Mumbai to Babrala

Marilia dos Reis MartinsUniversity of Cambridge


The noises of the horns being honked, the taste of the spicy food, the vision of the colourful yet unequal society; the smell of the humid air and the touch of the monsoon rains on your skin: coming to India is having your senses stimulated to the extreme.

The diversity in the country does not cease to amaze me. The India I saw in Mumbai on our first days is staggeringly different from the India I am experiencing now, in the rural setting of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India. While both feel very Indian, the first is one of the biggest cities in the world, having that familiar cosmopolitan characteristic that surpasses cultures and boundaries across the world; the second, on the other hand, is an unknown (even to Indian people) village called Babrala, home to around 15,000 people and situated in a region perceived as socially conservative and “backward”.

Here in Babrala, the differences become more visible: two girls with only a couple of words in their Hindi vocabulary, who struggle to understand the dynamic of the work and the cultural reality of the place. The ‘other’, for both ‘sides’, is strange and sometimes difficult to relate to. Language, obviously, is one of the main barriers for our work and understanding. And yet, the happy and welcoming feeling transmitted by the people around us seem to surpass any language obstacles we face: from invitations to weddings, to driving us to nearby villages so we can buy coffee, our new co-workers seem to do anything to show us the real India while making us feel at home.

I have been working with Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development (TCSRD). After completing an MPhil in Development Studies at Cambridge, coming to experience and learn from an actual development project is invaluable. Some of the people working in TCSRD have been here for over 10 years, and their commitment to their jobs is impressive. The tough reality, the excruciating humid heat and the lack of resources does not seem to prevent them of thriving for delivering the best possible support to the surrounding communities: an attitude many of us, in the Western parts of the world, should learn from. I might have come here expecting to make a meaningful contribution to the projects and to the rural communities affected by it but, in the end, it is definitely me who is changing and learning the most.