SBI YFI

Ray of hope

I would like to share a little about the work I am doing currently. Let me dive straight into it. I am an SBI YFI fellow working in association with BAIF in Shahpur block, Betul district, Madhya Pradesh, India. It is primarily a forest region populated by Gond and Korku tribes. I am working on a project to impart basic computer education to villagers in two villages – Silpatti and Rathamaati/Khokra.

So, why this project? (The fellowship gives us the freedom of choosing our project based on our interest, the need of the rural community in the place we are posted and also taking into consideration the influence area of the NGO) The government of India (GoI) has provided each panchayat building with a computer system complete with a printer and scanner. But in many panchayats that I have visited in Shahpur block, the computer system is disused or missing. It’s either not in working condition or lying at a panchayat member’s house, most frequently the Sarpanch. In some cases it’s lying disused in some Panch’s house. In one case, the computer was lying disused in the Panchayat house because the Panchayat house had no electricity connection!

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Disused computer in panchayat house with no electricity connection

Let’s look at certain aspects of why I chose to do the above project.

  1. Why are computers provided to the Panchayats?

The Government of India is moving the entire government apparatus online. All the government data (that is not secret) is now available online whether it be land records (Khasra nakal as they call it here) or contact information of various government officials. The form filling for various government schemes such as Swachh Bharat Mission and subsidies like the one on sprinklers is done online. To facilitate access to all these services and information by every village, computers have been provided by the Government to each Panchayat house. There is also a person who usually is believed to be the one using the computer called the Rozgaar Sahayak (a post created under MGNREGA). But in my observation, they do not really depend on the Panchayat computer to do their work. Either they have smartphones or come to the Janpad office in Shahpur to do their work.

 

  1. Why are computers lying disused?

In almost all the villages that I visited, hardly anyone knew how to use a computer. When I say that , I also include the Panchayat members and the Sachiv( government appointee in Panchayat) in that statement. So what happens is when people don’t know how to use something, it means nothing  to them. It could be there, may not be there, may be at some body’s place – it’s all the same. No one bothers to ask about it or its well-being or its resting place!

 

  1. Why the project on computer training?

There is a huge gap between the government of India’s initiative to go digital and the villagers’ (that I work with) ability to go digital. That gap isn’t the infrastructure gap. It’s the knowledge gap. The tools to go digital have been provided by the GoI, but the knowledge to use them has not been provided. Through my project, I am trying to close that knowledge gap. I am aiming to provide the necessary know-how to fill forms of various government schemes. It will obviously go through the route of computer basics, internet basics and basic knowledge of using a search engine. After the computer education course is completed, the project entails documenting any changes in government schemes availed, increase in general awareness and the villagers’ willingness to take some time out from their daily grind and learn computers.

 

  1. How’s the progress been?

I will say it has had it’s lows and some miniscule highs. But a lot of lows for sure. I started by visiting the Panchayat buildings of Panchayats that  BAIF is active in ( It is working in six panchayats in Shahpur block). The first panchayat I visited – Deshawadi didn’t have any electricity. So no go. The next – Sheetaljiri didn’t have any computer. The computer was lying at some computer repair shop in Shahpur since a long time. The third- Rampurmal also didn’t have a computer. The computer was supposedly lying in a broken state at a Panch’s house. The fourth had a computer and an internet connectivity through connection with Jio 4G on the phone. I must say I was relieved and surprised after all the previous experiences. Even though this panchayat was the farthest off from Shahpur without any bus connectivity, I was just happy that there was some possibility of starting the project. So, then I moved to the next step and talked to the Sarpanch about my project and how I would need the Panchayat house and it’s computer for it. The Sarpanch was a genial lady who agreed. Then I talked to the villagers in the Gram Sabha held on Republic Day-26th January and told them about my project. The response was enthusiastic. I got as many as 12 names for the course. And that’s a lot.

Then when I started going to take classes, no one turned up. I was able to take a solitary class out of the seven scheduled. That too because I saw the three people who eventually attended that class loitering around Panchayat house and convinced them to attend. Not a very encouraging response. I also took a couple of awareness sessions to talk with the villagers about the importance of computer education.

One fine day, I got a call around noon from a youth of this village. I was at my place in Shahpur. He complained that a few of them had been coming to the Panchayat house since two days but  I had not showed up. I was taken by surprise, both pleasantly and unpleasantly. Pleasantly because this was the first time the village youth had actually come for a (albeit non scheduled) class on their own. Unpleasantly because I wasn’t there and no class was scheduled for the day! How did that come about?   A couple of days prior to the above mentioned day, I had called the CRP(community resource person) who works with BAIF to schedule a class the next day. But I had told him explicitly that I had no other mode of transport and he would have to pick me up halfway. The next day, I couldn’t contact him. His phone was switched off. And he didn’t call to ask me about when I am coming etc either.That means the class was off since I had no means to reach. But he didn’t communicate with me or the village youth. The village youth believed the class is rescheduled on their own accord.

To sum up, the travel arrangements to Khokra were not working out, the communication was erratic because of network issues and there was a definite gap in understanding between me and the village youth.

I was feeling hopeless about the direction of the project. Then I decided to follow my mentor’s advice that I should try to take more villages under my project, with connectivity by bus or near enough that I could go on scooty. To be on the safe side, in case the project completely fails in one. I toured three more panchayats – Rathamaati, Baanspur and Silpatti. In Silpatti, things worked out quickly and I held my first class yesterday. I must say it felt good, just to have the first class on the day that the first class was scheduled! After the Khokra fiasco, it was a good start. I feel hopeful. And that’s what my title is all about.

 

  1. What’s the next step?

Making this project a success in atleast one village. Right now I think that might be Silpatti.

When working in the development sector, one has to keep trying and not let failures bog one down. I keep telling myself not to give up. That I am learning so much even in my struggle. And I also try to not waste too much time on an initiative that looks doomed like all the Panchayats I checked out initially.It would have taken a long time to get electricity to the panchayat house or get the computers up and running where they were not there. “Fail fast” is a mantra I have taken to heart. I have limited time in this fellowship-13 months to make a small difference to the lives of people I work for. And more importantly, to document the lacunae in the current scenario and the solution that works and the many that don’t.

 

Further reading   http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/how-tech-is-undoing-nrega-in-jharkhand/articleshow/57175473.cms

 

 

 

My MMA story

I wanted to headline this article “My obsession with MMA”, but that somehow sounded negative. So how obsessed am I with MMA? Well, I start my day by typing the letters UFC into the Google search engine and checking the latest news (For the uninitiated, MMA is mixed martial arts and UFC stands for “The Ultimate Fighting Championship”- the premier mixed martial arts promotion in the world). After that I open my eyes properly and start getting ready for gym. That’s something. I mean I am already feeling like I can be judged on this statement. In fact on rereading it, I am judging myself. If UFC was a cute boy, it would be downright creepy. You get it.

Let’s talk about the origin of this obsession, how it all began. So in 2015, sometime before her fight with Holly Holm, I heard about Ronda Rousey. She was at the peak of her powers then. I don’t remember where or from whom I heard about her, but I was quickly fascinated. I didn’t know anything about MMA, but a female fighter who was undefeated and was known to finish her opponents in under a minute..I was all ears. And eyes. I started reading about her and it started dawning on me how big a legend she was. She was the reigning bantamweight MMA queen who was quickly becoming Hollywood’s darling. I bought into all the hype around her and was eagerly awaiting her fight with Holly just to know how fast she would be dispatching her. So the morning of her fight (India time it’s morning), I eagerly checked the results of the fight on the internet and was shocked to read that she lost. I was eager for the result to know how fast it finished, not to know who won. That seemed to be a foregone conclusion.

So as you can see, I got introduced to MMA at a very exciting time for women’s division. Ronda got head kicked. Holly became the new champion and there was nonstop coverage of this surprising result. Initially, I just liked reading about the women’s bantamweight division. About the prominent fighters, future opportunities for Holly and the like. Then slowly I also started reading about the strawweight division which had a rapidly rising Joanna Jedrzejczyk as the champion and this new “hot” thing Paige Vanzant. I eagerly followed the news about new fights being set, new challengers emerging and just generally all things women’s MMA.

All this while, I wasn’t interested in men’s MMA. I didn’t know about the divisions, the fighters, the champions of the various divisions. Nothing. It all changed with UFC 196. I was interested in the event because it was Holly Holm’s first title defence. I was looking forward to a dominant win for her. I mean she beat an undefeated beast of a champion so comprehensively; how much better could she get, against a girl who in turn had been defeated just as handsomely, that too twice, by that previously undefeated champion.(I was wrong, but that’s another story) The same card, the other big news was that Nate Diaz submitted Conor Mcgregor. Now I must admit, I had no clue who Nate was or who Conor was by the time the card happened. But the coverage of the fight was just as extensive as that of the Rousey-Holm fight. It made me look at the men’s division and why was this result such a big deal. This result was my entry point into following men’s MMA. Gradually I started following more fighters and then more divisions. And now I can say that I have a working knowledge of all the eight men’s divisions- the champions, the challengers, interesting match ups and the comparatively recent phenomenon of money fights.

I also got an opportunity to follow this new found interest in MMA in my own life. A new MMA gym opened near the flat I lived in, in Bangalore. I was a regular at the gym at that time. I wanted to get my basic fitness up before I joined the MMA gym. I kept the bar of basic fitness as doing pull ups. Let me just say I never achieved that bar before the pull to join the MMA gym became too much. So I went ahead and enrolled in the MMA class. I learnt kickboxing and jiu jitsu at the gym for three months. I liked boxing but I fell truly, deeply, madly in love with jiu jitsu. After I got over the momentary hesitation of learning a close combat sport, I was all in. It made me feel powerful and continuously pushed me to test my boundaries. Against stronger male opponents, no less. I was hesitant at first but my trainers ingrained in me that in jiu jitsu, size did not matter. Unlike boxing. Only skill mattered. You could use an opponent’s weight and power against him if you are skilled enough. My time in the MMA gym is a long story that deserves another article.

I digressed. I will get back. So I have explained the origins of my interest in MMA, women’s MMA followed by men’s MMA. I think it’s incredibly rare for a common man (woman in my case) to just chance upon coverage of women in sports. MMA is one of those rare sports where women command as much limelight as the men. And more. Rousey in her prime was a bigger star than most men. And I find that extremely commendable. I was attracted to this strong female sportswoman who was dominating her sport like no other. And the attention that she drew to the sport led me to explore the sport more and have a deeper relationship with this sport. But it all began with a woman called Ronda Rousey.

*This article was written on 10th February.

beingmira

The single life

The heading is misleading but I really feel that it perfectly embodies what I want to say. So I moved from a city, a metropolitan no less to a village. I also moved from sharing a 2 BHK with three other girls to living in a “three room+ kitchen+ separate toilet-bathroom+ a balcony” flat all by myself (can’t describe it in terms of BHK. It defies that description). Other major changes included not having running water, maid, cook, WiFi. Also no refrigerator, washing machine, hot water geyser, television or any semblance of the comforts I was used to.

The running water was the biggest issue that rankled me in the beginning. I had never thought a kitchen could exist without a sink and running water.

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The kitchen.

It took me a while to get used to taking out the used utensils to the balcony in a tub (I got a couple of tubs for the utensils) , filing a bucket with water from the storage tank and then washing the utensils.

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My lifeline – the tanki,the only source of water in my flat.

But I got the hang of it. I gradually found solutions to the other pressing issues as well.

  1. Jio came with a welcome offer of free 4G and calling. I must admit I was sick of the high internet rates other carriers charged. It also prevented the trouble of getting a WiFi connection, and all free! What else can the heart desire? Free internet is the dream of the 21st century right along with roti, kapda and makaan. Also I could carry the internet with me, unlike with a WiFi system. And that was really handy. I do have to thank my stars that the place I live in has Jio network. Since it’s a tribal, forest area; most places don’t.
  2. As for the maid, I washed the utensils myself for almost three months before finally getting a maid for fear of my mother’s disapproval. She had a visit planned in mid February and I got the maid in the beginning of that month. Just in time for the maid to adjust to my utensils before my mother came. So it would seem to her that all was perfect ,without her having to interfere. Let me narrate the story of how it came to be. The last time I went home in mid December, she made a big fuss about my hands. Right from the moment her eyes fell on my hands, she started complaining that my hands were not the same. Their beauty had dimmed in the village. I didn’t understand and didn’t pay much attention because that’s just the kind of thing that only mothers can worry about. On my third day home, it slipped out of my mouth that I wash the utensils myself and all hell broke loose. My mom blew her head saying “You have not gone to the village to wash utensils and “uglify” your hands. Get a maid. I better not hear about you washing your utensils when you get back!” I must say I wasn’t really bothered or paid any attention to getting a maid..until one fine day when it been an eternity long week in mother time since I had come back from home, my mother complained to my father that she was missing me and wanted to see me. My dad promptly called me that my mother will be visiting and booked tickets for her visit in mid Feb – almost one month since I had come back from home. That’s when I got serious about looking for a maid! But the real challenge lay ahead. Apparently, the entire Shahpur has only two maids. The demand far outweighs the supply. I spent some anxious days thinking if any of them will grant me an interview, since they both had their hands full. Luckily, one of those two maids worked at my landlord’s and my landlords took pity on me and convinced the maid “Bartan zyada nahi honge. Akeli ladki hai. Kar le.” Living alone can sometimes come with unexpected benefits. Now you see, the title of this article is justified!

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    My maid Kamla Bai, who happily posed for a pic for this article. A cheerful presence, I am so grateful she accepted to work at my place and saved me from my mother’s scorn.
  3. I did try to find a cook (finding a cook is just as hard as finding a maid, and more) and found one. But she could only come in the morning at a certain hour. And I wanted her to come in the evening to cook dinner because I didn’t have a fixed time of leaving in the morning. Plus I had made some prior arrangements for breakfast. So that didn’t work out. So the cooking is pretty much done by me and I must say, this is the most control I have had on my diet in a long time. And it’s something that I have come to appreciate. Also one of the few things that my mother appreciates about moving to the village that I learnt to cook. “Good you learnt to cook before getting married!”
  4. Washing clothes? Well, I wasn’t discarding many since it was winter till a while ago and I wore a set of clothes at least twice. I washed most of the clothes on my own once a week. I also found a dhobi whose services I availed if the clothes got too much for me. Just that he probably washes clothes on the river Machna where many proud Shahpurians go to poop in the morning. Modi’s Swachh Bharat Mission be damned. So , going to the dhobi is actually my “dirty laundry taking over my house” emergency option.

    Machna River
    The river Machna, where many Shahpurians go to bathe, poop, wash utensils and clothes; animals come to drink water and search out food from the garbage .. Its an all-purpose river !
  5. Since it was winter just a little while ago, I didn’t really need a refrigerator. Things didn’t get spoiled outside. Plus I didn’t do much cooking! So that. Now that I do a lot more cooking and summer’s here too, something good happened. Bhabhi (she is one of my NGO colleague’s wife and is super caring) bought a fridge this summer and she very kindly offered for me to use it to keep vegetables. I did look for a fridge for myself but the mini fridge that I would like to have is not available in Shahpur. And Bhabhi’s fridge pretty much takes care of my basic refrigeration needs. As for cold water, I am not a big fan since my throat goes bad pretty fast. But for the occasional craving of cold water, I am planning to buy a mitti ka ghada ( an earthen pot). When in Shahpur, do as the Shahpurians do !
  6. For hot water during winters, I bought a heating rod. So I had to fill a bucket from the storage tank, carry it till the socket in my kitchen and then once it was hot, carry it back to the bathroom. I can sum it up by saying my back got at least some exercise every day!
  7. I was never a big fan of television but I did miss it occasionally. Hmm. “On momentous occasions” would be a better description. Like Australian Open Final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Anyone who knows me will know that I am the biggest fan of Rafa and would absolutely not miss a Rafa-Roger match. But then.. village life. Just saw the live updates on the net and tried to be happy with that. Plus Rafa lost. So I was like its better I didn’t see him lose. Then again, I really wanted to watch the Khabib – Tony Ferguson match up ( an MMA fight of the UFC). I was actually thinking of getting a hotel room with a TV in the nearest city and watching the entire fight card in peace. But it got cancelled! Khabib got ill making weight. So, again probably God keeping me from complaining..alone. At least it’s not just me complaining, but all fans!
  8. I used to be a gym rat before moving here. I didn’t expect to find a gym here in the village. But turns out, right about the time I moved here someone had just recently opened a gym. It doesn’t really compare to state of the art gyms in the city, but it’s everything. I am so grateful.
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    The gym, which is housed in an abandoned godown building used to store tendu patta.

    My mom casually declared after visiting the gym, “Your village has a gym. So, it’s a city”. I had to remind her of the “village”ness of my village by giving her an example. I told her that only a solitary rikshaw plies this entire village and I have still not been lucky enough to hitch a ride on it. If one doesn’t have a private vehicle, the only way to travel is by foot. Or a bullock cart, if you have bullocks that is! I skipped the part about how the gym was an abandoned building infested with rats,snakes and many other pests, out of which bats still inhabit the gym and make weird noises that sound like kissing sounds. Initially I thought someone in the gym was trying to harass me, but then when I talked to the gym instructor about it,I got to know about the bats and it was the funniest revelation ever.

I still have to get a desert cooler and get the scooty repaired (I got a scooty from the NGO in a deplorable condition). The struggle I had to do to get an English newspaper in this village is whole another story .

So what has all this taught me? Cooking for one. (Did I just successfully make a pun? ) Despite all the struggle, I feel very blessed to have this opportunity to live alone and to experience life without any constraints. Make my own rules, push myself and seek help when needed. It’s taught me to be resourceful which I believe is visible in the examples above. I got an opportunity to spend a lot of time with myself. To pay attention to my thoughts, to see where I am in my life and cogitate about where I want to go.  All through winter, when I didn’t have field work, I used to sit in the sun with a book and a diary and it was perfect. I used to watch a variety of birds chirping around me; munch on fruits and snacks, read and write. I realized how important it is to just be alone with one’s thoughts.

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The terrace, the sunshine, the books and me!
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Birds on my terrace

On another note, my mom was alarmed “This girl shows no inclination to get married. She is happy alone!” She couldn’t wrap her head around how this came to be. After all I was her daughter. And she wouldn’t stay alone for any enticement in the world.

I don’t know if I would get an opportunity to stay alone in my life again but I am glad that this one happened. In the middle of a jungle, no less.

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