Thursday, August 2, 2007

Reconsidering Dheduki

I know I said that I don't do this, but I realized there were a couple important and interesting points about my trip to Dheduki that I didn't include in the original "The Rural Life" post. So here they are (you can also read the full updated post).

The Kids

Rural children are bashful but playful. Not sure if I described a dwarf or a human being with that but that's the best I can do in a sentence. They are shy but at the same time mischievous. They are noticeably well-behaved and disciplined but at the same time know how to play, sing, run around, and generally have all the fun any other kid has. The kids in Dheduki, as I mentioned, are also creative and quite talented with their arts and crafts. The computer that they were able to partially fund is mostly used for Microsoft Paint. It's worth noting that rural Indian kids (I've now seen them in two different villages and this is true in both) like drawing things like trees and hills and sunsets and flowers, whereas last I checked American kids like to draw people shooting guns and mansions with their family in front of it.

One of the kids got really obsessed with my laptop. I couldn't make him understand that even though the keyboard and monitor are connected and it's small and thin, my computer did everything his desktop computer did so there was nothing special to see. Mostly I think he was fascinated with my typing. Not many people in Dheduki (maybe one) knew how to touch type, and not even that one person, Chetanyabhai, was what you would consider a proficient typist. The youngster was blown away by how fast I did stuff, and stood peeking over my shoulder for a solid hour watching me prepare powerpoint slides, explaining that he was learning how to use the computer by watching me. Every so often he would ask me when I was going to paint something, almost like he understood the main use of a computer to be to draw rainbows and apple trees. He also got a kick out of me saving a file with his name onto my desktop. When I did that he ran and got all of his friends and pointed it out proudly to them. These kids are just so sweet. Though it was a little frustrating trying to work with him watching and asking a lot of questions, it's really very hard to put a lid on the pure-hearted curiosity of an innocent kid getting a rare glimpse of technology. In retrospect it was my privilege to show him.

The Warmth of Rural People
As we were driving away from Dheduki to catch our bus home, just having said our goodbyes to our hosts and other friends, this was the first comment I made to Kapilbhai. There is a special warmth in these people. They are all heart. When we went on our farm visit walk, we would be greeted by a gentle hand up and a "Ram, Ram". When you shake hands with a farmer, he cups your hand with both of his, clasping it loosely in a way that was like they didn't want to offend or hurt you with a firm grip. When it came time for a meal, they would practically drag you into their homes and offer you all kinds of food that they probably were keeping for themselves. Even when we brought out or tiffins out in the farms, they would bring more food like chillis and shaak and milk to supplement your already plentiful supply. In fact Kapilbhai calculated for this and was hoping we'd eat at a farm where he didn't know the farmer. He knew they would go all-out with food and other things which he didn't want them to take the trouble to do.

But it didn't work out that way. We ended up taking our lunch at this farmer's plot (pictured), who seemed to have an old relationship with Kapilbhai. He was hilarious. He would rip on Kapilbhai for not eating enough and not drinking chai, then on me for being from America. He had a loud, raspy voice and would just crack jokes and put everyone in good spirits. He even took my camera and delightedly snapped a few. He was very proud of one of his cows and had me take pictures of it from like 10 different angles. He mentioned that some Indicorps volunteers had come to stay at his farm recently and how they tried to do farmwork but it didn't quite work out. His whole vibe seemed to say "you westerners think you're all modern and smart, but this is the real life". I couldn't really argue with that.

One last memorable episode was dinner the night of the walk at Samatbhai's home. After eating, we laid out in his yard looking at the night sky which was absolutely lit up. It was a Yosemite-level beautiful starry sky. So Samatbhai, one of Gujarat's most advanced organic farmers but who has zero formal education, started asking Kapilbhai and I about the stars, how far away they are from Earth, how the planets revolve around them, the concept of a light year, the debate of extraterrestrials, and other things a grade-schooler may ask his parents on a camping trip. I just loved it. His reactions to our descriptions of a universe of unfathomable size, diversity and mystery were so child-like and he was just in awe of everything we said. It was just a great moment being in that company... I could have sat there talking to him about the stars forever.

And actually that night when we took the dirt nap he and I stayed up talking about America, what people do for money there, whether they are happy, whether Indians have a community, what the farms are like, and other things. His curiosity was insatiable. It was such a great experience getting to know him and the other farmers in Dheduki and Dharai. I only hope that I can hold on to that warm feeling that they left in me and pay it forward tomorrow and maybe even forever. If I'm lucky.

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