august, 2009 – rural andhra pradesh near kurnool.
it was a rural research study in andhra pradesh to understand awareness, malnutrition and the lives of village girls. the study meant it had to be conducted in a village off a town, X kms inside from the highway and many other criteria! having gotten through all of these obstacles, after traveling 2 hours from the nearby town of kurnool, i reached her house at 6 am. it was an ethnographic study and we needed to observe a day in her life.
she was small-built. lived with her mother, father and two brothers. the youngest girl, with an elder sister who was married and had kids. she knew only telugu. i didn’t understand a word of telugu, so there was a moderator who would speak in telugu and bridge the gap.
she refused to make any eye contact with us and had that morning sleepy look with eyes that hadn’t completely opened or was she shy? i think she was shy. she worked. we worked. i noted observations about the entire house, the kitchen, the animal shed that was part of the kitchen and i smelt the buffaloes and their warm body heat… we were sitting cross-legged on the floor 5 feet from the chullah, and suddenly something scuttled from behind us, a cry escaped my mouth and i jumped ahead to see the rat making its way across the room. she turned and looked at me. eye-contact. surprised?
we met her during the most jam-packed part of her routine, but she wasn’t running about the busyness of a bombay girl. there was a calmness to the way she went about her routine. she was 15 and ran the house with the unhurried demeanour of a seasoned and efficient housewife! she cooked and cleaned while her mom and dad worked at the fields. she took them lunch at the fields, helped for some time and then came home. she managed the cows, milked them every morning, fed them. she walked everywhere barefoot but surefooted. she was strong.
she answered all our questions with confidence and surety, not ruffled by the camera recording her every action. she had her opinions, voiced them. she had spunk. she was smart. i could see my spirit reflected in her – a city-bred, modern woman in a rural child. she an assured woman at 15 and me a blubbering child at 28. when did she get so sure?
she had dreams. rather she’d had dreams, of studying and changing her life. but, after 8th standard her parents told her to stop, it was enough they said and she was needed at home. the family could only afford to educate the sons further. anyway, she knew she would get married soon (she was only 15) and that her parents would choose her husband. she managed her relationships.
it left me wondering what my responsibility there was.
should i have made her question her life?
should i have given her the courage to dream? dare to be something more than her mother? more than her small village home?
should i have empowered her to realise that she could & should have freedom of thought and action?
i left shortly later. our interview done. i had walked away. and today i wonder…
she must be married, maybe even has children.
what are her dreams today?
does she have any regrets?
i don’t have a photograph, when i left the company all my official documents stayed back, i have her smile in my head – it was wide, confident and free for all. and i still remember it!