Recounting one’s life is indeed a very strange task. If you have won any battles for your nation, led a government at some point in time, unravelled mysteries, or at least contributed to literature, you still would have a lot to write about. Never mind what readers look for in autobiographical monographs, having a story to tell in itself is quite an achievement. This attempt is not to take you down my memory lane, however much colourful and sensational (as many of my colleagues would hasten to add) it might seem to be. I am going to write about primarily the last three years, primarily with an emphasis on what experiences and people shaped my decision to join the so-called and much contested “sector”.
I cannot but help cut-paste from my Darpan (the-end-of-course-scrap book) entry. At the end of two years in IRMA, this is what I had to write about myself:
…the PRM (as the 2-year course was known) has been a mixed bag, no doubt. I am not willing to get drowned in emotion and declare the last two years as the best years of my life. There have been many highs, most importantly the PRM course and (s)he/it is the only thing to which I apologise profusely for my profound disregard all through the last two years save a few sparks of interest, primarily during the field segments (with very few notable exceptions in some courses too)…
Thus, I was always thankful that the PRM gave me an opportunity to get fascinated with hitherto unknown facts about life, about my surrounding realities…The lives and livelihoods of people, who were precariously perched at the margins of our society was a great source of intrigue and challenge. Thankfully, my curiosity went a step further, in that I also found myself wondering what my possible role and contribution could be in the future.
Another piece, this time from my fieldwork report (I did save some of the vital parts – but right now, I do not clearly recall whether they were totally original…though, I strongly suspect they were my original writings, but excuse me if they aren’t; in any case, they accurately reflect how I felt when I came back from my FWS):
…that people live despite adversities is a common knowledge. But that they can fight for years together when nature is against them (no rains for three years), when people are against them (tribes being exploited by the settlers), when the administration is against them (corrupt government officials), was a lesson in life, for life…
…another significant learning was that tackling the challenges posed by rural problems requires creativity and acumen, but also a big dollop of understanding. We hardly ever think of development as a “people process”, but narrow it down to infrastructure, employment generation, etc. In the end development is about people. If they don’t want change, nothing that an external party tries to implement can ever be successful…
and finally, my concluding remarks,
…thus these two months have shaped me up as an individual personally, while teaching me how to deal with a community and understand the dynamics of their lives. Lots of questions remain and as time goes, some shall be answered, I expect and others of course, shall remain enigmas forever, much like the tribes in our village, who were physically there, mentally lost, who owned on paper, but were paupers otherwise, for whom all was being done, but till whom anything hardly reached…
Then there were individuals. The inspiring figures we all know names of; there were some others as well. My dad, who was in some way involved with the Panchayati Resource Mapping in Kerala, my best friend’s dad, who was instrumental in the first fishermen’s cooperative in Marianad in Kerala (which later led to the behemoth, SIFFS, as you know it today), the young tribal leader we met in Attapadi, and later learned of his untimely death; alumni and my professors in IRMA, etc.
While at that point, I had yet not decided what I wanted to do after IRMA, these observations built my perspective on what I perceived about rural areas. I was also consciously aware of the promises and claims I was making as a student of IRMA almost in every articulation, whether in class or outside. One thing was clear: according to my capabilities, I had to end up in a position where I could see my work impacting my chosen rural context. I must hasten to add that this desire did not come out of any false sense of self-gratification. It was simply what I felt I must achieve much in line with what IRMA’s stated purpose was and my acceptance of the same, along with my sense of pride at being a part of such an institution.
I fully understand that the whole issue revolves around the factors that actually motivate you. It is important to be realistic – factor in fame, money, stability and family. In addition, what I had was a great amount of confidence. I was sure that I had an instinctive ability to connect with people, which would stand me in good stead in the field. I was confident that I would be able to suitably utilise whatever I retained of my Economics from SRCC and PRM from IRMA. One thing that our course instils in us, if you are prepared to absorb, is a fair amount of perspective and it is this perspective that makes us an asset to our employers – in any sector. Some of us are content to use this perspective to sugar-coat their words; while some use this perspective to define their job itself. It’s a choice we make each day, between being one of the above two kinds.
There are some very elementary pieces of wisdom which we get exposed to, but often ignore: “Be where you are most valued, not where you are most highly priced”. One only needs to take a look at the recent batches that have passed out to figure out what choice each have made; and in many cases, the price offered is not even the highest…! I have believed in what IRMA has held as its objective – to work for the poor, either directly or by professionalising (read, strengthening) organisations that work for the poor. This, not only for a common good and all those exalted ideals… also for a fiercely selfish need to feel happy, to feel a sense of achievement, to excel in life. In the end, that is all that matters.