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.