Finally my first posted blog...! Tia and I caught a local bus carting one bag of cloth and rags and another full of stick figures with newspaper heads, all poking out; the ingredients for a puppet making session with a group of women who are burn victims.
Waiting for the bus a few Indians looked, raised eyebrows, some had to ask. They carry all sorts of weird things but this was out of the menagerie of norms.
We are working with the women in a place they come for healing. These burns cover hands, throat and for some, also parts of their faces. Many areas you can see are red, blistered and raw. The women have therapies of various kinds, operations, physio and eat well. They can live there and escape the situation they were in which drove them to the deadly impulse of grabbing the kerosene. The therapists here say that when they actually do it, it is often without thinking. The kerosene is there and they act.
Yes, unbelievable as it sounds apparently many if not most of the wounds are self-inflicted; these women are under such pressure and suffering abuse that they are not able to see any other option. Sometimes it’s the husband abusing them, the mother-in-law, siblings or other family members. They are from suffer domestic violence. The women turn their frustrations on themselves rather than acting them out, and subsequently the are often seen as "additional burdens" by theri families.
The women are so happy to see Tia and to have the session with us and are smiling and lovely. The scraps of cloth we have carted from Auroville is spilled out onto the floor and the puppet bodies distributed. Soon they working quickly, perhaps for the time forgetting the pain of their scared hands. They seem to move without hesitation from cutting to sewing, for the most quietly, absorbed in the process. The next step is drawing their puppets and writing a story about them in their journals.
One woman, new to the center, still very raw literally and emotionally from the experience; more quietly intense than the others, fashioned an asymmetrical scarecrow. Her story told of how the Scarecrow had been made to live in the fields and also on buildings to keep away the evil eye and how once the field is harvested and the building is built, the Scarecrow is discarded. This woman had the long fine fingers of a pianist or aesthete. Tia said you never know what caste or status these women have/had outside of the center; that they could come from any kind of background.
Tia’s warmth and big laugh goes a long way to making them feel safe. The session means a lot; it touches them. One woman who was being discharged said she would be back for the next session even though she didn’t live anywhere close.
Writing now I wonder what stories are being told on TV to show the options there are for women in these circumstances? TV has invaded many places here now. When I was in Pondi with Martina and we looked over the balcony of her guest house to the sea, she said the huts down below with thatched roofs all had TV. Riding through the coconut palms you can see the occasional cement house replete with a satellite dish. The shifts that the new media is bringing – the phones, TV, internet – are for the most, covert but massive. Being born in the year colour TV came to Australia I know how seductive TV can be on its own, remembering my own excitement when it hit our neighbourhood. Here it’s not only TV, but internet and mobile phone; a veritable tsunami of media bringing with all the dross and manufactured desire of western capitalism as well as the progressive tensions that tug at old attitudes.
You can see western dress shops appearing here, featuring overpriced predictable jeans and plain, checked or stripped tops, and T shirts, chosen to show the wearer is modern. Buy these they seemed to be saying and align with the freedom and progress that the west, for many Indians, symbolizes. We pass one large store called “Freedom Fighter”.
The names and descriptions the women had for their puppets reflected that attitude too. All of them besides the scarecrow were human female and many were described as modern. One lovely woman named hers Jennifer and told a story of how Jennifer was a modern girl and had won a beauty contest but that she used all the money she received on books! Happy to hear that twist in the story!
I am amazed at their grace, humour and courage. Making the puppets, writing and sharing the story seems very effective. They now have a record of these moments in the center, away from tormenters and criticism, when they get to say what they feel through the puppets and their story; by sharing and “telling it slant” *.
*Borrowing from Emily Dickinson.
“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--
Success in Cirrcuit lies...