The Commune

Dear friends,

2020 was unprecedented. We lived through a year that was turbulent to say the least and heartbreaking at the worst. Lives were lost in a reckless and careless fashion; we turned to systems like healthcare that failed us. In this essay as an opening to Crisis Cities Symposium, Thomas J Sugrue professor of social and cultural analysis and history at New York University says: “Just as COVID-19 is particularly dangerous to populations with preexisting conditions, the virus has ferociously swept through urban areas because of their preexisting social conditions: the precarity of work; the unaffordability of housing; the depth of racial, ethnic, and class divides; a profoundly unequal global economy; and the failure of many governments worldwide to rise to the challenges.”

The COVID-19 crisis reminded us globally of the corrosive and distinctive characteristics of urban life. But it was also a reminder for us about the intrinsic nature of interdependence embedded in our urban life. It reminded us to care not just about ourselves but about those in our immediate neighbourhood; elderly in our buildings, the migrant workers in our cities and so much more.

As someone who spent most of the year alone with her cats, I thought about interdependence and mutual aid a lot. I struggled in the early months because most of my care circle, my family and friends lived in another city. The distance was hard. However, once the lockdown was lifted enough to send packages and presents, I continued interacting with my friends and loved ones who lived far away from me through presents - and they in turn sent me gifts. During the course of these months, my postwoman couldn’t knock on my house door because of restrictions. So she began to call me when she came with a package. Slowly, we got to know each other by our first names. In fact, last week, she delivered a package to me with some of the address missing because of her recognising my name and my phone number. I smiled at this because of the fondness in her voice when she told me to be careful cause what if she was not on duty?

As this new year begins again, it feels important for me to revisit and rekindle the ways in which our lives are dependent on each other; imagine ways we can build relationships and deepen our engagement with everyone around. How can we respond to these crises we are witnessing by leaving no one behind and building new systems of care? What systems and institutions will we need to change to deepen our connections and not alienate each other in these new times? What does healthcare look like in a country as vast as ours? What alternatives will we need to create to respond to the current crises? And of course, how will we get there?

Our society often valorises independence and “getting things done”. But more than ever now, we are witnessing the need for us to accept and inhabit the world together, through mutual aid and interdependence. I often turn to Mia Mingus, disability justice advocate and activist who says: “Interdependency is both 'you' and 'I' and 'we'. It is solidarity, in the best sense of the word. It is inscribing community on our skin over and over and over again. It is truly moving together in an oppressive world towards liberation and refusing to let the personal be a scapegoat for the political.”

We have of course no answers about the future, but it seems evident that it begins by re-imagining our cities through lenses of collective care, interdependence and community.

We hope you will send us your thoughts on how we can reimagine our cities, our lives, our neighbourhoods in the year to come. May the year ahead be full of new imaginings and coming together for you! We have made a few changes to our newsletter format as well and look forward to hearing from you about them.

Warmly,
Srinidhi

Theme for the month: Cities & New Imaginations

Ashwin Tahiliani, Mumbai, India, Neighborhood bonds.

Photo credit @Bloomberg City Lab

Every month we will be looking at deepening into one theme with you all. Since we are setting out on a new year, we thought we could begin with cities and new imaginations, to rethink how we want to live in this world.

For many of us across the world, our worlds literally shrank to the areas in and around our neighbourhood. As part of a project, the Bloomberg City Lab invited its readers to send hand drawn maps of how their worlds had been changed in 2020.

The maps show us how coronavirus transformed the places we live in but also our relationship with our surroundings. Some drew maps based on the sounds they heard; others based on the reduction in where they went; and some others about the worlds they inhabited through the world wide web. In many of the cases illustrated through the maps, the pandemic resulted in people, relationships and perspectives turning hyperlocal.

Logo of Reading Circle, a TCC book club. It has a blue background and white stitches in a circle. In the middle is the text.

How to Be a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery

From January 2021, we'll come together (virtually) to read and discuss one book or essay every month as part of our new initiative: Reading Circle: A TCC Book Club. We will explore our individual and collective well being through these texts. In a world of increasing uncertainty, we hope these gatherings provide space for reflection. 

'How to Be a Good Creature', a memoir in thirteen animals, is our book for January 2021. Through this memoir, Montgomery explores themes such as the otherness and sameness of people and animals; the various ways we learn to love and become empathetic; coping with loss and despair; gratitude; forgiveness; and most of all, how to be a good creature in the world.

At a time when the climate crisis is a constant reminder of our difficult and frayed relationship with the planet and its other inhabitants, we at TCC hope to use these stories that Montgomery tells to enter and consider our relationship with the world around us.

You can read more about the book on Goodreads here.

Haven’t joined the reading circle group yet? You still can sign up!

A textured painting of blue, purple and green colours with the words on top Lost words, lost worlds.

To the New Year
by W S Merwin

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few

high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

A photo of a flower with a box on top that reads deep stories of our time.

Children Tell Us Their Wishes for the Year Ahead
 

The year 2020 was of course not just a year of crises but a year full of opportunity for reform. In the past, pandemics and other crises like war have opened up the possibilities or re-imaginations and ways forward. I thought about re-imagining this world and found myself struggling to dream, wish and hope alongside grieve and live the many realisations of 2020. I didn’t know what exactly to wish for. Until I found this lovely compilation of wishes from children across the country coordinated by Pratham Books. In reading these wishes, I felt hope stir within me. Here’s to hope through their imaginations:

I wish for the development of the world  (or universe) to be in the hands of small kids. [मैं चाहता हूँ कि दुनिया (या विश्व) का विकास छोटे बच्चों के हाथ में हो।]

Sagar Lohawe, 13, Alphonso Sr Secondary School, Maharashtra (Nalanda Abhiyan Labs) 

I wish for each animal the freedom to roam around. [मैं चाहती हूँ कि हर एक जानवर आज़ादी से घूम पाए।]

Gauri Rachalwar, 13, Akshara High School, Maharashtra

I wish to be free of scoldings. [मैं डाँट से आज़ादी चाहता हूँ।]

Sunny, Sahib Kids Care School, Haryana (The Community Library Project)

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Quote for the day
 
“This is an extraordinary time full of vital, transformative movements that could not be foreseen. It’s also a nightmarish time. Full engagement requires the ability to perceive both.”
- Rebecca Solnit
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