Sunday, January 25, 2009

Shivaji Nagar- performance, experience, interaction

We were a group of 8 people. There were a set of tasks we had to perform sequentially at various locations within the bus stop. We had set up an sms group so at each stage we received messages about the next step via sms.

We started of by forming a circle at the entrance and looking at each other in silence. We then split up and went about the station asking people how they said the word woman in their respective languages. We met again at the entrance, stood in a circle sort of facing outwards and shouted out the different translations of 'woman'. At this point the gentleman at the enquiry asked us to leave but we carried on anyways. This task was sort of a warm up, preparing us for the more challenging tasks to come. Sayantani, was the most enthusiastic at this stage and gave the rest of the group some courage to carry on.

We then proceeded to the abandoned pedestrian subway, standing there really gives a feeling of being at the heart of Shivaji Nagar. We distributed some newspapers to sit on and some paper and pens to write with. The task was to create a word collage of anything we could hear, smell, see, imagine sitting there in silence. This was pretty meditative and helped us focus ourselves. We left the sheets tacked to the wall and went up to a shut off entry on the other side of the street, its connected to the Shivaji Nagar station via the pedestrian subway. Its a bit like a cage in the middle of the road. We tried mirroring the people outside, watching them as they watched us. Not all of us felt good about this exercise, as the men on the other side of the cage seemed to enjoy the attention. We felt a bit too vulnerable by the end of it. Still it was worth a shot!

We went back to subway. At this point we had caught the attention of the sweeper woman who told us that no man would dare to touch her, as she would beat him with her broom. She and her friends stood by and watched our next action. We formed a circle and hit a note together, gathering all the energy we could from the sound and ran full speed down the subway, up the ramp and burst onto the platform. We ran to the middle of the station and all eight of us jumped and shook ourselves- it was quite a sight and quite a feeling! A policeman came and blew his whistle but he just started laughing so we didn't stop. We thought we would anger a few people through this action but it was very joyful and everyone who watched us had a smile on their face- especially the old women and the kids. One young man was asked why he thought we were doing this. He actually said he thought it was our way of retaliating against what men do to women.

The next set of action really pushed us beyond our comfort zones leaving us exhilarated - the same crazy feeling that you get after a good improvisation!

Armed with a rag, some Colin and a glass of water we each occupied one bench along the length of a platform. First we scrubbed and cleaned the bench. A lot of us were incredibly uncomfortable with this. I remembered the sweeper women while doing this. A lady told Mrinalini that she was too beautiful too be cleaning benches. This action catalyzed a lot of discussions about caste and colour between the public and us. Most people were pleasantly surprised. we then went up to random men in the station and asked them if they wanted a glass of water. we thought this might be a good gesture to begin with but were surprised to find that no one accepted. We the asked them a set of questions "think of one important woman in your life (everyone thought of their mother!). What is her favourite place in Bangalore? Which bus goes there? Can you take me to the bus? I will close my eyes."

Sayantani met a policeman who agreed to accompany her but asked her to keep her eyes open. Swati was very surprised to find how carefully the man she met took her to the bus. A man who didn’t know where he was going himself led Urmila and they had a long conversation about the relationship between men and women in public spaces. The reaction I got from the man i approached was " please don't ask me to take you. The bus is right here!" I found at first that I was only willing to ask one kind of man- someone closer to my class perhaps, someone who was not clearly religious etc. but I pushed my self to step out of my boundaries.

That was the end of the day’s activities. we found out that not all men are monsters. That fear in public spaces is more about a perception of danger rather than dangerous situations. And that we need to create creative, public ways of opening up dialogue between the sexes. All it took was two hours and at the end of it we felt pretty battered but in some way sort of liberated!


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