“Walking on the road gives me a headache.”
“I walk to my school and back home every day; it continues to be an unpleasant experience.”
“I am really scared of the big cars and buses that go so fast on the road.”
“I feel like telling the drivers driving the big cars and buses that they are not the only ones on the road.”
“Bus drivers think they own the road because they are big.”
“I am extremely scared of crossing the road.”
These were some of the responses of ten and eleven year olds from Swarn Public School, Khirkee extn, New Delhi. They were asked to share how they felt while walking on the road.
This and many such feelings, dreams, ideas and thoughts about the roads around them were shared by these children as a part of a week long theatre workshop that we facilitated. These were then, together with the children, woven in to a play.
Watch the video of the play...
This workshop was done under ‘Aapki Sadak’- an initiative to improve the quality of life in a few neighbourhoods of Delhi by making the neighbourhood streets pedestrian friendly, clean and enjoyable.
It has been quite a journey for all of us...these last two months – a lot happened for all of us. I remember when we got this project, we were filled with excitement. We wanted to listen to, share, understand and talk about gender to as many people as possible. We wanted to know stories and share stories. And so, the design for the sessions, that we came up with, had conversations, personal stories, mapping, expression walls, and writing letters. All of this involved engaging with a wide range of people- walking on the streets, in the malls, market places, college campuses etc. on-‘Gender gap’- a topic much raved about , and that which triggered reactions of blame, anger and frustration.
It excited me to think that we would be engaging with people with a very different approach, on a much bruited topic. Our approach focused on giving importance to every story, every experience and which replaced the blame, criticism or accusations with listening, understanding and empathizing through conversations and stories.
And so, we started by making our first appearance at a public space -the select city walk mall where we got two full days to be around and interact with people. I was quite excited because this was going to be our first interaction with people at a public space. But it did not go how I had imagined it. Although quite a lot of people stopped by, looking curiously at the colorful expression walls and trying to read what the posters said, a very few really seemed open to engaging in a conversation and sharing their views. And so, the first day I stood there feeling a little disappointed and wondering why did we not have hordes of people wanting to talk about it as I had imagined. “May be people did not want to talk about it so much, or they had set agendas to visit that place and did not want to give their time to anything else, or they were not comfortable talking to strangers about it” these were the possible reasons that came to my mind.
But the second day had a lot of stuff changed, not in terms of how the day went but how I looked at it. The expression walls were full of post its, with comments, opinions, desires and thoughts written on them by people. I realized a lot of conversations were going on around us. One such conversation that caught my attention was between a mother and a daughter, near the expression wall, which started when the mother wrote her answer for one of the questions on the wall...
Mother: (to the question, “when do you feel proud to be a woman) “All the time.”
Daughter: “Do you really want to write that?” “I think you should read the question again.”
Mother: “why?’’ “What’s wrong with that?” “I do feel proud to be a woman all the time.”
Daughter: “I think the question requires you to tell that one time that you felt proud to be a woman.”
Mother: “Ummmm....but why one incident when I actually do feel proud being a woman all the time........”
....and the conversation continued even after they left.
This, and many more such instances, made me realize that we managed to spark a lot of conversations between people, and so I realized the importance of holding that space and many more such different spaces after that.
What also made my heart swell was, that someone, who like us, believed in the power of conversations, expressed his admiration and elation by calling us ‘Conversation Starters’
And so, whereas at a public spaces, people stopped at our stall in wavering numbers, holding a session indoors meant an invited group of people, a huge space and personal stories. And for us (the facilitators), it also meant talking about gender all the time- at home, outside home... thinking gender, dreaming gender.
In addition to long discussions on ‘Gender’ otherwise, to prepare for the sessions, all of us would sit together and reflect on our lives and personal experiences related to ‘gender’. This was followed by articulation and sharing of our stories with each other and later with the invited group of people for the session, at the venue. Doing this, I realized we all had so much to talk about. And, once again, I realized the magic of telling and listening to stories. I have always felt that there is something very fulfilling and heart warming about sharing stories, and I experienced that yet again.
It amazes me how all of us, when provided with a few listening ears and a seemingly safe space can really make ourselves vulnerable and share stuff that we do not know we hold inside. And how only by feeling listened to, we feel like the world has changed for us.
All of this was a part of our storytelling sessions. By talking about our honest feelings through stories, we could together create a space which brought out feelings of trust, love and support in all of us.
These two months took me through some very powerful and profound experiences. It also brought us all closer and together (the Purple Mangoes), and these experiences were quite transformative for me in many ways.