Being Married and Taking a Walk

Written by  //  July 16, 2011  //  Economic & Social Policy  //  Comments Off on Being Married and Taking a Walk

“Are you married?”

Irritating, feminist clichés rush to my mind, with images tailored to provoke anger. Images of a sloppy so-and-so who is ‘interested’ in my life, or how I ‘maintain’ myself (to use a favourite North Indian turn of phrase). Usually, a question that comes from a well-heeled and well-bejewelled woman, speaking in barely dulcet tones.
But this is different. I am not in a drawing room full of curios, answering to cocktail conversation. I am deep in a tiger reserve, having just finished being rattled by rain-washed gypsy trails.

Ethnographic research.
The words are burnt into my mind like a banner I have to refer to, for the 8 weeks I am going to spend here, interviewing forest-dwelling communities. Well, here I am. It is 40 degrees, I feel like a warm wet sponge, dutifully dressed in what will pass as ethnographic- salwar kameez, long dupatta, covered hair.

Curious eyes, slowly forming into an alarmingly large group. It is a motley group of women and children, and they are smiling at me. Some not smiling, but their interest is enough to make me wanly smile back. And the first thing they want to know is if I am married.

“Er-no,” I say.
“Why not?”
“Just like that.”
“Well, do you have any children?”
“Why not?’
“We have children after getting married.” (Mental note to self: I made this rather prudish statement to unsuccessfully establish I am indeed, Indian, and I am trying to be ethnographic.) It does not work. Some women leave, shaking their heads, one young sprite stays back, pointing out that she is 19, and lo and behold, here is her son.

Textbooks tell you the degree of separation between the researcher and the respondent is also data, an important consideration to keep in mind. I have also filled valuable, voluminous forms on ethics, on how the respondent should be given full information on what (not just who) I am, where I’ve come from, and possibly how I will use his answers.

Answers too, have been described- as structured and semi-structured, long-winded and direct, and a lot has been written about how to rank certain adjectives that are used cheap jordans from china, or conduct discourse analysis on certain phrases that come up. So my first question is on what makes the space in the forest a place in the forest.

“What do you like about this place?”
“I like that I am a free man.”
This wasn’t in a book, and that’s what intrigues me.
“What do you mean?”
Jungle main janwar dolte hain, jungle me main bhi dolta hoon” (Animals meander in the forest, so do I.)
Meandering. That comes with a certain sense of ownership that’s hard to define.
I think of where I have meandered.
I have meandered in Janpath, the world’s best Flea Market, but it has often been a confused, noisy meandering. I have meandered, like all good Delhiites, at India Gate, nibbling at an icecream that’s no good. And that has been a structured meandering- between security cordons, weird kids, and attempts at not looking touristy. There’s also the delicate meandering outside the entrance of a lounge or a club, with its music doing revolutions around my head, with me wondering if it’s busy enough to walk into.

But what this man suggests is a glorious, eccentric quality—one of whimsy. He is essentially explaining to me that his forest roving experience can’t be compared to walking in a city, or in a more localized context, in the hard-pressed lanes of a local kasba.

So here is a man, explaining in one line, why he puts up with an isolated existence, no toilets, no electricity, the threat of malaria every monsoon, mountains of dung in a village which does not have the permission to dispose of the dung, no schools for his children, and a heap of stones for a road. Despite all this, he is explaining his sovereignty over his place here. A space that has only been carved two generations ago in an erstwhile game reserve.

There have to be other things too. In a forest, far from a social worker’s shriveling gaze, is the ability of these men to keep holding up traditional, patriarchal mores. Women toiling all day, fluffing rotis, wiping the bottoms of their children—and most of all, making a distinction of having 6 children by age 35 through the important accomplishment of being married. Link exchange: cheap nike air max.

Here is also this man’s ability to raise many cows and buffaloes free of any cost to him. But still, he chooses to answer the question with his right of meandering. Walking tours of Old Delhi come to mind, carefully constructed, nuanced, upholding a citizen’s right to rove, but sticking to a path that is the literal straight and narrow (and sexy). How, I wonder, will the Recognition of Forest Rights Act define this, and account for it?

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