The single life: The rains

Holla! Its raining in Shahpur. The monsoons are here. Not as good as last year, I have been told. But they are still enough to color the place green. As I mentioned in my last blog , the summer here was brutal. But since last month, its been like God is trying to make up for all the heat. The whole place is covered in green, the skies are always cloudy and very rarely sun peaks in.

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The pleasant weather, the tree covered hills and the greenery from my terrace.

Just the kind of weather that makes me very happy and makes sure I look forward to work. Back in June, the scooty rides to and from my karmabhoomi(workplace) Silpatti were a torture I had to mentally prepare myself for – scorching sun and  dry, hot winds . And now they are leisure rides that fill my heart with joy.

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In the corn fields enroute Silpatti
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River Machna. Though water was released into the river just once this rainy season, it was a breathtaking view

I got ill in June because of the heat and had to go home. When I was coming back, my mom was worried I may again get ill in the heat. And I promised her that if it would be as brutal as before, I would come right back. But voila! When I came back, I was greeted with a completely different Shahpur than the one I had left.

Every season in Shahpur brings its own joys and challenges. So let me dive in.

  1. The pests!

So many pests. I know I complained about the pests earlier too, but their numbers have touched all new highs. The place has sprouted all kinds of bugs. I can just say it would be an entomologist’s dream  to be in Shahpur right now.

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Little bugs covering the house by morning. (clockwise from top) outside the gate of my flat,in the front room, the bugs collected while cleaning, in my bucket, just inside the main gate of my flat and in the hallway

Since I had recently recovered from illness, I got even more cautious about mosquitoes. I wasn’t satisfied the fast cards were doing their job properly. So I went ahead and got mosquito coils which last all night long. The only problem: I was choking from the smoke, I can’t say for the mosquitoes . So  began the thought train about a new solution. Turns out it was ubiquitous by its presence – the mosquito net. But I had never thought of it as a real possibility. I had never used a mosquito net in my life and putting it up seemed like a lot of work. But I eventually got down to using it. It’s not too bad. Infact I feel like a princess in a castle sitting inside it.

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The mosquito net

2.Clothing

I mentioned in my last blog that I was wearing shorts and minimal clothing in general at home to beat the heat. But the weather nowadays is pleasant (average 25 degree) and the most important thing-there are just too many bugs. So I am back to conservative clothing, making sure the mosquitoes get very little of me to bite into. Though they are crafty and make the most of the hand dealt to them!

3. Garbage disposal mechanism

Ever since I came to Shahpur, I have been segregating my waste. I throw my kitchen waste just next to my house where a variety of animals finish it off depending on their respective tastes- crows, cows, dogs, cats. Its open house.

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A pic from before the rainy season. A cow and a crow collaborating to finish my kitchen waste

But these days , the cows have plenty of grass to dig in. So the kitchen waste is not enticing enough for them. The dogs, cats and crows eat the leftover fish/meat  bones but most of the kitchen waste just rots away. So I had to start disposing the kitchen waste just like the plastic waste – by throwing it in the disused well next to my house.

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The disused well used to dispose off the waste. The greenery all around in this season is very ubiquitous

4. Market day

Wednesday is market day and I used to look forward to stocking up on my weekly veggies and just enjoying the hustle bustle of the marketplace. But the rainy season has dampened the spirits a tad. The weekly market is laid out in an open ground. And it gets real muddy. And if there’s been fresh rainfall, large parts of it turn into a muddy pond. It’s a herculean task to go around the place and come out unscathed. All my footwear are covered in mud and I have stopped washing them.  I consider the mud on my shoes as battle scars, that I am proud to show off!

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The muddy footwear. All of them look like some variation of this .

5. Fish

The fish sold in the market before could be categorized as small – most of them not more than a couple of kilos. But now, the size of the catch is just huge! I have heard stories of people catching fish as big as my height. I haven’t seen that big a fish, but I have seen fish half my height. Its new and fascinating for me. Speaking of which..

Earlier, there hardly were any fish eggs sold in the market. And now, they are available every single market day. I have been told fish get pregnant, get real heavy and are sitting ducks for the fishermen. I keep getting told by the fishermen that the fish eggs are the real deal. But despite telling myself that the famous delicacy caviar is basically fish eggs, I still haven’t got around to trying them. Hopefully, eventually the spirit of adventure carries me through!

This is as good as the weather gets in Shahpur, warts and all. My mother didn’t believe it for a long time. She thought I was making it all up to calm her worries about my health. One day while talking to her on phone, I heard her say to my Grandma ,”She keeps saying the weather is good. I don’t know how”. But it is. My Grandma got enticed enough to plan another visit. Hopefully this weather doesn’t let her down and stays put for some more time. Though it would be great if pests take leave!

 

 

 

 

Ray of hope 2

I have taken a long time to update on my work and I have finally put pen to paper. In the last blog, I mentioned about how after a string of failures, I found a ray of hope in Silpatti panchayat. Well, I am happy to update that the ray of hope now looks like pleasant sunshine. The project has made good progress in Silpatti. It started small.

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The first class

I had three students in my first class. The next class also, I had three students. But not the same three students. After all the failures before, I was just happy that people were turning up. And it was all girls and the CRP(community resource person). I don’t want to sound sexist but I do believe the project has achieved some success because of all the girls who came to learn. More on the reason why in a while. Slowly, more people started coming and we had 12  people attend at least one class. The best attendance was 10 on the day of a quiz. Yes, on the day of the quiz! I did something right there.

The beginning

The girls varied in age from 18 to 24 and their educational qualification ranged from 10th fail to college pass outs. But one thing was common to all.  They all didn’t know how to use a computer. To give an idea, it took them a couple of classes to get familiarized with the mouse. They were all in awe of the computer. It was something fancy that they wanted to use but never really had a chance to. Even though a few had graduated from college, computer education had passed them by.  They were clear about its importance in their lives. My first question to every new student who joined was, “Why do you want to learn computers?”. The answer was some variation of, “Nowadays everything happens on a computer. We need computer to check for job vacancies, fill job application forms, avail schemes etc”. Everyone was clear about why they needed computers. So the computer classes were very specific to provide them the knowledge that would help them in their lives, not something that they didn’t want like coding, theory of computers like operating system etc. Though I did have some basic theory where necessary so that they feel some confidence in their knowledge of a computer.

The course material

The classes started from the very basics like the parts of a computer so they know what this elephant in the room is all about – the input devices, output devices, the CPU, how the parts are connected to each other. We then progressed to how to switch on a computer, how to hold a mouse and how to shut down the computer. Every student spent five minutes in the first couple of classes to get familiarized with how the mouse works – how to hold it, how far the cursor moves when the mouse is moved a certain degree, how to click.

It was followed by familiarizing with the keyboard, concepts such as desktop, how to open applications such as notepad, calculator, MS word.

We have now progressed to how to navigate to relevant websites using a search engine via learning how to use a keyboard, typing on MS word, some basic features of MS word, typing in Hindi using Google Input Tools  and file system as in how and where to save a file.

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Training module

I have referred to a lot of sources-people, books, articles for the course material but its completely designed by me, as in what to teach and what not to, keeping in mind the goal of closing the knowledge gap.

The progress

I feel good about the progress made by the students so far. No one has attended all the classes and many concepts had to be repeated multiple times, but everyone who has stayed till now feels confident about interacting with the computer. Interacting because earlier they were afraid to approach it even. And now the other day I heard a student say to the next, “ Yaad hai , hume starting main mouse chalana nahi aata tha?” (Do you remember how in the beginning we didn’t know how to use a mouse?). She said it in a way like that was a different era and hearing it made me proud of how far they have progressed.  They are getting good at using Google and looking for various government schemes and job opportunities. I hope to hear them talk about using the internet the same way they talked about using a mouse.

The way ahead

Now that they have learnt how to use a computer , the next step is that this knowledge be used to help their fellow villagers. We took the first step in that direction today. We, as in me and all the students, armed with a laptop and 4G Jio internet connection, went on a village walk and met women from a couple of SHG’s(self help groups).  I talked about the project and let the students show the women what they learnt in class – they showed them how to apply for toilet grant under Swachh Bharat Mission, how videos about relevant topics such as organic farming and mushroom cultivation can be seen on Youtube. The response was enthusiastic. The women came forward with their queries on a number of issues- PM Awaas Yojana, Ujjwala Yojana, Ration card coupons to name a few. The students were happy to help. It gave them confidence that their knowledge is valuable.

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Meeting with an SHG
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Meeting with another SHG

It also started a dialogue about what was happening in the village, whether the Sachiv was active in his efforts. Being privy to information has also motivated them to attend the Gram Sabha scheduled for 15th August and ask their doubts from the village representatives. And neither me nor the students had any role in that. Once they got the relevant information, these conversations organically happened among them. Let me illustrate.

  1. PM Awaas Yojana is planned for three years till 2019, but one of the ladies got told by a village representative that her house will be built after five years. The ladies agreed they will ask for the beneficiary list in the Gram Sabha.
  2. Someone took documents and Rs 50 from every house in the village promising them a free LPG connection under Ujjwala Yojana. But the scheme says that a household with a pre-existing connection cannot avail the benefit. So that was another question to be asked, about the Rs 50 taken from them.

We will be meeting more women in the coming days and just spreading the word in the village. Raising the awareness level and closing the knowledge gap was the aim of this project and today seemed a validation of that aim.

Observations

  1. It was a surreal experience for me that holding a mouse could be such a big deal. It was like coming face to face with the disparity in India – the dichotomy of a booming IT industry and the people who had been completely left out of “Shining India”.
  2. Some of the students are college pass outs but have never touched a computer. This is a sorry statement on the state of education in our country.
  3. People like being challenged in an environment where they are not being judged and are having fun. I had designed a quiz where students were divided into teams of two. The teams were divided based on comfort level between the teammates. It made them feel relaxed and they enthusiastically participated. They also encouraged their respective partner to give his/her best. Not only did that class see the best attendance till date, the students actually kept goading me on when the next quiz will be, because they were all raring to do better next time.
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The winning team got a little something as a prize

I had planned to make a standard course material based on my experience with the class. Based on the feedback from the SBI team, I realized there is ample information available on the internet. The students just needed someone to open that world to them- to tell them learning computer is something that they can do.

  1. Knowing English is not a requirement for operating a computer. Just basic knowledge of the English alphabet is enough. Google Input Tools has been a huge, huge help. Also, all the government websites are available in Hindi. This was one of their major fears- that they cannot operate a computer because they don’t know English. Once they felt assured that English was not a prerequisite for operating a computer, they flourished.
  2. I mentioned the participation of the girls as a success factor for the project. This is because they helped each other. If one of them didn’t attend a class, she was open to asking for help from the ones that did. And that help was available. So they were not competing with each other. But seeing each other as friends on the same journey. Men are less open for such a give and take, based on my observation with the class.

Its been an enriching ride for me,personally. I look forward to touching many more milestones with the project.

*This article was written on 3rd August’17