Being a Vegetable Vendor at K.R.Market:
We tried to step into the shoes of a person we found interesting, imitate them physically and behaviorally and engage in the activities of business that he/she does for a span of 4 hours.
- Who did I exchange places with?
I tried to take the place of a middle aged female vegetable vendor at K.R.Market.
- What did I consider while getting ready or dressing for the event?
There were an awful lot of considerations while I tried to ‘get into character’:
This included not only what the class of women I was trying to imitate wear, but more importantly how they wear it.
In India, a small variation in they way you accessorize lends different connotations. Hence the question, what is the type of jewelry to be taken? How is the hair tied and what goes in it? What type of shoes would a lady of that stature wear in the market?
The availability/ non-availability of resources directly affects the type of person that you become. The relationship that a person has with the objects that he/she carries is a clear indicator of lifestyle, value and the like.
How should I carry money? What is my relationship with it?
Is there a reason to carry a bag? How relevant is that object to be carried in this person’s life?
This consideration was for my time in the market, after all the surface level, visual preparation.
Here the question goes beyond the realm of acting and enters this reflective space of ‘being’ another person. Of course, I’d still be acting, but the very defining of these actions as separate helped in stating who I was and what I was trying to do.
How should I answer people? What will my walk be like? How will I sit? Does a working class woman smile a lot? How does she yawn?
This consideration, I observed, became a constant process during my time there.
What story about where I am from needed to be concocted to complete the illusion?
- What were the events that occurred? What did I feel about what occurred?
The events that occurred were a direct reflection of how we, ( Prerna and I) were bring perceived in that space.
Firstly, if it was in the case of a veiled Muslim woman who told us that ‘such business did not suit us’ or an old Muslim man from Lucknow who kept prodding us about where we were ‘actually’ from, it was clear that we did not belong to that cultural context.
However, as time passed and we became more comfortable in our roles, people, initially were struck by our presence, but seemed to buy into our act when we paid no attention to them, talked amongst ourselves in Hindi and sold vegetables like it was the most obvious thing to do for us.
The trusting nature of the vendors was striking as the lady whom we were tying to imitate, left the responsibility of money transaction entirely in my hands while Prerna dealt with arranging and selling the vegetables. A close friend of the lady’s and neighboring shop owner, who knew the actual reason as to why we were there bought us eats and drinks, hence unintentionally throwing water over our efforts to some extent.
Also, I observed that young men were more suspicious of our presence that middle-aged women who came to the market. Men in their twenties showed an amusing change in expression when they spotted us as opposed to women, who were far more subtle about it and abandoned all doubt once they began buying.
5) What were my insights about what happened?
There is a difference in documenting a person and ‘being’ that person’.
Acting and imitation can only take you so far in the journey of trying to ‘be’ some one else to the fullest. Although I believe that you can never be anyone else but yourself, to whatever extent you go, going beyond acting is definitely a step towards understand what the essence of this person is.
Attire, behavior or objects are not the only things that shape who a person is. Time, experience and memory are extremely influential.
Although philosophically speaking, there might be no distinction between people, at a material level; there is a very clear difference in ‘them’ and ‘us’.
I have observed that people of different classes do differ in the way they think, about who they consider important and what they think as acceptable.
My Response to Dr.Lata Mani’s Talk:
Dr.Lata Mani’s emphasis on the body being an indicator of emotion, thought and wordly intelligence in ways deeper and more reflective than the mind conditioned by what we perceive through the brain is what has entered my thought process and seems to be starting its own thread of thought. The latter, especially since we have been dealing with a great amount of thinking through our bodies in the last week and a half.
The mind is certainly what you cannot see while the body is the immediate visual clue. Hence, it is certainly strange that society has come to elevate thought and perception as compared to sight in ways that have certainly come to influence what we believe and why.
This stream of thought has somehow come to center my four week experience largely around the body and what it says.
It makes me come back to what I realised in Deepak’s class – If any body- male or female be perceived as just a body, then any form of dressing -male of female will be just a cloth- a cover to that body, and that leads me to the root of a hundred social and lingual connotations that complicate the structure of our lives.
Does one draw a line?
A Response to Dr.Jyothi’s Talk
The sequence of exercises that we performed at the market, fit in the order of a gradual progression, now that I examine them in retrospect. Hence, the ideas explored by us ascend in their levels of introspection, in the case of undercover (involving only one person), attempting a relationship with the audience in the case of the switchboard(involving more than one) and finally, invoking a response with a relationship developed (requiring a balance of introspection and outward understanding with a large number of people).
I see these experiences culminating in an understanding that Dr.Jyothi pointed out -we ‘perform’ ourselves. We perform our gender, identity, class or status.
Performance as a research methodology:
The three exercises sort of broke down the steps that we generally unconsciously undertake when we ‘perform’ a role in society. The undercover assignment asked us to prepare ourselves to fit into roles. The switchboard, was analogous to a rehearsal where things are tried and tested. The sculpting exercise, to me, was a sort of ‘final’ or a culmination of the entire process of observing and understanding due to tremendous effort that it required.
For me, the sculpting invoked the maximum amount of anxiety. An eager wait for approval. An activity that requires one to draw immensely from the previous, to understand the audience and to manipulate it. It was quite similar to my experience of a final performance on stage.
Hence, here fits in the question of the ethics of negotiating relationships. We all perform all our lives. At the crux of it, it is always for a selfish reason. To fit in, to extort, to please.
Now some of our performances that we intend to please, may shock some. Not all the people at the market were delighted with the idea of strangers using their bodies as a tool to communicate their ideas. Where does one really draw a line? Does one ever draw a line?
Theatre- An Overall Experience:
Neha Bhat and the joys of a Long-lasting Stimulus
Hand reaches out. Grabs something in space. Cut.
The earth beckons the tender bottom. Hands assume thread and flower. Up, down; in a circle. Cut.
“Sexy, madam!”, “Hathu rupaya”. Familiar words resonate. Memories flow like swirling sweet tea. I reach Cubbon Park with a bun in hand, listening to the voice of a Bangalore gone by.
We’re audience. A bangle breaks. My boundaries expand. I reach out.
What has theatre been to me, but an expression of myself? All through my time in the art of performance, it has given me confidence. Opened up that sub conscious self that calmly ignores conditioning and contains the essence of the sights, sounds and smells I perceive everyday.
It has given me plentiful.
Traversing the barrier between the performer and the audience, the theatre workshop helped me see ways of giving back.
Giving back , not in the notion of ‘You scratch my back and I scratch yours’, rather, stepping beyond the self and traveling to another.
Shortening time, being another person from another life without a necessary ‘audience’, per se completely overthrew the conventional idea of what a performance is.
It is amusing. How theatre and lies are so passionately intermingled. And yet, you need your truth to detangle it all. Making up stories and living them in my head is my idea of joy. Being a flower selling Laxmi, a vegetable selling Gauri, a lesbian feminist or a rebellious, spunky teenager are things that have enhanced my experience in this workshop far more than reading out a script and entertaining on stage.
How our bodies say a lot more than we do or intend to mean. And the art of manipulating that very fact.
Performance is not merely entertainment.
I realized the joys of challenging, provoking, inviting another set of lives to be a part of your own. Or your assumed own.
I found theatre as a medium to be far more powerful than any other, in terms of the approach we had taken in this course. Stimulus-Response. Through Deepak, I found the joys of understanding performance to its crux. I felt one with the theory of theatre.
I finished the workshop thinking that much was left unfinished and I hope to take it forward in a project that sees the culmination of my rich experience in a public space.
A summary of my time in the market:
Late nights, early mornings, mid-day or late evenings, the market saw me in all its colors and moods. Observing it for 24 hours, divided over 4 days of 6 hours each was a highly enriching experience, not only in terms of the various moods I could capture, but also how I changed along with it.
What is a market but its people? And people it was, who stayed with me long after the exercise was over. What made parvathamma so open to a camera and a stranger in her house? How do you validate attraction to a stranger? Is flirting only a business tactic?
I realized how the ‘business ethic’ of a place validates anything. Be it free sex talk about Indian porn by a male shopkeeper to a stranger female, or the unapologetic demand for a phone number, the fact that I was buying and someone was selling seemed to dilute the boundaries of what would be ‘unethical/immoral’ to talk about outside the frame work of sale.
I observed that the market had its unique corners where one could settle down unobserved. How it sustained the homeless and the senile, was another one of its many sheltering traits.
Who is KR Market? I have come to believe that it is a person. It is its own individual in a sense. It is self-sustained silent monster of a person. Its beauty ebbs and rises at different points in a single day. There are hundreds of people, animals and objects streaming in and out, but I still believe it is silent. I have somehow found peace in its outwardly bustling self. Maybe it is the nature of the people I have encountered there, but the culture of warmth has won my heart over my skeptical mind.