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.