Sunday, 29 May 2016

Antakshari in the metro: new ways of bridging gaps- by Manasi Rachh

I remember getting added into a whatsapp group long time back by Neha. The group said Why loiter? And she mentioned on the group that it was an informal group she had made and all she wanted to do is loiter every Sunday at public places. I went through the other participants that were added and realised all of them were women. Hmm. Interesting I thought. Women loitering around in public places. Very different. Rebellious. Maybe a little attention seeking being women but courageous nonetheless. I couldn’t make it that Sunday. And I couldn’t make it for lot more Sundays after that. 

This morning I read on Neha's facebook wall that she was loitering in the Metro train today and that if you are interested you could meet her at the Versova metro station at 5pm. 

So 4.50 I reach the Versova metro station. A little earlier than the time given. But I didn’t want to be late for my first loitering session. Honestly those 10 minutes I was just pacing up and down. I had seen pictures on Nehas Facebook page about people loitering every Sunday. But I didn’t know what to expect. And also loitering in a metro train was something I couldn’t really imagine. Anyways before I knew there were so many of loiterers assembled at the metro station. It was a mix group of men and women. We took a return ticket from Versova to Ghatkopar and back and boarded the metro train. There were a few who had loitered before, a few who were first timers like me. 

 The loitering session started with a gentleman playing the flute and before we knew we had started playing antakshari. Boys vs girls. Just that it wasn’t limited to our small group. But it was played between the entire metro train ladies compartment vs a section of the gent’s bogie. It was a simple game of Antakshari and every time it was the girls turn, the loiterers would urge the other women in the compartment to prompt a song. As they would come up with a song, the loiterers would then encourage the women in the bogie to sing along. The guys from the group were doing the same thing in the gents section. 

Initially people were quite hesitant. Slowly they started to open up, especially the women. From just prompting the songs to singing loudly, the transition happened so smoothly between on the 25 minute ride from versova to ghatkopar. It just took 25 minutes for people to open up and play Antakshari with complete strangers. What started as a normal boring metro ride for most of them, who were minding their own businesses either listening to music on their headphones, or surfing the internet or just interacting with their small groups moved on to become a playful, happy, healthy but competitive game of Antakshari. All of this while they were in transit from destination A to destination B or a regular Sunday evening. 

What did I get? 

To begin with immense joy. I haven’t played Antakshari so freely and fiercely since school picnic days. Honestly waiting at the Versova Metro station, I would have never imagined this was possible in a metro train. What else? I also witnessed this little act putting smiles on so many people’s faces. It spread like forest fire across an entire metro train bogie. 

What did I learn? 

That it’s very easy to connect with a complete stranger if you go with complete openness and trust. I saw women staring at us, some of them were just looking at us from our head to toes and observing each and every movement of ours. I think they were just curious to know as to where did we come from, how did we behave so freely. 

In some ways I think the first few songs that the girls from the loiterers group sang were almost setting examples for the other women that you can sing loudly in public places without being judged. It’s ok. They slowly started picking up on that and then found their own spaces and voices to play the game. I think also what helped was we were quite a few of us. We were an intimidating number of influencers. I wonder if we were lesser of us, or like Neha said if it was only her urging people to play antakshari would people open up the way they did?

What about my nervousness? 

It was completely gone. I felt so comfortable in my own skin. There was no one to restrict me, no one to judge me. It was quite liberating. And it comes from someone who feels she’s quite independent anyway. What made it different though was that I didn’t have to rebel or fight for my freedom or justify my independence. It was just given to me. Naturally. Without having to ask for it or fight for it. Effortlessly. It felt nice. I felt respected. And I think a lot of credit also goes to the guys who loitered with us today. Yes women can fight for their rights and for their freedom. They may even get what they want. But it depends on how you get that freedom. Do you have to fight for it? Do you have to ask for it? Or you just get it. Because you are a part of the same universe like any other person existing. I experienced the latter today. And it was beautiful. So ya, thank you guys. 

I wish one day women wouldn’t have to loiter to change perceptions of the society. I wish one day women will loiter, just, because they want to, because they can without drawing any attention. And I wish that this day comes soon. More power to Neha and all the other Loiterers on completing two years of this beautiful movement. 

Why loiter? Because you should, you must, you can. And above all its lot of fun!!

In awe
Manasi smile emoticon

Manasi Rachh is a theatre and film actor from Mumbai. She is also a writer, film maker, thinker and supporter of alternative ways of living.

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