“Swayam ki khoj me Vayam!”
The feeling of something being amiss didn’t quite leave 29-year-old Hemendra Chaudhari until two years ago. Hailing from Popharan village, Palghar district of Maharashtra, he had tried his hands at a couple of jobs that had aligned with his education in mechanical engineering from Mumbai University. As he sat by himself in the evenings after returning from work, he knew he had been robbed of his satisfaction. He didn’t quite understand how. Surely, there were more things a pleasant work-life was supposed to bring, than just money? These feelings were not the kind that could have been shared at home.
His first stint was at a pharmaceutical company as a maintenance engineer. Perpetual smell of the medicines made him sick, causing him to quit. He mortgaged his grandmother’s jewellery for a course in ‘Quality Testing’ followed by a month long internship at a steel company. Here, he worked for 12 hours straight every day but didn’t feel at ease. Two months later, a new job that revolving around piping engineering, and over 15 subordinates under him. A year and a half passed, but the questions returned to haunt him. Is earning Rs 15,000 now and Rs 40,000 after ten years the goal of my journey? Can these questions be solved on Facebook? If not, where else?
One morning in June 2017, to his surprise, he found his ideas gaining resonance with a set of people, featured in a supplement of the Marathi daily, Lokmat. They, like him, questioned the purpose of life. Their stories spoke of pathways that Hemendra hadn’t found for himself. He knew, though, he had arrived at the steps to his deep aspiration. He enrolled for a programme that was a common thread for most of these people who seemed happy and content in the pages of this newspaper – ‘NIRMAN‘. He was interviewed, and he too made it through. In December 2017, he reached the facility nestled in Gadchiroli district to attend the first phase of a weeklong workshop.
Curiously enough, the sessions at NIRMAN didn’t impart him with concepts the way his school or college had. Instead, the sessions nudged him to think; to think of his usefulness towards the society that had nurtured him. “On the very second day of the workshop, I’d made up my mind after listening to a fellow’s experience of working with a movement called Vayam. It became clear to me that I needed to leave my current job in order to fill the void that had existed for a long time,” he said. But he couldn’t tell this at home just yet.
Preparing the Muhupada water plan.
On returning, he resigned from his job and later broke the news to his family. It wasn’t easy. There was enough stigma prevalent about working in a ‘social sector’, to which his family was no stranger. “Social work is done after one’s marriage,” he was told. Only two considerations, however, weighed on him – his mother’s ongoing chemotherapy and the need to stay close to home. He soon went to meet the founder of Vayam, a public trust working to mitigate the distress of the tribal population in Jawhar tehsil in Palghar district, 80 km from his home. Milind Thatte advised him to first begin on a two month internship. From that meeting on, it was clear to him that he would work here, with this group of individuals. But in what capacity, was the next question,” said Hemendra. He was assigned the task to brainstorm ideas for improving the living conditions of people in Jawhar.
Inauguration of Kashti Pada Well.
In these villages, it was rare to find electricity and rarer was the mobile network. In the middle of the night, he was sometimes greeted by beg bugs, and by mouse at other times. Four words sum up his response to the adverse circumstances he had plunged himself into – “My vision was clear.” The task at hand was to help five villages solve the question of drinking water. Subsequently, a ‘water development plan’ was drawn up with the elderly of the village. “We would print Google images of the village for the people to see, Together, we would identify water bodies and how its uses could be improved. Our priorities were based on the number of people that would benefit from a particular project,” he explains. He didn’t realize when his internship period had ended. He had been too engrossed in the project to think of that. As for the financial part, he was supported by some friends and later through NIRMAN‘s own fellowship that helped him sustain the year.
While planning to save legumes at Doyapada Ranbhaji Mahotsav.
A year later, the same project was extended to ten other villages and Hemendra had begun his research. “We work primarily with villages that are able to manage their own affairs as per Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act. My work continues to focus upon solving the problem of drinking water,” he says, adding that he is also looking to upgrade his technical knowledge through certain short-term courses.
In these two years, Hemendra has found himself at peace, and at a place where his work matters. He hasn’t aligned his work to his academic education but has been managed to align his ideals to his occupation. This time, it sure does feel right.
– Abha Goradia, NIRMAN