IRMA's fieldwork segment is one of the most challenging for its participants. And while I left Anand with several apprenhensions I not only survived but enjoyed the entire two month stay.
The district we went to is one of the most feared places in IRMA as the previous batch had its participants being beaten out of the villages and some were hospitalised for various illnesses.
My village was an enchanting place. Though it was the second highest hill station in the state it was not as popular as some other hill stations.
On reaching the village, we were shown our house. A modest accommodation by any stretch of imagination. One cot, a small chulha, and a couple of chairs were provided by our host family. For the first couple of days, we had a small diya for illumination purpose. Later we were given a solar powered CFL light which was a boon for my partner and me.
The first week was a testing period for me. It was cold, the house had its share of visitors in the form of snakes, rats and the like. There was no toilet and I had to climb a small hill to answer nature's call. At one point in time I was frustated and wanted to pack my bags and leave. The unseasonal rains added to the misery.
But as time passed, I realised the inherent capacity of humans to adapt themselves to any situation. Suddenly I started feeling comfortable. So much so that when my fellow colleague ran away home, I preferred to stay back and enjoy the tough village life.
I realised that this would be the first and the last time I would get an opportunity to live such a kind of life which was devoid of electricity, sanitation, mobile coverage and the usual stress levels associated with IRMA and life.
Since I was living in a tribal village, I had the opportunity to interact with some of the most honest and simple people in this world. People who had not gone out of their small village, people who were content with what they had and people who lovingly shared their space, time and food with strangers like me.
I was also fortunate to participate in some of their rituals which were held deep in the forest at night. It was an unique experience as I had never been exposed to the tribal culture.
The village stay made me realize how lucky I was to have all the comforts which was not available to the villagers. These two months have made me humble and more tolerant towards non-availability of luxuries like electricity, internet if and when there is a problem.
I have also started questioning the efficacy of high GDP growth in alleviating poverty. None of the villages I visited in Nandurbar had been touched by this high growth rate. Also most problems afflicting the villages like addiction to tobacco, polygamy, child marriages, etc were social evils which required solutions outside the narrow domain of GDP growth.
While this visit has left deep impressions on me and my life, more importantly it has raised several questions like the one stated above. I will, in the course of my stay in IRMA and beyond pursue them to satisfy the curiosity.