E xperiences of SBI Yout h f or I ndia F ellows
in Rural I ndia



SBI Youth for India is a fellowship programme initiated, funded and
managed by the State Bank of India in partnership with
M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation, BAIF Research Foundation
and Seva Mandir. It provides a framework for India's best young minds
to join hands with rural communities, empathise with their struggles
and connect with their aspirations. The Programme seeks to help India
secure an equitable and sustainable growth path by:

Providing educated Indian youth with an opportunity to touch lives and
create positive change at the grass root level in rural India.

Providing NGOs working on development projects in rural India with
educated manpower whose skill sets can be used to catalyze rural

Promoting a forum for the Programme alumni to share ideas and
contribute to rural development throughout their professional life.


I have great pleasure in writing the foreword for this book which brings out
the experiences of 27 well educated youth who have dedicated one year of
their lives to the service of the rural people. As can be seen from the
narration of experience of each one of them, they have gained immense
insight into the developmental lacunae that hamper the progress of our
villages besides forming their own views on how to make our country
vibrant through an inclusive growth agenda. I am sure that whatever position
these youngsters occupy in future, their work and actions will bear the
imprint of the one year they spent as a SBI Youth for India Fellow.

State Bank of India has always been a keen participant in all initiatives with
social content. It is this commitment to the society and its progress that made
the Bank conceive this programme to enable educated youth to volunteer for
developmental service to rural/tribal people. It was indeed a new experience,
as volunteering for such a social cause is still in its infancy in our country.
This programme proves that the educated youth of India, who have imbibed
the best of what modern education offers, are second to none in giving back
to society, especially the under developed/underprivileged, by sparing their
time to understand the problems and coming up with solutions. During my
interaction with the Fellows during the inaugural session in March 2011 I
had described how the co-ordinated efforts of an NGO and the Bank had
resulted in a win-win situation for all by enabling farmers to generate
additional income streams by engaging in subsidiary activities which turned
them into borrowers with good credit records. This also vastly improved
their standard of living. It is heartening to note that some of the Fellows have
similarly come up with ideas to improve the economic condition of the rural
people by building linkages with all stakeholders. I find that some others
have worked to link modern technology to make their lives more meaningful
and successful. Innovation has been the hallmark of the Fellows, who have
come up with numerous innovative ideas. While inviting applications for the
fellowship we had stated in our website: “Ignite your ideas to impact rural
development. Join the movement to transform rural India”. The articles in
this book show that they have really taken this to heart and put in their very
best efforts to make the fellowship a highly successful one. I have been
keenly following the media reports that have appeared time and again
lauding the various trend setting initiatives taken by the Fellows. Comments
in the social media have also been very encouraging. It is in this context that
we felt that a booklet containing the good work of the Fellows should be
brought out. Further, their experience when exposed to rural realities will be
of educative value to those who opt to work in the rural space. Hence, two
books, one containing the experience of the Fellows during the fellowship
and another containing the brief outline of their projects, conclusion and
results, are being published.

I acknowledge the commendable efforts and services put in by Smt. Geeta
Verghese whose passion for the programme has made it a resounding
success. I also acknowledge the enthusiastic support lent by the partner
NGOs to the programme.

Smt. Arundhati Bhattacharya
Dy. Managing Director & CDO
State Bank of India


SBI Youth for India is a fellowship programme initiated, funded and
managed by the State Bank of India in partnership with three reputed NGOs.
State Bank of India being an organisation with a pan-Indian presence has
launched the initiative in an attempt to bridge the growing rural-urban divide
in the country.

Economic liberalization & the growth in GDP have apparently not touched
70% of the Indian population. Agriculture, which engages about 50 per cent
of the nation’s youth, is showing signs of an acute agrarian crisis, which is
sweeping across the country and has led to a large number of suicides by
farmers. The declining agricultural productivity, falling employment
opportunities in agricultural and non-farm sectors, poor health care services
and inability to access quality elementary and higher education has enhanced
poverty and distress amongst one third of the rural population. While
economic opportunities have increased for people with education, skills and
economic resources in the post liberalization era, a large number of illiterate
and poorly educated people, particularly in rural areas are not in a position to
benefit in the new milieu. This inequitable development has unleashed social
tensions particularly in under-developed & tribal areas, which manifests in
movements such as Naxalism.

On the other hand, with 55 per cent of the Indian population below the age of
25, India can boast of the highest youth population in the world and this is a
trend that is likely to continue for at least the next two decades. Such a
demographic distribution gives us an indication of the energy, enthusiasm
and idealism that is available for harnessing, provided there are suitable
avenues that can attract young Indians. During the independence struggle,
charismatic leaders were able to inspire the people with their vision and
convert the struggle into a mass movement. Today, widespread cynicism has
alienated the educated youth from participating in nation building activities.
As a result, young people passing out of universities look for the earliest
opportunity to start climbing the corporate ladder or to go abroad. While
their value system has made them westernized & materialistic in their
outlook, they also feel helpless & frustrated about their inability to act as
change agents in society & find a higher purpose for their lives.

In this context, it was felt that one of the ways to bridge the widening rural-
urban divide was to organize & galvanize the youth, particularly the urban
educated youth, so that they voluntarily get involved in various
developmental projects in rural areas which people today perceive as being
largely the responsibility of the government. Some countries like the USA
have well-structured schemes (like Peace Corps or AmeriCorps) to enable
volunteers to spend a brief period, doing development work with
underprivileged sections of society before taking up their chosen profession.
To translate our ‘demographic dividend’ into a true ‘development dividend’,
we also needed such initiatives, which would sensitize & provide avenues for
the more privileged sections to become aware of ground realities and
contribute through their personal efforts towards building strong cohesive
communities; a pre-requisite for a stable socio-political environment, which
in turn would lead to economic regeneration. The absence of a well-
conceived programme, which provided interesting and meaningful work, had
resulted in the nation loosing out on the services of a huge pool of energetic
young people – a wasted resource. To mobilize the educated urban youth to
volunteer for development work, a programme on the lines of the Peace
Corps was needed at the national level, which would be non-partisan &
apolitical in character. It was felt that there would be greater acceptance if a
respected and trusted organization like the State Bank of India took the
initiative and professionals managed the programme.

The SBI Youth for India fellowship was managed by the Bank in partnership
with three NGOs viz: 1) M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation 2) BAIF
Research Foundation 3) Seva Mandir. The first batch commenced the
fellowship with an orientation at BAIF’s campus in Pune on 1
March 2011.
The Tata Group, MindTree and Capgemini have supported the programme
by giving a sabbatical to their employees to take up the fellowship.

There was a common programme design so that irrespective of the partner
NGO that the fellows had been assigned to, they received the same inputs.
Each fellow had a Mentor who was a senior official of the NGO to guide
them in their project work. There were periodic training programmes/contact
sessions with field visits and Guest Speakers, to provide the fellows with a
broader perspective about issues relating to rural development

The first batch of twenty seven SBI Youth for India fellows (which includes
four women) have worked on rural development projects across seven states
and one union territory of the country. In this book, the fellows have shared
insights and experiences of their one-year long discovery of rural India.
While living with rural communities they have learnt to appreciate the
environmentally sustainable life style, the values and the wisdom of the
people in our villages, and have thought deeply about the development
model that the country needs to adopt. In the process, they also acknowledge
that the fellowship has been a transformational experience for them.

For State Bank of India, it has been a matter of satisfaction to provide the
framework to enable these young men and women to become more caring
and socially concerned citizens of the country.

Geeta Verghese
SBI Youth for India


SECTION I – Snapshots of Rural India

1. An Hour in the life of a Sardine – A true account - Satyanand Mukund
2. Kids in the woods
3. Story of a Bottle Gourd Farmer – Haresh Bhere

SECTION II – Experiences in Rural India

4. My Experiences at Jawhar - Abhishek Prabhakar
5. Memoirs of YFI Journey - Achal Bajpai
6. My Experiences at Kotra - Aditi Narayan Rao
7. There is a wealth of wisdom in our people - Akshay Kapur
8. Dear Father – I want to help us! - Ankit Walia
9. Little Darling, the smile’s returning to the faces….. - Anu Elizabeth Jacob
10. Loss of indigenous culture & tradition – its implications - Arun Purushothaman
11. Journey of a mushroom cultivator -Bharath Vineeth Patapati
12. Mango – the ultimate ice-breaker - Chetan Yaralagadda
13. Poems - Haresh Bhere
14. Learning from Dhuruva tribe - K. Balakrishna Reddy
15. My experiences at Vedaranyam - M.C.Karthikeyan Iyer
16. Nobody will need to steal limes anymore - Manish Kumar Dwivedi
17. Living in the moment - Midhun Rajagopal
18. My experiences in Dang - Parveen Sattar Shaik
19. Sweet Memories - Pruthvi Raj CC
20. Teachers and I - Sandeep Vishwanath
21. Dark side of the Moon - Santosh Choudhary
22. Heartless myth or hardnosed reality? - Satyanand Mukund
23. Sanitation issues in rural India - Shuvajit Payne
24. ‘Development’ is a curse… - Simran Singh Grover
25. ‘What we sell is mud and what we buy is gold’ - Soumyashree Omprakash
26. Devrayis and Warli art - Sourabh Potdar
27. Ah, they missed me -Suhasini Vavilala
28. Farming needs improved techniques - Taher B Sarthalwala
29. Kotra Escapades - Vaibhav Rathi
30. A home away from home - Vineet Kumar Singh


We’re Not Stupid We’re Just Poor


SBI YFI Fellow Satyanand Mukund is an engineer who has done his B
(Tech) in Mechanical Engineering from NIT Jalandhar. He is on a
sabbatical from Tata Consultancy Services. He is working with BAIF in
Dharwar District of Karnataka. His project is on ‘Labourer’s
Experience of MGNREGS’


After an hour of walking and sweating profusely under the hot mid-day sun,
we were in search of transport to the nearest town. We saw a vehicle
approaching far on the horizon; it was the ubiquitous Mahindra vehicle,
called Maxx, I really do not know why they called it the Maxx, with the extra
'x'. The vehicle is usually expected to seat 11+1, the additional 1 being the

The vehicle groaned to a halt in front of us, I could spy three vacant seats in
the bench style seating in the last row. I quickly clambered on to the vehicle
and then surveyed the scene; there were already 5 people in both the front
and the middle rows in addition to the driver. The bench style seats, which I
am certain is a local innovation to maximise carrying capacity was built to
carry 3 people on either bench. The conductor however, was having none of
this. He quickly asked us to scurry to our respective corners, thus making
room for 4 on either side. Grudgingly, I made way and precariously staked
claim to a space enough for one half of my generously proportioned buttocks
and heaved one almighty sigh of relief. To my naive mind, the vehicle now
appeared full and I thought that we would be proceeding directly to the
destination. But the driver had other plans, but more of that later. The driver
now also took charge of the entertainment section of the journey; he put in a
music disc with custom-filled songs. Usually, the author poses as a good
judge of a fellow traveller and is most liable to make on-the-fly judgements
and prides himself on the validity of such judgements. These judgements are
usually made on the basis of anything from the colour of the victim's socks
or the victim's choice of pickle with his curd rice. So, the author readied
himself for a quick judgement about the driver, on the basis of the choice of
songs. The first song was a remixed-version of a recent kannada number –
'Ravi vermana...’ The author being unaware of the socio-political overtones
of this song patiently waited for the next song. But then the driver being the
man he was – promptly stopped the vehicle for picking up a group of people,
, who to my credulous eyes seemed to number at least half a dozen! I again
surveyed the vehicle in a fit of panic and assessed the situation and
concluded that the vehicle simply could not accommodate more than 2
people, who would probably have to cling for their dear lives to the sides of
the vehicle. I am sure the reader is aware of the theory (which has been done
to death,) of the glass of water and the two view points normally associated
with this - the glass being either half full or half empty. But our driver had
nothing but pure disdain for such minimalist views and his opinion being that
such glasses are actually huge empty cauldrons and that there was space for
more, always. He again asked the last benchers (of which the author was
one) to kindly further displace their behinds to make way for this group.
Please note that the author when faced with such dire personal hardship had
shelved his plans of personality judgements, more so as the songs were
switched off momentarily in the interest of stuffing the cauldron. The 3+3
benches were then easily converted to seat 5+5 and 2 others in accordance
with the author's assessment clung on to the sides of the vehicle. The next
song on that infernal disc was a racy, raunchy telugu number which went like
this – 'aa ante amalapuram ' , which was when the author decided to place the
driver firmly in the category of a budding sadist , who had the gumption to
enjoy such numbers in the company of men and women crammed in like
sweaty sardines. A minor digression at this point – the middle row had five
people, who were good sized adults and in addition there was this young kid
(henceforth referred to as the pipsqueak). This pipsqueak was forever
threatening his good natured mother with physical gestures to convey an
imminent urge to puke. The mother being good natured and also, probably,
because she knew the pipsqueak on an intimate basis, shrugged off all threats
of this variety. The pipsqueak then stole a glance in the general direction of
the author, who in a furtive manner indicated his violent disagreement with
the pipsqueak's intended course of action. This put paid to the pipsqueak's
ambitious plans, at least for the moment.

No sooner had the vehicle moved ahead on its journey, than two young
women on the same stretch of the road signalled the vehicle to a stuttering
halt. The author had now moved well beyond the first stage of panic and
began to wonder at the audacity of the two parties involved in the latest act -
the two ladies who clearly were not blind, and the driver who clearly knew
the situation about the sardines in the can. The author's powers of reasoning
had deserted him completely and there were absolutely no straws to clutch at
now. The driver now displayed his deep reserves of enterprise and asked two
of my fellow last benchers to clamber on top of the vehicle and the two
ladies were accommodated in the seats which provided the safest possible
seats under the circumstances. At this point, the racy telegu song switched
over to a popular number from one of Yash Chopra's umpteen Swiss love
stories. (A confession is due at this point – the author attains a state of
intense stupefaction when assaulted with visual or audio imagery of the Yash
Chopra variety). There is an eerie calm or a state of being comatose when
one is transported to Swiss locales in a Yash Chopra movie. I stirred myself
from this reverie and focussed my thoughts on to a test of basic counting
skills and arithmetic to put a definite number on this experience. I could
count 25 people who had decided that this was to be their mode of transport
for the next hour. What are the chances of this happening; 25 people on the
same stretch of the same highway at more or less the same time, all having a
premonition about a vehicle from the grand stables of Mahindra and all 25 of
us fulfilling our premonition together. A fateful time of the day indeed! At
this point, I would like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to the engineers
at Mahindra who released a vehicle for 11 good sized adults into the market,
but designed the vehicle to accommodate 25 good sized adults and a
pipsqueak. To top this, also designed the vehicle to race at a speed of 70
kmph with this load- truly blessed is the organisation that employs such
engineers. I now completely understand the reason behind the extra 'x' in the
Maxx. This was when the darned Yash Chopra song switched to a timeless
Dr Raj classic – 'Gandada gudi' and the author was finally at peace with

The reader is now warned that the author will attempt to dissect the episode
in a serious manner in the section to follow. The entire episode as depicted
above is more or less true in nature; the exaggerations are obvious to the
reader. But this episode is a perfect example of the Indian concept of
'Jugaad'. This is a term for an innovative fix to achieve results with meagre
resources. This concept is apparently the latest fad in management circles,
touted as the next big thing from India (South Asia). Management gurus wax
eloquent about this and are selling this to their western counterparts.
However, I beg to differ on this whole concept. Instead of trying to sell this
concept as a management concept, what really is needed is a focus on the
'meagre resources' part of the problem. Humankind when pushed to the limits
in the fight for survival will often resort to such tactics. The tactics adopted
may very well be innovative and appreciable, but the idea of celebrating such
tactics and propagating this as a way of life is akin to supporting the lop-
sided nature of our development and the elitist stranglehold on resources.
Just as war and hatred are not natural states of humankind, so is Jugaad not a
natural state, it is very often a struggle for survival and should ideally shame
the establishment in to tangible and democratic action. In this episode (where
I have quite shamelessly chosen to see the humorous aspect completely
ignoring the evident human angle of the struggle), the tangible and
democratic action needed was quite evident to me. The stretch of the
highway I refer to above is a National Highway, where state transport buses
ply almost every 5 minutes. However, since most of these buses run on a
longer route, they do not stop to pick up passengers on the wayside. I
counted a minimum of 3 buses in the space of 10 minutes wherein the buses
were almost empty. But since there is no designated stop for the buses, they
refuse to stop for the passengers. Moreover, there are quite a number of
people who travel as detailed above on a daily basis. Apparently, there is a
paucity of state transport buses to plug the demand. However, as evidenced
by me, in reality there is no such paucity in terms of the supply (given the
fact that long distance buses ply empty). This supply gap is plugged by
operators who flout all safety norms in order to maximise their returns per
trip. Humorous though, it may have sounded – it is exactly these sorts of
practices that endanger human life. In Bangalore, a recent initiative by the
State Government is revenue sharing with the staff. The drivers and the
conductors of the city buses including the Volvo buses now get a straight cut
(the percentage of which I am not entirely sure) of the revenue that they
generate by the ticket sales on a daily basis. Ever since this incentive has
been introduced, there has been a sea change in the attitude of the public
transport staff in terms of customer friendliness, etc. I would like to point out
that the Karnataka State Transport authority is one of the very few state
transport authorities in the nation to have consistently generated profits.
Returning to the point of the supply side gap in this case, all that is needed is
a survey of where people want stops and then the frequency and routes of the
buses need to be re-planned. This will not only result in increased revenues,
but also increased road safety.

SBI YFI Fellow Midhun Rajagopal is an engineer who has done his
BTech (Production Engineering) from Government Engineering
College, Thrissur. He was previously working with MRF, Puduchery.
He is currently working with MSSRF in Wayanad, Kerala. His project
is on ‘Development Model for Forest Dwelling Tribes’

Kids in the woods - Interaction with tribal children

Once during a field trip to a tribal hamlet, I took some time off to visit the
nearby anganwadi. There were just three children present there, busily
engaged in some outdoor activities. I came to know from the anganwadi
teacher that it was difficult to get kids to attend anganwadis, once the
honey collection season started. Majority of the colony inmates were forest-
dwellers who travelled deep into the woods in search of honey and other
forest produce which they could trade for a living. They would have
disappeared into the forest by the time the anganwadi workers reached
there, taking their kids along with them and would return only by dark, if
not staying in the forest at night.
That didn’t mean that kids whom their parents had left behind would come
to the anganwadi willingly. The teacher would have to go to each and every
house and gather them by force. In case anyone saw her coming
beforehand, they would escape into the forest announcing the teacher’s
arrival aloud, warning others in the process. They would rather spend their
day playing or roaming in the forest than being constrained to a closed
space, even if it meant sacrificing an assured meal. The teacher recalled
how she had lost a regular student the previous week after she had scolded
him for not taking a bath or washing his clothes and sent him back,
handing him a soap bar. He apparently took that as an insult and didn’t
show up again.


Kids in Kumazhi colony
However, most of the children attend elementary school despite skipping
anganwadi. Thanks to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme, they have
schools with classes up to 4
standard within walk able distance. The real
challenge lies in getting them beyond 4
standard. By the time they finish
elementary school, majority join their elders in their trips to the forest so
that they too can contribute their share towards the family income. Lack of
nearby upper elementary schools is another factor that prevents them from
continuing with their studies.

Before leaving the hamlet that day, I caught up with some teenagers who
were roaming around the place. Whether attending school or not, everyone
had a readymade answer to the question ‘Which class do you study in’. But
thanks to their naïve expressions, it was easy to make out who was telling
the truth and who was not. Having spent some time with them, I noticed
one thing – no matter how they chose to live their lives, these children
seemed way happier than any child you would come across elsewhere. It
reminded me of the age old conundrum - Is happiness relative?

SBI YFI Fellow Haresh Bhere is an engineer who has done his M Tech
(Power, Electronics, & Electrical) from IIT, Delhi. He is on a sabbatical
from Tata Motors. He is working with BAIF in Jawhar Block of Thane
District in Maharashtra. His project is on ‘Supply Chain Management
for Vegetable Business’.


Thi s i s not j u st a st or y, i t ’ s a t r ue st or y. Thi s i s what I wi t nessed at t he
Agr i cul t ur e Pr od uce M ar ket i ng Commi t t ee m ar ket (APM C* ), Shahapur
(Di st : Thane, M ahar asht r a, Indi a). That ’ s wher e I und er st ood t he (r eal )
gr avi t y of t h e si t uat i on, r at her t han som et hi ng p er cei ved and pr oj ect ed by
t he medi a, wh i ch st r engt hened m y choi ce of a p r oj ect - t o w or k i n t h e ar ea
of veget abl e busi ness.

Let ’ s l oo k at t he backgr ound f i r st . A f ami l y w or ks on t he f ar m f or 2-3
m ont hs and no w i t ’ s t i me t o t ake t he pr odu ce t o t h e mar ket . In t he pr esent
case, t he pr oduce/ veget abl e i s Bot t l e Gour d (Lauki - Doodhi Bhopl a-Sor ekai :
Baba Ramdev Baba has made i t qui t e f amou s t hese days! )

Thi s f ar mer has a 19 year ol d so n, wh o i s st udyi ng F.Y.B.A. , l et ’ s cal l hi m X.
He i s on summer vacat i on now , so hi s f at her has asked hi m t o go out an d
sel l t h e Bot t l e Gour d, i n t he APM C mar ket . Qu i t e exci t ed, he get s one Bori
and f i l l s i t w i t h, ar ound, 55 Bot t l e Gour d. (Thi s wei ghs 30-35Kg). Then he
pu t s t he bor i i n a t em po an d t r avel s f or about 45 mi nut es. Pays 20 Rs as bo r i
t ra nsport a t ion char ge and 10 Rs as hi s f ar e.

When he ent er s t he mar ket t he t r adi ng sessi on has al r eady begun:

Ki t i l a d e n a r ? ( W h a t ’ s t h e se l l i n g r a t e ?)
4 r u p a y e l a e k . ( 4 Rs p e r p i e c e )

Wi t ho ut even gi vi ng a second gl ance t he t r ad er l eaves. Af t er some t i me
anot her t r ader comes al ong and asks f or t he r at e. Thi s t i me X says:

Tumhi ki t i l a ghenar ? (How much do you w ant i t f o r ?)
Shekdyal a 75 r upye. (75 Rs f or 100 pi eces)
Tul a dyaychya ai vaj i j anavar al a khayl a deen me. (Rat her t han
sel l i ng i t , I w i l l t hr ow i t t o t he ani mal s.)

That ’ s how t he second t r ad e ended. Now t he young chap i s get t i ng
f r ust r at ed and begi nni ng t o l ose hi s t emper . Par t i cul ar l y, as t he t r adi ng i s
t aki ng pl ace i n peak summ er i n t he mi ddl e of Apr i l , at ar ound 1 o’ cl ock.
Negot i at i ons cont i nue f or anot her hour , whi l e he hopes t o get a goo d pr i ce
he i s al so st ar t i ng t o l ose hi s pat i ence. Fi nal l y t he t r ade t oo k pl ace. Guess
ho w m uch he sol d i t f or :

4 Rs/ Pi ece…………………………. No

3 Rs/ Pi ece…………………………. No

2 Rs/ Pi ece…………………………. No

Then w hat ?…….1.5 Rs/ Pi ece

Nope, He sol d i t f or : 1 Rs/ pi ece.

Now let ’s do some mat hs:
20 Rs ( bor i t r anspor t at i on char ge) + 20 Rs (hi s t o & f r o f ar e)+ 5 Rs (Cost of
Pl ast i c Bor i )+ 2 Rs( APM C f ees)
47 Rs he had t o spend and he got 55 Rs. That i s he got 8 Rs i n hand.

(We have not even t al ked abou t t he cost of pest i ci de, seed, f er t i l i ser and
l abour cost , et c... ). You can i magi ne t he expr essi on and emot i ons of t he guy
w hen he w al ked ou t of t hat m ar ket .

What pur ch asi ng p ower w i l l he have?
Won ’ t he di e of h unger or under t he bur den of l oans?
And now af t er compl et i ng h i s gr aduat i on, w i l l he pr ef er t o be a w at chm an, a
secur i t y guar d, a door man, or THE FARM ER? I guess w e al l know t he
answ er .

P. S: Al most f o r got t o ment i on, on my way back home, I bought t he same
“ Bot t l e Gou r d” f r om t h e l ocal r et ai l m ar ket f or 6 Rs/ Pi ece! ! !

* APM C i s a gover nmen t body whi ch r egul at es t r ansact i ons i n agr i cul t u r e
pr od uce; i t ’ s a f aci l i t at i ng body bet w een f ar mer s and t r ad er s. APM C mar ket
i s a pl ace wher e onl y wh ol esal e t r ansact i o ns t ake pl ace.



SBI YFI Fellow Abhishek Prabhakar is an engineer who has done his B
(Tech) in Chemical Engineering from Delhi College of Engineering. He is
on a sabbatical from Tata Motors. He is working with BAIF in Jawhar
Block of Thane District in Maharashtra. His project is to ‘Address the
impact of Climate change on tribal marginal farmers through eco-system
approach of conservation, revival, and promotion of indigenous crop
germplasm (seeds) through community led initiative’.


After spending almost a month at BAIF’s campus in Pune, interacting with
some veterans in the field of rural development and attending numerous
lectures on the subject, I was very excited to go to the real field and correlate
the things which I had become aware of during the theory sessions. Initially
while in the process of selecting the project for the fellowship, I had a
preconceived agenda to work on supply chain of mango & cashew in Jawhar
area of Thane dist.

On my first day at Jawhar, I visited a village along with a field worker, to
understand the dynamics of cashew collection as it was the cashew season at
that time. On the way back, we stopped at one of the WADI (orchards of
cashew & Mangoes) in Chowk village. The field worker took me to a hut
built inside the WADI. There was no one inside but to my surprise it was
very well organized, with some earthen pots filled with rice grains and some
banners explaining about organic agriculture. Out of curiosity, I asked the
worker accompanying me to explain the things to me. However, the owner of
the WADI was not available and we had to wait there for some time before
he finally came. He was a young man and during the interaction he willingly
answered all my queries. I came to know about the basic technicalities and
economics of agriculture which I was unaware of before; he also explained
about the indigenous seeds and the need for sustainable agriculture in a very
comprehensive manner, which some what motivated me to take up a project
in indigenous agriculture. Subsequently, we talked about his personal life
and how he had reached this level.

To my surprise, he was just 25 and his name was MAVANJI PAWAR. He
had worked in a chemical factory in Silvassa from the age of 15, and
continued working there till he was 20. But because of recurring health
problems, he decided to stay back in the village and earn his living through
agriculture and allied activities. He had tried various innovative and different
practices in agriculture and in the span of 5 years through his hard work,
innovativeness, and hunger to learn had become a village resource person for
various innovative agricultural activities. His belief in what he was doing
was commendable and really motivated me to select my project for the
fellowship (Conservation, revival and sustainable use of Crop genetic
resources) which gave me an opportunity to work with him and learn from
his experiences and in the process give my inputs to enhance his initiatives.

SBI YFI Fellow Achal Bajpai is an engineer who has done his B (Tech)
in Mechanical Engineering from The Institute of Technology, BHU. He
is on a sabbatical from Tata Motors. He is working with Seva Mandir in
Jhadol Block of Udaipur District in Rajasthan. His project is on
‘Impact Assessment of MGNREGA on Asset Creation’


Well once again, the dead line is crossed and I am not dead. On this fine
Sunday morning in December, amidst bright sunlight, chirping birds and
shouting children, I feel vexed about what I am doing. Rather than enjoying
the moment, I have to produce a write-up about my experiences of the past
nine months. First thing that came to my mind is “What the hell”, and then I
realized that I have not changed (not for the better in any case). This habit of
last minute rush (I still prefer to call it “Principle of maximum efficiency”
where your ‘Work Efficiency’, more precisely ‘Result Efficiency’ increases
anywhere from ten to hundred times) starting from my childhood days has
continued and has stood the test of time from my college days to my
workplace, till now. Hold on! Now I realized there is something else too,
which has not changed, and again for no good – remaining unfocussed and
deviating from the subject. Yes and so now, I would like to take you directly
to my first day’s experience in this fellowship at the BAIF campus in Pune.

Orientation at Pune:

Stepping into the BAIF campus seemed like stepping into a new realm of
life, especially when one realized that one is getting rid of those greasy,
muddy, distorted, broken and failed parts of warranty yard which are so
intrinsic a part of an automobile factory, for a year. And honestly, the feeling
of getting a chance to observe the cultural and geographical diversities of my
nation and doing something for it was one of the biggest enthusing factors.

After unloading about two tonnes of load from my shoulders, which I was
carrying from the BAIF campus gate to the third storey room of the hostel, it
was great to interact with a noble and simple looking guy -Bala Reddy. More
than the appreciation, it was the hidden fear that surfaced after hearing his
qualifications and achievements as a research scholar. After informal
interactions with a few other fellows, I found some really good people who
have left it all – their company, salary, career, etc. for this program. And yet
again, amongst them more than seventy percent were engineers (I am getting
fed up of finding engineers everywhere I go - I suppose with this rate of
producing engineers, the day is not far off when we will study Indian
anthropology under the classification of Engineers and Non-engineers).
Within the short span of five days, although we were not able to form a very
cohesive group, but there were few bonds established and memories created,
which I believe will be lifetime ones.

Arrival at Seva Mandir :

After a long and tiring journey, we finally reached our hotel only to find that
one needed to share a room with three more persons whom you barely know
- definitely not a great feeling for anyone. I was no different. Anyways, just
after putting my luggage, I moved out to do the favourite activity of my life –
eating. There was a full market of around thirty shops of Bhelpuri, Dabeli,
Pav Bhaji etc. The Bhelpuri I ate that day was the most delicious I ever had, I
guess more so because I was famished.

The mornings of my stay at the hotel were an absolute nuisance. To get ready
by 8:00 am, after sharing the washroom with three others, watching one of
them wake up at 4:00 am and work on his laptop, and one wake up at 5:30
am to start getting ready with all kinds of possible noises that he could make
– and amidst all this there I was, a poor person trying to sleep. But then the
human body is a marvellous creation. It adapts to every situation and I being
no exception to the principle, devised new ways to sleep amidst all these
abnormalities. Nevertheless, those initial fifteen days of the Udaipur
Orientation were packed with guest lectures and field visits. Although I now
feel that those lectures were useful, but for me, finding lectures useful while
being attentive to them is a hard proposition. But then the field visits were
incredible. Interacting with villagers and roaming in open fields was
exhilarating. The usage of centrifugal pumps in wells, building of mini dams
(anicuts), and the awareness amongst the people about restoration of water
table level amazed me a lot. I feel people in urban areas must learn from the
attitude of the rural people and try to imitate practices for sustainable and
equitable growth.

Stay at village “Nichla Talaab”:

Till today, I consider those two days as the best part of my whole stint at the
fellowship. Living in that kuchha-pucca house, eating food cooked in a
Chulha, interacting with villagers, attending their meetings and their love and
affection are few of the memories that will remain preserved in my heart. I
don’t know how those people could shower so much of love and affection on
unknown strangers like us. I am actually getting short of words to describe
that feeling. This is something you don’t normally associate with urban
areas. While leaving them, I felt like I was missing something badly.

Project Location experiences:

Finally I arrived at my Project location – Jhadol, a slightly better place
because you can get most of the items of your daily needs. A statement by
one of my SBI YFI fellow colleague sums it up, “Ye to mast jagah hai, aisa
lag raha hai jaise delhi me aa gaya hun” (This place is awesome, it’s like I
have arrived in Delhi). Well, I guess, that’s what happens after prolonged
exposure to an undeveloped location (as per our standards).

Working on my project on MGNREGA, it felt satisfying to understand the
complex psychologies and socio-economic conditions of the villagers.
Meeting so many people in so many villages was awesome. As soon as you
realize everybody here is just the same, the next moment you will find
something interesting about the person or the area that makes you to again
realize how wrong your initial perception was. It has been a continuous
learning curve for me until now. Besides the villagers, the discussion I had
with the Sarpanch, and other Government officials like BDO, NREGA
Sachiv, Jr. Engineers, Asst. Engineers, etc. (“etc”, I must say is a strange
word - when you don’t have anything more to add, you just like using this
word) were very fruitful.

I have always felt that to get a clear picture of the situation, one should look
at both sides of the coin and with this experience of the last one year, it has
only been strengthened. Even government officials and Sarpanchs come
across so many problems and pressures in their day-to-day working and to
simply blame them for anything that is wrong will definitely not solve the
problem. There are a few Sarpanchs who I felt are doing a tremendous job,
despite a meagre salary of around 3000 Rs. Well, before coming here, I think
most of us were managing a specific area or hardly about ten to twelve
people and getting around 15-20 times the salary of that Sarpanch. Shouldn’t
we ponder over statements like “Since the Sarpanch is a representative of the
people, why does he need any salary (yet of course he has to do everything
right in the first instance)?”

I feel this tendency to blame the government for every ill happening in this
country needs to be changed. Well, don’t mistake me for a blind supporter of
this or that government, neither am I giving a clean chit to every act of a
government; but the point I am trying to make is that how many times are
our reactions based on pure logic and deep thought instead of an outside
impulse. And as soon as that incident is over, everything goes back to
absolute normalcy again. With every terror attack, every disclosure of a new
scam, every new Jan Andolan; our nationalistic feelings rise to a maximum,
get displayed in social networking sites and then again dies down as fast as it
was aroused.

Well, to sum up the proceedings, I would like to say just one thing about my
stint here – I don’t know what are the best ways or thoughts that I came
across, neither have I figured out what are the best ways to resolve the
prevailing chronic issues here, or what are my ‘takeaways’ from this stint, or
whether I have made any difference by being out here; but the thing I realize
and I care about is that I have changed as a “PERSON”, with a bit more
compassion and understanding of realities.

SBI YFI Fellow Aditi Narayan Rao has done MA (Economics) from
Christ Autonomous College in Bangalore. She is working with Seva
Mandir in Kotra Block of Udaipur District of Rajasthan. Her project is
on ‘Socio-economic Impact of MGNREGA on Wages and Migration’

When I reached Udaipur, to work with Seva Mandir, I was placed in Kotra.
Initially it was not such a good feeling. I felt like just running away. Never
had I thought that I would reach a place so far and so remote. Everything
seemed so different here. Kotra is the most backward and remote place in
Rajasthan. It’s a tribal belt, located on the Gujarat border with lush green
forests all around.
The challenges were many. The local transport in the area was not up to the
mark. A few Jeeps plied along fixed routes. The service was infrequent and
these vehicles always exceeded the maximum capacity of passengers. People
were made to sit on the roof and to hang onto both sides of the jeep. There
were times when I had to sit in front with four other passengers, plus the
driver. The driver would wait until the vehicle filled up. I would have to tell
the driver about half a dozen times ‘Bhaiya chalo, Bhaiya chalo’ (Brother,
get going). He would simply glare at me.
The field work during summers with rising temperatures was terrible. One
had to keep climbing to reach the JFM/pasture land sites. I had a feeling that
I would collapse anytime and kept sweating profusely. Once the rains began,
I was able to appreciate the beauty of the place. The river behind my room
was in full spate during the monsoons which was a beautiful sight. There
have also been times when going to the field was a lovely experience. For
example, to reach a particular village one had to cross several streams of
Talking with people was another challenging task. For the first few months I
took time off to understand the people and the field area. During my project
on MGNREGA, it wasn’t easy to talk to the workers. Sometimes it was due
to the language barrier and at other times the people were not forthcoming-
especially the women. Initially they were not responsive and one had to
really build a rapport with them.
Slowly, I began to feel more comfortable. The attitude of the people also
changed. I was pleasantly surprised by how nice they were to me. Once I had
gone to meet a person who was helping me with my field work. It was
breakfast time. He insisted that I was to be his guest, and that I must eat
something. Only then did we start on our field work to the project site. As I
began to establish a rapport with the people living here, I was able to
understand issues and problems of the people. With very limited access to
healthcare and education, options to develop are limited. Occasionally, the
residents themselves came up with constructive suggestions. At one site, a
young girl said that a computer centre should be started whereby all the girls
could become computer literate.
For me personally, the journey so far has been a wonderful experience. I
have survived its ups and downs, and shall always cherish the time I spent

SBI YFI Fellow Akshay Kapur is an engineer who has done his BE
(Electronics & Communication) from CITM. He was previously
working with Grail Research in Delhi. He is currently working with
BAIF in Udaipur District of Rajasthan. His project is on ‘Watershed


“If only when people saw others, they could see how they are the same,
instead of how they are different, the world may change”

It is sometimes funny how experiences, when they become our teachers,
often make us eat our own words. Even as I write, I wonder if it may happen
yet again this time.

It seems just yesterday when I decided to leave my job and enter a program
that would supposedly help me to help my rural brethren. My reasons for
doing so were many, so many that it is hard to pinpoint one of them as ‘the
reason’ but the bottom line was that somehow I managed to convince myself
to take the step.

There were questions of course, from others, from family and last but not
least from my own self. Questions that were rooted in fears and inner
contradictions riddled with self-doubt and coloured in uncertainty.
The most common one, Will this benefit your ‘career’? (In essence, how will
it help me make more money in the future?)- A concern, I found reflected
across the tiny set of humanity that had leisure enough to give my life
choices a thought and me advice.

I quenched their fires of criticality (or at least I hoped to) through stories of
how this will help me in my higher studies, how the best universities value
this stuff and how this will be a great learning. As for me, I was not sure of
any one of them, not that these things are not so, It was only that I wasn’t
sure if those were really my reasons. (Though it is funny how I started the
whole thing and by the end of it, partly by repetition and partly due to blind
acceptance of others, I started believing it in parts too)

There were other queries, like why are you doing this? A question I declined
to answer to most people initially, but as most things in life, this too was not
to be. This question it seemed was a tenacious little prick and had the knack
of cropping up at the most uncomfortable of places (especially when meeting
important personalities and delegations) and to add to the confusion I found
myself giving a new answer each time, each one more and more
unbelievable. I have a feeling that I haven’t heard the last of it, but till our
next duel, I’ll be content saying that I still don’t know enough about it to put
it into words.

I have my doubts about my motivations, my conscience constantly pits my
actions against beliefs, judging, unforgiving and ever so critical. Was it
twists in personal life, or a genuine want to serve others? Was it a pure
scholarly pursuit of learning, or a self-serving charade for getting into
institutes of higher learning? Was service to others supreme or were the
actions rooted in a want of appreciation?

I can’t answer any of these questions and the best part is that after this one
year I don’t need to, I don’t care to.

Predictions were made, oracles prophesized and many experienced elders
commented that it was a mere phase, a break I needed from the routine and I
would be back to their worldly ways soon.

It may happen or it may not, so they can go to bed with a smug, self-satisfied
smile that says ‘I told you so’ for all I care. They may see, understand and
judge the world, may share a million memories but it will never compare. All
the academics in the world may write as much as they want, in as many
fancy words as they can about this country and its people, their plight and
their struggles but it will always be wanting. For it cannot and never will
hold comparison to what is out there to be seen, to be felt, and to be heard on
our own.

Gone were all the definitions and differentiations, washed away in a deluge
of experience, no more was I able to see others as rural or urban, rich or
poor, literate or illiterates, upper castes or dalits. Everywhere, all I could see
as far as I could see were people. People, who may dress, look or talk
differently but were the same. Same, in their needs and wants, their hopes
and aspirations, their obstinacy and inertia, their efforts and struggles.
Gone were all delusions of ‘uplifting them’, wanting to make them more like
us and it was replaced by shame, shame about my own superfluous sense of
superiority that had led me to believe that my way of life was something
better and worth being forced upon them.

This was just neo-white man’s burden, the white man being replaced by an
army of formally educated, reasonably challenged, factory line products that
are following in his steps. The system of exploitation still runs just that it has
newer perpetrators and no tags.

There are problems in our society, misconceptions, hunger, in adequacy but
show me a society that has not battled with them at some point or the other in
history and I will show you a world that is eternally struggling. Battles may
have been won or lost, but the war goes on.

Yes, there are evils in our society and yes they must be dealt with. But are
the systems and societies we are so proudly trying to replicate really free
from them. Does evil not lurk within them under a different shroud? Are they
really immune to those basal weaknesses of human existence or is it just in
our heads?

Are they not wrought with their own problems, living off other civilizations
like parasites, their excesses and consumptive lifestyles bringing nothing but
self-decay, beset with gradually dwindling populations, mindlessly
destroying the very resources and things that sustain them. Such ways may
seem attractive when seen through the spyglass of our short lives but when
pegged at the helm of history, compared to lifetimes of civilizations do they
not seem insensible and vain?

The grass always seems greener on the other side. And what works
elsewhere may never work here. We are unique, as like everyone else, no
better, and no worse. Their elixirs might become our poison.

Yes we want progress, but does progress mean simply replacing our
problems with theirs? There is a wealth of knowledge in our people and it is
limitless. Will we let it be our guide? Do we have the strength to break our
self-imposed chains of vanity, pseudo-superiority and fearful obstinacy?
History stands witness - time and again, language, literature and accumulated
knowledge may have been the muse of the elitists but intelligence never was
and never shall be; only through it will freedom come. Freedom from our
weaknesses, as a society.

Not through criticism or rejection but only through deeper understanding. So
quell the heat of your blood that pushes you to save the world and help the
poor, for thou art poorer than them, you cannot help but only serve and serve
you must but only after you have understood them yourself. Step out of your
wells my brethren, walk the same paths as them, eat the same bread as them,
sleep the same space, breathe the same air, shake out of your trance of
knowledge only then may you even start dreaming about service.
Rise sons and daughters of Bharat*, knowledge may lie in knowing but
wisdom resides only in doing. Strengthen your wills, give up your fears,
move out and only then shall we have the right to dream of a better

*Bharat in Sanskrit means seeker of true knowledge

SBI YFI Fellow Ankit Walia is an engineer who has done his B Tech
(IT) from Maharaja Agarsen Institute of Technology. He is on a
sabbatical from Capgemini. He is working with MSSRF in
Thiruvaiyaru in Thanjavur District of Tamilnadu. His project is on
setting up a ‘Farmer’s Helpline using IVR’


A daughter may outgrow your lap, but she will never outgrow your
heart...Unknown quote.

Can someone ask for more if he has got an angel in his home, I have
overheard many parents say that their whole life-time honorarium is the
values and education they have given to their children. In return, some
children treat their parents as a burden but some as absolute beings. During
the fellowship period, I came across an incident during a career awareness
program which will always touch my heart whenever I remember those wet
eyes of that daughter. One day a father came to the village resource center
with his daughter which in itself seemed natural to me at first. There was
some curiosity in the girl’s eyes but the father appeared relaxed. The girl
could talk in simple English but the father could not.

The girl wanted to know more about Biotechnology and its career prospects.
From my previous knowledge, where one of my friends had worked in a
good Bangalore based Pharmacy Company, I told them that the course had
good career prospects if she was to get admission in a decent college. The
girl was not satisfied with my answer and she wanted to know more about
the colleges and placements. We knew one Biotechnology professor, so we
rang up the professor to get answers for her queries. She talked with the
professor for a while and his opinion was that India is still growing in Bio-
Technology and though there is a lot of scope in research work, placements
after a bachelor’s degree are not as good.

I could see uneasiness in the girl’s eyes and she was disheartened. She told
her father what the professor had said in Tamil. Her father’s facial expression
did not undergo much change, he still appeared content. I think he still
wanted his daughter to pursue the same course. Now, the girl’s eyes became
moist. I enquired more about how they earned their living? She told us that
her aged father was a small shop owner. I realized that the girl’s family was
not well off and they were living in near penury. I asked her why she wanted
to go for Bio-technology. She was not sure and she was hiding her moist
eyes from me. I tried to empathize with her by saying that when I started
engineering, I was also not sure why I was doing it. I was good in maths and
science. I liked computers, so I choose Computer engineering.

My colleague at the village resource center who was documenting and acting
as a translator, was looking at me hopefully. I sensed that he wanted me to
suggest some good career option for the girl. I paused to look at the girl and
her father with admiration. I realized that like every other normal rural
dweller, they also had self-respect and did not want to talk about their
problems especially in front of a stranger. I thought to myself about how
justifiable would it be to have a compromise between her interest and the
employment opportunities that were available. I thought for a while and
asked her if she would like to go for Engineering in computer science which
could provide her a job in the current Indian IT industry. She could then
work for a while after graduation and once she had earned some money and
could support her family well, she could go for masters in Bioinformatics
because one of my friends after electronics and communication engineering
was doing his PhD in Bioinformatics. Although Bioinformatics is not
completely similar to Biotechnology it also used the concepts of Information
Technology and Biology. Once I had said this, I could see a bit of a light on
the girl’s face.

I don’t know whether my suggestion was the right or the wrong one. But, I
was asking myself the same question regarding ‘Compromise’ – how
justifiable is it? Some people can always find a way to satisfy themselves
with hopes. My friend, I feel the life of a poor person is a series of
compromises, though there may be exceptions. Ralph Waldo Emerson,
American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist
Movement, said “For everything you have missed, you have gained
something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.”

SBI YFI Fellow Anu Elizabeth Jacob has done MBA (HR &
Marketing) from Asian School of Business Management. She was
previously working with BS Transcomm. She is currently working with
MSSRF in Pillaiyarkuppam, in Puduchery. Her project is on
‘Conducting Spoken English Classes and setting up of a Tailoring Unit’


Teachers remember the brightest, the naughtiest and the most popular
students, but a huge majority goes unnoticed , in which I fall - the fourth king
in the nativity play, the background tree in the school skit, the nonexistent
person who sits somewhere between the bench the teacher teaches to and the
one she looks at with suspicion and interrogation. I didn’t like or dislike
those days of anonymity as I had a world of my own in which I became quite

I open my eyes and in front of me are 25 students waiting for me to utter a
word. After a few minutes of a silent stare war, I retreat to the whiteboard to
scribble something. Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water...

One day Babu came well in advance to the Resource Centre and asked me if
I could teach him. “Today class?” said Babu. I looked at him and then slowly
took out reading exercises, in a final attempt to reach out to him. I knew I
had given up on Babu and maybe that was why I was surprised at his
persistence. I was about to discover that he was not ready to write me off just

“The Ant and the Grasshopper....” I started reading out loud.

For the children to open up, they should be genuinely convinced that I am
there for them. I started out with high hopes of teaching them – grammar,
conversational English, essay writing and after many unsuccessful attempts I
was desperate to breach the enemy lines of doubt and caution. So I asked
them about the films that they watched. Suddenly there was an epidemic of
smiles, many volunteering names of popular actors, others mimicking
behaviours in popular roles with their dialogues, the class suddenly had
transformed and the claustrophobic walls had vanished. Even Babu and his
friend, who were playing with a ball in the rear of the class, dragged their
chairs to the front row. I was slowly seeing some light; for once I felt that
they were actually listening.

Little Darling, I began to sense that the ice was slowly melting...

“Now I want you to read this story “. With a little bit of a pause, a little bit of
a struggle he started – “The Ant and the.....Grass—oope’...One summer day,
a mary rasshopper was dancing, singing and playing the .....(Violin) ...wiolin
wid all –is heart...”
With children it’s essential to keep them focussed, study thus should be
defined as play, that’s how I came across teaching through games. With
some basic word building and sentence construction games thrown in, group
learning was encouraged while keeping the spirit of competition intact. The
word building games became quite popular; it was a common feature at the
beginning of every class for the children to loosen up. The previously
fluctuating class was now becoming stable, giving hope for a perceivable
difference. Babu on the other hand was passive, not contributing to the class
and the other children who were eager to learn were given individual

Babu struggled with any word longer than 5 letters and needed constant
coaching, but soon I found myself phasing out the corrections and
supplementing with encouragement. I could actually see him getting more
confident with each conquered word.

“Let’s go to the next story, do you think you can read it by yourself.” Babu
says an eager yes –“Fox and the grapes....Moral: It is easy to scorn what you
cannot get.” Pleased with him, I was about to cheer him, when Babu
continued “The Bear and the two travellers....” Babu was finally reading
confidently. He nods as the milkmaid nods her head spilling the milk she was
carrying, caws as the fox asks the crow to sing making the cheese fall and
feigns the same disappointment the farmer has when he cuts open the goose
only to find no golden eggs. Babu is taken to the magical land of fairy tales
and I can see him beaming as he triumphs over every new word.

As no language can be learnt out of context, hence I try to expose the
children to English through science and technology, health and nutrition,
environmental awareness and biodiversity. “So why do you like the classes
held at MSSRF, Village Resource Centre?” – He answers with a smile “I can
ask questions without the fear of getting scolded. “Having been a student
myself, I know the wonders of individual attention. An extra effort from our
end, a desire to take a chance and not to give up hope. I have learnt my
lesson; I will try harder, push myself further and pick myself up faster than I
fall, because it’s worth the effort.

Little Darling, the smile’s returning to the faces.... and I say it’s alright......


SBI YFI Fellow Arun Purushothaman has done BSc (Botany, Zoology
& Chemistry) from Regional Institute of Education. He was previously
working with Extreme Multimedia Solution. He is currently working
with MSSRF in Wayanad, in Kerala. His project is on ‘Mitigation
Strategies for Climate Change’


When we walk around the towns of Wayanad, we can see indigenous tribals
living and working in close proximity with the settler population of
Wayanad. Their knowledge of nature has sustained them for generations, and
is a model of man and nature living in coexistence. The present demographic
scenario has made way for settlers to encroach into their habitat and these
tribal people are being forced to try and assimilate our way of life. We can
question what has made them turn away from their roots or whether they
were uprooted from their culture in the name of rehabilitation and
development and now find themselves standing stranded along the path to
nowhere, no different from us, with a cultural identity crisis that they cannot
comprehend. Mainstreaming and empowerment is a quagmire for people
who are exploited at every level of life. While they struggle to survive in
this fast changing brave new world, we know that the day this generation of
tribals adapts to our way of life, a long and old indigenous culture and
tradition will be lost for ever. A question we would not like to ask, maybe we
all know that we were part of their cultural extinction in one way or the
other, or we simply stood by watching. So is it our ignorance or ‘cultural
sophistication’ that has led us to brand them as primitive tribes?

Starting my SBI YOUTH FOR INDIA fellowship in M S Swaminathan
Research Foundation, Agro-Biodiversity centre in Wayanad was like
opening a new phase in my already wandering life, entirely different from
things that I had learned and worked with for the past 7 years. Here I was a
technology consultant to an R&D company out in the wilderness of
Wayanad. The MSSRF Field visit helped me to understand and interact
closely with these indigenous tribes and their way of living (A confession: it
took MSSRF 8 to 9 years to establish a rapport with some of these
communities and to understand their situation and for me to claim that in two
months I got to know them is a bit of an exaggeration. My acceptance and
access to these communities was not because of my good looks but because
of their good faith in MSSRF).

MSSRF Wayanad has undertaken 20 or more projects which focus on a
vision C4, not to be mistaken for the explosive C4. Here the 4 Cs stand for
conserve, cultivate, consume, commerce and this vision of C4 is reflected in
every project undertaken by MSSRF, Wayanad. As a newbie, even I raised
questions out of my idealism rather than intellect, as to why tribal
populations have food security issues when the whole forest is a feeding
ground for these people. Immense knowledge of forest resources, awareness
of animal behaviour, prediction of climatic conditions, expertise in
sustainable cultivation and their own set of beliefs makes them forest
dwellers. Nevertheless, these qualities do not help them to fight exploitation
of all sorts, starvation, superstition, illness or death from disease in their
community. Only few Individuals and NGOs have tried to learn the core
issues affecting these indigenous communities. The intervention of NGOs
into their ground has been criticized by many, due to the rampant
exploitation of these communities by people from different strata of society.
The need based study of development models are rarely undertaken by
government organizations and some of the NGO’s, as they rarely take into
account the emotional and cultural psyche of these communities. Majority of
the tribal population in Wayanad have now been exposed to the way of life
of rural and urban settlements. However, the period of adjustment and other
communities accepting them into the mainstream will take much more time
and until then, these forest dwellers will have to struggle to find ways to live
and fit into the newly allocated land given to them in the name of
government rehabilitation programmes. Moreover, what government forgets
is that each individual of a displaced community is a warehouse of traditional
knowledge (though all tribal people are not experts in traditional knowledge,
especially the younger generation and the reason is that they want a good life
like us and we can’t blame them). The humanitarian and commercial value of
this knowledge is unknown as we are yet to explore or to accept these
peoples’ traditional knowledge as a science or to prove that their theories are
backed by scientific proof and till then these peoples’ knowledge will be
termed as traditional knowledge. These questioning, conflicting views will
lead to an understanding of the implications of many government acts in
their actual context.

Biological diversity is the sum total of a nation’s wealth. The tangible,
mutual benefits from Biodiversity is still unaccountable considering the
intake by the human population of ecological services that have economic,
aesthetic or recreational value which has made biodiversity a commodity for
commercial exploitation. As many as 1.6 billion people rely on forests for
livelihood and 80 per cent of the people living in developing countries rely
on traditional medicines derived from plants. Biodiversity also provides
critical indirect benefits to humans, which are difficult to quantify. A system
of governance was never adopted in the first place or adequate resources
have not been allocated to protect this fragile biodiversity and the indigenous
tribal population that is spread across the country. As a nation of rich
biodiversity, enactment of Biodiversity Act came in 2002 after much of our
nation’s wealth had been patented by developed nations. The Biodiversity
Act is still in the initial phase of implementation and the benefits from this
Act have not reached the people it is intended to. The exploitation of
Biodiversity and its natural resource is high and to curtail this kind of
practice, empowering the biodiversity management committee is necessary.
How far this kind of empowerment happens is not known. Justifications and
reasons for the slow pace can be many, unless laws and its implementation at
the grass root level are reviewed and the problems and issues studied we are
unable to see any use of such a Biodiversity law and its purpose is

As time moves on, we lose and have lost many of these gifted knowledge
holders to death, disease and other conditions and this loss is irreparable, in
terms of the knowledge lost. Exploitation of their traditional knowledge is
not a new phenomenon in our scientific world and this exploitation has lead
to distrust in many of the indigenous communities. This kind of exploitation
and many other cases have led to enactment of the Biodiversity Act, 2002.
We know many of the pharmaceutical companies have made use of this
traditional knowledge before this biodiversity law was enforced and are still
doing it. No one knows exactly how much these companies have benefited
from this. Bio-piracy is a situation where indigenous knowledge of nature,
originating with indigenous people, is exploited for commercial gain without
permission from and with no compensation to the indigenous people
themselves. Some studies have already shown 3, 00,000 samples of cultivars
kept under long-term storage in national gene banks have gone out of
cultivation and many among the 140 native breeds of farm livestock face
threats to their survival.

The lack of resources and educationally qualified people to work in the field,
government’s lack of understanding of the situation and some of the
government acts and policies have become a real hindrance in creating a free
and fair environment for indigenous tribal community to approach NGOs or
Govt organizations for a knowledge sharing mechanism. These knowledge
holders need to be seen as an unexplored market for commercial,
pharmaceutical and many other sectors. Government can bring in groups of
NGOs, scientists, social scientists and other socially accountable people
related to this field, to come together and work on a policy framework to
enable public and private companies to pool in resources to tap the wealth
hidden in the knowledge holders. The collaboration with indigenous tribes
can be mutually beneficial for scientific communities, as well as the tribal
communities. One of the interesting things that I found with every tribal
community was that they have their own traditional system for sustainable
cultivation. We are almost never very much concerned with the word
sustainable cultivation and greed drives our economy and sustainability has
become just a hippy buzz word as we continue to push unsustainable
products into the fast moving consumer-oriented market.

We need to protect our natural bio-diversity from mass exploitation and
extinction, to accelerate efforts for conservation and sustainable use of
biodiversity and for fair and equitable sharing .We also need to empower the
communities living in these biodiversity hotspots to fight these Bio pirates
and other people with vested designs on our biodiversity resources; to
understand the tribal people and their culture and help them to map their
Biodiversity register, in order to document their knowledge in front of the
world. The people’s bio-diversity register will provide a social and scientific
validation of the data provided by the experts. When we look at recovery of
threatened and endangered species or management of invasive species or the
study of accelerated disappearance of species, the knowledge of these
indigenous people can be the greatest assets that we have. Now, in the name
of relocation of tribals from critical habitats we are not doing any good either
for them or for us. Already the mass influx of settlers into these forest
habitats in Wayanad have led to degradation of wildlife habitats which in
turn leads to increased incidents of man – animal conflict in recent years.
With these concerns and the conflicting demands of different stakeholders,
the biodiversity conservation and culture of indigenous people face grave

This fellowship was a blessing in disguise to understand my frustration
against the atrocities towards indigenous people and the farming community.
In the end I realize that change is inevitable and so is development. All these
years I was wrong in blaming the government and its policies. Now I have
really understood that it was my inability to understand the ground realities
that made me a talker all this time. Now having done this fellowship, I am a
doer. But this one year is less, now the only question is that once I am back
to my ‘real world’, will I be able to cling on to my understanding of social
commitment that I have learned in this one year?


SBI YFI Fellow Bharath Vineeth Patapati has done Masters
(Information Systems) from North Eastern University, Boston, USA. He
was previously working with Jan Swasthya Sahyog, Chhattisgarh. He is
currently working with MSSRF in Jeypore Block of Koraput District in
Odisha. His project is on ‘Food Security’


Name: Dhanurjay
Wife’s name: Hemalata
Family: 4 children. 2 daughters and 2 sons.
Tribe: Bhumia
Place: Nuaguda village, Kundra Block, Koraput District, Orissa


Our conversation with Dhanurjay is interrupted by the ring of Dhanu's
mobile phone. Dhanurjay excuses us to take the call.

Dhanurjay: "Who is this"?

Customer: "My name is Bhakto from Kundra block. I wanted to know
whether you have any mushroom to sell. I need 4 kgs"

Dhanurjay: “Sorry sir, I don’t have anything left today, I sold it just now to
the staff of MSSRF. Please come tomorrow evening and I will provide the 4
kgs that you want."
This is a conversation between Dhanurjay and a customer on Dhanurjay’s
mobile phone regarding a potential sale. It has taken 4 years for Dhanurjay to
reach this stage from the time he and Hemalata started cultivating and selling
mushroom commercially.

The real journey started in 2000 when a volunteer from a NGO called
PRAYAS mentioned about mushroom cultivation as an attractive off-farm
activity to Dhanurjay. Dhanurjay visited PRAYAS and learnt about the
basics of mushroom cultivation and started practicing it on a small scale. The
real impetus came in 2007 when he got trained in spawn mushroom
cultivation technique at MSSRF, Jeypore. Since then, he has come to realize
that mushroom cultivation as a sustainable income generation off- farm
activity can complement his traditional livelihood activity i.e. Farming. As
there are no irrigation facilities and farming is basically rain-fed here, people
are forced to migrate to cities to earn money working as laborers. So an off-
farm summer activity like mushroom cultivation can go a long way in
helping a family to sustain themselves during the summer months. Basically
they carry out this activity for 2 months. The type of mushroom grown here
is paddy straw mushroom. Mushroom cultivation is a summer activity for
them as it is difficult to cultivate mushrooms in winter due to moisture.

The economics
 The family cultivates 80 beds in 2 months.
 Cost of production per bed is Rs 150
 Quantity of mushroom per bed on average is 4 kg.
 Selling price of 1 kg is Rs 100 i.e. for 1 bed the sale value is Rs 400.
 The average profit earned per bed is Rs 250 (400 – 150)

The market
 Dhanurjay sells the output normally in Kundra, Lima and Sagarguda
blocks. He goes to the nearby market on his bicycle to sell the
 He sells a minimum of 6 kg per day.
 Average buying capacity of a customer is between 250g to 1 kg per
customer and he has 10 to 12 customers per day.
 Other avenues for sales include, getting pre-orders for marriage
 Sometimes people also come to his village to buy the mushroom
directly from him.
 After he has purchased a mobile phone, he has started receiving orders
on his cell phone which saves him time.
 Interestingly, there is no involvement of middle men in this supply
Impact on his family's quality of life
 The family consumes 250 gm per day of the mushroom cultivated
thereby providing good vitamin B source for the kids.
 Based on the data above, we see that he earns an income of at least
15000 in 2 months from this activity.
 This money has gone into his daughter’s education, buying of a mobile
phone and the rest has been invested back into farming activities.
 Encouraged by the earning capacity of this activity and the
appreciation that he is receiving from his customers, for the quality of
mushrooms cultivated, Dhanurjay is planning to expand his business.
Dhanurjay has not yet reached the Jeypore market (biggest town in the
district) so the potential to expand is huge. But again, expansion
depends upon the availability of adequate quantity of mushroom.

My understanding

Poverty when looked at from the Centre’s point of view is a State issue, but
poverty when looked at from a family’s point of view is an individual issue.
The question is how a rural family can pull itself out of poverty by collective
action, without depending too much on the Government. Rural families
involved in agriculture are directly or indirectly dependent on the
Government for debt, MSP, etc. And those are factors which are sometimes
not in the control of the farmer. Dhanurjay’s story tells us how a tenacious
farmer by diversifying into a non-farm activity can enhance his income
which can then be reinvested for his family’s wellbeing and also in farm
The question is, if this mushroom cultivation process is so simple why aren’t
others in the village doing this? Is it the question of lack of awareness or is it
that they are happy with what they already have or is it simply laziness? One
critical difference that I found was that Dhanurjay was better educated
than the others in the village. He has studied till the 12
class. Education
creates hope in a person and makes him aware of the outside world and the
opportunities that it provides. So the whole development issue boils down to
a person having access to good education.

I am also working with students and teachers on developing school vegetable
gardens in two Government primary schools, to provide nutritional
supplement for the children along with the midday meal. Even though I am
confident of developing a school vegetable garden with the participation of
all the stake holders, I don’t have answers on how to tackle the education
issue. I can say that in these two primary schools the quality of education
provided is not up to the mark. Overall, the children are interested to learn
but you also need self-motivated and committed teachers to teach them. How
will you get the best teachers to teach at the primary school level in a tribal
village? How will you involve the parents of the students in the education
process? The school management committees are at present there to look
after administration issues but not to take a look at the quality of the
education that is being imparted. How will you reduce the burden of the
teacher who not only teaches but also takes care of all other administrative
things like mid-day meal schemes and construction of class room and other
work related to the school’s functioning?

Even after 8 months I have only questions but no answers when it comes to
school education. The real development of the people will only happen if we
are able to tackle the issue of education in rural India.

SBI YFI Fellow Chetan Yaralagadda has done his Masters in Urban
Planning from Cleveland State University (USA). He was previously
working in the Office of Field Services (CSU). He is currently working
with BAIF in Kalghatgi Taluk, in Dharwar District of Karnataka. His
project is on ‘Integrated Development Approach for Tree Based
Farming System, particularly for Chikoo and Mango trees'.


It’s the month of April and we are just settling down in the BIRD-K campus of
BAIF in Surishettikoppa village of Dharwar district in Karnataka. The mercury
level has reached around 40 degrees Celsius and people have started feeling the
heat. But for me, it’s more than manageable because in my home town in
Andhra Pradesh the average summer temperature is around 47 degrees Celsius.
Initially people who work in the campus are reluctant to speak to me. For them,
I am an outsider who is here for some vague project and will leave once the
work is done. While that is true to an extent because I would leave the village
one fine day, yet I am not here to do some study but to lend my hand in
whichever way possible.

One hot summer day, a group of people are working on segregating, packing
and loading Alphonso mangoes in a truck. BIRD-K campus is used by the local
farmers of the area for dumping all the mango produce and from here, the
segregated and packed fruit is transported to different procuring agencies.
Seeing this, I went and picked up one good looking raw mango from the
segregated crate and started eating it while leaning against the back of the truck
and watching the activity of packing the mangoes. I noticed that only one
worker was loading the crates into the truck while the rest of the people were
segregating the fruits. At one point he lost his balance slightly, while lifting the
heavy crate into the truck and instinctively my hand reached out to hold the
falling crate. This was when I realized how heavy each crate was. Slowly while
loading the crate into the truck the man gave me a strange look, saying
something in Kannada. It was then that I felt that I ought to help in loading a
few crates in order to compensate for the free fruit that I had eaten. But after
half an hour of loading crates they slowing started asking me some questions in
Kannada, which I replied in broken Kannada to which they started laughing
because the answers I gave were funny and irrelevant to the questions that they
had asked. All this was interpreted to me by one of the workers in broken
Hindi. I started enjoying the interaction with them and did not realize how fast
the time had passed while listening to their small talk while they occasionally
cracked jokes among themselves. It took almost five hours for six people
including me to complete the work that day. From the next day, I noticed a
change in the way they responded to me while interacting with me and as the
days passed by, the relationship matured with frequent exchange of eatables and
other items between us. Now after nine months of staying here and looking back
at that situation, I feel amused at how my initial greed to have a free mango had
initiated a process of icebreaking.

Development- Urban Materialism versus Rural Human Values & Relations
‘Development’ is the word which has really confused me after having spent
some time in the village- is it measurement of materialistic possessions or is it
measurement of human values and relationships in a society. If it is about
materialistic possessions then the unquestionable kings are urban people but if it
is about human values and relationships then the undisputable winners are rural
people. But here is the catch; with obtaining money, rural people can also get
into the race for materialistic possessions whereas urban people can never be
able to gain the kind of human values and relationships which is such an integral
part of rural society.

Let me simplify this with one example; Assume that if representatives of a
credit card company were to come to our office in an urban area and state that
they are ready to issue group credit cards for all the individuals working there
with the one and only clause being that if there is one default in payment then
it’s going to affect the entire group of individuals in the company. In this
scenario, how many of the individuals in that company would come forward to
take up that offer- in my opinion not even 2 percent. Now, if the same concept is
applied in rural areas, there will be scores and scores of people coming forward
to avail of that opportunity. The concept is otherwise called as financing of Self
Help Groups (SHG) in rural areas.

So my question here is – where do people have trust, empathy and genuine
human relations among themselves and are continuously engaged in the best
practices of human values, I conclude, it is undisputedly the people from rural
SBI YFI Fellow Haresh Bhere is an engineer who has done his M Tech
(Power, Electronics, & Electrical) from IIT, Delhi. He is on a sabbatical
from Tata Motors. He is working with BAIF in Jawhar Block of Thane
District in Maharashtra. His project is on ‘Supply Chain Management for
Vegetable Business’.

I wr ot e t hi s p oem w hen t he movement agai nst co r r upt i o n was at i t s peak.
Her e I am not commen t i ng on , wh et her w hat ever was done w as r i gh t or
no t , or t he w ay i t w as done was r i ght or not . Thi s poem i s j ust a wr i t t en
expr essi on of what , one p ar t i cul ar Indi an yout h t hi nks.

एक भारतीय यु वक (यु वती) क मनोयथा

धु ंधल| सी थी मं जीले
धु ंधले से थे रा1ते
धु ंधला सफर था ये
सोच Íकस वा1ते ... 1

माहोल कु च ऐसा था
काÍफर हम लगने लगे
अपने ह| पराये बन
दे स को लु टने लगे … 2

अपने ह| ओठ, अपने ह| दात
अपने ह| लोग, अपनीह| बात
खामोश हम, वो समझे मजबूर
वतनसे बेईमानी करते गये … 4

दा1ता वह| पु रानी
लोग बस बदल गये
अं0ेज वो गोरे थे
बाक| हम 4या कहे … 3

सोच वह| उ+मीद नयी
कोहरा अब उçने लगा
रा1ते अब साफ है और मं जीले नजद|क है
वो दे श महाcमा का था ये दे श महाcमा का है ... 7

भु ले थे वो ईस बात को
दे श महाcमा का है
सोच वह| िजंदा आज
है आम आदमी के पास... 5

साथ हो Íखलाफ़ हो
सभीने आज माना है
महाcमा क| सोच वाला
एक (नसा काफ़| है … 6


Thi s poem i s abou t a per son who was l i vi ng a di f f er ent l i f e (In t hi s case
cor por at e l i f e). Now he i s exper i enci ng a di f f er ent l i f e (Commun i t y w o r k)
and he i s t r yi ng t o anal yze b ot h t he si t uat i ons.

Thought s, just af t e r joining SBI YFI

चंद ल+हो क| ये िजं दगी
ÍबÍदशोसे Îघर गई
4या गलत 4या सह|
सोचती ह| रहगई... 1

होगा 4या,हु आ था 4या
उÎसका बस Íहसाब है
उÎसका बस नह| Íहसाब
चल रहा जो व4त आज… 2

सवाल ह| अधु रे है
जवाब Íकसको चÍहये
न तु म हो पु रे न हम है पु रे
ये सोच Íह अधु र| है … 4

4या गलत होगा अगर
उस ल+हे को जीने लगे
बंद|शोको तोडकर
पंÎछ बन उडने लगे … 3

Skill Definitions: A picture is worth more than a thousand words, ask me
and I will say a description of a situation is worth more than 100
definitions/dictionary meanings of skills/qualities.

Here are some from my personal observations.

Negotiation Skill:
It’s a hot sunny day at the Taluka ST (State transportation) Depot. The time
is 1:30 in the afternoon. People are furious, on account of waiting for a bus
with a scheduled time of 12:00 o’clock. Finally the bus comes and starts the
journey. After an hour or so, in the middle of the road a breakdown occurs.
Now, imagine the situation of being a passenger. After 20 minutes of
arguments, the passengers begin asking for their money back from the bus
conductor, so that they can make some alternate arrangements.

After another 30 minutes, few of the passengers have left, few wait for
another bus, while the conductor remains with a smile on his face not having
shelled out a single paise as refund. That’s what I call negotiation skill!!!

Paddy re-plantation day. It’s raining heavily. The field is at a distance of 20
kms from the office. Our scheduled departure from the office is delayed by
one hour. After having travelled half the distance, the leader asks us to stop.
Reason? The group has forgotten to bring the stapler.

Now the question was whether to go back and further delay the activity or
continue travelling and complete the activity, probably with less accuracy
The leader takes the decision that one person will go back and bring the
necessary item while the rest of us would start the activity when he comes
back. His rationale “If you do something it should be good enough to be
done, otherwise don’t do it”

(This is not my personal observation, but an observation shared by the SBI
YFI Coordinator)
Probably we have all read a lot about perceptions and have been told several
times that one should have an open mind while looking at things/situations.
This can help us to discover the other side(s) of the issue, which probably
can be more valid than the side which we believe, is correct.

Now let us put this to a test. Here is a situation, analyze it and form an
opinion; while keeping an open mind. A country like India has been ranked
very low on hygiene and sanitation. So the Indian government has launched a
scheme for building toilets in rural areas. You visit one such village and find
out that the toilets have been constructed but people are not using it and at
many places they have stoned the toilets and choked it with earth and stone.
At some places you also find that the toilets are being used as store rooms.

Now you wonder that when the scheme is for the people and the government
has given 100% subsidy for this, what else the government can do for the
villagers to use it. Why can’t the villagers understand that this is something
for their own benefit? Can’t they understand what is good for them?

Now that’s a perception from our side, let’s go to the flip side.
The real situation is that they do not have enough water to drink (sometimes
they have to walk 3-8 km to fetch water). Will they allow themselves or
anyone to use a few litres in the toilet? Without water, the toilet becomes a
breeding ground for flies and mosquitoes, leading to disease. Now after
understanding the other side will we promote such a toilet scheme for such
villages? The perception has changed, I guess!!!

(The other understanding from this issue: Any policy developed at a central
level for different geographical, cultural and economically developed areas
may not work as effectively as expected, if it does not have the required
SBI YFI Fellow K. Balakrishna Reddy has done MSc (Biotechnology)
from CMR Indtitution. He was previously working with Sri Biotech
Laboratories (India) Ltd. He is currently working with MSSRF in
Jeypore Block of Koraput District in Odisha. His project is on
‘Promotion of economically viable Medicinal Plant & NTFP


When I opted for Jeypore as my project site, my thoughts were about the
tough challenge of how to tackle the language barrier. Along with other
opinions that I had about Orissa, I assumed that there would be the presence
of Naxals in Koraput District as it was located besides Malkangiri. But in a
very short time my apprehensions were set to rest by the field level staff in
MSSRF knowing English and Hindi and in reality there were no Naxalites in
any of the MSSRF intervention villages.

My journey started with a hearty welcome from Dr. Unnikrishnan
Nampoothiri Director, MSSRF and they treated me like one of the staff
members. Project identification started with travel to every village of
MSSRF intervention to understand the status of the projects that were being
implemented and to find out possible areas to contribute. As all the programs
were already in good progress with dedicated professionals I thought of
taking up a new tribal village to start the work from scratch. I talked to my
mentor Mr. Saujanendra Swain regarding my interest and gave an outline of
a project on Forest Dependence Analysis and Livelihood options.

Village meet with Dhuruva tribe, Paknaguda

My work started with the Dhuruva tribe, considered as one of the oldest
tribes in India. I was accompanied by the field worker Mr. Anthartyami
when I went to visit Paknaguda village for the first time to conduct a village
meeting. As each word I said needed to be translated from Hindi to Odiya,
the tribals found it difficult to communicate with me. When I introduced
myself as a SBI Youth for India fellow they understood only SBI and
thought that I was a bank official and started asking about agricultural loans.
They said “Loans given by Govt. especially agri loans are not reaching on
time for purchase of inputs, so we are forced to depend upon the saukar
(local money lenders, generally migrants from Bihar and Chattisgarh) who
charges us Rs.5 interest while SHG loans carry an interest of Rs.3 (available
in nearby villages)”.

Once they started talking, they were very curious to know about agriculture
practices in Andhra Pradesh because it’s just beyond the forest that they
depend upon for their livelihood. Their tribe depended on the forest for food,
wood, medicines and other sources of income. In the initial days I would
travel 45 kms to reach this remote village which had very bad road
connectivity which became even worse during the rainy season. I tried to
meet people but the villages looked deserted as they would all go to the
forest or be engaged in agriculture related activities during the rainy season
from 6 am till 4 pm. So to be able to meet them I camped at MSSRF’s
VKC at Udulaguda, which was 4 kms away from the village and initiated the
Forest Dependence analysis in the evening by going to each and every house
and collecting information on their socio-economic dependencies & sources.


These interactions gave me an opportunity to learn about the tribal ethos - the
social diversity, an individual’s role in the community, simple living with
satisfaction, dependence on nature & environment. Also about livelihood
options during different seasons, classified into agriculture, forest, plantation,
livestock and skilled activities; along with the possibility of including this
village of Paknaguda for intervention in the upcoming projects of MSSRF.

“The findings of the study suggest that while the forest helps the community
to supplement their income, it also helps to improve the living standards of
households that are able to enter into high return forest occupations”.

SBI YFI Fellow M.C.Karthikeyan Iyer has done BSc (Mathematics)
from Bhartidasan University, Tiruchirapally. He is on a sabbatical from
Tata Capital. He is working with MSSRF in Vedaranyam Block of
Nagapattinam District in Tamilnadu. His project is on ‘Climate Change
Adaptation & Mitigation’.

Coming out of Mumbai’s fast life to live in a village atmosphere was a
challenging decision to make. Nevertheless, I thought, it was worth trying
with the support of my family and my organization. Indeed, my objective
was to experience the rural atmosphere and widen my own thought process.

Vedaranyam, the location of my project, is a beautiful place on the east coast
of Tamilnadu. Adorning the natural beauty are forests, rivers, the sea and
salt swamps. Besides Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary which is rich in
biodiversity, there is the famous Vedaranyeshwara temple.

My project in M S Swaminathan Research Foundation is on Climate Change
Adaptation and Mitigation in Vedaranyam region. It may be a contemporary
topic of discussion in urban centres as people talk about climate change and
its impact. The truth however is that, climate change is impacting more
adversely rural communities in coastal areas as it directly affects their

While people at the village level may not be aware about the science of
climate change or carbon emissions, they are very much aware about the
need for adaptation and the need to change their ways and means of
livelihood, by looking at alternative options.

This region can not be called underdeveloped as the place has abundant
resources – fertile land, water resources, forests etc. Disposable income is
relatively better due to agriculture, fishing, trading and remittances from
NRIs aboard. For instance, in our project village with a population of 1000
odd people, 50-60 people have gone to Middle East countries, Singapore,
Malaysia, etc, for work and better income. Therefore, money flow is always
higher, which is clearly evident in these villages.

While doing a door to door household study to assess the requirement for
CFL lamps in our project village, one elderly man told me about the number
of lamps he uses at his home. He could not understand what CFL lamps were
explicitly. He enquired whether it was the “Jilebi” bulb. I said, yes! It is. He
immediately asked me to give him Rs. 120 so that he could purchase a
“jilebi” bulb. I said, ‘I cannot give you Rs. 120, but I will get you a jilebi
bulb soon’. Just then, I noticed that he had drunk something. I asked him,
what is this? He immediately offered the drink to me also. It was called “vara
kapi”, a coffee without milk and sugar, but with jiggery. I was touched. After
offering this coffee, he asked me, when will you get me the “jilebi”?
Commuting was a problem as our site office was some distance away from
the town. Though bus service was available, it was very infrequent. I would
often stand by the road side, requesting for a lift from the rider of a two
wheeler. On all these occasions when I used to travel to Vedaranyam as a
pillion rider on all types of two wheelers, I would be making new friends.

My realization is that in this part of south India, the money flow or work is
not a problem as there are plenty of avenues available for work - be it as
labour for agriculture, restaurants, fishing or shops etc. On an average, a
person can easily earn Rs. 200 to Rs. 400 per day. In fact, there is a dearth of
labourers as people have the option to choose from a variety of work. The
one primary problem is the addiction to liquor. The village people normally
spend more than half of their daily earnings to buy liquor. The money which
is diverted in this manner affects the family’s livelihood. These villagers are
so completely addicted to liquor that they cannot abstain from drinking even
for a day. In villages, on an average, 50%-60% of the male population are
“professional drunkards”. I think this is the cause of many of the livelihood
problems in villages, at least in this region.

The issue is not about liquor. It is about how much a villager spends out of
his earnings for liquor. In our project village, there is a person who cannot
pass a day with out liquor even when he goes for 100 days govt. work or is
jobless on that day. Though this is not related to climate change, however
from my experience, this is indeed, a problem on the ground, which is
affecting the livelihood of rural people.

I can not claim that I have made a societal impact on the lives of people
during my fellowship. This is not an easy task. However, I have made efforts
to understand the issues relating to rural development on the ground. I
would say, it is “an experiential learning” which I will cherish for the rest of
my life.

SBI YFI Fellow Manish Kumar Dwivedi is an engineer who has done
his BTech (Textile Engineering) from Government Central Textile
Institute. He was previously working with Lee Cooper India Pvt. Ltd
(Future Group). He is working with Seva Mandir in Kherwara Block of
Udaipur District, Rajasthan. His project is on ‘Improved Wood Stoves


When I look back at the induction training, I think that I experienced the sort
of feeling that a newly recruited cadet would have. The session on ‘Do’s and
Don’ts’ felt like as if we were now going to be thrown behind enemy lines.
Our blue eyed ‘Major’, axed, minced and chopped every single query that
was raised. I came out of the session with a clear decision “She is tough and
it is going to be difficult to survive out there”.

It took only a day or two and I knew that I would be miserably disqualified if
she were to grade me as per the Do’s and Don’ts list. Out here it was a
somewhat unfamiliar world - not there in books, nor depicted in cinema.

It was during the initial phase of my deputation with Seva Mandir, when the
final project and location had not yet been decided that I once found myself
sleeping under the sky, which though unusual, was not a new experience.
The only addition was the background music. Scores of species were at their
best, singing to all their folks in the dark. The crackling sound of dried leaves
(you could only play a guessing game about which reptile it was - the only
clue being that they were all deadly) and the regular barking of dogs was
harmonic. Though the platform where our bed was laid was higher than the
habitat of these musicians, yet the darkness had removed that visual barrier
for the mind to be consoled by the fact.

During the day, I accompanied two of our fellows and the owner of the house
Jhaluramji, to the project location. The day was tiring and that night tiredness
was the only morphine that I had to fight the background music. It must have
been just a few seconds before I would have started snoring, Jhaluramji then
asked “4या airport पे जहाज ऐसे ह| खड़े होते है जैसे बसÍदपो म बसे ” I was
pushed to consciousness and could see a moving light in the sky. (Could I
have drawn this comparison had I not seen an airport). “Kind of very
similar” I replied and then the conversation jumped from one subject to the
other. It continued for a while till I had to formally request for permission to
sleep, giving the excuse of the day’s tiredness.( you can curse me and so did
I when the next day I saw him starting his day at 5.00 am and none of his
work was less physical than that of the others) While departing he said “माफ़
क|िजयेगा कल रात म आप को सोने नह|ं Íदया, आप लोगो से बात करने का मौका
बहु तकम Îमलता है ” (I don't remember what I said but I knew that it was I
who had lost an opportunity)

On the way back, one of Seva Mandir’s staff told us that once during a
fruiting season all the fruits of Jhaluramji’s lemon tree were plucked and
stolen at night. Next morning, he did not discuss this matter with anyone in
the village. In a few days, he developed lemon saplings and planted it
himself at many of the households of the village. “अब अपने गाँव म Íकसी को
Îन+बू चु राने क| ज़Fरत नह|ं ”. I don’t know what I felt, but I do know that this
is tied to my experience, and will ever be......

Fortunately, my project falls in the same location and now Jhaluramji and I
meet frequently…

SBI YFI Fellow Midhun Rajagopal is an engineer who has done his
BTech (Production Engineering) from Government Engineering
College, Thrissur. He was previously working with MRF, Puduchery.
He is currently working with MSSRF in Wayanad, Kerala. His project
is on ‘Development Model for Forest Dwelling Tribes’


There are times in life when you feel like taking a detour from the normal
route, to seek opportunities to break free, explore, learn new things and
unlearn a few. For me, it was the SBI Youth for India Fellowship that came
knocking and there I was, transplanted from a shop floor filled with rubber
and carbon black to the 'green paradise' of the Western Ghats - Wayanad.

With Wayanad being the district with the highest concentration of tribal
population in Kerala, I chose to work in the area of tribal development. My
knowledge about the tribal way of life was limited and the only time I had
given a thought to it was either when some friend made jeering references at
someone sporting an odd hairstyle or peculiar dance moves or whenever
some terrible stories about their unjust exploitation popped up in the media.
The notion I had about tribals and their lifestyle was to change with my first
visit to a hamlet.

Houses, no bigger than roadside teashops, were scattered in a zigzag fashion
along the hilly terrain, connected by narrow, neatly-weeded paths. The
premises and paths were so clean and tidily swept, without any trace of the
plastic litter that one’s eyes have grown accustomed to in urban areas. People
from all the houses were gathered together in a courtyard, doing household
jobs accompanied with gleeful chatter, which stopped abruptly when they
saw us approaching. Nobody seemed interested to talk with us except for a
few elderly men. Women, who were alone, went inside their homes and
closed the doors, making it clear that we were definitely not welcome. My
spirits plunged low, until I met Prakash, one of the very few college educated
youth in the area. In pursuit of a job after graduation, he often acted as a link
for communication between the colony inhabitants and the outside world.
Prakash, thus became the first friend I made in Wayanad and would
accompany me on my further field visits.

Finding one among them with me, people started talking and interacting
more freely. Prakash would help to break the ice and translate the tribal
dialect whenever communication became difficult in Malayalam. I learnt
through Prakash and these interactions, the various interesting traditions,
customs and beliefs of the Kattunaicka tribe. They are forest dwelling
people, who worship and live in harmony with nature, obtaining their bare
necessities from the forest without any greed for overexploitation. The thing
that impressed me the most about them is the resilience and optimism that
they possess. Despite hardships and penury, they always find reasons to
smile and be cheerful. I think urban youth, who tend to complain about every
other thing that happens to them, have a lot to learn from these wonderful

Spending some time with the children can be even more heart-warming.
Nowhere else can you find such a happy bunch with contagious smiles,
perfect examples of 'living in the moment’. They know every nook and
corner of the forest, as if it’s their playground, where they prefer to spend
their days, rather than being confined to a classroom. Their knowledge about
forest resources and wildlife is remarkable and I managed to learn a lot from
them. I began enjoying these field visits thoroughly and every visit turned
out to be a new experience. Gradually, my conviction of using my urban
knowledge for their benefit was outweighed by the scope of the vast
knowledge that I could gain from their rural wisdom.

But it hasn’t been a smooth ride all along. Being ridiculed in a language that
you don’t understand, chased away by dogs that guard the hamlets, forced to
listen to grievances of a drunk man for more than an hour, drawing stares of
suspicion for walking through the road with blood drenched feet (from
harmless leech bites), falling into a canal while trying to wash a mango,
falling again while trying to wash off the mud accumulated from the first
fall....these were some of the not-so-enjoyable but memorable moments as

SBI YFI Fellow Parveen Sattar Shaik is a lawyer and has done LLM
from MP Law College. She is working with BAIF in Sakarpatal Village
inDang District of Gujarat. Her project is on ‘Child Nutrition, Health &
Legal Awareness amongst Rural Women’


During my interactions I have found that people living in rural areas often
have to face problems which would seem strange for those from urban areas.
I am giving below three incidents that I have come across during the

[1] I once met a tribal boy in SUSARDA village, called Shankerbhai. He had
cleared his SSC and had scored 60.86 %. Seeing his good score a Charitable
Trust agreed to provide him training in tailoring so that he could get a job in
Surat in a clothes factory. However, due to health problems he was not able
to take the exam for the tailoring course.

Meanwhile, the Government of Gujarat organized a GARIB FAIR in
AHWA, and the boy’s name was included in the list of beneficiaries of the
Garib Mela. He was to receive a cheque for Rs 14000/- and a certificate,
from the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The Sarpanch and the Headmaster
informed the boy about the same. But due to his health problems, he could
not attend the GARIB MELA.

The certificate and the cheque issued in the boy’s name were received on his
behalf by the representative of the charity. On hearing about this, the boy
enquired about the same and the answer that he received from the people at
the charity was that the award money was taken by them as course fee for the
training that they had imparted to him, even though the training was to have
been absolutely free for tribals. The boy approached the offices of the
government & the charity many times, but did not receive any proper reply
from them.

When I came to know about this, I met the boy’s parents and the Sarpanch.
Then I took the boy with me to meet the Collector, who then called the
people from the charity to get information about the case. Almost
immediately, the charity conveyed their readiness to give a job to the boy
from the next day itself in one of the clothes factories of Surat. But by this
time the boy had got admission to the IIT College at Ahaw. Now he is
studying in this college.

[2] DAGADAPADA village of Gujarat which is in a hilly area is located
on the border with Maharashtra. Most of the people in the village,
particularly the women, suffer from pain in the joints. The only hospital is in
SAKARPATAL which is 15 kilometres from the village. The only other
medical facility is a Government Hospital of Maharashtra which is only 3
kilometres from the village. If the villagers go to the nearest hospital they
face the border problem as they are from Gujarat State and they cannot avail
of the services of the Government Hospital in Maharashtra.

According to the villagers, the doctors of the Govt. hospital of Maharashtra
are not allowed to treat the DAGADAPADA villagers as they are from
Gujarat state, even when they are ready to pay the prescribed fees to the
doctors - it is against the state government rules of each different state.

I personally visited the said hospital where even though I didn’t get the
chance to meet the Doctor as he had gone to another village, I was able to
meet the compounder. According to him they have never said ‘no’ to
DAGADAPADA villagers for treatment.

After this I became confused whether to listen to the large number of
Gujarati people in the village or listen to the staff of the Government hospital
in Maharashtra. Who was correct? I am now in the process of approaching
the Collector of Dang district through an application on behalf
DAGADAPADA villagers for a small dispensary to be opened in the village.

[3] In BHADARPADA village, I met one Daimaa (midwife). She was
more than 70 years old. She is the only Daimaa in the village, and has
received training from different organizations in Pune, Valsad, Vansad, etc.
Earlier she would attend to all the deliveries in the village but now people are
going to the hospital for better treatment. However, in case of an emergency
her services are still sought.

As she is a trained Daimaa she is entitled to get Rs.100/- per delivery. But
the people very often are not ready to pay her Rs.100/- whenever they avail
her services. Presently, she is not doing anything and her financial condition
is also not good. She has two sons who are married and the daughter-in-laws
do not take proper care of her.

So, here I am, helping the Daimaa by informing her about the Government’s
Widow Old Age Pension Scheme, and assisting her in submission of the
application form along with the required documents [photo ID, BPL card,
Income certificate of family, two photos].

While my friends and colleagues share their beautiful experiences of village
life, I have a very different tale to share, a tale about a facet of rural life
which is rarely talked about, although considering the number of atheists in
our programme, I may also be getting a lot of criticism. Nevertheless, the
story of my colleague in BAIF Dhruva is worth recounting.

I once visited a remote village which few people visit and the quietness of
the place is what strikes one immediately as you reach the place. Though I
was with one of my colleagues from Dhruva, who resides in the same
village; I stopped one of the villagers to get more information and started
asking him questions relating to the village. Our light hearted conversation
came to an abrupt halt, when the villager and my colleague saw a woman
who was in her mid 40’s coming towards us. They moved aside suddenly
and I was puzzled by their behaviour. My colleague’s sudden quietness
worried me and made me wonder about the reason for it. I started
questioning my colleague about it as soon as we were out of the village. My
questions were all about the woman whom we had encountered in the
village. My colleague’s replies were incoherent and the gist of it was the
shocking piece of information about the villagers’ belief in things like black
magic. It is not one or two families in the village, but the whole village that
has this belief. The whole village considers one family in the village as
DACAN (a witch) family, having knowledge about black magic. The
knowledge about this black magic is passed on from one generation to the
next. According to the villagers, the Dacan woman doesn’t like to see
anybody being progressive or enjoying a lot. If such things happen, she casts
a spell and something bad happens the next day. This belief in the village is
so strong and can immediately be sensed by the quietness of the village once
you enter it.

The next day when I reached the office, I was given the news that my
colleague had met with an accident, an accident which made him bed ridden
for almost 2 months. Not only did he suffer permanent disability in his leg,
but when I went to see him in the village and asked him about the incident he
did not open up initially. After some time he opened up and said that the
Dacan lady whom we had seen the previous day had an eye on him and she
was not very happy with his new bike and his progressive job and it appeared
as if she had cursed him due to which the accident had occurred. I was
shocked to see the blind faith that he and his family had in such theories. Not
only that, they called the traditional healer to their home and he informed
them, that this was all because of the Dacan’s black magic.

The story does not end here. I came to know that the villagers believe that
the Dacan lives a normal life in the day time, but after midnight she performs
all her black magic; she turns into a cat, a fire, she rides on a dog and if
anybody sees her riding on the dog, that person will die of serious health
problems after a few days,. The Dacan cries at night, which is audible to the
villagers. She also teaches black magic to others with a prior contract that
she would take somebody’s life from their family. If somebody breaches the
contract, that person will become mentally retarded. Due to such beliefs, the
people from that village tie a thread around their neck, arms, ankle etc. to
protect themselves from the ill effects of the Dacan.

The power that the Dacan wields over the lives of the people in the village
seemed absolute, as they went about their activities in mortal fear of her.
Education alone did not seem to provide an answer as seen from my
colleague’s case. The only option that the villagers feel they have is to leave
the village and search for a better future elsewhere, far away from the evil
eye of the Dacan.

SBI YFI Fellow Pruthvi Raj CC has done MSc Forestry (Silviculture)
from University of Agriculture Sciences, Bangalore. He is on a
sabbatical from Tata Coffee. He is working with MSSRF in Wayanad,
Kerala. His project is on ‘Revitalising Traditional Coffee Agro forestry


I stayed only for two months at the Kannivadi centre of MSSRF, but
as the experiences there were unforgettable I will make an attempt to recount
them. I reached Kannivadi with great hopes and ambitions, but the reality
there was entirely different; especially with regard to the food and
accommodation which I hope I will never again get an opportunity to

I was supposed to work in the Thonimalai hills – where people have
settled on hill tops to cultivate coffee, pepper, lemon and hill banana. Due to
this banana cultivation vast tracts of the hill side had been cleared and
denuded. Most of the people living here had very small and fragmented land
holdings. The people had their settlements in the form of hamlets with very
small houses attached to one another, which might be due to water scarcity
and the unavailability of flat land. Interestingly, all the different kinds of
farming in the Thonimalai hills was organic by default, mainly due to
logistical problems of connectivity to the main town which was at a distance
of 35 km on rough terrain. These fragmented coffee farms were never
worked till the last three years which meant that except for harvesting no
cultivation work is done on these farms which were characterized by very
low yield. Still, we can notice the use of mules for transportation purpose. I
was supposed to teach them better farming practices to improve farm
productivity and supply chain improvement and also get them organic
certification. Reaching the place was not an easy task, as we had to start
preparations one day earlier. On my first visit, I went along with my mentor
who introduced me to the community by telling them about the purpose of
my work. This was followed by such a warm welcome by the people of the
village that I began to literally feel uncomfortable with that welcome.

Initially I was staying in Kannivadi office till I got accommodation in
the next town called Oddanchtram which is 25 km from Kannivadi.
Searching for a room equipped with only one known phrase in Tamil -
Veedu Kedikuma? (House available for rent?) was a different experience.
The universal answer was ‘No’ for bachelors. My companion another SBI
YFI fellow, Bala began to look around for someone in a pant and shirt in the
hope that he might understand/speak English/Hindi. One day when Bala and
I were roaming like nomads in search of a room, I suddenly saw a man in a
pant and shirt standing on the street. The next moment I was there asking
Veedu Kedikuma? Thank God! He was able to speak in English and helped
us till we managed to get a room. He roamed around with us and finally
guided us to a complex and guaranteed us a room there. We managed to get
the room by lying to the owner that we were SBI employees.

From then onwards, each day we were travelling 50 kms to go to Kannivadi
from Oddanchathram, and from there we had to walk for another 2 kms.
Lunch comprised of rice and rasam everyday. By now, I was totally
exhausted with travelling and the food. One day we packed groceries as I
planned to stay at Thonimalai hills with an assistant for three days for my
work. After getting down at the main bus stop, I found out that we would
have to walk for 10 km to reach the place where we were to stay – a place
which was occupied by a supervisor of an abandoned farm. After reaching
the place, we managed to get a guy who could understand Hindi so that I
could go around the farms for a preliminary survey to identify the problems
and to decide the objectives. But everyday, to reach different farms I had to
walk for 10 kms and that was the ground reality. After coming back to
Kannivadi I cursed myself for falling into the trap. I realized that it was not
going to be possible to contribute something there during the year, unless I
was able to settle myself.

In between some funny things happened. Once, when I was walking at
noon wearing a cowboy hat, jeans and a white shirt, a group of small kids
started teasing us by calling “Hey man, where going, come, come” –
experimenting with their English. They felt that that we were the foreigners
walking in their street, as most of the men there used to wear white lungi and
shirt and it was hard to find people wearing a pant. Another surprising
observation was that women were more active in group activities in that area
and they were trying to achieve progress themselves. After staying at
Kannivadi for two months I was able to shift my location to the Wayanad
centre of MSSRF in Kerala state.

Well here again, life started with house hunting in a society which does not
trust bachelors. I considered them as orthodox. Many times, the learning
from this made me think of starting this as a new business venture as it was
so tough for bachelors to get a place on rent. I would say that the real
transformation or interest in inclusive development of society started for me
from here, as I got the opportunity to witness many things. I also got to learn
by reading and this developed a kind of humane or human touch to every act
of mine.

After spending some time in the fellowship environment I felt deeply
influenced by the importance of development. Things which were seen as
mundane before have now become interesting. I often felt that
developmental work is a buzz word and most of the time this term is used by
the educated for their self development. If the money spent till now on
developmental works had reached the direct beneficiaries, the situation
would have been different, but that has not been the case. The poor have
been poor and have been the subject of policy makers and project proposals
since time immemorial.

People have described this fellowship as being meant for exposing fellows to
rural India and for the fellows to contribute to the development of rural India
during the year. But I would say that it is to make a man into a human being
and to give a human touch to our daily life. That’s what will be the impact
the fellows will make when they go back from the fellowship. Thinking
about this while travelling, there are instances when I forgot to get down at
the right bus stop and on many occasions in the night I had to walk back for
kms. During visits to different places, I witnessed the poverty one reads of in
books. Also, the fellowship brought different minds together to discuss on
issues, which was a great experience throughout the fellowship. Visiting
Srishti centre at Ahmedabad was another great experience. Overall, the
fellowship was an enlightening bread and butter experience to feel and carry
forward for the rest of my life for which I am indebted to State Bank of India
for taking such an initiative. I should also unhesitatingly agree that this
fellowship experience has dominated all my previous experiences and views.
Definitely this learning will be tested in my future life and I will make full
use of it by giving a human touch to all my actions. . During this fellowship,
I was lucky to experience the happiness we get when we help others without
any vested interests. Even though during the entire fellowship I wanted to
help someone but that was not easy as some say. Lastly, I have to remember
the bread and jam which fulfilled my food needs whenever food was not
available in the mess.

SBI YFI Fellow Sandeep Vishwanath is an engineer who has done his
BE (Electronics & Communication) from BMS College of Engineering
Bangalore. He was previously working with Born Free Art School in
Bangalore. He is currently working with BAIF in Nawapur Taluk,
Nandurbar District of Maharashtra. His project is on ‘Teaching Tribal
Children through the medium of Cinema’


While working at schools, I could never understand the teachers. While I
have seen dozens of schools superficially, I have worked with four of them
closely. Children however are predictable and to work with them has never
confused me. They are simple, honest and sometimes surprising. The
element of surprise that they offer has motivated me to work with them.

I am currently working in four tribal ashram schools (residential schools
funded by the Tribal development department) in the Nandubhar district of
Maharashtra. This is primarily a tribal dominated district in the state. I work
with children to create motion picture documentaries which will capture the
best practices in these tribal ashram schools. One school that I work with is
the Kolda ashram school and the majority of the children here are from the
Kokni tribe. They are the most troublesome and always challenge me during
the class. I spend most of my time in the class trying to direct their energies
to the agenda of the class. At other schools, I always have to work hard to get
the children to come out of their shells and charge them up to get things to
work. However, at the school at Kolda that is never the case, so it was no
surprise that I wanted to work with the children of this school.

My interaction at the schools covers the entire spectrum - from the trustees of
the schools to the peons. However, the teachers are the ones I have never
been able to fathom out fully. They say that they love their job but seldom
teach; they ask me not to conduct classes in the morning as children are in a
good mood and so that is when they want to teach them! My personal
experience belies this. The teachers expect me to take up the last hours of the
school, their expectation being that the children would be quite restless at the
end of a school day and so it would be better for them to avoid that time. In
the same fashion, they routinely interrupt my class and do not allow me to
extend the class, even when the children are all geared up to continue.

This being the general state of affairs at the Kolda School, I was only able to
conduct three classes in three months there. I have to travel fifty five
kilometres to reach that school and the last bus to my village is at 7 pm
which forces me not to stay there too long in the evening. They schedule
class tests; they have medical check-ups at school during my hours and never
bother to inform me earlier. All I could to do was to simply grin and bear the
discomfort. At some point in this struggle, they asked me to take the Friday
I was thrilled at the gesture and really respected their concern towards my
work. On Friday I landed up at the school and started my class. I was happy
at the success and was trying to get the pupils’ attention with a small game.
After a few minutes, an old lady barged into my class and instructed all the
children to assemble at the ground. This ambush and her military bearing
with the children ensured that the children were gone in no time. I was
confused and furious.

To clear my confusion I enquired further about the situation only to be
reminded that on Fridays they conduct a Scouts and Guides session. I had to
suppress my fury because we had decided not to strain the relations with
schools as the work of other NGOs at the school could also suffer. My
mentor had convinced me about this approach as she always mentioned that
it was ultimately the children who would be at a loss.

Well, with anger suppressed I went to see the teacher who had misguided me
only to hear his complaints about me. I was accused of disturbing the school
hours and causing delay in the completion of the syllabus. Next week I was
literally thrown out of the school on grounds of interrupting school activities.
As I said, I never could understand these people.

For the next two months I worked with the other schools. There also the
teachers are confusing but despite that I am able to hold classes; I must put
that in my list of successes. One school among them is heaven, where the
head master and I share a room at times when I get late. He cooks food for
me also and has always supported my work there. I am happy to be there and
the project is proceeding at a good pace there. I had totally ignored Kolda for
a while. But my NGO colleagues discussed about strategies to work at

Finally, the program coordinator of my project Mr.Pagare, the field
coordinator Ms.Ali and I arrived at a decision to hold a meeting with the staff
of Kolda School. We decided not to complain, but to work things out and
propose discontinuation of the project if support was not forthcoming.
Mr.Pagare with his experience conducted the meeting intelligently asking me
to explain the objectives and to show them the results of the other schools
which I had already done several times before. I explained the structure of
the program on the demand of the Head master; although I had done that also
several times before, both formally and informally. I felt this to be a needless
repetition but played along with the theme.

The teachers had nothing but complaints not only about me but also about
Ms.Ali, who like me works there. Mr.Pagare just accepted all these
complaints and even expressed apologies on our behalf. I pushed them to
agree to nine full day’s commitment whereby I could compress all the 3
months work into it. The Head master agreed to allow me to work for two
full days in the school on a holiday which was to be clubbed with a Sunday
and said that he would eventually let us know about the rest of the days. We
agreed immediately and left.

Post the meeting, Mr.Pagare asked me to invite the principal trustee of the
school to inaugurate our two-day workshop. I understood the rationale
behind the scheme. He wanted to smoothen out the problems with that idea.
The workshop days being on a holiday it would also pinch the teachers -
forcing them to be present at school fearing the big man’s visit. Well it was
their duty to take care of children as it was a residential school.

The principal trustee of the Kolda School, Mr.Raghuvanshi was an ex-MLA
and his siblings are in positions of a similar nature now. He readily agreed to
my proposal and promised to extend help in all possible ways. I took this
promise lightly considering his political history. My old biases about the
political class kicked in. But he proved me wrong when he accepted the
invitation. Of course it was his school, but the attitude was different from the
teacher. We informed him a day prior to the workshop and also tried to
inform the head master of the school but he never received nor returned our
calls. I finally sent a message via sms about the latest development.

Mr. Raghuvanshi arrived at the school well in time, in fact on time. We were
late by ten minutes. The Headmaster’s face showed anger and he took us
aside to question us on what the occasion was. The visit of the big man had
the Headmaster running for cover. Well it looked like it was to be a big
event: two SUVs, body- guards, a secretary and a press reporter to my
surprise. I was totally impressed with Mr.Raghuvanshi’s punctuality and
sincerity but the reporter’s presence sowed some seeds of doubt in my mind.
I assumed that this was to be a regular publicity stunt in the wake of
upcoming elections.

I concentrated on the job, did not entertain the Headmaster’s private enquiry
and took him to the dais where all these people were seated. I spoke about
my work and requirements (never in a complaining fashion). Mr.
Raghuvanshi asked the staff to extend their cooperation towards the project
and the Head master readily agreed. I guess he did not have a choice. Given
his meekness – he decided to stand despite having an empty chair next to

We were all relaxed except for the Headmaster. He spoke to the children and
asked them to be attentive in my class. The principal trustee spoke to me and
wished me good luck and left. I asked the children to gather in the classroom.
The Headmaster laughed nervously at me and said “Sandeep bhai, it is very
rare to find people with commitment and Mr.Raghuvanshi is one of them”. I
expected the nervousness, but felt uncomfortable at being addressed as
‘bhai’. It made me feel like a Bollywood don. Even if I avoid the cinematic
justification, I did not want to be included in his fraternity by being called
“bhai”. He continued to say “you should have informed me earlier so that I
could have made better arrangements. I was just able to get a press reporter”.
That really confused me; I enquired if that was not the big man’s idea to
which he replied “. I just wanted to help my reporter friend to find some
news, poor chap sometimes lacks news”. Good Heavens! I told myself that I
would never be a teacher.

That incident changed my impression about that 87 years old man who
works at his farm and runs around 10 schools. While my impressions are
sometimes deceptive, my understanding of teachers at government schools
still stands true. I worked till late that day and the teacher took care of my
food, chai, accommodation, sent out hot water for bathing and even jilabees
to my surprise - and that too, on a Sunday.


SBI YFI Fellow Santosh Choudhary is an Engineer and has done MBA
(Technology Management) from Centre for Environmental Planning
and Technology University, Ahmedabad. He was previously working
with ISPL, Ahmedabad. He is currently working with MSSRF in
Wayanad, Kerala. His project is on ‘Improving the Value Chain of
Ginger Cultivation for Marginal Farmers’


It was a sunny afternoon in Coorg District of Karnataka and I was very
excited to meet few farmers from Kerala who had migrated to Coorg for
doing ginger farming. The purpose of our visit was to know the reason for
their migration and since they were experts in ginger farming, to gain some
knowledge about ginger farming as well. When we reached the field it
seemed like everybody was busy working in the field. Both men and women
were engaged in removing weeds manually from the field, while others were
irrigating the field and instructing labourers to do various jobs. One thing
was common to all these fields; there was a hut either in the center or in a
corner of each field. Observing a few strangers coming to his field, a person
came out from one of the huts wearing a dhoti and shirt. My guide spoke to
him in Malyalam and a sudden smile lit up his face. There it was he was one
of the farmers who had migrated from Meenangadi (Wayanad, Kerala) for
doing ginger farming at Coorg. I took out all my assets - diary, pen,
recording device in order to quickly record the conversation, which was the
reason I was there. On seeing this equipment the smile faded from the
farmer’s face and I slowly slipped everything back into my bag. Being
unable to understand Malayalam, I was just observing my guide speaking to
the farmer, and allowing him to establish a good rapport so that I could speak
to him later on about my project.

When I chose Wayanad, Kerala as my project site, it was a dream come true
for a guy coming from a dusty place like Delhi straight into the lap of the
famous Western Ghats of India. The first few days here were like that for any
other tourist exploring a place of natural beauty, meeting people of an
entirely different ethnic background, having traditional food, etc. Wayanad,
where most of the spices are grown, has a lush green environment and there I
was trying to do what I have always wanted to do. Slowly, this rosy picture
began to fade away as I was faced with the challenges of getting adjusted to
local food, living in a jungle like place, surrounded by people who speak an
entirely different language.

I started concentrating on my project, which was to focus on developing a
value chain for small ginger farmers. Ginger is one of the most important
spices used in all kinds of Ayurvedic medicines, food, beverages, perfumes
and many other industries. Kerala is one of the largest producers of ginger
and yet farmers from Kerala were migrating from here? These were the
questions that sent me to Coorg, to meet these farmers.
The farmer invited us inside his hut. It was amazing; inside the small hut
there was space for a T.V, Kitchen area, bed, chairs, table, storage for farm
equipments etc. Everything was accommodated in a very nice and neat
fashion as if they had hired an interior decorator to arrange these things
inside that small hut. Now I slowly ventured to enter into their conversation,
with my guide translating for me. I told them about the purpose of my project
and they were happy to know that we were doing something for ginger
farming. Actually they were very happy to see people from their homeland,
Kerala. They told us that they had migrated to this place because they were
facing problems like very low yield from cultivation and many ginger based
diseases in Kerala. So they had taken land on lease in Coorg and stayed there
for the entire crop cycle, till they sold their ginger and then went back home
with the money that they had earned. It reminded me of soldiers, living in
very adverse conditions, fighting battles and then going back to their home
after the battle.

They served us black tea and Paan, and the conversation went on about
various issues related to ginger farming and their tough life in Coorg. I didn’t
record anything, as it made them feel uncomfortable. We visited a few more
similar farmers. These farmers invest a lot for ginger farming, under the
impression that it will provide good profit at the end. After four months of
my visit to Coorg, I found that this year the ginger prices have crashed to one
third of what it was for the past many years. Many of the farmers suffered
huge losses and unable to repay their loans a few committed suicide as well.
The newspapers also reported that some of the farmers who had migrated to
Coorg from Kerala had also committed suicide. It is very difficult for me to
even imagine if they were the same farmers whom I had met; I still
remember their smile and wish I could have helped them in some way.

SBI YFI Fellow Satyanand Mukund is an engineer who has done his B
(Tech) in Mechanical Engineering from NIT Jalandhar. He is on a
sabbatical from Tata Consultancy Services. He is working with BAIF in
Kalghatagi Taluk in Dharwar District of Karnataka. His project is on
‘Labourer’s Experience of MGNREGS’


The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme
(MGNREGS) is the government’s biggest social spend, amounting to an
annual spending of almost INR 40,000 crores. The scheme aims at ensuring a
form of livelihood support to millions in rural India by building safeguards
and certainties to provide 100 days of unskilled manual work. The aspect of
workers shying away from agricultural work in the villages and farmers
complaining about the lack of adequate work force for agriculture are some
of the contentious issues at the moment. The Agriculture minister was
voicing similar concerns about shortage of workers during the agricultural
seasons. The issue provokes varying opinions ranging from theories of
indolence being systemically built into workers and effects of non-
availability of a migrant work force in big farms and industrial towns. I
would like to present my opinion regarding this issue in this article.

Based on my personal experience through my work in the MGNREG
scheme, I have understood that manual labour, almost always, involves back
-breaking work and work of this nature is almost never, long term in nature.
It must be pointed out that even middle level farmers (in addition to big
farmers) nowadays shy away from working in their fields and prefer to hire
workers. Workers who choose (or are forced into this line of work as they
have no other options) to do such work are the most vulnerable strata of
people in the village community, on account of their landlessness. Their
survival is based entirely on their willingness to bend their backs on a regular
basis throughout their lives. They are at the mercy of contractors who
provide construction jobs in the cities and/or big farmers who hire workers
during agricultural seasons. These engagements are short term in nature and
there is no sense of certainty about income or employment. Needless to say,
there are no health or insurance benefits as well. To add further to the
troubles, a worker can expect to work only until his/her health and fitness
permits them to continue and a minor health mishap can easily topple their
very basis of subsistence. Such is the lot of the unorganized worker.

The MGNREG scheme now offers a rare opportunity for this vulnerable
section of our society to a) rally and organize themselves around the
commons problems/issues ailing MGNREGS b) to enhance their socio-
economic support systems by reducing the need for distress migration c) an
easy alternative to exploitative forms of employment. I am by no means
trying to paper over the problems in the scheme. There are crippling issues
such as:
 MGNREGS not being demand driven at the moment
 low levels of worker awareness and mobilization
 Delayed payments driving workers away from the scheme.

However, the silver lining is that there are legislative safeguards built in the
act to cover these aspects which can fall in place with increased organization
of the workers.

Now moving on to the specific issue of shortage of workers for agricultural
work – one of the benefits of MGNREGS has been the enforcement of the
minimum wage in all NREGA works across rural India as a legal provision.
This has resulted in state governments revising (upwards) the minimum
wages for agriculture work. More importantly, there is increased awareness
about the minimum wages among the workers in the villages today. Workers
are now demanding a fair wage commensurate with the minimum wages
from the big farmers. If the farmers until now have got away with paying
workers wages significantly less (or driving the wages lower) than the
stipulated minimum wage, the reality today is that this state of affairs cannot
continue with the MGNREG scheme as an alternative form of employment..


It was the Grama Sabha of a village located in the North-western part of
Karnataka. I was present at the Gram Sabha along with the staff of BAIF, to
present the list of beneficiaries in the BAIF-MGNREG scheme for the year
2011-12. The Gram Sabha is the local governing body where discussions are
held on all aspects of the developmental schemes in the village with the
elected representatives and panchayat officials in the presence of the
villagers. The decisions arrived at the Grama Sabha are binding on the local
government bodies. However, Grama Sabhas in these parts are notorious for
either poor attendance levels or fractious faction fights!

Moving on with the story of this Grama Sabha, the venue was the local
temple premises and the scheduled time for the meeting to commence was
11-00 AM. There was a sprinkling of people already assembled at the venue.
A noisy drunkard attracted the attention of almost everyone; I was surprised
that someone could get drunk so early in the day. I could not help but to
nurse sympathy for a kindred soul. But then, the issue of alcoholism is a very
sensitive and troubling issue especially in rural areas and almost everyone
tends to paint the whole issue with a broad brush with utmost contempt for
such people. The Grama Sabha was delayed for more than an hour on
account of one Panchayat official. While all were seated and waiting
patiently, our man the drunk promptly picked up a fight with one of the
locals. By this time, most of the people in the Sabha had decided to ignore
the drunk in their own self interest, given the man’s propensity to throw the
choicest abuses at people.
The Sabha got underway with the elected members and the panchayat
official leading the discussions on Indira Awas Yojana scheme and their
potential beneficiaries. The drunk promptly interrupted the proceedings with
an emotional outburst about democratic systems and the importance of the
Grama Sabha, all this interspersed with abuses. He was shouted down by the
rest of the crowd. He left the meeting in a huff to the collective relief of all.
The discussion moved on to the topic of NREGA beneficiaries (work in
private lands), and then the drunk made a dramatic entrance. Rumour had it
that he had only gone out to fortify himself with more spirit and this time
around he was not to be shouted down, he forcefully made his point about
the primacy of citizen’s right to be heard in the Grama Sabha and some wild
allegations of corruption in last year’s NREGA works. He simply had to be
heard in order for the Sabha to move on, so with a weary approval from the
crowd he was heard. He alleged leakages in the distribution of coconut
saplings for beneficiaries who had set up a horticultural plantation. The main
thrust of his argument was that the beneficiaries did not receive any amount
for the labour for planting the saplings. This issue was immediately picked
up by a couple of farmers who were the beneficiaries, and they demanded to
see the relevant files for the exact number of saplings which were accounted
This sudden turn of events had the panchayat official (in particular)
squirming; gone was the earlier confidence and authority. But it seemed that
the files had managed a vanishing act from the office and were actually in
the possession of a NREGA mate. This issue was again hotly debated as to
why the files were not in the office. The official made a hasty exit to get the
files, and returned with a sheepish grin on his face which said it all to the
now animated crowd. The mistake was admitted and promises were made to
ensure that the deficit was made good. Later on, I found out that - not only
the veracity of the claims of the drunkard was confirmed, but also money
reached the beneficiaries.

Personally, it was an experience that showed the danger of jumping to hasty
conclusions with pre-conceived notions. But more importantly, it was really
heartening to see the effective functioning of a legally mandated people’s
body and the corrective mechanism of the Gram Sabha in overseeing the
functioning of the local self-government.
SBI YFI Fellow Shuvajit Payne has done PGDM from IIM (Lucknow). He
was previously working with IBM in London. He is currently working with
MSSRF in Waifad Village of Wardha District in Maharashtra. His project
is on ‘Formulating and Conducting Spoken English Classes’


Have you ever driven around the highways crisscrossing India’s hinterlands
at the wee hours of dawn or during the pitch dark nights? If you have done
such a thing in Eastern Maharashtra, you would have noticed men and
women squatting alongside the highway, engaged in the act that would
complete their digestive cycle. Seeing this, you would have probably
recoiled in disgust for the ugly Indian shamelessness, smirked thinking how
uncivilized these people are, or made a passing comment on how the act is
such a visual pollution. I did the same, several times.

That is before I entered Sawad, a small village with 450 households, with the
aim to teach around 15 students to speak English. It might sound like a city
boy's version of a good deed, but in this case, the village youth had actually
asked for such a course to help them get jobs. Hence, there I was – the
seemingly enlightened one – determined to educate the ‘oh-so-rural’ crowd.

But where do I stay? Villages are close knit communities where either you
have been a part of the community for generations, or you are an outsider.
It’s not like in megacities where multi-storeyed apartments are bought by
non-resident landlords for renting out to ever-mobile rootless yuppies. After
a lot of search and research, and a lot many rejections, I finally landed up 6
km away from Sawad, in a single floor room, by the highway – the kind I
had often classily driven by.

Classes were fun. It took me a while, but I eventually won the confidence of
my students, encouraged them to enact short English plays, made them hum
Abba’s ‘I have a Dream’ or West life’s ‘Seasons in the Sun’. Eventually,
they gained self-confidence enough to convey what they want in broken
English. I tried out probably all techniques in the book to expose them to the
new language – and quite a few of them would work. But after classes, as I
rode back home everyday, I’d anxiously hurry, dreading a chance meeting
with a defecating student, or worse, his family.

I enquired about the sanitation situation in Sawad. Water reaches the place
on alternate days for an hour. Only 20% of the households have proper
sanitation setup. But they don’t mind – not only are there other essential
issues to resolve first (like, roads, medical access, etc) but also, it has become
a way of living. Between class breaks, my students would urinate on the
outside walls of the class hall. On being confronted, they’d promptly reply,
“Sir, hum to khet mein hi jaate hai!” [We go to the fields (for…)]
The line would reverberate in my ears, during subsequent field-visits as I’d
have this nightmarish vision that I am walking over piles of excreta
accumulated over centuries. It’d be a while before I realize that we all are!
Come monsoons, and the situation worsens. Every kind of connectivity gets
disrupted – long power cuts frequent the area, mobile network dwindles, and
roads are impossible to ride on. I was no exception to all such vagaries with a
leaking roof to add to my troubles. Every time it’d rain, I’d have to cover my
laptop, camera and such electronic items, much like a mother hen does to its
chicks. And then one morning, I walked into my highway-side enclosure for
my regular shower only to find that there is no water. The previous night’s
storm had broken some pipes. ‘No worries’, I consoled myself, ‘I would

Day 1: Ate less. Kept myself busy working. Slept early at night.
Day 2: Ate less. Avoided drinking water. Ran to the tap at the evening hour
when the alternate day’s water flow was expected to arrive, only to discover
that it’d be two more days of wait. Slept really early at night. But alas! Power
cut from midnight and the consequent, mosquito attack didn’t allow proper
Day 3: Ate really less. Power had not returned. Prepared for my class on my
laptop, till its battery ran out. Returned from class at night only to find that
the mobile had run out of charge.

Sitting alone on the mattress, not being able to see a thing in my pitch dark
room, I wondered if this could get worse. That’s when it started pouring cats
and dogs outside, and, as a result, leaking inside. A truck rushed past on the
highway and its light momentarily eliminated the darkness in the room and
illuminated the falling water drops. And at that very moment, a tummy-
wrenching feeling in the guts signalled that I needed a restroom, right then!

So there I was – 100 meters away from my room – squatting by the highway.
Have you ever wondered why those men and women always choose the
highway side for such an act? Have you ever theorized that it might be
snakes they are saving themselves from? Have you wondered how they feel
when a blinding headlight approaches them from the dark, and unaware of
who is staring from the other side of the light, they grapple to cover
themselves up to save a bit of dignity? Have you ever questioned what lack
of infrastructural support might have pushed these people to such a habit?

Now, I know!

SBI YFI Fellow Simran Singh Grover is an engineer who has done his
BTech (Mechanical Engineering) from IIT, Delhi. He was previously
working with Octave Simulations & Service (P) Ltd. He is working with
Seva Mandir in Udaipur District, Rajasthan. His project is on
‘Conducting Youth Energy Entrepreneurship Programs (YEEP)’


The journey has been challenging, intriguing and above all revealing. SBI
Youth for India!! . . . . Sounds catchy. When I received a mail from one of
my colleagues in Dubai containing information about the Youth for India
fellowship, I applied without giving it much thought. I didn't apply because I
wanted to remove the sufferings of the world or to serve the 'Poor'. The idea
was simple. To take a closer look at the beautiful country that is India, and of
course to have an opportunity to experience things which I definitely won’t
experience in a Corporate Board Room.

So before I knew it I was in Udaipur, working with Seva Mandir on a Micro-
entrepreneurship Programme (Youth Energy Entrepreneurship Programme,
also known as YEEP) designed to promote alternative energy in rural areas
along with creating livelihood opportunities. During the course of the
journey, I travelled to many tribal pockets of Udaipur. The calm air and the
serenity more than made up for the absence of roads.

Sitting in comfy homes and offices, going through a glossy magazine or a
masala newspaper, many of us sympathise with the hardships faced by the
people in our villages. A sigh is released – for this realization has to be
forgotten until the next time when a similar article catches our eye. But even
then, through my experience I have realised that such articles present a
highly obscure picture of rural India. Yes, problems do exist. But India
happens to be more than that.

In my fourth month with Seva Mandir, I had the chance to meet Harry – an
INSEAD grad who was working as an intern with Boond (Boond is one of
the partners of Seva Mandir, for YEEP). Harry was in Udaipur because the
model of my programme was very similar to that of the business model of
BOOND and Harry was here to see why BOOND was struggling so hard to
sell its Solar Products when the need was evident. So the conversation we
had went something like this -

Harry: Why isn't your entrepreneur able to sell?
Me: Well, marketing is very tough when you have one small house on one
hill top and then the second on another. Also there is the price factor, but
above all, it seems that my entrepreneur is not very motivated.
(He was intrigued by the last part)
Harry: Not motivated!! But why? Doesn't he want to have more money?
Me: What will he do with more money?
Harry: Well, he can have a better bed and a better house to start with.
Me: Well those who are used to sleeping on hard floors don't necessarily
prefer beds, and the mud houses are perfect for the hot and dry weather. And
then, there is always a better bed, a better house . . .

Indeed there is. And that is exactly why Harry was quiet for some time
before he changed the topic. In the end, this endless running behind stuff is
the essence of modern day definition of development. Your quality of life is
judged not by how content you are, but what brands you can buy and how
much you can buy!!

Thankfully, there are still pockets in India untouched by this ‘Madness’. In
Chhali-Bagdada, a hamlet of Chhali village, life is very simple. Agriculture
and forests are the only means of livelihood. Land holdings are extremely
small – generally between 1 and 2 bighas (1 bigha = 0.4 acre approx.). So
what they grow is barely enough to feed them. Thankfully, NREGA provides
some cash flow which helps in meeting the basic needs. There is no
electricity and even no mobile phone services for that matter. Flow of
information is mostly through word of mouth. Water is scarce, but enough is
available for drinking purpose. 55 families are spread out over two hill tops,
and they share three drinking water wells among them. Two crops are
harvested every year, which includes either wheat or chana as the Rabi crop
and Maize as the Khareef crop.

To reach this tiny hamlet, you have to spiral through about 3 kms of Kachcha
mountain road. Maudi – extracted from the flowers of the Mahua tree, is a
local alcoholic drink, equally popular among men and women. One
particular thing I noticed about this tribal hamlet is that women share equal
status with the men, at least more equal than most of our modern societies.
The sex ratio of Bagdada will put the developed states of Punjab, Haryana
and Delhi to shame. Here, the birth of a girl child and boy child is equally
celebrated. The traditions of “Daapa – a girl has the freedom to choose her
groom” and “Naata Pratha – the boy's family gives a dowry to the girl's
family” are some of the things which elude even the most liberal societies of
our country. These are people who turn their torn and waste clothes into
bed-spreads and pullovers. Their zero waste lifestyle is something that
should be taught in every school and college.

On the other hand, as we move out towards more affluent regions the
condition of the women starts getting deplorable. The life styles of people
become engines tuned to generate more and more waste everyday. And there
is no end to the anxiety and the rush. Where ever you see development
making in roads, the FMCG shops are the first to sprout. Roads that are made
in the name of development are often used as a means for robbing the local
population of their natural wealth. Yes, people need access to good health
facilities, school and infrastructure. But in the end is the price that they pay
for all this, knowingly or unknowingly, worth it?

Our villages have much wisdom to offer, if we are willing to look past the
economic disparity and their level of education. For even the illiterate who
are barely able to make ends meet are happier than most people I have seen
in my life. My guess is that their respect for nature far surpasses all the
environmentalists and they are more open minded than most of the

In the end, I simply wonder who is actually more developed and who should
be teaching whom? Some answers are easy to find, but harder to digest.

SBI YFI Fellow Soumyashree Omprakash Sahoo has done MBA
(Marketing/HR) from BIMIT (Bhubaneshwar Institute of Management &
IT). He was previously working with Ripplesoft (P) Ltd. He is currently
working with MSSRF in Jeypore district, Odisha. His project is on
‘Marketing of Vegetables for Tribal Communities’


I chose Odisha as my work place as I was curious to know more about
my state. With big ideas I arrived at the MS Swaminathan Research
Foundation, Jeypore in April and interacted with all the project leaders in
order to be able to choose a project which would help me to get maximum
exposure with the community
After doing field visits for three to four days, I decided to work with
the farmer community. One day to understand where the community sells its
output, I went to a local tribal Haat (weekly market) of Doraguda which is
8km away from my project location. At the haat, I saw an old lady of about
50 to 52 years selling brinjal. It may be an urban psychology but when we
see an old person or a small child selling something, we prefer to buy from
them. It may be to give a helping hand or may be in sympathy. Any way, my
eyes went towards that old lady and my heart directed me to ask her for the
price of her brinjals. She looked at me from head to toe with wary eyes. For
an instant I thought that it had been wrong for me to ask her the price or
perhaps it was my appearance (I usually wear a pant and shirt everyday).
After a few seconds, she replied, literally like, Babu (Sir) “What we sell is
mud and what we buy is gold”. I was stunned by her answer and it made
me think deeper about what she had said.

Somehow I maintained my composure and bought approx. 1 kg. of
brinjal from her. (The farmers here are usually not used to weighing their
produce; they sell it in a pile). I gave her Rs.10 instead of the Rs. 5 that she
had demanded. She handed me the balance and I told her to keep the change,
as I would buy something from her at the next haat session. She laughed…

I came back to the office after having taken a photograph of her from
the side because she had refused to let me take a photograph of her. On the
way back to my office her statement stuck in my mind and I decided that I
would base my project on that one statement. Next day I discussed with my
mentor regarding the above incident which had taken place in the market and
he readily agreed to provide me with more information about the exploitation
that the farmers face in selling their produce. He suggested that I should go
to one of the project villages called Maliguda and see for myself the entire
supply chain for vegetables
The next morning, I reach Maliguda village to see the trading of vegetables
between the farmers and middlemen and to interact with the farmers. I saw
that the middleman exploits the farmers in terms of weight and payment also.
Sometimes the middlemen would buy the vegetable row-wise from the field.
Few middlemen would initially pay the full amount to the farmers and
generally they would take the produce on credit from the farmers and finally
vanish without paying a huge amount.

After conducting a study, I was astonished that the farmers who work
hard day and night finally get 50-55% share of the final price. From my
study I clearly understood that there is no “formal Farmer’s club or
people’s institution” due to which the farmers were facing lots of problem
in terms of backward and forward linkages.

I conveyed my observations to my mentor and started working to form
a self help cooperative to gather the farmers under a single umbrella and try
to reduce the influence of middlemen in the supply chain with the help of
project staff and people from community.

Voice of Purna, who is striving for a brighter future through education…

Purna Naik, a small boy from my project village Maliguda is the only chap
studying in 9
standard and he is a good student. He is keen to have a better
life and believes that education will make the difference. When the
government wants the whole of India to be electrified, this little boy manages
to study with a kerosene lamp as he strives for a better future.

It is very difficult to interact with farmers in the day time as they are busy
with their farming activities or in search of livelihood. So I usually meet the
farmers later at night. One day when I visited his home, I was able to interact
with Purna and he changed my perception of things. During our interaction
he said ‘You are not known to us and are well educated, yet you are
interested to work in our village. In future, I want to be a technically
advanced farmer’. Usually when we meet children from the farmer
community and ask them what they want to be in future, the reply is
invariably a future away from farming but here was this boy who changed
this perception by stating that he wanted his education to make him a better

SBI YFI Fellow Sourabh Potdar is an engineer who has done his B E
(Computer Science &Engineering) from KLS GTogte Institute of
Technology, Belgaum. He is on a sabbatical from MindTree. He is
working with BAIF in Jawhar, Thane District Maharashtra. His project
is on Rural Tourism.


My first task as a Fellow was to familiarize myself with my work place and
to know more about the various projects of BAIF in Jawhar (Dist. Thane,
Maharashtra). I started my quest with Kalamvira: a small hamlet near Jawhar
that can be reached after crossing a ghat with thick forest followed by a 3
kms stretch of unpaved road.

My tryst with this village began one afternoon in the hot summer of April,
when I had come here with a colleague from BAIF to know more about the
Devrayi (Sacred Grove) conservation project that is being carried out in this
village. We sat in the verandah of a house and an old lady welcomed us. As a
customary greeting we enquired about her health. She told us that she had
severe neck pain and that she had just returned after seeing a doctor in
Jawhar. Also, she candidly mentioned how the doctor had given her colorful
yet expensive tablets. She was all alone as the other members of the
household were busy working in the fields. She asked us whether we would
like to have some water. As we were very thirsty we did not decline the
offer. While she went to fetch drinking water from the kitchen, I could
clearly hear the noise of the empty vessels from inside the house. She came
out with three pots and a makeshift bucket prepared from an old tin can and
told us to wait for a few minutes while she went to fetch some water from the
common well. Looking at her weak body and her old age, we offered to do
the task ourselves. Duly following a common Indian belief of “Atithi Devo
Bhava”, she politely denied our offer. After a lot of persuasion, she finally
obliged and we set out with a bunch of kids who happily guided us through
the uneven mountainous stretch of about 1 km to the common well. As we
drew water from the near-empty well, the other women who had gathered
near the well to draw water were looking at me and speaking in hushed
tones. I struggled to balance two pots on my head firmly supported by my
hands, while walking on the loose gravel. A few of the women who were
carrying 4-5 pots on their head overtook me and giggled in harmony. On
return from the Devrayi, I soon discovered that I had become a topic of
discussion among the villagers. Apparently, I had done something that was
considered to be a “woman’s” job and this had become the hot news in the
village. I understood the reason why reduction of women’s drudgery is on
the agenda of most of the NGOs. Although this was not my project location,
yet I decided to do something for the betterment of this village before the end
of my Fellowship.

Since I had already become the talk of the town, it was easier for me to
develop a strong rapport with the people. I started visiting this village every
alternate day. I played volleyball with the young men of the village each day.
In one of the many discussions that usually followed the game, I discovered
that the village was home to Sadanand Nakra fondly called Sadu Bhau, a
hearing and speech impaired Warli artist. Warli painting is an internationally
famous tribal art form that is traditionally painted on walls that have been
plastered with dung or mud. Warli art depicts the day-to-day life of a Warli
In a short while, I had heard so much about Sadu Bhau that I was eager to
meet him and eventually visited his home. Sadu Bhau lives with his wife and
three children in a small hut with thatched roof and mud-plastered walls.
Photos of masks prepared with paper mâché and Warli art adorn the walls of
his house. I had been to other houses in Kalamvira and looking at his hut,
which did not even have power supply, I could easily make out that Sadu
Bhau’s financial condition was worse than the other villagers. During the
interaction that ensued, Sadu Bhau and his wife told me more about their life.
Sadu Bhau communicated using signs and gestures and his wife would
translate them for me. They told me that people never took Sadu Bhau to
work in the cities because of his handicap. As such, they found it difficult to
make both ends meet. Sadu Bhau was artistically gifted and he carved and
painted Ganesha idols for a Sahukar in Jawhar, who would pay him a meager
Rs. 100/ each day. A usual work day would stretch for 9 hours during the
off-season to about 18 hours as the festival drew nearer. He also told me that
sometimes he would work an extra shift in order to earn more money. I was
deeply moved after learning about his state of affairs and I decided to help
him by promoting his art in the cities. After a preliminary research, I found
out that Mumbai had many people who appreciated art. To understand the
market viability, I set off to Mumbai with a few paintings in my bag. I met
many people in Mumbai and as expected, I received a positive feedback.

Over the last three months, I have managed to sell all the paintings and also
established a sustainable linkage in Mumbai, ensuring a supplementary
source of income for Sadu Bhau. After we successfully delivered an order for
a 10’x5’ Warli painting, Sadu Bhau and his wife’s happiness knew no
bounds. When I handed over the money from this sale to Sadu Bhau’s wife,
she exclaimed “Amhi itke paishe ekatra ayushyat pahilyandach baghitle!”
(We have seen so much money together for the first time in our life!). The
expression on their faces gave me an immense sense of satisfaction for the
efforts that I had taken over the last three months. For a moment, I felt that I
had achieved one of the most important objectives of our Fellowship by
making a difference, although small, to one of the many Sadu Bhaus present
in our villages. It really feels good to see a smile on someone’s face. But it is
great when you know that the reason for that smile is you!

SBI YFI Fellow Suhasini Vavilala is an engineer. She has done BTech
(Computer Science & Engg) from Gitam Institute of Technology. She
was previously working with Aditya Kiran Memorial Trust. She is
currently working with MSSRF in Pillaiyarkuppam, in Puduchery. Her
project is on ‘Working with SHG Groups’


I was back in office after a week’s stay at home. I didn’t really inform the
federation members that I would be going home for the festivities since I
thought my absence wouldn’t be noticed. That was my first mistake.The next
thing I knew, there were these familiar faces closing in on me and
demanding answers from me to numerous questions of theirs.

“Enga poninge?
Neenge ivlo naal ee varle?
Neenge phone panirdiklame le?”

(Where did you go?
Why didn’t you come all these days?
You could’ve made a phone call, no?)

My first reaction was, “Ah, they missed me!” and that was when I figured
out that they did find my presence useful in this place.

To understand the above context we will have to go back to where, why and
how I ended up here. I graduated as a computer science engineer last year to
only find out that I didn’t want an IT job. I wanted to explore and so I landed
up here, in the rural development sector. I didn’t know the sector, I didn’t
know the people and I didn’t know the language. But I was still here, to try
and make a difference without a bit of an idea of how.

And voila, I survived! Not just survived but I have thoroughly enjoyed the
journey so far. I have understood the value of certain things which I wouldn’t
have otherwise.

Lakshmi is a master trainer in coir rope making. She sells her produce in the
local market and simultaneously trains other women in the same skill. She
has studied only till the 5
standard, but she is an active animator who
monitors several Self Help Groups and manages their accounts. Lakshmi is
striving to earn as much as she can through odd jobs here and there apart
from coir rope making and her role as an animator. I once paid a visit to her
house for a case study and we were both going back on a bus to the same
place. I was still wondering if I should be paying her bus fare too but before I
could even make a move she had bought tickets for both of us and quite
stubbornly refused to accept money for the same. She said I was her guest
that day. I was moved. Here was a lady who was saving all that she could for
her three girls and when every paise counted, she didn’t think twice before
paying for my ticket. Not that the bus fare was much but if this was to
happen in an urban setting, the person would’ve thought twice before he/she
paid for the other person. She taught me an important lesson that day, always
value people more than money.

And that has been my most important take-away from this programme. In
rural India, people mean much more than money, they believe in trust and
that is exactly what the SHG movement is based on too; money will come
and go but the bonds you build with people will always stay on. We need to
value them. Remember, when in grief what you need is not money but a
pillar of support from known ones.

I have been working in the villages of Puducherry for the last 8 months
interacting with all these women self help groups to promote sustainable
enterprises and livelihoods and it has been great fun. Sometimes when I go to
their houses they will immediately pin some flowers in my hair, chide me for
not having a bindi and place one immediately on my forehead and tell me
how thin and undernourished I look. I have one friend who offers me a goat
every time I visit her though I keep telling her, “Naan vegetarian Indira
amma, enna panrey oru aadu tho?” (I am a vegetarian Indira amma, what will
I do with one goat?). While some others insist that I should find a suitable
boy from their town and settle down. And apart from all their demanding
wishes they will shower me with more love in the form of forceful helpings
of food and cool drinks; they sure make me feel special! But that is just
them, sharing without a hint of greed or an ulterior motive. I sometimes miss
such pure emotions in the big bad world.

To sign off, I would just like to comment that women have always formed a
significant portion of the suppressed lot in the villages and still continue to
be so in most parts of India. But in Puducherry where I work, it seems
otherwise. I work with a federation of rural women who have confidently
been steering Self Help Groups (SHGs) towards sustainability through
introduction of various income generating activities and livelihoods. They
have graduated from being mere kitchen bound housewives to being decision
makers, leaders and entrepreneurs. It is unbelievable to see these barely
educated women managing bank accounts, conducting meetings and
confidently carrying out office duties like corporate executives.

They are a living testimony to Descartes’ statement- “I think, therefore I

SBI YFI Fellow Taher B Sarthalwala has done MCom from Pune
University. He was working with Ness Wadia College of Commerce. He
is now working with BAIF in Vansda Block of Navsari District in
Gujarat. His project is on ‘Integrated Tribal Development’


While visiting the villages one scene stands out in my mind ever since my
maiden visit. The forest burning tradition before seed-sowing and the sight of
burnt trees as hedgerows was disturbing. Observing the leafless stumps of
burnt trees still standing, was a shocking sight of how we damaged our own
planet. The burning of pristine forest destroys both the habitats and countless
species, which depend on and thrive in these habitats. I later discovered that
the tribals of this area practice a unique system of agriculture called ‘Rabb’
since the 18
century. This practice involved piling up of leaf litter, biomass
and forest wood to a height of 2-3 feet and then burning this pile, using up
bio-mass of approximately 750-800 kg. The seeds of paddy were then sown
after the first shower. This practice was damaging the environment and
putting immense pressure on the forest.

This drove my interest to go deeper and study the merits of this practice. The
farmers were quick to respond that Rabb reduces weeds and gives healthy
seedlings. During an informal discussion with BAIF staff, the idea of Soil
Solarization Treatment (SST) came up for discussion. I discussed the idea
with the villagers at a wedding reception, to which I was invited.

After various meetings and discussions, some of the farmers in Molamba
Village of South Gujarat agreed to experiment with the new procedure.
Jayanti Bhai one of the farmers was willing to experiment with the SST
procedure. He is a small farmer, who depends on the cultivation of rice and
rain fed vegetables for his livelihood. During the peak summer months of
April and May, Jayanti Bhai with his wife and ailing mother would go to the
jungle to cut trees and to collect dry leaves. They would spend 3-4 hours a
day for a month or so and would also accumulate cow dung all round the
year to collect the biomass. In June, before the onset of the first showers he
would burn the field with the pile of biomass. When I discussed with him
about the new technique, he said your technique will never work, because the
weeds can only be killed by burning so don’t waste your energy. I explained
to him that the whole expense will be borne by us you just give us your effort
and a piece of land and he finally agreed to it. When the results were in front
of every farmer, Jayanti Bhai could not believe that his hard work could be
eased to such an extent by the improved technique. Later he would present
his views during our exposure visits. He would say:

“Now is the time that we have to move from our traditional methods to
the improved techniques. If we don’t, then agriculture will no more be
the viable option and we will have to look for alternatives for our
livelihood. Through this new method the seedlings are better with more
leaves and absolutely no weeds. The technique requires much less time,
and saves us the drudgery of having to go into the jungle.”

The astonishing result took the farmers by surprise; ironically, fields that had
rabb which is supposed to kill weeds had more weeds than those that had
soil solarization.

The results from the new technique attracted farmers from different villages
as well as the Forest officers, who were having a tough time with the
traditional method as the forests were losing their sheen because of it. The
new technique impressed the forest officers to such an extent that it got
sponsorship from the Forest Department.

To sum up, there were two experiences which lead to Motivation and De-

While working on the field with Jayanti Bhai during the experiment, I had
always noticed his 7 year old son Bittu working on the fields, lifting water,
helping in preparing the bed for sowing, etc and then getting ready at 10 o’
clock to reach school on time. Bittu’s hard work had always filled me with
energy and motivation to work on the field for longer hours and to take it to
the next level.

While working on the field with Rakesh Bhai (a progressive farmer) on SST,
I always felt tired and de-motivated, because Rakesh Bhai’s son and
daughter would always sit in front of the field with Engineering and MBBS
books in their hand. It always seems like here I was with all my degrees and
MNC experience, leaving urban comfort to work on the field of the farmer,
who wants his children to be a doctor and an engineer.


SBI YFI Fellow Vaibhav Rathi has done BTech (Communication) from
LNM Institute of Communication Technology. He was previously
working with the Centre for Conflict Resolution & Human Security. He
is working with Seva Mandir in Kotra Block of Udaipur District,
Rajasthan. His project is on ‘Village Institutions’


I always thought of a village to be a small place where numbered houses are
arranged along a couple of odd lanes which you can traverse in a short time.
Maybe there would be a high place from where you could survey the whole
of the village, and surely everyone there would obviously know everyone

The first thing Kotra, a tehsil lost among the Aravallis and the surrounding
jungle, about 120 km from Udaipur, did was to break this mundane notion
that I had. The only place where houses or shops are lined alongside is a
small market place. It’s a place unlike the rest of Rajasthan; where the
horizon is always the next mangri (hill) and there are water streams from
everywhere to everywhere, some seasonal and others perennial. Roads
would lead you only so far and most of the time you’d be riding up the hill,
across the river (may be dried up), through the jungle, or down the hill,
always confined to a few feet of broad path. Villages would have houses
numbering up to 500 and more, but it didn’t matter where you stood in the
village, you wouldn’t be able to count more than 8-10 of them, and you
might even have to walk up to 12 km to get to the next village.

The area is home to various tribes and clans. Working here on Village
Institutions has been an ambitious task; for one, I don’t know the language,
wasn’t acquainted with their cultural and rather complex social dynamics
where everything signifies something.

It has been one helluva journey, while evaluating an education center run by
a NGO and being awed by the smartness of kids; while convening a village
meeting where people are so agreeable and would nod to everything,
probably even when you say, Let’s build the Taj Mahal; while measuring
village pastureland and getting lost; while getting to a village so remote that
you start feeling that it’s a very long way back; while dragging the
motorcycle more than riding it and getting infamous as ‘the guy with flat
tires’, and one time when you have dragged it for more than 8 kms, you
realize that you don’t even have enough money for the repair; while driving
in rains and skidding on the exact same spot every time, no matter how slow
you go each time; while losing the way and driving through the jungle for
hours realizing that even if you don’t get flat tires, petrol is bound to run out;
and countless other things that made living here simply unforgettable.

My work provided me with the opportunity to interact with people through
the framework of democratic institutions, and one of the most important
things that people here taught me is: What it means to be pro-people? Pro-
people is the most convenient position to take, because in present times it
just means patronizing people. Through the working of these institutions, I
realized that the more important thing is to give responsibilities to people and
make them realize their potential.

During one of my GVK (village development fund) awareness campaigns I
met Singha Ramji, a versatile personality and good spokesman. He spoke
about how people at his village have to buy fertilizers from retailers in black,
because supply at co-operative distribution centers is dubious. And when I
proposed a collective purchase of fertilizers for the whole village, he jumped
at the idea. Together we both did a lot of leg work, I would scout for a place
where fertilizers could be bought in large quantity and he would inform
villagers about it and get them ready. We would spend quite some time
together, charting out the work plan and travelling to places where we could
get large amount of fertilizers in one go. Since supply in Kotra tehsil was
inconsistent, we finally found a place in Swaroopganj in a neighboring
district. In the end, even though things didn’t pan out as we’d planned due to
unforeseeable reasons; he proved to be a good acquaintance and informed me
about a lot of regional issues.

You’d be amused by the quirkiness of this place, where the Sabji-wala would
tenaciously raise the price up from 30 to 35 after you have agreed on the
former and you’d know that there are probably not many places such as

SBI YFI Fellow Vineet Kumar Singh has done BTech (Electrical
Engineering) from National Institute of Technology, Durgapur. He was
working with Bhushan Steel. He is now working with BAIF in Vansda
Block of Navsari District in Gujarat. His project is on ‘Tribal


When I landed at BAIF’s DHRUVA centre in South Gujarat after one full
month of guest lectures and field visits at BAIF’s Campus in Maharashtra,
the honeymoon period was over for us. In the initial days here, I roamed
around continuously to different project locations looking for an opportunity
to fit myself into any one of the running projects. During that time, I met
with BAIF personnel in all the three districts of DHRUVA’s intervention
(Navsari, Daang and Valsad). Almost every time I was told that the area or
village or community was severely affected by the problem of migration and
BAIF was working with them to prevent migration by giving the people
livelihood opportunities at their place.

So in this write up, I wish to share my view with the little experience that I
have in this area about migration, especially relating to the youth. What does
“migration” really mean? During my schooling, my understanding about this
term was no more than what an average person would know. I have now
realised that migrants, be it poor people, women, children, tribals - they all
have different stories to tell you about their experience and the compulsions
that forced them to migrate. So what I came to learn was that in this process
of migration there is no such thing like generalization which exists. The
rural-urban migration is always viewed negatively in our country and also
attempts are being made to rescind this. Various activities have been
launched to curb this - one of which is NREGA, which provides hundred
days of work to a beneficiary in his/her village. It is the policy adopted by
the government to make it economically rewarding for a rural person to stay
at home rather than migrate to urban areas. These intentions are noble but
have been arrived at without a holistic understanding of the issue of

As migration carries with it socio-economic issues, we should also consider
the positive impact other than the negative. It can help to reduce poverty or
halt the slide into poverty. I will share an instance of my meeting with a
young couple (Vasnubhai and Lalitaben) who belong to the Kocha tribal
community. Their earlier generations were agriculture labourers but due to
lack of water for irrigation and degraded land issues they took a decision to
move to the city like other members of their community for better income.
They took that decision some 4-5 years before and they migrate for seven-
eight months in a year to places like Pune, Nasik, Surat, Vapi etc and work
as construction labour. Certainly they would be facing few problems there
too but they also get a livelihood. Their faces light up with a smile when they
talk about the money that they are able to send home to their family. After
having conversed with few more tribal people, I can assume that this is the
story of most of the people who migrate.

Our focus should be to facilitate the rights of migrants at their new place.
After interaction with them I came to know that they are going through
various problems like:
 Exploitation by the contractors for whom they work.
 Social and cultural exclusion
 Difficulty in access to services due to non-availability of identity/
ration card
 Being a largely unorganized work force

We should not look at migration as a problem in itself as it is already an
after-effect of the problems that people face due to lack of security of their
livelihood. The situation poses an important challenge for us to integrate
these migrants into our societies. The willingness to share resources and live
together with people from other cultures, with different way of life, will
contribute over the long term in building a healthy society.




We're Not Stupid, We're Just Poor.
Vaibhav Rathi.

(This is an account of the three days that Vaibhav spent in the home of a
tribal belonging to the Garasia tribe, in Bijuri hamlet (35 families), located in
a remote part of Kotra Block of Udaipur District in Rajasthan. Vaibhav’s
project is on ‘Village Institutions’. His insights reveal the different
dimensions that need to be kept in mind while dealing with socio-economic

Crouched on the mountain top, I had no idea what time it was; just the
realization that it would soon be dark. Except for the jungle covered slopes,
the narrow valley and the mountains of the Aravalli range acting as a
backdrop, there was nothing much to see. There was no one else in sight.
‘How on earth did I get here?’ I asked myself, as I often tend to do.
In a flash, the recollections of the various events of the day came back to me:
after the long wait for transport on that extended eventful morning; after
travelling through highlands for a long time; after having left behind all the
familiar landmarks; after passing through jungles frequently encountering
nomadic shepherds; after having imagined myself to be one of them; after
leaving the road behind and then starting to trek; after listening to the field-
in-charge narrate how his first wife had insisted that he should get a second
one after she had suffered an injury and many years after he had got the first
one; after realizing that I was not as good at trekking as I had supposed
myself to be; after finally reaching the top and having to take off the jacket
even though it was biting cold; after being greeted by the people of the
village; after seeing all the material for the soon-to-start informal school for
the village kids who had never even heard the word ‘school’ before; after
having examined them (the school material) with great admiration partly out
of my own curiosity and partly to make the villagers feel that they were
important; after having failed to find any book in Hindi or in any other
language in the stack, except for ones in English; after wondering how they
must be feeling after seeing the picture of a clean white kid in one of the
books; after we had talked long enough about the thing called
‘development’; after we were offered the customary meal and drinks; after
my companions of the morning had all left, leaving me behind in the village;
only then had I retired to this secluded spot with its stunning view that had
kept me engrossed for so long.
So, here I was, looking around, having come to spend a few days in a place
‘so virginal’. I decided that this was the sight, right before me that would
define this place for me long after I would have left. The sight, the place that
I would repeatedly come to and take refuge in - my refuge point: be it a pitch
dark night, sunny windy afternoon, foggy dawn or dusk (my favorite time of
When I got back to my host Dharmaji’s home in the village, he was tending
the fire sitting along with a bunch of his kids. As I entered, he greeted me
and enthusiastically spread a mat for me. Protesting and feeling humbled, I
looked around. It felt different from the morning, as it was now very quiet.
We were in a corridor which led to two rooms: one for the goats and the
other one for humans. Everything was made of mud. There was a fireplace
right in the middle of the corridor. I sat there warming myself in that biting
cold; wondering as to what would be a good topic of conversation. Instead, I
just sat there quietly, and kept looking at the fire trying to gauge it.
Finally I asked Dharmaji ‘How many kids do you have?’
‘10’ was the reply!!!’
The cot that I slept on was a little too short for me and by morning I had
cramps in my upper joints having slept in various absurd positions trying to
accommodate myself, while trying to evade the chilly biting wind on the
mountain top.
Dharmaji, along with the kids, was already sitting around the fire by the time
I woke up. Trying to look around, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling that cold.
The goats had been impatient all night long, in the room just behind my cot.
There were only 5 small kids around the fire. And they were scantily dressed
in torn worn out clothes; the lady of the house was busy in household chores
but remained all the while in the background; a couple of the kids were
eating what appeared to be left over roti and jaggery; the small ones had their
hands and faces dirty which made me feel somewhat uneasy.
Dharmaji greeted me as soon as he saw that I had got up. Language was still
a barrier as most of the time we could only understood each other through
gestures or by repeating things a couple of times.
‘How many kids do you have?’ I asked him once again,
‘10’, was the reply!!!’
‘There are only 5 here now, one is in Mehsana in Gujarat, while another is in
Pindwara’, he said,
‘Must be working there’? I asked him.
‘Yeah, they are wage labor’
‘There is one girl in Dewla’,
I thought he would say that the girl was studying there, which somewhat
gave me some hope, but soon I realized that he meant the girl was married
and living in Dewla. Those were all the ones he could remember, which led
me to believe that perhaps he didn’t have 10 kids. The girl was the eldest,
followed by the boy (15) who was in Pindwara, both were married. Then
there was the boy in Mehsana (13) who was also a wage laborer like his elder
brother. All the kids present there were around 11 or less.
‘Since the road is so far off from the village, not many people come here’, he
asserted, ‘No one has ever come to live here like you have.’
He had a mellow friendly face which went well with the way he spoke, both
with modesty and music in his voice. When he spoke, it actually seemed to
rhyme somewhat. And he nodded continuously while speaking, which added
an extra dimension to all the music.
‘We’ll work for the development of the village, we’ll do as you say’, he said
and added, ‘but there are a few people who don’t understand.’ I could sense
some tension in his lyrical voice.
I still couldn’t decide what time it was, but I had a feeling that I had woken
up much earlier than I would have in any other place. I tried to collect my
thoughts; each of us was feeling quite anxious with the presence of the other
one. Does making small talk promote or assuage anxiety? I wondered.
‘Why don’t you clean her face’, I asked him, referring to the small girl with
the particularly dirty face.
He immediately called out and arranged to clean everyone’s “Munda”.
‘Where do you get your water from?’ I continued.
‘There is a small pond down the hill, we collect the water from there till we
can and in summer we have to go for a further 5 kilometers down to fetch
‘And the ladies usually go to get it?’
‘Yeah, but men also go sometimes’
‘Can I go today with them while they go to fetch water’? I was cautious
when it came to the females.
‘Yeah, sure’.
‘But first we’ll roam around in the village’, he said, ‘as everyone is waiting
for you’
Soon the sun’s rays began to seem more visible and he got busy with
household chores. All the 30-35 goats were let out, cows and buffaloes were
attended to and thus a day in the village had started. After a while, Dharmaji
came and told me that he was going to call the kids from a nearby hamlet and
then we would go around to the village.
The route was utterly scenic as there were small fields beside a stream.
Whenever the sun’s rays would come through the fog it would illuminate the
wheat and the yellow mustard fields, the water in the stream would sparkle
and the mountain tops at just the right altitude would serve as a backdrop.
Soon enough, I realized that what I was seeing - the sight right there before
my eyes could very well be just about the most beautiful thing I would ever
see; and when simply stunned by the immaculate beauty of these simple
things, you’d know the source of every beautiful sight there has ever been.
I just stood there, utterly awed by the sight, while Dharmaji went towards the
houses that were scattered on the opposite slopes. Beyond the fields and
below the houses, kids were playing about in the open patch of land.
We had informed them about the education center (NFE), and Dharmaji did
most of the talking as I was just lost in reflecting about the place, a place
which seemed like a world right out of a fairy tale.
There were just a couple of houses, but there were awful lot of kids.
‘God’s Grace’, was all the answer that I got when I mentioned the topic to
Dharmaji on our way back. Hardly a grace, I wondered.
It must have been around 9 o’clock when we got back as the NFE instructor
was already setting up the things. He was just a boy from a neighboring
village, down the hill. I helped him with the stuff as it was his first day and
interacted with the kids who were now to be his students. It also somewhat
relieved Dharmaji from being tied up as a full time host.
It was around noon, after we had our food that we went around again. This
time we had company, a lively old man with a pointed nose, whom I
recognized from the previous night and whose name I just couldn’t make out,
We started from the farthest house, which turned out to be under
‘Colony’, they called it. Indira Awas Yojna, it was.

What’s the story?
In short, it is pretty straight forward. Most of the men migrate out of the
village and earn our living working as wage labor while we are still as young
as 13-14. No one in the village is literate. And wage labor, apart from the one
farming season, is the prime source of livelihood.

How does it happen?
We just go to the market and get picked up on daily basis. We go wherever
they take us. Usual wage rate is around 150 per day of which only about 100
we manage to save. We work for a couple of days and then come back. For a
night shelter we pay around Rs 5 per night as the rent or Rs 500, if we rent
the room for the whole month.
Why only wage labor, why not something more permanent as working in a
shop, etc?
Old man: We have to come back regularly to look after the cattle, etc.
Young man: We have to come back to ‘look after’ our women.
Ever pursued anything other than wage labor?
If given an opportunity, would you want to take up any other work and shift
to the place with your family?
No, women don’t leave the village.
I went from house to house, sometimes getting the feeling that people
already knew of my presence in the village and were discussing something
about it. More often than not, it would happen that someone would speak at
length, of which I would not be able to understand anything and then I would
look around and ask for a simplified version and even fail to understand that.
Sometimes it would feel like they were holding me accountable for
something, but even Dharmaji was reluctant to translate it into his music.
Was I responsible for any of their problems?
I met one old man who seemed particularly disturbed (of my presence?) and
basically cursed everything that didn’t belong to the village or the jungle (he
made his living by selling forest produce). It was hard to tell by his tone - but
he was either asking me to leave or showing me the dry field when he
vigorously waved his hands.
One man was taking a nap under the sky and among stones, while his family
sat patiently, on one of the incomplete walls, waiting for the roof to be put
One man couldn’t go out of the village as he had too many goats, and he had
to look out for them.
One man even escorted me to the next house.
One man remembered the ‘glossy book’ with the strange kid in it.
One man wouldn’t bother to talk.
One man didn’t know why I was there.
One man had about half a dozen siblings and offspring.
We went from house to house, I wonder if they can be called that. Let’s call
them homes. We went from home to home, each one hanging on the
mountain slopes, and most of them containing nothing more than a couple of
things other than goats and their excreta, cows and their excreta, and their
fodder. Most of them either seemed meant for cows or for goats and calves.
It was nearly evening when we got to a home where except for an old man, a
calf, a kitten, there was no one else. The old man’s name was Khetaji.
‘How do people decide on matters related to resolving conflicts?’ I asked.
‘I decide things’, he said conclusively.
Kheta Ramji
‘So, I hear someone is roaming around the village asking people things and I
wonder what his intentions might be. I mean what possibly can one hope to
achieve by making people realize their problems?’ he spoke while making
the fire, ‘Can you help me in figuring it out?’
The calf, tied to the pole, kept revolving around it, while eating the hay.
‘There is no sugar, would you mind jaggery?’ he asked while boiling the
‘No, of course not, anything is fine’
He approved.
‘Who are you, and why are you telling people to leave the village?’
Some 45 minutes later, the sky was still lazily lit when we were making our
way back. Dharmaji and the other guy, both of them had been with me since
morning, were continuously talking about something, which I was sure had
something to do with what had happened at Kheta Ramji’s home.
Nevertheless, I was wary to ask.
It had been a long day and I was tired of walking.
After we got back and it had become dark there was again a crowd worthy of
a party in the house, and while I kept thinking of something to say, I would
rue my terrible people skills. For heaven’s sake - What were they expecting,
why were they here, why am I here?
Kheta Ramji wasn’t there.
I took the opportunity to talk about simple ways of treating water, my grave
concern about ill-treated kids, about villages and Panchayats, the idea of
democracy, the concept of Village Institutions, etc. While I was trying to
ascertain their views on everything, I wasn’t succeeding much. I kept feeling
that they expected something from me, expected me to do something. They
would keep speaking about things I should ‘just do’ - right now.
What are the things that one can do in places like these?
‘So Dharmabhai, your married son, the wife lives with him?’ I tried to take
refuge in a conversation with Dharmaji,
‘No, she is inside’, he said pointing to the room, ‘women don’t leave the
village with the men folk’
While I had been seeing a lady busy in household chores, I had seen only one
lady. It was then that I realized that his daughter-in-law had been completely
inside the room for the past two days, probably due to my presence. A really,
uncomfortable thought. And then I regretted even asking about it.
I just wanted to sleep.
‘How old are you?’
‘And how many kids do you have?’
‘No, I am not married yet’. And that did it.
There was an abrupt wave of shock, as if I had said something that had
offended them.
‘You are not married yet?’
I sensed a tension in the voice, which was all too clear now. Someone said
something to Dharmaji to which he nodded like usual but said nothing.
Later, dead on the cot, I knew I just needed to pass to the other world, to
forget everything. I thought I’d sleep like a log.
Still, somewhere in an undefined state, just on the brink of the other world,
my mind went back to my refuge point.
Everything was illuminated except the sky; each particle was sparkling in the
shadow of its own light while I stood there at the very top, my refuge point,
bowing to the all mighty scenery. It was like somebody had vaporized milk
and suspended infinite amount of it to fill up the entire space of this new
world. Everything looked like it had been washed up with milk: the
immediate slopes, the immediate jungle on those slopes, silhouettes of low
hanging khajoor trees, green fields that were no longer green anymore, the
muddy ramshackle huts, the infinite sprawling river where there was so
much of white that barely anything was visible and people along the river
who seemed as if they were lost in the white but they were so happy that they
never wanted to be found.
I was both myself and some other person in this new world. Like myself, I
could see an undefiled illumination in the face of everyone else who had
been present in the house, which somehow I had missed earlier during the
day. I correlated the illumination with the fact that they lived amidst scenery
ages apart from something called a ‘Road’. The corridor in the house was
completely filled with adults and kids and while it seemed that the adults had
more to talk, I looked forward to hearing the kids for their faces were
illuminated with a certain grace.
And like someone else would think, I blamed only them for all their poverty
and wretchedness.
Kheta Ramji was there, separated from everyone and mending what seemed
to be, an antique long single barrel gun.
‘Do you recognize anyone in this room?’ Kheta Ramji asked.
And then it hit me, in fact I didn’t know anyone in the room.
‘Only those who were interested in what you have to offer met you during
the day. Everybody else is here.’
‘I don’t have anything to offer ’,
‘But you do realize people expect something from you.’
‘Other than getting to know them; by spreading awareness and contributing
in whatever way I can.’
‘AWARENESS?? How do you define awareness? By telling people what to
‘People in the village have problems, which maybe they need help in
‘Problems which they didn’t realize they have, before they went out of the
village. The problems are not ours, they are yours. Some of us feel that it is
necessary to speak out, when you have finally invaded our homes with these
things’; he said pointing to all the material from the education center.
A scantily dressed kid, while reading the book, sees himself in the photo of
that white kid.
‘A fictitious article, an essay, a book or just a random conversation with a
person you have never met. When you read some of these(or other) things
again and again, it will often happen that the old meaning, which you were
all too sure of, starts to melt away giving way to the obvious meaning which
you have long suspected.
So when you are reading one of those books which boast of being a
religious-political thriller, and you are assaulted with a chapter titled: We're
not Stupid, We're just Poor. It’s only natural that you immediately think of
the perception that your society is arranged in decreasing order of
intelligence. How do you think of the poor, it’s because we are stupid that we
haven’t figured out how to make money and live the good life. Rich folks
think this of poor folks, a rich country of a poor country, and so on.’
‘So tell me one thing’, he went on, ‘do you think that people themselves are
responsible for their miserable lives and wretchedness’
I was now someone else.
‘Before I came here, I had harbored a notion that people in places like these
were some sort of victims, like they were suffering through the actions of
somebody else. I somehow felt a sense of responsibility, but since I have
been here, lately I have been feeling that it is a misguided notion. Only
people, who are comfortably far away, can harbor such fancy illusions
probably because it’s the most convenient position to take. If God forbid
something happens to your kid because you do not even bother to clean his
face, let alone care for him, tell me exactly who is responsible? I have seen
fairly dressed mothers going about on hot tarmac roads in summers with near
naked kids, and not even bothered if the kid has any footwear. I have met
people who can’t even tell how many kids they have. I have seen infants
being fed absurdly even when they were no more than a few months old. I
have never met people so stone hearted to kids as I have met here. More kids,
more wage; what a theory, do you realize you people just create labor, not
humans. Kids eventually grow up.’
‘First of all, exactly how many mothers or infants have you seen? And
moreover from where did you get the handbook of child care - from the same
place that gave you all the books with the photo of the white kid in it? And
did you beg the moral authority, with which you so brazenly judge us, from
there as well? Why is it that the first things that you people do is try to judge
us, measure us? And by whose standards? This is the basic premise of your
whole developmental farce: for you, development essentially means, making
someone somebody else. Making someone realize that their ways are
inferior, infecting them with an identity crisis, and then persuading them to
adopt another 'superior' identity. These ways will work perfectly well with
you urban dwellers, for you don’t have any sense of identity as such. So it
was easy for a ‘nobody’ to become somebody else. Your problem with us
tribals is that we already have a strong sense of identity; you can’t just come
in here and say, look, you are suffering because your ways are inferior to
ours, so just do what we tell you to do.
Everything was good till you people came; now we have young people
roaming around fascinated with your things; and having completely forgotten
who they are, they have accepted your wretched hierarchy only to
permanently occupy the lowest position in it.’
‘You mean the young people who are cleaner and dress properly?’ I
‘No, I mean the young people, who have lost the light of their face, they have
also lost their voice and they now only speak what you say. And yes they are
dressed in ‘proper’ clothes which coincidently happen to be the same as
yours. They are the wretched people, and you are the source of their
‘You know that there are cities which have managed to preserve their
identities; in them live the people who have not lost their voices.’
‘What do they say?’ he asked handing over the gun to me.
‘They speak of not being fearful.’
But the thing that was there on everyone’s face was:
Nothing will change, till you stop being ashamed of us.

At dawn when I woke up, I had a burning sensation in my right palm, like as
if it was on fire.
‘This part of the house is his, and the other part is separate’, I heard Dharmaji
say, pointing to the room in which apparently his daughter-in-law had been
living since the past 2 days.
He was explaining it to an old man. Maybe the old man was Kheta Ramji.
‘We’ll go about in the jungle today.’ I was told first thing in the morning.

Even before I could do much, even before I had a chance to eat anything, we
were walking down the slopes. We again had company but this time it was a
relatively young guy, Pita Ramji.
Frequently Pita Ramji would point out a tree detailing its use which,
surprisingly a large number of times would be to get good wood to make an
After a particularly impossible last level of climbing, when we finally got to
the top, I realized two things: we had been walking for about 3 hours and
now we were on one of those gigantic mountains that had formed the
I just sat there looking at the other big mountains, fields and valleys covered
in thick dense forest and scattered till as far as I could see. The real problem
began when we started climbing down. Instead of following the way back,
they thought it to be a good idea to go through a different route. This
different route was supposedly meant only for pros. It was nothing but a
steep slope covered primarily with dry leaves and small stones. It was a
death slope.
Climbing down at snail pace I kept thinking, HOW THE HELL IS
No matter where you put your foot, unless you held onto something, you
were guaranteed to roll down. I fell down twice, spraining my ankle. Well
technically, the first fall made the ankle weak and caused the second fall.
How will I ever get down, was all that kept flashing in my head.
But after what seemed to be a frustrating eternity, after being carried down in
particularly difficult stretches and after the jungle started to seem
threatening, when I finally got down, I had a bamboo stick with me for
After having walked for a second eternity, when we finally got home it was
around 2.30pm. So loosely, it was about 7 hours worth of jungle. Apparently,
it was a little too much for me.
Since I didn’t want to bother Dharmaji anymore, I asked his permission to
leave. Having been such a hospitable host all along, he asked me if I could
stay for one more day. In spite of longing for it, I could see how much of a
problem that would be for him.
I thanked him and everyone for being such wonderful hosts, for taking all the
trouble, and then bid them goodbye.
After having to walk back a long way, I finally reached the road and waited
for some form of transport with mounting apprehension, as it was already
rather late.
At last, one came but it was packed to capacity. Too weary to wait for
another one in the jungle, I ‘climbed up’ on to the roof and while the taxi
raced through the mountains, I enjoyed the view sitting on the top of the
Only this time, Thank God, I didn’t have to walk.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful