Saturday, December 3, 2016

Letterbox Resistance: A Campaign after my heart!

I want to cross-post this from Campaign Chronicle, the Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence blog. 
True confession: Through the first three decades of my life, I was what one might call an inveterate, unstoppable letter-writer, where letter was a composition written by hand on paper. You might say, therefore, that the Letterbox Resistance activity was bound to be something I enjoyed.
First, the preparations! The design of the little cards with the campaign logo. The campaign logo stamp. The colour paper and envelopes. The bonafide 50 paise postcards. This may count as the most fun campaign prep ever!
 This was the first activity of the 2016 Campaign. Ragamalika and I were the core group of letter-writers that went through all three sessions on the 25th.
We met the first group at Chamiers Cafe, where we ended up occupying two long tables. Enthusiastic and full of ideas, we churned out a variety of letters here--postcards addressed to specific offices, letters addressed very generally to categories of people, posters and flyers. Some of these needed to be sent to the addressee, but a few were tucked away here and there, to be found by other diners. One participant handed over a letter to another group explaining what we were doing. And we also shared cards and stamps with some of the staff. We hope everyone wrote the letters they were planning to write! Most of the group then disbanded.
Our second stop was Coffee Central, a cosy cafe in T.Nagar. A much smaller group met here, but the words continued to flow... mostly! We wrote reflective notes, we wrote apologies and we wrote to our kids. We also got others in the cafe to write a note, addressed to parents around the world!
The third stop was at the Food Court in Phoenix Mal and by now, there was just the core left. We were joined by Prajnya's Administrator, Santha. As we settled down with our papers spread out, a security attendant very politely requested us to please leave. People were not allowed linger in the Food Court doing anything other than eating and taking selfies. Out of consideration for her, we packed up sooner than scheduled, quietly placing some of our letters around the mall.
I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this activity and on how many levels. First of all, picking out stationery is always delightful. Then, the physical pleasure of writing deliberately on a sheet of paper--taking trouble over both the words and their transcription-constitutes an almost-meditative experience. Third, the process of identifying what you want to say, who you need to say it to, how you want to phrase it and the tone you want to adopt, and finally putting it down on paper is an empowering one. It cuts to the heart of the helplessness we feel faced with something as huge as 'one in three women face abuse in their lifetime.' It gives each of us a sense of agency. Finally, it reminds us of the geneology of online petitions. They began with letters that were copied by hand laboriously and mailed to decision-makers and editors around the world. This power remains with us. We should exercise it more often! 
To read all the letters we wrote, see our Facebook album.
What did I write? You should join us too!








Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ending the silence || Bolero

I first heard it in my cousin's home. They had a new "two-in-one" and a batch of new recordings. This was one of them. It was raining outside, that July rain in Bombay that comes down with the dedication of a Mumbaikar on a mission. I was heading back to Colaba and had a long bus-ride ahead. I simply could not leave the music behind so I taped it--I still have that cassette--and listened to it non-stop on the bus, looking at the rain and feeling the music sink into my soul.

I don't know much about Western classical music, but 'Bolero' to me is a feeling--sad, haunting and completely unsettling. There's always a vestige of it in my spirit, even when I have not listened to it in a long time.


In the last ten years, writing and talking about ending the silence about gender violence, I know exactly where I have heard that song before--Bolero.

Silence. Then, a lone, sad, quiet voice, almost absent so that you have to strain to hear. And then a couple of others. And then, a few more. The solos blend into a chorus, a brief harmony of many sections in the orchestra. A perfect musical moment, that then escalates into something angrier, more urgent. The movement gathers strength, new voices and momentum. It is unstoppable. There is just one message but it is delivered with ever-greater intensity. The beat is hard to ignore, and everyone starts to fall in line, walking, moving together. Insistent, assertive, buoyed by unity, the orchestra effaces the last vestiges of silence. Music speaks so loudly it dances on the brink of cacophony. You reach out to turn down the volume but the message has now entered every part of your consciousness. It is irresistible. It is becoming you. The instruments, so different from each other, are speaking with one voice. There is nothing else left. No other sound. No other thought. No other idea. The scale changes. Change is here. Now there is triumph where there was lonely anguish. We have overcome, as the music has taken us over.

Ravel's Bolero.

I have come to see this as the perfect soundtrack for all of us who want to end gender violence, and to end the silence and stigma that surround it. Every other year, we talk about getting someone to perform a 'flash-mob' dance and I suggest Bolero, but it is too long. Too long. Social change takes time. We cannot spare fifteen minutes for this composition to unfold. I understand. It remains the song of the struggle for me. I know that this journey too will gather its people--that is happening as I write--and that it will culminate in change--I can see that.

***
Here is Ravel playing his composition on the piano, a more mellow sound but taking nothing away from its beauty.





Sunday, September 18, 2016

The things I cannot write

I have been coming here as often as I could for a very long time. In these decades, I have been like a student, learnt like a sponge... I still am. I see, I hear, I absorb... more than you would guess. The things that I am told... in passing, in confidence, in explanation. The things that I see... the things you try to hide, the things you do not notice because you live here, from my location in the world between the tourist's and the local's. The things you mean me to know and the things I find out. 

A hundred thousand million things that remain in my thoughts or words in my notebooks that I cannot actually write here or anywhere someone is meant to read them.  

I could not tell you why this is so. Or maybe, I could. Maybe the words I write down will overstate what is there. Maybe being written will amplify feelings people are hiding for a reason. Maybe a careless outsider's words will upset a fragile applecart. Maybe I am wrong. Or maybe, I am right. 

What is this silence about?

I carry it like a gift and like a burden, waiting for a sign that I can give it up.  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Colombo, again

Driving into the city from the airport, for the very first time, I am not filled with anticipation and excitement. Partly this is because I am ravenous and tired. But I wonder if I am finally jaded about this city that has always felt like home? Or is it that it is home, where you don't greedily consume the view as though it's your only chance?