I am in the midst of Oriya speaking women and children. They do not speak Hindi and I do not speak Oriya. But we interact. I do not have a translator. There are a couple of Oriya speaking men with me, but they have to cater the needs of three non-Oriya men. I know that if I depend on translators, I will not get anything. So, I move alone.
Women gather around me. I ask them about their homes. I indicate that I want to see their homes. They take me inside. After the visit to first two villages I have picked up few Oriya phrases. Somehow I manage to understand how many children they have, whether they go to school, whether the water source is nearby or not, whether the women are in SHG, how many cows they have, what do they eat everyday, where is the forest from which they bring fuel wood … and so on. Sometimes there is confusion. For example, I ask: how many children are there in Anganwadi. The woman keeps on saying ‘Gutte’ meaning ‘one’. I keep on asking the same question. Another woman runs away and fetches a child –a three year old boy. Then she indicates that this is the only son of the woman I am talking to. So, I am not getting the answers to my questions. But it is alright. We all smile.
For the women and kids, it is time to laugh. For the first time, they are meeting someone who is not able to speak their language. They encourage me when I speak up one or two Oriya words. They are very supportive.
We visit eight different villages and each village has something to offer me. I see tribal fathers taking care of their kids.
I meet a woman who is speech-impaired. She pulls me in her house to show me preparation of chutney. I meet three women, who are ready to take me up into the Niyamgiri hills to the temple of Dharani Mata. The only condition is I have to wear a saree. Dharani Mata does not allow women wearing salwar-kameez. I meet two women who want to show me that they can write their names, and they confidently write their names in my notebook.
One woman wants me to write my name on her palm, I write it in English, one kid reads it loudly and they all laugh merrily.
I meet an old woman, who is running a grocery shop. When I take her photograph, she demands a copy of this photograph for displaying it in her shop. She speaks in Oriya, but I can make it. In one village, girls fetch me to a spot, where women take bath, wash utensils and clothes. It is a 50 feet climb-down, and they want me to go there. Two women hold my hands so that I do not fall down. They are laughing when they see me climbing down with so much of caution.
Outside village temple, there is a small stone. I sit there for a minute and a tribal man rushes to me. He explains that the stone is a goddess, I apologize and he accepts the apology without hesitation. He informs me about the temple in details, indicating that he is not really angry with me for my misconduct- because he knows I had no bad intentions.
I am in the vicinity of Niyamgiri hills. This is my first visit to this area and it is ‘love at first sight’ with Niyamgiri. It is beautiful. There is something very serene about the hill. I am fully aware of the unrest in the hills; so I had a dilemma about this visit. But I choose to come here, and I am happy that I came here.
Just three days in the midst of those communities and so much of enrichment. It is kind of magic for me. How many times I have experienced this? I mean mingling with the crowds, even when we do not understand each others' language? But let me tell you, it is fun. Even without language you can build bridges. May be because you can’t advice them or you can’t make long speeches, you build better bridges.
I return to Pune and observe the festive environment. Everybody is naturally in a celebration mood. I still remember those children and those women. I remember the poverty. I remember their unventilated houses. I remember only dal-chawal in their plates. I remember women climbing down 50 feet to take a bath. My heart is full of such memories.
I need to build bridges between the luxuries I have and the lack of basic amenities people in the remote parts of the country have.
Otherwise, I will walk miles but I will not reach anywhere. Then the bridges would be useless.