We organised a workshop with Riju (Sumondro Chattopadhya, Project Director, Centre for Information Studies, Bangalore) on 28 November at Khoj, through which young local residents narrated their gendered experience of neighbourhood public space, visibility, mobility and autonomy.
Mental maps are visual representations of physical places that present and reveal how the mapmaker interacts with and experiences the place concerned. Exercises in creating mental maps can either begin with a existing map of road networks and common landmarks that enables the maker to quickly find locations, or can begin with a blank map where the participant is invited to start with representing the road networks as s/he remembers it. To facilitate workshop processes, we chose the former option. We used OpenStreetMap as the template; which was projected on the wall in large format so that it was easily accessible and visible for participants to decode.
The first exercise involved one participant mentioning a location within the city of Delhi, and s/he inviting two co-participants to find and identify that location on the map. This activity required a recall and re-inscription of personal and spatial geographies by participants, and a comparison of territories that might be very different, or might have unusual mutual resonances and alignments that emerged through the interaction.
The second exercise involved all participants working simultaneously marking in two colours the areas in the vicinity of their homes, schools and other prominent, popular or familiar places they visit, like hospitals and parks – terrain roughly stretching from Hauz Rani to Khirkee. One colour indicated the places they liked, the other the places they disliked. This activity was built on an exercise that was part of an earlier workshop, when they used two colours to mark spaces in the same way and according to the same logic, but collectively rather than individually. This exercise had catalyzed particular forms of group dynamics. We observed that once a few participants had marked a site as one they liked, it quickly became a focus for other group members; some marked the place in strong agreement, others marked it in strong disagreement. Our objective was to make the participants aware of the way the mind tends to be conditioned by external opinion and peer choices.
The third exercise divided participants into small groups of three to four individuals and sent to scout for locations where wall newspapers could be pasted so that they could be seen and read by a good number of people. The groups were also asked to compile information about local attractions at each site, which will be shaped into mini-maps in a future workshop.
The larger overall purpose of the cartography workshop was to document local input with regard to delineating the available public spaces where women may safely socialize within the lanes of Khirkee and more particularly Hauz Rani. Other than at beauty parlours, which are public sites yet a private/interior and usually gender-segregated zone, it is rarely possible for women to congregate and interact freely.