Travel Makes Us Humble, Teaches Us Empathy & ‘Difference’

To fill these gapes, sometimes, we need self-reflection - an effort to realise the remnants of a journey - anxiety, angst, excitement, hope and hopelessness.

Photo by Dinesh Parab for Outlook
Katkari Tribe of Raigad Photo by Dinesh Parab for Outlook

Does memory have a memory to minutely recall the bits and pieces it has left unattended? Can we remember and put down each and everything that comes on our ways when we go out to explore the world in an unprejudiced way? As journalists whenever we gather ourselves to draft whatever we have witnessed, we become selective. We omit a few things at the cost of others. Certainly, we justify those as our writerly choice(s). But behind those choices lie our politics of omission that make us complicit in undermining those voices that someway or other become the casualty of reporting.

To fill these gapes, sometimes, we need self-reflection- an effort to realise the remnants of a journey- anxiety, angst, excitement, hope and hopelessness. And there lies the necessity of a blog- an unedited mind trying to draft anything and everything without thinking much about its social and political relevance. Here is my story to find out the uncertain and leave them as uncertain only without trying to impose on the conditions of certainty.

To cover the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, I extensively travelled across three states. While Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand have already become my home ground- still new enough to learn and explore- my visit to Maharashtra was totally a novel encounter. The day I got to know that I would have to cover Konkan region, truly speaking, I was afraid. No, it was not the fear of the unfamiliar, it was the fear of not knowing the political nuances of the state enough. But can we at all understand the political complexities of a state?

As these questions were pushing me towards further confusion, I fell back on the tried and tested method- reading and noting down what I want to cover. Because I have been covering indigenous communities for years, I thought I must try to understand what the different Adivasi communities in Maharashtra are thinking of. And consecutively I chose Konkan region- a segment of the state known for his spectacular view of Western Ghats and the Arabian sea.

But the fear didn’t subside. After landing at Mumbai- the city known for boasting off Antila and Mannat- I was quite surprised. Where is the opulence that captivates us through the silver screen? Do the skyscrapers confined to a specific region actually represent the city? As I passed through the heart of the commercial capital, I witnessed extreme poverty. I saw people crammed into 10/10 ft rooms. I saw people rushing to fulfil their dreams. ‘Someday, I will buy a flat here,’ they say. And in this rush for an uncertain future, I found hope amidst disarraying lives.

Driving for almost 4 hours as I reached Raigad and met my contacts, I realised I was already ‘late’. They were going to attend a nearby rally where Sharad Pawar had come to campaign for an INDIA bloc candidate. Interestingly, the candidate is from Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackrey faction and the locality where the rally was organised is Muslim-dominated.

As they say that the field changes the perception, for me it was a sort of ‘the moment’. Through my reading and experience in political journalism what I learnt is that the Thackrey family has always been an eye sore for the Muslims. People are aware of Balasaheb Thackrey’s role in post-1993 Mumbai riots. But they say, “Uddhav is different, he is more like his grandfather.”

Firstly, I thought that it is because of UBT Sena opposing BJP that the Muslims are siding with them, but I was immediately corrected. “A good portion of Marathi Muslims have always supported Sena. And we as Muslims hate Gaddars,” said a veteran Muslim supporter who came the rally with his three daughters. His emphasis on “we hate Gaddars” still resonate into my ears. Coming from a community that has got habituated with the word ‘Gaddar’ since partition, there is a sense of rebuttal, a sense of giving back what they have received. As the buzzing crowd settled down and Maghrib Azaan started, UBT Sena leader Sushma Andhare took a pause and after Azaan said, ‘Assalam Aleikum’. This gathering taught me again that one must listen to the ground to realise the reality that lies far away from the prejudiced perceptions.

In Raigad, as I entered the interiors, I, however, encountered a different reality. It is just 200 kms away from the hustle-bustle of Mumbai. But it seemed like a leap back in time. As I passed by the dusty roads flanked by cashew trees, I reached a village called Wave Diwali. There is no motorable road. I walked for a few minutes and within the dense Jungle, I met Ram Vagya Pawar, a villager in his late 30s who, like other people from his community- Katkari Adivasis- has been trapped into a cycle of exploitation since his childhood.

During the months of paddy cultivation while he works for the Marathi landowners, in Diwali, they take money from big moneylenders who come from the city. Soon they use the money to buy several things- including clothes, good food, television, mobile phones etc. And thereafter, it is their turn to repay it back. Pawar goes to work in the brick kiln and work intermittently for years until the moneylender says that his loans are repaid.

However, when I failed understand why they would invest every penny that they get from the Moneylenders immediately, someone told me, “Don’t think through your ideas of capitalist economy and savings. You people are trying to impose it on them. They have had their own ways.” Yes, I realised it long back that we should not think through modern, post-enlightenment capitalist thought process to understand indigenous people’s practice but the lives of Katkari community taught me again how we have been complicit in imposing our understandings on them.

There were hundreds of learning that perhaps I wouldn’t be able to note down but I can’t miss the story of empathy and love that I received from the field. While going from Ratangiri to Sindhudurg, I remember meeting Kavita tai. At her shop, we took coconut water, sat for a while and had a small chat. Tai is barely living her life. Her roadside shack was burning in the April sun. As we asked her why she is not changing the tin shed even in this unbearable heat, she said, ‘Don’t have that much business sir ji’.


We could see the vacant benches waiting for customers passing through the highway. However, as we were about to leave, Tai asked us to wait; cut an Alphonso mango and offered us. After enjoying every bit of it, as we asked her its price- she told, “pata nahi kab ayoge idhar, lekin tai ko toh yaad rakhoge.. milke jaana (Don’t know when you will come again but remember tai and meet me once). We had nothing to say. Her smile was broad enough to teach us meaning of life and empathy. We were rushing to cover Uddhav Thackrey’s rally. We didn’t have time to wait and spend some more time with Kavita tai. But we knew that we would carry her story with us - forever.


Travel makes you humble. Listening to the stories of people makes you realise your negligible space in the broader scheme of things. It teaches us that we know nothing at all. So, we must listen and listen to the voices- without prejudice and judgment. And that is what I learnt this time. I would carry these stories to realise the world better- in an unbiased way.