Journey is an understatement. Enlightenment it was.
The journey that changed my perspective towards the world.Saheli Bhattacharyya
“Nobody, least of all humans themselves, had any inkling that their descendants would one day walk on the moon, split the atom, fathom the genetic code and write history books.” Being the carrier of their virtue by birth, one day I, another fellow Homo Sapiens set forth on the path of impacting lives.
So, here goes my story. One fine evening I decided to join Gandhi Fellowship. It was absurd. Yes, that’s the word. I was a timid little girl, incapable of asking for a mere ride from an autowala! However, this fellowship placed me in a tribal village called Jhadol, Udaipur District. To be precise, it works for the development of education through leadership programs in many parts of India. Rajasthan was the most exciting part about me joining the fellowship and honestly, my sole reason as well- reason enough to shed off all my fears of stepping out of my comfort zone. On reaching the destination, howbeit, my brain froze. Tons of unknown people in an unknown land. The most dreadful combination for an introvert like me. Whereas, fellowship was all about approaching new people every day, at times unwelcoming ones. Mine is not a story of achievements but of an experience- one that changed my perspective about the world and me.
Dry arid lands, an endless sea of sand reaching the horizon and a scorching sun hanging ablaze- that is how I first picturised Rajasthan to be. Rajasthan is indeed hot. But little did I know that the southern part of it which is perched upon the Aravalis, comes alive during the magnificent months of monsoon. This is the land of Bhils, the ones who fought for Maharana Pratap and in the Mahabharata as well. Never in my life had I been greeted with a “Kathe Zairiyo?” (where are you going?) by strangers on the road with a broad smile. I could hardly leave a hut without relishing an authentic Rajasthani meal or a bag full of freshly plucked vegetables. A picturesque display of humility thriving in the so called poor parts of India, made me realize how unbefitting are the stringent concepts of our modern-day civilization. I still remember, while chatting with an old man about his childhood days I happened to ask his age. And he responded with a 3-digit number! This was unbelievable because he couldn’t have been anything more than seventy. A hundred years in these villages is synonymous to a considerable amount of time, to be precise, uncountable. Time was indeed relative here, for hardly were the Bhils aware of their age. On the other hand, the urban social structure is rather obliged to clients and clock for its very existence.
In the wake of the new “Sarkar” era when my country was/is being stripped of all diversity that exists on the crust of this land, the Tehsil of Jhadol was a solace to my heart. Travel every 5 km and you can hear a different language or a subtle shift of dialect for sure. Every village had different styles of a settlement and modes of interactions but all lived in harmony. The tribal gods are Hindu but look contrastingly different. But to think of it, the people ruling my country can’t even fathom the cultural flux India has been living through for thousands of years and still does. Every entity living in India is a product of several languages, religion, and culture.
Again, the tranquillity of nature amidst a humble oral culture was invigorating for my urban dry soul. Come monsoon and it was magical. We found ourselves blinded by fleeting clouds here and there. One day, after the monsoons struck, I witnessed an amazing sight on my way to school. Small rivulets had started pouring in at the side of the road I took, inviting a line of bathers along with it. Here, I saw both males and females bathing together fully naked, without any inhibition! Yes, I was flabbergasted. But more about thinking that, hadn't it been for Gandhi Fellowship, I would have missed the chance to understand humanity. A pristine vista of humans being comfortable in their natural forms. And here we talk about short clothes being the sole reason for the rising rape cases in India.
Nevertheless, getting back to my own self. Undertaking a project on menstrual health and hygiene was indeed a turning point in my life. Being scared of public speaking since I started babbling, addressing superstition and taboo ridden crowds on menstruation felt terrorising. Women die of vaginal infection due to unhygienic menstrual methods like dirty rags and ash! Therefore, I along with another fellow mate of mine decided to break the long silence on these taboos and provide them alternative ways to deal with menstruation. I distinctly remember the girl who was trembling due to nervousness when asked to read out from a menstruation cycle chart. She was struggling with words such as yoni or vagina and fumbling under her breath. These moments spoke a lot about the discomfort we have with our body and the amount of shame that is attributed to these words, commonly for girls. Hardly did those little girls know that their city smart “didi” had to shed off her own first. However, finally, we managed to cover 17 schools and 773 students in Jhadol. We put up home-made sanitary napkin stalls and addressed a huge crowd in the annual “mela” of the anti-menstruation area of Jhadol.
Women must dry the cloth they use during menstruation in dark places away from a man’s eyes, or else he might go blind. Here, they not only had to deal with taboos but germs accumulated due to dampness in their blood clotted cloth which only sunlight could probably disinfect. In our country, the holy blood which makes bed for human life is flushed down the gutter, at times, along with the bearer of the ovary itself. Is menstrual blood any different from the crazy monsoon downpour in Rajasthan- reaping new lives with fertile love? Sometimes we spend a lifetime in our cocoon cursing what we're born with. And sometimes, it only takes one journey to open our eyes and remind us how much luckier we are. Rajasthan was my journey and I wish you all find at least one in your lives. Journey shall be an understatement, it was rather an enlightening experience!