Settle Anywhere - A conversation with Abhipsha Mahapatro
'Settle Anywhere' is a series dedicated to chronicling the lives of people whose idea of “home” has evolved with their various significant movements. We talk to some of these people to understand more about these movements and their influences on their work and life, and about how they manage to settle just about anywhere.
Abhipsha Mahapatro moved from New Delhi to Pune to study Journalism at Symbiosis Centre for Media and Communication. A degree and a job later, she took up a 13-month fellowship that led her to Odisha's Koinpur village where she started '#MyRuralYear', an exercise in everyday journaling that eventually turned into a passion project. "I wanted to record moments, stories, sights that left a mark on me. In this time of curated social media, I wanted to talk about simple, real things - about how people in a remote village live their lives. But at the same time, I also wanted to talk about my experience of living in a village, having been born and brought up in cities," she says.
Abhipsha Mahapatro with kids from the village
"Through this entire experience, I realised one very important thing: take your home wherever you go and make a home wherever you go. Comfort will find its way."
The Ups and Downs
"Meeting new people is definitely the best part about moving to a new place," says Abhipsha as she recollects the pros of starting afresh in the tribal village. "There are stories to be found in all corners and to be able to discover even a few of them is incredible. I remember meeting a man who used to cycle 48 kilometres (in the mountains!) every Friday simply to visit a Shiv temple where he worshipped."
Coming to the cons, living without what she long considered basic necessities was the biggest one. "As is the case with most remote places, the internet was quite erratic. We lived weeks on end without any network, often walking for a few kilometres in search of a 'hello point' where we would get a sliver of signal. The nearest hospital was about 40 kilometres away and there was only one bus to the city, which ran three times a day. And sometimes, it would break down!"
Settling down in Koinpur wasn’t an easy feat by any measure, but Abhipsha had a pretty effortless transition because of a few like-minded people she met. "I shared my room with four other girls, and we would go shopping to the nearest city to buy whatever we could to make our room feel homely, including a small, yellow plastic mirror. All four of us also came from different backgrounds, and together we would celebrate each other's festivals."
Abhipsha also had an unlikely ally that helped this transition. "Drinking chai is quite a favourite activity in the village that we grew to love and indulge in as well. Eventually, the feeling of having 'settled' began to seep in as we began recognising faces at the chai shop. This is where we could really have a conversation with the village folks and make them feel comfortable with us and vice versa."
"Through this entire experience, I realised one very important thing: take your home wherever you go and make a home wherever you go. Comfort will find its way," Abhipsha adds.
Koinpur village, Odisha
The reason Abhipsha wanted to do this fellowship was to get a sense of what happens on-ground. So when her expectations met reality, her vision of helping the voiceless find a voice only got stronger.
The undying spirit of Koinpur is best exemplified in its people, she says. "Women go to the farm, do masonry under NREGS (The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005), fetch firewood, collect water, herd cattle, attend skill-training sessions, cook three meals a day, and ensure their children go to school. Working and living here and posting about '#MyRuralYear' even on no-network days has inspired me to bring more stories of such hidden superheroes to light."