Friday, August 14, 2009


Those two years of my life are not ones that I think of with any kind of nostalgia. I was lost throughout, bent on drowning in self-doubt and self-pity. The shock of the new environment didn't help either, I suppose.

But there are bits of it that I wish I'd enjoyed more. There was that one week in rural Rajasthan, for example. It was a mandatory trip for all of us, the school's way of ensuring that the sons and daughters of the rich socialites of Delhi went to an Indian village at least once in their lives. I remember at the introduction session at school, the program leader asked, "So have any of you been to a village before?" One guy raised his hand and said, in all seriousness, "Yes ma'am, to Ambala." I rest my case.

I went for that trip knowing that I would be an outcast again - and I still don't know who to blame for that. All these years, I've blamed them - those snobbish teenagers who couldn't understand me and therefore didn't accept me or include me. But as the years have passed, and I've become more and more like them, I've stopped blaming them and started accepting that I was also partly a cause for my exclusion. We were just too different, them and me. Neither of us could have been expected to fit so easily into each others' lives.

But I was talking about that week. I was so hung up on the people and the politics and the exclusion that I simply forgot to enjoy the trip - or, indeed, learn from it. The place we went to was Tilonia - the Barefoot College. I've since studied the project as a case in a course on social entrepreneurship. It was only while doing research for a presentation that I realized that I'd actually been to the place! I hadn't even known what the project was actually called.

The funny thing is that I can still remember most of the trip itself. The first two days, we stayed in Tilonia and were taken around the campus. I remember solar heaters and rainwater harvesting and women's groups producing handicrafts and something called 'Kabaad se Jugaad' - making useful things out of waste materials. The days were hot and brown. There was dust in little spirals, and sporadic short green bushes. We would wake up early in the morning and queue up before the tap, shivering in the cold of the desert. And the rainwater would gush out from the tap, warm from the solar heating.

After the first couple of days, we were divided into three groups and taken to three separate villages. The village I went to was better than I'd expected it to be - it wasn't squalid or dirty for one thing. There was some sort of drought relief work going on - the women were digging a trench in return for the wages that they would normally be earning from agricultural activities in normal years. We tried to help them a little bit with their digging - they laughed at our pathetic attempts, of course.

My clearest memory from the entire trip is of a group trek we did one night. We walked from the village to a nearby temple, all of us. If only I could describe that trip in detail. It was dark all around - not a single streetlight, no reflected glow from buildings, just the billions of stars overhead. And really, no light was necessary because the starlight was so bright. We city dwellers don't realize how accustomed we are to artificial light. Even when the electricity goes off, there's usually some sort of light - reflected light from the house next door, the street light filtering in. But total and absolute absence of any light but that of the stars overhead - that's an experience!

I don't remember much about the temple itself. Just that we sat or lay under the trees outside. We were mostly quiet, even the shallowest, because of the sheer beauty of the spectacle above us. What can you do in such cases except stare upwards in mute and open-mouthed wonder? I remember thinking, despite the loneliness and the exclusion, that this was one experience I'd never forget. And I never have.
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