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‘What I learned from living as a local in remote Rajasthan villages’

Piramal Foundation
February 14, 2019

Would you be able to live in a remote village? You may have been to a fair share of rural towns, had conversations with locals, eaten with them, spent a day with them. But what if you had to spend a whole month in a village? Would you be able to do that?

24-year-old Apoorva Bhope, a Gandhi Fellow, got an opportunity to live in four different remote villages in Rajasthan, in a process called Community Immersion. This meant that she would live with one of the village families, not as a guest, but as a family member, while completing some of the tasks needed to be done as part of this exercise. But through it all, this experience taught her invaluable lessons. “I learned a lot about myself, a lot about my conditioning,” says Apoorva.

Being a woman is completely different ballgame in the village way of life.

“I had to bathe (just wearing an underskirt) in the local pond, and I realised, it was as common as drinking your morning cup of tea,” says Apoorva. “I was often greeted by passersby, who would shout out ‘namaste didi, kaise hai aap?’. Initially, I would awkwardly wave and pray they’d leave pronto. But soon enough, as was with the other ladies in the pond, I would wave back and greet them as well.”

Few would opt to bathe in the open, leave alone a pond. And these are the times to question oneself how open you are to change. “I was horrified; I had to do my morning business in the open, among the ’bushes’, if you know what I mean,” she says. Surely, this is not the place to ask for toilet paper.

“I was not allowed to drink water or bathe in the house while I had my periods,” she said.

How shocking, you might think, but this is the reality of most Indian villages. However, it did give Apoorva an opportunity to understand people’s mindsets about menstruation. She spent a lot of time trying to explain her case, but after a few failed attempts, she realised how ingrained these “customs” are, and that only consistent education can change people’s mindsets.

Apoorva’s experience spans across many layers of human life and mindset. “One of my last village immersions was spent with a very poor family. We only had 2 bulbs in the house, most nights there was no electricity and of course there were no toilets. The father wanted all 3 of his daughters to study. The twins were in 12th std and the third one was in 4th std. One evening, there was no food at home. I was super hungry and after a tiring day I entered the house announcing, ‘Bhabhi khana me kya hai, bahot bhook lagi hai’. That evening I was served roti and a paste of chilli powder, salt and water as accompaniment for dinner.”

She was in a state of disbelief and thought to herself, how can someone eat this? “But after a while I realised it was a smart way of using resources. It is fair to say, necessity is the mother of invention,” she says. The family could have slept on an empty stomach that night, but they found out a way.

“They would sit by my side to serve me while having dinner, and would not get up until I finished it,” she says. In the beginning she did feel quite important, but considering she is a slow eater, things did get weird with all the expectant staring. That just made her wonder – ‘how far do we go to make our loved ones feel cared for?’

“It makes me curious how much those two years of immersions became a mirror into my own life and my own family,” says Apoorva. “Perhaps it was in the living with people as a part of their family and not treating them as subjects for study.”

“I clearly remember this one incident when I told 5th std kids (whom I was teaching in the village) that RBI is the big daddy of all the other banks and how it provides for their needs, to which one of them asked, ‘why only daddy why not mummy?’,” says Apoorva. “That was a slap on my face and a question mark on my lack of ability to question everything I had learnt, which I expected them to do.”

Apoorva is just one of many youngsters, who are thinking more and more about community service and rural development. Want to do something for the country? It is time to hit the grassroots. And it’s time to ask yourself, would you live in a rural village?

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