Re-Imagining our Sense of Reality
From pigtails and polka dots … across oceans … to graying hair and social consciousness, what was real for me 55 years ago seems unreal today. Time has a way of doing that. Walking through waist deep floods in Mumbai, to get from my college to our apartment, wasn’t out of the ordinary for me forty years ago. I cannot see myself doing that today. Whereas, the possibility of seeing the hillsides across the valley from our home turn bright orange as they go up in flames is part of my current reality as a Californian — a sight that would have been inconceivable during my childhood in India’s overcrowded, overbuilt cities.
However, even when in the same space with other people, our realities can differ. My reality on a daily basis as a Californian … as an Angeleno … is different from my husband’s. I am an Asian-American immigrant from India. He is a Caucasian-American migrant from Idaho. We look at the world differently. It isn’t only the experience of growing up in racially and culturally different family environments, but among other things, expectations — others and our own — that frequently guide our perception of reality.
For example, forty years ago when I first arrived in America, I did not think twice about interrupting someone or being interrupted mid-sentence. However, I soon discovered, much to my consternation, that interrupting a speaker in America, was considered being rude and offensive. My husband never saw it as me being interested in what he was saying. This difference can be extrapolated to a wider stage. Professional storytellers in Rajasthan, India would be offended if they didn’t get feedback(interruptions) during their narration. So, at storytelling events, one member of the audience is tasked with giving the hunkaras — sounds, words, or phrases — that encourage the storyteller by displaying reactions and appreciation. Such an interruption of a performance in America would be unconscionable.
My reality as a resident of an urban community in America is also very different from what was real for me while I lived in a village in India.
On a normal day in L A, I don’t have to think about how to rinse soapy hands because plumbing is ubiquitous in an urban American lifestyle. I turn the faucet and water flows. I don’t need to rely on someone else to draw the water from a well and pour it. On the other hand, on hot California summer nights, I’d never relocate my bed outdoors so I could fall asleep counting the stars — something we automatically did in the village because we did not have fans to blow the stuffiness out of the room.
Interestingly, when I (Dan) was living in India I was in a community, in a rural village, that had people from the village living with people from urban backgrounds. To watch people live their very different realities, in the same environment, was very interesting to me. There were some instances where certain people would project their realities on others.
The urbaners that came to live in the village often demanded more modern conveniences, as that was what they were used to in the cities. Many of the rural inhabitants kept to their rural ways of being. However, in some instances, for better or worse, there was cross-pollination of values and activities.
One example that particularly struck me was: Many of the urbaners had faucets put in their homes/rooms for the convenience of having running water (like Mrinalini mentioned above). To them, this was normal, this was their reality. Many of the rural inhabitants continued to get their water from the communal handpumps. To them, this was normal, this was their reality.
It was interesting when a young, rural, exhausted mother, who had seen the urbaners with their indoor running water, made an emotional plea to get running water put in her home. In conversation around this, many of the urbaners vehemently felt this was ‘right’.
What did not get discussed was the role of the ‘handpump’ in the community. The ‘handpump’ was a meeting space. A place where people greeted their neighbors, and exchanged pleasantries, multiple times a day. The handpump was a symbol of a sustainable technology that was built to function in harmony with the shifting water-tables. It took effort to get the water, you had to manually pump the pump and then carry the buckets of water back to your home. The handpump was exercise. And, when you got back with the handpump water, you used it more sparingly, because you felt the effort of getting it. Whereas, with the electric motors, and indoor running water, water was easy to waste (i.e. washing dishes, clothes, bathing etc.).
It seems as our individual reality shifts, we often forget where that reality developed from. We forget what came before. We forget that our reality is a symptom of our past. In some cases, what came before was not as good as what is. But, in some cases, it might be better.
Rob Hopkins, in an interview with Shaun Chamberlin, described visiting a beautiful community, that had a vibrant market, with all locally produced goods, conviviality, music, dancing etc. He expressed that kids that grow up to see this regularly, grow up to think this is normal, thus when they leave and see ‘impoverished communities’ (the norm), they feel a sense of subtle outrage, a need to tend. There are many people that are experiencing more harmonious, healthy, connecting realities (see Tomorrow). What can we (as individuals and communities) do to change our reality(s) for the better?
As we change, and our environment changes, how do we reconcile who we are, with our reality? The Coronavirus pandemic might have altered the way we perceive our environments, but has it changed who we are?
Lead Author: Mrinalini Watson (first five and last paragraphs)
Born and raised in India, Mrinalini immigrated to India when she was twenty. Since then she has learned how to be a wife, mother, student, volunteer, and very briefly a CPA and tax accountant — defining each role in quirky and unique ways.
Mrinalini is currently working towards becoming a translator and folklorist. While engaged in her Fulbright research (2019–2020) she discovered that genealogist-storytellers in Rajasthan’s villages are a treasure trove of folktales. And, until she can return to India to collect more folktales, she is studying different Indic languages and translating the folktales she collected.
To recharge, she goes on long walks exploring the cities and neighborhoods she is living in at the time.
Anchor Author: Daniel Rudolph
Daniel Rudolph is interested in exploring alternative, experiential learning opportunities for people of all ages. He is passionate about forming community, and building public spaces for meaningful, transformational gathering. Currently he is spending a lot of his time learning juggling and facilitating gatherings. He also enjoys writing and sharing poetry. Daniel is a very curious and playful person and is always open for creative collaborations.