As part of my course at the ISDI WPP School of Communications, I recently went on a ‘Rural Immersion’ trip to a small village called Purushwadi in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, India. Having lived an immensely sheltered life in Mumbai city thus far, I was quite skeptical about how much I would enjoy such a place. My skepticism stemmed not from arrogance but from a genuine awareness of the fact that I was part of the 30% of India that lived comfortable lives, making me highly susceptible to the hardships one may experience in rural areas. However this knowledge also pushed me to break away from my comfort and perceive this as an experience every single person, especially from a background like mine, must have.
The weather was far from ideal with the April sun beating down upon us, we lived in basic tents with no electricity, ate at the homes of villagers, and were surrounded by shrubbery filled with insects of all kinds. As hardship is relative in everyone’s dictionaries, this was pretty hard in mine! But what was harder to come to terms with was the fact that this was their life: to live in this relentless heat and dry dehydrating conditions without the facilities of the city that we had taken so much for granted; to grow one’s food and eat a bare minimum to sustain oneself along with feeding a family of 10, and sometimes even 15, under one tiny roof. I was here for a few days, but they were here 365 days of the year. My initial reaction was sympathy and an overwhelming sadness that engulfed me…it was an eye-opening moment for me! I always thought myself worldly-wise, someone who spoke up about poignant issues around the world. But I never realized that it was one matter to read and hear about things told by others, and another to actually experience it. Suddenly issues like fatal heat waves in Maharashtra, farmers’ suicides, and under-nourishment and over population, meant so much more to me while I was sitting in those village huts instead of my air-conditioned city home.
However, as I spent those three days interacting with them, eating with them and assisting them in their daily chores, I realized that they were truly happy. They were happy and at peace with their lives and rather than sympathizing with them, we could learn so much from them, like the importance of community, the mindset of hard work, and the ability for selfless sharing and co-existing. In the city we tend to live for ourselves, lonely lives with lower tolerance, but here they had achieved a balance! They didn’t need our charity but rather our understanding and support in providing opportunities for them to grow more.
By the end of the trip I felt like I was able to evolve as a person both in maturity and in perspective. We got a glimpse into the way they live, what they eat, their means of entertainment and their expenditures, but more importantly, we also experienced first-hand the deeper aspects about their life like their aspirations, their hardships, their family lives and their values.
We were truly able to connect with them, bridging the gaps not only between our rural and urban upbringings, but also proving that a warm heart is all that’s needed for human bonds to form, and that was perhaps the biggest takeaway of it all!