People and Boundary / Anu Karippal

I will never get tired of looking out of my window, or the bus or car I travel. Human beings are the most fascinating beings, even more intriguing is the multiple relations we build with the space we use. We call them public, private, and personal, constantly produced through human performance. Yet, all of these intersect and intercede into a mysterious mesh. Public spaces in India are so confusing. Engineers build roads, walkways, skywalks, but Indian crowd finds tiny outlets in such places to become vendors, flower sellers, panipuri sellars etc. Every city has a smell. The town I live in, Amruthahalli, has a smell too; an amalgam of jalebi, dosa and panipuri. And sweat. Streets also hold our secrets. Take a look at the street and you see people, things and you think how simple everything is! Yet, look closer, and you will see city in a different light. You will see a girl petting a stray dog, you will see people in love, people in grief, people in anger, an old man with his cat, his only possession. I would say, public space is rather an accumulation of all individuated, personal spaces.

Enmeshed into each other, much like life.

Boundary making is integral to human and to what makes a space public or private. We make boundaries; geographical, emotional. A home has boundaries, some are invited to the drawing room, some beyond that. And to some, access to one’s room and the tiny drawer in the cupboard where one’s secrets lie. It’s no different with the human mind. Mind is labyrinthine, much like a city. We give a surface view of self to some, and to some a more intimate self. Like Manu Joseph says, a house if looked at for too long will begin to look like a person. We make boundaries in our friendships, we forge groups, include some and otherize the rest.

Berambadi in Gundlupet unfolded more of such intricate relations with space, of how people constantly make and unmake boundaries in their quotidian acts. We think we know things, and there space decides to play a game with us. To fool us around. We try to control and manage it calling public, private but space plays out in an endless penumbra, leaving us in confusion.

Once Kumar, a colleague and I were on field taking the socio economic profile of community members. We went inside a house to make a rough estimate of house size. To our surprise, what we call vacant space was inside the house. There were clothes hanging to dry as light sifted down the floor, making shadows. Kumar and I wondered, what do we call this – part of house or vacant space? I also thought, what is it that makes us call some space vacant? How can a space that isn’t part of the house be vacant? It’s rather a dynamic, happening space, where plants, creatures and humans interact yet we call it vacant. Such constant linguistic use reiterate and produce meanings of space, almost without us knowing.

House or vacant space?

Shops offered interesting spaces of enquiry in Berambadi. Most of the shops in Berambadi are part of the house, making up a room facing the road. The seller is visible to the viewer amongst the sweets and bakery items exclusive to the village through the big window. To the viewer, it’s a shop. But for the seller he is part of his house. An insider- outsider view. The shop keeper is juggling between the role of a seller, a public person and a being embedded in a personal space- a father, a husband, a son.

Public? Personal? Where does one end and the other begin? 

Some spaces are sacred, and some profane. Some trapped between the two, like the temple in Berambadi. Devasthana, the temple located geographically in the centre of Berambadi has on either sides of the entry Tulsi pots, informing us we are entering a sacred space. Temple that has prayers early morning and evening, however is a different place at other times of the day. In the late evenings and mornings, one will see temple surrounded by men of all ages (yeah, no women, cuz you know space is also gendered) chatting, gossiping, watching people that board and unboard the bus from Gundlupet, looking at pretty girls. So many people that I forgot it was a temple. Once Kumar and I, while enquiring the possibility of a community toilet in Berambadi heard from Panchayat and people that we cannot have a toilet surrounding temple despite the availability of space. A space so sacred, yet stages chatting, gossips that are considered worldly, that belongs to realm of profane.

Temple conversations; where sacred and profane play shadow games.

Space is a puzzle; we control them, naming them personal-public, sacred-profane. Yet they are all enmeshed into each other, trapped. Space fools us around, always. Events give space meanings and we make and unmake them constantly.

Anu Karippal is a researcher at ATREE, Bangalore. Anthropology and the mundane life intrigue her. She writes poetry, practices photography, theatre and dance. Long walks keep her life moving. She can’t imagine life without windows or for that matter, music.

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