Documentary channel

You won’t find any sob stories in documentary on Vrindavan’s widows

The PSBT production ‘Krishna’s Waiting Room’ has been directed by Kavita Bahl and Nandan Saxena.

More than 20 years after she left Delhi for the Meera Sahabhagini women’s shelter for widows in Vrindavan, 80-year-old Manu Ghosh returns home in Kavita Bahl and Nandan Saxena’s documentary Krishna’s Waiting Room. After a few moments of silence with her son, Manu declares to the camera, “This is my little rascal.” Her son, Benu Ghosh, tries to persuade her to stay back, but she gently dissuades him, “Where do I have the time?”

Commissioned by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust, Krishna’s Waiting Room is a chronicle of the lives of many such widows in Vrindavan, who await their death in the holy city. The 54-minute documentary is a part of the PSBT Open Frame annual festival, which will be held in Delhi between September 13 and 19. Mamta Singh’s Women of Varanasi, another PSBT film at Open Frame, is also an account of the women of Vrindavan, who have featured in numerous news stories and documentaries.

“As one would expect in a documentary about the widows in Vrindavan, there are no sob stories in the film,” Kavita Bahl said. “I wanted to place my film in the present tense. How they are living their lives now is very important. Moreover, sadness is something very personal. I found the women of Vrindavan to be quite settled in their present tense.”

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Krishna’s Waiting Room (2017).

Bahl attributed her fascination for documenting women’s lives as the film’s prime motivation. Along with Nandan Saxena, Bahl has directed several award-winning documentaries, including Candles in the Wind in 2013, about women in Punjab whose farmer husbands have committed suicide. In I Cannot Give You My Forest (2015), the duo explores the lives of Orissa’s Kondh adivasis and their singular relationship with the forest. The film won the National Film Award for Agricultural Film.

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I Cannot Give You My Forest (2015).

Shot over two years, Krishna’s Waiting Room packs in interviews with the widows, lawyers and Sulabh International founder Bindeshwar Pathak. “Vrindavan is not new to me as my grandparents used to stay there,” Bahl said. “During my childhood, I used to come across the women in white and have wondered where they used to come from and why they always stood in the corners. While there have been other films on these women, I wanted to show their state.”

Through the stories of Manu Ghosh, Aarti and Rataniya, the film provides a tour of the various ashrams in the city. The women’s journeys are skilfully interwoven with Bahl’s introspective voiceover. “We would be treating these women like objects if I don’t reveal myself,” Bahl explained. “As an audience, I would like to know who is talking, who is taking these shots and who is leading the camera because the film is from a perspective. And as a filmmaker I am taking you on a journey, so shouldn’t you get used to me as well?”

Krishna's Waiting Room (2017).
Krishna's Waiting Room (2017).

A few minutes into the documentary, Bahl mentions that she was first ignored by these women when she walked in with a camera. What changed?

“Basically, my presence,” she said. “Initially they thought that I was going to sell their pictures and make money. But once I started talking to them, they realised that somebody was willing to listen to their stories. They are usually treated like objects by photographers who click their pictures on days of Holi and Janmashtami. Without talking to anyone, people click pictures. This is what makes them lose interest in anybody with a camera.”

Manu Ghosh’s return proves that many of the women do not exist in a social vacuum, Bahl pointed out. “There is a home and there is a family. Once you start talking to somebody about their family, they will obviously talk about their children and parents. So I always noticed that she was still very fond of her son. So I just asked her if she would like to visit them and she agreed. She hadn’t visited them in so many years so she thought it would be a good idea.”

But nothing stops Manu Ghosh from going back to Vrindavan. As she bids her goodbyes to her son and grandson, Benu Ghosh bemoans, “Radha Rani has snatched my mother from me.”

Krishna's Waiting Room (2017).
Krishna's Waiting Room (2017).
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.