It is rightly said that India’s heart lies in its villages. The rural community nurtures those traditions, rituals and customs which have long been forgotten in the cities. Fieldwork was an opportunity to come closer to village culture. Over the course of time as we got involved in the day to day activities, we developed a sense of bonding with the village and we often referred to it as “our” village to the outsiders.
I was born and brought up in Delhi and I had never been to village barring 2 short visits to villages as part of Induction fieldwork and PRA. I was excited about going to Rajasthan as I had never visited Rajasthan in the past. As our bus crossed the city of Bikaner and drove towards the village we were catapulted into an entirely different world. Dandkala is a multi caste village with the Rajputs, Jaats and Nai staying in different hamlets. I have always regarded villagers as very intelligent people who needs just little bit of direction and motivation to achieve their dreams. They need facilitator and not sympathizer.
After the initial jolt on discovering no electricity, roads, muddy water and toilets, I think the first thing which crossed my mind was that next 50 days would be challenging. I thanked god for putting me exactly in the same village which I had dreamt of. Life would be going to be tough but full of opportunities to challenge my hidden potential. Before coming to village I had set some objectives for myself:-
1. When I would leave the village after completing my fieldwork it would be a better place to live by virtue of my little but sincere and dedicated efforts.
2. My association with host organization and village would continue even after completing my fieldwork.
The villagers were friendly and helpful, not wary of us. Interestingly, they evidenced very high understanding of caste and class issues, and they exhibited much political consciousness in terms of party politics, mainly for ideological reasons. What they did emphasize on was the skills for managing the environment for making a living. They also elaborated on talks of marriage, children, and their socialization within a community of relationships. The major element of my village stay was day-long listening, observation and interaction with poor families. This involved sharing their life, learning from them, helping them, and encouraging them to voice their ideas of well-being and ill-being. Before this experience I knew nothing about what it is like to be poor and how hidden poverty can be. I have never had an experience like this.
As villagers were not having the private toilets so all villagers including women go out for ablutions in the open fields. Within one week of my stay I made up my mind that my host family will have proper toilet under any circumstances. I motivated our host family to construct toilet and with financial assurance from my side the toilet got constructed within next week. I provided all the technical expertise needed for constructing a toilet. It was really satisfying moment for both of us.
I can never forget the hospitality which I received from villagers and especially from my host family. Although the family was under huge debt but still they took care of both of us like their own children. They do not eat rice and vegetables because of high price but they cooked delicious Pulav and prepared vegetables everyday to make sure that we get proper food. Their love for us can’t be described. I still remember how our host got worried when we told them that we wanted to go in the Rajput Hamlet for a transect walk.
Electricity was one issue which touched my heart as despite being an electrified village in government records there was no electricity in the village. So engaging the community in writing application (for village electrification) and motivating them to talk to local MLA Mr. Devi Singh Bhati were the most exciting experiences. The effort put in by the villagers gave immediate returns and within 12 days of submitting application the electricity meters got installed in all those families who had submitted the file earlier. This collective action reinforced my belief that villagers need just a facilitator.
An intensely religious people, each home was having a room or at least an alcove where they fold their hands and say their prayers before calendar images of their gods. To seek benevolence from their gods, for in this hostile landscape, it is easy to be superstitious, and they pray to Shiva, to protect them from the demons of the elements, and scrounge of mankind.
My theme paper ‘Embroidery Marketing’ helped me a lot to understand the dynamics of marketing in the rural area. It was an eye opener to see FabIndia product being produced here. I had never imagined that such expensive and high quality kurtas can be produced in a village.
Looking back I feel that constructing toilet in our host family and working for village electrification were one of the memorable activities we undertook in the village. Planting trees (55 saplings) and creating awareness about vasectomy in the village were some of the other experiences which I would never forget. All the way I was conscious of one feeling that how destiny took you to places and how my experiences were different from that my other “mainstream” friends would ever have. These experiences have now become vivid memories which I am sure will continue to remain my guiding light all along life, at all times.
The experiences I underwent throughout this period, no matter how subtle they were have enriched me as a person and would remain with me for rest of my life. I learnt how an entity called village exists as an aggregate of castes and communities. Development, certainly, is a long road, but in a sector where most paths wash out long before reaching anywhere, it is a road well worth extending and maintaining. Overall, I had a kaleidoscope of all sorts of experiences during my stay. Thanks to IRMA for giving me such a great experience.