Do you remember telegrams? They used to make anyone nervous as no news was considered good news.
Oh no, not the current day chat app but the long-distance transmission of?point-to-point text messaging system, used from mid-1800s until better systems developed over time.The electrical telegraphy was a system devised to send text messages more rapidly than written messages could be sent through the snail mail or ordinary post. This system allowed for communication to occur without the necessity of physical transportation; a revolution in communication and messaging history and perhaps the early form of the web and mobile based messengers we have today.
News for the longest time remained bad news. Calamities, riots, protests, fatalities and an outbreak of some form of economic distress, filled airwaves and newsprint.
Having grown up in the 1980s and 1990s, news became depressing, boring and often led to anger and frustration. As a young idealist, wanting to change the world, I decided to quit journalism and do something more meaningful.
The internet boom revolutionised access to information in the 2000 - remember the Y2K? It was around this time, I made a sharp switch to human rights studies from media studies. In my research, I chanced upon a blog called goodnewsindia.com. As a sucker for good news, I was pleasantly surprised to see this gentleman D.V. Sridharan who took it upon himself to cover good news from around India, tirelessly travelling from village to village, city to city, sharing stories of positive change.
We all know that it's not what someone does for you that stays with us, it's how they made us feel that lingers in our robust memories. Having pursued my passion for developmental studies and rights doctrine, I had the good fortune of working in the villages and slums of India.
I worked with communities in Delhi, including in some very rough bastis (slum dwellings). As a fresh graduate and unaware of the hostility and bluntness that would meet me, I set off on my community outreach. In those days I was mandated to set up self-help groups (SHGs) to encourage enterprise and savings among these communities.
One of those dwellings was by a massive dump-yard on the outskirts of Delhi called Transport Nagar. I was a regular worker here and had to deal with myriad issues in trying to set up the SHGs, such as prostitution, child abuse, theft and migrant populations that were forever changing. Having worked with a group one week, they would have moved away by the time you revisited the slum the following week.
It was one such week, having worked in Transport Nagar for months, that left me speechless. Amma ji, a very old lady resident of a shanty in this slum invited me to her “home” for a treat. In one of our casual conversations she may have heard someone mention I love kheer (rice pudding). I followed her in and noticed the tarpaulin roof, barely held together by bricks stacked up. Inside there was what you could say a kitchen area and by it a sleeping area on the floor. She had arranged a chair for me to sit on; though in shambles, she proudly asked me to take a seat so she may offer me the treat. She brought a bowl with rice pudding and requested me to partake it.
Though concerned about hygiene my colleagues and fellow workers tried to make excuses for me to the lady, I decided to eat it. The look on the old lady's face was priceless and we had overcome the barriers that set us apart in two worlds - we became friends and there on, I wasn't any longer an outsider.
I wonder at times seeing so much intolerance and hatred consuming us as societies, how we become so. As children, we are unapologetic, politically incorrect and blunt; life is simpler. As we grow up, life's harsh realities and our circumstances expose us to the ugliness, manipulation and agendas. Of course there are reasons and causes for this propaganda driven hate mongering but most people wish to live peacefully, in an uneventful dwelling with little by way of change.
News reports and information we consume start forming our opinions. Today one sees multiple platforms online that celebrate unsung heroes, highlight good news stories and run crusades to transform lives. But back then in the 2000s, DV was my only source of any good news other than of course my own lived experiences, that have become stories that I fondly share from time to time, especially at get-togethers and socials where the only connect between my country of origin and local friends are these stories.
London is a melting?pot of global cultures and as a local, one gets an opportunity to interact with a diverse mix of people. Potlucks and shared platters are popular cultural connectors. Then there are festivals that bring the diaspora together to celebrate and know their country. More often than not I find discussions turning into arguments with sides taken and conclusions drawn that an entire country may be generalised as “bad” and “horrible”.
Lived experiences and sharing these stories I find are so important to relate a true image of any cultural connect, particularly for the diaspora and their progeny. Stereotypes are preconceived and conclusive ideas are etched even before having encountered any of these situations.
I suppose we live in rather uncertain, volatile times. A generation that has the bane of too much communication, we aren't at all interacting - listening being the most important aspect.
Next time, someone asks you about India or Africa or wherever your family come from, tell them those stories, the ones that connect you to your roots, the ones that make you fall in love.
Lakshmi Kaul is the London-based UK Head & Representative at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and an active Indian diaspora campaigner. In this regular Talking Point column for 'iGlobal', she will focus on issues that deserve spotlighting within the Global Indian community, referencing her personal experiences.