Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Monday meant Mumbai.


On monday morning i found myself bundled into yet another State Transport bus. yes. my department hires ST buses!
We were visiting  SPARROW. They are a trust set up in 1988 to build a national archive for women with print, oral history and pictorial material. They include live archives reaching out to schools, colleges, women's groups and other organizations, believe they are active agents of change, maintain a forum for discussions, have created an interactive space and have made a daring flight into unexplored areas of experience and expression.

We met their staff, and browsed through their publications. We went to their archives room, gingerly leafing through yellowed newspaper articles painstakingly inserted in plastic sheets for preservation. The amount of hard work and dedication required was evident. SPARROW has archived journal articles, newspaper and other print articles, movie posters, calendars etc all by or for women. Also, they have made up to 25 films on women, ordinary or otherwise. We managed to watch half of one of their films before we had to leave for Pune.

The film we watched traced the lives of five transgender women and their trials and journeys. The two words i would use to describe the film would be "poignant" and "harshly realistic". ok. three words. These were the thoughts buzzing around in my head while watching the film:
  • It is important to have the freedom to make mistakes and learn. If you learn from your own mistakes at least you won’t have to hear “I told you so”. One of the women narrated experiences where she disregarded advice, and learnt bitter lessons, but was proud to have lived those essential life-changing moments. Every experience counts in making you who you are.
  • Poignant moments for you maybe a fleeting memory for someone else. Memories are built on what one sees and understands in a situation. Someone told us a story of how her mother’s whispered wishes before leaving remained etched in her memory forever – and yet, her mother never placed any special significance to that incident as she always wished the best for her daughter.
  • All of us are masquerading to fit in. Several people who do not “fit in” under “normal” circumstances enact certain characters in order to be a part of this “normal”. So what exactly IS normal??
  • Also, I find it rather appalling that we are so unable to accept that someone might not be just the way we are, and so we ostracize, criticize, ridicule and torment all those who are different. It’s just more fun and fascinating to know people who are poles apart and just like you and then you get new and different perspectives to everything.
  • No matter what the situation: those who are ‘othered’ other “others”!! Wait, I’ll explain this one: people who are transgender are ‘othered’ by society. And yet, when one of their ‘own’ community members spoke to the media and/or broke other ‘codes of conduct’, she was ‘thrown out’ and ostracized by them. 
  • Society only accepts and acknowledges those who are of some use, or are beneficiary to in any way. A very important learning as one of the women who narrated her history stressed on how important an education was. She talked of the torture she was made to undergo in school by other children, and regretfully wishes she had completed her education, as only if she is a useful and productive part of society would there be a chance of her being accepted.
  • I am a true-blue Bengali. I’m always sleepy after lunch.
  • One of the things that CAN, however, keep me awake during post lunch sessions is the hilarity in watching other people struggling to stay awake!

Other learnings include:
  • I’m becoming more Canadian than I imagined. I say ‘school’ and now even swear by Tylenol (thank you naomi). Oh. And I also ‘creep’ people on Facebook! And I think the idea of hiring a bus for a wedding party and blasting LOUD electronic music while at that wedding party is weird. But pune ke log toh kamaal hai!
              Bajte hai…full power…
  • I still haven’t mastered the art of sleeping on State Transport buses.
  • Dogs just love me. They follow me where ever I go. They stick their lolling tongues out and stare at me with goofy smiles on their faces. I mean both the four legged as WELL as the two legged variety of dogs found in Mumbai.
  • I still love Mumbai.

I’l end with: 
I saw people in air conditioned cars and crammed into public buses. Some tempos making their way to a rally had people packed in like cattle. And yet, all of them seemed to have an expectant look. To what their future holds for them. Perhaps that is the effect of Mumbai, or maybe simply human nature.
And I remember the construction worker I saw, stripped to the waist, skin burnt and sweaty in the heat, smiling and laughing while precariously balanced on a thin bamboo pole.
And that road digger guy. With his bright orange vest, calling out tense instructions to the next guy, coordinating, working, slaving…
and the chai walla kid, who playfully threw water on some other slum kids going by..
and those moms.. nagging and dragging their children home from school, frantically trying to gauge if her kid got the highest grades in class that day.. (btw, mom, ur the best.u never dragged and sometimes nagged!)
and the lazy dog panting in the shade of the bus stop..
and the little girl surreptitiously holding out her school tiffin box filled with water out to the dog, before her mom can see…

Life is awesome. You just need to figure out which memories to take back.  

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