Thursday, February 22, 2007

12th January

The D-day arrived with all the excitement that such an occasion demanded. Frantic phone calls from ma’am about the collection of tickets from the travel agent’s office, where we were to meet etc started early in the morning. Garima came specially to meet me before going to office. While I was starting on this adventure she had her first trip abroad, to Singapore on an assignment, all planned. So the two of us were going to have adventures of our lives on our own merit together… this is what ‘filmy dosti’ is. Garima got me some snacks for the journey. Thank god she did because with all the excitement food was something I had completely forgotten. After the last minute shopping of tissues, creams and medicines and packing over I was off to the Sita Travels office to collect all the tickets. Mom and I met ma’am at the Hazzarat Nizamuddin Station at 3 o clock. I was nervous as mom was to meet ma’am for the first time. It felt like being back to a Parents Teachers meet in school. Not surprisingly the first thing that Sabiha Ma’am told mom was “Priyanka talks so much, how do you live with her?” But then this was a statement that mom has gone used to hearing from my teachers since the nursery standard.

After the introductions were over there was a little formal talk about children, students, and weather till the train arrived at the platform. It was definitely the only time I was traveling without my mother and did not shed a tear. My mother and my friends will vouch that I cry every time I leave my mom even for a 2-day trip. This was no trip. This was a journey of a lifetime so tears had no place. I had to be brave or atleast give that impression to my mom and ma’am.

This was the first time I boarded the Rajdhani Express. Being the daughter of a railway employee (my mother is in the railway ministry) Rajdhani has been a part of various conversations during family dinners, outing with friends and get togethers with her office friends. So Rajdhani in itself was a big deal for family and friends. Though, boringly enough, for me it was just of mode of transport and nothing more. The Rajdhani Express is known for its hospitality, the amount of endless food tires one after 5 hours. Believe me.

Once the train chugged the sense of the beginning of the adventure began to sink in a little. Ma’am and I spend the evening sorting out the stack of paper we both carried for research purpose. Ma’am told me the exact subject and the storyline that had been planned for the documentary film. At the time of the dinner we started chatting with a co-passenger. She was a manager with the Taj Group of hotels. When she asked us what we do ma’am answered very simply that she is a documentary filmmaker and I am her assistant director. With that statement I had felt like I had won an Oscar. It was for me the moment that many people have described as the moment they are sure of their calling in life. That was pure bliss for me. I had known that a moment will come when nothing else will matter--- not the food, the comfort, the material, the money etc. the film and the whole process till I got the CD in my hand was a series of such moments for me. I slept peacefully and the happiest I had ever been ever on the upper birth of Rajdhani Express.

Monday, February 5, 2007

5th to 11th January

There is a game that most of us have played in our childhood--- Chinese whispers. Let me tell you why I think of this game when I remember these days. I have written the conversation I had had with Sabiha Ma’am. Now what my brain interpreted of this conversation in the subsequent days will be very interesting for the readers. Well the adventurous girl that I am, at least ostensibly, I thought that Sabiha ma’am was going to shoot a film on Naxals and she had chosen me to go along. Me as a choice for such a project was a little discerning to myself too. Nevertheless there was no way in hell that I would have let anyone else know about the fear that had started to build up inside my tummy. Naxals were a new concept to me. I had come to know about their working only during the past 6 months. So fear was the only thing I associated with Naxals and their movement. I could not keep the excitement of it all only to myself for long. I blurted out everything to Gurneet. Aah! What a relief…keeping a secret, many of my friends will vouch, is not my best quality. Another major reason to tell Gurneet early on was that we both had been making plans of how to spend the break we were to get post our exams. She was going to forego her trip to Canada and cousin’s wedding to execute the plans we had made by voluntarily (and quite happily) wasting so much of our study time. If I was going on the journey of my life I definitely did not want her to stay back and miss her cousin starting a new life. So it was decided that Gurneet would go to Canada for her cousin’s wedding while I will traverse in the jungles of central and south India.

For the next couple of days I was busy browsing news magazines, websites and newspapers to educate myself with the Naxals and every possible detail I could get about them. 5th to 8th January, I was miserable. I was frantic in my attempts to call Sabiha Ma’am and tell her I had convinced my mother and I was onboard. But as luck would have it I could not contact her. Her cell phone was always out of reach. The worst possible thoughts plagued my mind. Maybe she had changed her mind; maybe I had taken too long to answer and angered her, maybe…

The answers to the maybes I had none. But I think it was the second time around in my life that I had wished for something so badly. First being of course my father’s recovery from the illness that resulted in his death. God had not answered me then. He had to this time. Prayers being rejected twice were a policy, even if God’s own, I was not ready to accept or approve of. On 9th I finally had a word with Sabiha Ma’am. She was in Agra on a shoot for the past 4 days. Phew! Thank God! I told her I was onboard. After enquiring about my mother’s consent, Sabiha Ma’am asked me to go to Hauz Khas to the CEFI* office to collect some literature from there. This she informed me was to be my study material.

Going to Hauz Khas was as easy as the bus-ride. Nothing eventful happened. The fun started once I reached back home and opened the literature I got. All I had were these brochures and books about herbal plants. Now I was completely out of loop. Where were the Naxals, the vulnerable villagers whose story I had to capture? I read all the literature. Next day I called up Sabiha Ma’am ready with my list of questions. She was awesome when she did not laugh at my inanity of thinking that the two of us were going to traverse the Naxal area all by ourselves (not that we did not do that later on) covering such a sensitive issue. Sabiha Ma’am gave me a brief idea of what was going to be the main line of the story we were going to take. Though it still wasn’t crystal clear.And I did not ask with the fear that it might dawn on her that I was not ready for the project. This is when Chinese Whispers became the theme game for the trip. As this was not the only time during the shoot that what anyone had said was misunderstood or rather misinterpreted.

The next couple of days I spent searching the net and preparing a suitable travel plan that would help us save time and money. That was my first brush with extensive online search. I would be in touch with ma’am through the numerous phone calls we made daily. I was introduced to this voice called Jogiraj by ma’am. She instructed me to call Jogiraj and tell him something about the travel plan. I did so not realizing whom I was talking to. The first thing that Shakti (my boss at Lifestyle) had taught me was to Google professional associates. It completely skipped my mind to Google Jogiraj. But I liked the man on the other side of the phone he was very kind to me.

Once the decision to go was made an important ritual that I always follow before taking on a journey or a new job was to be adhered to. I had to go shopping. The instant shopping sprees were gratifying and added to the whole excitement of going for the first documentary shoot of my life.
Ma’am and I could not meet before the 12th when we left for our journey to recce* and then shoot the documentary film. It was on 12th that the real fun began.

*CEFI Community Enterprise Forum Internatinal, the NGO that had commissioned Jogiraj to make the film
*Recce is an inspection or exploration of an area, especially one made to gather information before commencing a shoot.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

4th January

This day did not witness any progress in terms of the documentary film. But nevertheless I am accounting this day just so as to not break the chronology of the documentary saga.

Exams at NRAI are not something to dread. But yes the way all the students took the exam I lived in constant fear of failing one or the other exam or scoring relatively very low for sure. The current affairs exam on 4th was no different. When everyone else in the class had bought bagsful of magazine stacks and notes to cheat, Gurneet and I had gone for a toss. We were sure that clearing or even scoring a decent score in this exam was to be our Everest. With nothing to refer to in this exam I felt it was going to be a defining moment. A student of journalism failing the current affairs exam… I can only imagine the wagging tongues and the gossip mills within family and friends working overtime.

The three devils as I used to call them in those days---Supragya, Kazim and Jha (the monster) were back at their old tricks. A lot of verbal attacks and jibing went on during the exam. It was a day when I got a feel of how the exams in notorious centers across UP and Bihar went. Magazines dating back to the last six months were available in the class in English as well as Hindi. All one had to do was pick the language, choose the choice among the questions to be answered and all the material to help score the best of marks was there.

The problem that I usually face in such circumstances, please don’t take me for a prude or a self crowned Gandhi Bhakt (I am neither), is following my head which often tells me “everyone is doing it”, or my heart which says, “That’s the only reason you should not.” With these perplexities on my mind, Gurneet and I decided to abstain from cheating. The reason was simple for both of us. We could not bear to be happy with the results even if we scored highest. Once the decision was made things were not that difficult. Then giving the exam to the best of our knowledge and ability became our focus. Having Gurneet for a friend is a blessing that I always thank God for. That day, again I was re-affirmed about the correct choice I had made in Gurneet. She did not once ask me to go the wrong way. The usual answer of ‘everyone is doing it’ or even ‘if you don’t want to don’t but I will’ could have come from anyone else but not her.

The worst part was seeing the teacher, Dr. Ritu being totally shocked. Never had she seen students so bluntly and openly cheating. I could sympathise with her. The viva went well. Though ma’am was a little worried for Gurneet and me and our marks.

The events of the exam were least of my worries. The documentary and saying yes to Sabiha ma’am had consumed me completely. I was so tempted to tell Gurneet. That was the toughest test of will power I had given myself till date.

P.S: Gurneet and I faired well in the current affairs exam. Surprisingly better than those who cheated front to back, introduction to conclusion. Guess the evaluators are smart people after all.