“cIra mArchukunnAva?” [You changed your sari?]
Getting into the auto riksha, the woman nodded.
“intA lETa?” [you took so long]
“pANTu sarTu icchhEyalEkapOyAvA?” [Oh you should have given me your pant-shirt.]
“adi kAdu, auTo lO intA mandi …” [look all these people in the auto…] his tone remained patient, in the Srikakulam drawl. All other faces in the auto were grim, as I imagined they must have been seething as Aruna, the last passenger to board the riksha in the village of Tolapi before it headed intowards Srikakulam town. Autos dont leave till they are filled to capacity – about 10 persons with all their bags, some taking things to market, some catching buses for elsewhere.
“nuvveppuDainA cIrA kaTTukunAvA, mamayya?” [Ever worn a sari, uncle?]
andaru iTlA ATOlani lET cEstE..” [if everyone delayed the auto …]
“andukE pANTu sarT IyammannANu” [that’s why I said, give me your pant-shirt]
he continued dryly, “drawer undi, adi kUDA ivvAlA? [And my drawer too?]
“A, iccheyi mAmayya!” she said. [Sure, give it to me, uncle.]
Bright smiles and giggles broke out. She proudly announced, “mAmayyaki minchina kODalini nEnu!” The elderly man opposite me seemed relieved to see me smile. Perhaps he mistook my grim look for annoyance with the delay, whereas I actually did not want to let on that I was travelling with the woman who had held up the auto to change her sari.
the jokes continued as we sped past the tur dal fields, the rice mills and the sugar cane processing units and reached the town. The auto driver was interested in our cause – four of us were going together to meet the Collector. An AID India coordinator, two villagers, and I. He said we should have booked a private auto so as to save time. I told him that we had much more fun in his auto.
As we stood in the queues at the Collectorate – one queue to get a summary sheet attached to our letter, another queue to get our letter numbered and entered into the register and finally the last queue to hand over our letter and talk to the Collector, Aruna grew timid. Hers was the first signature on the letter and hers was the name on the summary sheet. So she asked us if there would be any risk or backlash in case the Collector actually acted upon the petition. We assured her that the work she and we together were doing was very good, was not for any selfish motive and would benefit the neediest people in the village. She said, maybe we should have put someone elses’ name first. The same woman who practically shouted abuses about the corruption when we had the village meeting on angawadi two months before, and who came to the Collector’s office so readily and happily with hardly an hours’ notice, now seemed almost in tears. We continued talking to her, told her the entire organisation would support her if anything happened and that in fact, nothing would happen. When the enquiry happens it will be by order of the Collector and not by order of Aruna or any other villager. We also showed her the list of questions we had posed in the RTI application. This really reassured her. The direct language we used (”What is the name and address of the person responsible for distributing the grains to the children?) seemed to embolden her. When we reached the Collector’s desk she spoke loudly and clearly, “We are not getting anything from the anganwadi. garbinistrilaki kAni, bALintaliki kANi, chinna pillalaki kANi EmiTI andaTamlEdu. THe preganant women, the new mothers and the children – no one is getting anything from the anganwadi.”
The Collector, a can-do looking lad called Nagulapalli Srikanth, had us stand aside as he handled the next applicant. Next his assistant handed him a phone. He took it and said that he got a complaint that people were not receiving their rations from the anganwadi and he wanted to know where it was going. He wanted the answer by afternoon. We asked him if we should call him back in the afternoon, he advised us to speak to the tehsildar / MRO of Pondur Mandal, where the anganwadis in question were located.
Off we go to Pondur …