An India Travelogue, Part 6

by Lawrence Bush

Click for Parts 1234 and 5.

 

WE HAD A DAY of recovery and catch-up yesterday, after Susan had taught a four-hour workshop the day before at a monumentally huge school called Step by Step. Her cohort consisted of some thirty teachers, all women, drawn from thirty different schools, including numerous government schools. Because some of the women in the class had limited English skills, two people translated for Susan — and in a very concrete way, the strengths of her kinesthetic methods were revealed when that language gap proved to be no big deal. In each exercise, you could tell just by watching who was “getting it” and who was not (visible learning, formative assessment); and if teachers who were confused, perhaps because they weren’t quite following Susan’s English instructions, they could get up to speed by watching others (peer learning); and everyone was having a great time, laughing, skipping, posing, working intently together, looking, in their beautiful saris, like colorful birds in a birdbath.

(I sat in a corner of the room, watching and working on my computer and hoping that my male gaze wasn’t disturbing anyone.)

During a section on tableaux, in which teams of her students each created a series of four group body sculptures that told a story, one group came up with the theme, “The Oppression of Women in India.” (Others were “The Bathing of Ganesha,” “The Life-Cycle of a Plant,” “The Lion and the Mouse,” and “In Unity There Is Strength.”) Scene One, a girl is having her hair braided by her mother while a teacher writes on a blackboard and the father speaks on the cell phone with his back turned to the domestic scene. Scene two, the girl is being prepared for her marriage while the womenfolk cry and the groom awaits. Scene three, the husband is striking the woman while neighbors wag their fingers at him in protest. Scene four, the woman crosses her arms to say NO, the husband is shrinking away on the floor, the neighbors are making fists in her support.

Sexual violence and harassment seem to be a major issue in India, judging not only by the news but by the precautions that people take. Our B&B hostess, for instance — a wonderful hostess and delightful woman, déclassé because of family legal hanky-panky that deprived her late husband of his fortune — makes a point, she says, about ensuring that the drivers she hires for her guests will not get out of line with women. The Metro (nicely air-conditioned!) reserves certain seats for women only. Some cabs display a bumper sticker that boasts, “Ride with Pride: This taxi respects women.” And it is rare to see a woman driving her own car or motorcycle; and not  so common even to see a woman alone amid the swarms of men on the streets and parks of Delhi, day or night (with the exception of beggar women, who are often carrying very little babies).

 

IN THE MORNING we had awakened to the sound of protestors passing beneath our window ((for those of you in the know, we are in the southern part of Delhi in the Jangpura Extension neighborhood). They were part of a city-wide action that shut down the all marketplaces in Delhi, including the two we have frequented, Khan Market (which has a fine patisserie that I’d like to move into) and Connaught Place (site of the big Western clothing stores like H & M as well as local pushcarts). The strike (a “bandh“) is focused on government efforts to “seal” or padlock commercial properties that are in violation of zoning laws. These stores “are using residential properties for commercial purposes,” says one news report, “without paying the conversion charges,” and are being sealed based on a 2006 Supreme Court order.

Susan’s host institution, Learning Matters, has also been threatened with being “sealed” by the government by the end of May because it is in a residential neighborhood. Fortunately, the school have another building prepared to which they were planning to expand, so now they simply need to speed up their schedule. Why the Modi government is being so aggressive in its sealing campaign, what it hopes to gain from disrupting commerce, I don’t know.

After being reassured by friends that we wouldn’t be “scabbing” simply by walking around Connaught Market during the strike, Susan and I found our way there by Metro. There are three movie houses in the area, and one is screening Padmaavat, an historical epic that is the most expensive film ever made in India ($33 million, which it has made back in spades). Padmaavat has provoked protests from Hindu nationalist groups, who have threatened to cut off the nose of Deepika Padukone, the actress in the title role, over the false rumor that the film portrays a Hindu-Muslim romance. The theater was open — most of the businesses, in fact, opened their doors and turned on their lights after 6:00 p.m. — but by show time, we felt too exhausted and overcome by the city’s smog, and we went home by tuk-tuk.

 

Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents.