Living and working in Maheshwar feels like building a small world of my own. Sculpting and chiseling away, without any care for the world. Taking a pause every once in a while when I get on a call or travel outside this place. The journey as an India Fellow has been about getting lost in what I am doing. And the moment I step away, things start making sense.
In my times of doubt, I have received both support and guidance from the people I have met through this journey. I have struggled to unlearn and break away from my set patterns of thinking and doing. And in doing this I have realized how asking for help goes a long way in building relationships. I find myself constantly zooming in and out, rerouting every time I think I might have taken a wrong turn.
I write this just before I go off from Maheshwar for the next 10 days for my midpoint training. That is probably the longest I will be away from the time I started working with Women’s Integrated and Synergistic Empowerment (WISE) Seems like the right time to see the gestalt view of everything that has been built over the last seven months. Almost like the artist when he steps away from the painting momentarily. To see what the strokes and smudges are bringing out in the canvas before he can get in on it with his brush again.
The world-building began almost six months ago when I was placed in an organization that has hosted almost sixteen India Fellows, over the last ten years. When I introduced myself to the team I would work with, they collectively marveled at how I spoke exactly like Tanaya, a fellow who had worked with the team right before I came in. And from there was a series of “Oh same Tanaya didi jaise” in every conversation we had. They seemed to love her, the way they spoke about her and reminisced about the times that she was here. It made me feel like she had carved out a certain space, and now that I was here, I was expected to fill that very space. It felt like stepping into these shoes was the only option. But I feared jeopardizing the opportunity to build our own unique relationship.
Don’t try to. Your own shoes are lovely.
I think we often underestimate our and others’ abilities to make more space for the new.
Words of wisdom from a mentor, once a source of comfort have now found meaning in how I carry on with the world-building. I have come a long way in building unique relationships with not just the team but also the community. All the women that I work with see me for who I am, they make me feel accepted. They have been liberal enough to let me care out my own space. To me, it seems that making space for the new came much easier to them than it did to me.
“Aap aaye ho to lagta hai koi saath milkar kaam kar raha hai humare” says Nafeesa didi that warms my heart.
In these reciprocating relationships, when it comes to work, the instruction might lead to compliance. But only influence can ensure commitment and ownership. Nafeesa didi talked about how every fellow who has worked with them has been lovely. Yet she really appreciates it when I sit with them while they are working. Working here has been an experiment in humility and exercising authority.
Coming here right out of design school made me feel like I was equipped to handle any challenge that came my way. Four years of being able to unpack and package concepts made me believe that the “process” was everything. Being process-oriented in the way that I had practiced all this while seemed to find no space in this fast-paced environment. It was evident that, being glued to my way of working was only going to lead to me being stretched out to the maximum limit yet unable to get the outcome that I was working towards.
This meant having to identify what was missing. A lot of my process was planning, understanding, and strategizing but it lacked action. It lacked action for fear of failing. The culture in my organization as well as working with my mentor has played a huge part in this shift. The support and nudges from my mentor pushed me to act, to take the leap of faith.
Jump and the net will appear
Taking action as opposed to obsessive planning has helped me be a little less scared of the idea of failing or things not working out as there is always scope to iterate. I managed to pull through every decision I was scared to make.
I spent the whole of November and December trying to plan how we could set up the weaving unit. In January I ordered a loom and got a few women together who wanted to learn it. I also contacted someone who could train these women on operating this loom. Within a month, we had the first 10 meters of handloom fabric. Do I now have it all figured out?
No, but I am learning on the go. And I have a lot more knowledge to make informed decisions. Moving forward, getting the process orientation to work in tandem with the action orientation is the goal. How I now strike a balance between the two becomes an important question moving forward.
Trying to break away from set ways of doing things and making space for the new, are all slow processes. Even though reflecting on these sounds like I might have reached a conclusion, this is hardly the case. I very actively find myself navigating these streams of thought open to seeing what else might need some exploration. Something that I have found extremely helpful while navigating this course is building rituals for myself. Rituals that allow me to take a pause when necessary and relationships as support structures.
Going to the ghat every once in a while to sit and write or sketch, making cheese sandwiches for everyone in the office, or getting on a call with a co-fellow to make sure we both finish our blogs are all manifestations of these rituals and relationships. I often use these as lenses to see how the world I am building is taking shape. I only hope this journey brings along with it more such lenses and tools to continue building this world.