Kashish Review: ‘Queering’ Vagina Monologues
Posted on 30 May, 2017 by Team Wishberry
Picture source: Firstpost
I remember this so vividly — My mother cautioning a 3 or 4-year-old me against peeing too loud. She would try and ‘sush’ the sound of the urine hitting the floor of the bathroom (I was too little to be able to use the Indian toilet, so I would squat right in front on it). As I grew older, she explained why she did that — it was unladylike, she bemoaned — press your thighs closer when peeing, she advised... I wonder what Maa would think of Vagina Monologues...
I have been lucky enough to witness Vagina Monologues before. But, this time was special — the setting was unique — Vagina Monologues was going to be performed at Liberty Cinema, in front of a largely LGBTQIA+ audience at Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival.
It was a thirty-minute performance and was opened by director Kaizaad Kotwal. Mona Ambegaonkar was going to dramatize one of the more popular monologues and Gazal Dhaliwal (in case you didn't know, she penned the dialogues for Lipstick Under My Burkha) was going to present a special piece that Eve Ensler — the name behind the revolution titled Vagina Monologues — allows to be read only during very special occasions. I was excited.
Mona is a seasoned artist and her dramatic reading of a woman’s memories as a 7-year-old touching herself ‘down there’ was laced with the innocence of a child and the maturity of a woman who understands and not just ‘acts out’ the monologue. There were collective gasps when Mona told the tale of the little girl being sexually abused by an older relative — there were murmurs of agreement when Mona dramatized the anguish that the child felt when her mother brutally chided her for touching herself and told her never, ever to do it again — all of us agreed when the monologue talked about the child hating her vagina, for it was a place that was dirty, and caused her pain and, finally, hushed laughter reverberated throughout the hall when the girl recounted how her sexual identity and love for her vagina was actualised by an association (albeit a ‘scandalous’ one!) with an older woman (This section felt like a nod to Ismat Chughtai’s Lihaaf).
Mona’s performance was followed by Gazal Dhaliwal’s ‘They beat the girl out of my boy... Or so they tried’. The monologue talked about the experiences of trans-women and the violence that is meted out to them on a daily basis... sometimes, throughout their lives — from being bullied as children, to being ostracised by friends and family, to perhaps witnessing their loved ones becoming collateral damage because of a social fabric that sits ill-at-ease with anything that undermines its hegemony and finally, sometimes the same violence snuffing out precious lives, just because these HUMAN BEINGS decided to express their desire to simply being themselves. The monologue was painful to sit through — we read about violence and discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people on almost a daily basis. But, to witness it as it is being verbalised by an artist who is a trans-woman and who stands testimony to the struggles that so many people face, was especially enlightening. The hall erupted in applause once Gazal finished her performance.
Mona and Gazal presented this special reading of Vagina Monologues just the way Eve would have wanted her to — as an artist who is telling you the story of a person — it is not their story and therefore, there needs to be crucial ‘distance’ between the artist and the piece.
Vagina Monologues is a celebrated piece where art meets activism in the most seamless manner. It is not subtle. It will shock you with its fearless honesty and in a country like India where words like vagina are considered ‘shame, shame’; Vagina Monologues needs to be made available to as many people as possible.
P.S.: Here’s what Mona Ambegaonkar had to say about Vagina Monologues in 2015 and well, it remains relevant even today!