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All throughout my life (read pre-JEE), the only jungle I had seen around was the concrete jungle of my city. Having a natural flair for travelling and exploring new places, I was quite excited when I was presented with an opportunity by GRA (Group for Rural Activities) to travel to some of the best performing villages in Maharashtra. One such village was Ralegan Siddhi, the village where Shri Anna Hazare lives. I was naturally looking forward to this experience of rural India just to explore the other side of India.

And that GPO email was the start of a new journey for me, one which shall forever have a profound influence on me.

In GRA trips, you get invited for a discussion before and after the trips, something very unique about this group. I met many like-minded people and those who had been to past GRA trips also shared their experience. I was even more ecstatic to be part of this trip. I went with the motivation to understand the sort of problems the people of rural India face and how we as students could chip in to help them. Only later did I reflect that the villagers had solved my problems without even explicitly talking about them. 

GRA folks with Shri Anna Hazare

Not only did I get to meet Shri Anna Hazare during this trip, but we also met Mr Popatrao Pawar, the most educated village head of another model village Hiware Bazaar. We also stayed overnight at Snehalaya, which is an NGO providing help to women and children affected by HIV, AIDS. Hearing from the founder of this NGO left me spellbound when he narrated how this NGO came into being in the first place in the sex and drug hotspot town of Ahmednagar. Meeting such dignitaries who were trying to make this world a better place made me realize how shallow-minded I had become over time and eventually this visit is what really led me to the beginning of a change of heart. 

To give you some context, I was at a point where I was fed up with running in a race where I didn’t belong. I had noticed some people pulling each other down for some petty gains and I did not want to do the same. The compassion showed by the villagers just allayed all my fears of mindless competition and I realized that true human spirit lies in helping your peers in reaching their true potential. After this visit, the bubble of fake glory burst. I started introspecting on my priorities and tried to put my energy into activities that I enjoyed regardless of their influence on my CV. I started helping others without really expecting anything in return, as a result of which I got back much more than my expectation.

I’ll narrate another unique experience that happened on my trip with GRA again to a tribal village in Orissa. Now if you know me, I am an introvert, by all means, one who likes expressing whenever given the opportunity. One evening we had the opportunity to witness their tribal dance and I got so fascinated with their dance that I ended up dancing along with them!

Group picture of GRA folks with tribal dancers

The next big thing happened during the summer of 2019 when I was selected for the RISE Internship offered by the CTARA department to go and live in villages for 15 days. This was by far the most amount of time I would be spending in a village. To summarise those 15 days, we attended lots of marriages where we were treated like chief guests and ate lots of farm-fresh mangoes. We met the village doctor who treated patients with natural resources available and above all, we were shown a lot of compassion and love by the villagers. This was the experience that overwhelmed me the most.

You may question, what’s the big deal so far? The biggest deal for me was not facing the mindless competition that often happens during the internship season. I had my priorities straight and worked accordingly as a result of which I ended up bagging 3 different internship offers from three different countries. I have seen some peers pulling each other down during such times and believe me it’s not good for anyone. I am all in for healthy competition but I loathe the toxic behaviour some folks indulge in.

Me and my friends with the village doctor

In conclusion, the people of rural India might not have some of the technological advancements enjoyed by modern cities but they have something more fundamental in the right place which is peace, harmony, and compassion for each other. This could perhaps be the perfect opportunity to bridge the gap between modern & rural India, the precondition being both parties willing to lose their preconceived notions about each other and wanting a fruitful partnership. In my opinion, modern-day advancement has made our lives much simpler but Alas! it has come with new baggage of psychological problems. Perhaps it is high time that we take a leaf out of the books of our rural neighbours!

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