Day 13: Recording Lives


 Day 13

‘Who is capturing the pathos of this epidemic’ asked Krishna Prasad on his J-Pod podcast. The state of journalism in India has been a concern among many.  As a journalist he seems to be deeply concerned with the way the pandemic is unfolding in India, its impact on lives and its coverage. In the podcast he highlights the lack of such chronicling of the pandemic and the necessity of it. He asks, who is digging deep and writing about this pandemic? He asserts that ‘Indian journalism has almost entirely outsourced good writing’.  I agree with him. It is valuable for posterity and necessary to record lived experiences of people through events that hit the present in several deep and important ways and which leave the anticipated future altered. The easiest for us to imagine such times and records are from the great wars. The world wars have been extensively documented and recorded from multiple perspectives. We see the value in personal letters (like Reymond Moll’s) and diaries (like Anne Frank’s). But then there have been other events with devastating consequences and barely any records like the Bengal Famine and the oppressive emergency in Kenya that led to the Mau Mau Revolution. Years later, we see scholars piecing together history through innovative methods and that lead to striking consequences as Caroline Elkins’ work demonstrated. () How would we ever understand those events? Or perhaps we are leaning towards the idea that history matters less in the advance of societies into the future. In the little way that I can, I would prefer to write through these days – the changes that the city goes through and with it how the personal has been changing.

Prasad reads from Philip Gibbs’ work ‘Adventures in Journalism’. It is about the famine in Russia in 1921. I read through some of Gibbs’ reporting from his book ‘Now It Can Be Told’. He writes in the preface

The purpose of this book is to get deeper into the truth of this war and of all war—not by a more detailed narrative of events, but rather as the truth was revealed to the minds of men, in many aspects, out of their experience; and by a plain statement of realities, however painful, to add something to the world’s knowledge out of which men of good-will may try to shape some new system of relationship between one people and another, some new code of international morality, preventing or at least postponing another massacre of youth like that five years’ sacrifice of boys of which I was a witness.

Lived experiences offer the essence of the time, they speak of the subjective which doesn’t manage to find space in the larger, macro narratives of times and decisions taken by leaders and heroes of the time. I understand Dr Norman Bourlaugh’s and MS Swaminathan’s work better when I hear a beneficiary of it speak of the near revolution the improved varieties of plants brought to her life through her farm. That completion of the arc makes us better individuals, as much as that can happen. 

I spent the evening reading and turning a containment action plan document of the Indian government into a schematic for my own understanding. Someone asked if time through the day passes easily. I had to mention that I have in fact had an opposite problem – time slips by before I realize it turned 11 PM from 7 AM. Meanwhile, news from friends and family is mixed. Some are getting by fine and some are seeing things stress tested – especially being home all the time, with family members. Today, we have run out of vegetables and dairy products. Not sure if we’re buying them soon! There’s kabuli chana and rotis for lunch and dinner. 

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