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

conversations with Monica wahi

Here is a documentation of the process of interaction with Himmat’s intitiator, Monica Wahi, who is a Delhi based film-maker and entrepreneur.Monica Wahi, who worked with Anand Patwardan on many films came to Gujarat in 2002 as a volunteer and decided to stay on and help with creating disaster management systems in Ahmedabad.

She worked with riot affected communities in the relief camps of Ahmedabad, and also extensively with children who were affected by the carnage.After initiating Himmat, around January 2004, she has contributed immensely to the collective , from sourcing funding, resources and resource people to train the women with making garments.

The Himmat clothing, exhibitions and exhibition design all bear her mind and hand.She continues to participate and facilitate the group shuttling between Delhi and Ahmedabad.

This process also brings out the ways in which the idea has changed since it’s inception.

Saturday August 19, 2006


A brief overview of what I intend to do with the girls:

I want to generate stories, out of sharing and discussions from which I will extract performative situations that could prove decisive for a woman to build her identity.

Then, along with the girls, I want to execute these situations as performances (closed door, recorded on a camera) .The situations will depend on each girl I work with. In the whole process a piece of garment that will be related to the girl’s story will be designed and created along with her. This garment will be for her a keepsake of the process and a bearer of the experience.

The garment bears a label on it that represents the girl I work with, her identity and the story that we put together.

Out of each process there will be a few garment designs that could serve as prototypes for a clothes line carrying the project’s identity. These designs are then open to a mass production unit for taking further.

The campaign for marketing this clothes line could be worked out using the stories, video footage and photographs of the whole process.

(An example of a similiar brand would be Tantra T-shirts).

Please respond with what you think of the concept. It’s raw and could use critical questioning. I will clarify it further.

And the blog for this project is http://www.whosebody.wordpress.com/,

To see a brief description please go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/rahima/sets/72057594051222310/

September 19, 2006

Dear Rahima,

I am terribly Sorry I couldn’t reply to you earlier.

I really appreciate the effort you are making to include Himmat in your project. I think the project can be really fruitful for us too. But I still want you to look at the concerns that we discussed over the telephone. 

(a) Himmat is not a funded organization – The women are running the fabrication unit to sustain themselves and the centre. So if the women spend time with you on this project – you will need to compensate them for their lost earnings. 

(b) For the next 6 months the women will attend training for industrial machines (we are acquiring new industrial machines by next week). The women will do the training in rotation. 

(2 months in batches of 5). What does this mean for your project?

(c) Through Himmat you can work with 3 of the girls that Vasudha worked with. At least one of them Tahira is very keen to pursue painting. We can locate new girls for you, but they may not belong to the carnage affected group. The group that we located for Vasudha was the one that was rehabilitated from Naroda Patiya. Even for the girls – you will have to pay them a daily stipend.

As far as “designs” are concerned, Himmat will be open to using them, but since one year now we have been positioning ourselves as a fabrication unit – which can fulfill orders from outside. We decided not to concentrate on our own product. In any case when the designs are finally created we can see then if and how to market them.

To me the process is more valuable than the final output.

We would still love to go ahead with what you have in mind – but we need to know what kind of stipend the women or girls involved will receive and if you will be in and out like Vasudha you will probably require someone to co-ordinate the work here in Ahmedabad – so you should keep that in mind too. You will need to get back to us with a more concrete plan.

Sometimes we argue amongst the group – whether we should stick to our no-funding policy. We have come such a long way without having to depend on funds that we are now quite used to it. So, please understand it is only because we do not run like a funded NGO that we cannot ask you to come till you make the financial arrangements yourself.

if we had the money-we could invite young enthusiastic artists like you to work with the group.

looking forward to hearing from you,



September 16 2006

Dear Monica,

Thank you for responding.
My intentions in asking for collaboration with you were:

a.I wanted to work with a group that has had a history of violence, an experience that I’m not entirely      familiar with.

Also, this particular carnage has affected the way that I see myself in the socio-political scenario in this country.

I wish to work with affected people to address the ways in which healing can be possible, and ways in which to start the process of recovery.

This was one of intentions in coming here. And I think I better start on it soon.

b. Yours is a group that has worked on clothing, and this would not be an altogether unfamiliar project.

c. I wanted and still want to work with an already existing initiative, both to learn and to help sustain it in whatever way I can.

My process and work is in its infancy, but I’m in the middle of the grant allocation procedure at Drishti media Collective now.

For the part of my work that involves coming up with stories and performance ideas and scripts, I can work with a group other than Himmat. I have located some girls at a Chali in Behrampura.

With the girls at Himmat I would really like to do the making of clothes and production. Which is the final part of the work.

I’ve seen the Himmat products, and I think very highly of them. I want to come up with a clothes line in the end of the project. These garments carry fragments of the whole project process both in design and on their visuality.

Transcribing a process on to a utilitarian, tactile object such as a garment will be the aim of the work with Himmat.

I wish to use these objects/garments as story tellers or markers in my video work, which means they have some symbolic meaning.

And if we negotiate the outcome, Both the group and this work can benefit from it. 


So that’s where it stands.

Things will be clearer when the grant comes through. And I will be able to tell you when and how I’ll start. And how I can reimburse the girls for the time they spend with me.

Right now, I’m working in Baroda with students and friends on ‘Get-up’ which is the performance wing of this work. Once this process in under way I have an experience of eking out stories and putting them in coherent form with the performer/participant.

I see this part as leading up to the work I do with communities. I need to begin from the milieu that I suffer from first.

Please get back with questions. Writing it out makes it clearer for me as well.



Sunday September 17 2006

Dear Rahima,

a. We have never had qualms about the intentions behind your proposal. and we also appreciate the effort you will put into translating the political through clothes.

We also understand that the programme will be transformative in some sense not only for you but for the girls involved as well. The nature and extent of this transformation of the girls or “healing” as you call it, will depend on the process and not so much on the final outcome. So yes, we would like to hear more from you a little more in detail about the “process”.

b. We work on clothing – but as I mentioned in the last mail – Our fabrication orders are prioritised over our own product precisely because we want the group to sustain itself without being dependent on me or Zaid or anyone else. We usually produce “Himmat” clothes specifically for exhibitions during lean periods. But seeing your initiative as a “special” exhibition – we will be open to it. But the project should address the time, resource needs. Which means we would like to know from you exactly – what period of time are we talking about? In this period how many women are expected to put in how many days of work? And how will they be compensated? Please understand Himmat is not a funded organisation – so cost of material, labour and anything else will have to come out of your project. If this involves women – they would be expect not less than Rs.100 for a day’s work. If it is the young girls then Rs.50 per day will do. (But please keep in mind that the young girls know how to embroider but not how to stitch)

c. I would not look at your initiative as a way to “sustain” the group. I think your discipline has a space in living struggles such as ours but as a reflective and cathartic exercise – even as a political exercise by taking it to a public space. And we respect and support this interweaving of energies and spaces. We could use the final outcome of your exercise as design prototypes and then again we may not. But we are more interested in the “process” and what it brings to the girls involved. I also feel you should not concentrate on a “clothing line” because that may at some stage it may clash with them being “story tellers”. We would rather that the pieces created are “story tellers” than part of a “clothes line”. The story tellers can also be marketed but that conversation can happen later and should not come in the way of this one.

d. An exhibition yes, where our girls have shared and learnt from you and through this process created pieces which when exhibited can initiate discussions on violence, displacement etc 

It’s good to know that you are following up with Drishti. They would at some stage (if they havnt already) like to know the same that we are asking of you:

1. What is the process and what will the girls involved gain from it?

2. What is the time frame and how many days a month will the girls work on this programme?

3. What will their compensation be?

4. If the women will stitch the garments what will their per day compensation be?

5. Is this a “community” exercise? If so, how? We do not have issues if it isn’t. It’s enough for us that our girls learn and grow through the process. But if you are seeing it as community intervention – we would like to know how?

I hope Rahima, we can start the process together as and when you are ready with your ‘plan’.



%d bloggers like this: