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September 17 , 2009

Representing the Invisible: A Travelogue Merging Identities And Borders


I started this – ah - research study, to find answers to my being Indian and landed up with more questions. That pause, was there even before I started and will remain with me. The only reason why I refer to this as research study is because of the respect I have for my guide Dr. Uma Chakravarti from Delhi and the woman from Lahore Nighat Saeed Khan, who initiated this process and has been my co-guide at all levels, neither of them can be bound in the limits of space, time and if I am permitted to say even gender! I barely get to meet either but since they accept me as student they are my guides and this work is a research study even though it does not have a formal structure nor is this registered.
The form is that of a travelogue merging identity and borders through women’s experiences and brings to fore the marginalized existence. Whatever Indian-ness I had was shredded to tatters after my very first trip so I started the chapters with Jabalpur it being my birthplace to get some semblance of the peaceful existence I have grown-up with. I recorded Kashmir immediately after the visit so as not to get stuck with Northeast India and the conflict causing hiccups in the flow of documenting the meetings with women whoever was ready to give me time. I ended with Mumbai the city that adopted me into its diversity; titled most chapters, with a few exceptions, with names of places visited, interspersed with interviews, chats, discussions, observations, - creating knowledge that does not come from formal education of national identity making. I have shared what I have been told, losing some of it due to my inabilities, keeping myself from commenting or analyzing, laid my subjective understanding bare for scrutiny.
This research study is part of that stage which comes soon after the realization of the injustice in the system that goaded me to attempt towards bringing a semblance of equal existence! Women’s National Identity across Borders, where ‘nation’ and ‘borders’ are as perceived by women. I thought this a clear enough statement but whenever needed, am unsure of making any explanation. Comprehending the different shades of political existence has come to me not by active struggle but second hand through books. Affinity with marginalized status and women in particular reflect in my writing. It comes with baggage of my middle class privileged background even though I try to shun it! This book is about people becoming citizens of a country and where and how do women see themselves in this scenario, a small study of a vast scope. The women I met were unplanned and my rationality defies me when I say that I was pre-destined to meet them. Many whom I have not been able to represent are not intentional but my limitation. In 2007 I met a badge wearing woman collie at Nagpur station who was working for past seven years and regret not having been able to talk to her at length. I meet a woman rag-picker in front of my home in Kalina, Mumbai and cannot interact with her due to my language drawback.
We had thought of doing this in India and Pakistan but thanks to the overflowing love between the two nations and my unpredictable health, the process got stuck to one landscape, the Indian subcontinent, where most place I could travel without visa. It is not just nationality which gets surveyed, it is also womanhood, individuality and borders. I do not see women as isolated beings in an island but everything under the sky, their pleasures, pains, economics, their children and the men in their lives make a complete identity. As I went around the country speaking to women from different backgrounds, sharing their lives in matter of hours, the similarities and differences, nationality and borders merged into collective faith of humanity but no answers …

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