Anshula Mehta, who interned with Navayana for four days in June, describes her meeting with A Gardener in the Wasteland, and the fruits of this lucky encounter.
I’m not much of a writer. And when I say this, I don’t mean I’m disinclined to write. It’s my sheer inability to articulate with ease or uncontrived eloquence which leads me to believe so. And even though I’m aware that it isn’t required, this piece probably already channels a cranky frivolity, the kind I couldn’t let out during the four days my friend and I spent at Navayana about a month back—four all-encompassing days, which resulted in a frenzy of ideas causing much confusion and delay, eventually giving rise to this considerably overdue blog post.
So the ‘internship’ basically consisted of reading books, having conversations and experiencing spurts of inadequacy in the form of Mr. Anand’s taunts at our unimpressive grasp on all things historical and political. Even though we’d never prided ourselves on being exceptionally ‘socially aware’ (a tag our teacher used), those jabs bothered me to the extent that I started wondering if I really was an idiot on this front. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I ended up banging my head against a wall. I couldn’t, though. I couldn’t afford to miss another day at that idyllic workplace that Shahpur Jat had so purposefully kept inconspicuous and concealed within its manifold twists and turns. I still can’t place a finger on what exactly it was that made this whole thing, this experience, or whatever you choose to call it, that made it so alluring and inescapable, and in a good way.
One of the first tasks that Mr. Anand assigned to us was to write our ‘caste story’—by enquiring from our family members about our caste roots, tracing them a few generations back. Up until that point I easily believed and expressed that I’d never felt the need to know what my caste was, but through this assignment he very emphatically pointed out that that too was a luxury that was a result of my belonging to a certain caste—probably ‘upper’. If it wasn’t so, there was no way that I wouldn’t be reminded of it every day.
We spent almost the entire duration reading books, and it turned out to be quite an engaging journey. My favourites were probably Unclaimed Terrain by Ajay Navaria, and A Gardener in the Wasteland. The former was a wonderful collection of seemingly simplistic narrations quite beautifully woven into intricate layers of emotion and meaning, with one or two commanding a reread to be understood fully. The latter was just fundamentally brilliant. Recounting Jotiba Phule’s witty arguments and theories, it was easily likeable as it reinvented and enlivened a character for me—one from my much detested class 8 History textbook, no less. We ended up with a ginormous pile of these of book—allowance well spent.
Everything about Navayana seems to be brimming with a kind of dark humour—or borderline cynicism if one fails to read between the lines—that jolts you out of your bubble of oblivion and makes you see the world for what it is, or what it is made out to be, for that matter. After all, everything is relative—an idea amply sampled during our lunch-table talks with Mr. Anand (nothing beats those) and echoed by the ‘upside down’ map of South Asia in the room.
I can’t decide whether it is the intolerance towards certain groups of people, their traits and ideals, or the personal and biased inclination towards certain others, or a genuine mix of both that defines what Navayana stands for, and I am yet to figure out which one I can possibly imbibe, if at all. I went in expecting proofreading, editing, the works, but walked out with a dispelled disappointment, and much more. I’m not going to throw in words like ‘life-changing’ and ‘unprecedented’, but what I’d really say is that Navayana managed to make a difference to me. Even though I didn’t really get a ‘caste story’ out of my inquiries, I was left with a newer perspective, one that is more empathetically radical than any of mine. I might not be able to live that view, but it certainly struck me as something that was worth considering, and something that will incessantly nag away at my conscience for quite some time to come.