The Bamboo Basket Weavers @ Mahim Station

We were in need of a bamboo cage for our Provoke/Protect installation at Kala Ghoda Fest 2014. We headed to the basket weavers on Tulsi Pipe Road near Mahim Station who are well known for their cheap bamboo artefacts.

We met Deepak, a thin dark man in his late twenties, and discussed our idea with him. While Deepak cautiously murmured the costs and the strength of the structure, his beautiful wife Sunita started chatting with us. Sunita is a twenty five year old (or so she says) and is the mother of two. The children attend a mobile school run by an NGO. Sunita shoos them away but asks us if we have chocolates for them.

Sunita and her husband live on the pavement with her mother, Kamla Chauvan, and her sisters Pushpa and Sunita (who does not know her age). Kamla says they originally hail from Mount Abu, Rajasthan and they speak a dialect known as Wagri. The area to the southeast of Mount Abu is well known for its density of bamboo. Kamla says they had to migrate from Rajasthan owing to poverty. Their tribe’s main source of income is through bamboo crafts, which was affected when private ownership of property made bamboo forests out of their reach. Police officials cracked down upon them when they started thieving the bamboo.

Kamla and her girls are here in search of better prospects. A number of such families line the road parallel to Mahim Station West and you really suspect if this is what is meant by better prospects. They sell their small baskets at about 30 Rs. and source raw bamboo at Rs. 100 a stick from Parel. Then it’s Rs. 20 for transportation every day. They visit their hometown for special occasions like Holi and Raksha Bandhan.

As this conversation comes to an end, we realise that while the bamboo weavers are great craftspersons, imbibing new designs is a challenge for them. They need careful guidance to adopt a new design for a new structure.

Sunita

Sunita

 

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Round Two of Comics Mania

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We did it again.

About 20 boys and girls and men were mentored by Chaitanya Modak (a comics creator and illustrator) and drew comics on injuries. Injuries both inside and outside. Injuries of the body and injuries of the mind. In just four days, many of the participants, who were just recent initiates into the understanding of comics (leave alone the making of comics), drew four paneled and six paneled comics on injuries.

Since there were varied interpretations of what injuries could mean, the participants unleashed these on paper. Saraswati’s comic (Koi To Meri Suno: Someone please listen to me) was about depression, while Manoj’s comic was about dog bites. Some interpretations were the result of Dr. Anil More’s observations. Anil is a doctor attached to the Sion Hospital and has seen several cases come in from Dharavi. He says that most of these cases are due to accidents, street fights and dog bites. One of the most intriguing comics was by Raghavendra in which a boy thinks he is a superhero and therefore meets with an accident.

Lots of excitement and the frenzy of pen on paper.

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We were ready with the comics by the end of December and this week, we went to the streets armed with jumbo photocopies of the comics. Some of us went to the nearby Transit Camp while some others went to Kala Killa, a little farther away. The idea was to spread comics (thereby a little education and a little entertainment) all across Dharavi. There was a slight tussle among the participants since some had to wield the slimy glue brushes 🙂

Transit Camp, where Kishan, Nilesh, Raghavendra and the very lazy Avinash went, is a busy hub where people crisscross the streets or gather in the corners. Groups of men, shopkeepers and schoolchildren gathered fervently around the comics we put up and asked one resounding question: What is this about? Read, we said. “Many people were initially a little resistant to the idea of comics. But they eventually got around to reading them,” observed Nilesh.

People who read the comics could easily relate to the situations portrayed. Among those who read Raghavendra’s story about the delusional boy who thought he was a superhero, one man said, “I knew someone who thought was like Shaktimaan and tried to jump from a building.” People read Ravi’s comic on alcoholism and wanted to know where they could get info on deaddiction.

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Manoj, who went to neighboring Shastri Nagar to put up some comics, said, “Many people loved looking at the comics. But they had never seen something like this and did not know where to start reading. They asked me: Tell us where to start.” The form is a little unusual for a majority of the population. While they are well exposed to cinema, novels and plays, this form of storytelling requires a bit more attention.

The participants found a lot of support from the communities they went to. Some shopkeepers were a little suspicious of our work but most others were forthcoming with praise and suggestions. Some men suggested that the public toilets would be the best place to put up the comics. Before we could object to their remark, a man said, “Because this is where men will stand for some time and read.” Considering we spread our monochrome comics over colourful propaganda posters, prayer meeting announcements and loud adverts, it was a pretty good response from the public.

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Provoke/Protect is going to Kala Ghoda Fest 2014

In February 2013, Susie Vickery and Nika Feldman worked with 10 women from Dharavi to applique slogans against rape on old sarees. These beautiful sarees were then worn by the women who made them for a photoshoot and a fashion show.

These sarees are collectively christened Provoke/Protect and they are travelling to the Kala Ghoda Festival 2014 this February.

We are thinking of an installation design for these sarees and we have approached the basket weavers near Mahim station to try out a design. Can’t wait to see what they are going to come up with.

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