Swathi’s day out in The Field

In my last post, I wrote (somewhat dejectedly) about feeling disconnected and far-removed from reality. Yesterday, I decided to set aside the hundred tasks on my to-do list and get my feet wet. Currently, the ground survey is primarily focused on Water Quality, which involves visiting almost 8,000 houses all over Bangalore and collecting water samples and asking a few questions to assess water supply continuity. Along with two of our monitors, I spent most of the day travelling to the outer areas of Bangalore (Peenya, Yelahanka, Dasarahalli, Jalahalli) where surveyors had been facing difficulties finding households and locations. I didn’t do much more than quietly observe and make a few suggestions and corrections. Still, a couple of the surveyors were so intimidated and unnerved by my presence (which is ludicrous) that they faltered or forgot steps of the survey.

I came back to the office dead tired (I fell asleep on one of our monitors in the auto) but with a fresh burst of energy and some revelations:

1) We asked an older woman in a slum for her door number. They didn’t have doors.

2) With the same woman, the next survey question came up “Do you segregate your waste?” and I didn’t even want to ask her. I thought I already knew the answer. Even if the question feels stupid, I have to ask and I have to ask everyone, because who the hell am I to assume?

3) Outer wards of Bangalore are sparsely populated and surveyors sometimes walk several kilometers under a vicious sun till they find households to survey.

5) Auto rickshaws ask for double fare (I still bargained), because they never get customers and have to drive back empty. Buses are rare.

6) An auto driver who isn’t wearing a uniform and driving in plain clothes is considered a “local auto”. Don’t bother asking him to take you very far from where you found him.

7) We came across several community taps and tanks where poorer residents collect their water. Not a drop of water came out when we tried the taps.

8) Whenever an ambulance siren was heard, one of the monitors would cross herself.

9) In those outer wards, I stood out like a sore thumb wearing jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, a stole and sunglasses, when in central Bangalore, that’s the uniform for twenty-somethings.

10) Most citizens are a combination of suspicious, curious, cooperative, and bursting with complaints with no one to hear them.

11) Living in the center of Bangalore makes those outer wards feel like an alien planet. Even though Arjun and I curse the number every single day, I’m glad we’re surveying all 198 wards, because the middle of nowhere is still somewhere.

Having spent half her life in India and the other half in the United States, Swathi gained a unique perspective on inequality that sparked her interest in understanding and combating poverty in its various forms. After six years of college at a stretch, Swathi is eager to balance the academic knowledge with practical experience in the field. She is looking forward to the rewards and challenges of rediscovering her drastically transformed hometown of Bangalore. Most recently, Swathi worked at the NGO Entreculturas in Madrid, Spain, to support education programs all over Africa, and to develop a global advocacy network on the right to education. She speaks four languages and is trying to decide on a fifth.

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