1st Month as a Milaap Fellow in Balangir, OdishaI dragged my heavy suitcase to the broken pavements of JP Nagar, Bangalore, and made my way towards the hotel. This was my first time going out of my home in Assam to come work for a company. A company that did not hire me for anything related to what I had majored in college. I was a B.Tech graduate, and like many of us who pursue this 'hallowed' subject, I did not know what I wanted to do afterward. I did not know who I wanted to be. All I knew is wanted a break from my stream and this opportunity gave me what I needed. A break.
I walked through the glass doors and into the lobby. I was greeted by four young women who would be my colleagues. There was a slight mix up in the booking and I was left without a room. After the long plane journey where I had nothing to keep me company except my playlist and my thoughts, I did not mind that I was room-less. I did not feel like it was much of a problem. No room? Oh okay then. No biggie!
Luckily one of the girls let me crash my bags in her room as she shifted to her colleague's room. As there was supposed to be two guys, we would be sharing that room. He never did come. I was beginning to grow fond of my new roommate. It was almost like he was never there.
Soon after that, I decided, to my regret, to join my friends for a banter over some drinks in the nearest I-should-not-be-spending-this-much-money place we could find. Later, we decided it was the perfect time to go on a stroll and try to find an ice-cream shop. It was at 2 AM. We did not find any shops open that night.
Training soon began in full swing from the next day. I had made a couple of friends of people who shared the same vices and decided it was as good as a group as any to hang out with. By the end of the training period, we had become almost like family. Our bosses were chill and we felt we had a lot of responsibility. We felt as if we could trust them and they would take care of us if we did our job right.
The moment of departure came. All eight new fellows from the 12th batch were slowly getting scattered across India like pinballs on a giant table shaped like our country. I was posted in a small town in the western part of Odisha. Balangir,
I had never heard of the place and when I reached their train station, the glaring summer sun was set upon me. I felt like my skin was getting fried like the vadas on a breakfast stand.
I met up with my caretaker, who was a multilingual chap with a knack for doing less-than-pleasant maneuvers on his bike. I held on to my suitcase for dear life as we twisted out of the station and towards our head office. My new home for six months.
Mahashakti Foundation. It was a growing microfinance organization that rose out of a trust body. Now it had centers in three states with numerous branches all across Odisha. I sighed when I realized none of the branches were near the ocean. I did not mind. I came here to do my job and get away from the hopelessness I felt when I was home. Now that I look back upon it, it was the right time to leave. Home had ceased to become what it was. The constant haranguing had withered my sense of self. I was beginning to forget who I was. Maybe this would show me the path and even if it didn't, the view from the rooftops was excellent.
The town's people were kind enough to show me where the market lay. I thanked the grocery store shopkeeper and made my way to the market. The town was concentrated around this particular location. Buses with their conductors in khakis yelled out the location they were headed to. By the side, there were many shops frying samosas, and vadas in a huge iron curry pot. People were rushing in and out of that cramped parking lot. The whole experience seemed somewhat surreal to me. I pinched myself and I made my way back to the head office. I met an interesting little demon on the way back.
Come the next day we were given our first load of assignments. As I was eager to throw myself into the work, I devoured all that was assigned to me and then asked for more. I felt motivated like I hadn't been in a long while. Soon enough, the time came to start with my field visits. This was when a jolly chap from the nearest branch would come along and you would hop on his bike and ride off into villages. To meet strangers with strange lives stretched beyond what I could imagine.
I admit I was pretty nervous. As an intensive introvert, I forced myself extensively to be extroverted towards these new people. I could not let them know that I preferred to lie in my bed and play video games instead of walking out into the sun and laughing loudly as petty jokes. Although I could do the latter quite well. I met lovely people who led simple, yet back-breaking lives. There were farmers, herders, housewives, mothers, workers, and the list goes on.
A few smiles were shared. Jokes cracked. Who says you can't have some fun on the job?
I was being sent hurtling through the districts in a bumpy bus, meeting many people, talking to them about their lives. I taught myself to ask for the little details such as what did they have for breakfast, did they love seeing their children go to school, did the chicken come before the egg?
As people rushed by as trees on a highway, I lost track of time and myself. The visits were all I could focus on. I gathered my courage whenever I could to speak with my passenger on the bus, the field staff on whose bike I rode on, the branch manager at the office, the caretaker, the cook, the driver, the IT guys in the next room. Time seemed to slow down only to quicken again. A few calls from my family here and then.
In the blur of work and trying to live on a budget, a month had passed by. A month since I saw my family. I missed them, but I loved being here. I felt responsible and inspired. I did not think about whether choosing to join an organization that had nothing related to what I studied for four years in college. There were many questions that I still have unanswered. But for the first time, I was jumping into the unknown and trying to land feet first into a new tomorrow.