I travelled to Mhaswad, Satara today, and what an experience it was!!
We took a bus, and it was a run down ramshackle excuse of a vehicle as compared to the ones our department has hired before. Anyway. Wannabe social activists should know how the common man lives so I settled down to what I expected to be a long, boring ride. Like Naomi always says, when in India, expected the unexpected. After popping a pill for travel sickness, I promptly passed out. Sitting up. And began my collection of ‘tengus’. I whacked my head around quite a bit as I kept falling asleep. We were bumped and jolted around for four hours before we finally reached. The driver had already begun showing of his Schumacher-esque skills and I should have been prepared for what was to happen later, but I’ll come to that later.
We visited Manndeshi Mahila Business School and Bank for women. A revolutionary bank set up to empower and enable rural women in banking, this one was an eyeopener for me. The bank provides loans and finance to rural women (and men partially). They also run a mobile business school for the women, teaching them various skills including sewing and mehendi work. Before you assume that this is one of the usual Self Help Group thingys, let me assure you, they aren’t. The professors at this business schools are the local tea stall owner and your friendly vegetable vendor. Surprised? Don’t be. They are the ones who know how to really run businesses in a rural set up. They have three basic rules for the women they teach.
- Be confident. You are doing legitimate business.
- Don’t give away free stuff.
- Never compromise on quality. People return to your shop because they think you provided them with good quality stuff.
We visited the bank, their radio station, and their mobile school. The radio station is pretty cool, as the people themselves are an integral part of the radio programmes, ensuring that everyone tunes in regularly. They have air time on women’s issues, agrarian issues, on air quizzes for kids aspiring to be in the civil service, and even a doctor coming on air once a week!
The bus ride back was crazier than expected, as we travelled almost two hours in a completely random direction to fuel up. And then, our driver unveiled what a Schumacher he was. I haven’t ever bounced around so much. Not very different from a roller coaster actually. The government provides free roller coaster rides to all its citizens by simply not repairing any roads! How awesome is that? I saw potholes the size of tiny ponds, and the bus driver expertly maneuvered them all very skillfully, resulting in many people falling off their seats. And despite all that bouncing, the WSC department had had enough. Everyone slept!
We finally reached Pune around 11:30 pm and then we all headed home, drained out but enriched with the experience.
This trip actually has made me question my materialism and moron-ism. I’m seriously wondering if it would be too materialistic to just marry a rich guy and live on a lavishly furnished yacht for the rest of my life. Or am I just being a moron to be wanting to do THIS. This whole “make-a-difference” rigmarole gets quite tiring sometimes. And then I think of how people do this every single day of their lives. Negotiating this free roller coaster is a harrowing experience people do everyday.
I think there’s nothing like trying to be one of ‘them’ to make me do some serious introspection and decision making about whether being a earth shatteringly influential and successful ‘jhanda’ bearing activist is worth it.
It is. I learn every time I meet some of these people I want to ‘help’. And I realize, that more than me helping them, they teach me. How to be endlessly smiling and cheerful. How to be economical and save money. How to be self sufficient. How to multi task. How to struggle every waking hour, and then at the end of the day, go to sleep knowing you haven’t wasted a single moment of your life. Maybe I’m romanticizing rural life or hardships, but then again, maybe not. We, the privileged have forgotten how to be curious about life, how to learn. We’ve forgotten how to smile in the rush of our daily lives. We’ve forgotten how to say no to people and to acknowledge when someone helps us. How to be grateful to have to roof over your head and a thousand other luxuries we just take so much for granted. How to sleep in a bus without falling off the seat.
I think I’m gonna be a moron anyway, and then maybe buy my own yacht someday.