A year after completing my post graduation from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and having switched three jobs, I was pretty unsure about most things except that I wanted to travel around and seamlessly experience new places, to listen to stories of people, their struggle, their lives and inspirations. Always high on an overdose of conflict, insurgency and development issues since the days at TISS, the Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellowship Scheme (PMRDF) was but a natural choice for me.
With the idea to venture directly into areas like Lalgarh and Jhargram in Paschim Medinipur and armed with the spirit to listen and document stories of people and their felt needs , I found myself getting selected as a PRMDF. After initial sessions of training and a one month well spent with the other Fellows, it was time to move to the field.
“Dare to dream and dream to dare a bigger dream”
I often have difficulties explaining people what I exactly work on. For most in this country the administrative services and NGO’s represent two opposite ends of a spectrum called ‘development’. Trying to jostle your independent space through them and facilitating ‘change’ is always difficult if not impossible. Having realized that, it was my endeavor from the beginning to try and travel to the maximum possible blocks, villages and panchayats in the district. Eight months into the fellowship, I thank myself that I made a choice to be a part of such an interesting journey.
On late evenings while returning to the district headquarters after some hours spent in the remote villages; in the NREGA worksites, in small community halls amidst women busy in producing sal-leaves products, tasting the last mid day meal with an enterprising group of primary teachers and having listened to ‘Daffodils’ recited by a small girl, I realize that these experiences are unique, emotional and varied in nature.
I am fortunate enough to have been exposed to several sectors and informed about multiple issues and problems. Sometimes the visits to the field have been flooded with pertinent problems, disillusionment, complaints from the people about services rendered. Yet when workers at a MNREGA site in Lalgarh cheerfully listen and interact with me under the midday sun, I get a blinker of hope somewhere that dreams for a better society and improved lives still exist. Fully conscious of the limited authority and facilities, I have decided to intervene in areas which are likely to show outcome over the next couple of years. Working with rural artisan groups, women SHG groups, natural fibre based artisans, craftsmen and the youth, I now strongly feel that some amount of motivation and correct market linkages can lend their dreams a much higher chance for realisation.
During my undergraduate days at Jadavpur University in Kolkata , while studying literature I used to often debate about the lack of reflection of social reality in contemporary literature. Years later as I move around amidst the vast stretches of sal, piyal and mohul trees, listening to the countless narratives of hope, despair and dreams, I have realized literature is born from such experiences.
Possibly in the near future when I complete this fellowship, I shall look back on the time spent and hopefully will re affirm my belief – ‘We are all governed by the choices we make in our lives’.
Arindam Banerjee, a PMRD Fellow, is based in Paschim Medinipur (West Bengal)