December 09, 2019
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Fame On A Hill

Fame On A Hill
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I'm trudging up a narrow path behind a village in Akrani taluka, a remote and hilly part of Maharashtra. It's just 9 am, and I'm already sweating from the fierce sun. Behind me, a voice carries on, explaining the features of a "micro-hydel" plant we are going to look at.

Suddenly, one of the more famous faces in the world comes trotting down the path towards us. Murmuring "Excuse me, I have a boat to catch" through a shy grin, bright red scarf on her head and tiny pack on her back, returning from seeing the plant herself, Arundhati Roy negotiates her way past us and is gone. Ah, I think, now I finally know what they mean by a "brush with fame".

Roy is here because of her personal commitment to the cause the Narmada Bachao Andolan has fought for a decade and a half. This monsoon, the nba is holding what it calls the "Saga of Narmada", an appeal to the "conscience of the nation". Given the years that have gone by, given middle-class and urban fatigue with the issue, this is an attempt to spark interest once more. To show that just because years have gone by, the concerns are hardly dead. That there are many people whose very lives still depend on what happens with the Sardar Sarovar dam.

Hundreds of such people have gathered here on the banks of the Narmada, telling their stories, sharing experiences, finding solidarity. There are tribals with long flutes, farmers in large phetas, women wrapped in radiant saris. Come to meet them and show their own support, there are academics from Canada, the US and England; photographers from France and Germany; activists, writers, mathematicians, editors, and film-makers from all over India. And there are print, TV and dotcom - yes, dotcom - journalists.

Certainly Roy is a famous face, but here in Domkhedi hers is just one more in the crowd. Which is just the way it should be. For this show belongs not to us city folk, but to the people of this Narmada Valley. And if their spirit is any indication, their show will go on.

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