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Sonia Preisler- Blog Post 1: Beginnings

Sonia Preisler- Blog Post 1: Beginnings

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It has been hard to figure out how to encompass all of my first impressions into one blog post.  I find myself unable to articulate into words the constant over stimulation of my senses that this city offers (rather forcefully) on its inhabitants. Perhaps that’s why I’ve waited. Waited for the dust to settle (which it never does, does it?), for my own preconceived notions to be deconstructed, checked and proven wrong. But that feels monumental, an ongoing process… so I’ll start slow. I’ll tell you about my first experiences through a few of my senses.

The first thing that affected me when I arrived was the air (most intricately designed like a melody). The air is layered with various pitches, tones, rhythms. The base is cloud of pollution (dust and fossil fuel), I imagine it as the heavy beat, steady and constant intensified by the wet humidity that monsoon brings. It’s viscous, dense.  As you move ever so slightly your nose will be enlightened by a whiff of jasmine or marigold incense being burnt, unique spices, wide variety of street food being cooked, tobacco smoke, sewage, rubbish (rotten food), urine, as well as a magnitude of smells that one cannot really decipher. Then you pass by a river or a forested park, and the pressure lifts of your chest ever so slightly, cutting you some slack. These collaborative compositions are the pitches and accompaniments of Delhi air. With your eyes closed, I bet you start to imagine it.

Delhi tastes mind-blowing. Its sounds are persistent. Some days my body tenses at the relentless honking, other days I sit back and smile.

My eyes are constantly scanning the colours and sights of this place; the complexity beneath the grit and grime of a huge mega city, alongside remarkable ancient architectural relics, markets, endless traffic of all the various transportation methods, modern malls, and buildings.  I love noticing the colourful fabrics of saris, salwar-kameez, dupattas (scarves), the fruit, marigold flowers, as well as the garbage, sewage, street dogs, the faces of so many people co-existing closely in spaces. It can be harsh and edgey among the beauty. 

Perhaps, this is Delhi’s way of telling me that there it has no single story. You cannot simplify this city into a few words. The impressions one gets from Bollywood and western novels, films, surely perpetuate the perspective of one-dimensional ideas of the poverty, tradition, wealth and modernity from the perspective of privilege and romanticisation of class, caste and gender constructs (and of course many other prescribed oppressive divisions).  

But honestly, the most overwhelming experience was making sense of my body in this space. What does my body mean in these crowded spaces with such strong gendered prescriptions?

Just the other day I noticed that I was one of five women on my bus home (and the bus was fairly packed). The December rape case certainly affected everyone who lives or travels throughout Delhi. You don’t have to look at the statistics to reveal that women in Delhi face extremely high levels of violence. Quickly, Delhi gained a reputation for itself as the ‘rape capital of India’.  I came with a lot of fear. Paralyzing fear. My body felt frequently triggered by extensive staring, gestures, and other occurrences.

There are three different routes to my work that an auto-rickshaw driver can take; one of these is to go through an underpass with an abandoned basement parking lot.  The first time I experienced the underpass, I felt my body go into a bit of a panic. I held my breath, anxious about the unknown. But, I was fine. Ironically, on that same route I passed street art on a wall that read: ‘Do you feel safe here?’ with a stencil of a woman.   

After two months of living here, I feel I am managing this dynamic quite well. It definitely took a while for my feet to feel the ground beneath me- reigniting trust in my own intuition and in people again. I’ve decided I don’t want to live from a place of fear (this doesn’t mean that I take stupid risks, but it does means that I don’t rationalize violence. Instead, I initiate efforts to make the city safe in my own way; whether it be walking next to a woman or sitting near another woman on a bus, etc. As it does remain a harsh city for women).

It also means I am endlessly in a process of deconstructing my identity, my own privilege, and the way in which I experience things because of that privilege as well as an outsider. I hope that I can continue to be aware of this and try to unravel it further…

I must admit, I really do appreciate this city. I appreciate its honesty, energy, chaos and stubborn charm—including all the things it does to my senses.