Looking for a Better World
Refuge in Radhakrishnan’s House
He started to laugh. Maybe his laugh was the best of answers. I guess he was surprised by my question. We had spent that morning walking around the tribal village of Komalikuddi, Kerala. First, we had been to the cardamom fields, where women were busy plucking the pods. Then, Rajani and Shobana, the local coordinator, took me around the village to see the new power plant, the bee boxes, the houses that had been built for the five families then without a roof. I was amazed by all the stories they were telling me about so and so. But I was also boiling under the implacable sun, even though we were still in the rainy season. I was relieved to take refuge in Radhakrishnan’s house.
There I was in front of him, and I quickly got my notebook out of my bag. I had prepared a few questions, to start with. “Does it change your life to have electricity at home, and toilets, and water taps with clean water to drink, to cook, to clean clothes?” He laughed when he heard the question, his relief had been beyond words, so much worrying had vanished. For sure, it makes such a huge difference–and I know very well the importance of “modern comforts” as I come from a country where everybody considers them as granted. Indeed, Amrita Serve enables the villagers to do more than barely survive. They can do something more than just cope with the consequences of poverty.
“Does it change your life to have electricity at home, and toilets, and water taps with clean water to drink, to cook, to clean clothes?” He laughed when he heard the question, his relief had been beyond words, so much worrying had vanished.
Radhakrishnan, for instance, made it very clear that he wanted his kids to go on studying, to reach high school. As a rickshaw driver, he feels sorry he can’t speak any English. “I want my two sons to get secure jobs,” he said. “Like government jobs–or at least jobs that do not depend only on crops. They should have enough money to satisfy their needs.”
He smiled. “I noticed that they gained confidence now that they go to tuition school. It’s easier for them to follow the lessons. When visitors come, they are not as shy as they used to be. They are ok to talk with them.”
I nodded and then, softly, I enquired: “Can you imagine your children leaving this village to make a living?”
Radhakrishnan did not hesitate: “They can go anywhere they want. As long as they respect the traditions of the village.”
“Oh, and what are the traditions?” I asked.
The man looked at me, puzzled. Again, what could he say? How could he explain something so natural? He thought for a moment: “First, men have to marry a girl from our tribe (which has a few settlements in that region of Kerala) in order to be blessed by the community. Secondly, there is no dowry, and women should always be treated with respect.”
I turn to Rajani for confirmation. What is the condition of women here? No violence? I know how tough it is for women in some parts of India. But Rajani, who has been supervising programmes all over the district for years, knows that the man is telling the truth.
Women enjoy a lot of freedom. For instance, they all spend the Pongal harvest festival out, in the forest, having fun until late at night. “They will tell you tonight, the women are coming along with the children to meet you.” At that moment, Radhakrishnan’s phone decided to ring. Perfect timing! I had finished with my curiosity.