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.