Savda Ghevra on the north-western fringes of Delhi boasts a vibrant literary scene — media outlets, libraries that produced writers whose work have been published in magazines and have featured in anthologies
From page 02 NEWDELHI: It is afternoon and Shahid Khan is walking around in a park, frantically speaking into a microphone with the logo of his media outlet, his hand pointing to the garbage strewn around. He and his colleague, who is shooting the video on his smartphone, are reporting a story on the pathetic state of parks in his locality. “We face so many civic issues here but no one —authorities, politicians, or the media — is interested. Our voice is hardly heard. So, we pooled money and started our own media outlet,” says Khan, a resident of Savda Ghevra, who recently launched Savda News, a community media outlet. They have a seven-member team and are in the process of setting up their own office in the locality.
VIPIN KUMAR/HT PHOTOS
Ilma, 12, one of the youngest writers in Savda Ghevra during a book reading session at a community library. (Left) Shahid Khan, 32, who started a community media outlet called Savda News.
“We intend to tell the stories of the people of Savda Ghevra; take for example the story of a 75-year-old woman who lives alone and sets up her tea stall at 5 am even in this December chill; or those of hundreds of women who take the 5 am bus to central and east Delhi, about 40 km away, where they work as domestic helps,” says Khan, listing out the stories he has lined up for the coming weeks. “Our community is a melting pot of cultures and a treasure trove of stories.”
Indeed, Savda Ghevra, on the northwestern fringes of the city, where slum dwellers were relocated before the Commonwealth Games from places such as Laxmi Nagar, Kakardooma, Nangla Machi and Pragati Maidan, is a resettlement colony like no other. Spread over 250 acres with wide roads and rows and rows of box-like houses, the colony boasts a vibrant ‘intellectual and cultural scene’: community media outlets, community archives and many libraries that have produced writers—some as young as 10 — whose work have been published in prestigious literary magazines and have featured in anthologies.
Ilma, 12, is one of Savda’s many writers. The day we met Ilma, her first story— Muharram — had been published in the December issue of Hans, a prestigious Hindi literary magazine founded by Munshi Premchand. Talk to her about the story and her eyes lit up. “The story is about how the shoes you wear can be the object of both shame and glory,” says Ilma, with the élan of a seasoned writer. Ilma is at Kitab Ghar, a community library that turns into a literary saloon every day—where young writers read, write and discuss their stories.
These writers are quite perceptive, keen observers of the environment in which they are growing up and more importantly, the challenges such environment throws up. Nikhil Kumar, 11, has just finished a story, “Shakuntala Devi,” about a woman who comes to Savda Ghevra from Mangolpuri after marriage and finds herself in a new milieu, confronting new mores in a new community and family. “She is a feisty woman who starts her own business, a tiffin service, just to show her conservative in-laws that she is an independent and a free-spirited woman,” says Nikhil, who aspires to be an IAS officer.
There are many young woman writers such as 22-year- old Rekha (she uses her first name), who focus on issues about young women. One of her recent works, Niruma, is the story of a domestic help who takes her 10-year-old daughter to the house where she works. “The story captures how sudden exposure to opulence affects her daughter, how she begins to understand her and her mother’s misfortune and copes with it,” says Rekha, who is pursuing masters in social work.
But how’s the life for young women like her in Savda Ghevra? “It is pretty safe and no crime against women has ever been reported here. At times, I return late in the night but never face any problem. It is safer than many posh areas of Delhi,” says Rekha. “It proves that there is no relationship between poverty and crime. Savda is a challenging place for young girls only because colleges are far, and because of it, many young ambitious women cannot study beyond 12th.”
Many writers of this colony have been part of literary festivals, including IHC Languages Festival in the Capital, and the critics admire their work. “Their stories have great depth, originality, and maturity. In fact, we liked their work so much that we created a permanent column in our magazine for them,” says Sanjay Sahay, editor, Hans. The column, called ‘ghusapaithiye’ (intruders), has short stories by people living on the margins. “The idea was to show how this young bunch of people can break into the elite literary world, rightfully sharing the same column space as some of the biggest names in Hindi literature,” says Sahay.
Jaanu Nagar, 33, is one of the senior writers of the community and their writing coach, whose writings gave a push to the literary ambitions of Savda’s youth. In 2010, his story—The Delhi liner— appeared in Trickster City, an anthology of short stories published by Penguin. The story is about a magician who fools people to create a space for himself in the compartment of a Delhi-bound train. “You have to be a trickster to succeed in Delhi,” says Nagar, who has written for various magazines and teaches story writing at Kitab Ghar, started by an NGO as part of an alternative learning programme. Over the years, it has become a nursery for budding local writers.
Nagar, whose stories revolve around themes of how a place and a people shape each other, says Savda Ghevra is a study in the emotional cost of demolition and displacement. His mood becomes melancholic as he recalls the hot, humid August afternoon in 2006 when bulldozers arrived at Nagla Machi, a slum cluster in the heart of the city, where he used to live with his father.
“We were given three hours to vacate, and I took out my bag, bed, and books, and a table. Not many people can ever understand what it means to see your house being demolished in front of your eyes. Every blow on it is a blow on your heart, mind, and self-respect, and the scars nevergoaway,”saysNagar,asoft-spoken man, who is working on a novel. “It is about how difficult it is to live on the periphery of a city, and how the city treats those who live on its periphery.”
The community has documented the story of its displacement from the heart of the city to its fringe in the Savda Ghevra Archives, which Nagar refers to as ‘a museum of memories.’ Housed in a small room that was renovated last week, the archives have on display hundreds of documents, maps, photographs tracing the evolution of their colony and their new life in it. It also exhibits many items of daily use such as a scale, chairs, a TV, among others.
The Archives, Nagar says, attracts visitors from all over the world – researchers, scholars, writers, trying to make sense of urban displacement, resettlement, water, sanitation; and dreams and dilemmas of the displaced. The Archives’ visitor book has comments from people from countries such as Germany, the US, the Netherlands, and Australia. “The idea behind the Archives was to ensure that our stories of displacement never die,” says, Nagar who also runs day-today affairs of the Archives.
Savda Ghevra is home to not just writers but theatre groups and artists as well. Gaurav Singh, 24, a member of Nouty Sitare, a local theatre group with over 24 members, performs street plays on themes such as education, employment, and air pollution. He says the group was formed when a bunch of youngsters gathered in a park to practise spoken English, a language every youngster wants to master in Savda. “We tried speaking to each other dramatically in English, and we realised all of us could be actors too,” laughs Singh. “Youth of Savda are aware, socially active, and trying their best to improve their and their community’s lot. And they help each other in this quest.”
While many young men and women of Savda work in beauty parlours and fast food chains, there are a few others who have got jobs with banks and the railways. There are many youngsters who are pursuing graduation through correspondence. They aspire to be an IT professional, IAS, and spend hours preparing for competitive exams in Savda’s many tuition and training centres, where the teachers are also local youngsters.
“Our youngsters are very talented, and they are trying very hard to overcome the disadv
antages of living in a resettlement colony. We are determined to help each other as a community and become an example for others,” says Sanjay Kumar, 27, who has done MCA, and spends two hours a day teaching maths and reasoning at a local coaching centre. “Poverty is not always a curse. Sometimes it can be an inspiration, a valuable life experience,” adds Nagar.