It is about 9.00 in the morning when I see her. No, I do not know her, and I do not talk to her. I am aware that taking this photograph is an invasion on her privacy. But I take it to remind myself the burden women carry in their life.
I am traveling from Munger (Bihar) to a small tribal hamlet. On the way we have stopped at a dhaba for breakfast. Anticipating non-availability of hygienic food my team has carried bread, butter and jam. So, in the midst of poverty, I am having a luxury breakfast. I am traveling in a car, which has air-conditioning facility. I have packaged water bottle with me. I have instruments like mobile and digicam. I have enough money in pocket and I have enough food. My life stands in full contradiction with the woman who has to carry this burden almost everyday.
We move away. I see men sitting on the top of the bus and tempo all through my journey in the state.
The transport facility is so scarce, that people have to travel like this. Inside the vehicle there is crowd. It is humid and hot. Those sitting on the top of the bus at least get enough air to breathe. I do not know what is happening to those sitting inside the vehicle – and women have to sit inside. Another burden they carry. I see my life in full contradiction with those traveling on the bus-top.
We reach at the end of the road. A tribal (Santhal community) young man is there to receive us and guide us towards the hamlet. He is speaking fluent Hindi and is not at all shy. As we are walking through paddy fields, I have to pay full attention to the marked walking path. One moment here and there, and I would slip in the mud. I can neither enjoy the conversation nor the scenic beauty around.
We reach a small hamlet. A bucketful of water is brought for us. Within five minutes women gather in the community hall. They are surrounded by children. Men too come to listen. The hall is packed. I sit on the chair. Generally I sit on the ground but today I cannot. On the road were many thorny grasses, my salwar is full of those thorns. If I sit cross legged, thorns are sure to trouble me, so I sit in the chair. The local men and women walk through these thorny fields regularly. There is no shop in the hamlet, no dispensary, nothing. For everything people have to walk for at least five kilometers. They live with the thorny grasses happily. I see my life in full contradiction with the life of these tribal people.
One of my responsibilities is to address such meetings. Actually I do not teach them much but I learn a lot from them. The hamlet name is Vannarkola. There are only 36 households in the hamlet. Electricity polls exist, but there is no electricity. Women and children are malnourished. I apologize for not knowing their ‘tribal’ language. They all enjoy my ignorance in a healthy way – ‘it is alright’ kind of expression on their faces. Most families own land – a small land of course. Women have formed couple of Self Help Groups. Some have participated in agriculture development program. I talk about different things.
I pass on the baton to my colleague and come out of the hall. I like this hamlet. The houses are small, with mud walls. I see green paddy fields around and the sky is clear blue. There is deep peace in the environment. I fully enjoy the moment, knowing well that I would never get it in the city.
My team comes out in search of me. They start talking about different aspects of the development program. I leave that peaceful moment behind and jump into the discussion. Well, a lot of things could be done here. We walk through the hamlet, open the doors (in the absence of its owner) and glance at the inner part of some houses. I meet a 10 year girl, whose name is ‘Gungee’. A man is carrying a small child on his shoulders, whose name is ‘Khushabu’. I see utensils, clothes, goats, cows, and birds. I get a feel that ‘this is a fine place’. And again, I see my life in full contradiction with the hamlet. One enjoys such remote hamlets when one’s life is not blocked into it. As I have a comfortable place to stay, I can appreciate mud house. What if I am compelled to stay in it?
The program ends. The SHG is providing tea and biscuits to all those who are gathered. I notice that the kids are given only biscuits. In the eyes of the kids, I see a wish for tea. I invite them to dip their biscuit in my cup of tea. Without hesitation, a child dips a biscuit. Then comes the second child, then the third and so on. I see their smiling faces, the happiness in their eyes.
And I see my life in full contradiction with these kids. For them, just a little tea to dip a biscuit is a source of such a tremendous joy. And for me?
We leave. A group of women and men walk with us about a couple of kilometers, just to see us off. We talk, we smile, we laugh, we plan, we promise to meet again. The feeling of closeness is mutual. The joy in meeting each other is mutual. The wish to meet again is mutual. The connectedness is mutual. The wish to hold hands is mutual. The smile, the happiness is mutual. The bond is mutual.
At last, there is no contradiction.