On The Power Of Making Choices And Why It Matters

I grew up in a small town to a happy couple in the eastern part of India. Growing up, I only have fond and beautiful memories as a little girl where I read magical fairy tales, thrilling spy stories and played with various types of toys. Childhood was nothing but running behind ice cream trucks during summers, building sand castles, painting rainbows and clouds and staying in a dream world.

I was a princess in my home. I was princess who was expected to learn, grow and flourish. I was a princess who was expected to excel in most (if not all) aspects of her life; a princess who always had people guiding her; a princess on whom the burden to feed was never imposed and a princess who made her own life choices.

I was studying in a reputed school and university, availing the best healthcare services and making the best choices for my life where my parents, my ecosystem was supporting me and enabling me to be the best version of myself. My voice was heard, my opinions were respected, my ideas were acknowledged and I was being valued as a person.

Fast forward to 2019. I am 28 years old and exploring my career avenues in the development sector. I join Indian School of Development Management and as per the curriculum norms I visit Sehore, a small district in the heartland of Vindhyanchal Ranges, on the banks of River Narmada, in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

Unavailability of dustbins in Ranimohalla leading to unruly garbage disposal
Unavailability of dustbins in Ranimohalla leading to unruly garbage disposal. (Photo provided by author)

One day, I visited Ranimohalla in Sehore. Ranimohalla is a small community which was most affected by the recent 2019 floods.  This community visit was not my first; hence I went with an experience thinking nothing novel shall be here except hearing some new stories and meeting people with varied experiences. However, I am glad it turned out differently.

The community had narrow lanes with open gutters, dilapidated houses, some pucca and some thatched homes, no garbage disposal system in place, unclean streets, a strong stench of rotten waste and the people here strive daily to meet the basic day to day needs of their life. All this was pretty much what I had expected.

While exploring Ranimohalla, I met a three year old girl called Anamika (name changed) who was one of the happiest children I have ever met in my life.

She had big black eyes beaming with curiosity and she was extremely friendly with us. Anamika was sitting with her grandmother and mother on the day of Karva Chauth (an Indian festival) on her porch outside her home when we met. We were three people and went to speak to her.

Open nalas outside the houses in Ranimohalla. (Photo provided by author)

She was a jolly, happy-go-lucky kid who was excited to see us. She was communicating in her own language which was alien to us. Simultaneously, we were talking to her mother and granny about the living conditions, the Anganwadi, nearby schools and the floods consequence that happened recently.

While talking to her guardians, the plight in their voice was evident. The water level was quite high during the flood. There was a huge loss in terms of goods, the government promised but did not give the adequate compensation and the living conditions were nothing but bad.

We asked few probing questions about the available education and healthcare services, income opportunities, migration, flood relief, etc. and to all these, we heard answers which had angst in their voice and a sense of  helplessness that nothing happens for poor people in this country.

Meanwhile, I found some time to talk to Anamika and she blew me with her innocence, cheerfulness, and her funny questions which left me ecstatic. The conversation left an indelible mark on me which made me question certain opportunities which I have had and the corresponding choices which I have made during the previous years.

I casually asked Anamika’s mother what does she aspire for her daughter. It is, in my opinion pertinent to mention that Anamika’s mother was pursuing her graduation and she said that her daughter is free to make her choices and she will make sure that she receives all the required support from her side.

The conversation ended with Anamika taking us to the nearby Anganwadi which she is scared of going because of injections and clicking some photographs with her.

Anamika (name changed) walking till the Anganwadi centre
Anamika walking till the Anganwadi centre. (Photo provided by author)

While returning to our hotel, I was thinking about the set mental models that I have had even though I have worked in this sector for 4.5 years. When I had started working as a fresh graduate I was overwhelmed with everything in the sector.

The stories shook me, made me cry and howl but somewhere down the line they frizzled out. The unhappiness and impatience of unable to do something within a short span of time was bothering me.

I made certain conclusions thinking “aisa hi hota hai kyuki log nahi samajhte, sarkar nahi samajhti.” (It has always been so, as people do not understand and the government does not listen.)

After meeting Anamika and her mother, I was thinking how inspiring it was to witness that someone who is struggling with her basic necessities dreams her daughter can be the next scientist who shall bring laurels for the country or she shall be the next IAS officer implementing the excellent policies for India.

Is Anamika not you? Isn’t she your sister, daughter, friend, cousin and any relation that you might think of? Does she not have the calibre to show her skills and talents just like you, me and millions of other children in this world?

Isn’t Anamika’s mother your mother too? Just like your mother dreamt about your happy and flourishing life, she too dreams the same for her daughter.

My conversation with Anamika’s mother clearly reinstates my faith that every child has the potential to be a future leader who can bring change and lead the nation and the world for a better and happier tomorrow.

We say children are the future of this country and the least we can do to nurture our future leaders and change-makers is to give them the power of choice and opportunities because be it over anything, choice matters and we all matter.

About the author: this reflective piece has been written by Madhumita, who is a part of the ISDM Class of 2020. She visited Sehore as a part of the rural immersion which is called ‘Realising India’ and fits into the Post Graduate Program in Development Leadership.

Featured image provided by author.
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