Rucha Deshpande Living in a village unheard of  November 25, 2020

Tucked away in the lush evergreen forests of remote Manipur, lives an indigenous tribal community by the name of ‘Inpui’. Mostly hunter-gatherers, they are blissfully ignorant of the whereabouts of Corona, which now dictates terms to the entire world.

Safely hidden amidst beautiful green hills, the village of Ijeirong proudly claims its uniqueness by being mostly invisible on Google, having no trace on Google Maps, and guiding its habitants with bright light of thousands of stars on often-experienced, electricity-free nights.

Like most urban Indians, I was doing a desk-job at a corporate company in a metro city. I was a German Translator. Whenever I met a stranger and exchanged pleasantries, I dreaded the question, ‘So what do you do?’ The answer to this question could be intriguing to the listener but was uncomfortable to me, because I was at unease. I was of the opinion that “I’m not getting involved in the welfare of the society in a meaningful way,” and that put me at unease.

After about three years of constant struggle, I took a leap of faith and quit my well-paying job. I jumped on to the other side of life. I began writing blogs and making music. Now, I knew what I was longing for. But I haven’t been able to write anything for the last two weeks. There has been no current for the last twelve days. My solace is writing my thoughts down on a piece of paper.

I survive, though. As do the Inpui tribals whom I live with.

I see families resorting to light from the bonfire they sit around, seeking warmth physically but receiving it emotionally. It is 6 PM. We have all had our dinner about an hour ago. In less than an hour, we will be in deep slumber in our small wooden houses.

Wooden Houses in Manipur

I have lived in the city with urban-dwellers most of my life, around luminosity, ringing smartphones and resounding speakers. Living away from home was not a foreign concept to me. The idea of living in a remote village, however, was a far-fetched concept from fables and grandma’s stories. And here I was, straight in one of my childhood stories.

On the other hand, life as knew it, was as puzzling to my village co-habitants.

When I moved from my hometown to Bangalore a few years ago, much changed—my lifestyle after being at home my entire life, the familiar nooks and corners, human conduct and eating habits, the taste of coffee and, without a doubt, convenience and comfort. I made a few friends, shared some interests with a few others. I looked at adjustment in a whole new light, I blended in at some other times.

However, I was compelled to put my whole life into a new perspective yet again when I moved to Manipur. From concepts like lunches at 6 AM and breakfast at 1 PM to interactions with 99 year old healers – my idea of living was put to test. And so, adapting to the culture became a task, food management became a task, and even survival became a task.

I started observing more and talking less—this was a whole new world that I had the chance to be part of. Real challenges, like walking 5 KM for a bucket of water every day, started making my FOMO and city-problems seem miniscule. Here I was, with my city feelings and emotions, trying to blend in a life where these emotions and feelings were as foreign as food-delivery apps. It was only about time that more and more human challenges started adding up.

Why do people not take offence to anything we say? Why do they in turn say the most offensive things without meaning us any harm? How do people express love—this isn’t how I have learnt to show it? What helps people be so generous and honest? Are they not scared of being taken for a ride?

As days turned to weeks and week to months, I started noticing how I slowly started adopting the behavioral patterns around me. I started listening to my body and mind—instinct started taking all over again. All this, after I gave in and began to unlearn. I had to live in my own skin to get a grip of human nature, and I began getting a grasp of things I had taken for granted for long—running water from taps, easy availability of food, access to medical facilities, electricity, roads, shops, vehicles, familiarity, and a connect with fellow humans.

I had started taking baths in community ponds, discovering life outside of technology, eating leaves whose vegetables I never ate in the city, and making extensive conversation about survival only through hand-gestures and expressions.

Little did I know that I was learning many life skills along the way, as I steadied my footing in this mystical place. I developed patience and it was polished each day. I learned to wait for current, for the rains, for a trip to the city once a month to get supplies, for people to understand me. I treaded lightly along some paths, I slipped, and I tried again. This was nothing like anything I had experienced before, but I started getting better at it. I started asking more questions, and sometimes the right ones, to the villagers and to myself.

Change is, after all, something that has driven humans since time immemorial, and now I was letting it run its magic on me.

Living in a village unheard of

Being a part of quaint Ijeirong, I have realised time is but a man-made concept. Have we forgotten to listen to our bodily instincts?

Recently, while foraging for food in the locality, I saw an old lady sitting on a stone. She must be around 85 years of age. She was coming back from the field, and I asked her what she was doing in my broken Inpui. Her answer was “I’m just being.” It was as simple as that.

She was tired and she sat on a rock. She had no phone to keep her distracted, or no time constraint to reach anywhere. She was only listening to her body and relaxing. The question hit me again: Have we forgotten to listen to our bodily instincts?

This shift from a metro city to a remote village was not just a physical shift. It also was a cultural, mindset, lifestyle, emotional shift. And I was nothing but faltered when I thought it would be a cake-walk. The idea that such places and lifestyle exist will make for an infrequent conversation even.

Often times before, I may have looked at a difficult life superficially, as thinking about it deeply would leave me with an uncomfortable aftertaste. This could be a result of the absence of a rapport with this stratum of the society or the inability to identify with it. Or maybe it was the fact that it reminded me of my very privileges.

It is rosy till people speak of the thrill attached to the idea, but as soon as we think of survival as a task, our humanity and empathy start playing a role, making our mind and heart a discomfort zone. Maybe the same happened to me earlier? Definitely, not consciously, but maybe subconsciously?

Perhaps, I have finally learned to register the subjective idea of human life, which to a large extent relies on privilege, awareness, and the lack thereof.

The images used in the story are provided by the author.

Having been a German language Trainer and Translator in her previous role, she now works with Sunbird Trust. When she isn't exploring new places and being curious, you'd find her making conversation with the coffee-wale bhaiyya down the street. Loves to sing and enjoys listening to people's stories. She wouldn't shy away from calling herself a caffeine-addict. And well, of course, really likes good reads and putting some words together to make up a story!

Crafted with brevity
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