The Calm During the Storm
Dhruba Basu recently joined PRIA. The participatory lunch, which is unique to PRIA, and the PRIA Learning Week was his first experience of how PRIA as an organisation walks the talk.
When I joined PRIA, I had some idea of the organisation’s work but no prior experience in the field of participatory research. It seemed like an interesting idea that put a premium on reimagining the workings of democracy as it plays out in urban spaces, by giving a voice to the institutionally neglected and making institutions do their job, i.e. respond adequately to the needs of the people. I was looking forward to meaningful, action-oriented work.
I was not, however, ready for the storm of activity I would get caught up in on the day of joining. There were, of course, many documents I had to read to familiarise myself with the work and workings of PRIA, but this became secondary in light of preparations for Learning Week, a 4-day congregation of staff from all over the country for purposes of skill-building and project review and planning. I found myself thrown into the phirnee committee, the games committee, the Ramleela production (as a dancer in Dasharath’s court), and was even called upon by the decorations team, all the while trying to keep in mind my core professional responsibilities of documentation and report-writing.
Needless to say, I was a little overwhelmed and spent the first few days trying to keep up and not getting much space to wonder how this was relevant to the job I’d signed up for. But, come the day of the participatory lunch that was to kick things off, I suddenly found everything making sense as I saw everyone from management, the field, accounts, IT, reception, and all the other departments darting from room to room and floor to floor organising raw material, utensils and vessels and working single-mindedly to ensure the food would be ready on time, while those who were members of other committees put together arrangements for their events simultaneously.
Witnessing this beehive in action, I realised this was what community participation was about - blurring individual boundaries to work seamlessly as one, to achieve results that aren’t about you but about what can be achieved by coming together for a goal that serves everyone, becoming more self-reliant and responsible through a sense of collective responsibility. Throwing yourself at communal events is how an activated community works!
To me, this was nothing if not an illustration of the link between theory and praxis. It got me excited about seeing the PRIA methdology play out in effecting real transformation outside the office well.