Wednesday, May 27, 2009
The encounter with the municipality took the shape of a series of Kafkaesque recursions within the gloomy recesses of the three-storey MCD office in Green Park.
This struggle continued for eight months. Later I received the agreement letter from the MCD.
But by then I was too exhausted to appreciate the miracle. All I could remember was months of rushing from one desk to another, pleading for appointments and signatures. Consumed with anxiety over the fate of our file among the thousands of others being arbitrarily resuscitated and obfuscated in the labyrinth of the municipality office, I forgot who I was; I relinquished my self-image and cherished identity as an artist. I became just another insignificant, irrelevant, invisible cog in our local government machinery – a cavernous, apparently unmoving mill that, however, does indeed grind slow and exceedingly fine.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Eventually when Amma could see that we were ignoring her presence, she with the help of her son attempted to cut the tree down at midnight. She started weeping and shouting while her son managed to cut one of the branches. She started calling everybody in the neighbourhood to save the tree from the hand of her son; she acted as if she could not tolerate this brutality, whereas she herself was behind his action. The neighbours called the police. Her son was taken to the police station and the MCD fined him Rs 4000. This was a really exorbitant sum for a poor woman.
One day the open space by our lane drew our attention. We had heard that a park would be coming up there. A few yards away, a house was under construction. We brought a spade and dug up a section in the open space to turn it into a akhada, the arena where kabaddi is played. And then, stealing sand from a loaded truck, we filled in the dug-up space and really turned it into an akhada.
The municipal tap in Talkatora Garden gave yellowish water, but it was used because it allowed women to socialise there. Women who came to get water enjoyed the moment of freedom, to sit around the tap and talk while waiting for the water to come. Some talked about their kitchens and cooking duties and kinds of food, others vented anger at family pressures or in-laws. Sometimes someone would be showing off new clothes; at other times, amidst giggling and laughter, the serious fact of a domestic problem would suddenly come up. We young girls, not able to empathise with such issues, would start playing while waiting for the water.
Today I have a chabutra, the raised platform attached to my house, but it is not even big enough for me to cut vegetables on. The big chabutra of my childhood enabled women to do some of their household work sitting on it. That chabutra has been transformed into a beautiful house. But people still gather there to talk to each other, even though there is no actual platform to accommodate them. It is a habit, though they can’t use the space for any kind of collective work since that space is someone’s house now.
Even today, I feel like playing that game, though my age and circumstances do not allow me to do so. When I have time, I sit on the chabutra by the bus stop of lane 17 because there I get the opportunity to recollect that game of ours --. I feel I am chasing the old cycle tyres of my childhood when I look at the buses, scooters or cycles and the persons riding them. Even today, I am fond of the circular movements of tyres. Sitting on the chabutra by the bus stop of lane 17, I watch these tyres as well as spend time with my friends.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
During my student years in England, I supplemented my stipend by doing manual work in various places. One of these was the Heinz food factory. I also worked in the laundry and cleaning department. The job involved cleaning and putting it into bins, and then cleaning out these massive bins.
My elderly English colleague Lyn worked alongside me frequently. One day I asked her why the workers in the factory’s production unit were so callously unconcerned for their fellow workers in the cleaning unit – they would throw rubbish towards the bin they were passing, but never bothered to check if the items went into the bin or littered the floor; in the latter case, they would usually leave the item for the cleaning crews to dispose of. So she narrated her experience being a cleaner herself.
When I started visiting Dakshinpuri resettlement colony two years ago, the park at the corner of J Block had been abandoned and ignored by the neighbourhood for a long time.
The park is situated on MCD land. None of the local residents bother to clean up the space; nor does the MCD have any sort of regular presence. The municipality does not try to stop people from misusing the park as a convenient site for inappropriate behaviour. Despite an MCD bin and a men’s latrine along the main road opposite the park, locals have gradually but efficiently turned the open space into a public toilet and garbage dump.
However, people still utilise the filthy site, treating it as a shortcut to the main road. The park is in fact the only open space for the residents of J Block. The shopkeepers from the weekly Friday market continually throw garbage into the park; over the weekend, it becomes even filthier. There is no authority, collectively assigned or self-proclaimed, to place any curbs on the varieties of nuisance.
When Ankur Bal Club, for which I am a facilitator, decided to create strategies of intervention with regard to the park, we wondered how to sensitively push the issue of ‘reform’. Rather than take an oppositional stance, we decided to invest the space itself with meaning, to make the site relevant to the local community; we visualised re-shaping the park as a gift to the locality. We have been involved in this practice since July 2008, focusing on first cleaning the site, and then slowly making it beautiful.
Seeing that there was no single person willing to take the responsibility of overseeing the clean-up, initially we started sweeping the park with small brooms. These were inadequate for that large area, so we hired the rag pickers who came to the MCD dumpster outside the park to drop off the domestic garbage they collected. They swept the park on alternate days for Rs 50-60. But this did not really prevent people from throwing rubbish into the park from long habit, or keep a few obdurate families from using the space as a latrine.
So it turned out that during the day, Bal Club members and facilitator would sit on charpais in the park and try to convince people to not throw garbage there. Oddly enough, when residents became defensive they would each blame the other, and there was no solution to the problem of accumulated filth. As the anchor of the park project, I was continually thinking about the problem, even relentlessly concluding at one point that the only solution was to fence the park off with barbed wire. Some of the older residents actually seemed to find this viable.
The people found us trying to police locals who were in fact keenly interested in our efforts to revive and beautify the park, but who could not change their habits of littering.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
The only problem in the peaceful environment is that the drinking water tank is always near-empty. There is never enough water in it to satisfy the constant thirst of people who want to sit under the big banyan tree. There is no other source of public drinking water in Dakshinpuri.
Recently, a colleague remarked that he could no longer find any piaos, the traditional drinking water troughs with taps that one found in the streets of Delhi. Till about eight years ago, people did not carry drinking water; they depended, as they had always done, on the ever-reliable and ever-flowing piaos. Today, these civic structures seem to be near-extinct; the culture of public drinking-water supply has found a new avatar in the omnipresent Bisleri bottle.
Dakshinpuri used to have community municipal water taps on the side of the road or on the corners of lanes. Today, each house has its own taps, and the public taps are defunct and corroded relics. Gone, too, is the community practice of gathering at the tap to socialise while filling vessels. If there is a water shortage, people in their homes have no option but to pray for benevolence on the part of the city water board.
The lone, small, functioning public faucet on the main road outside the park does not attract the residents of Dakshinpuri, who say, “That tap is for slum-dwellers.”
Thursday, April 30, 2009
The houses are narrow two- or three-storey buildings with small windows and doors. Wrested from minimal space, balconies and staircases angle into the lanes. Courtyards spill into the lanes as well. This is where most of the women spend their time, sitting on cots that they push back when motor vehicles force their way through.
These residents rarely leave their lanes other than for household-related tasks, such as buying vegetables in the nearby Friday market. Occasionally they go shopping with the men of their families. The cots drawn together in the lane are their primary social space. In the early morning, a few women might go together for a walk in the scrubby green belt close by, disregarding the park which is right across from where they live.
I first encounter Anu’s mother, who sits on her small front step, waiting for the water or for her grandchild to return from the first shift at school.
Yashoda waves to me. As usual she is seated on the cot in front of her house, busy with some domestic task or the other, knitting, or chatting with her neighbours. Sometimes she just sprawls lazily, observing the lane. She says this is the only place where she can spend her free time.
Anita runs her own small shop which, however, does not seem to draw any customers. She occupies herself with domestic tasks while she waits for someone to stop by for a chat.
Chitrasathi is an energetic woman I often see in pink sneakers, walking rapidly to some destination; she stops along the way for a few minutes to speak to her neighbours on their cots.
Kamlesh, Anita, Krishna, Sita, Yasoda, Chitrasathi and Vidya, all residents of Dakshinpuri for at least the past twelve years, are the most visible in this block. Sometimes they argue fiercely over small issues, but they always support each other in times of crisis, and celebrate festivals together.
Initially when the Bal Club and I tried to intervene in locality issues, the residents opposed and obstructed us. Things changed when these women began to participate in our park-related activities. They clarified that even though the park is used by almost everyone as a place to dump garbage, it is also regularly used in other ways.
For instance, Yashoda says that during summer she spends hours in the park at night when there is a power cut, despite kinowing that all kinds of filth has been thrown there. There is literally no other open space in the locality. She also says that during festivals, mud from the park is dug up and used in the rituals. The residents visualise a green and healthy space that they should keep clean, but somehow they are not able to break the pattern of current usage – ‘nuisance’ and garbage dumping.
They are keen to join our discussion, and spend the evening in dialogue with us about how to re-design the park so it can be used in the most generous collective manner possible.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
People were passionate in their articulation of both past and present experiences. They also lamented certain losses and erosions and erasures, as well as celebrated certain transformations of common spaces within the park.
However, it is not as if our interventions were easily accepted, received, assimilated or understood by local residents. Our efforts to initiate regular dialogue with people faced many obstacles, which became a theme for the insightful narratives of the youngsters we worked with.
In very general and literal terms, it is difficult to categorise which spaces are shared/collective, and which are personal. There are multiple claimants, each staking out an area within the garbage-strewn zones of the park.
Our first significant encounter was the resistance from a local resident to our intervening in the shared space of a large banyan tree that is central to the park. The dense shade cast by thick foliage and dense aerial roots clustering like pillars from canopy to ground offer relief from the scorching sun; the tree seems to protect the park like a mascot and sentinel. In actual fact, the tree did have a self-appointed custodian: a 90-year-old woman who everyone knows as “Amma” in the neighbourhood of Dakshinpuri’s J Block.
Amma strolled in the park with a stick in one hand, the other hand on her waist to support her bent torso. Her face was deeply wrinkled and etched with fatigue, and her eyes were perpetually anxious. As migrants, she and her husband had planted the tiny sapling in Dakshinpuri and nurtured it as if it was their own child. By the time it was full grown, Amma had lost her husband. She considered the tree her own property, and vigilantly opposed people she considered to be intruders in the park.
Park-users of all ages find her opposition and hostility impossible to confront; most do not even sit under the tree. We were no exception. The moment she observed us in the park she became very anxious; she stared at us till we were unnerved. Sometimes she walked up to us and requested us not to sit under the banyan; she began sweeping the spot with a broom, pushing the dust and grit towards us and thus forcing us to leave.
We returned to that site persistently, however, and decided to make it a central node in the practice of organising sessions of dialogue with the local residents. To facilitate this, we made a swing from a small plank and were preparing to hang the swing by ropes from a branch of the banyan tree when Amma came rushing towards us, shouting and waving her stick. Dodging her assault with difficulty, we tried to explain that the tree was not her private property and that she could not prevent us from putting up the swing. Her response was stubborn and aggressive as ever – she simply could not understand how it was that ‘her’ tree was actually not within ‘her’ jurisdiction, and that she thereby had no authority over it or over whoever wished to utilise what it offered as a public space.
One morning we found that the rope supporting the plank had been cut. Disappointed, I asked the youngsters working with me to attach the swing to fresh ropes and hang it from another branch. One this was done, the swing was in use all day, by children as well as by some of the women who joined our dialogue session. Amma prowled nearby, brandishing her stick, restless and sullen. I requested her cordially, and then forcefully, to not interfere in our work. She was furious, and warned us to not sit under the tree. Later she forced her family members to cut the ropes again. This took place a few times, and each time we confronted her, there was little support for us from her neighbours.
Eventually, seeing that we were not going to succumb to her threats, Amma compelled her son to try and cut down the tree at night. Weeping and shouting, she urged him on till he managed to hack off one of the branches. Meanwhile, she simultaneously began raising a commotion and calling on everyone in the neighbourhood to save the tree from her son’s brutality. Annoyed by her aggression and contradictory behaviour, the neighbours called the police. Her son was taken to the police station and the municipality fined him Rs. 4000 for illegal chopping of a tree and damage to government property. This sum was a considerable amount for a struggling, working-class family.
Upon arrival at the park the next morning, we learnt what had happened. Like the neighbours who described the incident to us, we too then fell into silence, unable to sufficiently unravel the complicated strands of the logic of property, community, entitlements and claims with regard to the inherent ambivalences, privileges and demands of shared/collective space.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
As a collective endeavour I and the members of the club arranged an interactive space with few bamboo cots around the banyan tree which is the prime location of the Park. We also created a swing and painted it with vibrant colours. This swing was hung from the tree. The women of the neighbourhood were invited to visit and make the abandoned park active and alive as a shared space for themselves. They came with their kids and enjoyed the swing put up at the Park. Through this process the members of the project have got involved in a dialogue with these women.
’Sanjhi Jagah’ in Hindi is also termed as Public space/Common Space. Here everyone has got the equal claim for that particular space, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, race, profession. It aims to contribute towards making and seeking to give new value to these spaces.
Every afternoon for a week, the women shared about ‘Sanjhi Jagah ‘and those narratives were documented rigorously by the young members. I want to share a glimspe from a narrative of a young woman.
‘Aruna spends her afternoon in the balcony, engaging herself in stitching variety of patterns. This gives her a little earning and is a good pastime. During these hours, she dwells in memories back in her village. How the courtyard used to get filled up with the giggle of her friends, how they used to enjoy the swing hung from the banyan tree, how during the festival they used to dance and sing together in the temple premise, how in the quiet afternoon she used to sneak out of her bed and spend hours chatting with her pals in the cowshed. These all come and fade away as her needle weaves through the soft piece of cloth.
After her marriage, she moved to Delhi. The spaces for movement and the opportunities for sharing have become restricted. Now she only finds the small balcony of the house as the lone space for herself.’
This was one of the themes explored during the workshop on the park project. The emphasis was on visualising the park as a shared space in the neighbourhood.
The second emphasis was on the awareness for cleanliness of the park (sanjhi jagah). The neighbourhood has converted the park in to garbage storage. Initially the people in the neighbourhood were very hostile to what we were doing in developing the park as a shared space. So we decided to work in more active way. We created a bucket and a cloak with the following text written on it.
‘Ghar Saaf kiya?
Kuda kaha fek diya?
Kahin park mein to nahi?
(Sanjhi Jagah, Sabki jagah)
One of the members wore the cloak and others carried the buckets. They visited each house for collecting the garbage personally. This activity was carried since past one week. This created a strong impact on the neighbourhood. People gradually were cooperative and they said that they are trying to stop throwing garbage in the park.
However while we were in dialogue with the neighbourhood through workshops about the shared space and awareness of the responsibility of a shared space, we also faced many odds which is the part of our experiences.
Apart from its annual grants for emerging artists and researchers, FICA’s Public Art Grant seeks to generate interest in public art projects, to spark open debate and to engage artists and the public to look at our environment in different ways. We are proud to support the Park project in 2008.
Dakshinpuri is the one of the centres of Ankur. It is a resettlement colony and is part of Ambedkar Nagar area that also comprises Dakshinpuri Extension Khanpur, Deoli and Madangir. It was set up in 1977 to rehabilitate people who were uprooted during emergency (1975-77). Dakshinpuri has 12 blocks and each block has approximately 700 to 750 families.
This is a working class colony where people are engaged in domestic work, skilled work like painters, construction work, factories and also people have got their own shops and general stores.
Children go to government schools, private schools as well as NGO centres.
Water scarcity and electric cuts are severe problems. Though the parks are there, they are not well maintained.
Ankur Bal Club in Dakshinpuri is active in the locality for several years. Unlike the school that instructs children to leave behind their lives and become accumulators of information, the children’s club is a space where children bring along their stories/ lived context. The children between 10-15 years find ample space to express their individual experiences and absorb those of others. It makes them more open to diverse opinions and experiences, and inspires them to view their perceptions and their understanding of the world around them in a new light.
The club activities take place in community parks, grounds, lanes and local centres, thus enabling children to assert their right over these community spaces. Public spaces are being squeezed with the particular process of urbanisation being practised, the act of situating the activities of the Children’s Club in these spaces will help establish children’s ‘ownership’ of these spaces. Children’s ownership and team spirit is an integral feature of the club. Street programs and park events are features that energise the group.
The club has got the opportunity to experiment widely with diverse or a variety of public forms in the community, such as mobile stool, sound booth, wall painting, public hearings and peer exchanges. Here children can present their experiences, express opinions, raise concerns, articulate expectations on a range of issues that affect their lives. They also shall express themselves through plays, puppets, writings, posters. etc.
One of the Public art programmes which the children of Baal club has done in recent times in Dakshinpuri is the ‘Mobile Stool’.
This programme creates opportunities for dialogue between children and people engaged in various skills within the locality who are normally invisible. A mobile stool is conceived as one of the creative medium which engages a carpenter with the young children of the club.
The Stool has an open mouth painted on its top with small doll-size cloths hung around the edges. It has detachable legs which are decorated with various tattoo designs. The table is made unique and attractive so as to catch the attention of people in the locality.
Friday Market: Initially the stool was made as a creative medium to invite and to gather the people/traveller of the locality, where they could share through a common platform.
However, gradually it has attracted a wide range of public in a floating space like the Friday market. Since a year time the children from Baal Club attend the weekly market on every Friday in Dakshinpuri and they actively carry the program through.
People gather around and have interaction with the children through several questions about the creation and purpose of the table. Parents coming with children accept their request to sit with ease and have their photograph clicked. They discuss their interactions with the school during admission and other times. Slowly the mobile Stool has turned into a mobile studio.
An interaction also happens with the shopkeepers which generates texts with rich experiences. The children have learned how to interact and document the narratives in their daily diaries. Children shared their texts with the listeners, created logs and captured the moments in a camera.
While working on such a or projects many multiple creative forms are produced. Stickers, booklets, posters etc. are produced from the content generated from the series of interactions happening at the stool. These objects are again circulated in the community for readership and comments and for further addition of content. This is an ongoing process through which a project is developed from the chiselling of another project. In this way, through stool and its circulation as mobile studio emerged the idea of mobile sound booth. Like the stool that was produced by the carpenter, the sound booth was produced by one of the metal work units in the locality. But after a brief presence in Dakshinpuri this sound booth has travelled to another locality where Ankur works. This is how Ankur shares creative processes and thoughts from one centre to another, one locality to another in the city.
For almost a decade she has been using classical/conventional as well as mixed and digital media, informed by a theoretical framework, to produce narratives about such experience. She is especially compelled by diasporic migrant communities that have undergone (often violent) displacement from their places of origin due to civil war, economic struggles, natural disasters, social/ethnic conflicts, etc. These communities are simultaneously hypervisible (as objects of discrimination) as well as invisible (often without social or legal protections and entitlements) in their host environments.
During her M.Phil. study in media art at the Coventry School of Art and Design, Coventry University,UK from 2001-2005, she has evolved a culturally embedded form of personal practice within her larger investigation of socio-cultural issues via oral history and ethnography, the narration of daily life, and the formation of subjectivity. She initially logged her observations in a diary. These notations – sometimes dense and analytical, at other times fragmented marginalia – functioned as core material for reflection and later articulation through various interlinked media forms and formats.
She is recently awarded with 'Public Art' grant from FICA to reshape a community park. She is also awarded with other prestigious scholarships in India and abroad. Sreejata has participated in many exhibitions, residencies,workshops at national and international level.
She is an independent artist, researcher and also coordinates the community art program in Ankur Society for Alternatives in Education in New Delhi, India
The project for FICA is aimed to a ‘Public Art' that involves one of the Ankur projects reforming an existing park as a community space in the locality of Dakshinpuri. This would look at the process, how the children cultivate and learn about self, friendship, family, school, neighbourhood, community, locality, and city through building up a park.
In times of rapid urbanisation and remodelling of the city the public spaces for common people, particularly children are shrinking. The landscape of the city is changing at a fast pace and we witness the ever expanding constructions of as it gets skyscrapers, corporate offices or shopping malls. Park can be an interface fostering human connectivity and the creation of significant informal local networks that allow people to survive in this strange situation.
Further Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions.
Dakshinpuri park is a MCD property that was lying abandoned on one corner of the locality. The people of the locality used the park as a bean to store garbage and during the time/ the children play in the dusty ground.
The artist's intention is to expand and invite engagement and thought through the park:
· Provoking a response in the community people while they visit the space
· Awareness that we are all touching one another’s lives through this space
· Thought transformed to illustrate an individual’s impact on the community
The goal of the project is to celebrate the contributions of community and children and emphasize the pivotal and unique role that art plays as an experimental pedagogy in learning, sharing and developing bond in the neighbourhood for a long term.
So, the park would be designed as a space where the processes and expressions may range from the more traditional, yielding conventional objects or events to research based approaches that engender new conceptual frameworks for exploratory dialogue and experimental creation.
Friday, January 2, 2009
The concept of saanjhi jagah (shared space) is in every context set within a framework of conflict, control, rights, privileges and entitlements. Other terms for this particular configuration of joint / mutual claims by a community, locality or group (‘common space’, ‘public space’, ‘collective space’) also reinforce these parameters, regardless of the form of that space – a courtyard, a patch of grass, flowerbeds, a playground, the shade of trees, a bench, a charpai, a plinth, a parapet, a terrace, a pavement… or the early morning queue for the shared resource of water from the municipal hand-pump or tap, one’s particular spot in the line marked by buckets, matkas, kitchen vessels, rusted cans, stones…
Shared spaces may be temporary or permanent, amorphous or concrete, assertive or elusive, and may overlap with claims to private / personal space adjacent to, linked with or assimilated within the larger domain. They are marked with certain rules and codes, and demand constant negotiation, capitulation, redistribution and compromise. As nodes that generate and enable various kind of socialities, they continually invoke various pragmatic ethical assumptions about ownership, flexibility, responsibility and consensus.
As artist / researcher involved in The Park, an ongoing public art project in the locality of Dakshinpuri, I with my group researching the concept of shared spaces and the activities that take place within these. We have compiled a series of narratives by local users of this space, based on their memories of shared spaces in village life, as well as in the