Monday, 22 December 2014

Why loiter? group in Jaipur kicks off in style!- Neha Singh

I was in Jaipur last week and met Mita Kapur,an extremely talented and respected literary consultant. This was my first meeting with her, organised by a common friend, to discuss a project that we are working on. When I reached her palatial house (understatement) I was intimidated. I had already visited her website 'Siyahi', the literary consultancy that she spearheads. But when I met her, all my apprehensions flew away. Her warm and cozy office was filled with young women, all busy working on various important projects. We began chatting over coffee and that's when my friend, Dhruv Lohumi, suggested I tell this young and bright bunch of women about 'Why loiter? Mumbai'. It often takes me about twenty minutes to explain the concept and the movement to people but Mita and her colleagues understood the value of it within a couple of minutes and told me that it was a wonderful idea. A few minutes later, Mita announced that she would love to start a similar movement in Jaipur. The other women in the room agreed unanimously and before my very eyes, they began brainstorming and were ready with the plan for their first loitering session that Saturday.
I met Mita only for a half hour, but I still knew that she would bring the idea alive, with complete conviction.
Today I received a mail from her with this little story explaining how their experience was, complete with little anecdotes and heartwarming moments. When I saw the photos, my heart danced with joy. So many women, all vibrantly dressed, looking beautiful and armed with guitars, goodies and what have you! This is their story, as told by Mita.

So 20th January evening at statue circle - its cold and windy, a start up NGO to teach kids from economically challenged stratas is holding a candle light vigil to share the tragedy in Peshawar and we reach to just hang….
just walking around the circle, Nandita pointed at Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh's statue to tell us that the scroll it was holding was cut off because it looked like his phallus jutting out...*giggles*

We grow from two to eight to thirteen and finally to about twenty five women - all ages, a school girl from Welhams, bridge players from Chennai, post graduate students from Raj university strumming on her guitar and singing old songs (my generation pop), some more walk in…Ritu and Neeru try to teach us all how to whistle like men do when we walk past…we talk, giggle and in all the bonhomie, anuja comes with freshly baked date bars, ritu (number 2) with roasted peanuts - just what we need to keep it going - we walk around, talk to people just generally who are also there to walk. in true spirit, Megha and Kanika decided to scale the statue which prompted a few shrill whistles from the guard asking them to get down...
some more walk in who are visiting from Bombay…

We are there for a about an hour and a half….Radhika Jagwani says "in truly believing in what we are doing here, I am going walk back home and not call my car." off she goes. Fifteen minutes later she messages, "a guy on a bike started chasing me, I had to call my husband to pick me up" - her home was barely half a km away. Devyani, who couldn't come but is heavily into cross country running and cycling also messaged on the group saying "I was chased this morning while I was cycling"
Jaipur as a city is just another small town where men think its their birth right to tease women
our next loiter should mostly be on Christmas.

We maybe in different cities, but we are all of the same sisterhood, a similar desire. The desire that one day all roads, parks, bus depots, railway stations, movie theatres, road side tapris, highways, hotels and homes will be safe and free and inviting for women to roam and loiter peacefully.  Now hoping more such groups start in other cities as well. 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Raahgiri and Equal streets: new steps to reclaim space- Neha Singh

It first started in Gurgaon, on the 17th of November 2013. Raahgiri was a unique concept evolved by organisations, individuals and the public administrators to make the city more public friendly and culturally alive. 'Apni raahein-apni aazaadi' and 'ab na chalegi motor koi ab chalegi sabki raahgiri' was the tagline and true to it, Sunday mornings became a riot of festivities, all about freedom and reclaiming public spaces like the roads and streets. Men, women, young and old woke up early to come together and run, walk, cycle, skate, practice yoga or aerobics. Traffic would be closed off temporarily to let citizens enjoy the streets and roads on foot.

The event picked up so well that the Delhites couldn't wait to start something similar in Delhi. So apna, very own Cannaught Place, the hub of all recreational and shopping activities in Delhi, was chosen as the venue for Raahgiri, Delhi.

Raahgiri, Delhi chapter started on the 13th of July, 2014, in collaboration with the Times of India group with this tagline in the newspaper 'Want to shed some festivity weight?' but since then has become much more than that. I was in Delhi last month and couldn't wait to be a part of this crazy idea on Sunday. The November morning chill in the air was perfect and I dragged a friend along. It was still dark outside when we bundled up in jackets and warm socks and reached Cannaught Place at 7:00 am. I was ecstatic to see thousands of people there, in sports wear, uncles and aunties, teenagers, kids, couples, families, grandparents, all chirpy and energetic, running, jogging, cycling, skating, playing basketball, volleyball, cricket, badminton, doing yoga, aerobics, palates, dancing. It was probably the most encouraging and happy space to be in in Delhi, ever. There was a bunch of youngsters sitting on the road. Couples moved around holding hands and PDAing, but it was all accepted wholeheartedly, even by the octogenarians. Overweight men and women dressed it tight track pants were doing yoga or jogging on the traffic free roads and no one noticed. There was a sense of camaraderie,  trust and acceptance that is quite difficult to find in Delhi otherwise. There was absolutely no eve teasing, staring or discomfort.

Raahigiri Delhi
Raahgiri Delhi

Raahgiri Delhi, people practising Yoga

Reclaiming the roads, literally.

Inspired by the bunch on the road, I parked myself on the road too
Just as I was secretly wishing something like this start in Bombay, I got a whatsapp from Sameera Khan, one of the authors of the book 'Why loiter?' telling us that Bombay, the Mumbai police, the MCGM in association with Times of India and other organisations, is starting the 'Equal Streets' on the 9th of November, 2014. On the first day, 15,000 people showed up on the streets!

Some of the members of Why loiter?, our group, had already visited the event on Sundays and raved about it. I was itching to get back to the city and visit it. I did so last Sunday .

The reclamation starts at Santacruz and goes on till Bandra linking road. I began walking from the start point and walked past two yoga workshops, hundreds of children skating and cycling, tables set up on the middle of road and people playing carrom. A young girl sat on the road and was painting, not on a sheet, but the road itself, while her father looked on lovingly. Further ahead I witnessed a percussion workshop/drum circle in progress, with the artists facilitating regular people into creating a group rhythm with various percussion instruments. There was a Shiamak Davar dance workshop going on too, with his students facilitating. The experience was exhilarating.

Equal streets, Bombay

Similar sightings in Bombay, great minds think alike

Drum circle, Bombay

Equal streets, Bombay

Why loiter? Priyanka and I at the Equal streets, Bombay

Why loiter? at equal streets, Devina and Pooja

The inaugaration fiesta at Equal streets, Bombay

Since one of our Why loiter? group members, Archana Patel was performing the same day at another every-Sunday-affair at the farmers' market at Mahim nature park, I visited the market, The park was huge, lush green with hundred year old trees and the quaint little market was in progress. People stood in queue with bamboo baskets, browsing the vegetables, fruits and other products completely organically made and picked up whatever fancied them, to pay at the end of the queue. There were also food stalls with brownies, sandwiches, bhelpuri, coolers, etc that people were eating sitting on white garden chairs.

Farmers' market, Mahim, Bombay

Why loiter? Sanoober at the farmers market, Bombay

Enjoying the Sunday afternoon at the Farmers market

Shopping for organic veggies at the farmers' market, Bombay

My friend began her play performance as part of the NSPA, National Streets for Performing Arts, and it was the first ever play performance as part of the NSPA. NSPA is also a new venture that is meant to reclaim public spaces for the performing arts and have had several music concerts. This was their first play in a public space that was open for all. It was a lovely play about the balancing act that the new age modern yet traditional woman faces everyday.

Why loiter? Archana performs with Samridhhi as part of the NSPA at the farmers market, Bombay
National streets for the performing Arts put up a play at the farmers market, Bombay

Just as I was daydreaming about the day when all streets in all of the country would have such raahgiri and Equal streets events, I read a facebook update by my cousin Anu saying she was going for the raahgiri event in her hometown, Bhopal!!!

and then I chanced upon an article about raahgiri in Dwaraka.

I am waiting for an opportunity to go to Bhopal and take part in the raahgiri day there too! Sometimes I feel we are unlucky that we are born in times of so much violence, paucity of free and open spaces, deforestation, inflation, mistrust, pollution etc etc and then I experience these wonderful movements towards reclamation of public spaces and people embracing them with so much vigour and value, that I feel extremely lucky to be born in these times.

Our group 'why loiter?' started in June this year as a natural progression to the book 'Why loiter?' and aims at loitering in public spaces by women, to reclaim them. And then you hear of movements like Raahgiri erupting in Gurgaon, Delhi, Mumbai, Dwarka, Bhopal and your heart is just so joyful. These spaces make the community come together with a sense of trust, peace, love and togetherness regardless of gender. which is why these movements are so important in the process of bringing about a change in people's mindsets about gender related issues in our country and reducing violence against women.

Next time you find yourself wondering what to do over the weekend, instead of booking a table at the buffet brunch place, pick up your running shoes, set an alarm for six a.m, and get on the streets and feel the joy of running along hundreds and thousands of people, people that are part of your community, your city, your nest. The feeling is indescribable.