Living Lightly: Journey with the Pastoralist

Educational Outreach of the exhibition at IGNCA, New Delhi

Client: Sahjeevan/IGNCA, India

What I did: Workshop Facilitation , Research

Date: 2017

For over centuries, the pastoralists have traversed across India, forming a rich web of relationships between the animals they look after and the land they live with. ‘Living Lightly’ was an exhibition on the pastoralists of the Kachchh district of Gujarat, the Maldaris on view from 2- 19 Dec 2017 at IGNCA, New Delhi 

For the Maldharis, their ‘Mal’ (wealth) is their animals. Even the dung of the animal is precious and is ‘marked’ by the owner using a stick. In the Banni grassland of KuttchMaldharis move from one place to the other in search of fodder for their animals. In fact, there are different kinds of grasses for changing seasons; just how our consumption patterns change to suit the climate.  

Through tangible and intangible objects like earthen pots, bells, paintings, textiles, crafts, poetry, music, and a short documentary, the exhibition helped to demonstrate that Maldharis indeed live in complete harmony with nature, their surroundings and community. 

Using inquiry based learning approach, I designed and facilitated ten outreach workshops introducing school children (12-16 yrs old) to objects , stories , music and the art of the Maldhari community through thinking routines like see, think, wonder;  close looking and open ended questioning . Besides the fascinating exhibits, student also got the fantastic opportunity to interact with members of the Maldhari community, hear their stories first hand, ask them questions, and share their experience of visiting the exhibition ,all of which tremendously added to their understanding of the nomadic way of life . 

An introductory activity asked students to write down what words like ‘wealth’ ,‘ travel’ ,‘music’, ‘potty/dung’ mean to them in their life and context. During the course of their visit, as they observed, heard and read about the life of Maldharis in the exhibition, they were asked to write what those words would mean for a Maldhari. In conclusion, students played a little thinking game. They were given some stimulus chits (phrases and proverbs) that asked them to reflect about certain aspects of their life and then compare it with the life of a Maldhari. Students wrote interesting stories and made some lovely drawings! 

One child drew himself with money and the Maldhari with his herd of buffaloes to show different perception towards wealth (‘Mal’). Another girl drew different journeys- one of the Maldhari with his camel going towards his temporary mud-grass abode and the second of a city girl (probably her) walking her dog. 

Coming from vastly different backgrounds themselves, the students, too, had varying perceptions, questions and ideas about the nomadic pastoralists. For some, their craft and music was inspirational. Their ecologically conscious way of living and peaceful, longstanding relationship with other communities like the kumbhars, luhars, meghwars was seen as being exemplary in today’s day and age. Others wondered why the Maldhari still continue to live an unsettled life. Isn’t sedentary living the foundation of a civilisation? 

Through the stories, traditions, music, art and crafts of the Maldharis and other communities that interact closely with the Maldharis, the exhibition gave the students a glimpse into the intricate relationship between man and nature. How today as we encourage development in technology, spaces, and resource utilization, this symbiotic relationship is weakening day by day. One such interesting story they saw depicted on a textile was how the Maldhari settlement was being barred entry into the mangrove forests as there is common perception that the animals overgraze and destroy the limited green resources. However, what was less understood is that the camels by the very act of grazing help in the dispersion of the mangrove seeds and contribute to the biodiversity and wellness of the eco system. 

Living Lightly– a curated Exhibition of the Life and Times of Pastoralists in India was on view from 2- 19 Dec 2017 at IGNCA, New Delhi. Two week long outreach programme for over 250 schools children and NGOs was co-facilitated by me during my time as the Education Programme Lead for Flow India, Delhi.