My engagement with people of a colony- an ongoing journal 1

I am not trained in Community engagement.

In the past I have enjoyed reading texts on ethnography and wondered how it must be.

How do you retain your objectivity when so deeply immersed, how do you identify and acknowledge those biases rooted within you or those which you  borrow in this journey ?

Should you stay neutral or should you also be involved in action? When does an anthropologist turn into an activist or an activist into an anthropologist?

Honestly, I am also a bit scared in using these terms so freely, for I am certain there is much meaning attached to each, meanings that I am not necessarily aware of.

So having acknowledged my lack of knowledge and training, allow me to feel a little free and share some experiences over the course of coming months, where I try to reflect on what I experienced through my engagement with humans at the Kathputli Colony, Delhi.

I went there neither as a researcher, nor an activist, but somewhere I think I was a bit of both, consciously and unconsciously.

I wandered into the colony unarmed for its wide variety, its diversity and complexity, its hierarchies, its ambiguity and layering, all I did was to just walk in, and slowly the colony found its way into my life through my mind and heart, through stories, endless conversations, friendships, new relationships, pain and happiness, a pull which was so strong that I just allowed myself to flow with it, I refused to resist.

After almost seven months I must confess every task you take up is somewhere deeply personal, or else, why would you do it? I found camaraderie in the smiles of strangers who seemed familiar, I found an acceptance which somehow did not surprise me, I felt at home with that zest for freedom, a certain artistic pride, music, celebration of life despite all odds. I felt at home with people I fell in love with, with their unique spaces, those labyrinthine lanes leading to surprises, those lives rich with histories I had previously not imagined.

I would certainly be accused of romanticizing a certain way of life, I admit I am biased in this sense, but tell me with mobs flocking culture alleys and handicraft fairs, who is not? Of course I do not support having a way of life framed in its image of past and would do my best to provide an opportunity for it to evolve and correspond to times, but I would not be cynical enough to say that there is no space for it today, and that is why I realized my engagement here is to stay.

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

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Thought Trail- Tanjore Paintings to canvas of the mother’s mind

I had received a portfolio of Tanjore/Thanjavur Paintings, and chose to read the text provided along with it.

It mentions how Lord Krishna who is one of the most favored images by the painters seems to not grow on the canvas despite the context. To read from source:

http://www.exoticindiaart.com/book/details/tanjore-portfolio-of-paintings-set-of-6-frameable-prints-NAF478/

So be it Krishna stealing butter or with his consorts, he is depicted as an innocent child in most renderings of the artists’ imagination.

Though not directly linked with this, my trail of thought took me to another reality of our society:

No matter what the context, Indian mothers’ sons seem to not grow on their mental canvas!

So whether their sons are stubborn spoilt brats who start howling for every new video-game, or they are bullies in school, they appear to their mothers to be just that- naive sweet child of theirs, their baby-boy.

Whether your son is a goon or not, whether your son respects women or not, whether your son takes care of his children or not, he stays for you that little boy of yours.

There is no one with a fixed personality or identity, people change, they evolve , they regress – whatever be the case, just as artists could correspond to context, so should our minds in our perception of those we love unconditionally.

 

 

By the way, why is unconditional love celebrated so much?

 

 

 

The Museum and Continuity

“What is there to see in a museum?” an acquaintance once inquired.

For quite some time I have been trying to conjure an articulate response; I present before you my humble attempt at an abstract explanation of what I experience in the museum, that which might not be visible but certainly felt .

I visit the National Museum to lose myself, only to be found again in the company of inspiration.

For here resides something much greater than all of us, overwhelmingly greater;

In this museum resides life, and life itself is the greatest inspiration of all!

Life in narratives, life in creation;

Life in the quest to go on, which somehow never halts.

And these expressions of the different aspects of life move endlessly across the vast span of time, I would stop at some point, you would, but creation won’t.

The fact that thousands of years ago someone had thought of the wheel, that as humans we respond to our environment and our needs, it makes me question the arrogance of owning creation, when do we create solely on our own? I feel humbled by this continuity, and also by those invisible threads that run throughout the different galleries and connect those tangible expressions of plurality.

This acceptance makes me want to break free from my shackles of ignorance and complacence, makes me want to know more, bit by bit, from sculptures to musical instruments, from Kings’ courts to mythologies, from survival to leisure.

On some days, I feel the urge to run through the corridors where the sunlight seems to be welcoming change. No wonder Surya (the Sun God) is worshipped in almost all civilizations.

I find it awe-inspiring to be in the midst of evidences of the extremes of human passion and creativity, of gentleness and fierceness, of love and war, of birth and death.

As I walked through the Harappan Civilization Gallery today, I saw a beautiful elderly couple standing speechless and gazing at the “Dancing Girl”, a sculpture they must have read about as children. They saw it in real, and that moment must have been like a lifetime of discovery.

This is the power of the museum; it is just as inspirational as it is nostalgic. It gives each one of us, some form of belonging, some form of hope, to stay forever intrigued. This space for me is now home forever.

I walk to walk

The lake seemed happy with the sun shimmering on softer waves, the kingfisher would exhibit its flawless blue and the ducks left white feathers all over the green grass-tokens of our happy co-existence. At times I like to pick a few and plant them in crevices on tree bark. I imagine them to be white flags, announcing to the world the arrival of peace.

These are the perfect mornings I dream of, when I would jump, hop and laugh along the lake, take rest on the stairs leading to water, stop and inhale the many sounds that describe a new day- the birds, the insects, the people, the breeze.

I wish they were just that.

My mornings in real are nowhere close though, despite the scenic environment next to our house- a place meant for writers and poets, for dreamers and romantic souls; I am preoccupied with thoughts- thoughts about the narratives surrounding my morning walk.

Ever since I have put on weight, everything I do seems to be inevitably linked to it, as if the people around me were informed in their dreams of their true calling- “Tell Poornima, it is what it is because she has put on weight, go tell her, go Save the World!”

If I get tired, its because of my body mass, if I dress up I am not looking good enough due to my body shape, when I am leaving for a walk it is accompanied with remarks on how I must do this to lose weight. If I am angry, its due to weight, if I am happy, that too is due to weight! This is followed by advice on what to eat and what not to eat, to do yoga, to join a gym, which makes me feel that to lose weight is probably a significant and huge task of national importance , much more difficult than climbing slippery peaks or fighting against corruption, at least that is what my neighbors, my relatives, my family and many friends believe it to be.

To lose weight is not an idea that originates in your own mind, it is implanted in your head strategically by the world around you, as if, they bear the burden of your heaviness.

First, they make you realize that you have put on weight, they use metaphors such as balloon, buffalo, elephant, hippo, LalaJi, all depending upon their choice of the level of kindness they bestow upon you.  Many of your well-wishers consider it a moral duty to remind you of the fact that you lose your worth with your body fat visible behind your clothes, that you appear less agile, less competent, less worthy of being loved.

They slowly and consistently make you feel embarrassed of who you are, they make you regret your current way of existence, you feel apologetic, you start ridiculing your own self, your taste.  Each time you eat, you feel a rush of guilt and shame.

 

Once it is established that you are growing fat, that your waistline is more than what is expected out of you, starts the next stage of benevolence, where you are made to believe that your every action now should be focused towards redemption, towards the biggest goal in your life from now on, even bigger than career and marriage!-  To lose the weight they made you see in the first place!!!

I believe in none of these baseless remarks on the surface, but lately I think I have indeed internalized some of those unsolicited words from society.  I live with these thoughts each day,and somewhere they mercilessly influence my self-image.

So in the morning, where I dream of the coolness of breeze, I suddenly feel conscious of prying eyes, I wonder if they too are saying, Oh she is here to lose weight.

NO!! I am here to walk, because I love to walk!! I am not against losing undue fat, its unhealthy, but my life need not revolve around it, my choices need not be dictated by it, I don’t wish to be haunted by remarks during my favorite rituals, is that too much to ask for? Staying fit is constructive, losing weight is out of fear.

But somewhere my wisdom drowns in self-pity and the misery of acknowledging that I am -as per the world- shamefully fat, at least that is how I am supposed to feel out here.

When I lie down on the bed, I am worried that I might be mocked at for my bulging stomach. When I ride a bicycle for fun, I suddenly stop when I see anorexic souls smirking, Oh look at her, she is trying to lose weight on a bicycle, disgusting fat.

So now when I am fatter than what i was, it is a crime to sweat, because sweating is due to fat. I am reminded daily by someone very dear to me, about my thighs, how fat they are, and in a tone so fearful that it makes me feel I am closer to the end, this is it, I am doomed, I am fat, I have thunder thighs, I should apologize to the world and say my good-byes.

I have clearly bought into the paranoia surrounding me, I don’t want to, I really want to be just happy with myself, like myself despite my imperfections and not be so conscious when I am out there in the green. I feel a constant grief of my loss, my loss of being worthy enough weight-wise, my loss of being someone worth being appreciated . Does it not sound so petty and familiar? It is petty, but the society makes a big deal out of it, and even though I am fortunate enough to retain my sanity and critical thinking, somewhere I am unable to fight this demon.

I can’t recall the last time I liked myself, I want to love myself, I shall begin from today.

 

I got inspired to write about this after reading the post here: http://bellejar.ca/2014/05/14/shaving-your-legs-is-not-feminist-but-you-can-still-be-a-feminist-and-shave/

What I sincerely want for Mothers everyday

I want the mothers in this world to be so free and happy that we don’t need to over indulge on Mother’s Day.

I want the mothers in the world to have a life of their own which seems to get silenced.

I want the mothers in the world to be independent, to have their own money , to have the liberty and confidence to make their own choices.

I want the mothers in the world to know how to use their gadgets and not keep banking on dads to do all paperwork.

I want the mothers in the world to not depend on their family and children to complete their universe, I want them to not live with this weird notion of confusing servitude with love, love does not mean you make others depend on you so much that they take you for granted, love requires mutual respect and space for all to grow, if you are not getting yours, its not a sacrifice to be celebrated devimaa, it is an issue to be addressed.

I want the mothers in the world to not worry for the daughter’s wedding and motherhood, but to be excited for her future and growth.

I want the mothers in the world to dare not think that their sons would support them in old age or similar crap.

I want the mothers in the world to take a deep breath and stop comparing children’s body mass, height, grades in school, boyfriend’s income, grand children’s diet and so on. Again, take a deep breath, hum a tune, when was the last time you did that?

I want the mothers in the world to not color their hair with fear. I want them to not have fear, and work to have a life where they can identity and reduce fear, stress.

I want the mothers in the world to be happy and at ease with their lives and decisions, such that they can encourage their children to experiment, to be adventurous, to let go of violence and undue grief.

 

 

 

 

Recipe Innovation 2: Mango Cheese Pudding

This one is not completely my innovation, I got the recipe for homemade Cheese Pudding/Cake from a friend and added flavors on my own.

This is not  a very healthy dessert and would recommend only once in months. 🙂 But it tastes amazing!

My friend who made me taste the plain pudding at her place actually had frozen it enough to call a cake, since most of us are impatient to do so, lets just retain it as a pudding.

So here you go:

“Mango Cheese Pudding”


Ingredients:

  • 250 g. Paneer (Cottage Cheese)
  • If you take less Paneer, you could add some Amul Cheese, this was something I tried due to less Paneer and it made the consistency better
  • Nestle Milkmaid
  • Lemon
  • Mango Pulp (Half a Mango or more, depends on your preference)
  • Vanilla Essence
  • Marie Biscuits
  • Amul Butter

Method:

  • Add the Mango Pulp, Paneer/Cheese, half the box of Milkmaid in Blender.
  • Squeeze half a lemon or less as per taste in this mix.
  • Add a few drops of Vanilla Essence as per taste in the mix.
  • Blend the mix till it forms a smooth paste.
  • Your pudding paste is now ready, please don’t taste right now, it would not have soaked in the flavor yet.
  • Now to prepare base, take Marie biscuits and Amul and crush them to form a paste in the blender. The amount depends on the size of the vessel you would freeze this in.
  • Apply the paste of Biscuits and Butter at the base of the vessel.
  • Let it cool for a while, it will harden.
  • Pour the pudding paste over the hardened base and freeze for 4-5 hours.
  • You’ll thank me all your life but thank my friend Aditi too.

You could also try one with Grapes and Vanilla. I am going to try one with strawberry next.

Recipe Innovation 1: Apple Cinnamon Rabri

I enjoy cooking, I find it cathartic, also because I have the privilege to cook only when I feel like it and its not forced on me.

This also means that many-a-times what I make is quite exotic because it is a product of luxury or unabashed hedonism.

My favorites are desserts, I love to make people happy with those.

Yesterday I was unwell and to have a morale boost I made

“Apple Cinnamon Rabri”


Ingredients:

  • 1 Apple
  • Tiny piece of Cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 table spoons of Sugar as per taste
  • 1 litre Full Cream Milk/Toned Milk/Skimmed Milk as per choice

Method:

  • Peel off the apple skin, cut the pulp into smaller pieces.
  • Add the pulp pieces and cinnamon stick to a blender along with milk. Blend for just a few minutes such that a few pieces of the pulp are retained.
  • Add this mixture to a vessel for heating on stove.
  • Keep stirring this mix while it is being heated- it might take around 30-40 minutes
  • Once the mix starts getting thick, add some bread crumbs. (You’ll be enjoying a beautiful aroma all this while)
  • Serve hot or cold, both taste awesome.
  • Serves 6 greedy people, if serving tiny portions then 7-8

 

You can thank me for the recipe in comments 😉