Its been a long time since I wrote here, and for many reasons. The main one being that I was away at Birdsong without my laptop . When I got to the city, the backlog of things to do just got me off track from my intention of writing every week.
The biggest discovery for me these last 2 weeks perhaps has been the large number of responses evoked by a call for summer internship at Birdsong & Beyond. I asked friends in the field of Architecture and Planning to help spread the word, and within days the applications and Resumes started pouring in. Facebook and the good old College Notice Board had a big role to play, as also the personal influence of the friends who spread the word originally. Finally we had 3 students staying in the village for over 2 months, and we all ended up making new connections and discoveries along the way. About old pilgrim routes, lost recipes, local animals and plants, house building styles, geology, ourselves, village folks and so much more.
Another encounter and discovery centres around the beautiful bride pictured above. It is an encounter which typifies what big city folks will find to be a ‘lack of privacy’ and disregard of ‘personal space’. What it really comes from is a rather distinct sense of ‘being at home and familiar’ with all around them that Indian villagers live with, when they live in their village. Where community is clearer and stronger, and intertwined with every aspect of life.
A nearby homestead was hosting a son’s wedding and we were invited of course, with a band of village boys delivering the card and asking us to definitely come for the ‘baraat ‘and other ceremonies. The day after a night of song, dance, revelry and rituals, to our surprise we discovered that the bride, with her old and new relatives, was at our door! She and her entourage had come by so they could see the novel house in the neighborhood and meet the city folks who had opted to come and live amongst the villagers. The bride was a friendly girl, not a shy sort at all, and she happily posed for pictures with her camera wielding relatives in all our rooms, and with us, and our guests, who were still semi asleep and not at all ready for wedding album pictures.
The visits didn’t end with the bridal procession. A local school teacher brought his 2 colleagues from nearby schools and colleges to show then the cottage when they came to meet him one evening, as they had always seen our place from far, from the road on the downhill side of the valley and wondered about it.
So far, all was good and friendly, but there was something not so pleasant too that I discovered in the form of a wandering ‘holy man’ who sauntered in to our verandah one morning. His persistent knocking was unwelcome as was he, but I opened the door and went to deal with him. The usual exchange of blessings and demands for alms followed, after which whatever I offered was deemed too unworthy and worse than human refuse, literally, in so many words . Angered and disgusted by him, I unleashed some tough words of my own to send him off and I am sure glad he scuttled off when he did.
Then there were the various village youngsters who came to just talk, about their life, their families, their hopes and challenges. And the lack of opportunities in front of them. Apart from the lack of career choices and windows to the world, which we do acknowledge and know of, it is specially on the personal front that the lack of growth and exposure was a discovery to me. Here too the youth are caught in the crossroads of tradition and modernity and a whole lot of change.
Even in terms of social mixing as youngsters, boys and girls have such an unreal world without known signposts to negotiate, what with changing social and moral mores where neither the old certainties and norms hold true or deliver well, and neither the new freedoms and ideas lead to happy endings.
Most are just confused and frustrated and have little by way of a sounding board, understanding or guidance. They are all rather friendly and warm hearted and open to learning, open to knowing, but also hemmed in by tradition, by taboos and fears of the unknown. There is a sense of helplessness, of being in a lost and forgotten world, of not being important in the scheme of things of the wider world. What would it take to open a window to the wider world for them that permits an easy movement between their world as it is, and the wider world out there? I am sure this question will be part of the driver for our future work in the region.
There are winds of change of a more progressive kind too, and this ‘off the map’ place is also getting embedded in the political map of Local Self Governance as I type this. The cluster of villages around us has just been formed into a “Nagar Panchayat” or rural council, and the first Chairperson elected. She happens to be our neighbor and its amazing to see the transformation this development has brought to the entire family.
Though the lady herself is a more of a figurehead or rubber stamp office bearer, who had to be nominated for the ‘reserved for women only’ seat, she is making efforts on various fronts to fit into the role. The kids are teaching her how to say her speeches, the husband wants me to teach her some social graces, she herself is looking to buy nice, formal cotton sarees to wear to office where she has to sit with officials of the government and so on…she also now says all the farm and animal work is too much to handle, how can she do all this and be expected to use her head to learn new stuff for the office….Any suggestions for her, anyone??