The incident of Mr Pisalkar telling me to dress “appropriately” was so unnerving more so because he had come to meet us early in the morning wearing a bush shirt over a ‘pyjama’. Irony of the situation was such that I was asked to take a ‘duppata’ to meet the villagers by a man who did not wear a decent formal garb to meet two urban women coming from Delhi.
By the time we reached Yavatmal our itinerary was almost decided and some changes had to be made in reservations that we had made from Delhi. Once Shailesh came to pick us up in the Sumo, the first stop was to buy a white duppata for me. This was a piece of cloth that I had with me for most part of the rest of the travel not considering whether white matched the colors I was wearing or not. Next we were taken to a travel agent to arrange for the changes in the reservations.
All this was happening while I was patiently waiting for the encounter with the villagers. Before I proceed with the travelogue, it is imperative that I explain my fascination with villages and villagers. I have been born and brought up in the urban setup of Delhi. Love the city and the city slickers alike. I have also grown up on stories of how wonderful the villagers are and of how beautiful the villages are. The stories of hospitality, ingenuity and generosity were at this time taking a life of their own in my mind. My imagination had put the villagers on a pedestal and the villages were more of a part of heaven than of earth by 10 o’clock on 14th January 2006, when I was so near yet not there.
After coming out of the travel agent I was very sure that the next stop would be a village. The direction that the Sumo took belied my instinct. Shailesh had instructed the driver to take us to his home/office. Here we were greeted with a plate of poha and sheera (a sweet preparation called Halwa in north India) along with tea --- that was very black, very sweet and very little (thank God for that last mercy). After the eating and the small talk with Pisalkar family our party followed Shailesh to the upper floor of his house to talk work.
The office was a two-room setting. The furniture was minimal. The room that greeted us as we entered was just like a government establishment. Where numerous green, red and mustard colored cardboard files with sheets of paper coming out of them were strewn all over the place. A huge Godrej iron almirah with a bunch of keys hanging on the lock was the focal point of this room. Shailesh at this point announced that he would like to tell us a little about his organization, its origin, its working and then finally of how he would be of help to us. From this point on my job of an AD began. Ma’am told me to take notes and to remember all the major points that Shailesh mentioned. I was on the job!
I was amazed at the man’s stamina. Being a talker myself, talking non-stop for an hour is no big deal for me. But Shailesh opened my eyes when he spoke continuously for 2½ hours. Even ma’am interjecting him with questions trying to make sure he stuck to the subject did not deter his spirits.
It was 12 o’clock and time for us to finally go meet a Self Help Group (SHG) of 20 women, who prepared and sold herbal oils, incense sticks and medicinal tooth powder. Here I met women who were living on the threshold. They were not rural anymore, yet urban living was still a distant dream that they were working hard to achieve. We spoke with women of the group and how they marketed their product. How the SHG helped them financially etc.
14th January is celebrated as Makar Sankranti all over India. Maharashtrians celebrate the festival by decorating their houses, the aangan by making rangoli and making a sweet preparation called Til-gud. The guests are offered Til-gud on this day accompanied with a wish and blessing to say sweet words throughout the year. On 14th January, Sabiha ma’am and I had more than our share of Til-gud at all the places we went.
The women belonging to the SHG welcomed us very warmly. They offered tea, which we did not have the heart to refuse. Til-gud followed and then came the best part of the meet. I was enthusiastically urged by the women to try brushing my teeth with the tooth powder they had prepared. It was loads of fun doing that. Though the tooth powder is not something I cherish nor is the red saliva mix dripping down my mouth a scene I am proud of; but the experience of using the water from the well to wash my mouth. Well for a city slicker like me… That was something!!!
More of 14th January next time…