Neighbourhood Video Project: Freelance Beautician
Duration: 00:17:03; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 23.066; Saturation: 0.166; Lightness: 0.403; Volume: 0.198; Cuts per Minute: 8.737; Words per Minute: 104.546
Summary: This is part of Majlis' neighbourhood and video literacy project. Under this project a niche group from a neighbourhood is given training in video literacy. After the initial project they are given technical assistance (camera, editing and sound facilities and personnel) to shoot their own surroundings. At the end of the project they become auteur of a film made on their own lives. This project was conducted with the neo-adult girls from the Muslim settlements in Jogeswari. The workshop was conducted under a local initiative titled Darakht-e- Ilm (tree of knowledge). This initiative started by former journalist Firoze Ashraf, is structured on the principle of earner-learner, where older girls are involved with teaching the younger students and in the process are supported and persuaded to complete graduation and encouraged into skill development. The older girls who are mainly graduate students participated in the workshop. Though the video was shot in the location of their neighbourhood the training took place in Majlis office, far away from their homes. The exercise of traveling to a cosmopolitan area for training in something like video making was by itself an emancipating process for them. By the end of the two weeks workshop the girls were divided into two groups to shoot two different narratives on their lives. One group chose the subject of women run beauty parlours in the vicinity as role models for economic independence. The other group covered various livelihood choices available to them in order to emancipate other girls. The project then was named 'Yahan se Wahan tak' (From here to there) as a measure of their consistent yet small progress. At the end of it the two films were screened in the neighbourhood in front of the local people and some invited guests. When the credit with the girls' names as directors rolled the all encompassing ecstasy was overwhelming.
Another aim of the video literacy project is to initiate non-hegemonic image productions produced by the protagonists themselves. Towards this end the project is planned as a part of the Godaam digital media archive. Other than this we have also conducted similar projects with the youngsters of the closed textile mills area (Rojgar hakk samiti) and the inhabitants of the fisherfolks village in Versova. Footage initiated by those projects are also available in PAD.MA.
Following is an interview with Ruksana Khan, a small time beautician in the area. One of the groups wanted to portray women with independent economic status in their film. After much deliberation they decided on the profession of beautician. Though their conservative society is fundamentally against women working outside the house, over the years the profession of beautician has got accepted as a women's vocation. The wide spread culture of beauty treatment and cosmetic industry must have permeated into the conservative fort. Besides, women's earning has become an absolute necessity for some families. So working exclusively as beautician for women has somewhat become an accepted norm and not considered as a serious threat to the prevailing patriarchy. But still a section of the society considers hair as a symbol of carnal desire and thus hair cutting remains a serious taboo.
G: I'd like to know your name
RK: Ruksana Khan.
G: How much have you studied? And where do you live?
RK: I studied till Grade 7, I live at Bhushan Nagar.
G: How many people stay at your house, and who?
RK: 2 brothers, 2 my sisters, and my parents.
G: What do you like doing in your free time?
RK: I give tuitions.
G: What Year students do you tutor?
RK: Grades 1, 2 and 3.
G1: What else do you do in your free time?
RK: I've learnt some beautician work, I do that.
(Ruksana had to be told to talk louder)
G1: Where have you done this beautician course, and where have you studied it from?
RK: I have learnt it from a friend of my neighbor's.
G1: Why haven't you done this course from a beauty parlour?
RK: I wasn't in a position to. Wherever I had gone, they were asking for really high fees, which is why I couldn't learn formally.
G1: Do you have a beauty parlor?
RK: No, I don't.
G1: Since you don't have a beauty parlor, how do you operate?
RK: When I go to tutor, I get orders. That's how I work.
G1: How much do you get paid, when you take on these orders?
RK: I get paid as per the order.
G1: Do your folks know about this?
RK: No, they don't.
G: Why don't they know?
RK: Because my parents are against this profession.
G1: Why do your parents think this profession wrong?
RK: Nobody in the household or my relatives likes it, thus, my parents do not allow it.
G2: When you go for orders, what do you tell your folk, you must be making some excuse?
RK: I say I'm going to tutor.
G2: Do you go out on orders during the entire week?
RK: I go as and when I get orders.
G2: How long has it been since you did this course?
RK: 1 to 1.5 years.
G2: Supposing you get a job at a good beauty parlor, will you do it?
RK: Because if my parents don't allow it at home, they won't allow it elsewhere.
G2: Do you take on orders on Sundays too?
RK: Yes, but I have to cook up an excuse at home, in order to go out. Like, for example, 'I have to collect some tuition money that's pending'. I make such excuses and leave the house.
Two young girls, members of the Darakht-e- Ilm (tree of knowledge) - a community learning project interview Ruksana Khan, a middle aged professional beautician. Ruksana wears a burkha and covers her head but chooses to keep her face uncovered. Her low decibel while speaking suggests she is slightly hesitant or scared.
Ruksana claims that her family does not know that she practices as a beautician along with teaching small children. In a closed family like hers and in the inward looking neighbourhood that she resides in, it is practically impossible to hide such a thing. Obviously the family has decided to pretend innocence as long as it is convenient for them. The hypocrisy stems from the need for money and yet the fear of antagonizing the orthodox society. Urban women from all strata often face such hypocrisy from the self serving families and the society heads.
lower middle class
G2: If you get a chance to go out and travel a bit on account of this work or get a job - which one will you prefer?
RK: I will work (obviously she does not understand the question)
RK: Because life at home will improve, my brothers and sisters will get a chance to study.
G2: Do you want any of your sisters to do this too?
RK: No, she wants to study.
G2: As in, she wants to become something?
RK: Maybe.. That's up to her.
G2: Has anything ever happened to you, an experience?
RK: Yes, once.
G2: What had happened?
RK: I had got an order, and when I went there, I was asked to color the lady's hair. I colored it, but instead of light, it became a shade browner. She got angry, she yelled at me, and went away without paying me.
Then, the next day, she told a friend of mine that she had been complemented, and that her new shade of hair looked nice. She paid me, and even said thank you.
G2: Did she pay you the normal amount, or did she give you more than that?
RK: She gave me a little extra.
G2: So, you think it was a good thing that happened to you?
G2: You tend to visit many customers, what kind of people are they?
RK: Yes, they're nice with me, and I'm nice to them.
G2: Of all things, what do you enjoy doing the most?
RK: Eyebrows and bleach.
G2: Generally, when people come to you, what do they mainly get done?
RK: Eyebrows and bleach.
Tight balancing act of a woman from an orthodox and poor family. She is not rebellious; her intentions are just to add her bit to the family's income without them appreciating it. It does not much bother her that her sister wants a better life than hers on the strength of her income.
With the question about her most memorable experience, we see a wider smile and a giggle too, as she lightens up now, as compared to her rigidity at the beginning of the interview. As the questions are becoming a little personal, she is more comfortable. Contrary to what her family belief she has no unpleasant experience at work. The unpleasantness is mainly about the clandestine part of her work.
An aspiration so tentative and delicate that she does not want to utter it to even herself. Inshallah!
G2: Have you ever wanted to have your own parlor, or have you ever wanted to grow in this field?
RK: Nobody at home is willing, then if I do anything at my will, isn't it wrong?
G2: But you will try, won't you.
RK: Inshallah (If Allah wills)!
G2: What will you do if it does happen?
RK: If I get married, and my in-laws allow it, then I'll be able to do it.
RK: What else would you like to say?
G2: I want to say... (fumbles)...What I have learned hiding from my folks, the skill that I have acquired, what I've done for my folks, for my brothers and sisters, for my family, just like that, every sister like me, every daughter, they should educate their siblings, make something of them, Better the conditions of the house. That's all I'd like to say.
G2: So, you think everybody should be literate?
G2: Do you think there is a good and bad to this career?
RK: Those who are ignorant think it is bad, those who aren't, think it good.
G2: What do you think? What's your opinion?
RK: I like it. I enjoy it.
G2: So nobody has taken wrong advantage of you?
RK: No, there is advantage to us. The conditions at home are improving, with the increased income.
G2: What's your opinion on the people who say this field is wrong?
RK: Different people have different opinions.
Very basic and fundamental desire related to literacy, solvency and welfare of the family. Yet just because it is from a woman it needs to be whispered cautiously. She does not talk about her own independence, her capacity to earn, to improve her life. It is all about the family who do not approve of her effort.
Abeer: Have you ever had a bad experience, something that caused you difficulty, or hurt you?
Abeer: Please tell us some of your experience. How do you work when someone calls you, where do you keep your things?
RK: I take my things with me.
G2: Do you buy them yourself, or do customers provide you with them?
RK: For example?
G2: For example, you go to someone's house for an order, do the people buy the requisites, or do you take them along?
RK: I take them along, I order them from a friend of mine, from Goregaon, she fetches them for me.
G2: Just like the coloring incident, has anything good happened to you like that?
RK: Yes, once I messed up with eyebrows.
G2: The customer didn't say anything?
RK: She did, she got angry and yelled. I apologized.
This is also an example how incorrigible we are capable of being. Against all odds Ruksana manages to make her own space without making any noise. She has worked out an invisible infrastructure of getting her ingredients, getting orders, practicing her skill and earning through that, with minutest precession. This kind of stories of small and determining transgression do not make any loud revolutionary claim. Yet that where women's history lies.
G2: What else do you feel, you must be feeling something, featuring in this film.
RK: Yes. I got a chance to be here. I was slightly scared too... but coming here one gets exposure, get to learn a few things.
G2: What would you do if you got a chance to do up a film star? Would you go?
RK: My parents won't allow me to go very far away from the house.
G2: What if your parents did allow it, if you made them understand?
RK: Then, Inshallah, yes, I would.
Abeer: Tell me, You operate only in Jogeshwari?
Abeer: Has it ever happened that the people who you got to, would know your mother or father? Are you ever scared of that?
RK: No, nothing like that. I'm not doing anything wrong, am I? I'm doing it for my household.
Abeer: No, supposing, someone does notice, and tell your parents 'your daughter had come to our house for...'
RK: No, that way, I don't know the people I go to.
G2: Which means, your customers are of different society altogether?
G2: Can you tell us, what types of society do you visit?
RK: I go a little far away Bhushan Nagar, nowhere else though.
G2: Do you tend to visit more flats or chawls? You must be taking on orders for weddings too?
G2: Your friend must be telling you.
RK: Yes, as and when she gets orders, I go as well, and then return home.
The strange ways of rights and wrongs of the society! Often women who need/want to practice a vocation which is considered 'prohibited' are forced to migrate to other places. Sex workers do not work in their neighbourhoods. The women who dance in beer bars in Bombay mostly come from other places than Bombay. It is generally true for the service industry. But in this case even a beautician need to avoid her own neighbourhood. This sort of forced migration makes the women far more vulnerable than what their profession could make them.
The interview progresses haltingly. Ruksana is not familiar to anybody being interested in her life. She is only used to answering questions in a practical way. So no larger text comes out of it. When both the girls and Ruksana keep quiet as they don't know how to proceed further a strange sadness descend in the scene - sadness of lack of communication, sadness of lack of language, sadness of mundane.
G2: What else would you like to say? In this interview, would you like to say something?
Abeer: Inspite of the risk, why are you still into this profession?
RK: For my house, to support my family. To educate my sisters and brothers. I'm the eldest at home. My brothers and sisters are a lot smaller. And my father is ill on and off, he can't work.
Abeer: Tell us about your home, who lives at your house, what do they do? As in, you said everyone in your house is younger, your father can't work... please tell us something more...
RK: Yes, everybody is younger. My father falls ill, he can't work. My mother does small time jobs at home, here and there, just the way I do.
G2: What kind of work?
RK: Like, stitching sequins onto cloth, other such small jobs.
G2: And your siblings, what do they do?
RK: They go to a school run by the municipality.
G2: And how old are they?
RK: One of them is Grade 5, the other in Grade 4 and the other in Grade 6.
G2: And what does your sister do?
RK: She studies..... what else is there to say...
The bread earner of the family and yet she has no status and validity for her work. As the formality of the interview relaxes sometime Ruksana too look little relaxed and whispers to the girls like friends.
As the girls ask questions about safety in the job, they to some extent, just mouths what they have heard others saying about women's work. But somewhere they also seek for stronger articulation from Ruksana regarding the validity of her work and thus derive confidence. When Ruksana talks about how she fools her family a rare glow plays on her face. Suddenly she looks like the young girl, that she actually is, enjoying narrating an event of mischief.
G1: I'd like to ask, don't you ever get scared, when you go to someone's house alone? Something would happen?
RK: I don't travel alone, I have a friend with me.
G1: How many friends do you travel with?
RK: Just one.
G1: Only one?
G1: You travel to such large houses in far away places, just the two of you, girls at that, do you find it safe?
RK: If the house belongs to an entire family, then we go; if not, we don't.
G2: Can you show us an examp le on somebody?
RK: Yes, I shall do bleaching.
G2: Cleansing will do.... (to the crew) she will do cleansing. Should we call somebody?
Cameraman: With the added income, except tuition fees, don't your folk ask where the money came from?
RK: I teach how to apply henna too, so using that excuse, I explain that the extra money comes from there.
Cameraman: But do you think, if your folk agree, you would be able to get better training and then earn more?
Abeer: Ok, you start your work. Along with that if some more questions come up we shall attend to that.
From a shoulder bag Ruksana takes out her modest wares - a standard cleansing cream, a small packet of napkin... She applies cream on the face of a young girl. Suddenly the timid, soft spoken, burkha clad woman metamorphosed into a professional - aptly and precisely applying her palms on the client's face. Her glass bangles move in rhythm creating a melody. Tips of her fingers are coloured with henna, the delicately embroidered sleeves of her black burkha move in and out of the frame. Close up of the woman, now looking significant with the dignity of a skilled professional.
Obviously Ruksana and her family play a mutual game of pretending innocence. The convenience of little extra income is desirable as long as its source is not flaunted in front them. The burden of the secrecy is only on the girl. The convenience of ignorance is carefully cultivated by the family. So the status-quo is maintained.
M: Have you ever tried telling them?
RK: Yes, but they shouted at me.
M: But do they ever get suspicious?
RK: No, they trust their daughter.
Girl (off camera): Tell us about this...
RK: about this what is there to tell? .... This is to clean the face.
Girl (off camera): Is this done before the make up or after that?
RK: Before the make up. (to the client) go and wash your face.
Abeer: Tell us more about you? What do you prefer doing on weekends, on Sundays?
RK: I go on work if I get ord ers.
G2: Except orders?
RK:I go out with the family, some nice place... somewhere green, for example, a garden...
G2: At this stage, there aren't many gardens left, is there anywhere else you'd like going?
(RK nods vaguely)
Abeer: What's your favorite place in Mumbai?
RK: We don't go out much for me to know about places.
G2: If you got this opportunity to go, where would you?
M: Why? Are you fond of the cold?
G2: Which month would you like to visit Mahabaleshwar?
RK: In the summer.
G1: Would you like to go alone?
RK: No, with the family.
The miser life which thins out even the private dreams. Ruksana, who is educated and financially independent only can aspire to go to Mahabaleswar, a small hill station 285 km away from Mumbai. Even that wild dream of a trip is planned with the family which is choking her. Dreams are a privilege and dreaming seems to need regular practice.