(By Oindrila Mukherjee)
The “geri” culture of Chandigarh may have been glorified in Punjabi songs and films, but for 29-year-old Mansi Thapliyal, the Varnika Kundu stalking case was an eye-opener. Apart from the stalking and attempted abduction case, a personal experience with her close friend, who was stalked in Shahpur Jat area of Delhi, made her chose “geri” culture as a subject for her Master of Arts dissertation paper. Thapliyal, a student of performance studies from Ambedkar University in Delhi, decided to visit Chandigarh on Valentine’s Day to decode the road or street as “a performance space”.
“My work is in initial stage, but there are some parameters, through which I am trying to understand the structure where there is so much pressure on young men and women to be part of it,” she said. Thapliyal, also a freelance photojournalist, has worked with Open and Reuters. She contacted storyteller Deeptha Vivekanand after she came across a news article on the name-change review petition of Geri Route to Azaadi Route.
“This is my first visit to the city. I’d never heard about geri, but it is interesting how gestures and expressions are part of everyday life,” she said, adding that the street or road opened up possibilities, facilitating a certain culture. Thapliyal spent time around the Geri Route to get a feel of the space that was manifested in the “performance of masculinity and femininity”. There is so much pressure, especially on men, to become a “particular kind of man”, she said.
However, for women, that manifestation was more visible in the virtual space. She talked about a Facebook page ‘Chandigarh Geri Route Geri Specialists’ that had videos of women dancing and singing on streets. “Women have made use of the virtual space to appropriate the geri culture since men dominate the physical space,” she added. Chandigarh, she said, has too many cars. “Loud music blaring from the cars will be another standpoint of her study with the sexualisation of cars that are often compared to women in pop culture. The loud music is one thing, but the atmosphere it creates is important. For example, you get some alcohol and eatables and make the interior of a car, a private space, from where you can comment freely on the outside world,” she added.
For Thapliyal, it is important to peel the layers and deconstruct the culture. She is only beginning, but understanding the expression of desire and desirability or even the style of communication will be a key factor. “I was sure that I wanted to come here on Valentine’s Day, but I hardly found what I was looking for. But, that which is absent, also communicated a lot to me. Are we trying to paint men as predators by restricting their movement on a particular day,” she left with a question.