[Reader-list] July Research Posting - The Everyday

Zainab Bawa coolzanny at hotmail.com
Thu Jul 22 12:55:04 IST 2004

The Everyday

Movement, stories, sights and scenes
People – ordinary, unheard, unseen.

Life goes on, but who notices?
Life paints pictures, mundane and artistic!

Autumn, summer, winter and spring
Seasons don’t any more surprises bring. (But that is what we have come to 
think – self-fulfilling prophecy!)

Sameness – dull, boring, routine, monotonous and mundane
Diversity – relationships, stories, people and arcane.

Blinkers on the eyes and everywhere yet, the world is perceived
Stories are born – orphan and stillbirth babies – stories no one cares to 

Orphan stories, legitimate and illegitimate stories, born everyday, but 
largely go unnoticed like Nobody’s Child. Everyday contains people and 
people contain The Everyday yet, we believe that both are separate, 
disparate and disconnected.

Six months of the independent research fellowship period have revealed the 
importance of The Everyday to me, that Everyday whose diversity is blind to 
all those who wear the glasses of the presumed mundane. It is The Everyday 
which contains the ordinary and the extraordinary, the highs and the lows 
the joys and sorrows, the rumours and the news, the dynamic and the static, 
the revolutions, the change and the status quo. The Everyday is like a Web, 
made up of connected lives, people, activities, sites, structures, and 
objects, all of which interact every moment of the Everyday to create new 
relationships and patterns. And it is this impact which spins the world 
around, creates revolutions and new Everydays.

A few days ago, Master, who is giving me driving lessons, and I had a chat 
between us. Here is how it went:

Master: I was in muluk (mulk in Urdu, meaning home place, usually where a 
person is born or where the roots and origins of the family lie) for five 
months. There was problem with my residence. School used to phone often to 
call me back, but I had told everyone at home that when school people call, 
tell them that he has just left home and we don’t know his whereabouts. He 
should be back within half an hour.
Me: Five months! (I exclaimed.) Did you have a paid leave?
Master: What paid leave? Others in the school go to muluk for two and a half 
months every year, but I go there only once in five years. Obviously then, I 
will be there for five months.
Me: So (posing a rhetorical question), what do you like more, this city or 
Master: What do you think a person likes more? (He said in a tone of 
authority, replying to a rhetorical question with rhetorical question.)
Me: Muluk (I said, knowing what answer he expected from me – self-fulfilling 
Master: Aadmi muluk se sheher kyon aata hai? (Why does a man leave his home 
place and come to a city?) Roti kamane ke liye hi nah? (Only to earn bread 
and butter nah?) Warna kyon aayega muluk chod kar ke? (Else why should he 
leave his home place?)

What struck me about this conversation is the notion and belief of several, 
like Master, that a city is after all only a place where livelihood can be 
earned; a city is not really a home place. And if this be the case, then I 
ask myself ‘What about the thousands of my generation and the next who were 
born and brought up purely in cities? Where is our muluk?’

Watching women on trains, chatting with commuters, observing the 
interactions and relationships between technology, movement, speed, time and 
people has revealed characteristics about the city and its people to me. The 
process has brought to light the importance of everyday objects and the 
politics of everyday. With computers and television taking up time and space 
in the individual’s life, the everyday life has not come to a standstill. It 
is undergoing transformations. Women discuss TV serials ardently in their 
train groups because they like to guess what may happen next in the serial . 
I wonder whether it is the TV serial creators who are impacting the minds of 
the women or whether it is the women who are impacting the minds and motives 
of serial makers. News that is often discussed in trains is that which is 
close to home and life and which impacts the individual most , indicating 
the value of local news and raising the question of what kind of global news 
impacts local peoples? Listening to everyday conversations gives me a better 
understanding of the city. I have now come to know that the shop in the 
second lane outside Kurla station is excellent and reputed for fried foods. 
I discover that now when I have to reach Khargar while traveling on Central 
Railway, all I need to do is to get off at Thane Station and take a direct 
bus which will drop me to Khargar instead of switching trains between 
Central and Harbour Line. Listening to everyday conversations has made me 
knowledgeable about the stereotypes which exist for Western and Central 
Railway commuters. Watching people now enables me to discern the difference 
between a Western Railway and a Central Railway commuter because now I know 
that they ‘simply look DIFFERENT’. Yet, there are similarities which I am 
still gathering. I am now able to read the city carefully and simultaneously 
broaden and narrow the cognitive map that is set in my mind. I now know of 
the Many ‘Others’ who this city and its people dislike and hate and what 
kinds of dislikes and hatreds these are.

Local trains are an important meeting place for people in Mumbai, but it is 
not that everyone makes an effort to meet with humanity on the trains 
everyday. Some women never become part of train groups either because they 
don’t have a fixed time for work and therefore no fixed train, or simply 
because they prefer to journey alone. Women who do not want to interact with 
people during their journey create their own personal space bubble either by 
listening to the radio, talking on the cell phone, reading a book, snoozing 
or simply wearing a look on the face which says, ‘leave me alone, I am not 
interested’. Those in train groups laugh, chatter, doze off, read a 
newspaper, sing, share information, eat or hold hands with their maitreens 
(female friends) and make intimate conversations or play games (personal, 
political and musical). Train groups then become an important and valuable 
part of women’s lives. Perhaps the only friends that some women have are 
their co-commuters . The ladies compartment is valuable because it provides 
a private space for women to be themselves , to sing, to talk, to express 
their aspirations and desires through their gazes and narrow eye-glances and 
to express their frustration and anger through mild outbursts, tremors and 
angry volcanoes with solid lava. But what happens when the journey is over 
and women get off from the train and step on to the platform, rubbing 
shoulders with the very men with whom their share their lives, identity, 
work, home, relationships, personal space and public space?

To answer this question requires getting deeper into the lives and minds of 
The Everyday People and understanding their perceptions, notions and 
concepts of life, politics, religion, region and relationships. It is 
critical to observe and understand everyday encounters and see what 
encounters are missed (deliberately and incidentally/accidentally) and 
therefore what opportunities have gone by. It is vital to look at the 
everyday relationships that exist between people and structures in order to 
gather lived experiences of authority, hierarchy, democracy, autocracy and 
aristocracy. This in turn may provide cues to people’s fears, worldviews, 
their aspirations and power equations.

Physical public spaces are shrinking, undoubtedly, but new ones are emerging 
as well – in cyberspace and new forms of public spaces inside of private 
spaces. Meeting spaces are also being generated constantly – in art, in 
technology, in music, in language, but whether these contribute to the real 
meetings of real peoples is still unknown to me. Relationships between 
people are undergoing changes. And with the ladies compartment in the local 
trains and the Ladies Special train, women are coming out of their homes, 
stepping into the economy and in the public. They have still to carve a 
niche, and some have begun by exploring themselves during the time and space 
provided in the local trains. Whether capital and commerce are sabotaging 
this time and space or boosting it, I am not sure at this point. I have only 
begun scaling the iceberg and have not even reached its tip. But what the 
ladies compartment has definitely done is to help women tackle their 
financial fears and insecurities. It has helped women to dream of jobs – but 
mainly jobs and not really careers. While women are earning, I don’t know 
whether they are truly controlling and directing their finances. And if this 
authority is not in their hands, then the ladies compartment has helped 
women to find an alternative to their fears, but has still left them without 
control. The ladies compartment enables women to move around the city, yet 
most women travel largely from home to work and back, leaving the city 
devoid of its breed of explorers. Perhaps all that most women really know is 
the time of their train .

A form of life exists in the dark tunnels through which the trains chug and 
a certain worldview is created. Issues of security arise . Moving on the 
roads has its own share of benefits, one of them being watching the world 
with the sky on top of your head and the comfort experienced by virtue of 
being in broader public gaze. Women claim that traveling in local trains 
makes them broadminded  and perhaps this experience in itself is empowering. 
What such more empowering experiences and opportunities exist or can be 
created? Has the ladies compartment enabled women to face men and deal with 
them better? Or has it deepened the existing gender divide?

I am still scaling the iceberg, that iceberg which is composed of the lives 
and stories of The Everyday People who make up this world. As I write this 
and understand the overall value of local trains (and of localness), two 
pieces of information concern me: one, introduction of 500 home guards on 
the platforms and in the ladies coaches to protect women from teasing and 
harassment, and two, introduction of qawalli groups in the general 
compartment so that qwallis and bhajans can both be sung on the trains which 
in turn will lead to national integration. I am wondering whether we are 
being too lenient by allowing the state and institutions to enter our local 
trains and sabotage our public space? Rules on the trains have been made by 
the very commuters who have been traveling and using the train space. These 
rules have evolved over a period of time – they were tried, tested, 
modified, re-modified, and are still evolving as people are applying them to 
use and interact in the train space. No government issued an ordinance 
stating that there should be a system of fourth seat in the second class 
compartments and no such system in the first class compartment. This then 
raises the question of public spaces which are being encroached upon by 
institutions of control. Is control always necessary? Does control 
dis-empower the local? Does the local value its own localness and explore 
the resources, opportunities and potential that exist within its realm? What 
forms of resistances can we subversively use to deal with control?

This is the last of my postings on this list in terms of the fellowship, but 
the process and the journeys will continue. I started this study with 
several notions in my head, one of them being that there is a problem in 
city life with the burgeoning crowds and the shrinking physical spaces. I am 
now clear that more than the problem, there exist opportunities and spaces 
and this has been the greatest reward of the research process. Observation 
is an important faculty. Look at what is close at hand; far-sightedness 
(Think Global Act Local) is a delusion. This period has revealed strongly to 
me that what we need are Everyday Heroes who will challenge the status quo 
(either directly or subversively) and bring about changes. Both men and 
women need to be these Everyday Heroes, you and I …

On the move, in search,
Zainab A. Bawa

Arrange your love marriage. http://www.shaadi.com/ptnr.php?ptnr=hmltag On 
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