Every face told a story, every road spoke its tales, every quiet soul screamed out their heart in silence. Some heard, some understood, some just left behind unnoticed, but some touched my heart. Some widened my horizons, enriched my experiences, and left me to swim in the ocean of questions.
Every day was like reading a new page of a book, an unknown book. I had no idea what it had to offer, but I definitely enjoyed each page of it.
We went to different places, industries, tried our hands at block printing and realised it was so difficult, and then watched men and women do that for hours. We visited CBOs and government offices where we needed to show where we had come from, and they would brand us with some famous items like “Oh! Darjeeling tea”, or “Mumbai waley” or also “South India.”
We had to talk with etiquettes and manners in their well-furnished rooms with the cool breeze flowing from the air conditioner, but I always sensed a kind of hierarchy, and even in that cool room, we could not always be comfortable; there were politically correct conversations most of the times or they just talked about the things we had also seen or read on the internet.
Things were different in Chainpura, a village in Ramgad, a few hours away from the pink city of Jaipur. We reached around 10 am and the area looked to me like a deserted place, thorny plants almost everywhere, no sight of people or cars on the road. I rolled down the window, hoping to get some fresh breeze, but rather, received a blast of hot air and I immediately closed it. Rural Immersion – I said to myself.
We finally reached the village where we were welcomed in the house of Mr Jagdish Singh Gujjar, who greeted us and asked about our origins, and after that, told us that a bunch of women had been waiting for us inside.
We enter and see shy women belonging to different age groups sit on the floor and talk in their mother tongue, two cradling their children, all wearing bright and colourful clothes and jewellery. They were so beautiful, yet their beauty was hidden under their ghoonghats (veils). The world did not see it.
Anita, the daughter-in-law of that house spoke fluent Hindi, which helped us converse, whereas the others spoke to us in their native Rajasthani. We sat down with them and begin our immersion process. We told them where we’ve come from, and they were blank. They didn’t know where Kerela or Kalimpong was; it was alien to them.
We asked them to talk about why they had gathered there, and they reluctantly started saying that they met officially once in a month, and it was some group formed by themselves where they collected an amount of ₹100 every month, and the one who was most in need took that amount, and sometimes it would be split among two or even three or four people.
Slowly, they started opening up to us, they talked about their problems, like the water crisis. Most of them talked about how they worked the whole day and had to go miles to sell the milk that their cows and buffaloes gave. So, we asked them why they were not opening a dairy in the village, and they too said that it was their dream to have a dairy in the village so that they would not have to walk for miles, but no one would help them.
They looked upon us with hope, they thought we would solve their problem, we would help them open a dairy. Their eyes spoke a million, what words could not deliver.
And, as the conversation continued, they spoke about many other things; how they thought daughters should get married between the age of 19-21. They did not discourage education though, they said everyone deserves an education, but marriage was important too.
Weddings in villages are beautiful and unique at my place, so I enquired about how it happened there, to which they said they sang and danced, and I quickly asked if they could sing a Rajasthani song for us, and they didn’t, at first!
They were giggling and hiding their faces behind the coloured dupattas (scarves), when one elderly woman started singing in a voice which was corse, heavy, and strong. Soon after, to our surprise, all of them joined and the entire place was filled with their voices; no guitar to give them rhythm, no drums to keep up the beat and no tambourine needed, just their voices, loud enough for the men sitting outside to notice.
Their voices had variations, and sounded so natural, like the wind at times, like the early morning birds, it sounded like a river cutting its way through the stones and rushing its way to find a path.
One woman got up and started to dance, and she looked like a kite flying in the sky, so free. They pulled us up and made us dance too, and for a moment, we all forgot our problems, the barriers of language, we forgot where we came from, we forgot where Kerela or Kalimpong was. We all danced and laughed and sang together.
Our voices echoed beyond our reach. Then, they asked us to sing a number for them, and we agreed and started to sing. The moment we did, tears rolled down my eyes, and I just couldn’t stop them. I was glad, for a moment, that Rajasthani women wore ghoonghats, as I did that too, for I did not want them to see me cry.
As we sang, I realised that they did look like kites in the sky, but also that the kite is never really free. It is always attached to its thread, and that’s what they were. No one would listen to them, no one was there who could solve their problems. No one to tell them about different countries and their songs, no one. My heart broke as we were also just there for a day and when we would leave, it would still be no one.
I wish kites flew in the sky all by themselves. I only wish!!
About the author: Prasanna Alamah Rai is a student of the current batch of PGP in Development Leadership at ISDM. This story is from ‘Realizing India’, a component of the program where the students visit different districts to understand the ground realities of our country.