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Perched on the top of a hill, I drank into the sight in front of my eyes. It was late February and sunlight felt so good and comforting as if seeping into my body…lighting up the dark corners inside where once darkness reigned.
I could feel the cool breeze on my face that swept away the tiredness that I felt while climbing up. I inhaled deeply, a habit that has grown onto me. Whenever I want to feel something to the deepest level, I’d engage all my senses into it. I look at everything around thoroughly and slowly listening to all the sounds that my ears are able to hear. I inhale deep, hold my breath and release slowly so that I can smell anything particular that can, later on, remind me of this experience.
I realised this quite late in life that I have a stronger sense of smell and I can feel even mild differences in temperature than most people I know. My brain connects me to the memories of the past strongly if they resonate a particular smell. But all that I could smell here was a crisp breeze with a very subtle scent of grass and soil.
There are times when I just cannot sit idle and feel like making the most of everything I have and then there are also such moments when I want to do nothing but only observe and be as good as I don’t exist in that scenario. As if there is a video playing in front of me and the most I can do is, experience every emotion that rises in me while I watch. I can see queues of cactus plants growing on the hills, standing tall as if laying their claim on this dry soil that doesn’t let much other vegetation survive easily.
A few Palash (Flame of the forest) trees adding bright orange-red colour to the otherwise dull green and brown. The clear looking water of the lake nearby is reflecting the sunlight as its turning from bright yellow to a soothing soft orange.
The incessant flow of my thoughts is broken by some voices and notice that the source is chattering of some women working downhill. I start thinking about the kind of life they are living here and my mind drifts towards the reason I chose to ditch the comfort of my home and family and decided to go to a place where I didn’t know anyone, to do a work I had never done before, in village about 100 km away from Udaipur city (I haven’t been to this place either before).
Though I had travelled solo many times before but this was the farthest place from my home where I had gone alone and stayed among strangers for the longest time, which was a month. I had a few months in my hands when I was going to be almost free and this was how I chose to spend one of those months- volunteering in a village school in Rajasthan. I was advised by many to find something similar nearby in cities but that was what I was actually trying to go far from. I live in such a big country that’s filled with so many geographical and cultural diversities then why experience just a few of them when you can do more. I chose to teach in a school because I believe if you really want to make a positive impact on someone or anyone, you better start early- early not just for your age but the other person’s too. Though those were my initial thoughts and I honestly don’t know if I actually made any positive impact but I did have a great time around children and I hope they did too. It’s easier interacting with children because they may put a lot of questions to you but they seldom judge you or be suspicious of your intentions for doing something. They are more open and accepting than grown-ups.
The sun has gone down and the blue canvas of the sky is now filled with hues of red, orange, gold and yellow at the west. I decide to go back now as it has started getting dark and these dirt roads would be deserted soon.‘So what do you do after school?’ I asked all the children in the class the next morning. They all started answering together at once. My bad!! I didn’t tell them to speak one by one. So I tell them to answer one by one and I get to know that all had a similar routine after school. “I change my clothes, have a meal, go to fetch water and collect firewood, then help mother with other household chores, do my homework, have my dinner and go to sleep finally”.
I smiled at their enthusiasm and happy faces. Such a normal peaceful life now and later on they all would be asked to ace the exams, mug up their books and notes, find a job that paid them well, get married and you know how it all goes on.
“What do you want to be when you grow up and complete your education?’’ I asked one of them. “I want to be a driver’’, he answered. Everyone burst into laughter at that. ‘’That’s great! You can get a vehicle and drive around people who travel and you can even be a car racer if you want’’. He smiled at that and how I loved the look he had on his face. I really don’t know what he would actually be when he grows up but I just wanted to make him feel that all dreams (unless it is illegal/immoral) are valid and you have this right as well as this obligation towards yourself to make the most of whatever circumstances you have in life. The energy that flows in children is completely infectious. You forget about problems in your life and try to understand how important it is to tell the teacher that a classmate didn’t return the eraser he borrowed, another classmate hasn’t come to school today, how many cattle and trees are there in their house.
“They just sweat the small stuff!!’’ I was smiling and thinking when my brain asked me “How long was it when you just sweated the small stuff? Only such small stuff?’’
“Are these green chickpeas?” I asked a colleague pointed at the crop standing in the fields around the school. “Yes they are, and ready to be harvested now”, he answered.
“What are the local dishes you cook using these?” I wanted to know more.
“You may come to my house for lunch tomorrow and meet my family. You would get to know a lot more about us”, he said.
That was something I was more than ready to do. So next day I was there sitting in his house, being served lunch comprising of ‘daal-baati‘ cooked by his mother and having a conversation about our lives.
I have never understood the divides that come up due to differences in language, culture, religion, caste etc. What a beautifully diverse country we live in and how sad is that we often fail to experience the beauty that lies is such differences. That’s what actually makes us people more interesting. I love listening to the stories that I get to hear in such places from people who have lived a life that is so different from mine or ones that I know of. Adding some purpose to travel makes it more interesting to me.
This was my first experience of ‘volunteerism’ where while volunteering with a host/organisation, you get a chance to visit a place and live closely with the locals experiencing the life they live. Since this, I have stopped taking things for granted and I value all that I have. Spending mindlessly and hoarding things that I have no real use of, doesn’t happen now. My interest in life skills has piqued up and who knows where it would take me next. More I travel, more it opens up my mind that we all are different but yet quite similar inside. Travelling made me look at things from different perspectives and made me more accepting.
A quote by Rachel Wolchin reinstates my faith in travelling often, “If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet.”
Image via One Country
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