As someone famous (or intimate) once said
Wherever you go, there you are.
In a span of 18 months, we left cities for towns, towns for villages, and villages for cities all over again. Liminal existence some say—neither here nor there—but firmest in our heads.
And isn’t that what the City is? A fantasy we wrap around our nimble fingers, tuck in our collective bosoms, and ask:
Is this where we can be all that we want to be?
As people interested in feminist ways of learning, putting together a whole edition on ideas around the City—especially as it defines habitation, movement, occupation and communities on one hand, and desire, opportunity and identity formation on the other—offered us a potent mix of possibilities and precarity.
Possibilities of pedagogy for one. The central part of this edition comes from a deep and rewarding co-creation with our Travel Log from across the country—13 contributors who take us through their villages, kasbahs, bastis and bylanes, via video, voice and text. It’s a feminist co-creation, which tested out central tenets of a feminist pedagogy: Is it personal? Is it experiential? Is it intersectional? Does it upend the view of the world?
Our Travel Log expand on these questions and provoke new articulations around history, culture, gender and power. We have films from Belda to Barmer, Minjur to Cochin, writings from Toranmal to Imphal, drawings from Vadodara to Srinagar, and voices from Fatehpur to Khunti. The contributors have worked intensively with artists and together, they offer us alternative mind maps of the spaces we live in.
This edition also made us ask: who lives in Indian cities? According to the census, 31% of the Indian population does, but this is by no means the canon. According to our eyes in the sky, aka satellite imagery, 63% of the country today lives in built-up areas that are more city than village.
Do we have an urban-rural divide or an urban-rural continuum? To help us answer this, this edition brings together those that dream of cities, those who live in cities, and those who build cities.
The edition carries a forensic interest in narratives that cities allow for, and also those it erases. It develops knowledge around lives exploring desire, and identity, self determination and adventure, and the structures that make these explorations uncertain Who stays, and who leaves? Who is kept safe, and who are we kept safe from?
There is a precarious conversation between Sadness and the Breeze, in Parvati Sharma’s new story here. An ode to inhabitants that may be permanent settlers in our mental cities, it’s a story of the only things that last: grief and movement from it.
Because wherever you go, there you are.
In the Body section of our home page, you will find Travel Log Achal’s graphic comic pieces with queer reflections around Baroda and Delhi and Nangsel’s political childhood, a la Famous Five, from Darjeeling. You’ll find Sangita Jogi – a 24 year old artist and construction labourer from Sirohi, Rajasthan fantasise about the women she could be, and Nadika Nadja – a trans flaneuse and Chennai lover – give us all a walking manifesto. We have historian Uma Chakravarti revealing a radical reading of Pandita Ramabai’s penchant for making photographs that challenge the great conjugality project [You can also watch it as our Back Story video). And we have Manjima Bhattacharjya with her Intimate Cities, taking us through the evolution of sex work debates and what does the digital intervention into sex work could mean for the workers themselves.
As some of you may know, and have already screened at your lovely festivals and community spaces, we have a short film on Kolkata, and how parts of its history were shaped by sex work. Sex [Work] and the City is narrated by Dr. Paromita Chakravarti and offers some radical insights into feminist history making.
Abhishek Anicca inaugurates our Travel Log feature series with Hopscotch, his essay on how to be still and still moving in Darbhanga. As a Returnee from a metropolitan to a small town, Abhishek watches over his past-future continuum from his bedroom window. Abhishek’s mind map is imagined and drawn by fellow Bihari Malavika Raj, and the two find affinities you may not have thought of.
As part of this program, Kuumpiilei from Imphal worked with Kashmiri artist to give us a feminist reading of two cities: Imphaan and Srinagar, in I’m a Conspiracy Theorist of my Atiya Body. She uses the 18 original letters of Meetei Mayek where each letter is a body part. Prakash from Toranmal writes letters to a beloved, as he confronts a people and their land in the adivasi are of Nandurbar, and has a special conversation with Big Fat Bao, who made drew his mind map.
Small town stasis is often broken by naughty women. We visit one such town that is thrown into glorious disarray by a single screen theatre run by an ex midwife called Lillibai. Listen to Vaidehi’s masterpiece Gulabi Talkies, transliterated and re-imagined in Hindi on Nirantar radio. Nirantar Radio continues its preoccupation with documenting different mental experiences with the series Mann Ke Makhaute. In Episode 3, Maine Saaf Kiya Tumhara, We talked to Meena, Parmeshwar, Anna, Neelima and Bindu about their role as caregivers, and they looked around and said:
“Yeh sab saaf rakhna, yaha se hum shuru karte hai par safai dikhti kahan hai!” [It starts with keeping everything clean, but the cleanliness never shows.] Who is expected to take care and what happens to their mental health? What is the language of their mann as they take on this work?
We are also looking at cities and towns through the eyes of single women, who live outside the urban imagination. Do listen to the podcast series Ekal in The City, featuring young women from towns you haven’t heard of. This audio series also became a written piece by Episode 3, featuring the riveting Annu from Kekri, Rajasthan.
Hansda Sowendra Shekhar, who discovered Gauri Bharat’s book on Santal housing, wonders where he actually is; between his Santal childhood and per-urban present. “Why did my house not have windows in the front?”, he asks, as all evidence of these houses in Jamshedpur vanishes. Why have women’s reservation on public transport? Shalom Gauri responds to continuing critique by drawing up a A Brief History of Arguments in Favour of Free Public Transit for Women. While Harini Nagendra and Amrita Sen help us see why women don’t go to parks and lakes for leisure, in Our Cities are Designed for Men, by Men.
The Structure section of our home page also carries part one of a two part conversation with Gautam Bhan, to disrupt the faultlines between urban theory and how our cities and its people actually live. Also, it carries an unusual point of view into our cities – through the gig workers’ eyes. Scooties, service yards, tee shirts, toilets and that stray offer of a glass of water feature in two women and one trans person’s experience of their cities.
The rural urban continuum is ripped through by shrapnel in Disha Mullick and Kavita Bundelkhandi’s (Khabar Lahariya CEO and Chief Editor) sharp reply to urban folx who ask, “Why don’t they just get vaccinated? Why are they getting married at this time? Will they ever learn?” Weddings, Funerals & Other Minor Details from Coronakal in Bundelkhand is a piece of long form literary journalism that teases out eternal truths of people’s relationship with risk and reward, depending on where they live.
Speaking of continuums, the rural-digital continuum, or the shape of cities that virtual worlds are shaping through apps and Whatsapp groups, is narrated in a chilling piece of fiction by Pooja Pande, inspired by field reports of a rural media channel. Set in Ayodhya, Sheher Jaise Aag Ka Dariya, is the story of a brother, sister and a smartphone, in which, one of them dies. Travel Log Nasreen builds a new continuums – between her terraces in Old Delhi and Kolkata, in an animated audio piece.
Since so much of the narratives of the city is around people leaving, we asked, what makes people stay? Green Hub in Tezpur, a learning centre that uses documentary techniques to turn local youth from across the North East into naturalists, may just have the pedagogy for that. Watch, read, and listen to Rita Banerjee catalyse the power of time-lapse into a deep love for where you already are. Our Pedagogy section has other rich offerings: Apeksha Vora’s workshop that turns a childhood game into a metaphor for testing where we draw our conscious and unconscious boundaries in The Snakes and Ladders on the Road to Mobility. And we take great pleasure in launching our brand in film-based curriculum in looking at the city through a feminist lens with Avijit Mukul Kishore in Filmy Sheher. Episode 1 looks at how cinema looks at small town India and Episode 2 looks at how caste plays out in cinema.
While you are watching our videos, don’t miss Travel Log Jyoti’s faux tourist video of Sawau Moolraj in Rajasthan. As the first girl to leave her village to study, her going back is full of delightful ironies.
And in a brand new column, we have Vijeta Kumar, professor of English, lover of classrooms, Throwing Chalk at mainstream gender, sexuality and learning constructions. Also debuting are our Digital Educators with Tabassum’s Life in Twelve, bringing you rural out-takes that help us see how close we all are on the continuum.
Welcome to the feminist city; part fantasy, part inevitability.
We are all flaneurs here.