Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Book! (Aliyah)

For the past few days I have suffered somewhat from the twin diseases of boredom and frustration. Studying Tamil takes up no more than two hours a day; writing, very little, as I had little to write about; and I was dying for lack of regular work to do. Having brought several thousand pages of literature with me, I have read all my books (Slow readers, you should be grateful for that fact). I am very bad at taking vacations, as I cannot sit idle for more than a few hours at a time. It didn’t help that people kept standing over me asking what I was doing and insisting that I could not clear my own dishes or serve my own rice or even decide when I had had enough. I had thought it was due to most of the people here having known me as a 10-year-old, but my Mom informs me that the same thing happened to her in 1981. She attributes it to my being a western woman here without a clear purpose. It was a lot easier to be here in January, when there was a true crisis, and no one had the luxury of boredom. I was allowed, with a little arguing, to go and get myself muddy and sore digging in Nagapattinam. I sincerely doubt it would be so easy to be allowed to go help mould bricks, even if I wanted to, which I don’t, because the people are doing a fine job for themselves, and I would only be a great distraction.

Well, anyway. I have my work now. I went to Krishnammal this morning and asked for help. She thought for a few hours, and then came to me with a 15-page booklet, with a cover in graduated colors of pink (odd how that color is so prevalent here) with a caricature of Gandhi walking on the front (or at least I assume it’s Gandhi. From the face, he looks a bit more like Jagannathan, despite the figure’s baldness.) The front cover reads, in letters of red and white: LAFTI: Land For Tillers Freedom, and nothing else (I like the back cover much better. It shows men plowing with bullocks, a hand writing, and reads “Land Belongs to God That is to Society.” This, Amma tells me, is the only official history and list of LAFTI’s projects in existence. It has not been updated since 1990. No one has had time. Everything from 1968 to 1990 is summarized in 15 pages. Now that is a terseness that even I, the queen of using as few words as possible, could not hope to match. (Of course, everything is relative. Two years ago, I would have said “15 pages? I can’t write 15 pages!”) Anyway it’s my job to update 15 years of history, and I hope to do it far more thoroughly and interestingly than that little pink booklet. I also plan to do some rewriting of LAFTI’s earlier history.

LAFTI is, though they never say it, having better things to do, the essence of “less talk more action.” This is, in my opinion, exactly what is needed in our information-rich and action-poor society. (Here, I am, saying it. What should I be doing instead?) The disadvantage of this is, of course, that little documentation exists, and publicity is poor. Until The Color of Freedom or its Italian counterpart (the title of which, student of Italian that I am, I have forgotten) was published, there was not, I believe, a single published work that mentioned LAFTI except in passing.

This update is desperately needed (or maybe not desperately, as that is likely a creation of my desperately needing something to do, but it is needed). Since 1990, due to the beginning of the prawn struggle in 1994, and the changing face of India as a whole, the entire focus of LAFTI has changed, although its mission of helping the rural poor remains the same as it was in 1968. There have been droughts and floods and tsunamis, lands and people and struggles have been gained and lost. I am only 17 years old, and still used to thinking of myself as a child. It is odd to reflect that so much has happened while I have been alive, while my sister, born in the same year from which the pink book dates, has been alive.

Of course, my plans for this new book far outrun my means and my time. I want detail and photos and maps. I want to interview not only Amma and Appa but the other LAFTI workers and some of the village people as well. I want to write a full history, and perhaps someday I will finish it. In the meantime, I know that my product will be more modest.

More soon, and I apologize for the gap of a few days,



Blogger Trip Master Monkey said...

Certainly no need for apologies on a gap of a few days. Your entries are always well-written, thoughtful and a pleasure to read. And now you're going to write a book! Best of luck to you.

As always, I look forward to reading your updates, but don't get too caught up in feeling like you have to write something everyday -- if you do that, you're going to set up a precedent that I know I won't be able to live up to once I get there!

9:41 AM, June 12, 2005  

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