The NuSocia Way
It was January 2020 and I was on one of the weekly team calls with my head office when our founder-advisor shared that in March 2020, the organization would be completing three years and would be a perfect timing for all of us to get together – to reflect over past and to brainstorm about future; to know ourselves and to know each other better and most importantly – to experience together, the values of NuSocia (experience the values – seriously, is that even possible?!) The entire team across locations was ecstatic about the same – for it was going to be the first such meet where every single associate of NuSocia was expected to be there. Each of us started imagining about what entails.
The meet was labelled, Annual NuSocia Thought Summit, acronym as ANTS – a small, yet disciplined and committed team. The day started getting closer and I had received no information about the travel / venue. First, I was skeptical whether I am getting excluded from the meet being a new member, then I connected with some colleagues across locations and realized that everyone is travelling to Pune on those dates – Disappointment, was the only emotion I felt – for my opportunity of travelling outside my base location on a outstation trip was gone. Just a day before the ANTS was to begin, we all received a travel advisory – that there will a ‘rural stay’ as part of the summit. Every time anyone in India talks about rural – they often refer to Mahatma Gandhi’s quote “Soul of India lies in its villages“. At NuSocia, we have always been working in the villages for our client assignments and had a decent understanding of the village life, as part of our roots as well as work. My memories also took me back to my RLLE course program at my MBA days – where most of my MBA batch got their first experience of villages. My only excitement for the meet was just to meet the rest of the organization. Finally, it was the first day of ANTS and outstation teams started to gather together at Pune – it was nice to put face to some of the names I have just interacted with over team phone calls.
Thereafter began our journey to our destination – a village called Bajarwadi, roughly 70kms from Pune city, near a small town called Bhor. In the 1600s, the village of Bajarwadi served as a marketplace for soldiers of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s army, who lived in the nearby Rohida fort (Vichitragadh). We broke into different cars and off we were – still with anxiety surrounding on various aspects of food, stay comfort, agenda for the three days etc. The welcome message from our founder advisor said, be ready to connect with your souls. Let’s see. As we started to drive outside the city limits, the anxiety gave way to camaraderie with the team and all together assimilating into the serene drive in the Westren Ghats. Different teams chose different detours to reach our first pit stop at Bhor by 11.30am, for the first taste of rural life, over a lip smacking Mastani – a milk shake topped with ice cream.
That’s where we met our local guide from Grassroutes, the host organization which was actually a startup founded by one of the college juniors of our CEO herself. The organization Grass routes (www.grassroutes.co.in) is working with a mission of creating sustainable community centered experiential platforms to understand rural living. The surprise trip planned by our advisor, included experiencing the village at its natural best as well as spending curated time in co-creating the vision for future of our organization.
To begin the journey, our village guide Poonam, a young resident of the same village welcomed us in front of their deity, at the community temple, honored us traditionally with local headgear (Gandhi cap) and Tilak (a mark of respect) on our forehead. The genuine gesture of welcome immediately made us feel at ease and saw the anxieties fly away. This was followed by a village walk – to make us become aware of our surroundings. However, the walk was much more than just that. It allowed us to immerse ourselves into the culture and lifestyle of the place. We saw houses more than 100 years old, traditional ways of heating water, a village gym and wrestling place, old wells and even the village’s place for last rites. By the time we finished the walk – many members of the team had started to feel tired with the sun shining bright. For lunch the group was divided into smaller sub groups and sent to different households in the village. Initially, it was weird to note that we were all not staying together but soon the reality sank in that it would be impractical for one household to make place / arrangements for so many of us in same place. However, the disappointment soon changed to a pleasant realisation while talking to our local guide – when we realised that by making different household responsible for stay and for different meals of the day, every household gets a chance to participate in welcoming the guests to their community as well as earn a part from the activity. Indeed, such a beautiful example and execution of collaborative community development.
The lunch was sumptuous and not just body filling but also soul fuelling. The food, all vegeterian fare, was cooked with crops all locally produced. The real food surprise was during the dinner time, when as a task, we also tried our hands at cooking on the chulha, where we made Jowar(Sorghum) Bhakris(Indian breads) well guided by the womenfolk in the village, while we interacted with the family and got an insider’s look into the villagers cultural richness and socio-economic conditions – somethings which often gets neglected in formal village level surveys. I also realized by hidden talent of making round bhakris. Though it took me time to make a round Bhakri, more than that experience what I gained was gratitude and understanding that in patriarchal societies, a man might be the breadwinner however it is the woman makes that bread edible for her family.
The rest of the days and nights over next 2 days went in a jiffy with a packed schedule – brain storming session in a Shiva temple at outskirts of the village while making presentations without a ppt; cuddling the livestock from up close or smelling the warm ambience of their mud huts helped us be ensconced in the 360-degree village experience. We also met this young school girl who was a sprinter. Her eyes sparked with pride and voice was filled with zeal when she showed us her array of medals at her home, when her household was one of our dinner venues. Her story about coming to Pune without any prior experience, competing against trained athletes and winning a bronze model made me reflect on the hidden potential of hinterland India. If only a platform can be created, we would have many more Dutee Chand making us proud at international levels. One of the most memorable event of the stay was the evening kirtan (religious prayers, often sang in a group) at the village temple. We also managed to get hold of cymbals to play. The combined synchronous sound of chants and cymbals almost took us to trance state, which was better than what any city disco can take to. It was a moment of true communion, where we all were one; connected in one spot; in the midst of our often-wandering lives. Waking up at 5.30am for the Shivar feri (early morning walk around the village fields) was an effort but was absolutely worth it, for what we got to see, was a beautiful sunrise from behind the hills surrounding the village and the bonus was the sugarcane that we had right from the field and in the field. The sweetness of the non-processed sugarcane really felt like manna from heaven and incomparable to anything inside a plastic.
“Innovation” and “Kaizen” might sound like corporate jargons, but to discover its essence through actual practices of a local farmer was a revelation. One of our host farmer, named Maharaj, has adopted Kaizen, the Japanese business philosophy of continuously improving business practices, to the core from vermi composting to cleaning tanks with the help of nibble fish( the ones used in urban fish spas), utilising gobar gas for cooking to modifying a single cattle feed pellet making machine to make wheat flour just by changing the conveyor belt. The practices that he adopts in field to keep the stray animal away or a modified chulha that he has created for better fuel efficiency are lessons which no business book can ever teach.
The dinner was followed by a quiet reflective note on a picturesque hill with a camp fire, which went well past close to midnight where our only source of illumination was from the glorious campfire itself. It gave us our time to meditate on our individual journeys and our experience of Bajarwadi village itself. As Team NuSocia we came to a consensus that though we have a long way to go it is as important to appreciate to see how far we have come. I could not help but reminiscence a quote from an Italian poet- Cesare Pavese – You need a village, if only for the pleasure of leaving it. A village means that you are not alone, knowing that in the people, the trees, the earth, there is something that belongs to you, waiting for you when you are not there. Truly, this experience and opportunity provided to me by my organization shall remain as one of the best team induction, I could have imagined
Next morning, as we drove back to Pune and thereafter to our work places in respective cities, there were couple of pictures which remained coming in front of my eyes again and again like a film reel – The image of the sprinter school girl motivated me towards Excellence – to persevere to give my best, in everything I do, every day; The image of going to different households for our different meals and harmony amongst villagers reassured my faith in ethical behaviour and power of togetherness to create the magic of Trust. One image that is difficult to forget is our welcome at the temple, by the village based guide girl – there was no one observing her actions – yet, true to her livelihood she was there everywhere from 5.30am till 11.30pm every moment with us, taking care of us and our varying needs, always with a smile on her face – the virtue of Integrity need no better definition. Finally, the joy that our team derived together in the remote village, some of us experiencing ‘rural’ for the first time, reassured me that team NuSocia would never be the one shying away from exploring the unknown – and indeed as promised, through the brief stay, we have been able to experience the values of NuSocia and connect with our souls – in a way, that it can never be forgotten.
By : Arunish Paul, Associate Consultant – NuSocia