For every final year journalism student of Delhi University, one of the highlights of their final days in college would be documentary film-making.
These budding journalists are divided into small groups and are to shoot and edit a 12 to 15-minute documentary of any issue of their choice.
This is when all the things they have learnt about documentary are put into practice. They will become film directors during the two-day shoot.
It is now my turn.
From learning the different modes — expository, reflexive, performatory, poetic, participatory — to understanding all the different aspects of documentary, we must ensure at least one of this is reflected in our own film.
It also included watching different documentaries from the likes of the Nanook of the North by Robert J Flahtery, The Blare Witch Project by Jane Roscoe, Titicut Follies by Frederick Wiseman, Triumph des Willens or Triumph of the Will, a German documentary by Leni Reifenstahl and many more.
One of the most important part of our syllabus, it's the challenges and masti or fun associated with it that motivates us, the budding film-makers to defy all odds and at the end of the day produce a documentary film.
At the beginning of this academic year in July when our radio and television production assistant professor Anubha Yadav asked about my group's documentary topics, I knew what I wanted my group to do.
It was to be anything on bonded labour.
Bonded labour according to Devin Finn in Bonded Labour in India is characterised by a long-term relationship between employer and employee, is usually solidified through a loan, and is embedded intricately in India's socio-economic culture — a culture that is a product of class relations, a colonial history, and persistent poverty among many citizens.
Also known as debt bondage, bonded labour is a specific form of forced labour in which compulsion into servitude is derived from debt. According to activist Swami Agnivesh, through whom I was able to understand more about this issue, simply put, bonded labour is where they work to pay off their loan.
The money they owe to the loan sharks will be repaid by their service, where the services required to repay the debt maybe undefined and the services duration may be undefined too.
Mr Agnivesh said bonded labour or debt bondage could be passed on from generation to generation, meaning if they loan and are not able to repay it within their lifetime, their next generation would take over the debt and offer their services to repay it.
As for the politics of our film, we decided on either to speak to those who are still bonded or those who were bonded but are now free.
After much brainstorming and off course arguments, we decided to highlight the lives of the free.
For techno savvies and my friends on Mark Zuckerberg's social networking site Facebook, they would be informed of this documentary shoot if they had been following my posts.
As we head out to shoot our documentary film, in Jain Dera slum in Surajkund, near the Delhi and Faridabad border, I recalled going there on our very first recce.
Recce is the shortened for reconnaissance, a military term that has been borrowed by the film industry referring to the prefilming visits to a location to work out its suitability for shooting, including access to necessary facilities and assessment of any potential lighting or sound issues.
For my group — made up of aspiring film directors Garima Chaudhry, Saba Parween, Anindita Roy, Mia Lakra and fellow Fijian and former media colleague Nandika Chand, going to the slum was like venturing into uncharted waters.
Coming from all different backgrounds, none of us had been to a slum before.
I've seen it in the movies or read it in newspapers, but that was all a slum was to me.
We were fortunate that we were introduced to this slum by Nirmal Gorana of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front or Bandhua Mukhti Morcha, a non-governmental organisation founded in 1981 to wage a battle against the pernicious bonded labour system in India. Walking into the slum the first day, the memories of a year of my childhood where we were forced to live with my dad's older brother in Veidogo settlement in Vatuwaqa after my dad lost his job after suffering from motor vehicle accident injuries, came alive.
This is one part of my life that always kept me going whenever the going gets tough.
Born into a middle class family in Suva, everything changed after my dad's accident in 1991.
We stayed with my uncle for a year while our house in our village in Vuo, Labasa was built, and we relocated to Labasa afterwards.
That one year of my life where I experienced firsthand living in a squatter settlement, made me understand the struggles and hardships the people of Jain Dera were going through.
I was able to relate to them.
Unlike the people of Jain Dera who have no hope, we were able to rebuild our shattered lives.
This was because our village, the resources there, the land and most importantly my parent's determination and sacrifices gave us a second chance in life. This is something the people of Jain Dera don't enjoy.
While they might have the determination and the urge for better life, the resources or the lack of it is a hurdle. And their numbers make it impossible for them to escape from that cycle of poverty.
They have their villages or ghao but they left it and migrated to urban areas in search for better opportunities in life. They do not have land to go back to. They have no choice but to labour their lives out.
Since our first recce, we realised that most of the men of Jain Dera were the ones who reduced hills to rumbles — they are the stone quarry workers.
From interacting with them, it is obvious their lives are in shambles.
With hardly anything to eat, no clean drinking water and proper houses to live in, the people of Jain Dera are surely numbers in the poverty statistics of India.
The look on, their eyes saying it all.
For them, there is no more hope.
They earn about 100 rupees or $F3.50 a day from doing hard and strenuous labour from 6am to 6pm a day.
That's for those who are working.
For those who have no jobs like one of our protagonists Filamon Tigga, 60, originally from Ranchi in Jarkhandh, surviving a day is indeed a miracle.
Mr Tigga, who doesn't even know the spelling of his name, said he had been searching for a job for the past 10 years.
A bonded labourer himself, Mr Tigga said he was only free from bondage since he was unable to work to pay of his debts because of his asthma attacks.
Migrating from Jarkhandh to Delhi, hoping life would improve, Mr Tigga said he became a bonded labourer at the age of 40.
He had to loan money for his survival and thus became bonded in debt.
His story is similar for most if not all of those in that slum.
Despite coming from different parts of India and subscribing to different religions, caste and cultures there is a commonality — they are in dire need of a financial miracle and assistance.
Though they are now free from their debt bondage, they are still bonded in poverty.
But for a country of 1.2 billion and counting, little or nothing can be expected from those in authority, definitely not in the near future.
Looking at the two scenarios, I really can't compare the squatter settlements in Fiji and the slums of India.
These are two different worlds.
I stand to be corrected, but the people back home in Fiji are squatting "in luxury".
As we go on shooting our documentary this weekend starting today (Saturday), I hope we the people of Fiji will realise and accept how fortunate and blessed we are.
* Mereseini Marau is a former The Fiji Times journalist studying in New Delhi India.