July 2017 was an exciting time. I began this month nervously, yet excited. It was going to be the beginning of my fellowship journey, and also a new beginning on a personal front. After having lived with my family for all 24 years of my life, I was heading out to somewhere unknown and unexpected. I anticipated that I would be leaving the comforts of my home in Bombay and have a year full of travel to remote places, conversations with people I had never interacted with before, and a lot of solitude. With this in mind, I packed my bags for the fellowship Induction Training. What could be more romantic and adventurous than the idea of leaving the comforts of our lives, our meagre belongings stuffed in a bag, off to begin a new journey without even knowing the final destination for the next one year.
During the training, there were lots of conversations among everyone about living in villages, there were nervous discussion about the challenges of not having phone network for days at a time, language barriers, etc. I had also mentally prepared myself for it. I had imagined the next year in rural Karnataka, or Maharashtra, or Rajasthan. I was prepared to answer my relatives’ “But what are you doing in a village?” questions, and my friends’ “So what do you do for fun there?” questions. I had imagined uploading pictures of green fields, and blue skies on my social media and getting questions “Hey, where are you? What are you doing nowadays?” (Yes, yes, what a millennial!)
But my dreams were short-lived. And you don’t always get you what you’re prepared for. I found out that I would be working in Delhi; I didn’t know how to react. Sure, the project sounded interesting and something which I was looking forward to, but this was not what I had in mind! I was looking forward to some solitude and a serene and quiet environment. But I was definitely not prepared to be going to the capital city, the second most populous city in the country. After few days of internal whining, I knew now was the time to dive in. This was the time for some glass-half-full thinking …
I just completed a month in Delhi. My experiences in this city have been far different from those of my friends who are placed in villages across the country. But there have been instances of challenges and learning and adventures in abundance. I often find myself lost in this big city with its confusing metro routes. I often find myself lost in my big organization where everyone seems to know what to do all the time. I get to interact with people with disabilities who are learning new skills in order to get a job soon. Sometimes I get to meet their trainers and their employers. So that I can interact with the people at the centre better, I’m trying to learn sign language. Learning sign language makes me wonder how we have created a world and environment that is so difficult for anyone to navigate through who is not like “us”. It makes you feel that a section of society has been deliberately made invisible in our public spaces. Without accessible signage and public infrastructure and facilities, this section of society is going to stay marginalized by design. In order to bring a community into the mainstream, the mainstream has to be willing to make some changes and offer up some space for those who have not had any till now.
This is not a comfortable realization. Because with this realization follows the solutions – that in order to ensure a better life for persons with disabilities, the burden of change is not on the individual with the disability but on the environment and the larger society. This uncomfortable realization may makes the work for the next one year seem unsurmountable, almost. That no matter what one organization does in isolation, it is not going to have any impact, that this effort is all for nothing.
During our induction training we learnt about the Hiding Hand Principle. According to the Hiding Hand Principle, the state of being ignorant or oblivious to the future obstacles while starting a project, puts you at an advantage because you’re not too bogged down by the weight of the obstacles and you more readily take the plunge. I don’t know if this is the in play, or what it is, but I’m glad about where I am right now. Maybe because I was not prepared for working in a big organization or prepared for living in a big city, the challenges do not seem as big. Maybe, becoming aware of the various challenges of this sector one by one can work to my advantage because I won’t be as overwhelmed. Maybe, by solving one challenge at a time, the mountain of obstacles will slowly fade away. Either way, this is an exciting time and a chance for me to take a plunge into something that is relatively unknown.
I guess this fellowship year will involve taking a lot of plunges into unknown situations. While this makes the rigid Type A personality part of me slightly uncomfortable, it is also exciting. And hey, so what if I can’t upload pictures of green scenery? Pictures of momos will work perfectly fine too!
Picture credits: Creative Commons
Thanks for such an insightful piece!I realized how little thought I had actually given to the whole issue and that – “…this section of society is going to stay marginalized by design.” how disturbingly true this is. Would love to read more soon!
Thanks Saumya! Definitely planing to explore this a little further in the upcoming blogs.
I think this is one of the best first month account from field … honest and well crafted. I like how you also seemlessly moved between induction and Delhi and connected them via The Hiding Hand reading. Now, i feel like you are the sole representation of Delhi-NCR in this cohort (as well as disability) and will really look forward to you sharing the learning from this part of the country, especially urban issues, for the larger cohort
Thank you so much Anupama! Looking forward to exploring Delhi (through writing, reading, and physically exploring) in the coming year.