Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

77. A Tale of Two Worlds

It is a tale of two worlds. Many more worlds within those two worlds are visible as I move deeper into it. I see cross connections, power relations, and I understand that I do not know much about it. Yes, I am in Orissa once again.

Ten days. Thousands of kilometers. Sixteen villages and towns. Twenty + meetings. Hundreds of people. Moments of joy and despair. Time to introspect and to compromise.

Some moments are prominent, some are deeply buried, some are just in the queue, and some will definitely influence my life. Some moments I might re-live, some I might never get again.

That was my life during the last ten days. Nothing unusual I believe.

Koraput. We are in the Circuit House. Why it is named so? – None of us knows. It is a beautiful building, constructed in 1937. It is well maintained. My colleague tells me that Vinoba Bhave stayed here in 1955 – this was written in Odia. This must be during Bhoodaana movement. Were there any landlords in this area? – We ask ourselves. We discuss the strengths and the fallout of such movements.

In a small village named Khudi, many women come for the meeting in the evening. So we split in two groups and few of us especially discuss with women. They are smiling at me, and excitedly telling each other about my lack of knowledge of Odia. They cultivate lot of vegetables, but apparently they do not consume it. There are well defined norms which restrict interaction of young women with the outside world.

I meet four very young Sarpanch. Two of them are women and naturally their husbands are playing more active role. For me, the women sharing chairs with unknown guests and government officials is a big step forward. I am sure things will improve as we move on. I talk to a young man. He has no history of political power in his family. He is confident, assertive and he expresses really well. He is aware of the problems of the village, the causes and offers some solutions to it. People seem to be very much aware of government schemes especially NREGS and they keep on posing questions. To watch those people was a joy.

And then my colleagues insist that I visit a local Jagannatha temple. They narrate stories. I am amazed to listen to those. It is beautiful place. There is a story behind construction of this temple. There is no place for logic and rationality here. But if it makes people happier and self-reliant (which hardly is the case!) I don’t mind. And of course, I know that my opinion in these matters is least sought and not at all valued.

Now we move to Kalhandi district. Once again I am in the vicinity of the lovely Niyamgiri. We interact with Dongaria Kondh tribal people. Some of them insist that they are ‘Zarania Kondh’ –living by streams. This is one of the Primitive Tribes. But they seem to be used to external people. The whole village gathers around us – men in very less numbers. As usual we ask questions and they answer. Some questions start a hot debate. Some questions make them laugh.

A woman is wearing a short decorated sickle in her hair. She takes it into her palm to show me it clearly. I ask whether she has an extra piece, she answers I can take the one she is holding. Mischievously she adds: ‘for just hundred rupees’. Everyone around laughs. I know that is not the price of that item. I am surprised with her negotiation skills.

I am wondering about the divide between scheduled caste communities and scheduled tribes communities. Both are poor, but somehow a conflict is induced between them. They don’t trust each other and they have to live with each other. The caste dimension, the social (and economic) disparity, the exploitation, the working of many outside forces is appalling.

I purchase an Odia newspaper and try to read it with the help of my local colleagues. They enjoy the role reversal as they become my teachers. I try to speak couple of sentences and slowly I realize that I understand most of what is being spoken. That happens because I am aware of the context to a certain extent. But when I do not know the context, I fail miserably.

At the end of the day, life seems to pose the same questions that I somehow keep on asking myself repeatedly. Some of them are: What is my role? On whose side I am? Can you change any system by becoming part of it? Is it worth having certain partnerships? Am I teaming with wrong people for the wrong cause? Have I become a ‘purchasable’ person? And that too cheaply?

Through this visit, Orissa remains an enigma for me. It poses more questions and riddles than it answers. I hardly know anything about my own people, just because they belong to another world!

I can’t afford to have a fragmented existence in these two worlds. If I aim at establishing link in the two worlds (obviously for betterment), I need to keep my integrity intact. This leads to more questions, more discomfort, more stress.

That is the essence of the tale of two worlds! I hope, in future I will do better than this and overcome this dilemma by taking some sensible steps.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

76. What if…

“What if…” he said to himself and stopped suddenly realizing that the woman sitting next to him was looking at him sharply.

“Excuse me, did you say anything?” She was rather an assertive woman. He knew how to show a surprised look on his face on such occasions, it always confused the questioner. His reaction invariably created suspicion in the mind of that person. To make someone doubt him/herself is not an easy task in this overconfident world. But he had practiced it enough to gain mastery.

‘Young woman are not shy now a days’, he thought to himself. He anxiously looked at the woman to find out whether he had again talked loudly. But thankfully, the woman was engrossed into her cell phone.

In the mean time, he had lost the thread of his thought. He was struggling to regain that flow. What was he thinking about? What was he trying to do just when the woman interrupted him?

‘Ok, let me begin from the beginning’, he tried to calm down by repeating this usual line. But beginning of what? He was loosing patience. For a moment, he was angry with that woman, now fully smiling in the cell phone. He wanted to shout at her for breaking his thought process. She smiled back at him and he became nervous. His heart was now pounding. He closed his eyes and tried to take few deep breaths. Who was she? Why was she smiling to him? What was this trap?

The bus was moving like a snake through the crowded path. People were coming in and getting down. They were talking, they were laughing, some were sleeping, some were smiling, and some were lost in thought. The woman sitting next to him got down at one stop. Funnily, while leaving she said, “Take care, and don’t wander. You will reach within ten minutes and give me a call when you reach.”

He was surprised and shocked to listen to that woman. Why was she saying this to him? Who was she? What was she thinking of him? Where was he supposed to reach? How did she know where he was reaching? Why did she want to know it? Why did she think that he had her number? He got frightened.

The bus stopped. Everyone got down. The driver and conductor of the bus looked at each other knowingly. The conductor spoke to him, “Last stop. Uncle go straight to your house, do not wander.” Did the conductor know him? How? He could not understand the conductor’s statement. The landmarks looked familiar but the road was not known to him. He did not know anything around. He felt very lonely. He felt like a lost child. Whom to call? If someone responds to his call, what would he say?

He moved away. The cool breeze from the sea shore made him feel sleepy. He still was not able to recall anything. The blankness of the mind was frightening. Who was he? Why was he here? What did he want to do? Where was he going? Why was he not able to remember anything?

He went on walking, in search of something which he knew, which he could recall easily. He went on and on, tired, hungry, thirsty, frightened, desperately trying to relate to the world around. Something in his pocket was ringing constantly. He was more frightened. Was it a black magic? At the first garbage bin, he threw away that ringing machine. Minutes passed. Hours passed.

He was attracted by the smell of Vada-Pav. His mind calmed down. He was smiling like a child. He felt free. He rushed to the stall. He was happy to find something with which he could associate.


The young man at the Vada-Pav stall was making a routine call while the old man was enjoying his Vada-Pav. “Madam, don’t worry. Your father is here again. I will take him to your home. Why do you leave him alone even in the bus? Good that he comes here when he is lost. Cell phone? I am sure he must have thrown it away like last time,” Within minutes the old man would be safely entrusted to his family.

The young man thought to himself, half smiling, half frustrated, ‘What if someone like me would have met my mother and brought her home when she was suffering from memory loss!”

He sighed. Every time this old man turned to him, his hope of his mother’s return ignited in him. “What if…” he thought and tears rolled down.