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  • Dipti Arora and Astha Chaudhary

अगर चली गयी हमारी ज़मीन

If my land is lost: A journey of coexistence, loss, despair and hope through stories and poems.

Last week we three friends were reading the poetry book “जिसके पास चली गयी मेरी ज़मीन” (To whom my land is lost) by Naresh Saxena jee. One of us got this book from a book fair organised in Lucknow. It is a small illustrative book that describes the agony of a farmer who lost his land.

With the loss of land his rain is lost, cuckooing of koels is lost, the smell of the earth is lost and his entire livelihood is lost. In the story ahead, he relates his loss of land with the loss of his belongingness to the axe, the bull who helped him plough the land; his belongingness to the ponds, birds, trees in the farm, and most importantly his loss of belongingness to the sky. His wish for the next good harvest is also lost, and with that, his illusion of paying back the loans with the success of a good harvest is also lost.

It was interesting that after reading the 10-page poetry book, the three of us had very different perspectives and thoughts. One of us thought that the smallest things have their own essence and explained it using an example of how people's feelings and emotions are deeply interconnected with nature. There exists a deep sense of detachment with resources, non-human creatures, and the sky in people's memories. The second person, who had worked in the Kisaan Andolan in Delhi in 2021, shared the memories of loss that he had experienced on the Singhu Border and felt that this book should have been read during the movement. The third, realised privileges she had due to her family background, education, the way she looked, dressed, and talked. With these privileges, we can access the beauty of nature on other people's land. The other day, while carrying out our fieldwork in a huge wetland area that served as a good grazing ground for livestock and various wetland birds, including Sarus cranes, we heard stories that there were some rules and invisible borders on the grazing ground where people from a particular religion and other villages couldn't access. But we were encouraged by one of the herders to "feel it was your own land and explore wherever you want to go." So we walked and reached that beautiful peepal tree and sat there for a long time.

Soon after this discussion we started to read more poetry of Naresh Saxena jee, present on the Hindwi blog. We came across this beautiful poem by him, called मछलियाँ | Our curiosity grew more and we started searching for his contact number and called him up. Speaking very considerately, he asked us to visit his house at 6 pm in the evening. Instead of sending us a Google maps location, he patiently asked us to note down the way and the important landmarks. Excited and all the way reading his other poetry we reached his home at exactly 6 pm.

We knocked on the door, and a lady arrived and welcomed us into the drawing room. It was a simple looking living room. He arrived after sometime, till then we enjoyed the tea and some chai pakodis served to us. He asked us about ourselves and literally took a class from the subjects we all had studied. The first one hour felt like we had failed almost all our tests and had already disappointed him. After one and a half hour, he said “okay, so you have come here, now you may tell me why you have come?” One of us hesitatingly explained how we loved his poetry and his book and also discussed our reflections after reading the book. Seeing our interest in poetry and how deeply we remembered few of the couplets written by him, he shared his inspiration behind the book “जिसके पास चली गयी मेरी ज़मीन'' (To whom my land is lost). He said what happens when a farmer’s land is lost is similar to what happens to a painter whose canvas is lost – how his identity gets lost, how his dreams and surroundings all become unrelatable to him and his tool to express himself is lost, placing a limit on his imaginations of living.

An image of the poem "जिसके पास चली गयी मेरी ज़मीन"

The explanation had made a huge impact on us, and he had completed his job of posing questions as the food for thought before the younger generation. Asking other questions, he then asked what other poetries we read.

One of us, told him how she liked reading Pash’s poetry. Then the discussion shifted to the famous couplet of Pash “सबसे ख़तरनाक होता है, हमारे सपनों का मर जाना” (The most scary thing is the death of our dreams).

Reading and discussing poetry with Naresh Saxena jee

The evening was an overwhelming experience for all of us. As researchers studying human-wildlife interactions, the first question that struck in our mind was, what is our zameen, our canvas?

Is this fellowship an opportunity to engage and work with like-minded people our zameen?

Working as ethnographic field researchers takes a lot of emotional and mental investment on the field. The process has made us realise how listening to the stories is an important part. Knowledge from nature and communities can’t be sought in a day. It requires one to have a patient, empathetic attitude and most importantly an open heart with an unfilled mug. It poses new questions everyday such as how does the herder take care of his children and his livestock and do birds also take care of their chicks in a similar way, particularly does the Sarus crane behave the same way with its child? It has made us think about the agency of every creature before we make an opinion or a judgement about it.

In the last few days, we also had an opportunity to attend Mahindra Sanatkada festival a cultural festival celebrating Awadh culture (Awadh became a major source of literary, artistic, religious and architectural patronage in Northern India, under the rule of Nawabs). Here we attended a performance by the Aahvaan Project, a narration from the performance deeply resonated with us. The narration on man’s relationship with words and emotions sounded like “इंसान डरने लगा प्रेम से, और सत्य से भी और धीरे धीरे शब्द भी इंसान के साथी न रहे, इंसान के इस्तेमाल की चीज़ हो गए। कहने को इनकी बड़ी इज़्ज़त थी मंच पर , किताबों में, बिलकुल एक बूढ़े हो चले व्यक्ति की तरह | घर में न बुज़ुर्गों के पैर धोये जाते हैं, उन्हें खाना पहले दे दिया जाता है, उड़ना बिछौना दे दिया जाता है, बल्कि उनके पैर भी कोई न कोई दबा देता है , पर उनके सच, उनकी कहानियों, उनके अस्तित्व को सुनने के लिए किसी के पास वक़्त नहीं होता।” (Gradually humans started to be afraid of love and truth, and slowly they got distanced from the wisdom of words as well, where words became mere tools to be used. Though the words received much attention on stage, in books, just as an old person, who gets all the attention at home, he is given due respect, served good food, and given all comforts and beddings to sleep. Someone even washes his feet, but there is no one to listen to his truths, his stories, no one has got the time and patience to listen to his wisdom).

Stories and knowledge are getting lost in our fast paced culture. There is a kind of loneliness around people who have endless stories to narrate. We met the herder Ramsagar jee from the Jamwasi village, we were seeking stories around Sarus cranes during our field work. Though he didn't have stories on Sarus cranes, he started to narrate other stories about his livestock and culture. The day also gave us a tinge of the hardships of herding community, when we sat under the bright sunlight for more than two hours to listen to his stories. Similarly we met many housewives, granny’s who have spent their lives in farms along with handling the entire home, carrying the trauma of their incomplete dreams, and bearing daily injustices that the system imposes on them. It taught us that without becoming a part of their journey, it would be difficult to learn about their ecological knowledge. No story travels in isolation, it keeps evolving and moulding with time, every time it is recited and it is heard again. And that is how the answers of ethnographic research could be found in the greys of words, emotions, experiences, journeys and facts.

We are still finding our zameen, in a system where scientific research is loaded with bogus data and westernised methodologies. This has played a huge role in distancing our present society from the wisdom of the stories, myths and narrations of generations who lived a more meaningful, conscious and observational life in coexistence with other creatures and beings. We are in search of our zameen which leads us back to our roots, homes, emotions, internal truths of the universe and the nature before our energy, zeal, patience and dreams are lost to the chaos and the war enraged in the present times.

“जिसके पास चली गयी मेरी ज़मीन

उसी के पास अब मेरी बारिश भी चली गयी”

"To whom my land is lost,

They also have my rainfall now."

By Dipti Arora and Astha Chaudhary.

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