As the urban elite of the nation, we are often more aware of Trump’s political manifesto and Brexit’s impacts on Great Britain than about the country and the cities we live in. How often do we read stories from rural Rajasthan, unless it is a sensational report on dowry torture or rape? How well do we know the urban slums that lie around the corner from us?
Even in this era of 24/7 media, when we are continuously bombarded with so much information over the internet, television, newspapers, we tend to live in our own cocoons, wrapped up in our own contexts and identities. We remain blissfully unaware of the world immediately outside our immediate environs, and secure in the knowledge that only we – urban, English speaking – know about the internet and its wonders.
This is what makes it difficult for us to deal with the shock of being rudely jerked into a reality we aren’t familiar with – and why we grapple with our mental image of a woman like Divya Sharma. Divya lives in Katara, a quaint little village on the outskirts of Udaipur, in Rajasthan; one of those villages to which no public transport is available; where water scarcity is a way of life; where economic necessity has driven people to migrate as far as Bangalore to ply their trades. Yet amidst all this, Divya is an artist. And she’s a hardcore Instagrammer.
To be honest, it was a bit of a shock to me when I found out about Divya’s Instagram account – and when I saw Bob Marley on her wall, alongside images of Radha and Krishna. It just didn’t gel with my idea of a rural village in Rajasthan.
I realized with a guilty start that I had suddenly been confronted by my own biases. All too often, popular imagery and media portrays rural India as deprived, desperately poor, and in need of help. We’re almost brainwashed into accepting that image blindly as reality. And this doesn’t prepare us for the reality of rural India: Some of it, undoubtedly, does need help. A lot of it is poor. But a lot of it is also like Divya. In her paintings, she occasionally explores topics like deforestation. Instagram is her medium of choice to share her work with the world. As of now, she has a total of 151 followers, including her newfound fan: me. “Don’t think that village women just sit at home, cook and wash vessels, we have a life too” she says, as I go through her paintings, still recovering from the shock.
And that’s the rub: My having an Instagram account isn’t as shocking as Divya having one. And that needs to change. I am an alien to the Nepali cook at my hostel, who declares that he’s ‘making dishes from my country’ whenever he makes sambhar for breakfast. Other than the fact that I eat idlies and sambhar, he knows nothing about me or where I come from. He probably doesn’t even see me as Indian. And like the cook, I too am trapped by my ignorance of Divya’s context: I only know the image of the Rajasthani women walking with pots on their heads in some Rajasthan Tourism ad. The smart phones those village women use with so much ease as I watch them are not part of the mental picture I have of them.
The more we know, the more we become closer to each other. The closer we become, the more sensitive we are to the issues that surround us. The more we share, the more it becomes clear that sometimes things are decidedly different from the way we thought they were.