Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

90. Empowering

I can sit in a chair, in front of men, they can’t.
I can have expensive clothes, they can’t.
I can travel in a car, they can’t.
I can take a photograph with a digital camera, they can’t.
I travel to different places (states); they have not visited even the neighboring block.
I have a mobile phone, they don't have.
I can read and write, they can’t.
I can spend money, they can’t.
I can speak English, they can’t.

From the point of view of the women, the list has no limits. For them I do not belong to their world, so, whatever I speak is not applicable to them. I understand and appreciate their feelings. But I know that the truth is much broader than this. Truth has many more sides than are apparent to us.

I am in the midst of Kotwalia women. Out of the 15 women I am interacting with, only one has studied up to 8th standard, rest of them never went to school. All of them are married. They live in a small hamlet of Village Chindiya in Tapi district of Gujarat.

Kotawalia is one of the Primitive Tribes in India.

While walking through the hamlet, I see one bicycle and casually ask women whether anyone of them can use that. They all naturally laugh at my question. One man is sitting under a tree and tells women something in their tribal language, at which they again laugh loudly. I ask them what the man said. The man seems to have told, "Tell her that you know bicycle riding. Why tell her that you don't know something, when she has no means to check it?"

Clever man indeed.
His approach in a way is right. Why share one's problems and weaknesses with a stranger?
I smile.
During the meeting we have talked a lot about their life. Now I begin to elaborate my life, which generates the other kind of list.

They (the Kotwalia women) can milk a cow (actually cow rearing is not their traditional livelihood, they have learnt it in last two years!), I can’t.
They can make cow dung (gobar) cakes, I can’t.
They can go to forest alone, I can’t.
They can fetch buckets of water from a handpump, I can’t.
They can speak Gujarati, Hindi and their tribal language. I can speak Hindi well, can manage with Gujrati but cannot speak Tribal language.
They can cook on Chulha, I can't.
They can produce a basket from bamboo, I can’t.

I go on speaking about the things which they can do and I can’t.
This list too is has no limits.
Now the women are enjoying the list and they keep on adding more aspects of 'what I cannot do'.
They can dance, I can’t.. (I really cannot!)
They can sing, I can’t. (I really cannot!)
They can identify various plants, I can’t.
They can cook fish recipes, I can’t.

Now the discussion is funnier for them. They realize that urban women, educated women lack certain skills which they themselves are good at.

What factors influence the differences in our lives?
Is it education? Is it class? Is it caste? Is it ethnicity? Is it religion?
Is it the present or the past? How does it direct the future?

There are questions without answers.
But the interesting part is at the end of the discussion we all feel empowered.

Though empowerment is about living according to one’s choice (freedom of choice is what ultimately matters!), understanding our own strengths is necessary to make the right choice.

I think we all reached that positive understanding at the end of the discussion. It is not that only I have given them a new IDEA, they too have given some points to me to think more about. They taught me that life is not all about what you can do (and do it well), but also about what you think of those aspects which you can't do!

Empowering each other is the least we all can do very easily.

Friday, June 18, 2010

89. Cause

When Pune based Ecological Society announced a ‘Bird Count in Pune”, I decided to participate in it as a volunteer. I keep on traveling and hence generally miss such events. Though I was unable to participate in the first meeting on 17th May 2010, I was determined to join. The count was to take place from 6th to 8th June.

A week before the actual bird counting took place, I received two calls. One was from Janaki and the other was from Tanmay. From them I learnt that we three were supposed to work together. Being total strangers, we naturally did not know anything about each other. In the first call we discussed about which area we stay, where we work, when we can meet and where etc.

For prior selection of appropriate spots (where birds are ‘seen’ in large numbers) we had to explore different routes. Tanmay had some meeting in his office, so Janaki and I decided to meet and search for some spots. We exchanged our two-wheeler numbers with its colors. Janaki even elaborated the color of her dress and chunari so that I could easily identify her. At a common spot – in front of a dairy – we met at 6.00 in the evening.

I am very poor in many things – Geography is one of those areas. Because of her knowledge of local geography Janaki initially became my leader. Within next half an hour I learnt that she is an ornithologist! I am just an amateur enthusiast, so I continued to work and learn under her leadership. Janaki knew someone in a nearby apartment and we parked my two-wheeler outside the compound of that apartment. Then we went on by Janaki’s vehicle.

We identified couple of streams where we could visit early morning following week. Then we went into a small lane and suddenly found an open space along with a pipeline in a ditch. The place looked deserted but we went inside. And to my surprise there was a Grey Hornbill sitting on a branch of a tree. With closer look we realized that the Hornbill was feeding its baby in the nest. I was ready with binocular and wow, how beautiful that bird looked from such a short distance! I was very happy.

We took a U turn at Simhagad road and came across number of trees at the left side. We entered the gate of the society. After few minutes we saw a young boy coming from the other end and stopped to inquire about ‘where the road leads or whether it is dead end’. He was curious and asked us what we wanted. When we explained our purpose he informed, “Please visit Saurabh. His house is at the left hand end of the road. He knows a lot about birds.”

So we went to Saurabh. When the bell rang, a woman in her 50s opened the door. We inquired about Saurabh. Saurabh's mother asked us to come inside. When we explained the ‘bird counting’ exercise, she was happy. She told us names of many birds she regularly watched in her backyard. Then she offered us a cup of tea.

Sitting there in a well furnished bungalow, with two strangers, enjoying a good cup of tea. I was amused.

This amusement was to continue for the next few days. When we went to a spot on early Sunday morning, we were greeted by Spotted Owlets. Though they are labeled as inauspicious by many, I just love them. . Tanmay’s parents and his two year old dog joined in the excursion. During next four hours we watched as many as 36 different species of birds and noted their number. Here is a Rose Ringed Parakeet that we enjoyed watching for more than 5 minutes.

At the end of the first session of bird count, we were comfortably sitting in Tanmay’s kitchen and were gulping the hot breakfast his mother had specially cooked for us. I was again amused that I was enjoying food with strangers. In the evening we met again at another spot. Here my two-wheeler was punctured. Tanmay negotiated with the 'puncture repair' man and saved my hundred rupees. And when Tanmay was negotiating on behalf of me (I did not request him to negotiate. But in these matters I am so naive, that he must have felt the need to take the lead!) I was smiling with amusement.

On the way we all talked to each other about many things, life in general, work specifically. It was as if I was talking to some old friends. Actually I shared with them many things which I have hardly shared with the people around me. How I felt when we visited Chakrata in Himalaya, how I lost my binocular during a house theft, what is my dream about bird watching, which birds I watch regularly and so many such things!

Meeting strangers is not new for me. I have worked as a Full Time Activist for more than twelve years, so meeting strangers has always been part of my life, my work. Even today, every month I interact with hundreds of strangers. Though people do not know me as a person, they know the organization I represent, so a common bond is generally created.

Similarly a bond was created between three of us, because we were connected by a common cause. Yes, ‘cause’ is the core of relationships. When there is a common cause, I build relationships with strangers in an instant. When there is no common cause, even those whom I meet everyday all my life, remain strangers to me.

I realize that I am surrounded by people with whom I do not share a common cause. There is nothing common between us. We do not dream together and we do not work together. For them I am an entity, a working machine and for me they do not really matter. That is why sometimes I feel alienated.

What I need is the creation of ‘common cause’ – howsoever trivial it might be! If there is no common cause, there are no relationships and I become stranger to myself.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

88. Hidden

“What were you like when you were a child?” Deepika asks.
Shweta smiles at the question.
“Oh! I was just like you,” she tries to assure her daughter.
Deepika is not satisfied with the answer. She is grown up and not a child. Only last week she has celebrated her fifth birthday.

“But I am so small and you are so old, where was I then?” is Deepika’s next question.
“Oh, just somewhere around,” Shweta is worried where the discussion is leading.
“Was I in the sky, with the stars?” Deepika asks.
Shweta nods.

For a moment, there is a tense silence. Suddenly Deepika’s friends loudly call her for a bicycle ride and she runs away. Shweta is relieved. After every such conversation, Shweta realizes that the time is running out. For how long the truth could be hidden?

Whenever Shweta faces such weird questions from Deepika; she invariably remembers her own childhood. She too used to ask so many questions, not to her mother but to her father. The only difference was: Shweta never asked questions about her past. She had an inner feeling that it was difficult for her father to answer questions about past. Shweta always posed questions about future. “Daddy, what will be I when I grow?” “Baba, which city I will be staying in?” – and all such questions. Grandmother never liked Shweta asking too many questions and tried to restrain Shweta from throwing those. Grandmother always found fault with everything that Shweta did. However Baba always smiled, and appealed grandmother, “it is not her fault, don’t punish her for her innocence’.

As Shweta grew up, from occasional pieces of conversations of her relatives, she could understand few things. But she never was sure about the truth, as some pieces were completely missing. Her father never encouraged the idea of inviting relatives or visiting them. So, such occasions of ‘relative gossip’ were rare.

Shweta did not dare to ask anything to Baba. Grandmother might have told the truth, but she had died without revealing it. Shweta stopped asking questions. Shweta had to do it deliberately. Somewhere she had a feeling that future was not independent of past, they were closely connected. Shweta had experienced that speaking about past was stressful and painful to her father. Shweta stopped asking questions, though she could never stop thinking of those.

Did Shweta miss her mother? Not really. Watching her father, she had realized that she was different from him– not only in looks but even in habits, likings and choices. Was Shweta like her mother? – She did not know. Once she dared to ask this question to Baba, and was struck by his answer “I do not know, baby”. How could he not know? Was he telling a lie? Was he hiding something from her?

Deepika rushes in. Her face is reddish, her eyes are swollen. Tears are flowing down rapidly. She is frightened. She holds Shweta with such a force; that makes Shweta understand Deepika’s feeling of insecurity. “Ma, did you purchase me from the doctor? Roshani says that I am not your daughter. You brought me from somewhere, from someone. Everybody laughed at me and started teasing me. Is it true? And all my friends have Papa, where is mine?”

Shweta is unable to speak. She tries to console the child by patting her, by hugging her, by kissing her. But the child is really angry. Love is not the need of the moment; truth is the need of the moment.

Shweta feels helpless. She does not want to hurt Deepika and she knows that reality is too harsh for Deepika. Shweta wants to protect Deepika but is unable to protect.

Shweta looks at her father who is standing silently in the corner of the room. He is old now, but is still very active. He and Deepika is all that Shweta has. Shweta needs support from her father to console Deepika.

Baba is strangely silent. He is looking at Shweta and Deepika with all tenderness. He wants to say something but is just staring at them. “Baba,” Shweta tries to call him very softly. For a moment Shweta is worried because he is watching them but is not really ‘seeing’ them. He is standing in such a way as if he has some different scene in front of him. He is stressed, he is concerned, he looks worried, he is shaking, and tears drop down. What is father remembering?

“Shweta, my dear child, never bother about what they say. I am here, I love you”, Baba says as if in a trance.
Why is he addressing Shweta instead of Deepika?
Shweta shudders.

Another piece of truth, which was successfully hidden for so many years, is unknowingly revealed at last.