Sangeeta Anand visits Kathewadi village in Maharashtra’s Nanded district to see an amazing transformation.
Image: Radha Bai and Anjan Bai, residents of the village
We are finally in view of Kathewadi, a tiny village in the back of the beyond in Nanded district in Maharashtra. It’s been a six-hour journey from Hyderabad across two states to satisfy our curiosity about this village and its people having turned their lives around. I wonder if things can change. Is it possible in today’s times to run a shop unmanned by a shop keeper? To believe that goods bought would be paid for, without supervision ?
When we reach Kathewadi, I pass a woman sitting in the tiny portico of her gaily painted hut and as I make eye contact she smiles and motions me to come in. Smiling, she offers me water and shows me around her home. With gestures I convey that we are here to visit their village and take pictures. She offers to accompany us and we head off through the main street. We walk through a surprisingly clean village with clusters of homes neatly painted in a uniform shade of soft pink, soothing our eyes under the hot glare of the sun.
The Art of Living Foundation has adtoped this village and converted it into a model of village life. It founder, Sri Sri Ravishankar’s teachings arer painted on the walls of every home in the village. Says writer Babu Patil Biradar, who has now joined us. “We live by Guruji’s teachings.”
Radha Bai my guide tells me in Marathi, “All our homes have a toilet. We have all collected money and built one outside each house.” The pride is evident in her face.
We come to the main temple of the village alongside which is the famous shop. Men and women have come out of their homes to gather for the satsang that they all participate in every evening.
I am introduced to the village elders and after a series of greetings, I ask them about the inspiration behind the shop, unmanned by a shopkeeper, where all the goods are labelled and left for the people to pick up and pay for, unsupervised. I am invited to see for myself.
The linoleum lined floor and the neatly stacked shelves impress me with their quiet dignity. Each product is labelled and marked with the prices. There is a large box in which the villagers put in the money for the items they pick up and another little one marked Daan Peti (donation box) in which they collect money for development work in the village.
Sangeeta Suryavanshi is another surprise. She is the 25-year-old is the sarpanch of this village. She says, “One member of every family in this village has done an Art of Living course: The Nav Chetna shivirs, youth leadership training programme and the basic course.”
“It has brought such a change in our society that we have become totally addiction free. There is amity and harmony amongst all of us, which did not exist before. We have learnt about hygiene and cleanliness and all the money that was spent on vices like alcohol and tobacco is now used constructively. This has happened due to Guruji’s inspiration,” she says proudly.
“Now we have self help groups of ten people each and these groups solve any issues and implement solutions.” An old man is being helped across the street to our side and I rise to wish him. Allauddin Sheikh heads the only Muslim family in this village of 700 people.
“My family has lived here for generations. My son has done the Art of Living Course and he is very happy with all that he has learnt. In all my 80 years I have never seen such a transformation in our village. We live in complete harmony and help each other in times of need.”
The music has risen to a crescendo and men and women are dancing in devotion, each face alight with joy, as I take my leave, children reach out to wish me as I wave to them from the bus. Babu Patil’s shared confidence echoes through my head all through the journey back to Hyderabad.
I had dreamt of a village like this, after reading about it in a book. It has actually happened. Cleanliness, harmony, trust, human values, bonding, this village with a vision surely belongs to another time.