Today is International Women’s Day and unlike the other years, this year I decided to jump into the bandwagon and find out for myself what the hullabaloo was all about. Fortunately, I had come across this insertion in the newspaper about a story-sharing session that was going to be held by a local NGO The ThoughtShop Foundation. The event was to be called That Takes Ovaries. The phrase caught my attention but I could not recall where I had heard it before (Later after the anchor mentioned, I remembered reading about it in a newspaper feature). anyway I decided to gather my lazy bag of bones out for a whiff of fresh air and reached the venue well ahead of the scheduled time.

The Nandan3 auditorium has a seating capacity of ~150 and most of the seats were taken up. The anchor for the evening was Ms Mira Kakkar who is associated with the ThoughtShop Foundation, while the MC was Ms.Sohini Sengupta Halder, a young and renowned theatre and film actor who has won the national award for her role as the mentally challenged khuku in “Paromiter Ekdin”.

“That Takes Ovaries” is based upon a series initiated by a writer named Rivka Solomon. Inspired by an informal story sharing session, she conceptualized the idea of documenting real-life events involving women that created an impact in the lives. The end result was the collection “That Takes Ovaries”. To promote the concept, Ms.Solomon started holding sessions by the same name and encouraged women to come and share their stories. These stories ranged from the subtle to the bizarre but never failed to touch the heart of the listeners. Ms.Kakkar communicated with Ms.Solomon and started the present series. According to her, Kolkata is the only place outside the United States where these sessions have been held. Today was the 6th session organised by Thoughtshop Foundation.

Ms Kakkar started by narrating the tale of Gita Muskunde. this lady from Goa tired of fighting for hygienic public toilets finally decided to take on the municipal authorities in a unique manner. She burst into the room of the concerned officer and did the needful right there on the floor. It landed her in jail but she did manage to get her woes across.

Ms. Sohini S Halder read from the preface of Ms Solomon’s book and then narrated a funny incident of the time when she had married and moved to live in a conservative suburbia. Over there she had managed to create a stir the day she decided to jog in track pants in a public park.

Members from the audience were then invited to share their own experiences. Numerous ladies volunteered and did not hesitate to narrate of their experiences…some happy and some painful. The first lady who came up had been involved in a gruesome incident, the news of which had been reported extensively during the time of its occurrence. She, her husband, daughter, son-in-law and a 9 year old grandchild were driving down from moradabad to delhi when they were stopped on the highway. The moment her son-in-law stepped out of the car, they were surrounded by a number of men. Without blinking they shot the two defenseless men in the party. the women and the child were dragged to the nearby fields and robbed of their jewellery. During the entire time period this lady kept screaming to try and get the attention of the nearby villagers. Finally, the robbers fled when they sensed trouble. The little granddaughter also showed tremendous courage and consoling her mother and grandmother, guided them towards the highway, from where they were rescued. While narrating, the lady could not stop her tears and it was heartwrenching to listen as well.

Ms Kundu described her struggle which started with the birth of he son who was born with some congenital handicap. She brought him up, running from pillar to post, gathering information and help and today when he was 23 years old, he was a very special person. As a result of her struggle, was born Mentaid- an organisation dedicated to help people who were also faced with similar problems in their children.

A budding writer described her encounter with a lecherous individual at a very young age. no one including her family and close friends believed her, as the accused person had a very affable public face, but it was the very same man’s wife who stood in her defense and made him apologise to her. Then there was the story of a beautiful girl who ended up with a disfigurement in her face as a result of an accident. it marred the chances of her finding a “decent husband” and landed her into major depression. She finally managed to jerk out of it and was currently struggling to support herself by engaging herself in other constructive work.

“Move over saas-bahu soaps” was what ran through my mind when I heard of the mother-in-law who was fighting against her entire family to protect her daughter-in-law and her two grandchildren, when her son suddenly decided that he did not want to be with his wife anymore.

Three friends from a prestigious college joined in as well. One of them spoke of a distant relative who had been forced by the untimely death of her husband to resort to prostitution to support herself and her 3 month old son. At night she left her son alone at home and went out as there was no other support system. The other two spoke of their personal trauma after family tragedies and how they had forced themselves to shut the pain out so that they could fight the circumstances with courage. The tears did not stop today as one of them let out all the pain that she had been denying herself.

A singer narrated the painful struggle that she had undergone from the moment she had married a man of her choice. She was abused by her in-laws and abandoned by her husband multiple times. She finally joined a group of singers and traveled from Bihar to Bombay and then Dubai in her quest for survival. During that period she tested positive for HIV and had suffered for quite sometime with minimal support from her immediate family. Now she is an active member of the NGO People Living with AIDS and had found a new purpose to live for.

The handful of men, present were also invited to share any stories that they knew of. one person described his aged grandmother who was a person with many talents. One lady, associated with Lifeline (another NGO) volunteered to talk abt her son. as the session was dedicated to women, she sensed the awkwardness and quipped “afterall it took ovaries to get him out”. the stage was set and she spoke of her son who had been involved in a major accident and was still recovering from the wounds that he had suffered a year back.

Some light-hearted stories were also exchanged and one of them was of the lady named Nisha, who described the mischievous plan that she had devised at the age of 16 to sneak into a theatre to watch a porn movie. Sounds like fun but this is the lady who has walked out of her marriage of ~30 years after realising that she was being denied her own individual existence.

Another lady also involved with an NGO faced abuse at home and with her children’s support had lodged a complaint against her husband. But instead of moping at her misfortune she described them as “opportunities” that brought with them hope and strength and rich experience.

The session ended with a saree being spread out for the attendees to write their comments on. Each volunteer got a “golden ovary” and would be considered for the “Rotary Exemplary Prize”. Scheduled for the second half was a film titled “All about my mother”.

As a woman I am proud to have attended this session as it projected the strength and potential that lie hidden inside a woman’s inner self. Woman’s Day is not just about special movies on television or celebrity chit-chat but also about shades in the everyday life of a woman. It made me realise the fact that every face in the crowd had a story behind it and was not restricted to be a simple headcount.

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