What Do They Think of Us?

Written by Divya Devaraj, a second year medical student at St. John's Medical College.

Kanthi watched them carefully as they walked up her front verandah, running her fingers through her wet hair. It was Sankranthi, the harvest festival. She had awakened with the sun, helped milk the cows; cut the plantain leaves, and prepare the turmeric and sweet potato for the puja. She didn’t think they would come today; it was a habba after all.

She watched them as they daintily lifted up their saree hems, taking care not to show their underskirts or step on cow dung. She continued staring till they reached her angala. “Namaskara, makara Sankranthi.” they said with plastic smiles stuck on their painted faces. She replied with a cool, “Good morning, happy Sankranthi.” Kanthi noted their fleeting expressions of surprise, shock and relief with satisfaction.

“Oh, so you know English! Thank God!” one of them said. She wore a green coloured silk cotton hand printed saree. It must have cost at least five thousand rupees, half of her salary. Kanthi continued to stare. Another continued, “Our Kannada is not very good, we’ve been finding it a little difficult to manage.”  “Who are you?” Kanthi asked, even though she knew. They, these students from the city, had been the talk of Maranahalli for the last week. Her mother always made sure Kanthi had her fair share of the village gossip, even though Kanthi did not have the time to attend the daily gatherings under the big banyan tree, near the temple.

“We’re so sorry, we didn’t introduce ourselves. I am Anita.” The one with the silk cotton saree said. The others began rattling off names that she forgot as soon as she heard them.

They began their rehearsed speech, telling her what she already knew. They were medical students from the city, come to interview the villagers. Did she have a few minutes to speak with them?

Of course she didn’t, but she did not want to seem rude, (like those haughty city girls almost always . She told them she did, and they began asking their questions. She told them her name, her age. She told them about her college, her job. Oh, the look on their faces was priceless. Was that pride she saw mixed with their expressions of surprise?

Kanthi continued, she had gone to college in the city too, just like they are right now. Her B.A in Psychology might not be as valued as their MBBS, but it was important to her. She knew how much her family benefitted from her measly salary of ten thousand rupees. They had another cow now, and her sister could continue her education.

She told them what she did every day, from dawn to dusk. She woke up, milked the cows, helped cook breakfast, and left for work. All day, she was Kanthi the cashier. Observantly, he watched the city folk buy things they didn’t need, with paper notes she would’ve used better. She returned at 7 every night, and assumed the role of Kanthi the daughter, the sister. She helped her sister with her homework, made dinner. She made sure everything was ready for the next day, and went to bed. This routine continued, every day of every week.

Kanthi began to wonder about their lives. Were they really as shallow as she thought they would be? They seemed like they were genuinely interested in her life. Maybe she was wrong, and the people from the city weren’t as indifferent  as she thought they were.

Cautiously, she asked, “What do you do every day?” The girls stared at her, and then looked and each other and giggled. “No one’s asked us that, here!” said the one with the pink embroidered saree. They told her their routine was barely any different from hers. They did not have to milk the cows, they said, so they got an hour of extra sleep. Once they were up, they went to college. They weren’t seeing patients in the hospital yet. After college, they played and studied. Dinner followed, and right behind came a few more hours of studying and then blessed sleep.

“We’re so glad we’ve found a woman like you, here in the village,” said Anita, “you’re so different from what we thought a village woman would be It’s so awesome that other women in the village can be just like you, a blend of tradition and modernity.” Kanthi thanked them, and said , “We may be educated, but we’re never going to be like you city girls. We could never be so brave.” Anita humbly replied, “Our ‘bravery’ is hardly any different from yours. We’re all equals in our minds, just with different lifestyles.”

Kanthi was shocked by her humility. She had always thought the people from the city would be sophisticated and supercilious.

Anita was shocked by her modernity. She had always thought the people from the village would be crude and rough.

Yet here the girls were, breaking barriers.

Anita did not understand life in the village, even the concept of heating the water using firewood was alien to her.  Kanthi did not think she understood life in city, even the concept of constant hot water was alien to her. The girls stepped into each other’s shoes, and found that they were a pretty good fit. The vulgarity of judgement and misconception were washed away. As the city girls took leave of Kanthi, each of them discovered that their new shoes would take them far .

 

Divya Devaraj, a second year medical student at St. John’s, lives in Bangalore with her family. She has been reading almost anything she could get her hands on since she could walk. She loves dancing and theatre; and currently enjoys studying medicine.