Know Thy Neighbour: Women Forge Community Bonding

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A small group of women of Thakur village, Mumbai, wished to do something to know each other better. Their strong urge to revive community and camaraderie bloomed into Streetkonnect. They organised two events, back-on-back, last month. The turnout was huge. A simple idea to know one’s neighbour and connect bloomed. Reema reports on the amazing street festival in Mumbai, exclusively for Different Truths.

Remember those growing up days when most of the summer holidays were spent at this or that friend’s house? Ma never had to set any play dates. And we would still hang around at a friend’s house all day or when Ma would affectionately serve her delicious aloo parathas to all the friends, who would land up unannounced at lunch time. She would do that not to return any favours but because she enjoyed sharing what she was good at. This was her way of showing her affections.

These days, the kids crave for time and affection from their own parents, let alone from an ‘aloo paratha’ famous neighbour.

It was in midst of such conversations and sharing stories, during a ritualistic evening rendezvous between a group of women in Thakur village, Mumbai, that a desire was born to revive that sense of community living. But the obvious question was how to do that? While they were pretty familiar with who is who in their respective society, they barely knew the neighbours and were hence clueless what it has to offer.

It is said that taking the time and effort to understand your community well before embarking on a community effort would pay off in the long term. In order to understand and know who makes up this community, it was decided to create a platform to celebrate, not any festival, but ‘who we are.’

An event was envisaged where people may get together and connect with each other through various activities and conversations. A common venue was decided, a street in Thakur village. Some members from other neighbouring residential societies also joined the core group. To have maximum participation, a plan was designed, to cater to all age groups and interests.

The street was divided into five sections: Fitness, Kids, Art, Innovation and a centre stage. There was something for everybody who’d come. And to keep it unadulterated, it was decided to leave the sponsors out. After all it was not about promoting any particular product or service. It was for the community. To make it democratic, for, by and of the community, funds were to come from it. It worked well as a marketing strategy too as people got to know about the event. Because they were contributing, they felt a certain ownership. It was their event. The community donated generously, showing the trust and the willingness that they had to host an event like this. Thus, with the single agenda to celebrate, ‘Streetkonnect’ (SK) was born.

The group expected to see 500-700 residents on January 11, 2015, the day of the event. It was to start at 7am on a Sunday morning and continue till noon. The turnout was huge. It left the organisers spellbound. There were 3,500 people at the event. Everybody soaked in the pleasure of sharing and getting to know people staying in their neighbourhood. Many acquaintances were made, promising a budding friendship. It was a Sunday well spent and everybody left with a huge smile. They wanted more. A simple idea had bloomed.

After a few niche events on Jan 24, Streetkonnect came back with a bang! This time the corporator and local civic authorities offered a much bigger street to the SK core group that comprised of home-makers, working professionals, life coaches, a homeopath, social workers, students and artistes.

Since we all carry a dominant vibration of either love, courage, passion, intuition, etc and attract people and situations in our lives depending on those dominant vibes, it was agreed that to acknowledge, appreciate and share that vibration, the theme of the event must be ‘Vibes’.

Streetkonnect Vibes had five zones again, representing a certain vibe associated with each zone.

Love Zone/Kids Area:

A space was created for kids to encourage free play; something different from the structured activity that they are so busy with these days. Jumbo chalks were handed to them and they happily turned the cement road into their little canvas and filled it with their colours of love.

Freedom Zone/Art Corner:

For the free spirited artists there was a corner designated to showcase their works. It primarily had mind-blowing paintings made by children living in slums. And who would have thought of discovering it in the midst of concrete and grovel, a haven of a young tribal boy, Dinesh. He is a shy and simple boy who inherited the culture of Warli from his grandmother and is working passionately to keep it alive. The residents now have a wall painted by him as a memory of Streetkonnect.

There was also a workshop on DJing and Kathak.

Appreciation Zone/Fitness Area:

For fitness lovers, there was a broad spectrum to choose from depending on what aspect of their body they wished to appreciate. For Flexibility there was Yoga, for strength it was Zumba, for Agility, Hip-hop and for Sensuality-Belly Dancing. There was also an open gym for those who didn’t want to miss their morning workout.

Passion Zone/ Innovation Area:

The young minds were introduced to the latest innovations happening around the globe through Juke Box. Some also tried creating prototypes at the design lab. Uday bhai aka Ahmedabad, a rickshaw-wala was invited to share his passion of riding auto and serving customers with a difference.

Joy Zone/Free Space:

This zone saw some great performances from Heartbreakers (a dance group) and an interactive drumming session by Drum Cafe that made the event unforgettable, spreading Joy through their talent. The crowd jived and swayed with enthusiasm.

There were also clay activities, hopscotch, human snakes and ladder, hair art, pottery, hand printing, Segway and many more interesting activities. These, along with the stalls selling homemade food and handicrafts made it immensely memorable. I probably had the best buttermilk ever prepared by Anu aunty, who I didn’t know till that morning. She stays just a few blocks away.

As for the team, our bond has become stronger. It has been cemented by sharing ideas, arguments, late-night coffees during preparations, lots of fun and loads of masti. Sometimes people ask us why we do, what we do. The response always surprises them. To meet and play and just be happy without a purpose or hidden agenda is rare these days.

It would be great if this joy and camaraderie becomes a common feature in our lives. The quintessential Mumbaikar needs to take a pause and breathe the joy, which is supposed to be the normal state for all human beings.

Streetkonnect helped us discover our roots as a social being and enjoy the simple joys of life. We intend to deepen it further.

Pix and Text by author

Reema, is a Yoga therapist and a full time Mom. She is kathak dancer. She performed at various cultural event with her guru Smt. Shila Mehta. She also paints and exhibits her work. Reema aspires to start a holistic learning centre and is a foundering members of the team-Streetkonnect. She lives in Mumbai with her son.