By Swetha Davuluri:
I joined the India Fellow program when everything in my life was going bad. I was disappointed that I had not been admitted into Teach For India (TFI). At home, my grandpa was sick and was hospitalized.
I felt like nothing was going right with my life. Just when I had lost all hope, I received an email from TFI listing all similar opportunities available out there.
That’s how I got to know about India Fellow. I didn’t inform my parents that I had applied for the fellowship. Just when I had applied, my grandpa passed away. At that time, therefore, my parents were busy with all the rituals. Also, I wasn’t even sure if I would be called for the interview.
One fine day, however, I received a call from India Fellow. I was informed that I had cleared the first round and would be interviewed via telephone. Post the telephonic interview, that I would be called for a face-to-face interview in Bangalore.
The dreaded moment had arrived, when I would have to inform my parents of the fellowship programme and the interview. I wasn’t even sure how they would react. My mom was supportive when I informed her but my dad was apprehensive from the word go.
So it had started – the beginning of many firsts in my life. I travelled alone for the first time for the interview in Bangalore. I was slowly coming out of my cocoon. For an introvert like me, this wasn’t easy at all.
I cleared the interview, got into the fellowship and was called for training in Udaipur. There, I made new friends who had come from across India – although it felt like I had known them all my life.
I was then placed in an organisation called Centre for Learning Resources (CLR) in Pune. None of us (the fellows) were ready to part ways after the initial days of our training.
I travelled to Pune from Udaipur with mixed emotions. I was already homesick, as this was the first time that I would have to fend for myself away from home. After reaching Pune, however, I realised that the experience wasn’t as bad as I had expected.
My colleagues at CLR were very friendly and helped me find a place to stay – right behind the office. It was an outhouse, which was initially in a shabby condition. But my landlady had it repaired within a week. By the time I arrived, it was already a cosy place.
I wanted to make the most of my fellowship. I decided to live on my own, pay my own bills, cook my own food and do the chores without hiring a maid. This way, I felt very independent and self-sufficient.
I was constantly travelling to Chhattisgarh on work assignments. The long train journeys were largely meditative. I was able to reflect on many things. During the course of time, I met many people and shared many stories with them.
My work in Chhattisgarh involved travelling extensively within the state. Some of the places were quite remote. This helped me mingle with communities, understand their cultures and lifestyles.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed going to the villages and interacting with the communities. The daal chaaval (lentil rice), cooked on firewood, always tasted delicious.
There were many incidents during these journeys which touched my heart. However, I cannot simply forget the time when a mother offered me her child’s share of milk. Even though I was feeling guilty about drinking it, the mother insisted me to drink it. She narrated how difficult it was for her to make both ends meet. Hence, she had to buy milk everyday, only for her kid. They had their own cows, but the milk from these cows was sold. This was their only source of income. Yet she felt insulted when I refused to have the milk!
Such selfless gestures by the poor villagers used to touch me from time to time. I learnt so much from them – how to be selfless, how to help someone when they are in need and how welcoming and warm one could be to a total stranger. In cities, we hardly see such acts.
After my fellowship ended, I was torn between leading a city life and being a part of the simple and memorable village life. It took me a while to adjust to the ways of the city again. In the end, I made peace with it.
Deep down, however, my heart still belongs to the villages, even though I am now living in a city and working with a software as a service (SAAS) company. A part of me was definitely left behind in Chhattisgarh’s villages. By then, a whole part of me had changed – for the better!
The author is an India Fellow of the 2014 batch. She worked with a grassroots organisation called Centre For Learning Resources. Her work involved interacting closely with the early-education and child development machinery of the state, and with children, teachers and guardians.