Changes happen in one's life seemingly in a moment- your world view changes, things look different. We would also like to believe that such momentous moments exist. But more realistically these moments make us show us something starkly -either about ourselves or the world we inhabit, that we have trying to 'see' for a long time, accept for a long time. Realisations might hit us in a moment, but they have probably been months or years into making.
So, what was the realisation: that I have far too self introspective in the last years. Introspection is a nice term that I like. Kind friends have called it navel-gazing; not so kind friends have called it a form of self centricism. Exact words maybe do not matter: the point is for last two years (or so I thought) till I looked at the post on this blog), more like four, my gaze has been inwards- questions like who I am, where I am going, and worse- what is wrong with me, and how can I improve myself- have taken a lot of my leisure time- which was in any case in short supply because of crazy work hours.
Yes, I am aware of the irony that last few paragraphs are still, umm, self centric. But bear with me for a while. These bouts of introspection have lead to long droughts when I would not talk to friends, ridiculous times when I refused to talk to my husband because I was journaling, and a complete neglect of physical health.
Reams of pages of hand-written journal. full of abstractions- no character in the landscape, except as minor characters. Then wondered why my writing was banal- how could it be otherwise when there was no nouns- some people did appear, but no trees, no markets, so places. The pages could have been written in Greenland rather than across multiple Indian cities.
This absence of place was my first wake up call in the last week. I read an article in the Caravan about Melghat- not heard of it? I would not be surprised- it is tucked away in interior parts of Maharashtra, near M.P. border. A solitary road leads there, which gets washed away in the rains. The intention of the piece was to highlight the desolation of the place. And yet, I should have known the place. Melghat is located in Amravati district, and Amravati is where my dad grew up, and where I have spent my summers. Apart from Melghat, all other adjoining areas mentioned in the article resonated: Paratwada, Dharni. I have been visited Dharni: my uncle was posted here for a while. So, as I read the article, I wondered how could I have been so blind to existence of Melghat- for someone who claims to engage with 'development' issues. I had to accept the truth: ten years back when I visited Dharni, as now, I showed a remarkable lack of curiosity about my surroundings. Yes, my parents were going through a terrible divorce then, yes, both my dad and uncle were probably clinically depressed (something which we did not realise). I have always used some painful history in my life for the inward gaze, but I have had to ask myself whether it was the real reason.
Melghat came on the heels of Nagpur. Nagpur, a city that I have crossed so many times, has been the hotbed for RSS, and for Dalit politics. This I have known- but that is about it. I do not really know the history, and how politics have shaped this seemingly familiar city. Just as it is ironical that as a person in 'development' sector, I should blind to pockets of extreme destitution in my backyard, it is just as ironical that as an urbanist, I have been so blind to the cities where I have lived, worked, travelled. I have traveled widely, oh yes! and I can describe the street patters, the palette of the city, the busyness of the markets, and perhaps, a little bit of its history. But, I would know precious little about the local politics. A friend once said that my travel pieces are a bit like Lonely Planet. I was a bit offended, but perhaps he is right- I have never looked outward, and talked to people.
I read the piece on Melghat on my way to Udaipur, and then realized I knew very little about this city too. But the city was a saving grace. Unlike Bangalore where I am alone half the time, house in Udaipur is vaguely reminiscent of a boy's hostel. Harsh and Sunil share a flat, which is also their office, and a stream of friends and visitors come through the day- all men. There is much talk of local politics, national politics, and the like. There is no talk absolutely of 'how do I feel today'! Perhaps, I needed this antidote.
In this boy's hostel, the momentous moment occurred. Sunil gave me Suede Chakravati's The Red Sun, saying that I should read it to know more about Naxalism in India. I then talked about another recent book that I had been reading (Anuradha Ghandy's Scripting the Change), and we exchanged notes. As can be imagined, the conversation quickly turned into a predictable lament about the state of the country -everything of course is always breaking down! We also spoke about the invisibility of many places, many people, and of course of any species apart from humans. I also mentioned another book- a novel- that I had recently read that spoke about one of these invisible spaces- Pankaj Seshkaria's The Last Wave. Then Sunil spoke one line; what would happen when 70% of these invisible population decided to take matter in their own hands. The thought was nothing new, we had discussed this many times before. But somehow the 70% stuck with me. We also agreed that 70 was an underestimate, 80 or 90 of the country is invisible. Let us stick with 70.
70% of the population is not visible. 70 % of the places in this country do not exist for New Delhi. Yet, I have been lucky enough to inhabit some of these places, through a series of personal and professional choices that I have made. All of these places, people, communities, neighbourhoods, have hidden stories- stories waiting to be told. That was the reason I started this blog, there is reason it called 'little stories from here and there'. I am way more political now, and so 7 years back, I would not have articulated the reason for the blog to unveil some invisibilities, to break some silences. No, nothing ambitious. A blog can not change anything, in this country of entrenched inequities. But it can help (to go back to my narcissism) force me to open my eyes to the world outside, and perhaps share little stories with friends and people who care about these stories.