This Monday I said two conflicting things within the space of an evening.
“This is my favorite stage to perform.”
Two hours later I thought,
“I’m not coming back here again.”
Let me tell you a thing or two about performing, about writing, about women’s voices and about men, men, men. The silencing, the hatred, the chauvinism, it’s relentless. It’s pretentious non-talents (usually male, small town North Indian origin) parading ada and fake Urdu to present stale ideas. It’s uber urban metrosexual men getting intoxicated and turning everything into jokes that are not really funny. It’s the in-betweens eating Instagrammable food and hoping you’ll swipe right on Tinder. But this is nothing new. It’s the story of every patriarchal, toxic masculine space.
But it’s also the sniping. It’s old boys’ clubs jeering every woman performer. It’s leching that happens in words and laughter rather than eyes so it’s harder to call it out. It’s passive-aggressive bullying of the “Settle down, honey. There, there, she got upset. Now silence, boys, give her a hanky. Look, you’re so pretty when you smile.” variety.
Then it’s the wheedling by ‘Nice Guys’ to speak softer, be gentler, talk about men’s good points.
This Monday was simply the last straw on my back. I decided to let them keep their male voices, talking to a male audience about how women are pretty/horrible creatures. This Monday, I decided not to go back and to hell with a world ruled by monsters called men.
Raju recommended Sonya Renee Taylor’s ‘The Body Is Not An Apology‘ at an Alphabet Sambar meet last month.
This is why writers should first and foremost be readers. And speakers should be better listeners. I found Sonya’s powerful voice and gestures moving me as much as her words. Today, I listened to her deliver ‘When The Shotgun Questions The Black Boy‘. Now this is a tricky one. While it’s politically correct to talk about #BlackLivesMatter, really what’s it like to be Indian on this? We face internalised racism within our country itself, not to mention what it’s like to be brown in multicoloured spaces. My ex bullied me and demeaned my intelligence frequently for not acting or thinking like a black person (the race issue was just another weapon to power his misogyny). But this poem, today, made me want to cry. It reached beyond what he said, what anyone else demanded I think or feel. It moved me beyond who I thought I was.
This is the power of good poetry and a good performer. It can change perspectives. It can make a person reach beyond their life and feel empathy, inspiration, anger, whatever the speaker wants them to feel. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that. But it’s sobering to know that as a performer, I share a space with people who change lives. I cannot let my individual annoyances take me away. As one of the few women performers in the city, I owe the stage at least that much. Artists and writers are responsible for moving thought forward for a civilisation. The world needs more women’s voices. I may not be the best but I’m part of the little that my city has. And I’m not going to let them down.