Mobility and Mohalla

Nian Paul, MPhil Scholar, JNU


We have entered a new phase in the collaborative initiative of Networks and Neighbourhoods. This new phase is called Mobile Mohalla which builds on the understanding of our last two phases focussing more on capturing the digital desires of the neighbourhoods. In the early weeks of January, a workshop spanning over two weeks was conducted with the local boys and girls as well as the Afghan young women and men residing in Khirki and Hauzrani. The aim of the workshop was to create multiple understanding of the neighbourhood public spaces captured through the imaginations of the young adults. The idea was to build on the creative energies of the young and nurture them in the process. They were divided into three groups and sent back to their own lanes and often used public spaces to build their work around the everyday life of the spaces: the streets, the parks, etc.

At the end of two weeks, the young men and women had produced images of their public spaces through varying dimensions and in various forms such as images, writings, drawings, videos, etc. It opened up alternate ways of mapping the public spaces of the neighbourhoods. To pick up one instance to understand the work would be hard injustice to all the young cadres of the project but two major things that struck me as a geographer in the project can be discussed here on this platform.

The first major challenge as a geographer since the beginning of the project was to break through the shackles of hegemonic boundaries and seek an understanding of a ‘field’ through constant engagement with the self and the space. In the little alternate mapping exercise that the Khirki Collective carried out in the process opened up new possibilities. It breaks down the grand narrative, and at times contests it, to smaller pieces of lived experiences. When the Collective worked towards it, they not only unravelled a different picture and intricacies of the everyday life of a street for instance, but also built themselves in the spaces too. An Afghan boy out on the streets that he visits often in his way to the school, stood there on teh street noting down the mundane activities, institutes a visibility of the ‘other’ body on the street that is beyond the commonsensical knowledge of the street. It can be seen through the number of encounters the boy had with the passersby who stopped to ask him inquisitively about his intentions on the street with a camera. This stands in contrast to the local boys who rather had a fun day on the streets and the parks capturing the people through their lenses and writings.

In a second instance, the images that sprung up during the end of the workshop exhibited a pattern of mobility of the Collective. The mobility was not only in terms of where and with whom they ventured into the public spaces, which is pertinent, but also about the writings and images that showed their mobility. The images in the case of Afghan men and women showed a strong sense of fixity in the images of the body of women crossing the street or the street itself which reflects the relationship of the Afghans with the neighbourhood public spaces. There is anonymity of the images with the space around, a juxtaposition of the Afghan self in relation to the space around. In the second group which was a mixture of both Afghans and local girls, there was a semi-fluidity where the place of visit (one of the favourite haunts of the Afghan women) showed a familiarity in the pictures, a strong engagement with the space and the people around. The picture depicting the ‘gym in the park’ for instance was full of activity where the space was extremely open and dialogic in the images captured. The third group was one which represented fluidity, a complete involvement with the spaces around them, taking lenience in capturing every bit of what they came across. There was an owning of the streets in the images, the familiarity associated with the belongingness to the spaces visited. This throws up larger questions of belongingness and familiarity of bodies in public spaces of the Mohalla.

Contrary to this, the writings of the groups spanned across the real and the imaginary in terms of its mobility. The writings had an imaginative mobility and depth that the pictures often could not reflect. Say during one of the encounters in public spaces, an imaginative journey of a house and a well got reflected in the writings of a young Afghani woman, and how she drew a reference to it with the wells of Afghanistan. There is an instant connect between the present and the past through the creative liberties in recording the encounters.

What emerges from the workshop is the importance of space and place influencing the activities of the individuals located in space. The young adults have a differing relationship with the space around, which is constructed through a socio-political and historical engagement. But there can be a transcendence beyond the existing real, to a creation and imaginative of a possibility through the images and texts opening up various geographies of possibilities.