A beautiful pristine village sandwiched between the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve and the Kabini river. A place where you close your doors at 6 PM and stay inside while wild animals reclaim their territory. Where you cross a river and reach the land of plenty, while you do not have electricity, safety or basic earning prospects on this side. Where girls are married off between 11 and 18, and become mothers when they are still children themselves. Where tribals who trace their ancestry thousands of years back and speak the original form of Kannada, have been asked by the Forest department to re-locate elsewhere.
Where a young man from New York who gave up a lucrative job offer from JP Morgan, struggles with a new language, cultural barriers, poor amenities, and loneliness, to teach the villagers healthier, more sustainable, profitable ways of living.
This was just part of the huge life-changing experience that was our Rang De field trip to Machur, 220 kms from Bangalore, on the border with Kerala.
Rang De, the social investment-based lending organization that funds rural low-income entrepreneurs across India, has tied up with http://abeerdesai.com/ A cycle that generates electricity, compost and natural pesticide generation, smokeless chulhas, health care training, were some of the ideas we saw being tried out at Machur. For details read Abeer's posts, here, and here.
His post on how he got this job in the jungles of Machur speaks volumes – “I got this job with a heartfelt cover letter.” You remember what it is to be young and wanting to throw yourself over the edge, to believe in that moment “of feeling the wings you've grown, lifting.”* You are so happy that such young people continue to exist - they make up for all the apathy you encounter, so often.
On the way back after a tour of the whole area by Abeer, and meetings with a few of the local people, we also stop at the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (http://www.svym.org/) briefly, to be blown away by the committment of a group of doctors, who, 27 years ago, vowed to live the vision of Swami Vivekananda, and dedicate their lives to rural and tribal upliftment – and have succeeded in ways that you cannot imagine possible. A one-hour conversation with the highly articulate Dr. Balasubramanya and his colleague has all of us so filled with awe we don’t know what to say. Are these people for real?
At the end of the day, you realize that in these people, you have just witnessed the height of human evolution – a total understanding of our inter-connectedness, that none of us will win, if all of us don’t win. A branch that is keenly aware of its tree, a drop of water that is intensely aware of the ocean to which it belongs.
After traffic jams and a long journey, we reach Bangalore post-midnight. We are not the same people who left Bangalore at 4.30 AM the same day. Nothing will ever be the same again. We will never be able to join in when our colleagues/friends speak cynically about our country, at idle coffee-table conversations where the responsibility for change is always left to “someone else”.
When you have Seen, you are never the same again. The Sufis were right.
Knock out Poverty. Become a Social Investor.
This was a preliminary trip by core volunteers - if you become a Rang De investor, you will be invited for regular field trips. If you live in Bangalore, do try to attend the Rang De box office screening of "Bonsai People - The Vision of Muhammad Yunus", and the discussion afterwards, on Dec 4, Sunday. Details here.
* Jelaluddin Rumi