Two reporters, one bike and a 500-km ride across Bundelkhand. For Gaon Connection reporters Jigyasa Mishra and Pragya Bharti, these seven days were a mix of fun, adventure, learning and some serious journalism. They visited many villages and tried to understand life from women's perspective. This journey was about understanding their lives, struggles, hopes and aspirations.
Edited by: Swati Subhedar
"Do not trust any person, certainly not villagers. Do not leave your stuff unattended. Take care of your belongings. Keep a pepper spray or a knife with you…."
We got many such unsolicited advices when we started our week-long, 500-km trip across Bundelkhand on our bike. My colleague, Jigyasa, and I were fully-prepared, but we didn't want any preconceived notions to cloud our judgement. With an open mind, we started our journey from Chitrakoot, which is on the Madhya Pradesh-Uttar Pradesh border.
The kind of things we had heard, we were not expecting any kind of help from anyone. But we were pleasantly surprised how some people went out of their way to help us out. And we were glad as even the smallest of assistance was valuable and useful.
On Day 2, we were heading towards Satna district. We arrived at Barua village, which is 25 kms from Chitrakoot. We stopped by a house. An elderly woman was standing outside. Even before exchanging pleasantries, we asked her if we could use her loo. Without saying a word, she guided us to the toilet.
By the time we reached Barua village, we were feeling sick because of high temperature and dehydration. Also, because of unavailability of toilets in the entire 25 km stretch, our stomachs had started aching and we were desperate to use a loo. I was so desperate that I was banging on the doors of a public toilet in Lokharia village that was closed from outside. It was opened for me.
There were two tiny toilets. There were no latches inside and the toilet seat was covered with sand. We couldn't have used that toilet.
We shall be forever grateful to that old woman who let us use her loo. It made us realise there are so many things we take for granted while living in cities. Clean, usable washrooms, for instance.
Mahkona village, 20 kms from Satna city, was our next stop. It was a warm day. Sweat was dripping down our bodies. We stopped by a banyan tree where we met Vishnu Bagri, a farmer, who took us to his home. He gave us water to drink – a luxury in this region – and also served us food. He didn't really have to do all this. We were rake strangers. But his gesture truly touched us. Especially when he himself was struggling.
"Our situation is quite bad. The government schemes haven't even reached here. We don't get any benefits. Very rarely benefits of a good scheme reached us. For instance, if I am getting Rs 20,000 under some scheme, I have to give Rs 2,000 or Rs, 3000, and sometimes Rs 5,000 to the sarpanch," he told us while we were leaving.
People in Mahkona village were very kind and friendly. We met a lady here whose name was Chunuvadi Bagri. I got so engrossed in talking to her that I forgot my mobile and my camera lens cover at her place which I remembered after we left from the village. Panicked, we drove back to her house. When we reached there, a kid came running to us and handed me my phone and the lens cover. While we were leaving, Ramkripal Bagri, offered us tea.
On day 4 of our journey, we reached Panna. Unfortunately, my colleague Jigyasa's phone ran out of storage. Also, we didn't get any hotel room in Panna because there were many weddings in Panna that day. Some people helped us and we stayed at a half-decent dharamshala. Next day we started early to resolve our mobile storage issues.
We left at 9 am. The cyber cafes were still closed. The locals told us that the shops would not open before 10:30 -11. We still kept looking for one because we were running late. We stopped by a photocopy shop at Gandhi Circle. We heaved a sigh or relief. But unfortunately, we couldn't connect our mobiles or camera card here.
There was another cyber cafe close by. It was shut, but a number was mentioned on the board. In a hope that someone would pick up, I dialled the number. The shopkeeper picked up. He said we won't be able to open the shop, but that he would help us. He came all the way from his shop and picked us up. We went to his place and he let us use us his laptop.
We met two little children while we were going to Manjha village. They were riding their bicycles. When we asked for directions, he hesitated a bit. We then requested him to take our picture. He hesitated again, but then in the end they clicked our photos and also got themselves clicked. That day ended on a happy note.