SOLPA SMILE PLEASE!
Mid late august Blank Noise did a two week workshop at Srishti. The students Kinshuk, Neha, Tanvee. Prerna. Piyush. Pooja. Shrikar worked on a number of projects, one of which involved smiling in public. The Action Heroes team went to Majestic Bus Stand and walked about individually with a smile on their face. Why smile?
“what would it be like if everyone on the street smiled?”
Would the experience of being in public amidst ‘strangers’ be less threatening? How would a smile be interpreted? How does a smile affect the dynamics between strangers in a context where it is not normal to smile, it is normal to be stared at if you are female, that too from a socio economic background which isn’t the represented group in that public. ( majestic bus stand) It isn’t even seen as normal for women to make eye contact here! The group made eye contact and smiled. Are there 'ways of smiling' as there are 'ways of looking'? Does the smile have a tone?
The male action heroes (Kinshuk, Shrikar, Piyush) smiled too. How was their smile interpreted? How did women respond to them smiling? How did other men respond? These were some of our questions. Here’s what the new Action Heroes have to say about it.
important : read with a smile
Some people were really surprised and amused when they saw me
smiling continuously. When I smiled at people only when I smiled at people only when they were closer to me,it made them conscious. If i just stood in their way and smiled at them,they suddenly deviated from their way. After sometime people also reciprocated smiles. Most of the women walk with their gaze fixed to the ground,and also
they ignore until necessary. Maybe, the fear of exceeding or challenging boundaries of private spaces into public spaces stops people from smiling at each other. What if from childhood , we are conditioned to smile at every stranger,rather than being on our guard.
It was interesting how most people looked away specially the women while the men seemed more curious as to why we were smiling at everybody. Some of them at first acknowledged the smile, but, when smiled at again did not seem to like it as they seemed to have thought of us being up to something. Also, it was more accepted by people if we smiled at them individually whereas if there were too many of us smiling at them then they simply wondered why and looked away or walked away. All this comes back once again to the point where we see in human nature, that everybody at all times is looking for reason. Why is it that we have to have a reason for everything we do ?
Madam, kitna charge karega?” ( "how much will you charge?")
This is was my first experience of being mistaken for a sex worker and being approached outright at a bus stop. Was I leering? Was I ‘sexily’ dressed? Did I wink and gesture lewdly? No, all did was smile.
Maybe I didn’t smile at only the people I knew. Maybe I did make eye contact with a person to make the smile on my face evident. Are these things ‘wrong’?
Did I then, ask to be followed and be categorized as someone ready to be picked up from the street?
Smiling at the bus stop invoked responses of various kinds- from shock, to surprise to mostly, thrill and delight in a man’s face. It was observed that women looked away and ignored the smile, that I made evident, was for them, altogether. Along with socio-cultural and economic aspects of a response to a smile, I concluded a connection to geographic location .Also, young boys from the North Eastern part of the country, seemed to respond in a way that was far more open than a young man from any other part of the nation.
What were the intonations of the kind of smile I was giving?
When is a smile threatening?
How could I use a smile as a defense mechanism?
There were also questions of the definitions of ‘shady’, ‘creepy’ and ‘slutty’ smiles that I dealt with.
Although all these will always remain unanswered, a project like this took smiling from a casual body-lingual sign and magnified it to emphasize the deep rooted connotations of small gestures in our behavior, we often ignore or take for granted.
Men were the easiest to make eye contact with.They mostly walk making eye contact with people in general so intentionally making it is not so hard. They reacted in different ways to the smiling. Some returned it. Some were a bit off-footed and just walked on by or stared. Some unfortunately got quite excited by this gesture and followed me around. Out of some 5 pursuers, only two were threatening in anyway and one only because he was wearing a mask. What was interesting was that the curious ones asked me questions, which according to plan we were not allowed to answer – so in french because they so avidly believed i was not from this country. Which on hindsight made me think that maybe they thought smiling was a cultural thing.
One man almost thought I was going to start a conversation and opened his mouth to speak. Smile is the beginning or an end of a conversation not the conversation itself?
I smiled, they smiled, I smiled some more, they smiled some more- I broadened their smile, that’s when most men shied away.
I broke into a smile- they did too.
Then, there were those who took the effort to uncover their mouths and face the deadly swine flu virus, only to smile at me.
Ah! The gaze, I experimented with- a hard stare, a constant eye contact, a soft eye contact not prolonged with my eyes finding themselves back to the open air within seconds. Each made a difference.
That persistent smile, not once, twice but thrice! Follow me- is that what I said?
He made eye contact as I moved up and down, I smiled, but then it was more than that smile, “the conversation was being given a direction”, I thought as his thumb stuck to point at himself.
Women were a different story, with their gaze so low or their blinks so fast. There were instances where they were smiling and my smile just brought an end to theirs.
That suspicion glaring as their lips tightened into a straight line.
The odd couple I smiled at, who were already red with all the flirting and intimacy stopped dead in their tracks, my smile was misinterpreted!
Shrikar Marur:It was a failed mission in my case as every time I walked past a person and tried even before I could initiate a smile, he/she would just look away, not in an attempt to avoid eye contact but a natural reaction most people tend to have.
Saumitra: Women were not even looking at me they used to either ignore me or they used to look away if i could make an eye contact. Many men thought that i know them or they know me and hence i am smiling at them
More from them here: