Indian girls from the rural setup seldom get a chance to reveal their real fetishes, desires and wants. It can be anything from acting in a Bollywood movie (Pfft! that was easy) to dancing to playing a sport etc. And now with internet tightening its hold in the rural parts of the country, girls are much more informed. But who is there to listen to these young packets full of ideas and dreams?

Birdbox suspends us for a fraction of time into how the world looks, feels, sounds, from a girl’s perspective

Baraan Ijlaal is a self-taught visual artist who came up with the brilliant idea of giving voices to some of these young girls from Bhopal, Lucknow, Chitrakoot and rural areas of New Delhi and belonging to different social and religious backgrounds. The 40-year-old artist showed the girls a compilation of images and let them talk; these conversations were recorded and shown through an advanced bioscope called Birdbox. The identities of the girls involved in this project are kept anonymous.

Birdbox by Baaraan Ijlal

Wait! There is more to it. Besides the bioscope, there is a graphic novel that has been curated by gender and education activist Dipta Bhog and media practitioner Disha Mullick. The novel is called Beauty, Bebo And Friends Pick A Fight, which was released this month in New Delhi along with the Bioscope installation – Birdbox. The event was commissioned by Lucknow-based Sadbhavana Trust, which works in the field of women’s empowerment and livelihood.

The book, which is a combination of three short stories by young girls, is a way to understand, “the strategies, programmes and main issues they face”. Disha Mullick told SheThePeople.TV, “We decided to put the findings about these young girls’ lives out in a way which may be less didactic or judgemental, and more accessible to a wider audience. We then collaborated with a scriptwriter, Shabani Hassanwalia, two artists –Samita Chatterjee and Ikroop Sandhu — who illustrated the stories, and Baaraan Ijlal, who created the Birdbox, a re-engineered bioscope.”

“They are all grappling with growing up and girlhood” 

Though the stories in the graphic book are fictionalised, they are based on real occurrences that Disha and Dipta recorded while they travelled for their research, and from many conversations with activists and development practitioners.

But, Disha explained that what binds the stories of these girls together is that, “they are all grappling with growing up and girlhood – people telling them to get married, to not do this or that, they have multiple responsibilities, but also just want to hang out and gossip about crushes and dreams and aspirations. The other important commonality is all the stories are about what happens when girls come together in peer groups or collectives, how it provides much needed support and strength.”

Cover Picture
The Graphic Novel

Since there are three stories in the book, the first one is about a girl playing football and her relationship with the fieldworker who has come to her village for development work.

“How she has to understand many different factors while running a programme that, on the surface of it, is so empowering. Development work with girls isn’t as straightforward as you think — you have to suspend many preconceived notions!” is what fascinated Disha about this story.

Then there is a story about young girls from the land of Telangana and the famous women’s collectives emerging from there in the previous generation. There is a similar collective of young girls in the current generation which is similar and poles apart from their predecessors.

“In the second story, what is really interesting is the history of women’s collectives in that area (rural Telengana) and how girls respond to that and also build their own group by identifying similarities and differences between the generations.”

“Part of the reason for putting out this work in this form was to change the way these stories are told”

She added, “In the 3rd story, the way in which the protagonists — all daughters of sex workers — interact with the new space, the centre that they get to know, which is a refuge where they can meet, talk, learn, read.”

Disha tells us, “Part of the reason for putting out this work in this storytelling form was to change the way these stories are told. We’re used to seeing moving documentaries about individual girls who beat the odds to change their lives, or reading reports about the status of girls in India or in other countries, filled with statistics.”

The lack of accuracy and detailed study into the challenges these young girls face while growing up, which actually reflect the change or static in their lives as they grow up, was another reason to come up with the work.

“Actually girls’ lives — and the process of changing gender inequality — is slow and messy and involves many people acting together. So hopefully, this storytelling will help many kinds of readers — in development or outside of it — to immerse themselves in the lives of young girls and listen to what they’re saying,” articulated Disha.