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hands and heart
Original illustration by Shivi Mohan
Life

The Rhythms of Social Work

 

Edited by Aneesha Chandra

 

This poem was born out of my experience of fieldwork in Jharkhand. Until last year, I always took an active part in social work, but it was a distant form of engagement — tinted by an urban, economically well-off perspective of what constitutes community service. In Jharkhand, interacting with the villagers opened my eyes to the completely different world out there and the actual, ground-level work that is involved in bringing about significant upliftment of communities. More than fuelling one’s own ego by helping them, creating a sort of hierarchy, social work is about empowering the communities to work and earn for themselves. They are the focal point and we can provide aid from the periphery. 

It was a humbling experience. The largeheartedness of the villagers and their ability to take adversity in their stride made me rethink the social relations, norms, and values that we pedestalize in our urban, upper-middle class societies.

Nonetheless, it would indeed be an injustice to overlook the work done by NGOs and people from the cities. A lot of people live with the villagers, respect their culture, and give their best to enable the villagers to become self-reliant. A close bond develops amongst people from different caste, class, and religious backgrounds and that goes a long way. 

It is this complexity of relations, emotions, and experiences that I wanted to bring out through this poem: 

 

The sun rises above the green fields, capturing the lives of the villagers in its warm light

They work, unaware of its watchful rays, humming to themselves to get through another day. 

Donning the garb of prestige, the guests enter their sheltered spaces

Not to be shunned or turned away but welcomed with open arms.

A fair deal overdone to extol the virtues of a luxurious hotel, 

when the comfort of a simple villager is abundant with unmatched riches. 

Songs, food and shelter for the guests from afar, 

going out of their way to comfort them, a welcome befitting the Lord!

An experience of tumultuous emotions, their lives do not seem easy,

 the privileged don the hat of the saviour and take upon the task of nurture.

Noble acts and hard work, the guests are there to empower the village dears

But how much for them and how much for vainglory, a question hanging in mid-air.

The question aside, the guests are there to do no harm.

Residing in the humble settings, acquiring the name of ‘neo-villagers.’ 

 

The sun rises above the green fields, 

capturing the lives of the villagers and neo-villagers in its warm light.

They work now, aware of the watchful eyes of the public at large,

 speaking with each other to get through another day.

Shedding the garb of prestige, they enter their sheltered spaces

Not to be treated as guests but welcomed as part of them

A fair deal overdone to extol the virtues of only one party, 

when the efforts of both lead to abundant riches. 

Songs, food and shelter of a shared culture, 

each doing their best to comfort one another, both treating the other as the Lord!

Months of work for visible progress; minds to be made pliable for action to begin.

Time to stand on their own two feet, it is time for the neo-villagers to bid goodbye.

 

An experience of tumultuous emotions, it is not easy to leave the villagers, 

the privileged bestow upon them the task of a saviour, towards progress and development. 

Noble acts and hard work, the villagers are empowered to stand tall.

Whether it was for themselves or for their vainglory,

 the guests’ contribution is unquestionable.

The guests long gone, the villagers humming to themselves

But physical presence is not a requisite

They remain in one another’s heart, immortal and exquisite. 

A hyperactive, soft spoken, quirky girl. When not immersed in work, Upasana is dancing, reading about food, travelling and daydreaming.
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