Object Stories: Mona, Pooja, and Aarti's Notebooks
In the last year, I became particularly preoccupied with the idea of photographing objects; the more I pursued object photography, I started thinking about the stories behind the objects and the notion that objects themselves can be stories.
What would happen if I brought together objects, people, and stories then? In my new photographic endeavor, Object Stories, I wished to engage in dialogue with people and ask about the significance of objects (or not) in their lives; and if they did matter, discover the stories behind the ones most precious to them. This project presents the people whom these objects belong to and the stories underlying the objects; it is also a work in progress, constantly evolving, resulting in a differently conceptualized and presented Object Story each time.
For my first installment, last month, I spoke to a group of young teenage girls I met at Sambhali, an incredible Jodhpur-based non-profit organization actively working towards empowering underprivileged Rajasthani women and girls through education, vocational training [such as sewing], self defense and more to ensure that they become confident, socially aware and financially independent individuals. I discovered the organization three years ago during a visit to Jodhpur, which happens to be my home-town and have kept in touch with them since.
I spent a few hours with Mona, Pooja, and Aarti along with their friends, Sanju and Rekha, listening to them talk about their lives: their lives as child-brides, and the seclusion and insulation of their lives prior to Sambhali, how Sambhali has definitively and positively changed them, infusing them with so much self-awareness and confidence, and their aspirations and fears. Talkative, bubbly, inquisitive, protective, and philosophical, they in turn took me to their favorite Ganesh temple, their homes, their families, and lives.
When I asked them about the objects that mattered to them the most, they interpreted the idea as the ones that would best represent them - and they each produced three notebooks-journals which were presented to them by a Sambhali volunteer. It contained their sewing and embroidery swatches, their photographs, and bits of information about themselves. Far from having a voice or agency of their own once upon a time, they had literally written and were continuing to write their lives into being.
Trio of Stories
Mona, 15, Jodhpur
"Before we came to Sambhali, we just stayed at home…at the most, we went out to gather branches for the chula [wood-fired stove[. We never even went to school. I unknowingly got married when I was ten years old along with my older sister. Till date, I have never seen my groom’s face. We had no idea what our lives were all about. Coming to Sambhali has changed everything: we are now filled with so many hopes and dreams for the future."
Pooja, 16, Jodhpur
"Even after marriage, we want to keep on coming to Sambhali. We come here every day between 9-2pm apart from Saturdays and Sundays. On those days, we feel something big is missing from our lives."
Aarti, 16, Jodhpur
"We had never even picked up a pen in our lives…and now we are learning English, Hindi and Maths. We have also participated in an English drama, done a video-photo workshop, and are learning boxing and lathi [baton] as part of self-defense. Earlier, we used to be hesitant about speaking to anyone…we now know how to approach people and address them. “
Looking into the Future
"We want to be further educated. We want to sew and make things for other. We want to be something and stand on our feet."
I appreciated the opportunity of getting a glimpse into these girls' lives and thoughts through the medium of their notebooks. I do wonder what else they will fill these notebooks with; all I nevertheless wish is that they keep on filling the pages of their lives...and may there be hope and promise even in the blank pages.
What did you think of this first of the Object Stories? I would love to hear your thoughts! ----
With many thanks to the founder of Sambhali, Mr Govind Singh Rathore, the team, and of course, the spirited girls themselves for all their help in facilitating this feature!