Why “where am I?”?. Because I’m assuming you’ve all been wondering why such a delay between posts. And because the last week or two have seen many answers to that question, all variations of the kaleidoscope India.
I’ve managed to talk to the very helpful and warm manager of Wellspring MediTour India, based in the very suburb of Chennai that I’ve been staying in. It’s a relatively small business at the moment, but (as he kept reiterating) he’s not interested in amassing money, wants to let it grow organically. I surmised Wellspring assists around a dozen patients a year, mostly from the middle east, to travel to India for medical treatment. There’s a poem emerging from this conversation, which I don’t want to pre-empt, but I will say that the main thing I got out of it was the genuineness and sincerity of the man. This, of course, is within the context of a very complex business, which requires constant attentiveness (and I would argue, a kind of blindness or turning away from other situations of need).
Speaking of blindspots, I also made the acquaintance of VS Sunder, who has a fortnightly column in The Times of India (Chennai). He’s a mathematician by profession, but the column delves into issues of accessibility and disability in urban India. As you can imagine, if you have any condition that means you can only get around in a wheelchair or even with a stick, accessibility is a purely hypothetical idea in most cases, a chimera which is legislated for but almost entirely ignored. Sunder’s column wittily and insightfully points this out. His website is here. Oh, and yes, in terms of blindspots, just the other week, opposite his column was another essay extolling the virtues of the Indian political system, which is premised on equality. Hmmm.
Last weekend, I attended the 7th Indian Writers Festival, this year at Wardha, a small town near Sevagram, Maharashtra (where Gandhi had his ashram for about 12 years). The Festival is organised by Indian Writers, and included participants from about a dozen states and six other countries. While the majority of the festival was in Hindi, the gentle passionate avalanche of poetry and abstracts of papers, the interaction between people and just the fact of being present in a group of writers, was a tremendous experience. Much of the weekend was taken up with reflections on peace, Gandhi and translation. It occurred to me, observing the audience response to Hindi poetry, to sung ghazals, and other languages, that language itself is a community with deep roots reaching across states and continents. It has been a revelation for me to realise, too, just how culturally-infused my own poetry is, how my Australian-ness is infused in the language of my poems. For those of you who’ve been to India before, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that on the surface the festival seemed quite shambolic and loose, but also everything worked out fine!
Soon – lots of photos….