Somehow I’m beginning to connect with what writer-film maker Justine Hardy believes — well, along the strain that a writer’s job does not, rather should not, end by simply writing about a person’s plight or about disasters striking a locale or emerging ground realities. A writer ought to go beyond, much beyond mere writing or reporting. And connect with those affected by the maladies of life. Or at least keep track of the build-ups or fall-outs or the impact of policies on lives.
It would be plain ruthless if I go and report on an earthquake and do nothing to see to it that much promised relief reaches that locale. Or, if I’m reporting on an orphan’s condition, I have got to move beyond the immediate and see that he or she gets something substantial in the larger context. And if there is a case of police torture then mere reporting on it isn’t adequate one must take it to its logical conclusion. Or, if a TB stricken patient is denied treatment then what do we do next, apart from just writing about it? As a writer I ought to follow up his or her case till treatment actually takes off. In fact, its not merely about routine follow-ups but something so concrete that it can better lives, and can definitely make some sort of difference to those whom we are writing about.
Well, Justine Hardy seems to put her theory into practice, as this British author of In the Valley of Mist has opened mental health care centres in the Kashmir Valley and has that bonding, connectivity with the Kashmiris she writes about. And though in this age and pace, it does become difficult to try and reach out but it could be a very important and crucial aspect of reportage.
And one has to admit that though one does write feature after feature on the average citizen and on their aspirations and the hurdles they face, beyond those writings, there’s little else one does.
All these months I was seeing labourers’ malnourished looking children out on the roads leading up to New Delhi’s Commonwealth Games venues and whilst their parents were beautifying those roads, these starving kids in rags were sitting under that scorching sun. As a writer, I have done nothing for these children. Or for that matter, for those teenaged, skinny boys plying cycle rickshaws. Now ofcourse those kids are not to be seen and they must have been swept aside to make this capital city look artificially spruced up.
This June, I was in the Kashmir Valley and could see and sense sorrow and pain amongst the young Kashmiris but beyond writing about it, there’s little I could do in terms of lessening of their pain. And last month, I’d received this grim write-up from a Kashmiri student — Anees Zargar, who is pursuing a course in journalism in Srinagar. The piece goes, “I woke up late in the morning and I was feeling very hungry as I am on a fast. I realised, it was going to be yet another boring day ahead. I have nothing to do. This is the 75th day of curfew. Earlier, I had thought that I will spend most of my day sleeping but its not even noon and am awake. I am a prisoner in my land and in my house. Man is supposed to be a social animal but we have lost the social aspect and become the other half only. I felt like crying but I did not as I am a grown man now so I went on. I decided to sit in the lawn for sometime but when I came out of my house, I saw all the window panes shattered to pieces. The glasses of every house in my locality were broken to pieces. Some of the houses were covered with curtains and bed sheets and looked terribly ugly. At the time of festivals, these houses were always decorated with lights and candles but this wasn’t a celebration anymore but perhaps, mourning. I started walking towards the main road which is the national highway, 1 A. I was scared as it is a curfew but I could not stop myself. After a long time, I had a chance to walk. When I was on the highway, I saw loads of military vehicles passing by which of course is not something new. I moved ahead and started counting them. Its an old practice as my mother used to ask me and my brother to count them in my childhood and that’s how I learned early maths and counting.
Honestly, we enjoyed it. As I strolled on the highway, I covered a distance of two km and by now, I had stopped counting them they were more than 200. Suddenly, I had a strange feeling. It was not deja vu but something similar. I wanted to cry but did not, as I am a grown man now so I moved on. I took a turn and after walking a brief distance, I saw a lady doctor coming out of her car. She was walking towards an alley when some police men made some remarks and started laughing. A young boy also witnessed it but, unlike me he could not hold on to his nerves and he retorted. I realised his “mistake” when he was caught before me and beaten to pulp. Fortunately, they did not shoot him as they’d have known that hospitals are out of ventilators to hide more deaths. The boy was lucky. They also checked my I-card and let me go but I was shivering so I left the place. Further ahead, I saw two old men squabbling over some issue. When they started shouting at each other, I realised that they were having a ‘leadership debate’.
Leadership debate is very popular among masses and even the leading dailies publish different opinions every now and then. Moving ahead, I saw a huge deployment of police and troops at a place which is considered ‘volatile’. I was scared but I braved it after all as I am a grown man. As I moved near them, they started me abusing right away. One of them manhandled me and they all started beating me. This time I did not feel like crying but was actually crying and that too with loud shrieks and screams. This time, I couldn’t even move ahead. Or move.”
As a writer, it isn’t enough to just write on an issue or on the hopelessness heaped on someone but maybe I can try and reach out to some extent. Very difficult maybe but perhaps, that alone could complete a writer’s journey and make it worthwhile.