Sunday, July 31, 2005

Progati - The tale of Progress (Part VIII)

I was so taken aback at the blunt tone that she had used, that all I did for a few moments was gape at her. She coolly picked her coffee mug and sipped the steaming brew.

"Hmmm, less sugar", she said and emptied the two sugar pouches lying nearby into the mug. And then, as if nothing had happened, went on to enquire about my kids.
"They are fine, but why wouldn't you do the article on tribal women?"
"The answer is simple my dear, nobody wants to read it!"
"What? Nobody wants to read it? What sort of an answer is that?"
"Honest and simple"
"Honest and simple?"
"Yes, I'm not pretending I can't do it, I'm not giving you excuses like I don't have the time. I'm telling you that I can do it, I have the time, but I don't have the inclination. And that, is the plain and simple truth Saira.",
her voice was steady, no emotion betrayed.
"Ok, I appreciate the honesty, but I don't understand it. Why do you not have the inclination?", as opposed to her cool demeanor, I struggled to maintain control.
"Who do you think wants to read about these illiterate grannies at twenty-nine? Is there an audience for such a work?"
"People don't know about these people, we are trying to spread awareness about their plight. We have to create the audience." My own words surprised me here. I had considered an easy option. I will talk to Rewa and she would agree to work with Mrs. Ahuja. There, my work was done. And now here I was, across the table from Rewa, talking passionately about this project.
"It doesn't work that way Saira. Creating audiences is easier said than done.", again a crisp business like tone.
"Do you always write for established audiences?"
"Yes?, but all that stuff you wrote about in school and college. About independence of women, about liberation from an age-old culture, what was that?"
"That was exactly what the people wanted to read at that time."
I was gaping at her with my mouth hanging open. This was not the Rewa I'd admired. This was not the Rewa who was my inspiration. This was not the Rewa whom I had mentioned in my speech. But then, this was not Rewa. Rewa was dead. This was Progati.
"I was surprised when you mentioned my name in the acceptance speech. Becoming an inspiration to people was never on the agenda. I was merely writing what they wanted to read. My writings have always been driven by need. The audiences' need and my need- the audiences' need of reading seemingly progressive writing and my need of Progati, of progress."
"Rewa …"
"Progati. Not Rewa. Progati. Rewa died the day I married Nabin. The day I progressed. It's a long story. The tale of my progress",
the crisp business-like tone was gone, replaced by an emotional weary voice. And as if to reflect her sudden change of mood, the plreasant breeze started howling at the windows.
"Tell me", I was intrigued, not just by the prospect of hearing her story, but also by the sudden change in her voice.
"It all began with my parent's accident. The day my sister Rachna and were orphaned. Rachna was very young then. Just a toddler, but I was old enough to understand things. None of our relatives wanted to take us in. At least not the both of us together. They were debating and trying to decide who would be a better fare - the stubborn Rewa or the toddler Rachna. Obviously, they were trying to decide which one of us would be less troublesome. It looked like we were bound to be separated, till I ran to my Ajji, my mother's mother and told her I did not want to leave Rachna. She was moved by my tearful pleas, and asked her son, my uncle to take us both in. His wife, my mami was strictly against that. She had two daughters of her own already, and to her, rearing us was akin to rearing unwanted pets. But they had to bow down to Ajji's wishes, and take us in. They did, and that's when all my troubles began"