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  • Writer's pictureAmit Tandon

Before I begin

In the neoliberal world, it has become increasingly obvious that we tend to introduce people in our lives based on their professions. However, everyone I have encountered in life is significantly more than just "what they do for a living" or "what they pursue." Sadly, I find myself also caught in that trap. For those who aren't aware, I often take short-term assignments and long-term breaks from work. My work took me to Nagpur in May 2021 for COVID-19 response. For those who know me, they are aware of my love for Pune as a city. However, when I moved to Nagpur, it was a pleasant surprise. Nagpur offered me a lot of love, inspiration, and introduced me to many amazing people, all in a small place and within a short duration.

Before I begin, I want to take a moment to thank Rathin bhaiya and Heli who opened their hearts and homes to host me for almost 9 months during the COVID-19 response. Secondly, @Vaishali introduced me to Tanul Sir, Lalit Sir and Mili mam, who became my second family in Nagpur, and Amruta who introduced me to Sarvesh who definetly inspired me to take solo bike ride. After that, there was a snowball effect and I continued to meet inspiring people.

Nagpur holds importance to me because everyone I encountered there displayed genuine authenticity, and I'm very grateful to each and every one from this wonderful city. I haven't witnessed such a strong sense of community and dedication to pursuing passions elsewhere. If I were to summarize in one line, "this place is a perfect blend of contentment and aspiration to do more." However, when you become attached to a place and its people, it's always a tough task to leave. But in order to embark on a journey, one must leave.

In early February 2023, I bid farewell to the families in Nagpur. On the day I left, only Rivanshu and Rishan were at home. There was a bit of anxiety because the route wasn't decided, and there was little preparation. The only thing I was sure of was my next destination, which was to meet Sirish.

I learned about Sirish through Lalit sir and was introduced to him by @sushant; all three are pivotal figures sustaining the maker culture in Nagpur. Sirish lived in a small town called Bela, which was on my way to Chattisgarh. When I arrived there, Sirish wasn't home, but it wasn't difficult to spot his maker's home from afar. It was nestled between lush green fields, a small handcrafted place offering beautiful views of sunsets.

Sirish then took me to his workshop. He told me about how, upon arriving in Bela, he noticed a lack of opportunities for the local youth. So, he established a small makerspace and started teaching them how to make things. The kids and Sirish crafted his living space together. That evening, we took a nice walk, visited the village to get fresh vegetables for cooking the next day, and planned for the next day The next day, Sirish, and couple of kids from the villages explored rural parts of Bhandara district. While riding, we came across an interesting case.

There was a mud house that had been cut in half; people working in public policy are aware that land fragmentation is a significant concern. With growing families, agricultural land is often divided between children, leading to small fragmented plots that are unsuitable for farming. However, seeing a fragmented house was something new to me. In June 2015, the Government of India launched the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna, a flagship program aimed at providing affordable housing to people in economically weaker sections. Just like how a political party markets itself, many people got trapped by the marketing skills of the party and opted for the scheme.

Interestingly, this scheme provides financial assistance of 1.2 lakh to build a new house or convert an existing 'kaccha house' into a 'pakka house'. This particular mud house was divided between two brothers; one brother was selected for the scheme and demolished his half. Later, he realized that assistance would be given in installments (6:5:1) based on the stages of completion of his new 'pakka house'. In order to receive the assistance and make his house 'pakka', the person had already demolished his house, taken a loan of approximately 4 lakh from a local money lender, and was waiting for his installments to start building walls.

With the other half of the house compromised in structure, the other brother stood nearby, waiting for his name to be selected in the scheme—the money lender was ready to give him a loan in advance. While the house was divided, we still shared water from the well and moved forward.

Our destination for the day was to see a 400-year-old wada made from timber and mud, nestled in a small neighborhood. This house was surrounded by similar PMAY houses and other concrete houses. It stood as the last one, thanks to the old lady who chose to retain the house despite all odds. The lady welcomed us and showed us around, introducing us to her four daughters-in-law who were living together in the same house. It was difficult for her to maintain the huge house, and she was aware that salvaging doors, windows, and other timber from the house could fetch her a good amount of money in case it had to be demolished.

There wasn't much we could do, so we had a sugary cup of tea, reminiscent of similar experiences, and rode back to our place before sunset. Rural housing is always a tricky question, especially when it comes to choosing between aspirations and practicality.

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