Min reise med Leo

Tirsdag 2. desember viser NRK nok et program i serien Leos reise. Turen denne gang går til Kolkata, hvor han ble geleidet rundt av Moumita Sen. Så hvordan var det å reise med Leo? Vel, her er hennes beretning.

Min reise med Leo Ajkic
Leo Ajkic will take the Norwegian audience to the Durga Puja of Kolkata tomorrow night as part of the travel show «Leos Reise». When I went to NRK to talk aboutSelfie at Gariahat, Kolkata my possible involvement with the show as a researcher and a local guide, they told me that they wanted to film a mass-festival where people are having fun. They also wanted to ask how it is possible that Hindus worship so many goddesses and yet women in India are treated so badly. One of the reasons I agreed to be part of the show, apart from my general enthusiasm about the festival, was because I wanted to know how different women in my city feel about one of our biggest national crises at the moment.

During the process of filming we went up to several women on the streets and asked them if they felt safe on the streets of Kolkata and if they thought it was a contradiction that a goddess-revering culture was also the most unsafe place for women. They asked me to approach young women who preferably spoke English. I was surprised at the range of responses we got from women from different class-backgrounds. Some felt safe; some apparently felt safe but still carried pepper sprays or avoided dark streets; and some were not really allowed to speak by their accompanying men.

However, the focus on the idea of safety and respect for women in India runs parallel to a certain portrayal of women in other parts of the world on «Leos Reise». Leo had asked me in our first meeting if Hindus worship Durga because she is sexy! One of the most interesting encounters for me was when he went to the artisan’s quarters in Kalighat and asked Bhaskar Chitrakar if the breasts of the goddess- both shape and size- are custom-made for the buyers. I could tell that Chitrakar was aghast and highly offended at this question. I don’t know if this is because he is a generally quiet man, or because he was very conscious of the camera but he somehow managed his outrage and replied: «She is the Great Mother. No one shows that much interest in her breasts.» I wonder if they have retained that part of the interview in the final edit of the show.

After the shooting in Kolkata and the focus on violence against women, it was somewhat unsettling to see the first few episodes of the show. Right fLeo puts clay on a murti of goddess Kali at Kalighatrom the slow panning of the camera on the bikini clad buttocks of women in Rio to the comparison of grilled meat and women in the latest episode, there has been an undertone of sexism in the show itself. As I was told by the production team, and I later understood, Leo works as a public personality partly because of his provocative and irreverent demeanor which he himself understands as «honesty and spontaneity». I wonder if the concern about the unsafety of women in India is in contradiction to the objectification of female bodies and sexuality in the rest of the show. I also wonder how they are going to tell the story of Kolkata – what they will retain from our shared journeys and what they will omit.

But in the end, I think it is worthwhile because I want the people in the country which is funding my research to be able to witness the festival of Durga Puja – its energy, its magic, its excesses and the emotions of millions of people – which drives me personally to do this work year after year. It is true that words can paint pictures, but there is something about the intensity of the streets of Kolkata on the days of the Durga Puja which is best told in moving images. I am grateful to NRK for giving me this opportunity to frame with them the picture of a fragment of the life of my city.

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