k i s k a J i s m / w h o s e b o d y?

H o p s k i p j u m p f l u t t e r| Jihaad
August 9, 2007, 10:52 am
Filed under: Abominable eagle, identity, jihaad, Muslim, Screen Sifar, Woman


Sometimes you learn to ignore the winds and just fly. But that, right now is rare.

Here I am. Labbaik.

In order to know the strands of your own oppression you need to delve into your identity. Labbaik. Here I am.

So, when you know how to fly you begin to think ‘really, but this was so obvious’. And you wonder what you left behind, the animagi you create, because this indeed is a place that you can look back from. But today, I just wonder. I don’t look back.

I shrug it off. And then I have to go because that is the way that things are. They must be. Inexorably.


You survive. In some ways because you connected to an underbelly of pain far darker than yours.

Because you sat up, and left. Because you asked, “But how can I live like this?”And you met people who showed you the way.

Because you want to clean up the mess, and confront some of your own ilk. The duck of urgency, the crow of ownership, the peacock of wanting to be famous and the rooster of lust. Because you know that the war is within and you must from within. That is Jihaad. Cleaning up your own house. Your self, body, space, family, community, nation, world…

Being abominable is about resisting: against consumption, and being consumed…

Against giving in,

Against letting go,

Against losing out,

Against giving way,

Against being like everyone else,

Against everyone’s lust…Against your own lust.

It’s about speaking truth to power.

So the eagle didn’t believe completely what had happened. There were modes of reality that still made everything in the Giant’s Causeway seem unrealistically absolute. This was where there was a leeway because in flight you transcend the trajectories that conventional movement bears upon you.

Circling the suspiciously geometric terrain, she sees boulders of absolute blackness, and white shards of wave crests as they burst foam on them. Washed and blanched by the torrent, the boulders bear the weight of time, as it erodes each of our memories. You, dear turtle, you dear fish, and you, dear camel.

Gasp. I need some air.

“And strive hard in God’s cause as you ought to”

And we ought to, because justice is the larger story. And we ask for a hearing.

SCREEN SIFAR, kahan ho?Where ART thou?



 I’ve been wearing the hijaab at various spaces gatherings here, in Gujarat. My reasons for continuing to wear it are many. But here are some observations. This uncut material will serve as raw material for performances.  Most of these were interventions in specific places and spaces with a specific intent. But not all were intended performances. Sometimes I walk into a space like everyone else, intending to do what everyone else does, but once I do, my Muslim identity becomes bearing on me, when I notice how people around react. I then realize I’m being cast in performance mode.It isn’t always the gentlest experience of your life, not in this State, in this time. 

TL1:: Name: Screen Sifar Label made obvious: M U S L I MPLACEs : Academia/Cultural Events/Art Spaces/Restaurants/Train Stations…  

Lecture on Democracy , Forum For Contemporary Theory, Vadodara. I ask a question quite audibly.Distinguished Muslim academic: I can’t hear what you said because I can’t see you.

At a meeting with the director of a Company,Alkapuri ,Vadodara. I’m here for a job that requires me to create colours and textures for designer spectacle frames.Company Director: This job requires an analysis and awareness of contemporary fashion.I tell him of an Indian Designer I like.Him: No, I mean Western Fashion.Me: I don’t think I’m inequipped to think about contemporary fashion, if the job requires it.
At a Kathak festival, Abhivyakti Kala Kendra, Vadodara. The two day festival was an education for me. I took back a lot, but there are some problems I have with the cultural mileu here.Dance is very traditional here. It’s not liberatingly spiritual, but based on stagnant themes.Wearing the hijaab at the performances meant coming across as Muslim. I was given a lot of hostility in this ‘mainstream’ cultural space.

In Kathak, the gharana that is practiced in
Gujarat and Rajasthan is the Jaipuri gharana, known for its complexity in rhythm and technical grandeur. The Awadhi gharana, coming from Awadh in UP and having Muslim origins (It was patronized by Nawab Wajad Ali Shah), is known for its delicacy and subtle nuances. One dancer while dancing stated “people think that the Jaipuri style is only about vigorous dancing, today you can see how much delicacy is in it.”After making my presence felt there for the two days, I felt the subtlest change of attitude.The announcer, towards the end said something about the contribution of Nawab Wajad Ali Shah in the growth of Kathak. I know that it could be said that I’m imagining these things, but I’m not. You know when you’re given hostility for no reason but because, in the mind of the onlooker there is a prejudice. And these things aren’t always subtly articulated. You know when someone’s dancing out of abandon and freedom or someone’s dancing because they want to prove their cultural might. You know when you’re presence is not tolerated or appreciated, although you’ve every right to be here, just as everyone else. You know when you fall way out of someone’s frame of tolerance. You know when you’ve done nothing to deserve the contempt that you get; you’re getting it because it’s the one weapon that they have against you. That which they target becomes your strength. You want to pity them. Because they really can’t help it. You want to feel sorry for them and walk away. But you can’t always do that, because you both live in the same sorry world. What do you do? You want to address your rage.
Anhad’s 60th annual Vasant and Rajab celebration, Remagining the City, Reimagining the Nation,CC Mehta Hall, Vadodara. Lunch Break. A photographer takes a picture of me, I smile. I can see the banal point of his gaze. A woman in a head-scarf anywhere…He then goes on a rampage, following me from various angles, and into the auditorium. After I’m seated, he poises himself at the corner of the aisle, points his camera at me, in full view of the speakers on the dias. I promptly cover my face with my hand. He doesn’t move. A minute passed. He does’nt relent. Finally, he shoots several shots, me, cringing, uncomfortably.I felt like covering my face after that.And I did.Someone sensitive on the dias commented on what he did.After this, all the times when someone’s pointed a camera at me, I’ve either avoided them or pointed mine back at them.
I may be occupying what you think is a sterotype, but it’s my stereotype. I will not let you configure or image it for me. Wearing the hijaab for me is ironically about both being covered and being visible. Unless I can help it, like in the case of a stated performance, I would rather not be photographed. Wearing hijaab in today’s context sadly becomes performance because you’re so visible in it. You’re straitjacketed even before you can/could do anything. I try not to let people’s perceptions affect me.It’s hard.Sometimes you’re not so successful.There is very little mindscape that sees you as free. You can act but can you dance? What sort of dance can do you do, all covered?
Seminar( Art History Department,MSU, Discourses and Practices Of the MINOR) I enter. This is a discussion on Dalits. The men on the dias discuss visibility, in the context of disprevileged or victimized groups such as Dalits. About what visiblity grants and what it takes away. How it politicizes and how it brackets. Some groups might not want to be visible.I somehow feel like I’ve been addressed.I begin to write. The men on the dias looking at me notice, that I have a voice. I write:
I have to see myself through your lust.I’m a part of your world.Is this not even my world?
Kanoria Center For Arts, Ahmedabad. Tightened brows.Thick atmosphere.Boys in your sphere of vision react very boyish.
Someone tries to photograph me. I cleverly avoid it. Watchman asks me to sign on a log-book as I enter. I ask him if he asks everyone else. He says, “Yes, all outsiders”. He was more particular about me signing it than the girl who was with me and was not wearing a head-scarf. Short haired pretty girl opposite stares at me. I’m uncomfortable here, because the atmosphere is so sexually open. Everyone tries to catch everyone’s eye.But I relax or atleast try hard to. I fold up my legs. It’s not in the protocol here. The girl watching me intently is moved that I can move in my ‘straitjacket’. It’s not a straitjacket until you think it is.

At an event called ‘Ek aur Level Chalte Chalte’ which brought together theatre and art that looks at community issues working in collaboration with Communities. In it I saw a play about sex-workers and their lives. After the event, I tried talking to a sex-worker called Shabana(name imprecise).She didn’t respond. She spat on the floor.

At a seminar on Women and Muslim Law.

A Maulana(Muslim Priest) is at the Dias. The front Row chairs are empty. I’m at the row on the side with most of the women. I move to the front, directly facing him. I can sense disapproval from everyone on the dias including the women.A man on the dias ducks behind his lab-top to avoid looking at me. My gaze is lowered and I try listening but the tension is evident. By sitting facing him I’m asking for him to look at me. Every time I try looking up I get an objectifying stare. I breathe.My composure is firm. I wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t. This is a seminar about women. It’s about time you faced us, looked at us in the eye, spoke to us as equals.

He doesn’t make much sense to me in what he’s saying. It’s nothing new obviously. This becomes an act of performance in a seminar when I’m here to listen, because somehow, YOUR being here is just an act of performance. Why else is anything you’re saying not looking me in the eye? This is an act of performance. I hope our exchange begins from here.Sadly, I have always been performing for you. And you, for me.There has been no real exchange or dialogue between us.
In our world, morality is always a woman’s domain to safeguard. If I sit facing you, according to you it’s my lack of principle. Could it be that I hope you will address ME, finally? I’m doing this because until now, you haven’t, because somehow half of the Muslim population is an obscure and fuzzy domain for you. Because my issues are not serious enough. Because there are grave dangers in entering my domain. Because YOUR morality is too sacred for me to defile by coming in your presence.
This is a seminar on us women. It’s my space. Give me the respect I deserve. I bring myself to raise my gaze now and then, but it’s a waste to catch your eye because you’re not saying anything that’s relevant to me, only remotely. You’re not saying anything that I haven’t read in the countless endlessly reproduced and reinforced archaic readings of a stagnant faith. We’re both frozen in time, because of our readings of each other.
We have got to confront each other now. We cannot look away.
The gap between us is too wide.
He quotes an incident from the prophet Yusuf’s life about how he had been gifted a daughter who he was compelled to bury alive although he felt love for her, to illustrate how backward the times were before the advent of Islam. I’m touched. The incident reminds me of my own father. However, when I avert my gaze he objectifies me even more, and again. I’m too angry to look him in the eye. I’m too angry to let him go scot free. I want to nail him. Hold him up for his unpardonable ignorance. It’s a strange predicament. Because somehow, contrary to all his paradigms, outside the purview of his law, women wild, free, whatever, exist.
I get the same treatment from a lot of Muslim men that I get from every other man. So much for our faith’s sound morals. What can you do, it’s your training as men that precedes religion and humanity. I get the same treatment from women. What can they do? They give what they get. The next presentation is by Shah Rukh Alam, a woman lawyer working in Liberation Theology. She speaks on women, privilege, space, territory and resources, among other things. There’s a stark difference between the two talks. And it isn’t just because ShahRukh is a woman. All the maulanas left the seminar after that session.

“To every person who taught me to swim…”.An eagle speaks.
February 27, 2007, 9:30 pm
Filed under: Abominable eagle, Screen Sifar, Uncategorized


‘Rivers, moors, seas are soft, even if also

imponderably deep. One’s own movement

in these regions needs to be practiced –

and must become, where the pebbles stop,

a skilful swimming. If we give others the

power over our own movements in life and

language – and both have been dovetailed

to belong together – we are endangered in

our deepest ground. We can only founder

and perish.’ source

And who is the bearer of this voice I found?

 I feel like it came from somewhere before and beyond, you, eagle, camel, hoopoe, you dear fish , you, dear turtle…

Evening morning night sky dawn, as fires burn and people perish theres an energy that comes from somewhere in the center of the horizon where earth ,water and sky meet.

It touches and fills me and I drink.And I cry out and stretch, release my pain, circumvent my angst, surrender the future and yawn out the past.

I stretch, I shrug.I prepare to take off.

I’ll live.

Drawing by Mayur, Department Of Sculpture,Faculty Of Fine Art, Baroda.

*continuing ‘The Eagle story’.

Post-Script: What I was wearing.
February 25, 2007, 10:11 am
Filed under: Behaviour, clothing, Context, modesty, Screen Sifar

On the eve of the incident which I cite as harassment, I was wearing a loose cut skirt, a full sleeved top and a head scarf which clearly makes me out as Muslim.

a. I must have looked nice. I must have come across as feminine. I must have existed. I must have flown across his imagination.But that is no reason to mark someone out for sexual consumption.

b. Wearing a head-Scarf makes you a target for all kinds of sexual violence.

In the city I live in, Vadodara, Gujarat, I find that Muslim women are meted out a treatment that subordinates us to a status lower than other (Hindu, Dalit or Christian , not to simplify any of the categories) women. Because coming across as a Muslim you are seen as oppressed, economically backward, uneducated and an easy prey for harassment. We are discriminated against everywhere.

The history of treatment of Muslim women in Gujarat after the 2002 state led ‘riot’ goes to say that we are not looked at as human beings, leave alone citizens.

During the genocide Muslim women’s bodies bore the brunt of untold, heinous crimes. Muslim women have been the prey of grave misconceptions, and of agonizingly bloated and damaging perceptions of disempowerment and lack of agency (it has to be said: How can Musim women here be anything but disempowered because of the way in which they’ve been constantly targetted?).

Anything you do as Muslim and woman becomes magnified several times in the eyes of an onlooker.

If mainstream non-domestic or public space in Gujarat is hostile to women, and it is so because of extreme conservative and masculinist religious attitudes, for Muslim women it is doubly so.

None of this, however gives me reason to take off my head-scarf.I dont think the anwers are within or without clothing. I don’t veil for other people but because I feel like. And I will veil for as long as and in as many ways and anywhere and in front of whoever I feel the need to.

Like everyone else I excercise the right to be who and what I want .

Another chapter to the harrowing Blank Noise experience. Under the Label ‘w o m a n’.
February 22, 2007, 1:55 pm
Filed under: Screen Sifar

I went to a park. A park is a private/public space. I’ve had enough. I don’t want to speak about violatory experiences. I didn’t ask for it. I don’t like being stared at. Where do I go to clean myself? I feel like I’ve been raped a thousand times already.

Stand your ground.Stand your ground. Feels like you are not of this earth if you stand your ground.

It feels like there’s no respite.

10 minutes on a park bench. Me and my space and my world. Along comes a man. Brandishing his masculinity. Sits on the next bench. I get a dirty grimy sexual air. I hate that feeling. I never want it again. Makes me feel like giving it back. That’s what I hate about it. That it makes me one of them. Not the person I am.I hold my ground. Soon another man joins him. It was the watch-man of the park. What business has a lone young woman got sitting here? She’s asking, definitely. Two to one. I try. Exerting resistance. Doesn’t work. I feel like my body’s a bundle of frustrated pain.Disturbance.Jasmeen said it. “Blank Noise”. I feel helpless. Screech Screech. Your body’s a battle-ground.

I get up and go. I can feel their triumph.

A French guy I made friends with in Diu with had to be told again and again, “No!” He just wouldn’t get it. I was asking for it from both sides. From him by thinking and believing and pushing him to think that a platonic friendship is possible.Battling him, “No!”. And the people around, “Yes, we’re together. We’re friends”.

Sorry my friend, I may be your friend but I had to say this.

My Arabic teacher’s treatment of me is harassment. So what if I’m a lone woman living away from home. I’m not available. I am your student. And I maybe your student but I will not take this. I didn’t need to go through this. I was asking to be taught. And you’re wise enough to imagine what I may be going through. And strong enough to hold yourself. But I don’t respect you enough to keep this within me. You asked for it. I’m as helpless as you.

When you get it from one man and another and then ten men in a row, then you begin to be like them.

I’m sorry but I’m as helpless as you. You asked for it. You’re my teacher.

I walk around.400 women were raped here 5 years ago. Brutally .Some were burnt in heaps right after. The same anger. I dwell on it. Hatred fuelled by lust. Rape, kill, or vice versa. Some of the rapes were shot on camera and shown in shakhas. The ultimate in all violence. I wonder what the lives of the surviving women feel like. More rage than compassion. I want to give it back.

I can’t appreciate the flowers. Although I look at them.

Alone in a cave in Diu. A man walks in, and looks at me, thinks for a while. Then goes and jerks off a distance away. Doesn’t really bother to hide himself. Comes back to look at me once more. I ask him what his problem is. “I have no problem” he says. He’s actually angry. It’s not like I wasn’t warned about going alone. But if some wasted creep chooses to **************then it’s not my problem. Or fault.Sorry about my language but, he asked for it.

Violence breeds violence. Try coming any closer.Any woman who chooses to come out in a public place confronts male desire.And has to deal with it. Try coming any closer.

I walk around. A couple.Upper Middle Class Gujratis. Sitting close together. The man undresses me with his eyes. And I’m wearing flattering clothes. What I think are nice clothes for me because I usually don’t dress like this. They’re the sort of clothes you’d wear to a park though. But I don’t want to be seen like this. I don’t even want to be seen. I could feel his eyes on my breasts. I’ve been violated for the thousandth time and like never before. Down to my bones.But these are just words. I was thinking about how it felt to have the eyes of someone on me. Now I’m immune to the feeling. Thanks to some…..

Come, be a part of my harrowing experience.

To be empowered means this. Today I pushed myself over the edge. I come back with another one on my check-list of worst experiences.

I remember how the cactus looked against the lamp in the park though.

I travel alone all the time. The latest of pain tales is a bus journey to Diu, where I got violence from bus driver to conductor to co-passengers. The whole night I felt like the men around me were going to do something to me. No, a lone woman does not have the right to bus it to an island.’
Kisi ko saat leke jaane ka!’
When was the last time you frustrated creeps did something for adventure? Other than harass some poor unsuspecting woman who has to bear the brunt of your wasted masculinity. You’re not men.You’re not even human.

This is my experience, like that of a rape victim, only I have claim over it. Take that world; I’m spitting it back at you. Aagh Thoo. So much more mature .Agh thoo Child no more, Aagh thoo.

So, how will I begin to heal? I want to take a sword and cut them all to pieces. I feel like it.

I will not scream. I will shout. I will roar. I’m going hunting. I’m a hunter.I continue my walk, and don’t avoid where these asses are sitting. I get the same shitty feeling around them. This time I stare back,I can see the lust in their eyes. “Kya dekh rahe ho?” .They mumble something, angrily. They’re actually angry, “tumhe kya lagta hai , tumhe dekh rahein hai?” says the watchman. I address the younger fool. “Zyaada baat mat karo, Tab se dekh rahi hun tum ghoor rahe ho” They mumble something more. I walk away angrily. I don’t like sticking around where they can look at me.

Next time I’m going to stand my ground. No *********** is going to get the better of me.They’re asking for it. I’m going where and when I feel like. Sorry but you who think yourselves to be men will just have to behave. I promise I will.

I don’t want anymore of this.

No more B L A N K N O I S E in my head.


Written also for the BLANKNOISE BLOGATHON 2007, but was unreported on the community blog.

Charkha,Chadar aur Screen Sifar…
February 21, 2007, 1:14 pm
Filed under: clothing, Kabir, Screen Sifar