Rural Immersion Program – Exposure by Avnish Gaurav

Jafarpur: the village , finally dropped from our list

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A village we visited the most number of times, where we got immense love and affection, and the only village where we went to the wheat fields during our survey was eventually dropped from our list. Here’s how!
Leave the main road to reach Jafarpur, and you are greeted by massive wheat fields on both sides of a single lane, well laid road. We got positive vibes of the village; however, we refrained from forming an opinion of the village well before reaching it. We move on to see a herd of nilgais crossing the road. The elder most among them was the last to cross – a lesson for many of us. We halt to let them cross the road and reach the village after few minutes of smooth ride – a rare experience in an area with dilapidated roads.
As our usual practice, we stop where 3 elderly people are taking rest in afternoon. Mornings are super busy in villages, with every section of people involved in some activity or the other. As a part of our strategy, we interact with a smaller group during our first visit to any village. This gives us an understanding of the village, and a blueprint, though vague, of how to proceed. We discuss details of the village, agriculture, family details etc. During the conversation, we also try to find out details of ASHA worker, teacher, shiksha mitra, Pradhan etc. We try to meet these people in every village we visit. Over a period of time, we have realized that it is difficult for less powerful people to host us irrespective of their warm attitude and hospitality. We have come across cases wherein a Pradhan won election due to some political misalignment and does not hold much respect and authority. Getting in touch with the above list of people gives a sense of who all in the village can potentially host us, if not they themselves.
An elderly volunteers to take us to the only private school in the village. We meet the principal and other people sitting the school premises. It takes a good deal of time and effort to convey our intentions. And, the degree to which our pitch finds acceptance is determined by a host of factors – their education, past experience, general outlook, whether they have hosted or heard of someone hosting strangers etc. The principal tells of a neighboring village where 3 people like us had been asking the Pradhan to arrange an accommodation. That’s a negative reaction from him, to which we have got used to by now. We have water and tea, talk about other matters related to the village, share our contacts and move on.

We also ask the principal to suggest few villages that meet our criteria. We then try to meet ASHA worker. We have to wait for a while as she had gone to fetch drinking water from adjacent village. Availability of drinking water is a major issue in this area. After few minutes, a lady with lipstick and an all smiling face, carrying a water pot on her head asks us to enter her house. A very warm and friendly conversation follows. She is all ready to host us without even seeking our credentials or asking us about our purpose. She goes on to say that they have been married for 9 years and are yet to have a child. The smile on her face is momentarily replaced by a sense of remorse, and she is quick to return to normalcy. Her sister in law tells us how to chop vegetables and cook them with mustard paste.
We are shortly joined by other members of the family. The area is suddenly brimming with people. They have been working all day harvesting wheat. Despite being dead tired, they show immense hospitality towards us. Many people we meet are graduates, and this is reflected in their body language. We are assured of accommodation and food. It is almost dark by now, and we leave for our base camp despite repeated requests to stay back at least for a while.
The three of us give a thumbs-up to the village. However, we do not rule out the possibility of being over buoyed by the hospitality of this single family. Finding a strong point of contact empathetic to us is an important parameter but that’s not all. The village as an entity should also meet our requirements. We kept visiting other villages and seeking feedback about Jafarpur. This was a practice that developed gradually. The limited time we spend in a village is insufficient to have a comprehensive idea. We try to offset it by seeking opinion of people in other villages. Almost everyone gives negative feedback. Its backwardness, law and order issues, scuffle with policeman in the past etc. We still do not reject the village. We have come across cases where rivalry in the past or lack of physical contact leads to such negative impressions of other village. That we could not come across a single word of appreciation did make us apprehensive. We decide to pay another visit to the village. We are invited straight to the fields. An entirely isolated location with approach road full of sand and dust awaits us. One of us stays back and other two go ahead, in case an untoward incident happens. Once everything appears fine the one waiting joins the group. Again, a very pleasant experience. Everyone leaves their work to sit and talk with us. The eldest among them being no exception. The sister working in the field volunteers to ride the bike back home but her brothers disagree. 4 people including me ride back to their home; Siddharth and Bhavesh walk with the eldest member. On our way back one of them softly asks me to stay with them. We reach their home after a quick and funny ride.
It is almost a festive atmosphere in their home. We are served homemade chips, tea etc. They show us the room we can stay in. It is a single room with an open space in front of it, on the first floor. There is no toilet; in fact there are less than 5 toilets in the village all together. We are assured of all possible assistance. I am somehow not very convinced with everything that has been happening, and my reactions are kind of blank as observed by Siddharth. The village continues to be in top 3 for all three of us. Negative comments about the village keep adding up as we seek opinion of people in different villages. The realization that we are being engulfed by the generosity of one particular family further strengthens.
All three of us concur that even to reject the village, we need further information. Otherwise it would be an injustice to this remote village surrounded by massive fields on all sides. This automatically demanded another quality visit to the village. And so we did! The previous two visits have been hurried up as we ended up visiting the village in evening or late afternoon.

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We visit the village around11 o’clock, and head straight to the school we visited during our first visit. The principal is warm as usual. We begin our conversation with our intended questions embedded inside. We are then told how apart from inter-caste tensions, the village has been witnessing intra-caste cold war after a youth was murdered few months back. We decide to refrain from diving deep into the matter, complete the conversations already started and say good bye to the principal.
Our confusion is resolved, and we now have a strong reason to not select the village. We leave the village feeling bad for not fulfilling the expectations of the family that showered so much of love upon us without even knowing much about us. We have decided to keep in touch with the family at least while we stay in the area, and get some gifts for them. That’s a small gesture from our side to try and humbly acknowledge all that they did for us. The love, affection and trust bequeathed upon us by this family played a significant role in boosting our confidence. It strengthened our conviction, reinforced our determination; and kept afloat our motivation at a time when finding a suitable village and accommodation seemed an uphill talk. May be as we expand and grow in scale and confidence, one of us will stay in this village! For now, sorry Jafarpur!

 

 

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