Here I Am

This unquenching fire of hunger has scorched my body and singed my soul… the sun spews down heat with vengeance. Burning inside and burning outside… my entire existence is charred… I have left the desert of pandemic in hope of a mirage… I am walking to my village. Walking… as all other means are forbidden. Locked down. I am the primitive man of the new millennium. They say technology has taken us to Mars, flying through space. But not a single motored vehicle to take me home today. The road beneath my feet smirks with sarcasm as it radiates heat to me, burning my soles on the gravel that I laid here just a few weeks ago and had poured hot, sticky coal tar over it. It burns me now, like I had burnt it to lay.

Who were these people? Why had they migrated? Answer is Survival. And now why were they going back? Survival, again. They are not running away from the virus but the hunger, which had brought them here. They toiled to make the urbane life more comfortable. The cities hired them and compensated back just enough to take care of their necessities. Bare necessities.

The pandemic took many of us on a journey back to our basics. The slowed speed, confinement to home, limited interaction with the outside world, everything changed overnight. Artist locked away from the world, unlocked an opportunity to delve deeper into an unusual art practice. And thus Rachana began with the portraitures with faces familiar and unfamiliar. Some of those faces lingered on; their stories left a deep impact.

Rachana is a person who not only expresses but even experiences the world around through visuals. The visuals that appeared around were of a grim other world. Visuals of people walking hundreds and some even thousands of kilometers crossing states, in a desperate attempt to reach home. The visuals were disturbing. Men, women and children walked in groups, some walked alone. Some reached their destination, but some didn’t.

Home… where is home? Where is my family? My village? Does this road lead to my home? Who would know? I left the village to make a living and now I am going to back hoping to stay alive. Will I make it to the village... have I crossed the borders of the city? Have I walked to another state? How does one recognize these borders? How much longer till I reach? Are these people going to my village too? And this girl…. Dragging her feet in this scorching sun…. a parched stream in peak summer… so frail… hang on little girl… don’t give up…. You will reach home… don’t let go before you enter your village…

The contrast couldn’t have been sharper. The glossy urban landscapes, shiny surfaces, glittering lights, steel and glass, concrete and tar, colors and hues of every sort, everywhere. Vibrant. And the workers only had two colors, black and white. They couldn’t afford the extravaganza of different hues. Their reality limited to hunger and shelter.

The tall floors of new skyscrapers were built by me carrying bricks and mortar on our heads, I created expensive leather belts and shoes in workshops but always wore clothes handed over, clothes that never fit me well, I embroidered most delicate designs in brightly illuminated rooms till I we couldn’t see anymore, I brewed pot after pot of fresh hot tea, cooked in people’s houses, cooked in restaurants and canteens, cooked and cooked, always for others, till I lost the desire to eat myself. Worked, toiled and slaved away…. Carried luggage, ferried materials, burnt my blood and sweat to survive.

Their lives invisible, their existence unnoticed. They lived and worked, and survived. They were seen everywhere, but not heard. They were needed but not heeded.

Their faces emerged all over. Rachana could read their histories in the lines on their skin, pain in their eyes, hunger on their mind. But she couldn’t hear them. They did not have a voice. They were not counted, or accounted for. They were called the cogs of our economy but no one knew how many and who. Their only identity their work. Labor. A faceless labor force.

The paintings transpired black and white, like their lives, their reality of hunger and mere survival. Rachana etched their stories in every fold and line of their skin, memoirs of their struggle. They are hit hard with this crisis, but they hope to outlive it. They will bend, but they will not break.

Rachana saw them as the individuals that they are and not a mass. They are not labor but laborers. They are each an entity. These paintings seek to give the phenomenon a face. And hopes they will be not only seen, but also heard.

Apoorwa Gupta
(Social worker and Researcher on Domestic violence)