The hardest journeys

The hardest journeys

By Debotri Dhar | 18 June, 2017
Travellers in any authentic sense do not need books to teach what we often know intuitively, in the lived spaces of the everyday, in our blood and marrow.

This summer brings me the delightful opportunity to host a literary event for book-lovers in Ann Arbor featuring local, national and international writers. The free event, to be held at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan, and open to all members of the public, also marks the launch of a global literary initiative I have been planning for some time now: The Hummingbird Global Writers’ Circle.

Within the rarefied ramparts of today’s metropolitan academy and its nuanced frameworks, conceptually “pure” categories and sharp binaries are seen as suspect: city versus village, centre versus periphery, the natural and the social, rationality versus emotion, male versus female. Instead, we speak of ancient ties that animate the modern, of scattered hegemonies, hybridity and divided identities, the role of the social in shaping what we perceive as natural, of gender as a spectrum. Yet travellers in any authentic sense do not need books to teach what we often know intuitively, in the lived spaces of the everyday, in our blood and marrow. If your journeys have illuminated affirming interconnections between people and places just as often as they have revealed the depths of despair, of death, you know that all-elusive search for “home” in the interstices of everything. And that some of the hardest journeys are the ones we make within.

One of my hardest journeys was to emerge from a “natural” inclination for solitude in order to embrace the world, warts and all; another was to come out of the beautiful, terrifying cocoons of home to build an independent identity alone. To deal with the death of loved ones, to learn that our heroes have feet of clay, to travel from the past into the blinding light of the present. In putting oneself in dangerous, unfamiliar spaces—a forest, a factory, a new country, an old fear—one tests one’s boundaries, one’s own limitations. As I taught in the university and wrote academic articles, while also continuing to write and publish novels and short stories, the precarious, repeated journeys between the critical and the creative brought an understanding of the importance of each, and with it, a visceral sense of the need of supportive “travelling” spaces.

My piece in this newspaper last year (The Writer as a Hummingbird, 16 October, 2016) asked “how one becomes a writer; or how verb turns to noun, ‘I write’ to ‘I am a writer’. The pundits say it is when one gets published and publicised…but caught in a whirlwind of lit-fests, book fairs and tours, where does the writer find space for error and introspection? How does she choose between the personal hierarchies of power brokers, those with the famous last names or the money; and an impersonal market that seldom understands politics, aesthetics, sentiment?” The piece found itself soaring into other skies, inhabited by vultures and other predators of the writing industry. It visualised famous writers as big, beautiful birds. And, tentatively flapping its wings, the tiny hummingbird, the only group of birds that can fly backwards. Also seen in and around Ann Arbor, these hummingbirds building their lives with a few drops of nectar, a root here, a leaf there, and a little bit of sky are so inspiring.

Within the rarefied ramparts of today’s metropolitan academy, conceptually “pure” categories and sharp binaries are seen as suspect: city vs village, centre vs periphery, the natural and the social, rationality vs emotion, male vs female. 

That is how the Hummingbird Global Writers’ Circle was born. I floated the idea during my book reading in New York earlier this year. Soon enough, venues and vistas were being finalised worldwide, for writers and readers to meet for the love of books, ideas, and conversation. The logo was designed by David, the owner of California-based Alcorn Designs. The announcement of the initiative on social media was received with hundreds of enthusiastic responses here in America and from around the world. There were also beautiful interpretations of the project from India—for instance, Ajay Kumar pointed to the “hum” in the hummingbird, the Hindi meaning of hum (we), pointing to unity and collaborations across locales and languages, while Soumya Choudhury underscored the metaphorical import of the hummingbird’s backward flight—a retreat, a strategic survival manoeuvre, a return to independently dig up the sky. This may be yet another hard journey, but, like all others, perhaps worth every step.

Dr Debotri Dhar is a visiting fellow and lecturer at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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