So even as we waited for the road, the borewell was drilled in […more], foundation piers were cast for the windmill, a culvert built […more] a fence completed [ …more] and a water pumping windmill erected […more]. In all this I had the services of Babu Reddiar. His house in Peruveli village in the west became a staging post. There I parked many materials in safety, from there Babu’s trailers ferried them to the site as needed, his house gave me and Raju somewhere to sleep the nights. The hospitality of his entire household made us feel very much at home. Happily, such rural households are still a common feature India.
When I was imagining the project about two years ago, I was hoping to attract volunteers from the city to join me in good numbers to physically create the dream. It was not an entirely unrealistic assumption. As the publisher of GoodNewsIndia for six years, I received several mails from India and abroad, expressing rural dreams. I have met several young people in Chennai who longed to break out and do something for the environment but baulked because either they didn’t have the money or they lacked the company of similar minded people. So I thought several might put their hands up, if I bought the land and had the money to start. You could be making that assumption too. It doesn’t happen that way.
You cannot begin a project like this expecting volunteers to show up on Day-1. ‘Starting’ is a pioneer’s job. Before volunteers show up, it is important to take the project to a stage where its direction becomes visible, some basic amenities are available and individual roles can be defined. I learnt this after early disappointment over why interest was not translating into participation.
As I waited, I realised there are three stages to any project: conception and creation have to be predominantly the pioneer’s. People arrive for the continuation of the project, to run it as an ongoing enterprise and to take it to new frontiers. I realised I had mixed up these three phases and got confused. The people that would be available later were assumed as being there in the beginning.
Another major lesson learnt was about the availability of manpower in villages of India. All villages are not the same. Villages within 150km of a metro or 50km of a big town, have good transportation and job opportunities. Several people commute. Skilled workers like masons, plumbers and carpenters are in great demand. Village folks are also getting drawn into the tourism, health care, transportation and piece goods manufacturing sectors. Labour for farm work is hard to come by. Tractors and harvesters are everywhere. I had not correctly visualised this situation until after I bought the land. Labour intensive ideas have to be rethought.
The long wait helped me correct some of the decisions I had made on paper. For example, I had paid an advance to buy a soil block machine, to produce bricks for buildings. It was a heavy machine and needed a proper road to ferry it in. And it needed a covered space. I had neither. I waited first in frustration and then made a decision that worked in my favour. It turned out it needed a team of 6 trained people to operate it as a production unit. By now, I knew of the poor availability of labour in the neighbourhood. So, I concluded it may be an appropriate tool for groups to build their own cluster of homes, but not for pointReturn that requires few buildings in the first few years. I canceled the order. So delays can be great opportunities to rethink your assumptions.