By Kaushik Subramanian, Research Associate, ASER Centre
“Good morning everyone. We will be landing at Chennai in a short while. The temperature here is 29*C with clear skies. Please keep your seat belts fastened until the seat belt signs are turned off. We hope you had a wonderful flight. Thank you for choosing Indigo.”
And thus began my 100 days ASER journey. For a person who was idle at home for more than a year, life has become the contrary. I don’t get to stay for more than two days in a place now. I sleep in one city and I wake up in another. Isn’t that cool?
Accompanied by an American intern, I went to Pondicherry (Puducherry now) for conducting the State Level Training during which the participants were trained to conduct the survey; they would then train their volunteers on the same in their districts. The field visit to a village called Nainarpalayam – Vizhupuram district (Tamil Nadu) will always stay in my mind for the conversation I had with an elderly person of the village. He was telling me how beautiful his village used to be in those days (it was still beautiful), what the next generation should do to uphold farming and how to prevent the worsening water crisis/disputes. This man from a remote village in India had a global perspective. That is when I realized the impact of education and that education is not just about going to school but also being aware of what is happening around you. During this time, I also had the chance to teach the intern the Tamil culture, the Tamil way of eating Sambar rice, Rasam rice, etc. It was a delight to see her struggling to eat with her hands. I’m glad that she liked the Tamil folk songs (Gaana paatu).
After a brief halt at Chennai, I proceeded to The Nilgiris to take care of the survey there. Here I am, munching some home-made chocolates while enjoying the stunning beauty of these Blue Mountains. I had gone to two villages situated in the Mudumalai forests to conduct the survey. I couldn’t help but envy the people living there amidst such beautiful landscape. A week earlier I was in a former French colony and now I’m in some remote village conducting ASER in a tribal hamlet in a forest which is close to the borders of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
In one village we met this girl who was washing the dishes when we came. She stays with her father, a younger brother and her grandmother. There was a picture of Abdul Kalam hanging inside her house with the quote “Dreams are not things that come during sleep. It is the thing that doesn’t let you sleep.” I looked at the picture and then at the girl. She smiled. I could infer deep meanings from that smile.
One thing that fascinates me is that contrary to our presumption, the people living in rural areas have a better civic sense. When a cow puts its dung in the street, people in rural areas collect it and put it to some use. While in the so called urban areas when a cow puts the dung, the dung stays put. Time to test the learning levels in urban areas!
These experiences are just a handful of those I’ve had till now. I am grateful to ASER for giving me such experiences, and also for showing me my own country and expanding my horizons.