23rd Aug, 2006
Sometimes people blow me away like a withered fallen leaf.
One person is of course Nafisaben. Her attitude, her what-do-you-mean-i-can't-get-what-i-want, followed by the trademark so-what-can-we-do-to-get-me-what-i-want stances. She's one of a few people (along with so far.. hmmm.. Gandhiji, Sainath and my husband) who I count as great. I can't believe i lucked into getting to know her as well as i do.
Yesterday, her husband, a die-hard believer that amdavadis (as ahmedabadis like to call themselves) can, in fact, acquire culture, was sitting with a friend (poet and writer Rudra Rana) to commisserate on lack of enthusiasm on the part of local newspapers for his new play. They complained that a certain newspaper covered all kinds of plays except theirs. Nafisaben promptly told her husband to give her the cell phone number of the editor of that newspaper, called him, complained that he wasn't covering the play and told him to definitely definitely send someone. She also asserted that he'd better check the review before printing it!
While we were all laughing at her audacity, she asserted that there's no embarassment in putting yourself out there if you believe in something. Would that i could always have someone like her on my side.
The other two are her husband and his friend. Rajoo sang for us some very beautiful ghazals, but then his friend started reciting his poetry.. who knew i could be brought to my knees with a poem recital in a language i can barely understand! he talked about the tensions between hindus and muslims, and generally about hatred, with a sadness that was all the more poignant with the matter-of-fact tone with which he recited it. You realize what true heroes these are - those who hate what has become of their homes, but instead of leaving, choose to stay and persist in the futile fight for change.
Just a couple others i'd like to mention in this gushing entry. Today we went to visit Chotra village in Rajula. Utthan was carrying out a PRA - preliminary rural appraisal or something like that. This is where we walk into a village and gather the villagers (or i guess in this case, the decision makers) and initiate whatever discussion you'd like to have. Watching the Utthan team handle this discussion was unbelievable - the women who work for the Rajula field office, all from Rajula, have enormous poise and public speaking ability. i can't even imagine walking into a village and telling people that some of their most treasured traditions are, well, wrong. and they need to be the ones insisting on change. the village, while richer than most villages (apparently it is, since i have no basis for comparison, this being the first village i've ever been in - ack! my first village visit!) still has a lot of the problems that you hear about. there were only 4-5 women among a group of almost 40 and all of them were covering their faces. It was only gradually that more women came and only when we broke into small groups, one being the women's group, that any woman actually spoke. and then, did they speak! the young women were terribly excited about being part of the women's group and taking on the elders. talking to them, we learned that there were no harijans in the group that had come, and anyhow, the harijans could not enter the village temple. also, the reason we know this village is that Utthan helped them out when they suffered a bad flood the year before. turns out all the harijan homes are right next to the river and thus, most vulnerable to a flood. images of black new-orleansians stranded on rooftops in the middle of a lake float around my head.
hopefully these types of dialogues will work. hopefully something does. what makes me so ashamed is that some of the same things we criticise in villagers are very much present in urban middle class india. i need to have the guts to talk so forthrightly and fearlessly about these problems, and force people to think about them and take a justifiable stand on them.
one more interesting note on villagers to end this with. yknow the stereotype of the gujarati farmer, all wizened with a white turban and long horizontal proud moustaches? well, its true.