Negotiating with the Streets of Khirkee

Vidhi |

Earlier when we used to go to the mall we generally took the path which leads to khoj café. When I used to walk past the street, I felt uncomfortable, especially if I had to walk alone. I usually went to buy meat which was in the same street. As I felt alone and uncomfortable, I used to ask my friends to come with me. This particular street was full of men. This made me feel a bit scared, because I was surrounded by men, and sometimes drunk men too.
Those days, when I was by myself on the street I walked so fast that other than a Chinese food shop, a chicken shop and a barber shop with a large mirror, I hardly witnessed any other shops or events around that locality. I only preferred the route since it felt like a short cut for mall.
However, for a year and a half, now that I am engaged with the project Mobile Mohalla (earlier, Networks and Neighbourhood), and painted one of the walls with my friends, standing in the public, we have learnt to negotiate with the people in the streets. For instance, we did not know Jhaji, the tea stall owner or the Ktji, the barber or Raju, the cobbler. We did not know anyone from the other shops. When I walk through the lane, now, the street is so familiar to me that I can even walk alone. And now I do walk alone. I don’t get scared when I am surrounded by men. Now, I don’t even see drunk men. Also, the people in this street know me and I know them too.
In order to negotiate with the men and also to reclaim the streets and other public spaces, we decided to paint the wall where girls were the theme of the graphiti. The painting shows young girls involved in various actions on the streets of Khirkee and HauzRani. After painting around seven walls, we went back to those places to find out what changes took place in the area, after the painting- how were the men reacting , were they accepting the painting of girls in the male dominated spaces or  were they unhappy. Maybe, they overlooked the matter.

Raju Uncle
Raju uncle sits near a street corner which is at the juncture of Khirkee extension and the streets of Hauz Rani. We painted a woman cobbler behind Raju uncle’s spot, and a girl reading book on the other wall.
We went to the cobbler uncle and talked to him. He told us that he is working in New Delhi Malviya nagar, for 8 years and he likes working here.
We asked him how he feels about painting. He said that it’s very nice. He told us that if he sees someone pasting a paper on the painting he tries to remove it.
He said that he likes it very much and when many people ask him if he likes it, he says “yes I do”. We asked him, do you feel uncomfortable that just at the back of where you sit, there is a painting of girl doing same thing that you do. He said “No, I don’t. Because, I don’t have any discrimination between girls and boys.” He told us earlier there was a drawing of a tiger but when we, along with Ma’am, painted the girl cobbler, it was liked by everyone.
Something very unique came up! Some people ask him that just above your head there is a painting of a girl, and her feet is touching his head. Doesn’t he feel awkward? He replied that he
doesn’t feel bad with this.
Then we asked him about his customers. He said that girls as well as boys come. Men bring their wives and sisters’ shoes and women bring their husband’s shoes. The cobbler gives them a specific time to return so as to take their shoes.
We asked him if he sees girls and women in this area. He said that he doesn’t notice. He is busy with his work but he’ll be noticing now. Cobbler uncle has regular customers as well. Every Sunday, they come to meet him. There are two men, who are very close to him. Around 100 to 150 people come each day. There are kids, women and men. He told us that he is willing to come to all our events, but feels a bit shy as he thinks, he might be an odd man out there.  We gave him assurance that he must not feel embarrassed as everyone is treated equally in our group.

KT ji
Then we went to KT ji, the barber, in front of the Khoj café, on the same street. We painted girls playing cards. The painting was made by me and my friends, Razia, Fatema, Tabassum, Zeenat and many more. Ma’am helped us to paint like she used to make the outline of the figure and made us learn how to make a figure on the wall itself. Then we used to fill the paintings with bright and dull colors.
Few days later, a barber shop came up at that same spot. Suddenly, this made me curious to know why he had moved his shop. So, we decided to ask him why he moved from his old place to here.
On 29th October 2016, we went to KTji for asking questions which stayed in our heads for so long. When we went there, KTji was going to eat his lunch so we had to wait for 30 minutes.
For me, it was alright as we discussed the questions and divided the work. I was sick and was worried initially. Then I was really happy seeing my team members helping me out. While we were talking, writing down the notes, and clicking pictures, KTji came. We asked him why he has moved his shop suddenly. He said that ‘this drawing was so attractive to me’. We asked him what was so attractive about it. He said that he found the drawing so enchanting that he couldn’t stop himself from moving his shop from the old location to this new place. Meanwhile, a huge crowd of men gathered. There were no women. We asked the crowd what they thought of the painting. One replied that “this painting is of dead people”. Another one replied “children are eating ice cream in the painting”. Someone said that he does not like the painting of girls sitting in public. Various responses came from different people.
KTji told us that when any customer comes to his shop, they first ask who made this drawing and he tells them that the girls from Khirkee made this drawing. He says that this painting never leaves him alone. This painting is like a friend to him as whenever he is alone, the painting talks to him and asks how he is.
All of a sudden, a guy from the crowd said that way girls dress up these days, is not good. They wear shorts and crop tops which make the boys stare at them. Clothes are for hiding bodies. Then, they started talking about my clothes. They commented on what I was wearing. They pointed to me and said “such tight clothes- tight pants”. They told that I wasn’t dressed properly whereas Razia, my friend, who was wearing the hijab, dressed the way women should be dressed. I responded to them saying that God has given us eyes to see, but definitely not to search for flaws in other people unnecessarily. We also asked him how he would feel if someone said the same thing to his wife or daughter. There was a lot of debate but in the end, this was a very good opportunity for us to be in a dialogue with the men, which we earlier would never dare to do.

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