What The Koli Tribe Of Purushwadi Has Taught Me

Purushwadi, a village that wakes up to the crowing of a rooster and sleeps soon after the sun has set, was my home last month. I had changed 4 modes of transport from Mumbai to get to this fully sustainable remote hamlet nestled in the Sahyadris. The people of this land are one of the most prosperous tribes in rural Maharashtra – Mahadev Koli. I did not know in the beginning how much I would learn from the simpletons of Purshwadi, but they overwhelmed me with their admirable lifestyle!

Age Is Only A Number (And Old Women Are Pro Farmers)

Advanced in age, this woman still begins her mornings tending to her field.

Advanced in age, this woman still begins her mornings tending to her field.

Every family in this village owns a small patch of land and almost everyone is a farmer. Children as young as 9 help their parents in the fields when their school is shut for summer. It is more common to see women working away on the farms as compared to men. They head to the fields at about 11 in the morning, after they have finished their housework, and return only after sunset. Their active lifestyle is perhaps the reason why they are so fit even in their golden years. It is not uncommon to find grandmothers toiling in the scorching sun.

Animals Are Not Playthings

Cattle are like extended family to the villagers of Purushwadi.

Cattle are like extended family to the villagers of Purushwadi.

I was moved by the compassion that the Koli tribe shows towards animals. Their cows and goats have plenty of open greens to feed on. Their sheds are cleaned and they are given a bath soon after sunrise. Happy cows also mean tastier milk! It must also be mentioned that each home owns cows, goats and hens for its daily supply of milk and eggs. The self-sufficiency of these people cannot be overstated.

Women Can Carry More Than Their Own Bodyweight

Hands of steel carry firewood to run the kitchen.

Hands of steel carry firewood to run the kitchen.

Purushwadi has not seen any of our fancy kitchen gadgets. There are no gas stoves or piped gas connections here. Firewood is used for fuel. It is not unusual to find women along the streets carrying bundles of firewood on their hike up their hilltop homes. What is particularly noteworthy is their superior physical strength that enables them to carry as much as 50 kilos (perhaps more than what they weigh) on their head.

Contentment Is More Precious Than Creature Comforts

The typical kitchen in Purushwadi homes.

The typical kitchen in Purushwadi homes.

I was astonished at how hard each woman works to run her home in this village. Not only do they wake up before anyone else in the household, but also sleep after everyone else has slept at night. Right from cleaning the house and the cowshed to cooking and serving meals to all to packing off their kids to school to tending to their fields to serving their families again to washing the dishes, and more… these women work like superheroes, saving the day for all. And they do all of this with such calm and poise! They ask for nothing in return, knowing somewhere within that their truest joy is in contentment.

Family Is A Gift, Not An Inconvenience

My guide, Balu's mother pounds rice to loosen the husk from the kernels as her granddaughter looks on.

My guide, Balu’s mother pounds rice to loosen the husk from the kernels as her granddaughter looks on.

During my short stay in Purushwadi, the women tried to teach me a lot of things – hulling rice, grinding it into fine flour, kneading a dough, making flat and round bhakris (roti made of rice flour). I proved to be a poor student, but they were patient and encouraging teachers. While all of this was happening, I observed how close-knit all the families are; also, how well the Koli tribe functions as a community. My guide, Balu, told me that his friend would work in his field for the day that he spent as my guide. And Balu would do the same for his friend when it is his turn to escort a visitor. They don’t compete against one another but work for each one’s benefit. The entire village is like a giant family. In stark contrast, most of us city-dwellers view family as an inconvenience that hinders our personal space and freedom. And despite all that we have, we are neither satisfied nor happy.

Authentic Organic Food Is In Little Villages

The ingredients for our meal are laid out.

The ingredients for our meal are laid out.

I would have all of my meals in a village home, and I’d have to walk past several fields of wheat, groundnuts, rice, amaranth and more. Gorak, a young village lad, explained to me how they decide to sow seeds based on what they would like to eat. They don’t do anything in excess. Everything is grown for the family, and only some wheat is stored for emergencies (which can be traded to other villages for money). He also told me that their land is blessed with fertile soil and they also now have proper irrigation, thanks to the dam which brings them the river-water. They don’t use any pesticide or insecticide, and this is where one can have the entire farm-to-plate experience of fully organic food.

Women Are Good Leaders

A female goatherd takes her goats back home in the evening.

A female goatherd takes her goats back home in the evening.

The Kolis astounded me with their progressive mindsets which were quite unlike those I’ve come across in other Indian villages. They don’t prefer either gender over the other. Their aim is to have equal gender distribution. Women here don’t shy away from talking to men, nor do they cover their faces or heads (as is commonplace in most traditional households). The Koli women smartly take on roles that I have generally seen men perform – herding goats, lifting heavy objects, constructing huts, and more. Here, the leadership potential of women is fully harnessed. And that’s something even modern offices have failed to do.

Entertainment Is Not Drowning In A Sea Of Apps

I enjoy the Sahyadri mountains from Matha - Purushwadi's highest point.

I enjoy the Sahyadri mountains from Matha – Purushwadi’s highest point.

It was a blessing not to have any cellphone coverage in this village. I did not have a chance to waste my time on social media. Gorak took me to the highest point of Purushwadi when we hiked up for a nice sunset view. That’s when he told me how he loves to spend his free time. He hikes with his best friend. Gorak is only 25, and does not have the time-and-money-zapping addictions (of gaming or clubbing) of the city-boys of his age. The village indeed is beautiful, not only in how it appears but also in how it has shaped its people.

Education Is Only As Valuable As You Perceive

After a friendly chat with the students of Purushwadi's only school.

After a friendly chat with the students of Purushwadi’s only school.

One morning, I went to the only school of this village. On my way, I saw a little boy running towards the school, a notebook in hand. He was late, and did not want to miss his classes. A village kid can only study up to class-7 in this school and will have to travel to another village to study till class-10. If students wish to study further, they’ll have to go to the nearest town. A chat with one of the school teachers revealed how precious education is to all of them. Teachers travel all the way to the nearest town to access internet required to download educational videos for the students. The respect that these students have for their teachers is of another level altogether.

Did you expect that a rural Indian tribe could teach so much?

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