We had our thirteenth meeting on March 1, 2020. This session was curated with a dedicated intent to engage with feminist storytelling and to draw out views and ideas that feed into both interpreting feminist retellings and constructing feminist retellings of age-old tales.
In the beginning, every attendee was given a chit with an “identity” written on it. Each attendee was instructed to read and internalize this identity and to navigate the session through the lens of the ascribed identity. We used a few fables from Suniti Namjoshi’s Fabulous Feminist to build on this session. Each attendee got to pick a chit, read the story, and analyze / respond to the story through the lens of the identity ascribed to them.
Following one round of this, we decided to pause and ask everyone to guess the identities given to the others. Many assumptions flew around, only to find that three of the attendees got “Just be yourself” and two were given special instructions to throw the others off by making them assume they were given an identity each. One was asked to read the chit and ask the curator for a clarification, and the other was asked to read the chit and express shock. Both chits, though, also told them that there was no identity ascribed. The purpose of this was to understand how unconscious bias works, and how we believe that we’re speaking and engaging with people, while in reality, we’re tend toward engaging with one, two, or more identities that we perceive in another. In the second round, we each read one story and responded to it with our views on what the stories meant for us.
In the last round of activity, each attendee was given a story to rewrite through a feminist lens: Raakhee was given Sleeping Beauty, Vaishnavi was given Cinderella, Bhavana got Rapunzel, Yashasvini got Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and Rohitha got The Red Riding Hood. I was given The Beauty and The Beast.
Here are some of the short stories we wrote:
Yashasvini Once upon a time, long long ago, there was a queen who was very loved by her people. She walked the streets everyday to buy her fruit and her doors were always open for conversation and freshly brewed tea. She wrote and read to her heart’s content and was almost always humming a merry little tune. There was one little thing though – the king and queen did not want to have children and this worried the villagers a fair amount. What would happen after the king died? Who would keep the queen company in her old age? Didn’t she know that the clock was ticking? But the queen had other plans. She had fallen in love with the king many moons ago and her heart was full. She didn’t want children at all. She had so many people who cared for her and she cared for that she didn’t see why she’d look anywhere else. Instead, she found her happiness in the quiet moments of her everyday – a kettle full of tea the colour of ebony and a blank piece of paper, the colour of freshly fallen snow, waiting for her cherry-red ink. Needless to say, the queen lived a long, full life surrounded not by dwarfs but by friends, equals and peers.
Raakhee Aurora hears about the curse that will put her to sleep forever by her 16th birthday, and the brave teenager sets out to find Maleficient and confront her problem head on. Skillfully, Aurora, who is blessed with a silver tongue that can seal anyone or anything, negotiates a deferment on her curse deadline from 16 to 21 with Maleficient in exchange for Maleficent taking over rulership of her kingdom. Aurora then lives the time she gained fully. Living life to the fullest and savouring it, she meets Prince Phillip, but tells him not to ake her. Then, after a life well lived, she goes to Maleficient and without regret accepts her fate and pricks her finger on the spindle wheel and sleeps the sleep of the righteous. She knows her kingdom is safe in the hands of a pacified Maleficent, who has brought peace between the magical and the non-magical folk under her leadership.
Kirthi It had been 208 days since Belle was under lockdown. The Beast had ensured that no information came out, and no one could go in to speak to Belle or verify her wellbeing. People were angry, upset, scared, and confused. Some supported Belle, holding placards and protesting, and raising hell on social media. Some supported The Beast, who only swelled up with each puff of pride. Belle had feminist friends all over the world beyond her, who began to mobilize, fighting and calling for change in the way The Beast was conducting business. But The Beast moved on to other things: passing ruthless laws and throwing people out, turning the other way when violence unfolded. But the women would have none of it. One fine morning, they marched from Shaheen Bagh and Bilal Bagh and Mumbai Bagh and Chennai Shaheen Bagh and every where and every where, and walked up to Lady Justice and undid her blindfold. Lady Justice ordered The Beast to stop and sentenced him to a lifetime of peace education.