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 a village off a town, xx 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. she was the youngest. she had 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. she worked. we worked. i noted down observations about the entire house. we were sitting cross-legged on the floor 5 feet from the chullah, and suddenly rat scuttled from behind us, a cry escaped my mouth and i jumped ahead. she turned and looked at me.
we met her during the most jam-packed part of her routine, but she wasn’t running about the busyness of a bombay girl. she was 15 and she ran the house with the calm unhurried demeanour of a seasoned 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 managed her relationships. she answered all our questions with confidence and surety, not ruffled but 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 sang to me.
she had dreams. rather she had had dreams, of studying and becoming someone other than who she was. but, after 8th standard her parents told her to stop, she was needed at home and the family could only afford to educate the sons further. she knew she would get married soon (she was only 15) and that her parents would choose her husband.
but, even the self-assured woman that she was, she put their opinion before hers. she trusted them more than she trusted herself! it wasn’t a sacrifice, she was happy.
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?
should i have empowered her to realise that she would have freedom of thought and action?
i walked away, then. it leaves me wondering now.
she must be married, maybe even has children.
what are her dreams today?
does she have any regrets?
i don’t have a photo, but i have her smile in my head – it was wide, confident and freely given. to all.