Of Medical Care - What if? What now?
Sea Conversation 2023 - 24
To Inhabit, with Care
Afterlife: Jole Dobe Na | Grace
Two Films by Naeem Mohaiemen
June 05, 2023
The premise for the monsoon semester conversation is To Inhabit, with Care. Through this, it responds to the planetary lives that are exposed to uncertain challenges, health hazards, lack of social security, and financialization of life, land, and labor. This series of varied conversations tries to lay out a proposition, to discover ways of being sensitive, in how we engage and seek an interplay between ourselves and others. The Practice of Care becomes the foreground of establishing all such planetary relationships.
The first conversation was initiated by a dialogue between two films, Jole Dobe Na and Grace, by Naeem Mohaiemen. These two films were not thought to be in dialogue with each other since they were made at different times and contexts. However, the prominent idea that came about from both these films was that of Care.
Jole Dobe Na (Those who do not drown), was a response to a prompt by Raqs Media Collective, about modes of care and the afterlife of the caregivers. Naeem mentions that it almost became his project to reflect upon his own life, where he was a caregiver of his father. The film is about a then estranged couple, connected intimately by an illness. It is set in an empty government hospital in Kolkata, which exposed various clerical and institutional protocols, an office that is always discriminatory. The husband is in a loop of thoughts, where he is constantly trying to answer the question of, what if something was done differently in the process of caregiving? The frenzy of this time loop is coupled with cherished moments of his dreamworld, where the husband reads out stories to his wife during her final days, conversations that they share between themselves in response to the stories, like “How is the medical care in America, do you want to go there”. The partner who has lost a significant person in his life, tries to keep the memories of her final days alive, through these various acts of dreaming in his time-loop.
The second film, Grace, is about an elderly woman, Karen, who lives in Maine and is one of the first few people in showing her interest to use the provision of the state, Death with Dignity. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer and has been living with it ever since. In the film, she is having a dialogue with the filmmaker about her every day and her stories, however, she does not have any anthropological curiosity for the filmmaker himself, as he mentions it. She is inhabiting this space where she has to take care of herself to avoid significant pain, but she does it in a very meticulous way. The most absurd medical equipment occupies her life. The filmmaker however takes a critical position here, he becomes a new interface, which almost gives Karen a new charge. He makes her curate an exhibition, in this process, she selects paintings that tell a story of her life, in a dreamlike way. She then starts inhabiting this story of her life, while anticipating her near future.
Both these films, make one reflect on their lives. It allows one to deeply think about the systems of care. Like, in Jole Na Doba, the power that the in-between moments of reading out to the partner held in the memories of the caregiver, the conversations of desires they both shared, narratives that present a very soft and logical register of time. The two films also emphasized the position of the one who is the caregiver, and what energy it can bring to the person he is giving care to. In the case of Karen, when the filmmaker lets her curate, it almost adds a new purpose to her life, the art she collects lets her reflect on her own life but moments that she has felt have left a mark of contentful happiness in her life. Though Karen was a very youthful person, to constantly occupy the space of the medicines is often ghastly. Such are the moments when one would want to deeply investigate this idea of what care could be. Could it be something that takes a physical form, or is it something that seems intangible but becomes a driving force in someone?