I tried to look back from the rear window of the bus that was all occluded by our hefty luggage. To look back at the place that had been my home for fourteen days. And then the bus started. We were all ready to go back. Or were we? Time sure does fly. Those fourteen days passed in blink of any eye. But the blink managed to capture sights and weave memories that would leave indelible impressions on us.
Day one, and there I was, on the train to Jaipur after all that hasty and hefty packing and sleepless exam time nights. All I wanted to know was what a village looked like. Was it the same as I had read about in newspapers or books or as I had watched on the television? Fourteen days had seemed so long back then. And for a person who has never made it to the 8:45 class, plenty of butterflies came to say hi.
But they were all gone as soon as we reached Soda after a two hour bus ride. Although I do believe greatly in the power of words, there is something about Soda which words don’t fully do justice to. The pristine skies, the unpolluted air, the yellow fields painted against the blue hues and the stars that dance when the moon blooms; there was an expanse of beauty not only in its picturesque setting but also in the lives that were part of it.
Our days in Soda started with all of us going to the village and different dhanis and surveying the households. (Actually, they started with Tanishka’s weird alarm tone, Niharika’s vocal alarm, the freezing water and the wait for the heating rods). The Ram- Rams and warmth with which Soda’s denizens greeted the bunch of uninvited strangers walking freely on their streets was so heartening. They would ask us to stay for food and often, unasked simply serve us hot milk or tea. It was ironic that having lived all my life in the same city, I would prefer not to talk to strangers but here, in a village where I knew almost no one, I would unhesitatingly enter their homes and listen to their stories. I realized how small things that we could be so indifferent about were a luxury to others living just some miles away.
The women of the village, who often had veils covering their faces, would lay bare their stories in front of us. Whether it was about water shortage or the dreams that they never really got to realize, they would unhesitatingly share their problems with us girls, some of whom were of their own age. It was jarring in particular, how some of the women who had faced suppression when they were young themselves had been hammered by time and custom into patriarchs. The young girls though, gave us immense hope with their dreams and ambitions, and spoke of a slow but steady wave of change, refusing to be caged in norms that have often bound women.
The sessions with the children were doubtlessly our favourite! Singing the fruit salad song with them, and coming up with our own variations and versions for every new session was probably what we and our kids looked forward to the most! These little bouncing and chirruping souls would often leave us awestruck with their response to our sessions. The kids in Srinagar even assisted Charvi and I during the governance sessions, and remembered minute details about government schemes that even our brains took some time to feed in. I remember how little Bablu just wouldn’t go to school and follow Pallavi and I to all the houses we went, and Ved Prakash teaching me how to ride a bicycle (thank you Soda, for yet another first)! The best part? They even remembered my name (oh, how much I love them for this)!
With my fellow volunteers, I shared endless discussions about sessions, never ending game sessions, a Secret Santa Christmas, some memorable days and many magical moments, in that span of fourteen days. Each of us made such amazing memories and friends. We came as strangers and left as bros, and to quote Rohan, we were all ‘khuli kitabs’ when we went back.
The roads that we walk upon slowly and steadily carve our paths and make us what we are. But some of these roads are dearer to us than others. They first create umpteen memories and then take us down those memory lanes. These are the ones that we want to revisit, over and over again. The road to Soda is now one of them. I am glad that I got a chance to walk on that road. And, yes that has made all the difference.
– Shunyam Nanda, Winter 2015 Volunteer and Core Team Member