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‘What my stint in rural India taught me’

Four youngsters discuss lessons they learnt in patience, listening, and making do with less.

education Updated: Apr 26, 2018 19:57 IST
Prakruti Maniar
Prakruti Maniar
Hindustan Times
City-bred professionals say working in rural India is a first step towards de-romanticising ideas of life outside a metro. (iStock)

Doctors aren’t the only ones starting their careers in rural India. There are also bankers, vets, engineers and consultants. It’s hands-on experience the hard way, and the lessons you learn are invaluable, they say.

You learn to do more with less – be it money or manpower. You learn to get around without public transport and cell phone connectivity. You discover that, even without the internet, you can think on your feet and answer questions.

For a growing number of corporate executives, first jobs are not in glass cubicles but in the grassy countryside. City-bred professionals say it’s an early step in de-romanticising ideas of rural India and learning about life outside a metro.

Remote control

“The challenges are different,” says Ashwin Jayarajan, 32, who was posted as a veterinary officer in a government hospital in the Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra between 2012 and 2016. “I was anxious, having lived in the city all my life, to go to an area that did not even have phone connectivity. But I was curious, and with time, adjusted,” he says. “In the city, the veterinary focus is on small pets, cats and dogs. The first difference was that I got to deal with a wide range of animals, and a lot of larger ones like cattle and goats.”

Ashwin Jayarajan (left), distributing cattle fodder to the farmers of Bhamragad, Gadchiroli, where, as a vet, he had to visit distant villages for vaccination drives and convince farmers of the need for modern medicine.

There were other challenges too. “Everything is scattered, there is deep faith in black magic and very little trust in modern medicine,” Jayarajan says. “The problems were not technical, but practical. I was dealing with mainly poultry, cattle and goats, and had to travel to each family’s home for vaccination drives. Once, my assistant and I got lost in forest, on our way to a village. We just continued to follow the electric wires, and reached another village, from where we made our way.”

Jayarajan is currently posted in Kinwat, Nanded, where he lives with his wife Sneha Panicker and their 3-year-old son Ayaansh. Here too, he deals with cattle. “But people are more aware here, so in a sense the work is easier. They know the importance of regular vaccinations and medical treatment,” he says.

Yet, it is Gadchiroli that he misses. “There, except for a monthly report sent to the department of animal husbandry, no one demanded work of you. In Kinwat, I am called for deliveries even in the middle of the night.”

It wasn’t the best place to raise a child, he admits. But in a place without TV, extended family and social events, he would end up interacting with other transplanted urban professionals, like teachers. “We would discuss our shared difficulties, the life of the farmers. It was immersive and enriching,” he says.

To work successfully in a remote area, you have to be self-motivated, he believes. “The knowledge that the need for your service is higher, and the sense of being part of the community makes it more satisfying,” he says. Time and patience pay. People with animals who are unwell primarily want to be heard, they don’t want to feel like you don’t have to time to attend to their pet or livestock.

“It took me a year to understand this,” Jayarajan recalls. “But the effort paid off when one farmer walked 10 kilometres to get to my clinic to get his cow checked, for a skin problem. It was, for me, a small but significant success.”

Cashing it in

For Deep Kapoor, 29, two years spent at the Sanand branch of Federal Bank in Gujarat taught him everything he knows about customer relations and building trust. “I went at a time when a car factory had just been set up and a lot of farmers had got crores of rupees for their land,” Kapoor says. “They did not know anything about how banks function. The idea of an individual bank account was strange to them because they had been used to dealing in cash, and handling all income as a group.”

In Sanand, Kapoor realised that a bank’s corporate image meant nothing. It was the banking executive that mattered most to a customer. “As they see it, he will be handling their money.” The apprehension would reflect in the questions they posed: Will the bank shut down and take my money? Will you give us a gift for opening a fixed deposit account? “This was unusual for me, but I would talk to them, build their trust,” Kapoor recalls. “Some customers asked me to reveal details of the accounts of their acquaintances. These are not things a banker expects in a city.”

It was hard work, but far more rewarding and personally satisfying than dealing with urban customers. “I got invited to the weddings of some of my customers,” Kapoor says. “I wish banking could be more personal in the city.”

Shachi Sutaria, 23, interned in Nanded, Maharashtra and Jhagadia village in Gujarat during her postgraduation in health administration from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. The biggest lessons, she says, were personal ones. “I realised the extent of my own privilege,” she says. “Earlier, if my phone stopped working, I would get a new one. Now, I first opt for repairs and figure out how to fix it. It’s a small thing, but it reflects how my attitude changed.”

Get it right

Shachi Sutaria (above) while on a visit in Jhagadia, Guajrat, where she learnt that though there was awareness on diseases like sickle cell anaemia, there often weren’t the resources to treat them.

Neerja Mattoo, who chairs the department of corporate citizenship at Mumbai’s SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, which mandates one-month rural internships to its students, has advice for those headed to the country. No matter what field you are in, don’t go in with the attitude that you are their problem-solver, she says. “We tell students that their first stint will be all about listening and learning what the community needs.”

Students from cities must unlearn what they think they know—about rural life, and about ideas like innovation, says Amol Suresh, 25. He worked as an engineer at the Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute in Phaltan, Satara, two years ago.

“My role was technical, but because there was no established system, I learnt the importance of trial and error,’ he recalls. “My supervisors would simply say, ‘Find a way to design a refrigerator which uses solar energy,’ or ‘See why this windmill is not working’. Once, the team designed a diesel stove so villagers could cook more conveniently. We ultimately realised that they would not be able to bear the cost of the upkeep. You learn nuances of innovation, instead of blanket application of technology.”

First Published: Apr 26, 2018 19:57 IST