Sunday, 29 May 2016

Antakshari in the metro: new ways of bridging gaps- by Manasi Rachh

I remember getting added into a whatsapp group long time back by Neha. The group said Why loiter? And she mentioned on the group that it was an informal group she had made and all she wanted to do is loiter every Sunday at public places. I went through the other participants that were added and realised all of them were women. Hmm. Interesting I thought. Women loitering around in public places. Very different. Rebellious. Maybe a little attention seeking being women but courageous nonetheless. I couldn’t make it that Sunday. And I couldn’t make it for lot more Sundays after that. 

This morning I read on Neha's facebook wall that she was loitering in the Metro train today and that if you are interested you could meet her at the Versova metro station at 5pm. 

So 4.50 I reach the Versova metro station. A little earlier than the time given. But I didn’t want to be late for my first loitering session. Honestly those 10 minutes I was just pacing up and down. I had seen pictures on Nehas Facebook page about people loitering every Sunday. But I didn’t know what to expect. And also loitering in a metro train was something I couldn’t really imagine. Anyways before I knew there were so many of loiterers assembled at the metro station. It was a mix group of men and women. We took a return ticket from Versova to Ghatkopar and back and boarded the metro train. There were a few who had loitered before, a few who were first timers like me. 

 The loitering session started with a gentleman playing the flute and before we knew we had started playing antakshari. Boys vs girls. Just that it wasn’t limited to our small group. But it was played between the entire metro train ladies compartment vs a section of the gent’s bogie. It was a simple game of Antakshari and every time it was the girls turn, the loiterers would urge the other women in the compartment to prompt a song. As they would come up with a song, the loiterers would then encourage the women in the bogie to sing along. The guys from the group were doing the same thing in the gents section. 

Initially people were quite hesitant. Slowly they started to open up, especially the women. From just prompting the songs to singing loudly, the transition happened so smoothly between on the 25 minute ride from versova to ghatkopar. It just took 25 minutes for people to open up and play Antakshari with complete strangers. What started as a normal boring metro ride for most of them, who were minding their own businesses either listening to music on their headphones, or surfing the internet or just interacting with their small groups moved on to become a playful, happy, healthy but competitive game of Antakshari. All of this while they were in transit from destination A to destination B or a regular Sunday evening. 

What did I get? 

To begin with immense joy. I haven’t played Antakshari so freely and fiercely since school picnic days. Honestly waiting at the Versova Metro station, I would have never imagined this was possible in a metro train. What else? I also witnessed this little act putting smiles on so many people’s faces. It spread like forest fire across an entire metro train bogie. 

What did I learn? 

That it’s very easy to connect with a complete stranger if you go with complete openness and trust. I saw women staring at us, some of them were just looking at us from our head to toes and observing each and every movement of ours. I think they were just curious to know as to where did we come from, how did we behave so freely. 

In some ways I think the first few songs that the girls from the loiterers group sang were almost setting examples for the other women that you can sing loudly in public places without being judged. It’s ok. They slowly started picking up on that and then found their own spaces and voices to play the game. I think also what helped was we were quite a few of us. We were an intimidating number of influencers. I wonder if we were lesser of us, or like Neha said if it was only her urging people to play antakshari would people open up the way they did?

What about my nervousness? 

It was completely gone. I felt so comfortable in my own skin. There was no one to restrict me, no one to judge me. It was quite liberating. And it comes from someone who feels she’s quite independent anyway. What made it different though was that I didn’t have to rebel or fight for my freedom or justify my independence. It was just given to me. Naturally. Without having to ask for it or fight for it. Effortlessly. It felt nice. I felt respected. And I think a lot of credit also goes to the guys who loitered with us today. Yes women can fight for their rights and for their freedom. They may even get what they want. But it depends on how you get that freedom. Do you have to fight for it? Do you have to ask for it? Or you just get it. Because you are a part of the same universe like any other person existing. I experienced the latter today. And it was beautiful. So ya, thank you guys. 

I wish one day women wouldn’t have to loiter to change perceptions of the society. I wish one day women will loiter, just, because they want to, because they can without drawing any attention. And I wish that this day comes soon. More power to Neha and all the other Loiterers on completing two years of this beautiful movement. 

Why loiter? Because you should, you must, you can. And above all its lot of fun!!

In awe
Manasi smile emoticon

Manasi Rachh is a theatre and film actor from Mumbai. She is also a writer, film maker, thinker and supporter of alternative ways of living.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

NOT a typical day in the metro! by Sreemoyee Bhattacharya

 ‘Why loiter’ is turning two this Sunday. For those who don’t know what ‘Why loiter’ is, let me give you a brief description. It is a movement for women (not necessarily only by women) to gain back the rights to reclaim public space. Neha Singh, a short filmmaker, author and actor started this movement based on the book ‘Why Loiter’ written by Shilpa Phadke. As part of ‘Why Loiter’, a group of people (mostly women) usually loiters around the city during night. But last Sunday was special! It was basically a demo version of the second birthday celebration of ‘Why Loiter’ on next Sunday.

So eight of us met at Versova Metro station at 5 PM on 22nd of May. Four girls and four boys. Few of us knew each other already. The others too mingled well in just a couple of minutes, like how revolutionaries connect very quickly! We all bought return tickets for Versova-Ghatkopar. The idea was to entertain the metro passengers by reading, singing and reciting or playing games and let them reconsider whether they want to have a journey with real friendly people around or in the virtual world created by their Smartphones. We discussed a little about our plans before boarding the train, but lets not give out spoilers here.

Once we entered the train, we discovered a rope tied between two metro seats (facing each other) designated for women. One of us almost tripped over it, not knowing what exactly it does. A middle-aged woman smiled at us, saying it is ‘The Lakshman Rekha’. We were excited to see the smile on our first fellow passenger’s face, which is rare nowadays. We realized that the rope actually divides the general and ladies compartments. Well, it is ‘Lakshman Rekha’ then!

Satchit, an FTII passout, got pretty excited now. He asked the woman if she has read Ramayana by Valmiki, as the concept of Lakshman Rekha was not even there in that version. He informed that it was later added in Tulsidas’ Ramcharitamanas. The woman smiled again explaining that she had only seen Ramayana in television or movies. Satchit took out a book from his bag now and started reading a short story that had five letters written by Sita to her parents. By then the train was half full and it began its journey towards Ghatkopar. The passengers were not quite sure what exactly was going on there. But they looked curious. Many of them listened to the story carefully and there was a round of applause once it was over.

But we realized that not everyone could relate to the story. So Ajitesh Gupta, an UP-born actor and singer, started singing a Marathi song. People, who were busy with cellphones, turned now. Ajitesh, with his amazing voice, pulled more crowds towards our small group. There was a bigger round of applause once he finished the song. Then we sang Tagore, ‘Aakash Bhora Shurjo Tara’. Glimpses of ‘Komal Gandhar’ played hide and seek within me. Next was a Gujrati song by Satchit. It was a hilarious song about ‘Garam Chaye’. By then the entire crowd got interested in us. Some started asking if Sonu Nigam had disguised himself again. We laughed. Everyone laughed.

So it was time. The interaction began. And in a country like India, especially in a city like Mumbai, what can be more interactive than music? Decision was taken immediately. Antakshari it was. And the proud ‘Lakshman Rekha’ divided us in two teams. Girls vs Boys.

‘Baithe baithe kya karenge, karna hai kuchh kaam,
Toh shuru karo antakshari lekar Prabhu ka naam’

I always wondered who this ‘Prabhu’ is. But whoever he is, he created a brilliant game indeed! The girls’ team had to sing a song with ‘Ma’. Someone from the far end of our compartment started singing ‘Mere khwabon me jo aaye’. And most of the girls joined her with sheer joy. Then the guys’ team had to sing with ‘ey’. And it went on.

Interestingly, the girls were much more spontaneous than the boys. So none of us, the four girls from our group, me, Neha, Devina and Rashmi, had to start a single song with the letters given to us. All other girls did it. Rather we were just one large group of girls playing the game against the boys! There were few men though, who participated and sang songs of Big B, with a lot of excitement in their voices. We danced along with them. It was so much fun!
Stations came and went, the game continued. One of the girls came in front and declared that she had to get off at the next stop, but she would want to join us in this venture. Neha shared numbers with her. We heard another girl, who was about to get down, telling her friend how she wished to continue the journey with us.

And like that, to our astonishment, we almost reached the last station, not even realizing the time it took. It was time for the last song. And the girls’ team had to sing with ‘Ha’.  Someone started ‘Hum honge kamyaab’. It was co-incidental though. But the entire compartment sang along. The girls from all age groups had sparkle in their eyes while uttering every single word of the song. For a moment we felt, there is no discrimination in this world between different religions, castes, races or class! The spirit of equality resonated all over the public transport! Who says the world has lost all hope?

Once we reached Ghatkopar, lot of people came and thanked us for making their journey so entertaining. But it should have been other way around. So we thanked them more. Some of them said that they would do something like this on their own, if they have a group. Others showed lot of enthusiasm to join us.

The return journey also went like that. We sang and danced along with our wonderful fellow passengers. When we reached Versova, we saw a burqa-clad woman dancing happily on her own, inside the empty train. Her happiness was our tribute to ‘Why Loiter’ movement indeed.

We came home with hearts full of hope and promises! This was just a demo. So this Sunday, 29th of May, at 5PM we will again embark on a similar journey. And we believe that some of them and many of you, who are reading this right now, will join us! Let’s make the world more beautiful and peaceful together!

P.S. Co-incidentally, the only book I have published till date, a collection of Bengali poems, was named as ‘Life in a Metro’. I had a series of poems on the journeys I had in a Metro rail in Kolkata. Well.. the writing bug bites me again!

Sreemoyee Bhattacharya is a filmmaker, writer, singer, champion of Bengali literature and an engineer. She is originally from Kolkata, but she is loving loitering in Bombay too.