This is a question I’ve been struggling with for some time. This idea began with curiosity. A student was doing a project in this region and she happened to mention this. It sounded exciting, and that was that. The first visit there was a bit like a tourist and a curious onlooker. The work was fascinating.
During the second (longer) visit, I was more engaged with the place and the process. It was a solo trip and I was very apprehensive. Many factors played on my mind- I didn’t know the language, I didn’t have a clear goal in mind and I was going to a space that had only men. How would they look at a single woman hanging around there?
I started with the safe route. Booked myself in a nice looking home stay. I thought at least someone will know of my whereabouts. Also, the home stay was within walking distance of the boat building activity. My hosts seemed more anxious than me. They insisted that I approach Calicut University and go through them. I listened. I went on a long journey in a few crowded, sweaty local buses to the far out campus, found the folklore department and spoke to the head of the Department. They gave me information and one person promised to come with me to the boat making place in Beypore the next day. I had a feeling no one will show up, so was prepared to go by myself. I spent the afternoon reading and preparing questions.
The next morning, sure enough, the concerned person was unreachable. A succinct Whatsapp message arrived at the designated meeting time “Sorry, can’t make it.” By then I was walking down already.
I took a wrong turn and landed up in a colony of homes. I was sure that I was near the coastal part but kept walking into labyrinthine lanes. I asked a man on a cycle for directions. He was amused, curious and very helpful. He came along with me and walked me to the right location. I bumped into him a few more times. He was a retired army and bank personnel. He seemed to purposefully walk around town with his cycle and he knew everyone in town. I of course encountered the usual questions- ‘Are you married?’ (I can say yes to that now), followed by a sad nod “Your husband is alone?” (does anyone ask my husband the same question?), followed by “children?”( an undercurrent of what’s wrong with you? Married and no children?).
I spent the morning until late afternoon at site. It was relaxing and beautiful. Everyone was so busy with their work that they weren’t too bothered with my presence. There was a bit of self conscious lungi adjusting(understandably) and some of them asked similar questions. There was a general surprise about the fact that I had come alone to hang out there.
I watched and started shooting without a plan in mind. This was a first for me. ( I did take permission). I like to spend time in a place with people before I start shooting, but this was different. The camera became my way of looking. I was less conscious with a camera than without it.