Thursday, April 30, 2009

Each day when I enter the locality of Dakshinpuri, the women seated in front of their houses wave to me, ask in greeting, “Hope all is well today?” I reply with a smile.

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.

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