My days in PRADAN-Part 1
How it all got started
It was a dusty day of April 2002 when I started off from Bhopal for Sironj in Vidisha district of Madhya Pradesh, where I had been recruited by PRADAN to work as an Executive. I had just passed out from IIFM, Bhopal after completing my PGDFM from there in March. It was on day minus one of the placements in IIFM that I got through for PRADAN. (PRADAN came for recruitment a day earlier than scheduled). I was keen on joining a grassroots NGO because firstly I wanted some good first hand experience of working with the community directly and then I used to feel indebted due to the money that the government spent over me while in IIFM. I had imagined that it would be a well to do place. After all, it was only 120 kms. from Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh. Vidisha is also connected by train but I had seen in the map that Sironj is somewhat away from the railway line. “So what?'- I had thought- “ 40kms is nothing. I can cover that much within 45 minutes and get aboard a train for home”. But that was not to be, as I later found out.
As we started off from Berasia bus stand in Bhopal, on a bus labeled Non-stop, I was full of excitement. After all, it was my first job that I was going to join! I had so many visualizations about the place. I always used to imagine a one storied building, on the side of a highway (like PRADAN Office in Kesla is) and I used to think that it would be like a flat (like the Office of Amhi Amachya Arogyasathi-an NGO in Garhchirolli, Maharshtra where I had visited before). I kept thinking about the work that I would do, and kept thinking about how I would use the studies that I had carried out in IIFM.
While I was thinking the bus covered the good patch of about 40 kms of the road to Sironj. We crossed Bearasia and voila! The bus became a roller coaster ride, jumping and jerking over a road so full of potholes that I was reminding me of the surface of moon full of craters that I had seen in the National Geographic! I could not believe that roads just 40 km out of the state capital and that too in the constituency of the brother of the Chief Minister Dig Vijay Singh can be that bad.
The tire goes boom!
But, I was soon to realize that it was just a beginning. Soon, the passengers and the luggage were falling on each other alike. The bus was already overloaded but 'the beginner's luck' described in the Alchemist had ensured that I get a window seat and get enough oxygen along with the dust to remain conscious to register the unprecedented travel in my life. There came a bridge on a river (Sagad-later I came to know) and right in the middle of that bridge, the rear tire of the bus went flat. I thanked my stars, not for the flat tire, but for the opportunity to get down from the bus that seemed like a cattle truck to me and become human being for a few minutes again. I looked around and found what government records and IIFM books called Forest- a thoroughly exploited scrubland in which only the stumps of once densely found teak trees were found. It looked apologetic to me, for not looking as a forest at all to me. I was looking at the vegetables sown in the riverbed under the bridge, that the conductor of the bus started calling everybody on board. I was surprised at the speed with which they had replaced the flat tire with the spare one. Later a co passenger told me that it is so common in a day that the conductor and the cleaner have become experts in that particular activity.
BachaoBachao! I am kidnapped!
We moved a little ahead, and I realized that suddenly the bus has left the road and is traversing through someone's field, which, it being post harvest season was devoid of any vegetation. The bus was going away from the road, deeper and deeper in the fields and I was trying to understand what the poor devil is up to. A point came when the road could not be seen anymore and this guy is driving the bus right to the fringes of the forest, in the fields. I thought that some one has hijacked the bus, and all the passengers including yours truly have been taken hostage. I knew that I was going to join a grass-root organization and that it will definitely not pay a single penny in ransom for me, because at that point of time, they did not even know how I looked like. I looked around to see the reaction of the co passengers. Most of them had a exasperated look on their face- the face smeared with sweat, dust and the smoke- but none of them had the bewildered look that I carried on my face. They were looking sympathetically at me and I was not able to understand how these guys can keep their cool. By that time, the bus had left the fields and was deep inside the scrubland called forest. We were going through the forest tracks used by the head loaders and illegal wood cutters and the forest staff who was earning no better.
Now, this was a bit too much for me. I poked my elbow in the ribs to the co-passenger sleeping (miraculously!) besides me.
"Haan?"-he enquired, angrily on being taken out of his bumpy siesta, "What is it?"
"Bhai Saheb"- I said, trying to pacify his discomfort of being woken up in middle of a beautiful dream, may be-" Aap ko kuch gad bad nahin lag raha hai?" ( Don't you find something amiss?)
He looks up and down, right and left, and then says-"What?"
"Look around", I said- “we are in the middle of nowhere, and I think there is something terribly wrong".
"Yes it is", he says- "even the forest tracks and wheat fields of Madhya Pradesh are better than the roads that the state has!"
True to his words, I saw the bus again changing its course, this time away from the forest and the fields and after another 15 minutes we were back again on the road, but in order to avoid the small stretch of 15 kms of absolutely horrible road (other patches are plainly horrible- there are degrees of horrible roads in M.P.!) we had spent close to one hour, going through the forests and the fields. It was my first experience of the vehicles leaving the highway and treading on the forest and the fields, courtesy Shri Dig Vijay Singh, then Chief Minister, Madhya Pradesh (his eccentric competitor, Uma Bharti gave a controversial statement later that year before the elections for MP Assembly in which she said that the public of MP would thrash Dig Vijay Singh government by dumping it in the potholes of the roads- and so it did!)
Aa hi pahuche apni manjil pe!
Finally, spending each second in the fond remembrance of the roads of Char Imli, the abode of the bureaucrats in Bhopal, where even the side lanes (meant for the mighty pets of the burra sahebs) are comparable with the Western Express Highway between Mumbai and Poona, I approached the Sironj town. Surprisingly, the bus was still in one piece (congratulations TELCO!). I saw a good building, which heightened up my spirits of finding more such buildings in my abode for next few years. It was a hospital, perched on the plateau that overlooks Sironj town. The next moment our bus was going down the plateau to reach the bus stand of Sironj. I got down and many autowallahs surrounded me at the very instant.
"Kahan jaana hai, Sir?'- asked one.
"PRADAN Office", I said.
"Where?"- pat came the reply.
"Above Khargosh Bidi factory"-I tried to explain.
"Accha accha. Pradhan walon ke yahan jaana hai? Chaliye!" – he said, to my relief.
"PRADHAN? As in Mukhiya of the Village? Interesting!"- I could not hide my grin.
The autowallah shrugged. I got into the auto, put my luggage- An air bag and a sleeping bag- in the back and we drove off. We were crossing through roads covered with the flag stone- something that I had not seen for a long time since I went in some very interior, old streets of my home town, Rewa. Between the flagstone, there were the drains, open ones, about 3 inches wide and 5 inches deep from individual houses to the main drain that ran parallel to the road. These smaller drains had flagstone sidings and so one can actually drive a vehicle over it, without damaging either the vehicle or the drain. Also, it is very convenient for the sweepers to clean the open drains. I looked around-Old, decrepit buildings-crumbling havelis, small fortresses- it was clear that I have arrived into a part of history studded with remains of the past.
My first Impression of PRADAN
I was looking around, when the autorickshaw stopped."Aa gaya, Sir"-announced the autowallah."Kitna"- I said, getting out of the auto with my luggage."Beis"-said he."Accha! Kuch jyada nahin hai yeh?"-I said mockingly, while taking out my wallet."Yahan itna hi lagta hai"-said he, bitterly. "Ok"- I said, giving him the bill-"here you go!" Pocketing it, he drove off without saying a word. I sighed in relief of having reached there, finally. I looked around. I was in the middle of a street, between a one storied building and a small shack, in front of which a white male goat was tied, chomping his grass. It was a four mill, an atta chakki. I looked at the one storied building for any signs of PRADAN or Pradhan as they called it. On the balcony I noticed a small white board with the logo of PRADAN.
''There you are"-I told myself. Holding my bags, one on my shoulders, other in my hands, I looked for a staircase. Having found one on the left, I decided to climb. It was a fight of about 15 stairs and I found myself in front of the office, which was going to be my Karambhoomi (the theatre of action) for next few year. I treaded cautiously. I peeped in the office- there was a big hall, and a wall after two thirds of the length of the hall. Built only for 6 feet, it was more of a partition then a permanent structure. The hall was empty, but I could hear voices of some people talking. I looked around and found a shelf in the wall, just after the entrance. There was a packing box for computer.
"Wonderful!"- I thought- "Atleast one can watch movies by getting some CDs here". (Later on, my expectations proved to be misplaced, because this was an old 486 kind of computer, sightly more modern- on which even ms Word would not run properly, forget about a video CD. Anyways, there was no CD drive in this box of a computer!)
"Hmmmm" - I said, looking at the charts put on the wall. These were all in Hindi, about the various activities like SHGs, agriculture etc. I the mean time I could hear a female voice, as I closed in to the partitioned part of the office. I decided to surprise the people at the other end. I entered the room with my bags on my shoulders and came face to face with a good looking, spectacled female of about my age.
"Hi!"- I said- "I am Prashant, and I have come here to join you guys!"
She looked at me with a bewildered look and then said -"Hi! Have you come here on a two month summer training program? "-looking at the little luggage I was carrying over my shoulders.
"No", I said, "I am here to join PRADAN as an employee".
"Really? But looking at your luggage, I thought you are here for a short period of time" She said.
"I don't need much luggage to sustain myself"- I told her- "and in any case I would be going back to Bhopal to get my books and all!"
"Ok"- she said, "Let me introduce you to the others.” She took me to the other corner of the office.
"Here"-she told a middle aged person on a s-chair- "He is Ashokji, he is our Team Leader, and Ashokji, he is Prashant, he has come to join PRADAN."
"Welcome!"-said the Team Leader.
(to be continued.................................)
Contributed by Prashant Mishra PFM 2000-02
Originally posted at http://prashantmishra1.blogspot.com/