Experiencing the ‘Otherness’ – The Streets and Narrow Lanes of Khirkee-Hauzrani

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Chetana Naskar

Research scholar

Jawaharlal Nehru University

It was on Friday, 13th August, when I along with my co-intern Nian and our two little, but exuberant and extremely flamboyant guide Binu and Veena (name changed), made our first visit going around Khrikee Extension and Hauz Rani, our site for the project – ‘Networks and Neighbourhood’. The locality is undergoing gentrification, which is the ramification of the two eminent changes that took place just on the other side of the main road leading towards Khrikee Extension and Hauz Rani, – The Select City Mall and The Max hospital. However, amidst the broken buildings, newly erected ones and the one’s in process of getting a new structure, lives the migrant communities, who had influx not only from different corner of the country but also from different countries. Nonetheless instead of upholding the characteristics of a melting pot, which one might argue is the innate feature of any highly urbanized region, one might rather state that they are like a salad bowl, where each and every community did regained their own attributes, visibly printing their own identity.

Amidst the trodden down buildings, the new constructions and the divergent communities, what was most appalling was the stark invisibility of women from the streets, even during the broad day light. This distinctive feature of the place struck with our conscience on our way to KHOJ STUDIOS, which is on the first lane of the Khirkhee Extension. Not a single woman visible on the streets, only small ghettos of men distributed all over, which further increases with the march of the evening. This scenario is discernible throughout the Khirkee-Hauz Rani area, more so in the Hauz Rani part of the region. The religious background of Hauz Rani – which is largely Islam, possesses a barrier for the free movement of women in the space and also over its usage by them. The purdah culture, apparently has contributed to this strictness over the usage of space, and thus affiliated men as strong, dominant and unopposed contender of the space. The scenario, though not of much different, is slightly deviant in Khirkhee, where presence of women could be witnessed, nonetheless on purposive basis (visiting shops, going out for work, collage, etc.).

While strolling though the streets and the narrow lanes of the two localities another important feature that we witnessed was the continuous male gaze. Still Khirkhee posed a much better picture in this regard. The gazes, though offensive, but were not as stern as that of the Hauz Rani area. Walking through the shabby narrow lanes (of Hauz Rani; the lanes at some places were so narrow that it was practically impossible to pass through them straight i.e. without tilting the body) with numerous biriyani shops, meat shops, small food joints on both the sides and overflowing men population from the shops and small ghettos of them conversing in some or the other corners, it became really uncomfortable for we four ‘the other sex’ to traverse through them. The gazes that were showered at us were absolutely difficult to ignore which can be interpreted as lusty, questionable, and also stereotyped or prejudiced. At a certain point we became so uncomfortable that we paced our move through the lanes to reach our safe destination (i.e. Khoj Studios) as soon as possible. On reaching KHOJ, various thoughts engulfed me into their arms; so many questions emerged out from the day’s experience. But getting out the answers immediately would be too hasty a demand that I would make. A lot more visits and intervention to the implicit male space of the Khiekhee – Hauz Rani must solve them.

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