Friday, May 4, 2012

Research - A Summer Saga Begins (Day 1)

I write when I have interesting things to say. And this, my friends, is a very interesting time of the year for me. One year at TISS is done with, and in this transition of summer break before becoming a big, bad 'senior' I am doing research in Mumbai to study the social determinants of health for Koli women. In other words, I am looking at what these women think of as 'health', and how their attitudes and perceptions on health have changed over the years. Because I want to see how their lives have changed, I'm interested in the lives of women who are above the age of 40. I am very,  very excited :)

I am spending my summer break collecting data so that I can write, analyze, sift, and write some more to create a thesis by the time I graduate. It will almost be like publishing a book. Almost. Today was my first, official day of data collection, and I realized what rejection feels like.

I must have spoken to at least twenty women. Polite Pragya says "Namaste, my name is Pragya." I plan on continuing and telling them how I worked in this area a few months ago. I plan on telling them that I spoke to many women along with a community worker, and through those conversations I wanted to find out more about their evolving culture and their ideas on health. It's the plan, but the plan fails miserably. No sooner do I say my name that their answer comes out - a blatant, flat, unassuming "No." That's it. If I attempt to explain, that no, I'm not selling anything, I'm not part of a company, I'm just a student, their replies become a chain of "No"s. I take the hint, and move right along, looking for someone else to talk to.

The string of rejections makes the one agreement to speak that much more celebratory. I contain my excitement and sit with M at the fish market where she has laid out her pomfrets, prawns, and other fish-like creatures on the tarpaulin in front of her. Everything smells of fish. Crows shit on different parts of my body...thrice. I find a small stone brick on which I attempt to sit. And by attempt I mean I manage to rest my tailbone on it, for all of the hour we spend speaking.

I was born in Koliwada, Trombay. The conditions were very bad at that time. My mother used to work as a cement layer. My father used to do manual labour. We were very badly off. We were very poor. My mother used to earn 10 annas a day. Our childhood went by in great poverty. My husband is also not happy right now. I sell fish worth Rs 100-200 a day.  I am very poor. Very poor. That is the condition of my life. I feel like if God had not given birth to me, that also would have been good. There is no point of life. Earning is done to eat. 

That is how M begins her story. She has high blood pressure, diabetes, and body aches. She has two 30 something sons, both of whom she needs to get married. She gets up at 3 am everyday to buy fish from Crawford Market or Kolaba. M spends Rs 100 on traveling daily to buy her produce, and sits in the market from 9 am to noon. She then goes home and cooks for family, rests for a while, and then goes back to the market to sell her seafood from 5 to 8:30 pm. Everyday. Her daily earnings are around Rs 100 on some days, sometimes less, sometimes more. This is not a good time for selling fish. M's life is a struggle.

 I feel awkward asking her about her health, about her thoughts on happiness. These questions are clearly theoretical and disjointed from her reality. 

I will feel happy when my younger son earns. I feel happy when a little bit of money comes home, when people live in harmony. Earning for 10 days, we earn and we eat. If it is in my destiny to do this work and to eat like I do, then how will my sehat [health] be good? If I don’t come to sell fish, I will get 2-3 hours to rest. Then one’s health remains good. If I’m earning on my own and eating from those earnings, how will my health be good? 

Point taken.


  1. Harsh reality of the world outside of campus, but I know you will do well. Proud of you. Waiting for long to get something from this blog... finally its happening. Happy for that.

  2. this is one experience. you will come across more of such experiences which might lead you to question the very reason of human existence...But in spite of it all you will find them exhibiting such great courage that will leave you stunned. keep up the good work.