Friday, February 10, 2012

Step-Sisters in Faith

They don't like to call that slum in Nizamuddin a basti anymore. It's now the Sundar Nagar Nursery.

I was there today, in four layers of upper clothing (a shirt and a sweater from a shop along the Ruwi High Street in Muscat, a shrug from an outdoor stall in Lajpat Nagar in Delhi, and an almost 10-year-old corduroy sherpa jacket from the JCPenney in Stillwater, Oklahoma) and two layers of bottom clothing (my mother's thermals from I don't know where, and a pair of cargo pants from a Muscat Carrefour). I wore high socks (Lajpat Nagar) and sports shoes (Foot Locker in Tulsa, Oklahoma). The camera strap was around my neck, and the camera never left my hands. I was shooting a group health discussion that the young NGO workers were conducting with the women of the slum.

Eventually I wandered away from the sunny spot where I'd already taken enough shots and photographs of the attendees. I meandered around and finally drifted into the narrow alleyways of the slum. I took a picture of a lost looking dog, wall graffiti, a pink wall. The few residents that I saw in those alleyways paid me no attention. Either they had finally grown used to seeing young urban people around or it was simply a TGIF phenomenon. It was Friday afternoon. The NGO workers had had to start their programme a half hour late because half the residents of the slum were Muslim, and Friday was the day of the congregational afternoon prayer. I'd seen a number of men and boys in the slum today dressed in white qurta pajamas and white crocheted prayer caps. It looked nice. Comforting. Something familiar. Like an old favourite pop song from high school that brings back vague memories.

A young teenage girl in a grubby pink and white shalwar suit stopped her bicycle near me. Her dupatta was draped over her hair. She wanted me to take a picture of her and her friend. I did. Three.

I thanked them and turned to continue on my shot-seeking journey through the slum. The girl called out to me. She said she'd noticed that I'd been taking a lot of pictures. I told her that that was my job. She asked me if I would teach her how to take pictures. I said sure but that one could really not teach anyone the aesthetics.

I turned to walk away. She called out to me again. She asked me my name. Khadija, I told her. She paused.

"Aap Muslim hain??" Are you a Muslim??

Not at that moment. I was just taking pictures, shooting footage.

"Haan." Yes.

She kept looking at me, her mouth slightly open, her eyes confused.

"Aapko namaaz aati hai?" Do you know how to pray?

"Haan." Yes.

She looked confused. I felt awkward. Maybe it was the cargo pants?

In the first week of TYPF

During my first week as Communications Manager at the YP Foundation in New Delhi I was asked by the CEO, whom I directly report to, to write down my daily reflections and share them with her at the end of the week. Here they are...

February 6, Monday
I've seen too many young people wasting their time, not investing in themselves, not putting to worthwhile use the precious energy that comes free with the gift of youth. Or worse, misdirecting it. Which is why I didn't mind too much the meeting that dragged on for 6 hours today. My lower back was hurting, and I felt like I was on a long flight, but it was heartwarming to see all the well-informed, sensible, and articulate young people in front of me expressing complicated ideas with words like 'macro level' and 'strategy' and not being full of hot air while at it. It was even more wonderful that these were young women. These young people could be anywhere else. They could be out there getting stoned, talking trash, obsessing over insignificant things and unimportant people. These young people could be out there leading unhealthy lives and destroying their minds and their bodies, but they were here, in front of me. I wish they could see what I saw. I wish they could feel what I felt. I felt proud of them, these young people who will one day grow up to be mothers and fathers. Mentors. I'd recently lost my faith in everything, but the more I interact with these sensitive young people, the more reassured I feel.

February 7, Tuesday
I'm glad I took some time to get to know the programme heads. I met with them individually and got them to talk to me about themselves, their programmes, and their communications needs. I specifically wanted to hear about the communications initiatives that worked for them and those that didn't. The good news is that that there's a lot happening within these programmes and that they've even tried to put it all out using various forms of media. The bad news is that it's all been harem scarem. I thought that maybe there was no framework in place to provide all this media the big picture it needs to work within, but the communication strategy for 2011-2012 is already in place and has some great ideas besides. It's just on paper though; there has been trouble with follow-up and implementation. That's the bad news. I have a meeting with Disha and Rachit tomorrow, and by now I've got a clear enough idea of things to know what questions to ask them. That's the good news.

February 8, Wednesday
I am beginning to feel overwhelmed now. There's been so much information that I've been taking in, so many new people whose personalities and thought processes I'm actively trying to absorb, all as part of my getting to know the communications system here so I can understand what's been happening and how it can be improved. I am always sincere about doing a good job, but I think I need to distance myself a little bit for now. I need time for things to sink in and for the big picture to intuitively make sense.

PS - it was fun talking to Rachit about the email database and the newsletter. I've spent so much time trying to run away from my technical education that had deadened me on the inside for so many years, but it surprises me how I don't completely hate it now. Now when I run into databases and that sort of technology, I feel as if I'm running into a lover from a past relationship that had gone horribly wrong but have now made peace with and even have some fond memories of. Remember when...?

February 9, Thursday
It was good to get back to the edit machine today. The Mumbai KYBKYR ('Know Your Body, Know Your Rights') consultation video is one monster project, and for all the wrong reasons. Too much footage in a language I don't understand. I still remember the succession of equipment failure that brought that project to a halt in December. It's been a pending project since then, and I've finally got the logistics of it sorted out. Now I can edit. Thank goodness. Finally it's just me and the machine. It's difficult editing footage that you didn't shoot yourself, particularly if the footage has been overshot without a strategy in mind. But I'm excited about how the final product will shape up. I really think I'm a film editor at heart.