It had been couple of months since my last field trip to MASUM (Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal) in April and I thought I needed another. My mentor at SOCHARA(Society for Community Health, Action, Research and Awareness), Dr. Thelma Narayan suggested Swasthya Swaraj. In 2 days I tried to read everything about the organization and also sent an email to the team expressing my interest for an exposure visit. The mail was warmly replied by Sister Aquinas Edassery. To my delight we met at the 14th World Bioethics Conference in December 2018 after our correspondence and the visit was fixed for the first week of January 2019. What more could I ask for? I was excited, eager and grateful for the opportunity that was to come. In the series of posts I will share my experience at Swasthya Swaraj in Kalahandi, Odisha.
My trip started on 29th December early morning at 5:30am. I took up a flight at 9am in the morning from Bangalore to Visakhapatnam and reached there at 10:45am. My train from Visakhapatnam to Kesinga (the nearest station to my destination) was at 3pm in the mid-afternoon-early-evening. Figuring out how to leave the Vizag airport took some time for the cab drivers were not open to a share ride till the railway station. Twenty minutes after understanding the state of things, I took an auto and proceeded towards the railway station. I had lunch at a hotel near the railway station, Kalindi Restaurant. It was 1pm by the time I finished my lunch and headed towards the railway station which was actually a 5 minutes walk, prolonged to 10 minutes because of my voluntary sauntering. At station I was hooked on to the bookshop and explored multiple books, bought some and read them till my train arrived at right time at the station. I had booked my ticket for the sleeper class, it had been a long time since I not only travelled in train but also in SL. I particularly am fond of travelling in SL because of the vibrant experience it offers and also a sneak peak into the life of people in a sort of mini-India in train. Needless to say I was not disappointed, my eyes and brain did observe some events which led me to feel how aloof I had come from the reality while living in the closed quarters of ACs, 24×7 electricity, clean washrooms and less people. The coach in which I was travelling was over-occupied than its capacity and on my seat (side lower) , 3 people were sitting – 2 of us were women, hence the seat was less crowded. Many fellow travellers were standing, but carefully looking in all directions to just get a small share on the seat to sit and relax. Fights and some arguments did take place over luggage adjustment and clean passage area. In that I saw a glimpse of rich insulting the poor (travelling without full ticket). I wondered whether offering these people a seat would be kindness or implicit encouragement to them for not buying a full-ticket. I wondered if they lacked money. But I am still torn on that question. People were sitting in the exit area of the train coach, covering themselves with thick shawls because of the winter and indulged in casual conversations while munching on roasted peanuts. Food stuff sellers made the coach look like a mini-fair and the pandemonium never seemed to stop and I didn’t mind it. It was something that I wanted to observe. The train was running on time – Dhanbad/Bokaro Express. I had my dinner on train which I had got packed – chapattis, 2 bananas and one apple. I could not sleep during the 6 hours journey, mostly because I didn’t get the space and secondly also because I was not that inclined to sleep. Around 9:40pm I got down at Kesinga after series of to-and-fro movements between the two exit doors not understanding which way the platform would come. I was anxious all the time because I thought that I might not be able to alight at the platform because of the human-traffic at the coach exit doors. The men did help, I had requested them to keep looking outside in the dark to get any inkling of the side where the train would stop. The train stops for a very brief time at Kesinga but I was able to comfortably alight despite the congestion at the exit doors.
Swasthya Swaraj had sent Mr. Surendra to pick me up and the place of accomodation was further 35km away from the railway station. It was cold in the night, very cold in fact, as compared to Bangalore. I reached the place around 11pm and immediately went to sleep. Next day, we were all supposed to celebrate the onset of new year 2019 with the tribal people at Kaniguma village. I could never have imagined what a delight it would be to be with all of the lovely, warm and simple people and welcome the New Year.
Long Live Swasthya Swaraj.