I am so grateful that I have been able to re-connect with many childhood friends through “100 Conversations”. What is fascinating is how the list keeps growing on its own through nominations.
The wonderful woman you are going to read about, has been nominated by our friend and classmate Lorna Bang. The nomination created immense enthusiasm in Amrita and me! So this time, the three of us, bring you Mary’s beautiful journey!
When I think of Mary from childhood days, I remember a very shy girl, who was always smiling. Though I can’t distinctly remember conversations, I have memories of her from much younger days – like nursery or KG (can you spot us in our school picture?). I remember her as one of the caring classmates who would want to come forth with empathy when she saw others sad or crying.
Seeing her on Facebook couple of months back was amazingly refreshing – refreshing because her smile is just the way it used to be way back in childhood and amazing because of the offbeat work she has been doing! When I got talking to Mary, I realised she started working long before we were even thinking of work. She started working at 16 and she has created a body of work that is both expansive and deep. Her work has revolved around social impact, art, culture and publishing.
She started her journey with Bethany Society, an NGO based out of Shillong. She was their first employee! Her next job was at Action for Ability Development and Inclusion, Delhi. The passion at AADI to create accessibility and vocation for the differently abled gave expression to Mary’s intrinsic empathy and desire to be of value. In fact these initial years of work created a profound impact on her young and impressionable mind. She continues to support initiatives in the sphere of accessibility for the disabled.
In years that followed, Mary began working in the sphere of art and literature. She began looking at art and literature in a unique way – through the lens of culture and history. As she looks back, this perspective was born early on from the diversity in our classroom, at Loreto Convent, Shillong. Our class of about 80 across two sections, had so much diversity. We were a mix of Arunachali, Assamese, Bengali, Indian-Chinese, Garo, Jaintia, Khasi, Marwari, Mizo, Oriya, Naga, Nepali, Punjabi, Sindhi and more. Growing up in such diversity made her feel that it is natural for us to be different. For Mary our world was an intersection of many worlds and hence the world can be many different ways. It is this philosophy that has shaped her view towards the relationship between art, literature, culture and history. Insights born out of this relationship enable her to curate art in a way that is unique and relevant to her audience.
Art and culture have a deeper meaning for her because she has created space for her learning through this medium – this space has been her college, university and more. She looks at this space with a feeling of gratitude and a lot of respect. It opened a world of possibilities for her and it can do the same for others. She has found her cause in art. As a facilitator and curator who supports and showcases art, she puts in a lot of thought around the quality of what she puts out there and who accesses it.
In 2012 Mary launched her independent consultancy ‘Khublei’. “Khublei” is a Khasi word with several meanings – Thank You, God Bless, Greetings, Hello or Bye. Having stayed in the Khasi Hills for the first 18 years of my life, I could “feel” the spirit with which Mary has set up her consultancy and what it means to her. Through Khublei, Mary and her team have managed, curated and produced over 40 projects in collaboration with the Australia Council for the Arts, Japan Foundation, Goethe-Institut, Bloomsbury Publishers, Juggernaut Books, Penguin Random House India, KHOJ and India Design Forum among many others wonderful partners.
Mary is on the advisories of several initiatives including Brahmaputra Literature Festival Assam, Majha House Amritsar, Salt Arts Karachi, Wheels for Life New Delhi to name a few. She was the Festival Director of Cultures of Peace – Festival of the Northeast for three editions from 2012 – 2015. Mary is also an Art Think South Asia (ATSA) Fellow.
After spending 20 years away from the North–East, Mary is now back. She intends to work on creating adequate infrastructure in the region to support the immense talent and creativity that exists in the region.
From beginning a work life at 16 and supporting her family at a very tender age to spreading her wings and experiencing life at a larger scale, Mary’s journey has seen various shades of what this world has to offer. She has had strangers offer support, encouragement and love when she wanted to turn her dreams into reality. She has also faced discrimination because of her ethnic background and her gender. She has faced eve teasing and disturbing sexual advances. She has been spoken down to and has sometimes had to work harder than others to prove her worth. She has been shaken many times but not broken. What saw her through these rough phases was an innate sense of pride that she inherited from the way her late mother conducted herself. Her mother, who was extremely hardworking, always carried herself with dignity and pride. She believed in the power of goodness and hard work over wealth. From her mother, Mary learnt that self-belief, effort and purpose can create a rich and meaningful life. It was this strong foundation that helped Mary create her inspiring body of work in spite of the fact her childhood and adolescence were spent facing many challenges, financial constraints aside. She did not have any existing network that she could leverage when she moved to a new city at 19. What she slowly built on her own, was a community of friends and like minded people who are willing to see the goodness in each and other and create an ecosystem based on empathy and understanding. This concept of building communities is the one thing that Mary wants to share with women who may feel lonely or may not have inherited a strong support system.
This conversation with Mary was deeply moving. It brought out various emotions in me as I embarked on this journey through her childhood, her youth to where she is today – a very wise woman! I got insights into a realm I had not seen or experienced. The generosity and openness with which she shared her journey with me was heartwarming.
Mary, what you have created is extraordinary – wishing you all the best for the exciting endeavours that you are about to undertake.