The Optimist Citizen

How a 143 year old ancestral fort was revived by the actions of this Rajasthani Woman

It was just another fresh day on the sets of Amitabh Bachchan’s enticing game show— Kaun Banega Crorepati (The popular version of the equally popular Who Wants to be a millionaire?). While the routine mock rehearsal of the show was being carried out, Ms. Priyamvada Singh, the then content developer of the show, blurted out something that changed her life forever. This is a story of a woman who left behind her luxurious life as a freelance content strategist, who had worked on massive reality shows like Kaun Banega Crorepati, Dus Ka Dum and Jhalak Dhikla Jaa to name a few, to chase her unique desire.

Priyamvada Singh
Priyamvada Singh

It was during such a rehearsal that Priyamvada thought for the first time Priyamvada about her desire to renovate and restore her ancestral fort in Meja, a small village in the Bhilwara district of Rajasthan which was inherited by her ancestor Rawat Amar Singh Ji in 1870, under the Jagirdari system. “It was on that day I realized for myself how deeply I cared for the legacy of my family and that while I was following the modus operandi of job, career, and money prescribed by the modern world, my soul was elsewhere,” began Ms. Priyamvada.

Initial sight of the Fort
Initial sight of the Fort

The initial sight of her prestigious fort didn’t seem pleasant. “A portion of the fort was being used as a public path, a shortcut from one side of the village to the other. Those who lived adjacent to the fort were using one corner to dump the garbage. Trees were growing out of walls at certain places and the roof had patches of water seepage. Several rooms were taken over by a variety of owls, bats, and other creepy-crawlies,” she described. The poor condition of the fort demanded action. Thus, began a single woman’s trail into a remote village to rediscover the magic hidden behind her ancestral roots.

Her journey began with her decision to live within the premises of the fort in Meja. Though her parents were quite apprehensive about her plan to stay alone in the fort with minimal facilities, her courage and determination squished all their doubts. Speaking of the villagers, she said that they were skeptical about her stay. She also mentioned that the villagers didn’t take her seriously in the beginning and assumed that she had just come here on a whim and won’t survive for too long!

During her initial days of getting accustomed to the village, she was faced with yet another challenge. The patriarchal beliefs ingrained in the minds of the men in the village discouraged them from taking orders from a woman. This was when Priyamvada gathered the women of the village under her leadership. In the due course of the work, she made sure that she was one amongst them, working shoulder to shoulder, rather than “ordering them from a distance.”

Post renovation
Post renovation

In an orthodox village such as Meja, it was Priyamvada who brought out the under-utilized potential of the women of the village. The wives and daughters, who had never stepped outside the thresholds of their houses, now became active members working for the revival of the fort. The women were not only empowered economically, but also socially. She narrates an incident where the villagers, especially the women, were shocked to see one of Priyamvada’s female friends driving a car all the way from Jaipur to Meja without any company. However, as they began interacting with a lot of other women (mostly working professionals), they had a first-hand glimpse of a dormant strength that they too can harness. “And suddenly, there was no hula boo over a ‘chhori’ (common word for a girl/women used primarily in Rajasthan) driving into the village all by herself – rather acknowledgment and admiration,” she added. The wave of empowerment first hit shore when 34-year old Maya Devi was no more addressed as “Chandu ki bahu” (the wife of Chandu, her husband), instead was being identified by her name.

From providing 45-year old Shiv Ji Bhati an employment opportunity after the loss of his eyesight to giving 75-year old Laadu Lal financial independence, the renovation of the fort changed lives of many in the village – men and women alike. The renovation process not only beautified the walls of the fort, but it also gave the workers an opportunity to discover suitable jobs across Rajasthan.

Ms. Priyamvada’s drive didn’t limit itself to mere renovation of the fort. After spotting a few old books inside the fort, she was determined to set up a library within the premises of the fort. With contributions of around 2000 books from her family, friends, and colleagues, the fort became home to a community library in Meja. The library, being one of the very few libraries in the area, opened doors for knowledge.

Using her experience in media, she has set out to convert the fort into a cultural hub that allows people from her previous workplace to join hands with the villagers of Meja to bridge the cultural gap. One of the outcomes of this creative combination is the short film— “Blouse”, which earned accolades as the “Best Short Film” in the New York Indian Film Festival, 2014. The 20-minute film was entirely shot in the village, with many villagers showcasing their acting skills, and some of them even contribute by being part of the crew.

In the long term, she aspires to convert the fort into a guesthouse that would offer its tourists with a sense of warmth, happiness, and a raw rural cultural texture. With the assistance of the villagers, she is on her way to give the village a complete facelift. Volunteers who’d like to stage workshops on yoga, health and hygiene and theater are welcome to join the team!

If you would like to explore volunteering opportunity or would just like to give a nod of appreciation, you can get in touch with Ms. Priyamvada Singh by reaching out on the form link given here.


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