“Madam, yeh ek choota sa gaon hai, aap yahan adjust nahi ho paaogi. Aakhir Aap sheher se hain, said a person on the other end of the phone.”(Madam, this is a small village. You won’t be able to adjust here. You are from a city.)
I smiled and said, do not worry, I like to travel to places like these. He seemed astonished. The man on the other end of the phone was a person, I never met.
I got in touch with him over a conversation on a Facebook community back in 2012. However, he was right. My travel destination was neither a sight for beautiful mountains nor was it a place anywhere near the sea. I was also speaking in broken Marathi, thanks to my schooling in Mumbai. Hence, I definitely did not seem a person from another country who wanted to explore a local place so unheard off. The guy on the other end connected to a villager who was to host me for the days I wished to be at the village.
Living with strangers and that too as a girl is something that gave me those rolling eyebrows from people who even knew me. In those, were also my friends, who perhaps, knew me closely. Back then, it did sound adventurous. However, in hindsight the experiences made me travel more often and trust people in the villages.
Going with my gut, I set off to learn to live with a tribal community in Maharashtra.
My tryst to learn Warli Art
I like the tribal art –Warli done by the adhivasis of the North Sahyadri range in India. The Warli tirbe is found in the belts of Dahanu, Talasari, Jawhar, Palghar, Mokhada, and Vikramgadh of Maharashtra. The art is the part of their everydayness and every house has a traditional warli painting.
With the quest to learn the art from the adhivasis themselves, I choose to go to Veti in Dahanu located 130 kms from Mumbai. After finalising my plan and coaxing my friends to accompany me for a day, they were more than willing to tag along. All though my gut told me I would be safe, I needed the assurance.
Once I reached Veeti, I got to know the meaning of the phase Atithi Devo Bhavo– Guest is God. The entire family was excited to host me and my friends. Sandeep Dada (Dada means brother in Marathi) climbed a tadi tree, a tree similar to a coconut tree and gave us the fresh fruits. We ate the delicious radishes from the farm.
Then Sandeep Dada, showed us the Warli art that he had hand painted. He was passionate about his art, however, marketing and selling it to cities was always a struggle.
Sandeep Dada, was going to be my teacher for the next four days.
My day with the Sandeep Dada and his family
Every morning would start with getting up and listening to his stories about his life in the village. Then, he would give me something to draw and teach me the art and would always encourage me to draw. I still think, I cannot draw!
Some days were about learning the art, while other days were about talking to the children or doing nothing at all. Yes, gazing at the night sky and seeing the stars was always on the agenda. I also visited the nearby dam which was a beautiful sight.
I never realised when I was called tai which meant sister in Marathi. Isn’t it amazing that the people you really do not know, who were once strangers become close to you and you share an emotional bond?
In my four days with the family, I ate fresh food and had a clean air to breathe. It seemed a bit odd that the family would serve me first and then eat. I tried to tell them to eat with me, however, it was their hospitality and the culture and they wanted to serve the guest first.
A wedding at the village
Sandeep Dada and his family took me to a traditional tribal wedding. While the men were drinking the local drink – Neera and got high, the women were busy running around with the work. Out of nowhere, the bride’s mother hugged me and gifted me a saree.
There was an old grandfather who was dancing with this stick and was enjoying the wedding.
While I came to learn the warli art, I got much more in return. I was filled with gratitude. It made me think: Nobody had a reason to be nice. This is the love of the villages, I seek for. This is how my faith in humanity is restored. Hence, I say, “I am a city girl whose heart is in the villages of India.”
As I write this, it makes me feel sad that I am not in touch with Sandeep Dada as I lost my phone and eventually changed my number.
However, I want to go back to the village and trace the family and show him this story that I shared with you, dear fellow traveller.