This Book Box contains a series of reflections by practitioners on their process of joining and being in the Cybermohalla labs, which were shared with over 200 people in a public gathering on the occasion of the launch of the Book Box (Baraat Ghar, Near Kali Building, Dakshinpuri, Delhi, 8th October, 2003).
Here are the text of the presentations made by the authors at the launch event.
Introduction to Cybermohalla
My name is Shamsher. I work with the Compughar at LNJP. Today I want to share with you some reflections on what Cybermohalla is about.
A lot goes on at the Compughar, even when it looks like there is very little activity. Writing texts is one of the things we do here. We also talk. And we debate a lot. And when it’s not these things, there is a lot else – conversations with the elderly, interviews about the place where we live, this social universe where there are many laws laid down for us, though we don’t know by whom. We also make animations on the computers, with the mouse as our play mate. And sometimes we take photographs of our world. In this last, we find the opportunity to caress our memories and feel happy. And so our world of memories also find a world of their own. Relationships of a special nature get formed in this way. Through the Compughar, we got the opportunity to travel outside the colony. We stopped being hesitant, and felt a sense of openness through dissolving boundaries. And through this we realised there was a world outside, where there were people just like us. Just like us, they have questions, and though there are answers to these questions, these answers remain unacknowledged. Sometimes we imagine the Compughar in ways completely different from this one, through different terms. And thinking of the Compughar anew in this way, do something new in it! The constants that remain are texts, sounds, images.
Before writing a text, we peep inside our own selves. At least that’s what I think. What I’m trying to say is that my family is mine, only mine. The railway line is mine. The sky, trees, plants, petrol pump are all mine. My friends are mine, their homes are mine. Not only this, I also think they are mine rightfully. But I must bear a cost for all of this. This cost can be anything. One cost that is huge is what we call relationships. And the word ‘relationships’ is very valuable in our lives. Travelers we meet on the way are strangers. In most probability, we haven’t met them before and we don’t know anything about them. We can build a relationship with them and become co-travelers. And they really are co-travelers, not strangers. This happened with me once.
There was a marriage in the village. Only my elder brother and I were going for it. I told my father I would like to go alone. He was very happy to hear that and said, “Bravo! But you won’t go alone”. I felt a little unhappy. We had a reservation in the train. Sitting in the train I was wondering why Papa had refused. I think I knew. It’s that one thing that circulates so much in society, and which I have already mentioned as well. And what eventually happened was that I traveled back alone! And that too, without a reservation and in the general compartment. I found a seat which had been occupied by only one man. I sat on it and after some time, the train started to move. A few hours later, a young man got in from a station and came and stood in front of me. I could take a good look at him – from the left to the right, from up to down. Even he had quite checked me out by then.
Then he said, “Bhai, can I get some space to sit?” I shifted and with my eyes, gestured to him to sit. A little later, we introduced ourselves to one another. We realised what was common between us was our destination, Delhi. While chatting, a bond of friendship developed between us, and that’s how we traveled together. On reaching Delhi, we got off the train, looked at each other, shook hands and turned towards our respective homes.
Whenever we will think of this train journey, we will not think of each other as strangers.
Many among you will be strangers to me, but now I feel I am no more a stranger to you. Maybe I have created a relationship with you in my heart.
Thank you. Now Suraj Rai will be talking about the Book Box, which we have gathered today to formally release.
About the Book Box
My name is Suraj Rai. I work with my comrades at the LNJP Compughar and want to talk with you about the Book Box.
These books in the Book Box, which are in different colours, are perhaps easy to look at and to read. But we know how much effort has gone into producing them. There has been a careful process of selection of texts, so that you may like them. When we write, we don’t really know what the beginning of the text will be, or how the text will end, or what we will really be writing about. When we do arrive at a beginning, we not only have to write the text but also pay attention to where to sit and write it, what time of the day we should chose, pay attention to the sounds around us, from where the light falls, and how we should express in words what we want to communicate. Sometimes everyday incidents in buses or on the road get written so interestingly that even the mundane becomes intriguing and compels us to think.
How the slightest of our gestures affect people is something Yashoda draws out beautifully in the text she has written around the veil. When she read out her text, everyone had such different views about it. We moulded it with our own imaginations, everyone’s face seemed to carry a question.
Writing is not the end. The texts have to be typed. And before that, we have to edit and rewrite some of what we have written. We think about which words need to carry more weight, which can be lighter. And also pay attention to spellings and grammar; where should the question marks come, the full stops, the inverted commas.
Our writings, generally, don’t have a beginning, middle and end. The texts stop at a slight turning, leaving the reader or listener with things to think about – the sense of completion is never achieved. Some texts are but fragments. These, when they are read out at the lab, open up the possibility of different people relaying their own reflections and experiences and linking them up with these texts. Also, spinning a tale from a small, seemingly insignificant incident, is something we find quite challenging and so love doing! It isn’t easy for us to write. Household chores, work at the lab and our erratic moods are things to contend with!
But one special things about our writings is that we use spoken language, so they are easy to read. The liberal sprinkling of urdu words makes for a rich reading.
Then there is the CD in the Book Box. It contains animations which require a lot of skill and precision to make, and also demand an imagination and creativity very different from that required by writing. Animations are composed of different layers, each layer has to be copied onto the next one and then modifications are made to them.
The CD also has sound. Sound, and listening, is very important in our everyday life. Taking interviews is not as easy as hearing the recorded versions is! When we ask questions, the interviewee is often skeptical of us. We have to take special care to communicate clearly, and to understand their feelings as well. Sometimes we do recordings without disclosing our dictaphones! Because we use stereo microphones, many sounds get recorded inadvertantly during interviews. But we also record ambience sounds and our own readings as well.
Now that I have told you all this, I have a question – Is it necessary to weigh everything in the balance of profit and loss? We are often asked how we will benefit from doing all this. Those who have met us at the lab would have seen a peculiar shine in our eyes, which tells that we are confident that we can think about different things, tussle with difficult questions, and speak fearlessly. It is from the ocean of our thoughts that we have presented these rivulets of small books to you.
I agree that the future is uncertain. The destination is far, and the question of profit is just a short-cut. Is this short-cut the only possible route? Our path may seem unadorned right now, but who knows what oasis along it presently lie hidden from our view. But these oasis are just resting places, the journey is long.
If there is nothing to gain from this path, there is nothing to lose either.
Now Shahana will come on stage and speak about her experiences of reading the book box.
A Book Review
We cannot judge a book by its cover alone. To understand what lies inside it – what’s written, the writing styles, the experiences of the writers and how all these were created – can only be known once we run our eyes through the book, so that we can know the book not only from outside, but also from the inside. Then the book doesn’t remain unfamilair to us. Yes, but a relationship of not completely knowing still remains. How can we know for sure which and how much of someone’s experiences are revealed by them to adorn the pages of a book?
I have never thought about the writers whenever I have read a book. But today I have before me this plastic box, with ten booklets in it. No two booklets are of the identical colour, but a set of three is in shades of the same colour – from light to dark. Though I have tried many times, I haven’t been able to understand why the gradation of shades for the booklets has been decided the way it has been!
Ten small booklets, with sentences for titles, English on the front cover, and Hindi at the back. The words of the sentences compel an onlooker to pay attention. They say, “Don’t just look at me. Inside me are anecdotes of past experiences. Experiences that are born all around you – in your home, your neighbourhood, feelings inside your being”.
I’m spending too much time on how the books look! I’m looking at each book one by one. And I can’t decide which one to read first. That’s because the writers are all kown to me, they are my friends. Yes, there are some texts in these books I haven’t heard from my friends before.
The writers, who have strung together their words to give them beautiful shapes, and so gifted us, in texts, questions, difficult situations, a care for living, are present among us. These books are about, and belong to, people who live in working class settlements, and they will always remain so. This is where the writers have learnt about life, have gained their experiences. It is from here that their words have got their clothes. This reality peeps out from the words. These experiences are not owned by any individual, they are ours.
I read the booklets over five to six days. Some texts in it reminded me of how they had been written, and others surprised me with their newness. For instance Lakhmi’s text which takes us back to his school days. When I read it, I was transported with him, among his school friends and their mischievousness. And I wondered, didn’t my peers and I also have similar experiences? Just as our schools were different, so were their environment, and also the memories we have of it.
Sometimes, in some of the texts, what becomes very apparent is where the writer was sitting when they got written. What was the time? In reading these texts, then, the physical space gets created around us. This happens most in Azra’s texts, which are cast in a simple language.
In all our lives, there are phases when we are lost in ourselves, entangled in questions to which we can’t find answers. There are of course questions to which we find answers, but then there are such answers as well which become questions in themselves! I think Shamsher is presently going through such a phase in his life. These questions don’t necessarily have to do with age. Sometimes, certain incidents or moments leave us with nights, or days, filled with questions.
Some texts are like a cool breeze and a light summer shower. Their words betray a desire to unravel knotted strings. This is specially true for Yashoda. Her words, thoughts, experiences are unique to her, but they infect and animate those of our experiences and reflections which lie hidden in the recesses of our mind. While we might think it unnecessary to allow them to emerge, the key of her pen gently unlocks them.
The simpleness of some of my peers is reflected in the simpleness of their writings. They skillfully depict life around them, and tell us their thoughts in their texts.
This book with the black cover is special. It contains webs of words.
These webs were created over time, by all of us thinking together. One word is the king among them all. That’s the word we begin with. Then we think of words around it, which link with it in different ways. They are like the king’s public! Together they create their own universes.
I remember, sometimes we would select five words and write around them. One of these booklets contains such texts that were written through stringing together different words.
I travelled to the days we wrote such texts, when I read them in the booklet.
I read twice two texts that Neelofar had written with all of us. When she had first read them out to us, they had brought smiles to all our faces. Those same smiles returned today and touched me. Neelofar creates in words the worlds she sees and senses. She writes almost about anything! Like the text about her brother, which she has written as she has considered best, with her practical reason as her reference and companion. Neelofar is a fearless speaker.
These feelings that I have shared with you could be mine alone. Everyone will have different ways of thinking. Where I seek depth, someone else may find dryness. Everyone thinks differently, just like everyone has a different sense of Self. Our measures of things are different.
The writers of these books have given their texts their own distinctiveness through their own modes of writing. Their texts carry the imprint of their personalities. I have not found the simpleness of language I have found in these books in any other that I have read. This is the specialness of these books.
These books may be a collections of different peoples’ experiences, but just as these diverse texts have been strung together in one cover, they have strung together different people through a relationship of having thought together, and grown together.
My friend Babli Rai would like to speak now about how we work at the labs.
Text, Image, Sound
At the Compughar, where we work, there is no course. There isn’t any software either which tells us our future!
When I first came to the Compughar, I was told I would be taught by people my age. I didn’t quite like this! It was only after I spent some time here that I began to understand what goes on inside the lab!
We work with three things at the Compughar – sound, image and text. Even before coming here, I had seen all three in my everyday life. But before, my way of seeing these was very different from what it is now. When I used to read a text, I could never quite make up my mind about what I thought of it. If there was some interesting tale in the text, I used to like it, otherwise I would find it quite boring. Reading was a little akin to the wave on the sea, which once it passes, leaves no crease on the face of the water. If there was something pleasing to the eye in the image, I would think the image was worth looking at. Otherwise, I didn’t look at it twice. Responding to sound with sound, or switching off the source was all my relationship with sound was. That sound had a deep relationship with living, that even in silence there was a sound… These things I had never thought about.
At the Compughar, I played with sound, image and text with my peers. Here, through texts, I gave an image to my surroundings, to sounds, to my preferences. Through writing, I gave a new shape to those experiences of my life that I had been dismissive of.
We have many relationships outside our family – relationship with our selves, with our environment, objects around us. Through writing, we allowed for these relationships to emerge, and to relate with them. Earlier, I used to see the walls of my house, the clock, the fan, the iron, the road. But when i started thinking about them, and writing, only then did I realise the intensity of my relationship with them.
When we translate our texts into images, making palimpsests through animations, we feel our texts have also been given a new life. Through combinations of sound and text, text and image, image and sound, we give a seriousness to our skills in each – just like an artisan gives form to his skills, an identity to the form, and a name to the identity.
When we write something, we first think about the surroundings, we think of incidents and our feelings associated with these, and then we also think of related sounds and link all of these up. Characters in our texts are always surrounded by questions, and it is through these that their distinctiveness emerges. When we ask questions ourselves, who do we expect the answers from?
But sometimes, we get stuck halfway through writing a text. We can’t decide how to proceed. This happens because often we are writing about our own experiences, and when we get surrounded by questions, it becomes difficult to disentangle ourselves and continue writing. Sometimes we don’t understand at what point the text should end.
At the Compughar, we find a breathing space away from the everyday problems of home. Here, we speak freely with our peers about our lives. Through our writings, we can share our feelings. Through animations, we give these colour. I think I found something that was incomplete in my life getting articulated here, at the lab.
We type our texts in Shusha 02. We hyperlink our texts, searching relationships between them. In this way, we enter a world of words – relations of words and images, different meanings of words.
We also work on the internet. Email was the first step. We all have email id’s. When these first got them made, we felt like we had our own unique destinations. Through the internet, we search relationships outside the family. Searches on the net reveal things which make us happy, and also fill us with a strange fear!
When we bring out the wall magazine, Ibarat, we feel close to the colony. And then, there are the books. When I first saw my name in print, it was an elating feeling. These books have been possible through a lot of effort and labour. Looking at the book box, we felt it was a sarai, a resting place, of all our dreams and labour.
We have crafted a new identity for ourselves through the Compughar. Before it, there was just the school for us. The same old burden of books and the discipline enforced by teachers. We used to read texts at school also, but it was different then. Those were all texts printed in books. All we had to do was to read tham, and answer questions that followed. We would rote learn some answers from guide books. That was important if we wanted to get any marks in exams. What we felt and how we experienced things were of no value in school. Here, at the lab, our feelings and experiences count.
At the Compughar, we have the freedom to ask questions, even when we may not have answers. At school, there were answers, only answers, more answers. Answers in which our life itself had become a question…
Now Kulwinder Kaur will speak about the Book Box.
Some Thoughts on these Books
I know everyone will think differently about these books. But I also think that the thoughts in these books will resonate with yours. There are experiences that have been recounted in these books which you will find familiar. Before we can really discuss any further, I would request you to read the booklets, just as I have.
I liked what I read. That’s not because I know the writers, but because I find in the texts a reflection of the life around us. Have you ever thought that every utterance is related with another? That is the case with the writings in these booklets as well.
A few days back, I took the book box home. I was happy that all of us could read parts of it together. When family members, relatives and friends read the books, they said the books were nice. But nice is such an ambiguous word. Couldn’t they follow the thoughts in the books? I asked them if there wasn’t anything in what they read which struck them as new, or which they hadn’t encountered before.
That is what I would like to ask you as well. How does it feel to be introduced to thirty different ways of thinking?
Now Love Anand will talk about the relation between reading and moods!
Books are Read According to Mood
It was Sunday, and I was getting bored. I thought of going out for a walk to pass time. There, I met some friends who were chatting with one another. I heard someone call me from behind. It was my friend Jaggu. I was surprised to see him. The happy-go-lucky Jaggu looked downcast today. I asked him, “What’s the matter?” He said, “Nothing yaar! Tell me, do you have any comics?” Comics!! I was surprised, because I knew Jaggu didn’t read comics. That’s because he himself is a comic among us friends! He said, “Maybe my mood will turn for the better if I read comics today”. I took him home with me and gave him comics to read.
After Jaggu left, I wondered, “What is the relation between mood and books?” When we are in a bad mood, we either read light books to lighten our mood, or read very serious books. An old man, with few years left to live, wants to read religious texts. And when we hear stories about battles, riots and what not, and we want to know more, it is history books that are opened up.
Maybe there is a deep relationship between our mood and the books we read. Maybe at some turn or the other in our life, the two get in sync somehow.
I realise I have used the word “maybe” too often in my text. That’s because in trying to think of the relationship between our mood and what we wead, I am struck by this question as well – If moods dictate what we read, are books also written and published according to mood?
Now Raju will share his thoughts on Shamsher’s text, “The edges of thought”.
“The Edges of Questions”
Raju Singh Malyal
My name is Raju. I have been with the Compughar for an year now. I want to read before you some of my thoughts on my peer Shamsher Ali’s text, “The Edges of Questions”. I have named my text “My thoughts on ‘The Edges of Questions’.”
Day before yesterday, at around ten at night, I was sitting in my room with the Book Box in my hands. I opened the box and pulled out a red coloured book from it. It was titled, “Method is that heavy thing that makes everything light”. I looked at the tilte, read it and started to think, “This is a good title, and also quite captures how things are”. Then I opened the book and the first text before me was Shamsher Ali’s, The Edges of Thought. I like this text. I have already read it twice or thrice before, but this time I wanted to write my thoughts on it, so I read it three times. On reading it thrice I felt as if Shamsher Ali was sitting in front of me, telling me about the edges of thought.
When I read the text, a question rose in my mind. It was, “Does thought have edges?” I thought hard, but couldn’t quite reach the limit of my own thoughts. But another thought came to my mind, that boundaries of thought are created by thought itself, and it is only when we step on these boundaries that our feet start to get entangled in the quicksand of thinking.
It is difficult to tell how much we think in a day. There are so many things we see everyday, and so many that we encounter for the first time. There are some things which we see, but don’t consciously acknowledge. But there are some things, seeing which we create in ourselves an ocean of thoughts. We dive in this ocean, and let ourselves sink; and once this begins, we can only go deeper and deeper into this ocean.
Where one thought ends, another begins. And with every thought is a feeling, and to give a sense of that feeling is sometimes difficult. How can we explain a thought?
Everyone has thoughts. Some people think good things, others bad. We think good things for people we respect. But if they do something we don’t like, our thought for them becomes bad. Why does this happen? Maybe because we are are unable to reach the limits of our thought. Before we reach the limits, another thought engulfs and hides these limits.
I had read Shamsher Ali’s text thrice. The text had depth. And I started thinking, when Shamsher Ali wrote this text, were his thoughts confined to the text itself, or were they also traveling outside!
I’m also writing my thoughts. And while writing I thought I wouldn’t let my thoughts step out of what I was doing. But how much ever I tried, they wandered outside what I was writing. Sometimes we think we have reached the limits of our thought, and so create a boundary around it.
We always carry something with us. What is that? It is thought. Because even if we rid ourselves of one thought, another comes and surrounds us.
Lets think about thought. What must a thought be like? I think it must be round like a ball, in which we can’t find edges. And we keep playing with the ball. This is a game that has a beginning, but doesn’t end.
So these were my thoughts on The Edges of Thought. Now I would like to invite Dipika on stage. Dipika has been with the Compughar for just around a week. But in this time, she never let us feel there was a newcomer among us. Dipika will tell us about a text called “A Couple.”
About “The Couple”
I am Dipika, a companion of the friends at Compughar. I have been with them for a week now. I want to tell you about a text, “The Couple”, from the booklet “To think that I am alone would be gross injustice”.
I read this text after I joined the Lab. My peer Dheeraj Singh has written it. It is about my grandparents.
It’s true, what the text tells about them. My grandparents were always bickering, but they also loved one another a lot, and also took care of each other. My Nani was always very particular about cleanliness. She wouldn’t let anyone enter the house with their footwear on. And my Nana would tease and trouble her about this.
But now Nani remains quiet and alone, because Nana has died. She tries to put up a happy face, but I sense her loneliness. Someone has rightly said, that while someone is in front of us we perhaps don’t fathom their significance in our lives, but their absence makes us realise what we are missing.
Now Manoj will speak with you about his initial experiences at the Compughar.
First Few Months at Compughar
Hello, I am Manoj. I want to share with you my experiences at the Compughar in the few months after joining it.
I have been with the Compughar for four months now. Let me tell you how I came to join it. My friends Raju and Dheeraj used to go to some computer lab. They also wrote texts. These texts used to be on just about anything – thought, an incident on the road, friendship, identity. What was interesting was that they used to keep writing something or the other. This computer lab was called Compughar, and along with writing these texts, they also worked with computers, sound recording etc. Then one day they asked me to join the Compughar as well. I too thought it was a good idea, and I went to the Compughar with them.
There I saw everyone was busy with their work. Texts they had written were pasted on the walls. Some were sitting, discussing a text, others were working on sound and computers. I sat down. I was introduced to everyone. I liked meeting them all. After sitting for some time, I was told about the lab, and then they asked me some questions. When they were asking me questions, I became a little nervous because the space was unfamiliar to me. Then, as I started going there, I began liking the space. They asked me to write some texts, and when I had written them, I read them out. When I would read my texts, I would feel a little hesitant. But that lasted only a few days.
I liked going from place to place to take interviews and click photographs, and also enjoyed playing with the computer. We would all sit down together and start discussing any topic. Some people would come from outside and chat with us, or see how we work. I liked all this. And I also liked the relationship of friendship between the different people at the lab, among the peers and with the “teachers”. I want to continue this relationship and working at the Compughar, and learn more about working with sound, image and text.
Rakesh Kumar will now present before you some questions that he has.
Many experiences leave us with questions. This happens because all of us – each and every person – has a curious mind. The rigmarole of everyday life sometimes denies us the possibility to pause a while and think about these questions, to quench, and fire up, our curiosities.
We meet so many people everyday, and experience such varying intensities of emotional currents with them. But do we ever stop to acknowledge or think these through? Do we think about thinking when we think of personalities?
It is about these thoughts that I want to share questions with you today. So, here they are –
1. Why does a person feel jealousy for another?
2. A poor person remains happy while dealing with all his troubles. How?
3. If despite all pleasures, a rich person is unhappy, then why?
4. How can a person change the way s/he thinks?
5. Why does a person’s heart desire?
6. Why does someone bear her/his problems? Why not seek solutions?
7. When a day is past us, why do we repeat what happened in it?
8. The coming day will surely come. Then why do we speculate so much?
9. Why is it important for a person to retain his mental balance?
10. Why does someone feel to us like our own, and why does another seem distant?
11. Often, in enmity, we think of revenge. But what happens after we succeed in avenging ourselves?
12. Why is a person never satiated?
13. Does our face reveal what lies in our heart?
14. Is an outward display of pretense essential?
15. Is it important to have something to say in order to talk?
16. Why do people want to hide their shortcomings, and show only their strengths?
17. Do we forget boundaries when we debate?
18. How do we gauge what lies in someone’s heart?
19. Is a person’s self-description sufficient to know him?
20. How can the heart be restful?
21. Why is it so silent sometimes?
22. Does pride betray a weakness?
23. Is there something to be found in the light of thinking?
24. Does something get lost in the darkness of thinking?
25. What is right and wrong?
26. Why are their confusions and entanglements?
27. Why does mental prowess sometimes disappear?
28. Can we see with our ears?
29. Are truths and lies crutches of some kind?
30. Is it important to heave a sigh of relief after work?
And, when someone thinks of so many questions, should he halt? Because I have many questions indeed, but very few answers. I bid you goodbye with these few questions.
Kiran Verma now presents before you our imagination of the next few years of Cybermohalla.
What Lies Ahead
I am Kiran, and I want to share with you what my friends and I have imagined for the Compughar in the years to come.
The path we have taken today is unfamiliar to us. We don’t know where it will lead. Being on this path is sometimes troubling, because on it we encounter uncalled for questions about its destination, and we are unable to answer these. But these travels are also challenging, because an uncertain destination implies we ourselves have to chart and steer the course. In this we are assisted by those who have more experience than us.
We are trying to realise our dreams, and to share them with those who join us on the way. We want that our writings and creations travel to different people, like newspapers do! We want to write so much, that we ourselves lose count of how many registers we have filled, how many pens we have exhausted. There should be no end to what we can do. All questions to which we seek answers should be shared. Questions propel us, push the borders of our thought.
In the coming two years, we want to form online networks with different groups, in different geographical locations, just like we maintain relationships with relatives and friends in different cities.
We want to experiment with computers, to make new software. One of these will be an image manipulation tool that can handle animations with a minimum of a thousand layers. We’ll have our own website. Till now Joy has designed our publications. Now we’ll design our own books. We’ll gain more nuanced skills in sound recording – how can we manipulate recordings, how can we remix songs. Maybe we’ll make our own music album!
We want to thank all those people who have been our companions and co-travelers till now. We look forward to these journeys. And on the way, we would like to animate many more such labs in different colonies, streets, cities.
Family support is of much significance in our endeavours. We urge all of you here to be supportive of us!