Vedaranyam, the name sounded archaic and mystic, as the name means, “origin place of Vedas”. I was told that I would be posted to Vedaranyam and work with the famous NGO, known for its strong research capacities, the M S SwaminathanResearch Foundation (MSSRF), headquartered at Chennai.
Not knowing anything more than what a regular wiki read gives, was extremely confusing and scary for me, especially since I was to proceed from the comforts of being in groups at Ahmedabad and Chennai. Those were the most confusing moments during the fellowship. I was trying to meet more people who have been associated with work in Vedaranyam. Alas, I didn’t find anyone. I quietly left for Vedaranyam, clutching all my guts.
The wiki reading told me about the following important events:
- 2004 – Tsunami, considered one of the deadliest natural disaster world, that brought a lot of changes (changes in a different post)
- 1967 – Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary, for conservation of near-threatened Blackbuck; and a haven for migratory birds during winter
- 1930 – Salt March by C. Rajagopalachari, parallel to Dandi March
- ca. 871 – 907 CE – Vedaranyeswarar Temple, built by Chola Kings
Other than these, all my googling had told me about hot, arid coasts lined with harsh salt pans and unruly, but extremely deprived salt pan workers (I had made a mental note to work for the salt pan workers). Nobody had answered my doubts as to whether I’d get some maggi or some cake (my easy comfort foods) there. My only comfort was that I had some vague idea for a project plan, even though I was not sure if I’d stay there for even a week. To add to it, some friends had even warned me about LTTE, guns and smuggling and had asked me to watch the Singam movie for a better understanding!!!
This fellowship requires the fellows to identify a gap in the rural community, where they could intervene with the support of the NGO, in bringing about some beneficial changes to the community, which is sustainable, even after the fellow had left the project site.
From the Velankanni Railway Station, the nearest railway station, about 35Km away, on a sunny saturday morning of November, I started the last leg of my journey. On the way, all I could see was green fields!!!
some small ponds where water was being churned (later learned to be prawn cultivation sites), no restaurants to have breakfast. I was already shuddering thinking how I would maintain my shape (Round is also a shape, MIND IT). Finally, after more than an hour, I reached Vedaranyam, and was taken to a very good restaurant there. The place was an old house with a nadumuttam (courtyard and well inside the house) and natural lighting. Hot piping dosa and vada boosted my confidence.
Soon I reached the house where Sonam, September batch’s fellow was residing. She was happy to share the house (phew, no house hunting…), but the toilet was outside and a bit away, the roof was thatched, with asbestos covering, however, our kutcha house was on a terrace of a pucca house. I was immediately told to get ready for office, as a big meeting with the villagers was to happen soon. Reality struck me, I was planning to sleep on day 1 and start off lazily. It was the first kick, I remembered, it was my own decision to dive into this program, leave the comforts that I was used to, not to complain of the deficiencies. I was ready to charge and manage my responsibilities, the ones that I chose to be with me.
All my learnings and unlearnings that happened in Vedaearanyam will come in further posts