I never wanted to get involved in this Grampari affair…. I had decided with full affirmation, to stop chasing the butterflies and take up a job in an architecture office, straight from morning ten to six in the evening, every day of the year….
I knew Renie since the Ecological Society Course. He worked somewhere in Panchgani. I got a chance to wander around with this geologist friend, while carrying out ecological surveys for Oikos. That is when I started inquiring more about his actual work.
He was working on Spring shed management project at Grampari, MRA in Panchgani. Of course this made no sense to me. So it was inevitable that, after resigning from Oikos, I should grab a bus straight to panchgani to visit this project.
It was absolutely casual visit. I anyway did not want to get involved with this Grampari affair….
The campus was abuzz with International Women’s Day event. Women Sarpanch and men assistant surpanch (Now, that’s exciting, isn’t it?!) had gathered there. Women’s participation in village administration has not improved merely by providing them reserved designations in Panchayat system. But here at Grampari these women public representatives got a chance to know the intricate laws, discuss their rights and responsibilities with legal experts and experienced social workers. With such exposure, I noticed, they were much more assertive and confident in their bearing.
Renie got me introduced to everyone at Grampari. I was already admiring ever smiling Jayashree Aunty, Dr Jared and Soumya. Who knew they were directors of Grampari?!
Some unknown people from another corner of the world come and stay in a village, helping my people to know, understand and conserve our environment, health and sanitation… that was invoking natural curiosity in my mind…
All sorts of crazy questions were shooting out, unrestrained by my usually recluse nature. In conclusion, that absolutely normal day ended with Jared offering me a job with Grampari. I was hastily nodding in agreement while refusing verbally!
Next week I was in panchgani to see the spring shed project being executed in the neighboring village of Godavli. (We’ll write another post on it!) There was no harm in just visiting…
I was anyway not getting involved in this Grampari affair!
We decided my work hours, time schedule and other such details that day. In next week I had signed a short term contract with Grampari. It is a two month contract with a clever clause of extension possible at the end of the term! I am going to refuse…
I am NOT going get involved in this Grampari affair!
This is how I started working from home. Helping with the documentation of Spring shed Protection Program is my primary task. With the help of ample visuals, sketches and drawings we are making a spring shed management handbook to be used in the Western Ghats or comparable ecosystems. Naturally, first I had to become watershed-literate!
That is how my Pune-Panchgani trips started. Now MSRTC is my second home. I know almost every conductor on Pune-Mahabaleshwar semi luxury bus route! Besides, I can write another whole post about my crazy co-passengers!
Every time I get down from the bus, I take a deep breath….. Inhaling entire Western Ghats, the forest, every eagle hovering over the valley, every stepped rice field and the wild crazy wind…
And I know, that it makes no sense hence forth to not get involved in this affair….
It is impossible to not smile when I walk up to the MRA campus. As if some chirpy, mad bird possesses me! I never know if I walk or fly up there!
Then follow endless discussions, work reviews, planning what to sketch next…. Sometimes we go off on a site inspection all day long. Although, calling it an inspection is nowhere near the actual experience! I carry cement bags on my head, dig with a pickaxe along with Jared and his assistant, “Ashok bhau”. Carrying batches of freshly mixed concrete, cleaning old stone built water tanks are as much part of my job description as sketching by the lily pond or providing a running translation between my boss and the villagers.
On another day I translated to and from English so much that by the end of the day I was speaking native Marathi with the boss and English with the villagers. The whole village laughed at me… and then Tukaram Aba, one of the village elders called for a tea break!
Food and boarding facilities are excellent at MRA, so much that at times I find myself too pampered. Not having to cook is another bonus for me! Meal times are very special proceedings here. Initially I was too baffled to dine with so many strangers. Where to sit? What to eat? Who to talk with?
Basically understanding this institution and explaining it in a single blog post is impossible for me! But slowly the mealtimes became my greatest learning sessions. Strangers are not scary; they are just an unexplored opportunity to learn! I eat at a different table every day. Sometimes I dine with the interns who work at MRA, sometimes it is my bosses, MRA officials, guests, well-wishers, resident staff or volunteers….. a multicolor collage of people from across the world… people with different expertise, different backgrounds, different motivations…. All so different!
I started firing everyone with my endless questions. I remember once, the secretary of MRA sat with me, answering my rapid-fire, while his plate almost dried out. (Maybe that is why he avoided my table since then!)
With hundred or so dining at every mealtime, imagine the number of plates and cutlery to be washed! Hence, everyday one department of MRA helps in wash-up. I started to groove into this tradition of washing plates with songs and laughter as accompaniments! As a kid I always dreamed of washing dishes when I grew up…or at least grew up enough to reach over the sink! Who thought childhood aspirations could come true in such way!
Yona, one of the African interns hugged me for helping the interns with their wash up, on a specifically rush day… After a baffled moment, I too decided to wrap my soap sodden arms around her!
One of the cloudy evenings I have spent with this girl, who filled up the glass faced meditation center with her honeyed voice, singing some unknown chants…. It is impossible that God would miss her clear bell like song flowing into the valley…..
There is much more to share about this Grampari affair, maybe with pictures next time!