Newsletter Sep 2011 - Apr 2012

This year when we read about the theme of the Nigah QueerFest (NQF), we all got excited because it was about ‘body politics’….a topic that is both close to our body as well as politics (!); however the body part of it is still not much talked and even when we do talk…it’s rarely ever about what we like about our body….what we find pleasurable…what we love about ourselves…and what we show!

Rushing against time and deadlines and life in general, we managed to get together for an evening of collective image making that we could submit as part of the photo entry. What followed was a totally fun, faltu and lively evening that brought out the exhibitionist parts of personalities in all of us! But since its Saheli, we really could not dodge the ‘politics’ part much, something that many of us grumbled about. Read on to find out what some of us felt…hey, we feminists feel too!

VANI: It’s been a long time coming. Us, Sahelis, taking the political to the personal on matters of the body. Oh yes, collectively and individually, we’ve been active on issues of sexuality, taken stands on moral policing and censorship, discussed politics of desire (and even gender)... but always within the safe zones of discourse, action, strategy, rights... and even wrongs.

And the NQF, the idea to make a visual submission was just what we needed to do it, in a timely and sporting way... allowing our spontaneity to take us where it will. It was exciting to think of us, doing a workshop-y thingie (we weren’t quite sure what to call it) on our own relationships with our bodies. What we feel about it. Our own changing relationships with it - in parts and as a whole. What we like and don’t like. Why. What stories lay behind these feelings. What we think of as sensual. What we think of as public yet private. The ideas were many - varied and tentative - and the feelings many - anticipatory, smiling, uncertain, confused.

But in the midst of it all, we set a date and time. Called in a few friends we consider Sahelis (of course they will have to speak up if they think otherwise) and gathered over chai and an endless supply of snacks. For me, this was all very exciting at many levels. For one, weren’t discussing women’s bodies from the perspective of what happens to it/how it is seen in a patriarchal societies. While familial traumas and biases/perceptions our bodies was an inevitable part of our interactions/memories of growing up, we all, quite naturally, stayed away from discussing violence, harassment, rape, etc. as we are more typically wont to do.

Choosing instead to discuss, first parts of our own bodies we like to parts we hate to cover up, what we notice about ourselves in the mirror, what we notice of each other... from 14 to 64 years old women, we were getting to know ourselves, and each other, just a tad better. The other level at which this was exciting was the free flow of creative energy while designing/given pictures and words to the poster. For once, we weren’t doing a ‘campaign poster’. For once, it was a poster that wouldn’t have to say “no” to anything – a war, a violence, a terrible law or even a beauty contest! Because for once, this was a poster, an interaction, an evening, that said “yes” to us, to our bodies, our desires, our confusions, our celebrations.

ps: enjoyed the spirit of the NQF photo exhibition, which had many nice and several fantastic posters by many individuals. But have to say, loved seeing our ‘collective’ poster amid them!

ARTI: I loved everything about this meeting, everything we talked about, everything we did. We never think so deeply about these things when we are alone. So much discussion and I loved it. My favourite part: the picture of Savita, which Harshita had taken!

JAISHREE: When we are alone, we look at carefully at various parts of our bodies, but we don’t share this with anyone. At this meeting, the experience of talking about our bodies with women of all ages was new and we also lost our hesitation and discomfort about it! Of course, we only talk of ‘others’ bodies, usually.

HARSHITA YALAMARTY: “Is it ‘shareerik rajneeti’ or ‘jismani siyasat’?” But for the course, the Saheli bunch getting together to make a poster on body politics involved a long, long conversation on deciding what ‘body politics’ could mean for all of us, from indulging in food to sons and daughters and yoga. As we kept talking and throwing out ideas, Deepti’s camera got passed around with the simple instruction: “Take a picture of the most beautiful part of the other person.” That made for some really hilarious situations, like Jaishree trying to carry on talking even as I sat over her shoulder trying to zoom in on her nosepin. But then through the lens there was beauty to be found in every laughline, stories of character and courage in every scar, even the kinky appreciation of feet! The decisions and engagements with the insecurities involving our bodies, personal and social, and the pleasure and power of loving the mundane places of our glorious bodies, ultimately turned into the theme of the poster.

SATNAM: We talked about making a poster for the NQF. I wondered how would we make such a poster, what would it contain? So we did a workshop together. The best part was that it involved women of all ages. Normally, I am very hesitant to talk about my body, but that day, as others spoke, I also got the courage to do so. And as we did so, I realised what part of my body I like the most, myself. Even more important, I realised that we can talk about our bodies without shyness or discomfort. For we have nothing to hide!

DEEPTI: Since I am also part of organizing the NQF, the idea of doing a photo submission for the fest was super exciting...a coming together of sorts of my two worlds...if you know what I mean! The first connect happened under difficult circumstances of the Saheli fire – at that time many many Nigah people helped our tiny collective in ways that I hold very close to my heart… Anyhow! We used the NQF as an excuse to take off our clothes and admire and show off our boobs and bums and tummy and thighs and ended up with having a rip roaring time, getting to know each other’s fetishes a bit better and coming up with a poster that excited us so much that it almost worries me :)

Growing up, our bodies are the first place we learn about desire. We feel moments of wonder, attraction, self-acceptance and amazement by ourselves or with friends, lovers, families, or acquaintances. Yet, just as we find pleasure, we also find limits society places upon our bodies: how and who to desire, notions of what is beautiful and ugly, and how to see bodies – be it our own or those of others.

This paradox is in all of our stories as queer people. Some of us faced the stigma and embarrassment of having a period. Others struggle with the sense of misalignment between our bodies and our felt genders. Some of us are considered less ‘able’ than others, are only identified as infirm or sick, or ironically called “positive”. We have all felt unwanted, undesirable and unloved. Our desires have been deemed unnatural and abnormal, and used to ridicule, mock and subject us to violence.

Speaking out about the body has historically been a queer and feminist way of resisting this policing of desire. The Nigah QueerFest ’11 asks: How do we think about our bodies in relation to our genders or sexualities? How do we create and challenge ideals and norms around the body? Where do we house pleasure and pain in our bodies? What are the ways in which we can and have pooled together our bodies and used them to transform ourselves into a Body Politic, a political movement that is involved in creating social and cultural change.

- Theme of the Nigah QueerFest ’11 (