Playing Detective

Many people see documentation as a boring job. And consider process documentation an even bigger bore. But I have had some amazing experiences while doing exactly that! A few years ago, I was involved in process documentation of two bodhshalas for a non government organisation Bodh Shiksha Samiti. It focuses on education of deprived children across multiple districts in Rajasthan. Bodhshalas are essentially schools that concretise community engagement and this engagement begins from selecting the land and building the school collectively! Anyways, one of these schools had led to the formation of the organisation more than two decades ago. So here, a group of teachers and I, were undertaking process documentation of more than 20 years of experience!

Numerous names came up in the community level interviews and discussions. One person, in particular, seemed to have played a very important role. Twenty years ago, he had been the undisputed leader of the community. A leadership position derived from caste hierarchy, but also perpetuated by a reputation of being fair and just. His wife held similar clout among women. This couple had accepted the idea of a bodhshala and then the rest had fallen into place. Yet, after a while, he disappeared from the community narratives. He had moved out with his family from that slum community about a decade ago. No one seemed to have stayed in touch or was willing to share any information about his current whereabouts. But we knew that our story would be incomplete without meeting him.

So, we played detective, shamelessly pursuing every lead we had. Being persuasive, demanding, respectful – whatever worked! One man volunteered to help us and then backed out. Finally, three of us set out with whatever information we had gleaned. We knew the district where he lived. We knew that a particular kind of tree grew in that area. That was it! But one of us (our driver) had followed this trail earlier. He hadn’t found the man but that certainly narrowed down the field this time. He took us to a particular settlement. He believed that families staying there were related to the man we were looking for. And this time, he asked one of us women to do the talking. It worked!

We were led to this man’s house which was a short drive away. The lady with me had worked at that bodhshala for years and knew this man and his family personally. It was an amazing reunion. Tales from the past – some happy, some poignant – were recounted. Updates on friends and acquaintances were eagerly sought and shared. The man spoke to the founder of the organisation over phone and agreed to travel back with us. The conversation continued as we drove back through the night. Some of the missing pieces of the story of that bodhshala became clear. Some were hinted at and I chose not to pursue. It didn’t really matter. A man was returning to see what he had helped build. This wasn’t just about process documentation any more.

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4 responses to “Playing Detective

  1. Love it Ronita, I think you are creating history. I love process documentation as that actually helps me in recreating a entire initiative and the thought behind it. I have never seen documentation or process documentation as a process separate from a initiative/project, it is a intrinsic part of the project….. Sarita

    • Thanks Sarita for your encouraging words. And I agree. We must see process documentation as an intrinsic part of any programme. Hopefully, this blog will reaffirm that and also win over new proponents for our agenda!

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