Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Last Letter

I haven't written in a long time. Not on the blog, nor on the paper towels. My learnt lessons are so interspersed and polarized that i can't find a way to put them down in writing; in an earnest manner. So I am going to rant about what I experienced, with a little hope that it provides a little insight to what the country taught me so far. It is not a conventional message.

Eight months ago as I was getting prepared to engage in a few month-long development project in India, I was constantly getting startling reactions from concerned faces; not because of the difficulties that would naturally arise from being in the project, but because I was going to travel and city hop every week and spend my time with those less privileged than us.

November was marked with red ink, I was supposed to be in Bihar for a fortnight. Remember that statement, 'ek akeli ladki khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hai'; courtesy: Jab We Met; yes, that one! It was always implied, never told on face. I was told I wouldn't survive a day.  “Picture a Clint Eastwood western. That’s Bihar. Everybody carries guns and gangs are highly prevalent,” said one friend. After arriving in Bihar, I (not surprisingly) realized that the outside perception of the state was hyperbolized to a great extent. A fortnight passed away and I interacted with twenty proud residents each day. And I survived. I survived Patna. I survived Muzzafarpur. Also Purnia. Each family I met shared their 'thekua' and 'laddoo'. Each face I gazed at, smiled back with distant dreams of state full of character.

They say that if you spend a day in India, you could write a book. A month, maybe you could write a chapter. And if you spend half a year here, you’d struggle to write a page. And imagine a directionless female paving her way through the archives of habitation and development, one who never moved to get herself a glass of water. When you looked at it then, it portrayed nothing but of a coming disaster.

This was not a campaign supported by technology (apart from my rapidly overheating laptop), easy communication (I barely spoke three country-wide languages), or bags of money. Electricity and water, once given necessities, are something we had to plan without.
There was no job description. If there had been one, it was never adhered to. There was no manager who could evaluate me. No five day a week schedule. No closed holidays. At the same time, there was no reporting to work every single day at eight am. Every day started afresh. Every day had a story.

Say for my work with children with disabilities , there had been tasks initiated but since fallen to the wayside, clumsy interactions with elderly villagers, and accidental displays of wealth that prevent families to nurture,  I was trying to understand it all. Times i took too much I could handle. Times I snapped. Yet among these failures were moments that reminded me why I was here: moments that made me feel like a great scientist, a pioneering doctor, a tinkering engineer or an aspiring teacher. This was definitely the place to realize childhood dreams.
I’ was also learning: about India, about education, about myself. Before I came here I was a grownup – I was Twenty One years old and had just got into a Fashion Research Job women would kill for and had amazing set of friends. But I wasn’t grown up. I had just started growing with the first project I was given. redesigning the curriculum for 'Balwadi'.
From this friend studying rural management I also brought with me a thousand page hydrology book thinking it would be the best resource I had, and it was utterly useless. I had to re-learn how to learn.. Starting with what  best described as “a thousand cups of chai” with people across every area I was supposed to make focus projections of. I ventured into it, thinking I would give back something to the country, alas! each day, each face I met taught me in return.  I also learnt on average, men in India urinate six times a day, whereas women in India urinate only twice. If both men and women are supposedly both born free and equal, barring a ‘Y’ factor, one would wonder what produced such a vast difference. Gender inequality has become so entrenched in Indian society that it has led to the physical devolution of women. Then, I was at the core of it. Through steadily building relationships I have been able to understand and develop love and passion for those women. As an insider, I lived and breathed them, I was them. But then as an outsider I anxiously sat on their beautifully hand-crafted bamboo mats and observe how they run hastily around their houses. The women dutifully oblige to their husbands. The husband eats, he leaves his dirty dishes behind and lays down to rest- the women continue. Just as Amartya Sen notably once claimed ‘100 million women are missing’, I begin to wonder what would happen if all these women disappeared. In both the visible and invisible economy, what is the opportunity cost of not placing value on a woman’s worth?

Looking back, one of the greatest lessons I have learned is to hold nothing back and trust the process. A part of this trust is the realization that just because you cannot see the change you are looking for does not mean it is not there. In a place where everything is so unfamiliar, why would change be so easily recognizable?

Today, I have returned back. Today, meant my last day at work. Yes I called it work.  I’m sure I’ll continue to wax lyrical about distant politics, buy brands, hoard shoes, get bad haircuts, and spend entirely too long on Facebook. I’ll even use washing machines and throw a nasty glance at the maid if she turns up late.
But maybe I’ll do it all differently.

So that’s the story so far. I apologize for the lack of funny anecdotes that might have been expected, but the sentiment with which I started remains: I cannot capture my experience in just one piece, not even begin to do it proper justice


  1. Nice explanation..

    "Hold nothing back and trust the process".. liked it..

    Enjoy and Keep Writing


Why I write this ?

so you finally want to know. Well very often I have a writer's block. I am over burdened by my own thoughts. Sometimes i do take the pain of puttin them up, mostly i do not. This is a peek-a-Boo of what i see, what i feel and what i want you to know. Bear with me! Happy reading!