One and a half month spent in rural Maharashtra was an enriching experience. Fifty-hundred kilometers away from the busy, noisy cities and the entire atmosphere changed. It was a matter of one and a half hour ride in the bus and jeep and I was away from the clustered roads to the silent and serene landscapes. Brought up in a city and currently staying in one never lets one think beyond its boundaries.
It was the second time visiting the villages of Maharashtra but the purpose was different this time. It was gathering data from men and women out of forty two villages in three districts of Maharashtra. Data gathering was the task but my experience there was much more than that.
We went from one district to another and village to village. Each village different from the other, having some unique beauty of their own which one would definitely notice as an outsider. We spent atleast a day or more in each villages. Going in the mornings and coming back in the evening was a routine, but what made it interesting was how each day even the routine differed.
Some days we would miss the bus and then spend time finding some conveyance and also bargaining to the core. Two or three times I remember walking for miles and miles and on reaching our destination of stay not even remembering when I slept off.
Interacting with the men, women and children there gave me more insight than I had imagined to receive. It was a huge basket of information I was gathering about their lifestyle, water problem, health facility, diseases, neighbours, panchayat, and much more. In that short span of time I would not have read so much even in the books.
One very distinct experience I often had there irrespective of the village I was in was the variance in the openness and hospitality of a lower class or caste women and in that of a higher one. I mostly accompanied to the interviews happening with women. The so called upper caste were friendly and helpful no doubt, but talking to the women alone was the first difficulty. The husbands being out for work were not a hindrance but the mother in laws would be in full control what to allow her daughter in law to do. Secondly though proportionately being a large number in most villages only a few of the upper caste women would offer tea or food. Whereas the among the lower class the women had the freedom to decide on her own that when and where she would give the interview and also ask her man to leave and be out of the room till the interview was over. Also tea and lunch was always offered where over a period of time I would feel guilty for rejecting the offer as I would have had one in the previous house. Some of them asked us to come the next day just to have a meal in their house. I was overwhelmed and kept reasoning would I have been myself which one would woman would I be if a stranger came to my house and wanted to interview me.
Shreeti Shakya, in Maharashtra for data collection during November – December 2010.