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…