1 Goat, 2 Kids, 1 Dad & Bihar floods

I returned from Bihar after 2 very challenging and emotionally exhausting workshops. One with passionate educators severly affected by lack of opportunities and economic barriers. The other, with passionate learners severly affected by lack of opportunities and economic barriers. Oh wait, they were both affected by the same things!

Both workshops had participants who had one thing in common — resilience.

After almost 20 days of travel and back to back workshop facilitation, I couldn’t wait to return home in Bangalore, bathe with my Kiwi Body wash, toss my clothes into the washing machine, order a Pizza and watch a new episode of Modern Family on my flat screen television sitting on this really cool comfy chair from Fab India.

Yes, I am committed to social change and work for low & middle income groups but I have got to return to my urban setting and my Fab India chair. I am not sure if I have the same courage my peers in the change sector have. Like Zubin Sharma of Project Potential. Check out this crazy man here.

I finished my second workshop, and I woke up at 6am, feeling like a child on the first day of summer vacation. My taxi, a wonderful man from the neighbourhood came to pick me up at 8am and we were off to Bagdogra airport.

If you have never been to Bagdogra airport from Bihar, know that you will drive through a stunning landscape of rural India, through vast paddy fields that are a glittering green, mud huts with cattle in the courtyard… things that I as an ‘urban Indian’ enjoy, as long as it is temporary. You finally cross Bihar border, entering West Bengal’s famous Darjeeling district known as queen of hills with its fragrant, endless tea gardens.

As we started our car, I was told that Kosi and Teesta rivers are going crazy due to incessant rainfall and it looks like the area will be flooded again.

I was selfish. I wanted to be home soon. So I suggested we drive, as fast as we could through those 3 hours and get me to the airport. I needed Pizza, my Fab India comfy chair and the new episode of Modern Family.

As we drove, I couldn’t believe how beautiful Bihar actually is. My 20 days of work taught me that everything I knew about Bihar was wrong. I met the best cab drivers, best bus drivers, best waiters and some incredibly strong women. If you want to engage in conversations around India’s political scene, you have got to meet people of Bihar. Informed and opinionated, their energy and brilliance will touch you before you can say “Litthi Chokha”.

We had to take many deviations and smaller roads through the drive. Water had begun to fill up fields, bridges were broken and most of the roads were not even visible. You can understand more from here.

My driver was worried that by the time he comes back from airport, the water level will increase and he may not make it home.

As we anxiously looked out of our window, I saw a man neck deep in water walking across what was his paddy field. He had a small boy sitting on his left shoulder and a young girl perched on his right shoulder. I also saw a goat on his back, peeping from behind his head. Behind him was a small hut which was now engulfed by water. (You will have to imagine this. I did not want to photograph this. It would have been the most stupidest things to do …or so I thought).

I asked the car be stopped. I jump out and so does my friend, my driver RK.

The man waded through water, and reached the edge of the road where we were standing. I thought the first thing he will say is, “Help me!”.

I was wrong. The first thing he said, as his kids and goat got off his shoulder was, “Kaise Hain? (“How are you?” in Hindi).

Do you see how odd that was?

He just lost his home, belongings, the harvest from his paddy field. He had just rescued his children and goat. He just waded through neck deep water, not knowing when things will be ok. And then he asked, “Kaise Hain?”.

I stood there not knowing how I could answer him. I also did not know what I could ask him. We all stood there, staring back at his field and his almost vanishing house.

Have you ever stood still as you lost everything?

This man did. As do many people in states like Bihar, who are not shocked by calamities and material loss. The silence was broken, when his son said, “When will we catch fish?” We all laughed.

I was back in my car, on my way to airport. I had just seen what resilience looks like.

I got into my flight, arrived in Bangalore, used my app to book a cab, and reached home by midnight.

Bihar and I were still together. I sat in my Fab India chair, and watched the entire episode of Bihar’s Resilient People replay in my mind.

I wrote on Facebook:

Dear “Stereotype-affected Bihari”, if only people travelled to understand and not to judge, they will see how filled you are with love, resilience and brilliance. Thank you Bihar.

Sincerely,

a “Stereotype-affected Madrasi”.

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