One seat away from me, sat a first-time flier. Mid-air, he asked the air hostess whether he could eat his own food, to which she replied “bilkul, kyu nahi kha sakte ho”. He removed a bunch of thick chapatis with vegetable pickle and ate it all really fast. The older me would have felt a feeling of pity for someone who looked helpless. Instead, I found myself simply thinking about wanting his food. It looked much better than my limp pesto sandwich.
It’s been over a year since I have made monthly visits to non profits a part of my regular work. Most of them have been to different parts of India and many of them, rural-based. Rural India to me meant poverty stricken villages, droughts, uneducated people, lack of electricity and rotis made on chulas. There are significant challenges that exist across the several villages in our country. However, I used to be awkward in my interactions with rural Indians because I felt we were different. Now, while I know that there are differences, I don’t feel like we are different people. The innate feeling that I must first learn to empathize, has given way to a desire to learn to accept. And for the development problems that exist, I feel a much more objective outlook towards thinking of ways to solve them.
Conversations about their children’s marriages, eating together, walking through their fields, driving on their roads, visiting many schools, health care facilities, eating at local joints and drinking the same water while understanding how to harvest rain-water…seeing and being a part of their world. Simply exposing myself to it. A few days ago, a group of teachers from a village in Maharashtra visited our office. Their first visit to a city. They were very shy, just like how a child is when it meets someone new. But after chatting for a while, looking around the office, understanding our work, the teachers became much more at ease and confident. Very importantly, they came into their own. Just like the child who now cannot stop running around the house with joyful glee. They exposed themselves to what was new to them, different for them, they learnt about the unknown and soon enough, they were thinking aloud about working in an office environment. Both sides stopped feeling like people from different planets.
More than any other learning, this has been my biggest one so far – to accept each other as equals. I don’t believe I would have felt this if I hadn’t stepped in to their lives. Today, I find myself even more excited about my next visit, because I don’t feel like it’s a novel thing to do anymore, and now that I’m here, I feel like this learning has paved the way for more definite work.