As a writer, you’ve been very active on social media and interacting with your followers, especially around dealing with isolation during this lockdown. How helpful do you think writing is during a pandemic like this?
I think we all have our ways of trying to communicate with the world. For writers, words are the obvious things we go to. That said, during this extraordinary time I am seeing clarity in its power to connect with people in revolutionary ways. In these moments, the act of writing, reading, and connecting over experiences allow us to heal together collectively. We’re all shifting our hearts and minds now, and art, as usual, will serve as the connect-the-dots to our learning curve this year. So much has happened in India in the last one year, if you ask me, there are very obvious issues and themes it brings up that need to be acknowledged as a priority. It’s allowing people to be vulnerable, and in this uncertainty, I think it’s a healthy thing to express through any art form. For me, it’s always been writing and trying to bounce my emotional consciousness around to my friends on social media, hoping that in the process, I learn something new.
As an activist, we’ve seen you go from being active on the anti-CAA protest-scene to now being active on the COVID-19 relief work scene – how can other people join in and contribute?
You know, I think we’ve been raised in a culture that teaches us that words like ‘activist’ and ‘protester’ are associated with ‘radical’ notions. It allows us to either glorify or demonize whatever the cause is. At the very least it allows for people to dismiss it as being ‘those types, those issues’. The last few months have been a beautiful learning process for me. I’ve witnessed an extraordinary sharing: as diverse communities (that intersected across class, caste, and religion) engaged, resisted, changed, and loved under critical circumstances. I see the last year as a series of incidents that can all be marked under some common cultural issues: our comfort with massive inequality and rising Islamophobia, our unacknowledged casteist bubbles, and lastly, our lack of political spine. I feel strongly about how important real diversity is when it comes to our future. There was no one moment where I thought- ‘Oh, I am going to be heavily involved with the anti-CAA protests’. My participation built up organically as friends and strangers were entangled with feelings of new purposes and ethical certainties. Friendships evolved and organised in a plethora of ways during this time. In fact, a lot of the work we’re doing in terms of COVID food rations in Bangalore is because a lovely friend we met at Bilal Bagh is actually out and about identifying the most vulnerable homes. So many of the people I was protesting with, are now either funding, organising, or on the streets helping out. Do you see a connection? I think the resistance is very much still on. Food is a basic right to everyone, our system is messed up. The fact that we even have to glorify the act of giving is what allows us to see how power works, how easy it is for people to command power by throwing basic dignity at people. Our need to develop and leverage power is the most persistent human condition. One we have to tackle first. Until then, we can only create stopgap solutions.
Looking after the needs of other people is great – how does one look after one’s own physical/mental health during a lockdown like this? Learnings you’ve made so far?
This entire lockdown has the potential to give us the space to both fight and play with our minds. Of course, I think self-care is important. However, I think emotional and intellectual investment (and curiosity) about the world is also a part of self-care. If we want to work towards a more equal and joyous world, we must realise the very foundation of it depends on us unlearning the toxic ideas we’ve been socialized into. All our ideas about love, ambition, equality, career, and productivity serve a larger system of inequality. Basically, we all toe the line because we think it’s the only option. So, I do buy into the self-care model (treat yourself, Netflix, therapy, exercise, good food) as long as we are aware that these things in its purest forms are just carrots dangling on the wheel of hyper capitalism , the wheel we’re all running on. To exit the cycle, we have to reimagine the contours of self-care. Listen, I am the first one to suggest binge watching stupid crap on YouTube or Netflix when you are feeling down. But I also believe that art, therapy and the courage to enter the darkest parts of our hearts and souls all bring us closer to one another.
Your love for street dogs has also caught our attention – how are you ensuring that you help as many strays around you and words of advice for other people who want to help?
I have this one friend, Aparna, who had once said she felt lucky to live in a country like India where co-existing with strays was the norm. Yes, it’s true most people see ‘strays’ as a problem. If you look at the larger picture, animals are abused every day, all the time, no matter how first-world or ‘developing’ the nation is. In countries like India due to environmental and infrastructural reasons, strays are an inevitable reality. I wish all of us could look at our city dog culture as my friend had put it: a co-existence. And therefore, we must feed them, vaccinate them, and most of all give them love. A large majority of people are either scared of dogs or are passive about them. I want to say, if you are curious enough, over 80% of dogs love human beings and want to get some major love. Sometimes they are as scared or passive of you because your energy to them is the same. Just like you might have had a bad experience with a dog, they have encountered as many with humans, and yet they have no other option but to trust us. Most people get bitten because they don’t know how to interact with animals, it’s not their fault. Parents from an early age instill fear in children and we grow up with that fear. Most kids run, wave their hands, or scream when they see a dog come towards them. It’s the exact opposite of how we should be reacting. And most of this behaviour is taught by the parent. The biggest impact you can make on the future of animal compassion is to not teach fear to your children. Remember fear always translates into cruelty, dismissal, or lack of empathy because it’s an emotion and association we want to run away from. I’d rather not talk about any of the work I do in this capacity, it’s not much more than helping out the odd dog and playing with all the street dogs every chance I get. I would like to amplify the voices of two spaces. One is Animal Lives Are Important (ALAI) they do serious work in helping, nurturing, and treating stray dogs. I’d also like to bring your attention to Sindhoor Pangal, the founder of BHARCS, an educational institute in Bangalore. She’s doing revolutionary work in the space of dog behaviour, specifically in her observations and thoughts on our very own indie dogs. And lastly, if you want to commit to animal companionship adopt an indie, and please stop buying animals as pets.
Has this period of isolation/lockdown led to the germination of something new? Will we be seeing a new book from you anytime soon?
It’s allowing me to be more in sync with my idea of faith and spiritual balancing. When the world outside is wild and on fire, I am trying to find calm. In this time, I am hoping to start seeding new ideas about our humanity. I want to say, it’s probably going to be a non-fiction book that’s next, and it will definitely be a departure from the work I’ve published in the past.