Shrubs, stones and pebbles were getting roasted under the blazing sun. The vehicle she traveled in threw up a cloud of smoke. A lady in the distance balanced a stack of bricks on her head. She walked barefoot to her workplace, perhaps a few kilometres away. The heat didn’t seem to bother her.
It was about half an hour before the grey Indica halted at the village. She and her colleagues got down with their cameras, pens and notepads, rushing to find out what could make ‘breaking news’. The villagers stood in surprise, as though a small army had invaded their territory without warning and they were not prepared for it.
“Who was this young woman and what was she doing in their village on a summer afternoon?,” thought little Sita. She had seen such people on that tiny television screen at home. They seemed like ‘cool’ people. More like big people who do big things which she could only imagine she would do one day.
She wondered if they would place that black stick-like object before her mouth and ask her to recite her favourite rhyme. It would be Twinkle Twinkle little star she decided. But the young woman never came to her for a long while.
She walked around in her churidar kameez and a dupatta that covered her head, talking to Srinivas uncle, Chellama aunty and Lakshmi paati. Sita was puzzled. She wanted to know what was so interesting about their lives that she had to record. Perhaps, it is about what Lakshmi paati has been doing for the village, she thought.
After about half an hour, the woman approached her. Sita was excited. She had thought of the actions for the rhyme too. The badge on the woman’s kurta read ‘Nidhi’.
Nidhi asked Sita her name and the usual questions asked to a child. Five minutes into the conversation, Sita realised that Nidhi didn’t want her to sing a rhyme. She wanted to know about her life.
“Where do you go to school?”
“Here. This building right there. It is a government school.” She pointed towards a white and yellow building.
“Nice. Do you have enough classrooms?”
“Yes. My school does. Lakshmi paati ensured that there should be not shortage when it came to education.”
“What about the teachers?”
“I like my teachers. They teach even boring subjects nicely.”
“So you face no problems?”
“Not really. But there is a power cut for about two hours everyday. Earlier, it used to be 10. But again, paati got in touch with the officials, fought hard and got that changed.”
“But you still have two hours of power cut?”
“Yes. But it’s better akka.”
“Still. Two hours is a long time.”
“Does your school have toilets?”
“Yes. When I was in 7th grade, the toilets were full of mud and not maintained well. But now, paati appointed Savitri aaya to maintain it. She pays her from the pension she earned when she was in office. So, everything is fine now.”
“Do the toilets have water?”
“It is a thin stream coming through the tap. It is a bit difficult since you need to wait for a while to fill up a mug, but it is definitely better than not having water at all.”
“Yes. But really, that is something we have adjusted to akka.”
Nidhi was getting desperate. It is a village, how can everyone be happy? They are supposed to have a sad story. She decided to prod more. She wanted that breaking news story. She wanted the front page headline.
“How about the mid-day meals?”
“The food is hot and tasty.”
“Are the meals prepared using a stove?”
“I think so.”
This was getting nowhere. She could see her story slip from page 1 to page 20 and her interview slip from prime time to a feature bulletin.
“Do you have a health clinic?”
“There is one in the village. In school, every week they check if our nails are cut and all that.”
She decided she would ask Sita herself. Maybe there were other things troubling her.
“What would you like to change?”
“Nothing much. Get a playground for the school maybe? Everything else paati said she will change. Other families in the village are also helping her wherever possible.”
“So only a playground? Are you sure?”
“Akka, we are happy with everything else.”
Nidhi took that as her cue to leave. She decided to play the low electricity card for her story. There was nothing more she could do. She had received only minor complaints from people. She knew the story wouldn’t work. But she would still try.
“Okay then. Bye bye Sita.”
This interview really changed Sita’s image of Nidhi and of other people in her profession. Here she was telling her all the ways in which paati had made her life more comfortable and happy – how school was a lot more fun than it used to be, how her parents are hoping to send her to college, how life had really changed for the better. Obviously, it wasn’t a big lifestyle change where her house had become a bungalow or her father owned a car, but there was still hope that when she finished studying she could fulfill those dreams. Initially, studying was not even an option. But today, she and her friends had come a long way.
Yet, Nidhi wanted to know what was ‘wrong’ in Sita’s life. She didn’t want to celebrate what was ‘right’. Perhaps, people didn’t want to publish these happy stories. Sita wondered if men and women in the city read only sad stories – the ones which are shabbily covered and reported, with no proper understanding of their lives.
Sita realised that in the world of news, there is no space for rural people and their lives. There is even lesser space for people like Lakshmi paati who are doing good work to make lives better in these areas. There was just one thought that crossed her mind, “the media is just looking for sadness even in our happy lives.”