Bringing out the voices and different facets of lives of young girls, the illustrated book ‘Beauty, Bebo and Friends Pick a Fight and Other Stories’ was launched last month in Delhi.
Dipta Bhog who is associated with Sadbhavana Trust and Disha Mullick who is associated with Khabar Lahariya, collated the data for the book which features three illustrated stories. These stories were based on the adventures of different girls across various villages in India. It portrays groups of women who support each other across generations.
While discussing the book, Dipta, pointed out that most graphic novels depict powerful experiences of one woman, but there is also a need to see more narratives about group of girls – which is what this book attempts to do. This intriguing visual medium was chosen because they didn’t want this to be another report, which only speaks in statistics and numbers and has a limited audience.
The three stories from the book are titled, When I Grow Up I Want To Be Urmila Matondkar (But Not Just That), The True History Of Gulab Cheli Sangha and, Beauty, Bebo and Friends Pick a Fight.
These stories emphasize the need to reflect upon the lives of these girls, who are otherwise just looked at from a case study perspective. The current discourse largely focuses on how provision of better health/education facilities will help girls to better provide for their children; it is largely built around what we are going to ‘harvest.’ Education for girls is also driven by data discourse, focusing on the dropout rates, which is important but our understanding of these girls shouldn’t be limited only to that.
“The lives of young girls are here and now, and we need to comprehend what is happening to these girls, what are their questions, what are their ideas and, what are their relations, not just with other people but even with women who are older to them,” said Dipta.
The illustrators of the book, Ikroop Sandhu and Samita Chatterjee talked about how this project is different to the work they have been involved with in the past. The book has been released in English and the team is now working on releasing its Hindi translation soon.
Another interesting collation of these conversations with the girls is in the form of an installation set up by Baaraan Ijlaal, calling it ‘Birdbox’. She shared that Birdbox is a re-imagined bioscope, a set of curated images on patriotism, erotica, images from Bollywood movies that were showed to the girls, juxtaposed alongside their conversations and responses to such images.
Through the bioscope, one gets to look at images shown to the girls, and listen to their conversations around those pictures together.
The girls belonged to various caste and religious backgrounds, between the age group of 13-18 years old. The Birdbox is hand painted with beautiful designs, and the pictures include snippets of Alia Bhatt from the movie Highway, images from Khajuraho temple, amongst others. The girls can be heard discussing desire, freedom, shame, sexuality, etc. These were largely conversations wherein the girls even teased each other, recorded in Bhopal, Lucknow, and Delhi. Anonymity of the girls was an important factor in the revelations through their conversations.
For a space to be empowering to young people, the focus needs to shift from guiding them on what to feel/how to feel to making an attempt to understand what they actually feel. This constant protectionist approach can often leave young people without any agency.
Both the book and the installation are part of an attempt to provide a platform for young girls’ opinions on topics which are usually hushed up and not spoken about in schools and other spaces. These carefree and honest conversations take us back to our own thoughts and desires, as a young person; and also make us feel a sense of familiarity and attachment.