Day 11 – 14th July, 8:02
We couldn’t write in last two days, so thought to update now. We are fine. We entered into France this afternoon. Now we are only 36 km away from our final destination calais. Which we will complete tomorrow.
Tomorrow will be our last day of the walk. Dayafter is the final ritual of cooking and eating together. There are lots of reflection and stories, which we will keep sharing on the fb page of The Art of Walking, even after 15th.
DAY 13 – 16th July
We are done with the Calais and the final rituals. Yesterday was the day. It went really smooth with the help of Nan, Sinta and Arijit.
Some photos will be uploaded here soon.
Also we are done with the walk, but not with the reflections. As we have so much stories, reflection, we will keep sharing here at least for few weeks.
Lots of love and energy for being with us in the journey.
Paidal khuli line
by Pankaj Tiwari
Video by Arijit laik
July 9 – Of kindness and open doors: a reflection
There is, as we know well by now, a species of journalism in India that lives off the suppression and discredition of resistance; that meticulously hunts out exemplars, probes and prods, not to know more about it or what value it might have, but to forage for weaknesses in order to stifle it and all others of its kind. Subjective and objective, partisan and unprejudiced, singularity and generalisation merge insidiously to set traps.
I came across one such moment when I joined my friends Pankaj and Abhishek yesterday on day six of their 340 odd kilometer walk across the Dutch and Belgian coast to Calais, in solidarity with the migrants back home and those in Europe. A renowned Indian English daily newspaper was interested in interviewing Pankaj. The questions they asked barely concealed a snivel, a sneer, a snarl — what started out as seemingly genuine curiosity — tell us about your life in Amsterdam, and what you see out the window — quickly turned to condescension — how did you find out about the migrant situation back home, does your position of privilege, give your performance a sense of irony — to a poorly concealed rebuke — what makes you think your walking to Calais will do anything for the migrants here; what makes you think you have the right to turn the suffering of others into an artwork.
There was a flash of anger in Pankaj’s eyes when he turned to me and said: Privilege! I have been living without a shower damnit.
As we continued walking, I learned more: Pankaj was in pain, he had a sprained ankle, was running the odd evening-fever. If he stopped, it would be immeasurably hard to get up again, the muscles would lock, so he’d rather not stop. Speeds had slowed, but Pankaj was hard pressed to show any weakness. He was fine, he would not die; resolutely, in his words. Abhishek, similarly had been struggling with the blisters, the thirst, the feeling each evening of the body and breath shutting-down. This walk, this pain, this experiencing-another-in/as-yourself was never meant to be a luxury or a stroll in the park, a casual aestheticization of someone else’s experience, or a pretty picture for instagram; it was not meant to be the turning of another’s experience into a work of art, in/for one’s own name; it was not meant to be a reason to speak for another. Rather, it was to be the beginning of an experiential community, a way of feeling with the other; and realising in this bodily solidarity, the hope for an experience that might come close to the aesthetic.
They decided against responding to the paper. No point being pushed into a corner. There is the strength to endure the labour of walking, but not the malice of strangers who take cover under the name of the regime.
But the questions had caught an edge of me, of all of us, like barbed wire.
That evening we arrived at the home of a stranger who had heard about the project and was kind enough to host. When we entered, she was cooking dinner. She had not been expecting three of us. I had sprung-up unannounced, though I did not intend to stay or inconvenience the hosts. I thought I would give Pankaj and Abu a quick massage and then set off back home to Haarlem in the north. But our host betrayed not the slightest sign of being inconvenienced. She was only cooking dinner, she said, and dinner was meant to be eaten by all. In a single open-armed gesture, she made the place home for all of us. What followed was an evening of of cooking together, for ourselves and some more for anyone who’d like to join (we cooked Indian food, following recipes from a Dutch cookbook: Calcutta street-style fried aubergines, baingan masala, kachumber, dal, rice, Cauliflower sabzi), sharing stories, eating together. This is your home tonight, she said again and again.
In the silence of our eating, an answer to the belligerent newspaper flickered momentarily before me. If there is a privilege in Pankaj and Abu’s position, it is in moments of kindness like this one, in the generosity of open doors and shared hearths. This is the economy of kindness the migrant crisis in India has missed. What if a portion of people with a home and a spare bed had opened their doors to the walkers, said, come rest, eat, we have plenty. Certainly it would (and should) not have mitigated the cruelties of the regime, but would it not have offered a moment’s respite, a moment’s companionship and a moment’s solidarity to those who were faced otherwise with only miles and miles of dust and tarmac? This is the ‘privilege’ that keeps my friends going, that nourishes them, sustains them. These simple gestures of kindness that give their own walking experience something, a semblance, of ‘luxury’, and a feeling that home is not that far, and not impossible to reach.
We know why the majority in India didn’t open their doors, chose to look the other way; we know why there was no room in thought, in language, for the word ‘guest’ to be allied with the walkers. Here too, we know, we are only lucky: to have the right credentials to be received as guests. There are others who do not have the same privilege, who have only ever faced closed doors. We know why kindness is selective, and why personhood matters less than the capital (social, cultural or economic) one bears, or at times is forced to bear. We know. We don’t. There are no easy answers.
The Art of Walking is presented by:
Foreign Actions Productions for performingbordersLIVE20,
HAU Hebbel am Ufer (Berlin),
Festival Boulevard (‘s Hertogenbosch)
Zuiderstrandtheater (The Hague)
Korzo (The Hague)
Over het IJfestival (Amsterdam)