Up until a few months ago, I didn’t consider my work or my research as geography. I had not realised that the boundaries of the discipline of geography had stretched here, there and seemingly everywhere. This has been driven home by my time at the Royal Geographical Society’s annual conference in London, where I’ve met geographers who theorise, practice, those who influence policy and many who work closely with communities. As an urban planner, I’ve been looked at as a part of the geography fraternity and not really outside it. I’ve wondered about how Indian academia works in silos, right at the other end of what I’m seeing here, which is frighteningly inclusive!
It’s not only the range of topics that has been interesting, but also the people. A young man from Slovenia is working on a PhD that looks at the interests of those who own small-scale forests. A woman from Jamaica is studying water security. A German bloke is looking at religion and city making in Ecuador. I’ve gathered a bunch of heavy theoretical terms that don’t roll off my tongue easily, but that I’m sure will help me anchor my often wandering thoughts.
I have been fascinated by the range of methodologies I’ve been exposed to and am thinking of dedicating a separate post to just that when I return. Especially the use of visual methods of data gathering and analysis were fascinating for me, with my architectural background.It has also been a good opportunity to bounce off my own experiences and ideas with people, find synergies but also alternative ways of looking at situations. I’ve found solace in the confusions and frustrations of fellow researchers and practitioners as well!I’m presenting tomorrow, on the final day of the conference on migration decisions of youth in the context of a small city and right now, I’m struggling to fit everything I want to say into 15 minutes! Not a nice way to spend my evening in London, but what can one say…you gotta do what you gotta do!
A young girl I knew died recently. She had a short, tragic and extremely painful experience with cancer and being present for her cremation was one of the most poignant and emotionally intense experiences of my lifetime. Call it a miracle that God gifted us, but I found it more painful that my memories of my own father’s passing, which have faded and acquired a patina of sweet and self-indulgent nostalgia over time.
At the cremation, some relatives were busy taking videos and pictures of the entire ceremony on a smart phone. Initially, they were unabashed but our shocked and angry stares made them do it surreptitiously, for a bit, till they stopped altogether. That got me thinking about a bunch of stuff. About the appropriateness and ethics associated with documenting the experience of extreme grief and anguish. About how the availability of technology can mess with our minds.
And yet, some of the best portraits I have seen, and even taken, are those that capture a moment of grief, or that have been taken when someone is recalling a past experience that was painful.
It’s a grey area from an ethical perspective. I see grief as one of the most normal and beautiful of human experiences. I don’t consider it taboo to capture it, share it, relive it even. And yet, its a tight rope walk to decide when it is ok and when the act of documentation can cross the lines of comfort and propriety.
One of the most viewed posts on my blog is my experience of visiting the Virasat-e-Khalsa Museum at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. This morning, as I logged in to WordPress and saw that this post from October 2012 was once again viewed and that too, from someone in North America, I began to imagine the kind of person who would search for information on the museum. Sikh immigrants of course, besides students of architecture and those researching museums of culture. What’s more interesting is that Moshe Safdie, who designed the museum, is of Israeli origin. It’s confusing, these cultural and nationalistic identities. It’s tough to be accepting and think beyond the stereotypes propagated around you.
I thought about this film- My Dear Americans, made by my friend Arpita and how, in a very short span of time, it explores the overlap between cultural and religious identity and human individuality.
In its own way, the film tells us that we need to think about who we are and what kind of a world we want to live in and how we can, with our own small actions, create a world we love. Disturbed intensely by all the violence in the world- the rapes, the killings at Gaza and the shooting down of another Malaysian Airlines plane- and struggling with how to reconcile these with the daily ups and downs of our lives, I see films like these as slices of truth. Small vignettes that keep me sane, that tell me that life is complex and that, despite its overwhelming complexity, my actions (however small) do matter.
You can help My Dear Americans win at the 2014 PBS online film festival by voting for it here