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Voicing Silence 7

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Voicing Silence 6

(To get a background on this series, I suggest you start with the first post here and then scroll up)

One of my favourite speeches is this one that Neil Gaiman gives as the commencement address at an arts college in the US. In it he urges the students that whatever misery may befall them, to turn it into art. Use it as fuel to power their creative engine. I had decided that the best way to articulate my story was to make an animated short video of it and my friend Lucy was ideally placed to realise it. That said, how do I communicate the Madras of 1980s to someone who has never been to India?

I recorded a narrative and gave the audio to Lucy and she came up with her own set of question. Where did you sleep when you were young? Did you have beds? Did you change out of your day clothes to go to sleep? Did the rooms have windows? Did you grow up eating jam? What common insects would you find around the house? Would you sing or dance? Did you use ceramic mugs and cups? What did you wear on your feet when you went out? What sort of taps did you have in your house? Did you celebrate Christmas? Did it mean anything to you?

I started crowdsource responses including some from my school Watsapp group who were highly bemused with my request of photos of their kitchen sinks and utensils. My father sent me a whole bunch of photos from my childhood which prompted a blog post too. I sent links to Louis Malle's L'Inde Fantome which had significant portions shot in Madras but a couple of decades early. I sent links to some of my favourite Ilayaraja songs from that period and also some Carnatic music tracks which I grew up singing and listening to.

Lucy would get back to me every now and then with a line drawing or colour scheme that she was trying out and I would respond enthusiastically to it. I had left the artistic vision and the direction of the story entirely to her, secure in the knowledge that she would do it justice. She had watched the animated story of Malala and came back to the project refreshed.

Lucy wanted to bring in a sound designer and a musician that she had worked with earlier on board and as ever, I nodded eagerly. I also knew that she was juggling so many other projects and that the creative process some times takes as long as it does, so didn't want to push her too much with deadlines and demands.

Mangai introducing the Voicing Silence
troupe to gathered street theatre audience*
Me performing as part of
Voicing Silence*
I had decided to call it Voicing Silence, shamelessly plagiarising the title from a project about female infanticide and foeticide in Tamilnadu from the mid-90s that I had been a part of. It was also a lazy hat tip to A Mangai (aka Padma Arasu), whose ideas and work on feminism and theatre and gender and language I admired tremendously.

By the time Lucy shared with me the final version of Voicing Silence, I had watched the drafts so many times I couldn't react to it with fresh eyes but I knew it would be a conversation starter. Lucy had shared it with those in her circle and that prompted many to voice their own trauma which had not been spoken of for decades. But not everyone was as willing to react. It was difficult to accept that my own admission could startle and shock people that they would rather not say anything. Some people I sent the video to didn't reply and that is something I had to learn to accept.

Close friends responded with kindness and compassion. One of them called up and spoke exclusively about the film and  didn't say anything about the incident that had triggered it. She later wrote about how angry and how sorry she was that I had to go through what I had. She said that she found it easier to write because she would not have been able to say it to my face.

Lucy began sending it out to various festivals and we decided to give it year in the circuit before publishing it on the web. So tomorrow, with great joy and pride I give you Voicing Silence.

* images are screen grabs from A Mangai - a documentary (link here)

(This is a series of every day posts which will culminate in publishing an animated short film Voicing Silence that I commissioned and helped create documenting the sexual assault that happened to me as a 10 year old).

Read the next excerpt here at Voicing Silence 7

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