Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hanging Indias under tin sheet roof

It was cool, just after evening rains at CIS campus in Bangalore on April 28, 2010. It was even cooler to enter Yashawini's installations tracking migrant workers movements across India. From the tin metal sheets hanged tiny transparent India Maps. From the visual projector kept on ground kept throwing multiple focuses inside the room. Also accompanied was some audio vibrations.

I took tiny hops around the room to read up scribblings on the pages that hanged along with each of India map transparency. They very rough scribblings for they were not scribbled by polished artist passed out from any professional institutes around. They were scribbled by by hands that toiled to build modern robust India that occasionally shines. They were scribbled by laborers who wondered around India staying in small shanties that could provide enough warmth of emotions, and little light and glow.

Inside little room, in the middle of the hanging scribbles and pouring stories of India I found myself dissolved, dissolved in solitude for a moment. Somehow I felt home. I did whisper few words to Yashawini there. Yet more remained to be said. More remained to be listened to. In the middle of untidily scribbled notes I found a reference to Goa. Yashaswini then connected me to another one soon at the other end of room and country as well - Midnapur in West Bengal and found recorded as stayed in Madgaon - commercial capital of Goa.

Thoughts overpowered me and I got penetrated deep within. Quickly I reached my tiny tots days. I found myself amongst the laborers from some part of Karnataka that worked their lives and one even his death in the mines in my village of Siolim in North Goa. I found myself cared for by these laborer. I found myself playing amongst boys of these labour camps. I began to feel them. I began to recognize them. I remembered their names - Suresh, Shankar, Laxmi, Pandya, Bajarang, Maruti. I re-entered the the terrain that I had left way back in 1987.

Imagination took a flight. I became aware of some kind moments of the times. I became aware of some tense moment of the times, the fights, very often at our door step. I recollected myself as young kid doing bartender duty on behalf of our family business. Oh we earned our fortune - if I can call it - by selling liquor to these laborers.

Very soon labourers and I along with my family became one. Mining dust became our unifying force. My lungs became very weak and contracted tuberculosis. My dad too picked up tuberculosis. We never knew word 'protest' those days. So society just left us to rot in dust. We were lucky. My sickness was detected. Treated. Initially by medical doctor who almost gifted a death to me through his free service of outdated medicines. I escaped but not before getting disfigured completely. My skin colour turn blackish and I got contact sickness attacks. The women from these labour colonies came to care for me as child in need. Only gradually I would recover, more fully when finally left the place to another one where currently my family stays.

Gradually I became aware of the deep biases and prejudices against the migrant workers. As a child even I go carried away and even fanned them further. Migrant workers, i learned in my childhood was referred always as suspicious robbers. I could never feel the life of migrant till I became migrant myself and moved to Delhi and lived in Kotla in 2005-06. The labour localities in my village continued even tough mines were closed down by court order. Sometime in 1989 the local people caught one of men in these localities robbing and that was enough pretext to set the houses of labourers on fire. The locality was disrupted. Some moved to another part of village. Some moved in different villages around.

Mostly these labourers worked on stone quarry mines and crushers dealing with granite stones. blasting was carried on routine and green hills were butchered down with bull dozers. They supplied necessary raw material to meet construction houses of middle classes who calls then names most renowned and derogatory of them is 'ghatti'. No Social science in Goa is closed to this reality. It is like the three monkey as far as migrant in Goa are concerned. It could be very suffocating to live and breath in place like this. In fact it is. You can imagine my plight. It is another matter that generate my own oxygen.

Migrant debate now is getting juxtapose opposed as Goans versus non-Goans. No Vedanta boss Anil Agarwal who is involved in rampant brazen mining of Goa is not referred as non-goan. It is only the target tool for the labourers by Goa's middle class. Perhaps they must all get into Yashaswini's and two other colleagues (Ekta and Paromita) installation and see a different world.

Six years back in 2004 State government deployed police and bulldozers and demolished house of the migrant labour on Baina beach near Vasco. I increasingly realize that intervention like the one made by Yashaswini is so very crucial to diffuse tensions as well as to undo phobias of middle class India. The point however is how do we repeat this at a larger scale? How do we re-instate economy in the debate on migrant status?

I have more questions then answers after I walked out of installation in Bengaluru or Bangalore. I only knew that Yashu has done something very precious. She and her two colleagues - Ekta and Paromita - had put up installation that was bold and whose scope overflows far beyond art. It touched political theory and practice. In can be called Praxis. I identified myself at some deep level with it.

Sebastian Rodrigues

Picture credits to Riju Sumadro

Bangalore press did cover this as well. Please click here to read the story 'their India has no borders' in Bangalore Mirror.

For overall report on 'maps-for-making-change project please click here as reported in DNA India website.


MAND said...

Dear Sebastian,

Sorry for responding to your email this late...was here and there.

As i might have told you already, we retained the instillation for another day in lieu of getting some of our worker-friends to come and see what we had done with their maps and journeys.
Amongst many, we were particularly keen on having - Avtaar Singh, a father figure to us at the labour camp and Sanjeev from Midnapur, an excellent cook... these 2 we thought must visit the exhibit and tell us many many things...
You would have noticed their maps: Avtaar Singh's map which had Germany marked on it. He had worked there for two years btw 82-85 and Sanjeev's map had lines which criss-crossed the whole many others from Midnapur.
We are really close to these 2 and thought of this as the right occassion to invite them to strengthen and clarify.

We had invited them while collecting the maps, we reminded them a week in advance, we informed them a day before the event, we called them on the day of the event, we asked if we could atleast arrange an auto and slyly bring them from inside routes.... but the over powering fear of the contractors, Navyuga in this situation( hired by BMRCL to construct the new-imagination of Bangalore) was too strong to allow this to happen.
Avtaar, told me that he had been working day and night shifts for the last three days hence it would be difficult for him to get out....Sanjeev was nervous to get out of the camp as they were instructed not to make contacts with anybody from the outside...

For the first time... in a very provocative way... it became very apparent to me that the 'role' i play will always be controlled by this 'structure' more carefully then ever before..
The systems have gotten tooo tight...the migrant's life will always be controlled and maintained by the systems of the corporations supported by the state...their not allowed to bring their families, they are not allowed to make friends with outsiders, they are bunched up together, they are supposed to just build our cities and move on...
Their maps are also a poignant reminder of how their lives are always in movement...the only definitive space is the village which is distinctly placed on each of their maps...
Avtaar and Sanjeev couldnt bothered us quite a for the first time after a year of this work we got to display our worries me ekta, rumpi about how we are going to share the final film with them... as they are here today and gone tomo...their addresses are as temporary as them in my city.

We pulled down the maps one by one with care, unwinded the bulbs and bought down the tin sheets...

i got your email the next day...felt a bit better..your memories have a significant impact on my present tense...
As Wim Wenders puts it:
"The 'broken' buries itself deeper into memory than the 'whole'. The 'broken' has a kind of brittle surface which one's memory can grab hold to. On the clean surface of the 'whole', memory slips away."

I read your email a lot of times...feel a bit re-assured
Hope to meet you soon some time and chat a lot more about it:)

Thanks Riju for the pics..really needed them:)


MAND said...

The response to Yashu's comment can be found at the links below:

Sebastian Rodrigues