The old stone farmhouse where Fernando and I were staying in Majkhali certainly felt like a different world. In the mornings, I would wake up to the smell of cow dung fires and the noises of various farm animals at 5am, be offered chai by my lovely homestay mother or her daughter Kamala, and sit around a wood fire in their kitchen while poori was being fried or aloo paratha was being made.
Eating three meals a day and spending the evenings with my homestay family gave me a unique perspective on this village community. As a cohort, we have been learning a lot about the Indian government and international community’s efforts to rapidly modernize the country. By moving people into cities and pushing people away from traditional agricultural lives, India will supposedly become more developed and experience greater economic growth.
I often thought about whether the families in Majkhali would prefer to be living differently or living somewhere else if they could. From my American perspective, who wouldn’t want to have indoor plumbing and leave behind the smoky wood cooking fires? But after spending a week here, the sense of family and community that is present in Majkhali is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. The village women work from dawn till dusk in communal fields to harvest and dry grass for feeding the cows. Above all, the families open their homes to each other and foreigners to share their knowledge and traditions. On our last night in the village, all of the women and children gathered to prepare a large meal and engage in dancing. The villagers all had a role in cooking, and each family brought the few sets of metal dishes they had from their homes. Coming from relatively competitive American society, this prioritization of collective success and survival felt uplifting and refreshing.
It’s probably impossible for Majkhali to keep its unique community going forever. Eventually, it seems inevitable that more and more jobs will move to cities and the land and water will become too polluted to sustain life. Already, many of the village’s men and young people are commuting long distances to work or school or have moved away completely. And perhaps the modernization that is slowly approaching such rural communities of India will eliminate some of the gender inequality and caste-based discrimination that unfortunately still exists. But I won’t forget the feeling of community that I encountered during our week in Majkhali.