• Asmat NGO

Of Fourteen Days, New Homes, and Families: My Winter in Darewala

By Ananya Vasishtha, Intern (Present Core Team Member), Winter Programme 2018

The reason why I think it is safe to say that I have never had an experience like this one is because the very way that it started. Deeply demotivated, and wanting to run away to home and relax after my mid-semester examinations, I had to instead carry my weary ass and dump it in a village lying at the edge of the infamous state of Haryana. I had a couple of friends in the intern group but when I use the term “friends”, I use it extremely loosely. And so I had no idea, not even the slightest grain of an understanding, what I was going to do there. But unlike the people who like to have planned everything in advance so that they can exert their control over things if they go unplanned- I am quite used to the feeling of uncertainty and not knowing what the hell is going to happen to me in future. But what was different this time was the surprise that turned out be to the pleasantest one of all.

My memory is not the sharpest one out there so I barely remember the first day, if only as a blur of numbing and freezing water, lack of a hygienic washroom situation and the dreadful realisation that I won’t be able to take a bath daily. We had about 5 people above us who gave us a vague tour of the entire village when I was in an entirely unwanted and different head space, which is probably why the only part I remember is visiting some 2 houses and meeting the residents. I wish I could elaborate on what “I” was feeling- but that is exactly the thing I cannot place my finger on- slightly bothersome but more on that later.

After that, it just felt like days passed just like that trick in which cards tumble out of a magician’s deft fingers. The mornings became easier to get up to and the morning routines, entertaining with some random music and hilarious dance steps thrown in. And despite of the compromises that we had to make when it came to the bathroom and hygiene situation, our visits to the village remained regular and we only got more and more used to the environment. It was only a matter of time until we knew all the ways to the houses we needed to go to, by heart (not me obviously, I have a terrible sense of direction) and we started recognizing each other’s and the villager’s faces as if we had known each other since forever. It was unbelievable and unreal, it was like being suctioned into a world so removed from the one I was so used to- people were warm, always smiling, always offering overly sweet, overly milky chai with their doors always open. We went around talking to them, trying to know them, trying to source our knowledge and resources into helping them and amongst all this chaos and sometimes, disheartening disappointments there were kids.

Our days used to start with the cheerfully loud “Hello/Good morning didi/ma’am/ Ananya didi” and end with trying to convince them to go back as their faces fell but their goodbyes still echoed of enthusiasm, hope and high fives. I think the one thing that both; took us over, made us love them, want to indulge with them as well tired us of them and made us want to run away from them in the opposite direction was- their overwhelming love, acceptance, excitement and attempts to become as close to us as possible. It was disorienting to receive such love without being asked for anything in return except for our company- so new, so unreal and definitely rare. The other thing which was extremely flattering for all of us, I think, was their dead set intent to learn, learn and learn from us more. The concept of lethargy or something as normal as waking up late in the morning (an urban convention now I know) was alien there.

And as for us, the real joy was settling in that environment; letting go off all our inhibitions, redefining all our notions of comfort as luxury and trying to accept the place as warmly as the place accepted us. And dare I say on all of us’ behalf that we did a great job; it was only a matter of time until all of us forgot to check ourselves a million times in the mirror to judge how inappropriate or wrong we look or forgot to become presentable enough so people don’t turn around to look at us twice or forgot to be really careful about what we speak.

Everything became easy and we all set in the place as well as with each other as easily as if it was a routine we merely had to go back to. In fact, that is how almost everything worked out there, even the bond between all of us- it just grew as if it was all there, as if all we had to do was just be there at the right time and at the right place. In fact, I can’t count on one hand how many times my heart melted at an unexpectedly sweet and considerate gesture from a fellow intern. The reason why this bond evolved to become one of the most precious things that I would be taking from this programme was because it was so UNEXPECTED! During the programme, everyone tried to be there for everyone else. And those honest attempts were enough, I think, for every one of us to let our walls down because no one was really encroaching them to pull us down or jeopardize us for their own benefits or any of the other “urban” inhibitions that we are asked to develop in order to protect ourselves. Because the very reason we did not have to protect ourselves was because we all had each other.

Whether it be surrounding the biggest wimp amongst us to ward off the village ghosts or having each other’s back always, irrespective of our own role in the matter. Then on the other hand, we also had moments of rushing to Gurudwara when we were asked to go have langar, committing blasphemy by stepping inside without taking a bath and having the most delicious jalebis ever, of chasing a tractor and climbing up on to it and subsequently having the best “ride” of our lives, of going off to fields full of yellow suns of sarson delicately swaying in the clean air, whilst running away from a dangerous spirit animal situation of an old woman and a buffalo- then clicking the most random and cliché pictures there, doing a dance routine on an old Bollywood number to finally rushing back to probably eat the best village urban street food and then probably get scolding from the heads. We did all of this and much, much more together and if anyone asks me why was it all so special (if they would even need more explanation) I would say the same thing over and over again- because we all were together. Even at the end, when we got a scare that we would miss our bus and after reaching Delhi when we ended up at a moot point and had to eat the breakfast at a shady hotel- all of us were fine because in those moments, we had each other. We were together. To crack the dirtiest and cheapest jokes, to build up on over our never-ending “that is what she said” encyclopaedia, to jam to the songs that became our moods and routines, to share really private parts of our lives, to listen to each other’s advices, to pass suggestions of books, movies, apps and memes back and forth until someone played a new, more cliché song.

Do I have more to say? Oh, I have tons that I wish could find better words and expressions to put into, but for now this would have to be it. My attempt to put like, less than a quarter of whatever I have grown to cherish, treasure and attempt to always remember in a span of 13-14 days. I would be saying this for like the millionth time but I am so glad I took up this opportunity and went to the village to build a family with all these crazy people, know about the situation of a world that seems so untouched with the complications, dilemmas and stresses of urban life but needless and sometimes unknowingly, is entrenched in its own troubles. And to top it all off, experience the pure joy that children can carry and deliver.

The gap between the urban and rural is only in the shallowest sense geographical- what we need to ask ourselves is do we even want to bridge it? Because we are doing a terrible job of redirecting our resources, as the life there continues to delve in its stagnancy without ever wanting to escape the vicious cycle it has successfully entangled itself into. Those who have knowledge and mobility, have power and they cherish the power too much to move beyond and back to help others step forwards. The troubles are unending and there are definitely more than one perspectives of looking at it and that is why I am thankful for getting these 14 days because I realised, nothing is ever as easy to understand as we like to make ourselves believe.

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