Of Resilience and Hope: Voices from Nizamuddin Basti

by | Oct 13, 2020

I have been to the Nizamuddin Dargah before but never had I imagined going beyond it, into the criss-crossing alleys of the Nizamuddin Basti, let alone going there thrice in one day!!! To be honest, as someone who has lived her entire life in Delhi and had visited this part of the city multiple times, I did not initially expect to see the Basti as a different place. Now when I look back at all the things I experienced each time I went there, I see the layers adding up in my memory. By the fourth time, on Day II of immersion, I had started remembering the layout – where which shop was, where the lanes connected and which path led where. (The next time you want to go to Nizamuddin, you can probably ask me for help with directions :P) 

Our first day at the Basti was all about getting acquainted with the place. For me, it was an amalgamation of experiences through the senses – sight, hearing, smell and taste. But more interesting than that, were the conversations I had with local dwellers on Day II and III.

I sometimes find it rather difficult to start conversations. Instead, I prefer to observe and understand the temperament of the person and then find something meaningful to talk about. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to ease up and had to begin somewhere. On the second day, it was time to push myself out of my comfort zone and interact with people. The one thing I found common in all the conversations was “Hope”.

The adult hope scale (AHS) measures Snyder’s cognitive model of hope which defines hope as “A positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful (a) agency (goal-directed energy), and (b) pathways (planning to meet goals)” (Snyder, Irving, & Anderson, 1991, p. 287).1 A Hope Scale is a brief measure of goal- directed thinking and may be useful for researchers and development professionals.2  

Leaving the technical definition and explanations aside for a bit, we often associate hope with optimism, a desire for better outcomes and something to ease our journey into the future. The people with whom I interacted were different – in terms of age, occupation, socio-economic status and gender. My conversations with them made me think about this seemingly simple word more closely. It helped reiterate my belief in the interrelation between perseverance and hope. 

The first conversation was with a migrant woman from a small village named Atri, in Bihar. She was not a part of my formal hope scale survey, but a general chit-chat with her about her experiences, revealed a lot about her aspirations and disappointments. She and a couple of other women, with all their children were sitting in the corner of a street. On explaining where I was coming from and the purpose of being there, they opened up.

Since the onset of the lockdown, these women had been unemployed. They were mostly working as house helps in the nearby localities. Owing to the pandemic and the lockdown, they had been asked to not come for work since the last six months. To make matters worse, the Tablighi Jamaat incident3 made employers apprehensive of allowing people from Nizamuddin area in their homes. With no source of income, and the expenses piling up (house rent dues were not forgiven by the landlords), these women were in real distress. But what struck me the most about this one here, who spoke with so much angst, was that there was not a speck of self-pity or self-doubt in her. It was one of those voices which would reverberate in your ears, years after the conversation. 

“Allah tala ne hi abhi tak dekha hai, toh aage bhi dekh lega. Marne wala araam se baith ke bhi mar jata hai… hum kuch na kuch karenge… baaki who dekh lega”.

There was a kind of resilience and hope that I had not heard before. It made me reflect about the power of human will – Tough times don’t last but tough people do! Her hope of a better future for her children and that they would one day make her proud; her hope for finding work again and having a safe roof over her family; her hope of making her place in the community and above all, her hope and faith in God, kept her going.

Another instance that made me reflect on the power of acceptance and positive thinking was the conversation with a security guard of Mazar-e-Ghalib. He seemed to be a man in his late 30s or early 40s and belonged to Bihar. He worked two shifts – one at the Mazar and the other at a high end Club in Lutyen’s Delhi. Motivated by his colleague who used to work three shifts to make ends meet, he started doing two himself. He told me about his mechanism for facing tough situations – trust, confidence and taking things one day at a time.

“Asaan toh nahi hai double shift karna, thakaan hoti hai… par duty toh karni hai. Main aage ka zyada nahi sochta, bas roz ka roz nikaalna hota hai… itna soch ke kya kijiyega?” 

He spoke about how he lives to live in the present and doesn’t stress much about what is yet to happen. While having to support his family and living away from them, he said that he has had to face difficult situations a few times, but he had faith in himself and kept going. His dream to work hard and get his children educated at a good school persisted him. It made me think about our reaction to challenges. Sometimes, it is how we perceive things and move forward.

“Haan pooch lijiye sawal jo puchne hain!”

This time, I was greeted by a seemingly quiet Chai shop owner. Initially, I was unsure whether he would be the right person to talk to because it appeared like he didn’t want to be bothered. I reconfirmed whether he was comfortable with me asking him questions and just like that, he started sharing his story. He was the eldest among five brothers and had an old mother. He had been selling chai in Nizamuddin for more than a decade now, where he started with a small shop and now even has a seating area inside his shop. 

“Bohot mushkil hui hai.. mujhe hi dekhna padta hai sabkuch kyunki mai sabse bada hoon, zimmedari hai… Jo karna chahte the zindagi mein who toh nahi kar paye, par koshish abhi bhi chal rahi hai… aage toh badhna hai” 

Interested to know him more, I asked him about his aspirations and whether he was satisfied with his life journey so far. He gave me a simple smile and in turn asked me if all my aspirations have materialised. His question gave me my answer, in a way. This man believed that expecting life to always go our way is the worst approach to it. He insisted that people should dream and make plans, but when things don’t go as planned, build other ways to do it. His attitude of never giving up and willingness to grow, was indeed motivating. 

By the end of my three days visiting the Basti, I got to hear from many people – about their life, experiences, highs and lows and most importantly, how they look at the future. These conversations created a space for me to reflect and think about myself as well as the journey ahead. We often just read or hear these motivational talks in isolation, but putting them in context while interacting with people made me think more deeply about the human nature to strive and hope.


References:

  1. Adult Hope Scale
  2. Development and Validation of the State Hope Scale

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