Conversations and Discussion from Session 1, Bow Bazaar

This Monday we started Neighbourhood Diaries in Bow Bazaar and facilitated our first session.  This introductory session guided 12 enthusiastic participants (adolscents living in Bow Bazaar) to think about stereotypes associated with neighborhoods, particularly their own neighborhood, and the multiple Truths that challenge stereotypes.

Our first activity involved comparing two images of two neighbourhoods – a seamy-looking, abandoned urban alley in New York City and a prosperous, highrise in Kolkata.  The two groups were unaware of the actual locations of these neighborhoods and were asked to collectively imagine stories surrounding those neighbourhoods.  The first group with the picture of a Kolkata highrise accurately identfied the locality as a posh, business district of the city. However, the second group with the picture of New York alley, imagined it to be a place in Kolkata where “bad work” happens and “useless” or unemployed people hang around. Rahul, a 19 year old participant (the oldest in the group) felt this alley was a place where people would feel threatened while walking through. 

After the two groups shared their imaginings on each neighborhood, all the participants were suprised that the urban alley was in New York City. They were certain that such a “dirty” alley would be a part of Kolkata. As Apurbo, a 18 year old talkative partcipant, exclaimed, “Kolkatar maaneei hoche, Nongra.”  “Kolkata by definition is Dirty.” 

Through this activity – particularly the twist that came along with the revelation that glittering American cities like New York have slums and ‘dangerous’ alleys just like Kolkata does – catalyzed a discussion on how we stereotype certain places and neighbourhoods based on popular modes of knowledge like films, newspapers, and other media.  Furturemore, it reminded us how we forget to critically question the assumptions we form.

Moving on to Bow Bazaar.

Bina, one of the project leaders and facilitators, asked the participants – “what are common assumptions surrounding Bow Bazaar?” “If a journalist came to Bow Bazaar, what would they ask you?” Without hestitance, Apurbo responded, “Tomar ki ki ashubidhe hoi ekhane thakte?” “What problems do you face while living here?”

The group in retrospect was amused at how “problems” were the first thing they are asked about Bow Bazaar from outsiders since they live in a red light area. 

Other particpants shared their thoughts on what mainstream journalists cover when reporting on Bow Bazaar. “Mey-der line-e daarano.” “Women standing in the Line.” “Customers.” And, “Gold!” “Afterall, as Rahul explained, Bow Bazaar was renowned for its Gold markets. And even today, Bipin Ganguly street is lined with glittering gold shops.

Urbi, project leader and faciliator, pointed out that thus far the group drew out two truths about Bow Bazaar that journalists would be especially interested in: redlight area and gold markets. But besides, these two, there are many more truths to Bow Bazaar which the residents as insiders know and outisders don’t know.

But as Apurbo exclaimed in response, sometimes even insiders lose and forget the inside stories, histories and intacracies of their neighbourhood. “Amrao-to bhule gechchi. “We’ve too have forgotten.

The concluding activity of this introductory session involved the participants to remember the forgotton or ignored stories of their neighbourhood. The participants were asked to write a brief story/vignette of their neighbourhood known only to them.  After 15 minutes of silent thinking and writing, the group went around the circle and shared their pieces. The stories ranged from incidents of evictions of old neighbours,  adolescent love  in the back drop of a chai stall,  a girl in the neighborhood being forced into sex work, a heroic brother who pays for his sister’s education and sends her back to school, and a football tournament oppurtunity to Jadavpur lost due to a leg injury.

Stay tuned for out next post forwritings of young participants and photographs from sessions.

Day One in Bow Bazaar: The Session

Yesterday (Monday, November 26th 07), marked Session 1 of Neighbourhood Diaries in Bow Bazaar Neighborhood in partnership with local NGO Sanlaap.

Venue: Bow Bazaar Highschool

Time: Mondays, 6:00 – 8:00pm

Participants: 15 youth residents in Bow Bazaar

November 26th, 2007

Session 1: Understanding Neighbourhood Stereotypes

The Need for Neighborhood Journalism. To understand how it is important to re-write and re-tell your neighborhood’s narrative.

Activity: Understanding Assumptions and Hegemonic Narratives (30 minutes)

1. Divide the group in two groups. Give each group an, unlabelled photograph and ask them to collectively write a description of the image. Create a story behind the place – where is it, what happens there? What type of people live there? (10-15 min)

What are their 1st impressions?
What is happening in the picture?
What do these aspects of the picture tell us about the locality?
When people pass the place, what ideas do they form about it?

The two images are of New York city (an image of a socio-economicallydisadvantaged neighborhood) and Kolkata (a socially and economically upward) neighborhood.

2. Each group should read aloud their description and share their thought process behind their caption/description. (15 mins)
(Make a note of the exploratory questions that bring out better answers. As a facilitator, what are good questions to ask? Good eye contact, speak slowly and clearly)

3. Facilitators should then share the real facts of the images. Discuss at length the difference between the young people’s imagined stories and the real stories. How was our imagination informed? Where do we get certain ideas from about places, spaces, and people?

4. Discuss the phenomena of assumptions and stereotyping. How thought gets stuck at particular places. We do not ask, do not think of asking whether there is anything beneath the obvious assumptions about the place.


Your Neighborhood: Discussion and Activity on Stereotypes (30 minutes)

From a bigger scale let us now come down to our own paras/neighborhoods.
Just like we’ve realized the false/fragmented/skewed stories around different neighborhoods, how do you think other people think or imagine your personal neighborhood? What are the stereotypes surrounding your neighborhood?
Our thoughts often get stuck around some obvious things we see around, or some particular things that repeatedly surface on TV or in New York has highrises, this is true, but this is only one truth about New York. There are several other truths that we do not get to know. When a journalist comes to your para, what are the particular things he wants to cover/research more?

Collage Activity
Create a collective collage of images, sounds, words, smells about how the common person may interpret our neighborhood. Draw, Write, Cut and Paste.

What are the common assumptions surrounding our neighborhood? Talk and explain in images. What is missing in this collage? What Truths are being circulated? What Truths are beings silenced and ignored? What stories aren’t being told? If we knew more untold stories, what would that do? How would that change perceptions?

Conclusion: Explaining the Project, Neighbourhood Diaries
This is how the outsider sees Bow Bazaar . Do you think it is important to tell the stories of this neighborhood as an insider and resident? What are the ways in which you, an insider, see Bow Bazaar? We believe the best sources of knowledge are your minds, your eyes, your words. The best expert to tell neighborhood stories is you. In the coming 15 weeks we shall try to search and find out what the inside stories of Boubazar look like. And you will find out, not us. In this workshop you will work as a Neighborhood Journalist telling the story of your lanes, you homes, your neighbors.

Writing Activity
Can you tell us a story about your neighborhood, which only you know? It can be a moment only, or an incident you are not likely to forget. Have the participants write and share their story? After listening to the story, explore how it gives a new life, new dimensions to understanding their neighborhood — and thus how this story needs to be told?

Check Out
How was this session like? Good/bad/Okay?
How do you feel about participating in the coming sessions? 1 word.