Dungar Debriefs, fortnight one. #GandhiFellowshipTales

Hello to city-kins. I’ve spent the last fifteen days in Middle-of-Nowhere, Rajasthan. That’s the actual address of the location. Not really. But, in order to get there, you travel to your nearest airport, take a flight to Mumbai, take a flight to Udaipur, take a bus to Dungarpur, take an auto to Sagwara, take a camel to my house and a rocket ship to enter the place. Jokes apart, the place is extremely far away from anything you’re remotely attached to. Wai wai and Cup Noodles. Pizza, the nice sort (No, Bhai ke Paranthe ka Peeza doesn’t count). Sour Punk. Fuck. Sour Punk. Cute boys, even. We stay in a tiny, huge house, the six of us. Yes, boys and girls. We have a scooty per two heads, a cook, her children (Although, I’m not sure this part’s under the contract), water problems, electricity problems, stray donkeys and a whole range of other luxuries. In fact, for a person shit scared of dogs, I find myself running from donkeys, a problem I considered only a myth, very Alladin-esque.

Nevertheless, I want to use this first blog, about my journey to the center of Rajasthan, to talk a bit about the startling differences there are between living in a metropolitan and living in a semi-urban slash working in a rural area.

For starters, you need to know the kind of work I’ve signed up for, in order to understand why I’ve submitted myself to this fate. I happen to be a Gandhi Fellow for the years 2017-19. We work for the education sector, in collusion with the Government (read: RMSA), and we spend a major chunk of our week, travelling from one remote village to another, in order to imbibe the concept of ‘quality education’ in all of their Government Senior Secondary schools. Since this is the end of week two, we’ve merely introduced ourselves and the work we do to the Principals and faculty of these establishments. Additionally, in order to get the gist of what our work environment would be like, we stepped into random classrooms, ranging from 1-5th grade to the 12th, and the experience has been an eye-opener. Each classroom, each child, has been extremely unique and for a wannabe-comic like me, getting them to laugh has given me insane material (read: games where you pull each others’s noses and discussions on what’s better, Pani Puri or Kachori). There’s been expected resistance. Nobody warms up to people half your age sidling up to you in the middle of the day (A) demanding an audience, (B) claiming to bring techniques that can improve reception of your teaching, (C) commenting on the state of your infrastructure and (D) requesting co-operation on every front. For multiple other reasons, too ‘cause the education sector, I’ve concluded too early, has deep chairs and the occupiers have gotten anti-budge comfortable in them.

These schools I just mentioned  happen to be placed in locations half a galaxy away and my backbone’s happy with the development. But there are perks to this and I want to talk about that (shush, backbone, shush).

First and foremost, the landscape. The path to these schools is SO UNBELIEVABYYLEHSINCREDIBLYFGSH beautiful; a dictionary would run out of words trying to articulate its emotions on what it sees. These regions, mind you, are the greenest parts of Rajasthan, and are a living contradiction, considering we’re surrounded by deserts and dry oases. A drive each morning is like floating through Darjeeling. Every few kilometres, you drive through a sleepy little village, with those houses on cut mountain sides that you see in movies?, a cow or two, a goat or ten, some sheep, and peacocks. PEACOCKS! So majestic. So.. accessible. Rajasthan is overflowing with peacocks and the only thing that’s more stray than donkeys here is peacocks! And women with bangles right upto their ears, men in brightly coloured turbans. Even the air you breathe as you zoom past these dozens of villages is fantastic. Dilli mai woh baat kahaan?

Second, the people. There’s a certain mentality about women in all these villages, even their schools. Almost fascinating, their POV on what a woman is capable of inthese parts, that when I drive into their boundary walls, my boy-partner as the pillion, I get my own little thrill in watching their shocked expressions. Oh, and the shocked expressions follow you all along the way. They watch in awe, your courage in speaking before a large gathering of men, even inserting in a joke or two, your attire, that doesn’t consist of a saree, but a simple kurta that outlines your figure (oh, the horror!), your stories of studying in, living in and roaming about big cities on your own. I feel like a new Jesus, bringing in messages of gender sensitivity and women empowerment, which is in turn providing me opportunities to grow and explore these topics myself. In one of my school visits, I was suddenly thrust before a pair of sisters, who were being forced to drop out of school, since their family could not afford their education. Neither did the family care about educating girls before a certain point. I was faced with the uncomfortable prospect of comforting girls almost my age and convince them to stand up to their parents, all the while being told they couldn’t understand the point of education, and if I could enlighten them.

These fifteen days have opened a platform to explore a lot of such moral issues. Near-orphaned boys being turned out of schools because of their drunkard fathers. A boy with down’s syndrome being subject to corporal punishment. A seventeen year old girl, in tenth grade, who got married last week. Being surrounded by such minor incidents and characters has subdued by restless soul to quiet pondering and I count that a much needed development in this phase in my life.

In my next blog, I might get into the technicalities of how we go about re-constructing a school from scratch. I’m closing this blog with a minor G.K tidbit: ‘Dungar’ means ‘hill’ in Vaghri, the local language of Dungarpur (a mix of Gujarati and Marwari). Stay tuned for more! 🙂

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