It was difficult not to feel a tinge of shame as Namdeo, a tad under 60, with total ease lifted a stone double the size of what I’d been able to manage. Later when we broke the ice (and a lot of stones!) he told me with a certain measure of pride in his eyes about his son who has a tea stall in Pune’s Shukrawar Peth and his three grandchildren. Namdeo was one of many villagers working relentlessly to defeat his village’s water woes.
We were at a tiny village called Guhini with a population of under 500 and about 70 km from Pune. After assembling at Sinhagad road at 6 am, we were divided into three groups, which then departed for three different villages close to Pune. The volunteers in attendance were diverse to say the least. The youngest was a student in class 9, the oldest a retired IT professional; some came on motorcycles and scooters while others in cars. As instructed, all of us were carrying lunch boxes and water bottles reminiscent of school. The forts of Torna and Rajgad tower over Guhini. Despite a yearly average of 3000 mm of rainfall, the rocky, mountainous terrain lends to sub-optimal water retention leading to water scarcity from February till the monsoon arrives. We reached Guhini after a breakfast stop and a two-hour drive to peep into the makings of a well, the land blasted using dynamite.
The folks at Jnana Prabhodini, one of the most respected educational and social welfare institutions of Pune, are immensely competent when it comes to identifying our society’s needs and implementing initiatives with an exceptional sense of purpose. An interesting knack they seem to possess is to express themselves by using just the right words. So when I read their appeal for Shramadan, literally donation of labour work, in Pune’s Velhe and Bhor districts, I was intrigued and drawn in. That India, particularly Maharashtra, has been reeling under a grave drought situation is well known but avenues to help and contribute are not.
Two hours had passed since six of us had been lowered into a 30 feet soon-to-be-well to join two villagers in heaving rocks in a trolley to be hauled by a small mechanical pulley running on diesel. The sun was starting to blaze over our heads and we were starting to realise that this is as hard as work can get. At the end of the day we were also to realise that this is as sweet as work can get.
Others from the team along with more villagers were directing the pulley, emptying the trolley once it was pulled up and placing the rocks to create a barrier around the well. The hard labour, which us with sedentary lifestyles are so not used to, was broken up for a couple of hours for a lunch break. Our muscles groaning, we walked to eat our dabbas in the shade of the village school verandah, after which the villagers graciously brought us freshly plucked berries and jackfruit. Post-lunch, We resumed work to continue till five in the evening and not for one moment did anyone’s enthusiasm ebb.
As we prepared to leave at the end of the day, we could see genuine appreciation in the eyes of the villagers. Dust, heat, sweat, diesel fumes and hard labour is not how I normally plan on spending my Sunday but to say this was one of the most rewarding Sundays I’ve ever had would not be off the mark at all!
You can contact Aakash Chowkase on 9881307292 if you’re interested in Shramadan. Monetary donations are also accepted to fund dynamite, rent for pulley machines, diesel, etc.
To all of us who talk and think about getting off our behinds and doing something about the problems India faces, this opportunity is pure gold.