The (kind of) FirsT visit to Savda Ghevra

“वह ज़मीन और आसमान की दूरी को डोर के आधार पर ही नापती है। मुझे लगता डोर उसे अपने इशारो से नचाती है… कहने को तो वो खुले आसमान में उड़ती है पर उसके हालात किसी बंधे जानवर की तरह ही होते है जिसकी डोर किसी न किसी के हाथो में होती है। …मैं डोर को ढूँढू तो वह साफ़ नज़र आती है। … कब होगी ज़िन्दगी आज़ाद?” (it measures the earth and sky with the string. I feel the string controls it…. it may seem that it is flying in the open sky, but it is no different from an animal on leash, for it is always controlled by someone else….when I search I can see the string very clearly…..When will life be free?) the words that keep coming to me, those written by young Rekha from Savda Ghevra, as I leave the settlement to take a bus back home. Visiting Savda Ghevra this time was very different from the ones before. Earlier I used to visit this settlement as an arrogant architect, who knew everything, who was there to ‘teach’ people on how to build, who was an expert!!…. This time around as I got down the metro and started looking for an auto, the autowala asked “कौनसे NGO में जाईयेगा ”  (which NGO you want to visit?). I just asked him to drop me near the bus stop. On the way I asked him, why did he think I wanted to visit an NGO, to which he replied “अब आप जैसे लोग वहां और क्यों जायेंगे ” (why else would people like you go there? (I have to clarify that it doesn’t sound rude in Hindi) ). The phrase “आप जैसे लोग ” (people like you) stuck with me as I got down in Savda Ghevra and started walking under the scorching sun. Of course I was the ‘other’ who has come to look at how ‘they’ live. A good amount of my professional life I have taken quite pride in being referred to as the ‘other’ who knows it better; but this time around I found it quite derogatory.  44 °C and the afternoon sun, didn’t allow me to seep deeper into that guilt though 🙂 . There are almost no moving cars, a bus once in more than an hour, and the settlement which is literally in the middle of nowhere (well in the middle of the farms though), it was silent, so silent that I could hear my own foot steps making way on the sand leftovers of the construction process, a luxury quite unavailable in Delhi (I mean to hear ones own footsteps). As I pass by each house, the sound from the television keeps reminding me of people inside. From the main road there are numerous ally ways that goes in, and in each of them there are people and there is activity. Because of the narrowness of the street resulting to a shaded street, there were people siting outside and having their daily chores done: from bathing to cutting vegetables. For some reason the settlement looked so different from how I have seen it 3 years back. Nothing much has changed there, may be a few more houses, few more people (may be), but everything looks and feels different, or may be I have changed. As I walked around, I saw a strange door. It was like a Déjà vu moment, but I couldn’t place it. Without thinking, I knocked and entered. Rekha, a class 12th student was inside, writing something. I inquired and found that the room is a library by Ankur. Students are encouraged to be creative there, or rather a platform is given to kids for exploring their creative side, mostly via stories. Chaya, who takes care of the center, soon joined us as our conversation proceeded. The stories that the kids write are quite influenced by this resettlement colony, as this settlement was established in 2005-6, so all the kids in their teens have quite vivid memories of the relocation and the painful uprooting. Chaya showed me the published writings of Rekha, and the metaphor of kite (starting quote) quite remained with me, though I get quite restless with the usage of word ‘free[dom]’ this time around my mind just ignored it. Chaya also told me that they are writing the history of the settlement, they are there since 2005-6 when the settlement was established and they are writing the story about the settlement, rather the most impressive way to write what ‘they’ call the ”history from below”. Suddenly the silent settlement revealed so many stories, so many events and incidences and so much to explore. I know I will always be the ‘other’, but I guess I have made peace with that label now. For I have to visit them more often, at least for next 4 months.

Rekha writing her story as Chaya is chatting to me.

Rekha writing her story as Chaya is chatting with me at Ankur



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