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.
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.