It was mid-march when we three left Noida for rural areas of Mathura. The temperature already started reaching 40 degrees in afternoon. Our organization had a rented building in village Chhinparri where we were supposed to stay until we find a village family to stay with. Now, our task was to roam around in 15 villages, interact with villagers, tell them about our purpose of stay and then convince them to let one of us stay with them for 3 months. In the end we had to finalize 3 villages for each 1 of us. Factors like remoteness of village, diversity in terms of castes and economic background, no presence of our organization, presence of a private school and readiness of villagers in keeping strangers with them played important role in final selection of villages.
For next 1 month, our crazy interactions in the process kept me going forward in the project. In the start we had no idea how to pitch ourselves. We just knew that we were going to tell them about our civil services aspirations for which we needed to stay 3 months with them to understand rural life. I still remember our first village which couldn’t be worse. We went to the level of saying that we could have earned lots of money in cities but we were there to help them. It was completely against our idea of pitching in. This has been the lowest point from our side in the whole process. I don’t know where did it come from but it couldn’t be worse. Next village was Daulatpur where everything was going smoothly until we met a farmer’s group playing cards. One of the farmers halted the game and threw serious questions about interference of Government and other organizations in agriculture. His statement “it could be an adventure for you guys and others but it is a risk of our food for next 6 months” made me realized the seriousness of the task given to me. In one of the villages, a man misunderstood us and told others that we were selling IAS forms. IAS form came in our conversation only once when he asked us the price of one form. That incident taught us the level of misinterpretation which could happen from our conversations. Fortunately, we were there listening to his interpretation and could fix it up. But I wasn’t sure if we could repair other dozens of them.
After a short Holi break, we were back for our mission of finalizing 3 villages for us. Till then, we had success rate of around 50% in convincing the community for our stay. But it drastically changed to almost 100% once we were back. The late night self-reflections of our performance in villages made us better each day. The right pitch to right set of people at right time in each village started helping us. But still, funny incidents kept happening with us. In a village named Jafarpur, a lady asked us “Which bottled water are you advertising?” seeing a Bisleri water bottle in my hand. It was a sunny afternoon and it was usual to carry drinking water with us while roaming in the villages. Now this was the last thing I could have imagined anyone thinking of us. We got habitual of listening apprehensions like we could be terrorists from Pakistan with fake ids or Naxalites from Chhatisgarh. But another level came when we were thought of students hiding after JNU unrest or people who loot people’s money after winning their trust.
After handling such extreme apprehensions from the community, we 3 came close as a very strong team in that 1 month. Now we could have handled every situation in a village. We didn’t only remove their apprehensions but also convinced few families to accommodate us for next 3 months. They all were generous enough to deny any compensation in return of food and accommodation. The whole process was an amazing experience which can’t be expressed in words. The best thing is that we evolved from our mistakes and learnt the right way of pitching our idea. The wonderful memories are not going to fade away from my mind till I live.