Our interaction started with her shout. As part of on-field facilitation, I do visit work areas of my organization. Today my colleagues had planned a visit to tribal area in Nandurbar district in Maharashtra. We were on the farm, there was discussion regarding horticulture plantation and intercrops. I was taking a snap and the woman shouted at me, “Why are you taking my photograph without telling me first?”
I was meeting her for the first time. She spoke in her mother tongue Mavachi, which I follow in bits and pieces. There were six people with us, all men. There was a sudden stress and tension in the environment. The men started talking angrily to the woman. I requested them to say nothing, said ‘sorry’ to the woman and explained that as her farm was good, I was taking a photograph.
She said, “You don’t understand my language. Do you?”
I replied, “Very little’’
She proudly said, “You people go to school and still do not understand our language. I never went to school, but I can understand your language (Marathi)”. I smiled at her sharp remark.
She dragged me towards the small hut in the corner of the farm. From the midst of lot of things, she pulled out a bright green piece of cloth, covered her shoulder and head with that cloth and ordered me, “Now take a photograph”.
I followed her order. I showed the snap on my digicam to her and asked, “Is it good? Are you happy now?” She smiled like a child. She instructed me, “Publish it”.
Publish it? Where? I was confused.
But the woman was clearly enjoying her moment. She simply said, “Oh! Publish it in a (news) paper…” (I am not influential enough to publish this photo in a newspaper, so I am publishing it on my blog. )
Now Masarabai (this is her name) was extremely happy with me. She started chatting with me. A woman of 40, with married son and daughter, holding a small farm, working hard with her husband, illiterate had suddenly lot of things to share with me. As she was aware of my lack of knowledge of her language, after every three sentences she was asking, “Do you follow what I am saying?” After two three ‘Yes’ from me, she again ordered me, “If you don’t understand what I say, you should ask these men. They know both the languages”. I was enjoying the domination of this smart witted woman.
She asked my colleagues to take me to her home (a few kilometers away) and offer me tea. “But who will prepare tea?” I asked. Masarabai had simple answers to all my questions – “My daughter in law will.” Then she turned to my colleague and told him in a matter of fact tone, “If she is not there, you prepare a tea and give it to madam”. We all laughed and somehow convinced her by saying that next time I will have food at her house.
We were discussing the cash flow of the family – annual income and expenditure and how they mange the loss. Masarabai was listing various expenses, when her neighbor remarked, “Tell Madam, how much you spend on alcohol’’.
Masarabai was silent for a moment. Then she turned to me and asked, “Don’t you drink (alcohol)?” I said, “No, I don’t”. “Why?” was her next question. I suddenly found the question very difficult. “That is not the tradition of my community”, I tried to answer sensitively.
“Do you eat meat?” Masarabi asked. “Do you like meat?” I tried to bypass her question. Masarabai answered, “Yes, I like meat very much. I like chicken too. Have you tested it?”
My colleagues and the community men were getting upset at the conversation. But I thought if I can ask personal questions to Masarabai, she has every right to ask similar questions to me. I also sensed that by asking these various questions, she was trying to relate me with her life, her situation. She was assessing me in her own way, and she was deciding whether I was trustworthy or not.
I said, “No, I do not like meat and chicken. But next time when I come to your home, if you cook meat or chicken, I will eat it.”
She disapproved my polite statement. “If you don’t like something, you should not do it just to please someone, not things like eating meat and chicken ……”
Masarabai was silent for couple of minutes. Then she declared, “Ok, I will give up alcohol. But I like meat and chicken and I will eat more of it.” We all laughed happily. “Is it ok Madam?” she wanted my assurance.
Whether Masarabai will really give up alcohol or not, only time will tell. But I am amazed at the strong character of this tribal woman. Her thinking process is very clear and she is ready to accommodate strange ways of life (of others). She is assertive, rational, humorous, emotional, and sensitive. She has strong likes and dislikes, but she is not forcing others to accept those as the only desirable ways of living. She is ready to change.
By interacting with Masarabai, I feel enlightened and more empowered.