The Empowering Experience of Performing in YKB

April 20, 2012 at 1:02 PM

by Devasmita Chakraverty

When I think about empowering experiences that have defined my identity, I look back at 2008 and 2009 and think of my experience performing in Yoni Ki Baat (YKB) in Seattle. YKB is a collection of original, authentic, and powerful stories told by South Asian women. It is inspired by Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, similar in theme, but different mainly because the scripts are written and performed every year by women of the South Asian community. It is a perspective of the writers’/performers’ meaning-making of violence, abuse, stigma, dogma, and a safe space to share the journey of our learning to celebrate our bodies and our identities through expression and creativity. 

I do not remember how I found YKB. Perhaps it was YKB that found me, on a cold, January evening in a small room in the University of Washington. Embracing YKB was a life-defining moment for many reasons. As a single Indian woman who had recently moved to America a few years ago, I was still trying to discover my identity, and make sense of where exactly I fit in the new society. When my friend mentioned YKB, I had raised my eyebrows in surprise. I was not aware of the existence of a space where some of the many personal, sometimes painful, and mostly taboo topics were shared.

I have never been a spotlight loving person. The thought of getting used to standing in front of an audience and voicing my stories made me nervous. The darkness, the sharp stares of the people, and the bright lights on my face often made me wonder what I had got myself into. Stage performance was so not me. I was scared, nervous, but somewhere in all these dark feelings lurking lived a ray of excitement, the excitement of sharing my stories, being embraced by a loving community, and most importantly, living through the ordeal of revisiting feelings that had lain dormant for a long time, and putting it in front of the world. The butterflies in my stomach never really stopped flapping their wings. My friends, the Seattle community, and everyone I knew had watched me perform. In some ways, I was the most important person on the stage and in other ways the stage was the most important and defining object of my existence for the evening.

No amount of hand holding and good wishes has ever dispelled the fears that nag you and make you queasy before a performance of this magnitude. Was it the right thing to do, to be on stage and talk about taboo topics in front of your friends, colleagues, and a larger audience? Talk about things that could turn a potential boy friend away? Is it okay to talk about things you would rather your mother did not hear of? My stories were not always sad, in fact, they were mostly happy. They were taboo issues nevertheless. Sometimes I was a sixth grader wondering what exactly hit my world that day and gave me a happy blackout. Sometimes I was twenty-seven and unmarried, unable to find a connection between the Jakes and Lukes from Harlequin Romances, and the Kamal Kishores and the Neelkanth Kumars I met in life. No matter where I stood in life, I was always able to find my voice on stage, a truthful and authentic voice that was mine and never failed me.

I realized in the process of scripting my play, that writing comically cynical, sarcastic satire is my forte. I wrote about serious issues in a way that had the audience in splits. It just came naturally to me. When I was talking about how “the common man, even after topping the IIT and ending up as a software luminary, spends his entire life paying off mortgages for a house in the outskirts of Bellevue”, the crowd laughed uncontrollably. When I was sad, the audience laughed. When I was angry, the audience laughed. Once, all I had to do was go up on stage to start my performance, and some people started laughing. It was an important realization, that humor is perhaps where my voice came from. I found it immensely therapeutic. It is not that I intended to become a standup comedian. However, no matter how I said my story, and how sad my story was, the audience always laughed. YKB gave me a blank canvas on which I could paint whatever I wanted to. And I found my voice in humor. Some of my better writings turned out to be the ones coated with a cynical, satirical overtone.

I discovered my comfort zone in writing scripts. I learned to deal with my stage fears. I learnt to stand in front of people and talk about things that were taboo. And in this process, I made a set of wonderful friends who are the sisters I will cherish all my life. These are not just friends who I would watch a movie with or have dinner with. These are my sisters I would call up in the middle of the night if I needed to talk. This is why YKB has been such a life defining moment for me. More than reaching out to the South Asian community, I have reached out to myself, and the experience was cathartic. People have asked me if YKB is about some male-bashing- feministic tirade or about the crude portrayal of the man in a negative role. YKB is not even about men! It is about every aspect of a woman’s life- sad and happy, descript and coveted, positive and negative, inspiring and awe-inspiring, all entwined into a beautiful rosette of scripts and enacted as a play.

When I moved out of Seattle, I missed performing in or watching YKB. Fortunately for me, I will be there this year, in the crowd, cheering, rejoicing, and applauding. If you happen to live in or around Seattle, I would strongly recommend you to go watch the show. My best wishes to the team- I know there would be awkwardness and nervousness, but it is every important that such tales are told. Good luck and best wishes to Yoni Ki Baat 2012.

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All events are at the Seattle Asian Art Museum: 1400 East Prospect Street, Seattle, WA 98112

Aaina 2012 is produced and presented by Tasveer in collaboration with the Gardner Center for Asian Arts and Ideas