Life with Strangers | Milaap

Life with Strangers

I don't consider myself to be a social person at all. In fact, I feel extremely awkward at big (social)  gatherings and generally avoid them. It's ironic that a large part of my job here, as a Milaap Fellow, is talking to as  many people as possible, trying to understand where they come from and where they want to go. But there wasn't a single day that I've struggled with being surrounded by people, and strangers at that. I've been in rural Tiruchirappalli for five months now, thought it feels like it was just yesterday that landed here. In this short span of time, I've made many friends, more than I normally would, though it is more of a relationship of mutual respect and care. The institution where I live is home to me now, with its beautiful trees and people. Chellamma, my cook and Jayashree, her daughter are family to me.` Jayashree's son, Hari, who is about a year and six months old, has learned to speak during my stay here. I miss that little baby terribly when I leave. It's amazing to see the kind of trust and bond that I've formed with people here who were not just complete strangers, but also people I thought I had very little in common with. Chellamma's friends are also very dear to me. They invite me to their houses for lunch and on festivals, and take care of me when Chellamma's not around.I've made a lot of friends on the bus, including the drivers and conductors who cut a ticket for me without my having to say anything. I've met a lot of Self-Help Group members, teachers, government employees, businessmen/women, cooperative society employees on my route from home to office and back. There have been interesting conversations, some serious, some just for laughs, that have made the bus rides far more entertaining, not that I don't enjoy sitting on my own, gazing out the window at the huge trees, hills and the river Cauvery flowing bordering the road. Most conversations center around why I wear two anklets on one foot. They insist I remove one of them because, according to the people here, only those who've turned a little mad wear two anklets. I kind of enjoy their concern for my well-being. Some of them have even invited me to their children's weddings, and these are people I talk to only while I'm on the bus. It's endearing to see the kind of affection people are capable of.Since I can't read Tamil (shameful, really), there are little children who help me out at the bus stop and put me in the right bus. I look forward to meeting them every evening. It's refreshing to be surrounded by school kids, and to answer their funny questions. When I come back home there are some more tiny children from the village, who study at the local government school and drop by when school ends to play with Hari, who insist I play volley ball with them. They come looking for me if I'm in my room and drag me down to play with them. I'm the most sought after person, after Hari, of course, when it comes to these children.After these five months, I'm not sure if I'm not a social person anymore. It just seems effortless, and even relaxing to bond with all of them. I would have been very lonely if I didn't have their company. I feel privileged that I have had this opportunity to forge relationships that I'll never forget and will cherish for the rest of my life. They don't seem like strangers at all.