An older woman in a lab coat looks into the camera. Her name is Dr. Indri Pickle, and she explains to viewers that she will show them how to make mango pickles, which are very popular in South Asian countries. She proceeds to draw the basic formula on her Pickle Lab's chalkboard: sunshine + mango.
Dr. Indri Pickle is actually 84-year-old Inderjit Kaur, who goes by Indri, and she's not really a mango pickle scientist. In the video which was recently uploaded to YouTube, she's acting. It's with the help of social media tools like YouTube, blogs, Twitter and Facebook — as well as her granddaughter Jasmeen Patheja — that Indri is fulfilling her dreams of becoming an actor.
Jasmeen, who is an artist, feminist and the founder of the public and community arts collective Blank Noise, which confronts street harassment of women, wanted to learn photography and video. Her grandmother, wanting to become an actor, became a willing artist, and collaborator. Together, they've produced a series of photo performances based on characters of Indri's choosing, in addition to the Pickle Lab video.
Indri also shares her life story on her blog. In the post, she mentions that she was born and brought up in Burma and remembers the Japanese attacks during the Second World War when she was a young child. She recounts the long travel her family took to move to India (Lahore) in 1941. She moved back to Mogok, Burma after World War II. Indri was married at the age of 19 and lived in Burma until 1970.
Global Voices spoke to Indri and Jasmeen to learn more about their work.
Global Voices (GV): Did you teach your grandmother how to use social media? What are the challenges she faced?
Jasmeen Patheja: I did not teach her how to use social media, but I have been there to introduce or pitch in with explaining concepts, behaviours and types of web engagement. I love that she often uses YouTube for ‘traveling’, she visits Japanese zen gardens through YouTube, or uses YouTube for education through bonsai tutorials. She also uses YouTube to listen to her morning hymns. A lot of this has been through years of stumbling upon and discovering new spaces on the web, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter. I step in when she has questions about the different kinds of spaces, e.g. “What is the difference between Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr?”, there are different formats, each lending to different kinds of behaviour. Indri uses Facebook, Google, YouTube, WhatsApp with most ease. Very early on, Indri learnt to use paint, Microsoft Word, play cards (solitaire), send e-greetings.
Indri lives alone and is independent. She loves that the internet allows her to use web portals for buying grocery and products (Flipkart/Bigbasket). At this point she really wants to learn to book a ticket to travel!
I asked Indri about what she finds most challenging, and Indri spoke about language and vocabulary.
Inderjit Kaur: The whole world is learning, why should I not learn? I have a lot more to learn. It is important to walk along with the world.
GV: What prompted you to come up with this idea and go forward with this initiative?
Jasmeen Patheja: I wanted to take photos. My grandmother wanted to act. My grandmother Indri and I have been collaborating for years.
I was also in art school and pursuing photography/community arts. Indri’s desire to act has been the start of this collaboration. This premise led to mutual exchange. It created a series of photo performances based on characters Indri desires to become. This collaboration emerges from play, curiosity, desire. Performances range from queen, politician, scientist.
We collaborate because we enjoy the process. We both think we “get lost in acting and photo making”, it nurtures both of us. It makes us happy.
Indri Pickle Lab came out of the larger series of photo performances, and here Indri plays a scientist making mango pickle in her laboratory. The idea was spontaneous, but also looking at pickle making, precision, science, labour and knowledge sharing.
GV: What response did you get from readers?
Jasmeen Patheja: A very endearing response and a very encouraging one too. Indri and I have made new friends through this collaboration. Women (family friends and extended relatives) Indri’s age have responded with surprise, encouragement, often expressing desire to team up with their granddaughters too.
We also went on a residency together at [German art-in-residence program] Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2010, an institute that has supported this collaboration very early on.
Readers have responded with love and encouragement and we are so glad that something we have created is receiving love.
GV: Many members of our generation are losing touch with their older relatives as families become more fragmented and people live farther apart. How can social media and web tool help bridge the gap?
Jasmeen Patheja: My family is spread across cities and countries. I live in Bangalore. My grandmother lives in Calcutta. At this point my grandmother hasn’t seen her grandsons in two years, nor has she seen her five-month-old great grand daughter. Her desire to connect leads to using the web. Yes, the the gap can be bridged through the internet.