When I told my family that I was going to Madhya Pradesh alone, they weren’t too happy. When I told them I was going to Sidhi and Morena- places they hadn’t heard of, they seemed even more suspicious. When I told them that to go to Sidhi, I had to take a train to Rewa and then by private car to Sidhi; while for Morena, there was no way you could go from Sidhi to Morena, but you had to go from Sidhi to Satna and then Satna to Morena, they wondered if I was fully awake. That the onward journey from Delhi to Rewa in Madhya Pradesh would take close to 15 hours, but the return journey from Morena in Madhya Pradesh to Delhi would take only 3.5 hours, made them wonder why I was purposefully misleading them. To top it all, the train left from Anand Vihar railway station in Delhi- a station they didn’t know existed, in spite of having lived in Delhi all their lives.
So it was with their suspicion, on top of some of my own that I left for Madhya Pradesh. If you haven’t been to Sidhi, this is the best way I can describe it for you- Take a big knife and from the base, slice out Nainitaal and carefully without dropping the hill station, just place it in Madhya Pradesh- now just rename it Sidhi. Sidhi was entirely beautiful, mountainous, rocky and cold.
I have a lot of Sidhi and Morena stories- strange people in the train, peculiar hotel staff, odd dhabas near the railway station, traveling to the villages in Vikram, sitting in a tempo decorated like a rath! These stories will make me laugh for a long time. However, something stood out more than all of these.
Just before this trip, I had gone to Ahmadabad and there amongst all the things to see was that old image which had been such an integral part of my school days- Gandhi ji’s Talisman. The Talisman was printed on big banners in the Ahmadabad ashram and swaying in the wind. That Talisman was the first page in all of my school text books. I started each day of my school life with glancing over the talisman, which never made any sense. It was a confusing and complicated statement and I assumed that it was important only because Gandhi ji must have said it. I didn’t understand it at all no matter which way I looked at it. How could anything I do in my life make any difference to the poorest person that I had seen? How do my actions in Delhi impact anyone anywhere else? It was like trying to find a link between apples and charcoal. There was no connection. I remember each year, when the new school books were purchased, I eagerly opened them to see the chapters, only to find the annoying Talisman first and this always irritated me.
In Sidhi, I think I got some clue to the Talisman. I have one distinct memory of a village we went to called Amha. We reached there by 6pm for some campaign activities. Many things were scheduled like candle march, rally, slogan shouting, material distribution, singing songs around health and gender, etc. I was going to film everything on the camera. The place where the meeting was supposed to be held was a little climb down from the hilly road. Within minutes of reaching there, the sun had set and it was quite dark. There was no electricity in the village and nothing could be seen- in the village or in the mountains surrounding us. The facilitators were carrying one Petromax/ Gaslight, which was enough to see the faces of the people who collected on the durries that were spread for them. I watched as vague silhouettes emerged from all directions- men and women, old and young, to be part of the campaign.
We then climbed our way up the hill to reach the road where the candle march was to take place. In the pitch dark, with a camera and tripod in hand, the small climb seemed like such a task. A couple of old women led me with a small torch in their hand. When the march took place, it was quite a rich experience. Tucked away in this hills, in a remote village which had no contact with the outside world, here was a group of men and women, in the night, in the cold, holding candles, walking and shouting slogans on health rights and gender equality.
All I had to do was stand behind the camera and see these briefly lit faces and wonder whether anyone in Delhi will ever know what happened here. Will anyone ever get to see and care about the people here? But hey!! When have I ever cared for them? What have I ever done to make anything easier for them? Have any of my actions and any work that I have done ever been of use to them or led them to a control over their life and destiny? The Talisman sneakily crept in.
I know that nothing I am doing even now, will probably ever make any difference to them, but I am happy to be associated with several such people who do make a difference.
By Lavanya Mehra, in Madhya Pradesh for filming of processes and campaign for project on Family Health Campaign