Yesterday I was invited by the Ankur Society for Alternatives in Education (http://www.ankureducation.net/) to interact with a group of young girls who are part of Ankur’s writing initiatives. The organization has been working in the field of experimental pedagogy with children, young people, women and the community in under-served worker settlements in Delhi. They have done exemplary work in drawing out narratives and perspectives from young people in these less visible spaces of the city. So, I was delighted to be asked to listen to their stories and to share my work with them.
9 young women, between the ages of 14 and 20, from the different Ankur collectives gathered at their Lajpat Nagar office and we spent about two hours listening to each other’s stories. Writing in HIndi, many of the texts were still works-in-progress. They were extremely skilled with a sharp eye for details from the world around them. Nazmeen’s piece, Neha Ka Savera, about a rainy morning in the basti spent observing her enigmatic neighbor, Neha, who is not allowed by her mother to mingle with the other girls stood out for its keen observation of basti life and a philosophical exploration of relationships when you live cheek-by-jowl. Asha wrote about a love affair and elopement and raised questions about freedom, mobility and happiness for women in the basti. Bharti’s amusing piece, Tension, was about the tension of spending the three hundred rupees won from a lottery. Another seemingly humorous piece that made a significant social comment was Lalita’s Lady Conductor, about a young woman’s first day of work as a lady conductor and how under pressure of all the scrutiny, she succumbs to the painful experience of threading her eyebrows. The texts reflected the writers’ engagement with the world around them. Deepa’s piece, Afwah, about rumours of violence that affect everyday life in these settlements, and Sunita’s piece, Red Light, a collection of scenes from a traffic crossing, reflected their sense that the writer’s role is not just to observe the world but also to comment on it.
It was really interesting for me to give them feedback and think of how the pieces could develop. They plan to work some more on their texts based on these comments. I then shared my story, The House At The Corner from the collection, First Proof 7 (http://www.penguinbooksindia.com/en/content/first-proof-7) which I’m thrilled to say they loved. I read the story in English and translated the bits that were not easily understood by them as we went along.
The interaction really underlined the need for such writing to be available for readers who primarily or only read in English. These are stories from our city – from that settlement behind the metro line, the basti across the river, the lanes behind the mall. And yet they remain unheard by the millions who shop in the mall, cross the river and travel by metro everyday. Here’s a call to publishers – how about publishing these stories in Hindi and in translation?