Fieldwork in Kerala

I came to college under the assumption that urban society had become saturated and that no more development was possible there. Rural was something new, a kind of fantasy that had been painted by movies and books. It was the untouched, pristine undeveloped society waiting for a saviour; ME.

However this fieldwork has gone on to change all that. I had been to a so called village Pulpally, in Kerala. Far from being underdeveloped it had most modern facilities like cellular coverage, internet access, movie theatres and great roads. Unable to comprehend the local language Malayalam, I spent most of my time observing and contemplating over things.
I saw the food habits of people, eating beef and tapioca in breakfast, beef at lunch and beef in dinner. All the food was cooked in coconut oil, which smelt I like I was eating Parachute hair oil. People would remove all the uneatable items/bones from their plate onto the table. Water was always served boiling. All this made me question my own food habits, the fuss that I used to make if the salt was less or the same food being served twice in a day. Food is meant to serve a purpose; it has the functionality of providing nutrition to the body. Along with this the relationship that one has with food is also important for the well being of the individual. Somehow in my own taste dominated world I had missed out on the satisfaction that a meal provided. I stopped complaining about the Mess/Canteen food and have been enjoying each meal!!

Since a lot of time was available to me, I had the opportunity to catch up on my reading. Two of the books that had an impact on me and facilitated a new understanding of society in the fieldwork were – The Ape that Spoke: Language and the evolution of the Human Mind (John McCrone), The Recovery of Man in Childhood: Study of the Educational Works of Rudolf Steiner (A.C Harwood). Malayalam language I observed is like German, very symbolic. Words are created by stringing together more and more symbols and some words end up becoming very long and complicated. Similarly the spoken language too is complex. A lot of speech adds up to very little in meaning. If I believe that language is an indicator of the progress of a society then we really see that the English is a very complex language with only 26 symbols and each word having multiple meanings in different contexts. I was able to appreciate the functionality that language plays in development. All our thoughts are in the language that we speak and each language has different meanings for its words, hence conflict arises when we attach different meanings. Since I was unable to speak much, I became present to my own need for speech. In fact I felt that as a human being it is very essential for me to be able to express myself and to have someone outside of me to validate and verify that.

In fact the way the villagers lived, their contentment, ability to spend quality time with each other brought me to another reflection. “Ignore is Bliss” is a very true saying. The dissatisfaction that is prevalent in our own developed society is a function of the assummed knowledability. Adam and Eve were promised paradise only if they did not touch the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The more aware we are the more control and power we have, to use which we generate more wants and needs to fulfil.
Hence it is a vicious circle we are trapped in and hope to get happiness in the end. Undeveloped society was essentially at peace and happy, able to deal with its own problems in their own unique way. It is the pressure caused due to interaction of developed society and undeveloped society that causes fractures in the fabric of undeveloped society. Hence I was left questioning myself over what development is and what my objective for the world is. Do I want to be in the development sector because of my need to do something with my life, if that is the case then I will just be causing more damage then good?

Developed society as I know it is not without its pro’s and con’s. If by development I am going to facilitate the process of urbanisation then I do not feel I am adding value to society. What is required is a conscious effort to address needs as understood from the context of the under-developed and facilitate that. Most cases that would cause upheavals in developed society (as understood to be caused by environmentalists). So how do we go about achieving a balance between the two? The fieldwork was unable to provide me with answers for the same; but this much is clear that I need get back to the drawing board and re-look at development from a new context!

Essentially the fieldwork was a time for me to reflect, relearn and understand the world around me and it has been the most profound experiences of my life!!