Stumbling upon Unclaimed Terrain

This May, with some reluctance, Navayana hosted two high school children as interns for four days. The results, as Maanav Jalan says, were both awkward and rewarding.

MaanavA fortnight back, I was at the Navayana office, hidden away in the labyrinth of Shahpur Jat, with a friend of mine, for (what was supposed to be) a four-day internship. My school, Sardar Patel Vidyalaya,  provides an opportunity for students to participate in a weeklong internship programme, and I had, blissfully ignorant of what was to come, signed up for Navayana.

The first thing that S. Anand, publisher of Navayana, asked us on our first day as interns was if we knew our caste. We very proudly said that we didn’t know our caste and that we hadn’t been brought up that way. That my (caste) history is an inalienable part of me was never something I had seriously considered. That was strike one, and then it only went downhill. My historical knowledge is dismal and I would want to dig myself a grave every time Mr Anand would strike a conversation that required me to know some facts.  Some of my friends who were interning at HarperCollins had read some manuscripts that day. They said most of the submissions were hilariously incompetent. I envied them at that time. Now I think I am probably better off.

Strictly speaking, we didn’t do any ‘work’ at Navayana. What could we have done in four days anyway? We read some of Navayana’s books—what left a deep impression on me were the intricate stories about the dalit experience in India in Ajay Navaria’s Unclaimed Terrain which I highly recommended for all fiction lovers—had some food, talked a little, and called it a day. But that isn’t an accurate description of the impression that Navayana left on me.

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The unabashedness with which Navayana goes about business really struck a chord with me. I have always wondered if following your passion is enough to make it; evidently it is. But this was just the part that appealed to the selfish future-salary-calculating student in me.

Navayana implanted a speck of empathy in me, one that has managed to hold its place for more than a few hours, and will hopefully not be lost in the gyre of time. I always knew that I should look at things from all perspectives—well, as many as possible; but I had never really put it to practice. For example, I knew that there are alternative stories of our ancestors than those told by the Brahmins; but they were always, in my mind, in the box labelled ‘conspiracy theory’. At Navayana, while washing my dishes and reading books, I perhaps took a few things out of that box.

What I enjoyed most, though, were the lunches. We would get a low table into the office and use the the tabloid Delhi Times as tablecloth. Mr Anand would get some delicious food from home and would have some rotis brought over from the shop down the lane. Lunch is almost never complete without conversation, I think, and as good as the food was, the conversation at Navayana was always more enjoyable. Mr Anand would talk about this and that, mock my vegetarianism a little, reminisce his schooldays, I would chime in and then realise that I wasn’t making any sense and shut up.

Rarely are situations simultaneously so awkward and rewarding. What I take back from Navayana is an unexplicable sense of humility and a pile of books that will be a constant reminder.

(Visit Maanav’s blog, www.thesundayroost.blogspot.in)


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