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Posted by Surabhi Yadav

Women at Leisure is a photo-project capturing women and girls in carefree moments of leisure, as a measure of freedom and visual reassurance of possibilities beyond restrictions of any kind, even if momentarily. Women singing and dancing together at midnight in a temple to celebrate a deity’s birthday, someone enjoying time by herself in the woods, a girl on a romantic outing with her partner, a group of girls creating a new game or a story – each one of these are moments of them at ease and thus, of defiance.

Women at Leisure is a photo-project capturing such women and girls in such carefree moments of leisure, as a measure of freedom and visual reassurance of possibilities beyond restrictions of any kind, even if momentarily.

Also read: The Gendering Of Leisure: Who Gets To Rest?

I started this project in 2018, four years after my mother’s death..

The earliest inspiration for the project came during a conversation with one of my mother’s friends in the neighborhood. Reminiscing, she said “tumhari mummy masti-majak karne mein sabse aage thi hamare group mein!” (Your mother was most fun and goofy in our group).  

I have many words to describe my mother’s personality but ‘fun’ and ‘goofy’ never made a cut to my list. Infact, my father was the funniest one in our home, but she never enjoyed his humor, which now I understand was because it was most often at her expense. 

Our neighbour, Gangle aunty, went on to tell stories about my mother’s role-plays, some of them even raunchy, during their gatherings on Holi or singing and dancing and insisting that others join her too, shaking off the drudgery of everyday life through her incessant jokes and silly comments. 

Her conversations were a reminder to me that I never got to know my mother as a person.  

Part of it had to do with my inability to connect with her because she created a life for me which was freer than that of hers. She grew up in a village where she wasn’t allowed to study beyond 8th grade, highest among her sisters. I went to the only English-medium school in our town, to IIT and even abroad. The more I studied, the farther I went from her – both intellectually and physically. Her reality was not part of my aspirations.

Part of it was to do with the conditioning that my father’s work outside home was valuable and respectable. Ma’s work to manage a household of six, on other hand, was taken for granted. It is the same conditioning that erases or diminishes women’s identities from our attention and thus, from our memories.

Since her hard work didn’t seem valuable to me, I found her leisure both invisible and if it was absent, not worth questioning why. 

The photo project of capturing women at leisure began as a reaction to her absence not just in her death but as remorse for everything I missed noticing about her when she was alive. I started documenting my sister’s life. I wanted to not just see but make her leisure a part of my attention and language. I was curious to see how she relaxed and carved time just for herself amid her hectic life as a mother of two, a primary school teacher, a woman with big dreams and limited opportunities, among other identities. And soon, everywhere I went, I couldn’t help but notice how and when women and girls around me spent time for themselves. 

The photo project of capturing women at leisure began as a reaction to her absence not just in her death but as remorse for everything I missed noticing about her when she was alive. I started documenting my sister’s life. I was curious to see how she relaxed and carved time just for herself amid her hectic life as a mother of two, a primary school teacher, a woman with big dreams and limited opportunities, among other identities.

I understand now, time is a feminist issue. So is leisure. Who gets to spend time for themselves is a matter of privilege of whose time is counted as valuable economically and socially. Oppression is a loaded word. In action, however, it is often banal and thrives on controlling the most mundane parts of life: what and how to talk, eat, dress, play, love. 

Also read: Unpaid Domestic Labour And The Invisibilisation Of Women’s Work

If oppression is about shrinking freedom from being, leisure is both its antidote and a measure of its absence.

With every frame of a woman or a girl laughing, creating, making this world more unique by being fully herself, I am filled with immense possibilities of what we all can be, what all my mother would have been as a girl, as a person, if I was paying attention.

Women At Leisure: After gently tapping on to each branch of the tree before hopping on to another, Ruchika found a spot to sit but ended up letting down her hair and swinging her body gently.
Women At Leisure: After taking care of her one-year old niece and doing house chores, Rinki finally found some time to work on her eyebrows during COVID lockdown.
Women At Leisure: After taking care of her one-year old niece and doing house chores, Rinki finally found some time to work on her eyebrows during COVID lockdown.
Women At Leisure: Venu enjoying a picnic with her friend Sunil on a sunny day.
Women At Leisure: Venu enjoying a picnic with her friend Sunil on a sunny day.
Women At Leisure: Sneha, helping her partner, Sourabh, put on a face mask. She put on their daughter’s hair bands on his head to prevent his hair from falling on his face.
Women At Leisure: Sneha, helping her partner, Sourabh, put on a face mask. She put on their daughter’s hair bands on his head to prevent his hair from falling on his face.
Women At Leisure: A girl’s brother finally allowed her to try the two-wheeler in the house. Girls from the neighbourhood are now helping her to learn driving, even though none of them know how to drive it.
Women At Leisure: A girl’s brother finally allowed her to try the two-wheeler in the house. Girls from the neighbourhood are now helping her to learn driving, even though none of them know how to drive it.
Women At Leisure: Girls playing Kabaddi early in the morning. Rinki jumps in joy as Kajal from the opposition team is taken down by her team members, Ravina and Neelam.
Women At Leisure: Girls playing Kabaddi early in the morning. Rinki jumps in joy as Kajal from the opposition team is taken down by her team members, Ravina and Neelam.
Women at Leisure: Girls and women in a family gathered in the kitchen to talk and also prepare an elaborate meal for rest of the family during a family reunion.
Women at Leisure: Girls and women in a family gathered in the kitchen to talk and also prepare an elaborate meal for rest of the family during a family reunion.
Women at Leisure: A group of women on a religious outing to a sacred tree outside their village. After finishing their prayers/Pooja, they sat together to catch-up.
Women at Leisure: A group of women on a religious outing to a sacred tree outside their village. After finishing their prayers/Pooja, they sat together to catch-up.
Women at Leisure: A group of women in the village got together in the nearest temple at 9PM to celebrate Janmastami, a Hindu festival. They celebrated Lord Krishna's birthday by singing and dancing together until midnight.
Women at Leisure: A group of women in the village got together in the nearest temple at 9PM to celebrate Janmastami, a Hindu festival. They celebrated Lord Krishna’s birthday by singing and dancing together until midnight.
Women at Leisure: Rinki is trying to learn English by reading from a book.
Women at Leisure: Rinki is trying to learn English by reading from a book.
Women at Leisure: Surabhi relaxing during a picnic outing with friends.
Women at Leisure: Surabhi relaxing during a picnic outing with friends.
Women at Leisure: Pooja applying henna on Alka’s hair.
Women at Leisure: Pooja applying henna on Alka’s hair.
Women at Leisure: Women from a neighborhood got together for a wedding and help hosts attend to guests who have come from far and wide. Once done with the chores, they got together to sing and dance together.
Women at Leisure: Women from a neighborhood got together for a wedding and help hosts attend to guests who have come from far and wide. Once done with the chores, they got together to sing and dance together.
Women at Leisure: Najeeba and Samea play frisbee in the evening to pass their time during COVID lockdown.
Women at Leisure: Najeeba and Samea play frisbee in the evening to pass their time during COVID lockdown.
Women at Leisure: Women dancing in a wedding in presence of men in the community. It is considered immodest for daughters-in-law of the house to show their face, let alone dance, in front of men.
Women at Leisure: Women dancing in a wedding in presence of men in the community. It is considered immodest for daughters-in-law of the house to show their face, let alone dance, in front of men.
Women at Leisure: A woman enjoying her time alone in the woods.
Women at Leisure: A woman enjoying her time alone in the woods.
Women at Leisure: Women enjoying an ice cream break on a hot summer afternoon.
Women at Leisure: Women enjoying an ice cream break on a hot summer afternoon.
Women at Leisure: Women enjoying time together on Hartalika Teej, a Hindu festival. Another spends time taking care of one of their babies.
Women at Leisure: Women enjoying time together on Hartalika Teej, a Hindu festival. Another spends time taking care of one of their babies.
Women at Leisure: Sushma and Aasha enjoy a break on Sushma's terrace before they both return to their kitchens to prepare dinners for their families. Their daughters are enjoying each other’s company.
Women at Leisure: Sushma and Aasha enjoy a break on Sushma’s terrace before they both return to their kitchens to prepare dinners for their families. Their daughters are enjoying each other’s company.
Women at Leisure: Women in a village got together to mourn and celebrate the death of someone who died after a full life. They help each other get ready for Tehravi, the grand feast arranged after someone dies.
Women at Leisure: Women in a village got together to mourn and celebrate the death of someone who died after a full life. They help each other get ready for Tehravi, the grand feast arranged after someone dies.
Women at Leisure: During COVID lockdown, Sneha tries to exercise in the day when she is done with her office work and her one year old daughter is asleep.
Women at Leisure: During COVID lockdown, Sneha tries to exercise in the day when she is done with her office work and her one year old daughter is asleep.
Women at Leisure: A balloon seller takes a break after a long day of walking to different markets
Women at Leisure: A balloon seller takes a break after a long day of walking to different markets
Women at Leisure: Zeba is playing chess against three of her friends.
Women at Leisure: Zeba is playing chess with three of her friends.
Women at Leisure: Sneha is a newly-wedded woman who works as an engineer in a big firm in the city. She waits along with the other women in her in-laws extended family in their native village for other women from the community to join them in a celebration of her arrival in the village.
Women at Leisure: Sneha is a newly-wedded woman who works as an engineer in a big firm in the city. She waits along with the other women in her in-laws extended family in their native village for other women from the community to join them in a celebration of her arrival in the village.
Women at Leisure: Deepa jumping into a pond which got some water due to unexpected rain
Women at Leisure: Deepa jumping into a pond which got some water due to unexpected rain.

Surabhi Yadav is founder of Sajhe Sapne, a budding social enterprise helping girls in villages achieve their career aspirations. She can be contacted on Instagram and Medium

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1 COMMENT

  1. Extremely beautiful pictures. Very nice to see women enjoying. Want to see more women like this. Please avoid picturizing women in kitchen. Women helping husbands is better avoided. They have to relax and relax other women. Even bahu sitting with mother in law is not independence. Spread.

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