By Shambhavi Sharma
The members of Gender Studies Group celebrated International Women’s Day this year by performing a series of dramatic sketches revolving around the role played by gender in structuring the society we live in and the effects of these structures in our most personal spaces. Each one of the sketches was a reflection of how our identity has been shaped by the forces that surround us and they raised concerns about the naturalness of institutions that we have come to adopt and been trapped in ever since we’ve existed.
One of the sketches, performed by Zeeshan Akhtar critiqued the institution of family which has become so deeply embedded and naturalised that it is impossible for anyone today to think of relationships beyond its dynamics. Families are always perceived as safe, apolitical spaces characterised by love, care and affection, however, the sketch helped reveal that this very space can also be characterised by oppression and a power dynamic always exists in the relationships which constitute the family. More often than not, the ‘love’ within families is also conditional, depending upon a standard of conformity expected from its members and deviance is frequently met with violence, whether physical or otherwise. Another sketch that dealt with the institution along similar lines was performed by Madeeha Sadaf, in this case power within the family was seen as being exercised in a more stark and physically violent manner.
Shimpy’s sketch was about her relationship with a close male friend who expressed a romantic interest in her, which deeply affected her and eventually led her to break contact with him. It was interesting to see that while Shimpy did care for this man and was quite attached to him, she insisted on referring to him as her brother (‘bhai jaisa’) and thus, experienced difficulty in reconciling this chaste and asexual image of a brother with his romantic interest in her. Aapurv Jain performed two sketches. The first one was about his habit of compulsively eating while the second was concerned with a bad sexual experience he’d had with another man. The sketch on compulsive eating touched upon the bullying he has experienced for being fat and certain moments of his monologue almost seemed psychoanalytical as he sought to attribute this habit to some deeper, underlying cause. The second sketch described a horribly uncomfortable sexual experience the performer had with a man, as the man was actually heterosexual to the world and was averse to a lot of sexual practices and was unaware and even unwilling to partake in activities that could have made the experience more comfortable for both participants. This particular sketch highlighted a lot of problems faced by gay men, particularly with respect to meeting other men online. The sketches performed by Vikramaditya Sahai dealt with three things, his PhD, his relationship with his grandmother and lastly, his identity as a queer person and the popular perception of this identity. The sketch performed by Kinshu Dang was concerned with several aspects of her life and personality such as her status as a single woman. For me, the sketch addressed very important problems with the idea of love, monogamous relationships and romance, which have been constructed as values, or rather commodities that provide meaning to lives.
While I could go on and describe every sketch that was performed in greater detail, that exercise does not really help anyone in understanding the relevance of this event or in underlining the impact it had on me. The performances were followed by a discussion involving the audience and the performers about what particular sketches meant to each one of them. The discussion around the first sketch about the family was particularly interesting and extensive, which in my opinion was an indicator of the way in which this institution has oppressed most of us, with or without our knowledge throughout our lives. It also led to the realization that despite the oppressive nature of this institution, it is so pervasive and ingrained that thinking of, and describing relationships is incredibly difficult beyond the purview of the family. Similarly, Kinshu’s sketch questioned the prevalent custom of existence of people in a state of coupledom, which can also be interpreted as a questioning of the creation of a normative model of monogamous relationships. On a larger scale, all sketches had one common element running through them which was concerned with the constructed nature of our identities and the various institutions, normative ‘virtues’, people and notions of morality and ethics which have worked together, often intersecting to lead us to our present individual state.