Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Why Loiter: Matunga on a Sunday Night

- By Aishwarya Pramod

Why Loiter is a campaign that anyone can join from anywhere. The idea behind the campaign is very simple: it encourages women to loiter aimlessly about their city and make use of its public spaces :). In the face of victim-blaming and increased restrictions on women’s mobility, the campaign wants to create a sense of a community of women in public space, so that we can remind ourselves and other women that we are not alone.

This Sunday, I was going to meet a friend in Matunga. I saw the campaign on Facebook, so I took some pictures and hashtagged them #whyloiter.
I took a short bus ride to bustling Maheshwari Udyan (King’s Circle) and met my friend for dinner at Spring Onion. The starters were especially good. We told ourselves we’d come back there some other day and eat only 3 or 4 starters, no need of main course.

Then we wandered around near Five Garden and chilled… some photography happened there. Turns out my phone is not great at night photography (or I haven’t found the correct settings). There were many other people - many young people - walking, sitting around, hanging out.

We walked back to King’s Circle for dessert at Natural’s Ice Cream (one berry and one coffee-cinammon/coffee-walnut mix). Strolled around the circle for a bit - stopped to look at a street book stall (open quite late - around 10 pm). Families, college students and many others also loitered there, enjoying the night air. Finally, I then took the bus home.
I love lazing around at home, sometimes even more than going out. But when I do go out, chilling in Matunga is one the nicest things. It has pretty streets and buildings, good food, street book stalls, gardens, and optimal crowds (not too few people to be lonely/deserted, but usually not so many people that it becomes very crowded).
It’s widely accepted that Mumbai is the most women-friendly city in India. Bombay girls are the most bindaas (carefree, without restraint). Women who move here from other cities are sometimes heard to remark on their newfound liberation. I myself love Mumbai. But even in Mumbai the freedom is not absolute and not something we take for granted.

“Why Loiter” is also a book (published in 2011) that explores the ways in which the women negotiate and navigate the streets of Mumbai, in a larger culture that thinks women and public spaces don’t do together. I’ve read part of it – it was great! – and plan to finish reading it soon. It’s a refreshing, inspiring take on gender, public space and freedom.
Why Loiter is a call for an end to fearmongering and for women to openly and confidently claim the streets. Loitering – taking up public spaces while doing absolutely nothing – is everyone’s right. 
It calls on the government and society, not to provide paternalistic ‘protection’ by asking women to stay at home, but instead to begin providing the infrastructure (for example good public transport, street lights, public toilets) for women to feel safe. The book has many other interesting suggestions too. The final aim is freedom without fear.


Haddock said...

Like that idea of loitering in Mumbai.
Also brought back memories of the Matunga I knew where I used to take my sister for the Bharatnatyam classes once a week. That was about 43 years ago !!

Aardra K.A said...

Great idea. Looking forward to the book and hoping to see the campaign succeed nationally and globally.

Aadil Desai said...

Great initiative, women / young girls do feel much safer in Mumbai than in other metro cities in India but the mindset needs to change in other places too.

Aishwarya said...

@Haddock: Oh, was it Rajarajeshwari class by any chance? (near Sankara Matam). Seen the board for it often...

@Aardra K. A and Aadil Desai: Agreed!

Dadoji said...

Maheshwari Udyan and Five Gardens are both decent places to Loiter. Telang Road is okay too but relatively darker south of cross lane #1. I also love a walk on LN Road from Post Office to Ruia. And nothing makes me as nostalgic as a leisurely walk through Shastri Market where I used to shop with my mother.

Used to sneak in at Rajarajeshwari as a child esp. whenever someone said,"Hema Malini is here".

sujata massey said...

I am delighted to hear about this activism. what do you think about loitering in beach areas, especially Bandra West? I'm coming to visit Mumbai this summer and will have a teen daughter with me.