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I am back from a village called Dhanora Kale in Parbhani district. I was there to try and understand the issues facing the people of this village. This was a precursor to the Drought Padayatra that was to reach the village on the 2nd of February.  I was accompanied by 3 colleagues including one woman. We stayed in the village for 3 days and 2 nights.

From the first moment what struck me was the warmth with which we were received by the people. We had no prior contact with them. They were aware of the Padayatra but nothing more beyond that. At the outset people looked at us with disbelief when we told them that we planned to stay in the village.. after all we clearly looked like urban folk and we were talking of staying in a place with no electricity, no latrines, no bathrooms, drinking water that had to be pumped out using hand pumps… Clearly not our cup of tea… or so they thought..

I will not bore you with what work we did or what we found… that is not the purpose of this note…

What was most striking was the way in which we were accepted into the fold… true that we were watched closely for the first day or so… to check out that we had no ulterior motives. Each section of the populace – the upper castes, the marginalized, children and women watched us closely… from a distance… we had made it clear that we had nothing to offer… only our ears to lend…. once we rang true the walls broke down… we found ourselves being invited into the peoples homes… our food was taken care of by various groups who took extra care to ensure that poor urban folk did not have to eat the terribly spicy food that is the normal fare… there would always be somebody to help us around… we never faced any rejection.. we could wander anywhere in the village and enter any house we felt like… we were always welcome… children flocked round us all the time… waiting to catch and fulfill any wish that we made… hot water for bathing, sugarcane, berries, drinking water, tea… just about anything.. we were given place to stay in the village school… arrangements were made for dhurries and light… we found ourselves talking with women on issues that are invariably taboo… reproductive health issues, dowry, child marriages, sex determined abortions… we discussed casteism, feudalism and caste based bonded labour with the men from all castes… the reception was overwhelming… the village then got together for welcoming the Padayatra… the villagers made arrangements for feeding 250 people in the morning of the 2nd and another 30 in the evening… all at their expense… this was not a funded programme…

I felt that we were accorded this reception mainly because we represented something different.. we represented some hope … a chance that some one would listen and then may be help… It is known that people like us normally never go into any village… if they do, it inevitably is some senior officer going in for ceremonies or inspections…

I really felt sad when eventually I had to leave… we had grown to be fond of the people and I daresay they were fond of us too… On the way back I got thinking about what would happen if 4 villagers were to enter my housing society? (I live in a place where one has to go past 2 security men and a phone to get to the elevator)… I found myself posing a lot of questions to myself… I wish to share these with you as well..

  • Would I open my doors to these people?
  • Would I spend time with them?
  • Would I Show them around?
  • Would I take them to my neighbours and then would they open their doors?
  • Would I allow them to sleep under my roof, partake meals at my table, use my bathroom?
  • Would the children playing in the parking lot of my society even talk to these people with respect?
  • Would we bare our hearts, our trials, our tribulation and (god forbid) our emotions?

If I were honest to myself the answer would be a resounding NO…  the reasons are not far to seek..

  • Our minds are not geared to accept anything out of the ordinary… to us ordinary means anything or anyone like US.
  • We are not trained to TRUST people implicitly… We demand proofs of trustworthiness before we can lavish trust on others.. why even maids who have been working in the building complex for 6 years have to carry photo identity cards…
  • We think in stereotypes… our perceptions of people are all based on external inputs and appearances..  I have seen well dressed people saunter in without the security men asking them any question but woe betide any common man who tries to enter…

The sad part is that we lose a lot of learning in the process… we do not get an opportunity to understand a world different from our own safe cocoon… the tragedy is that we pass on these values to our children…

Should we not change? Should we not welcome the opportunity to learn about others?  Can we make this happen? Can we teach our children to be broadminded and trusting?  I have no doubt that this MUST be done… The question is how?

I am planning to experiment and start with myself and my family… I do not speak from naiveté … I know that it is tough… close to impossible… but I plan to try… I welcome your ideas, comments and inputs…  may be just maybe we can change the way we view the world … a bit at a time…