As Thoreau once said we must walk and walk again to make a deep physical path. My favourite books are the most tattered and torn, abused from overuse. My favourite films are those where I can parrot the lines from start to finish. People often ask me how I can read the same story again and watch the same scenes again, ‘Don’t you already know what happens?’
Well, i don’t believe a story can be simplistically defined as that which has a beginning,middle and the end. I like all the parts in between, a word which forces you to think of the before and those lines that let you imagine an after. A story is infinite. Even after reading a book a few hundred times, a well written book and seldom a good plot opens new doors of imagination to me.
When I write about my interactions and participations with maraa, I am often aware that I am not divorced from the people, the cause or the form and it often troubles me that I may not be writing ‘objectively’. That a clearer picture is that which is beheld from afar. But over time I have come to realise, that the fact that I am not divorced from the cause lends me better perspective. I am not reading the story for the beginning, middle and end, but looking at the writing of each sentence. That mysterious form that language takes when the most ordinary words can be arranged to construct a sentence that transforms the meanings of the words itself.
The second Olfactory walk did just this. It wasn’t even the same book though, a sit often happens a writer understands that with time a better understanding could add more insight to a work that looked finished once. And we have a new edition. Maraa did just that ( I use maraa, instead of names of the people as the space tends to define the direction of the peoples who work there). The walk included some new elements and some the same in a new light. The general form of the walk remained the same, with no real performative elements this time, but a more quiet and somehow more conscientious reflections instead. The evening was dull and grey, a weather that demands you retreat into yourself and the cloudy skies have an opposite reaction on your mind which can think clearer. I realised this time around that I had grossly underestimated a momentous part of the walk. Often you only realise much later that you feel a certain way about something and when that realisation strikes you also realise that you have actually felt that way all along. The first conjecture in the walk which breaks a long quiet spell and the directed stroll becomes more intentional is at the Domlur skywalk. In the previous walk, I mentioned the storm of progress that they described as a description of a Klee painting. This time we read the description from chits of paper, each locked in bubbles of solitude staggered along the skywalk, the noise, the noise of this progress. I stared at the oncoming traffic again. This moment I realised, coupled with the description of the painting has an intensely disquieting effect. I remembered my own reflections of life in large rumbling trucks and big blue buses and I saw these ugly contortions again. Humanity had transformed itself into wonder boxes of their own creation and had sped far ahead in its evolution, that ape to man is now man to whirring engines. If that enormous truck had stopped midway, the whirring in the engine died out, the whole of humanity in its plastic-metal glory would all come to an abrupt halt. As I watched from above, it felt like just that single piece of domino would mean the end of humanity and we would stand above them all, with little chits of paper.
Religion is the golden ticket today, you hold the cross out in front of you, covering your chest, gripped tight in your palm and ward of the evil. We make a huge hullabaloo about impurities and dirt in Hindu religion, a menstruating woman is not allowed anywhere near those colourful idols and burning incense, the lower castes who clean our dirt is not allowed on holy grounds. With the prevalence of these antiquated rituals even today, I found it rather amusing when i saw it twisted around with idols placed where a garbage dump once was so no one would throw more garbage there. This is serious business. If the ash fell from the ends of a cigarette butt and the beholder (god forbid) happens to be a muslim boy or a lower caste hindu, there would be a raging riot overnight. God himself will not rise from the garbage dump to prevent it.
The light drizzle was now threatening to let all hell loose, but thankfully we made it to the warm smells of coffee and masala dosa, the welcoming shelter of a darshini by the time we got to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan finale. I have still not seen this advertisement of the powrakarmika in the invisibility robe. It was one thing to publicly shun them a generation ago, now we simply refuse to accept their existence. Now that, is progress in the Modi sarkar!
This time there was an elaborate discussion that followed. It could be the fact that there was more young blood this time around, that we took a recourse from the normal means of action of welfare association and the BBMP to a more individualistic perspective, the journey of the garbage bag and the workings of the city through waste production and disposal. Again of course the space created was not that of a problem-solution platform but the necessary occupation of the phenomena of waste itself in our minds; perhaps rewritten through a lens that strays away from a ‘Do not litter’ signboard.