Saturday, July 29, 2006

‘tribals’ take a train

My Sanskrit teacher has to go to Hyderabad for a week to attend to some family business. With class, there is no reason to stay in Vizag, and I seize the chance to spend some time with Sangeeta in the much bigger and more cosmopolitan town of Hyderabad. I take the overnight train there with my teacher, who will not hear of taking an upper class berth. We travel ‘sleeper class’ and have for traveling companions four women who have never been on a train before, or on a bus, or in a town. They are from a ‘tribal area’ and have been selected to travel to Hyderabad for six months of training to allow enable them maintain a solar electrical facility that is being donated to their village.

Their village is in an isolated patch of the mountains in Orissa, a neighboring state and has no electricity or phone services. They share no language with anyone but their translator, and I seem to be no stranger to them than everything and everyone else in their new environment. I find this quite a relief. They were selected because the four of them had banded together and started a ‘self-help society’ and received funding to help them make and market local crafts. They were enterprising, alert and obviously bright women, ranging in age from about late 20s on up. Apparently it took a month of convincing to get them to leave their village, their families, their terra cognita, their everything. But here they were, about to start what clearly would be the experience of a lifetime. They were a bit startled when the train first pulled out of the station, but on the whole struck me as remarkably self-possessed and frankly less awed by their new surroundings than most foreign tourist might be.

I have no doubts that the village’s solar electricity will be running well for many years to come.

No comments: