly parked so as to make the passing of any vehicle as difficult as possible. After an hour on the bike, we reached the
. village of Rajbaandh
This was my third time participating in a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) in the last two months, and in all of them I had played a passive role. This PRA was by far the most ‘participatory’ for me, both from my side as well as from the community. In the case of the former, I was not just observing, but also speaking to the villagers, playing with the kids, interacting with the women, etc. In the case of the latter, this was the first time I observed women participating in the PRA process. They were the ones etching out their community’s map on the ground, marking the homes based on caste with different coloured rangoli powder, and modifying the map, erasing lines with a swish of their chappal based on discussion with those around them. Swapnal off-handedly mentioned that during her Bachelors in Social Work, her professor had advised her to only involve men in the PRA process, because they were born and raised in that village. According to the professor, this could not be said of the women as they might have lived in another village prior to their marriage. I don’t buy it. Women know the village as well as the men do. How else do you explain the attention to detail that the women were providing in the social map? When they collect firewood, fetch water, run after their children, go to the fields in the morning, gossip amongst themselves, purchase ration from the shop, take their family to the doctor…in each of these activities they understand not just the physical and social, but also the economic structure of the village. Besides, not all women in the village come from other communities. Some are born and raised there. Others have lived there longer than the men have, especially if you consider the men migrating to other areas for work.
We completed the social and resource mapping as well as the village planning for Rajbaandh by evening. I must clarify – when I say ‘we’ I mean that Mankiji did all the talking, mobilizing, and all other activities in which significant communication with the people was involved, while I sat with him and jotted down the maps, the names of the household members, and the proposed schemes that the villagers wanted to avail of.
It was hot. We were sitting under the shade of a tree where the shadows kept moving and sweat settled in uncomfortable nooks of my skin. It was unpleasant, but I took it in as part of the experience. The best part was yet to come. The sun went away, the clouds came, and then every cool breeze that came my way was like a luxury spa treatment that relieves every inch of one’s being. Air is quite phenomenal that way in what it can make you feel. This was followed by a late lunch where we were served mutton along with piping hot chapattis. The meal was incredibly good, a perfect combination of temperature, taste, and spice. I ate with gluttony. The water was sweet, much sweeter than the water at the office. I gulped it down greedily. More happiness.
After an extremely filling meal, Mankiji and I started our journey back to the VSK office. The wind whipped at my hair and the view was no less extraordinary than a postcard. Dark clouds were beginning to gather at the horizon, muddling the sunset until all that remained was a muted ball of orange. The clouds became a dark, dark blue. I could hear an occasional rumble rippling across the sky.
A few drops of water hit my skin like icy needles. The drizzle gathered momentum until I had to cover the precious resource maps with my gamcha. At that point, I smiled at myself. I was on a bike, in the rain. The feeling was indescribable. The speed of the vehicle, the force of the tiny specks of water, my senses were on overdrive.
When we reached the office, Aqui, Shubham, Ramanek, and Akshay were already on the veranda. They called me up. A bit more rain and a lot of laughs followed. Then darkness crept in, slowly, gracefully. The sun had finally set. I looked for stars but saw just one. I felt connected to my environment, where all beings are at the same level, where a breeze makes all the difference, where happiness is bursting in every moment. I remained overwhelmed and lay on the wet ground, staring at the sky and smiling to myself. I was truly happy.