Anita, my partner in the organisation and life, transited from Abhivyakti few days back after completing nearly twenty years of creative work. I had walked out last year with the same amount of work behind me. People started asking us why we did it when we were at the peak of our careers, and not old enough to retire. Yes, why indeed?
The idea to ‘wean’ ourselves from the baby we created came to us one fine evening when we were together with the rest of the team at our Annual Meet, some five years ago. To our surprise both of us agreed that it was a wise thing to do. We had formed Abhivyakti, an organisation dedicated to media, culture and communications when we were in Mumbai and both of us were in our early twenties. We grew along with the organisation, sometimes sacrificing our personal lives, and striving to walk on the mission we had created without compromising. In the early stages of the journey we found ourselves in Nashik, made it our home and have been living here ever since. Abhivyakti shaped us as we shaped its destiny. Anita says her identity got built and strengthened at Abhivyakti and I completely agree with her. She wrote in her farewell letter, “It feels strange as I stand at this threshold of transiting into a new identity, leaving behind the one which had been my primary social identity through most of my adult life”. Mine too had evolved as we grappled with the various challenges that came along the way. Sometimes we faltered but we took it in our stride. Our resolve to make Abhivyakti into a humane and compassionate organisation that was sensitive to the needs of its team and ready to learn from its mistakes never left us. We were thus able to chisel its contours with genuine efforts and were effective in shaping its programmes that were in tune with local needs and demands. Our dream was becoming a reality; most of our plans had been fulfilled – that’s when it dawned on us that it was about time. The insight was bang on target. We had a rich body of work behind us and we were proud of it. But we didn’t want to rest on its laurels for the remainder of our lives. Something else beckoned, and we jumped at the idea.
Apart from the work we also believed we had invested in our team members with authentic care and warmth. We had cut the hierarchy and controls of power and tried to vest it in the team. It was this belief in the abilities of our team members that committed us to the decision of transiting out of Abhivyakti. Anyway we believed that having led the organisation for so many years with our ways it was time to invite competent colleagues to take it forward in their own way. Our leadership had bloomed when we were actually at the job and we did what we believed was the best. The same principle applied to those who were ready and interested to lead it.
It was difficult when I quit. I had become so use to the culture and routine of Abhivyakti, the daily interaction and the bonhomie of the community that working alone was torture. But creating a new life, accepting new directions and challenges has made the journey so far worthwhile, exciting and satisfying. We strongly sense the support and assurance of the network of friends and well-wishers who are behind us as we take the initial steps of a new journey. It is not the same as when we started Abhivyakti, times were different then; however, the excitement and a sense of adventure are similar.
Like Robert Frost said, we are embarking on the road less travelled…
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I am afflicted with a trait which I suppose is common, yet I feel peculiar. Even though I like receiving gifts, I find myself feeling awkward accepting them. In comparison I like giving. It gives me a joy that is impossible to describe. Giving and receiving connects us to people, something which we are losing against the other connection – social networking – promoted by a technology-driven world. Of course there is a vast difference between the two but I prefer the more face-to-face kind of interaction, and the act of gifting is a way of celebrating a shared moment in space and time. Why I like giving more is complicated but let me try to articulate its source. I suppose at the core is an assumption that the process of gift-giving will raise good feelings about me in the receiver’s heart and mind. I tried to evaluate this reason and found that there may be some shades of truth in it but it is not so straight and simple. Giving involves thinking about the other person, understanding their universe and their wishes. It shifts our focus from ‘us’ to ‘them’, and as it does it unwittingly bridges the gap between the two with naturalness and warmth. Gifting is that precious means by which entry into other’s soul is possible. But in today’s consumer-driven life gifts too have become ‘plastic-coated’; we have become dependent on the market to fulfil our wish of giving. And these wide ranges of available products dazzle us to temporarily forget the reasons for giving. The focus shifts without our realisation to the product than for whom it is meant. In the end, the receiver is inundated with ‘gifts’ which are perhaps already present or which have no relation to his/her needs at that moment. The market has also unconsciously slipped in the notion of ‘price tag’. The value of how much it costs has replaced the value of feelings associated with the act of giving. A costly tag means the gift is valuable. I have had both kinds of experiences – have got gifts which do not mean anything and have chosen ones for completing the formality.
Keeping with the artificiality associated with picking something from the market; we, i.e. my family and the organisations that I was working with earlier, tried something different. We decided to make things with our own hands and efforts instead of buying from the market. This made lot of difference. The act of creating immediately connects us to our inner world and at the same time links us with the others for whom we are making the gift. Creating something with our own hands requires time, that is what is at stake as the market makes us believe it’s not worthwhile to invest our precious time in something so non-productive! This is of course rubbish as the market basically wants all of us to be passive so that it can continue to influence us. The time I spent in making a particular gift was worth the efforts as it involved connecting my heart, mind and the body and left me in a wonderful state of bliss. The output, a papier-mâché, wasn’t a grand design but it involved my complete attention and I reckoned it would please the receiver, a colleague in the office. It definitely did, and I felt elated. We haven’t been successful all the time but it occupies our conscious whenever we have to gift something.
Since this has been on my mind and is a symbolic resistance to the growing domination of the consumer world on our lives, I am constantly thinking of situations where it could be applied. Recently, in one of the colleges where I am a guest faculty, I tried it with students who had passed their second year design examination. I told them that there could be another way of celebrating. As opposed to buying ‘Pedhas’ (sweets made from milk), I invited them to try their hand at making home-made dishes to bring to college. I was surprised the following day when I was invited to their class to join in the revelry. There was literally a lavish spread on the table. Everyone had made something with their own hands. The boys too surprised their mates by bringing variety of delicacies. The joy was palpable and the sharing boisterous. Most of them revealed that they enjoyed making the dish for their friends and eating together was like icing on the cake. Later the students got together and decided to contribute making their campus green by planting trees. One idea had birthed another and the process of reflection of what they could do together had begun.
As to why I am awkward receiving gifts might be related to the fact that I don’t like to be seen vulnerable, and being at the receiving end of someone’s generosity is definitely one such moment! I think it’s time to change – being vulnerable in front of others is an invitation to share a private moment. I realise the power of the gift culture, and in creating a space of intimacy not only deepens our community bond but also helps us to discover our subjective worlds and offers opportunities to transform ourselves!
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