Sunday, October 30, 2011

Some amazing people

The Real India. Such an elusive concept, isn't it? What is the real India? Is it, in the words immortalized by Munnabhai, the hungry India, poor India? Or is it the middle class fighting for its survival, a fight which is often reported as the fighting spirit of Indian cities (Different takes here, here, here and here)? Or <in whispers> can it be the rich India?

I obviously don't have an answer. I don't even think there is a right answer. India is different for everyone. To borrow the oft-repeated phrase, India is like a prism. The angle at which I look at it makes all the difference. So, it is up to me, and to you, to choose a vantage point and decide what India means for you.

The 2 months of the summer of 2011 added a new facet to whatever I understood so far. We all know that people struggle everyday. Some, just to stay alive. Others, to ensure they die in grace. And yet others, to solve thorny issues that no one else is interested in helping them with. And it is with this last set of people that I came in touch with recently. I didn't see what I hadn't already seen on TV, in news, in papers on websites. I didn't hear what I already heard from professors, uncles, and friends. And yet, everything was new, everything was different. This time, it was my 5 senses bringing the pictures, the sounds, the smell and the feel of these parts of our huge, huge nation. And nothing like experiencing something firsthand to absorb it, eh?

This post is about the people I met. The amazing people who don't just think, but act. The action may not be planned and may not (and almost always, will not) be with any other intention but to make their lives easier. But it is as 'real' as real can be.

I first came across the immensely charming and industrious Remya Jose, whose pedal operated washing machine, though built to help her mother out, has ended up giving her life a different direction altogether. I worked with her for some time, and it was a real pleasure to talk to someone who has actually done something, rather than just think and talk about it (read me).

I then met Mr. Dipen Baishya, secretary of Pancharatna Gramya Bikash Kendra. This is one gentleman who has almost single handedly fought for the survival of the self-help groups in Nalbari, a district in Assam just a couple of hours from Guwahati. The pressing need for the SHG's is explained here. Mr. Baishya, or Dipen-bhai, as he insisted me on calling him, left a comfortable business of his own, and has poured in plenty of his resources in this organization's work. And it is facing incredible challenges and there are never enough people to do all the work. But he struggles on...

I met more people like Dipen-bhai. There was Dr. Amiya Kumar Sharma and his team at Rashtriya Gram Vikas Nidhi, who among other things work on Food Security in the North Eastern states. There was also
Dr. Randhir Singha, who working out of his home has been helping nearby villages overcome some of their biggest challenges in reaching a level of agricultural income that would make it sustainable and curb outward migration of the village's men. Armed with years of such experience, he opened the Resources Centre for Sustainable Development and is currently helping a number of villages with varied issues. There were many more completely devoted and amazingly passionate men & women whom I met in those months. But I couldn't help feeling for one person I met in particular.

He is Manash Pritam Dureja. Manash , a resident of Dhemaji, a district in Assam. He belongs to a household that does depend on his income, whatever little it may be. And he works in odd jobs, wherever he can find them. But there is one thing that is really close to his heart. And that is given away by his aspiration of being born again as a tree, because a tree only gives and every part of the tree is useful for something or someone. What a thought! And to follow this ideology, despite no surity of a source of income he started teaching as many children and adults as possible, without a fee of course. He also worked for a long time as a volunteer for NIF, then became a permanent employee at a very meagre salary which was just enough for him to support himself. He has now left NIF, since he found he was unable to make the difference he wanted to make, and works as a volunteer for any environment conversation effort, any educational effort or any awareness building effort that happens in or around Dhemaji and Guwahati. The dedication of this boy was infectious too! It was definitely because of him that I traveled to more places and met more people than I would have during my stint in Assam. He might not have any 'statistics' of achievements to show off, but I honestly, frantically even, believe that it is small efforts like the ones made by him that will eventually help build this country together.

I have been trying to get him employed in an organization close to his town that works in his domain. I haven't been successful so far. But if you can help in any way, please do..! Do let me know. You can also contact him directly at his facebook page or mail him at manashpratim2009ATgmailDOTcom.

I will write more later of the people I met in Andhra Pradesh, and one extraordinary gentleman and his family who took care of me when I fell seriously ill. But I did want to say this again, for it can never be said enough, that India will be a lost hope only if everyone loses hope. Only if the last one of us thinks of poverty as a challenge, and not as an opportunity, and only when everyone one of us considers the problems faced by the poor insurmountable, will there truly be no hope. And the good news is that there are many, oh so many people who are fighting everyday to improve the conditions in this country. And we don't get to hear of most of them. And for me that is fast becoming, the real India.

By the way, if you haven't already, do watch these videos. They were made by the Discovery Channel in partnership with the Honey Bee Network (NIF is a sister concern of Honey Bee) about some of the more glamorous innovations (everything needs to be sold, even a good cause, if that is what will make people listen).

And many many more which can be found at missionpacific's YouTube channel.