Clark University has played host to a veritable slew of celebrities and brilliant, revelatory presentations in the recent past. Adding to the list of thought provoking initiatives, the Higgins School of Humanities organized Two Women Talking, on Thursday, October 2nd at 7:00 p.m. The Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons was full beyond capacity when I wormed my way through the crowd with barely five minutes to spare (I’m a college student, cut me some slack). As luck would have it, a few of the seats out in the front row, reserved for those far more important than lowly students, were bestowed upon us out of the goodness of Amy Richter’s heart. I had an inkling that the evening was going to be an unusual experience when Amy Richter introduced the two presenters by not introducing them. Any introduction would serve to frame our understanding of the stories, she said, a phenomenon the presenters wanted to avoid.
The two presenters, Benaifer Bhadha and Monsoon Bissell, strode to the front of the room and began with a few sustained moments of unadulterated silence. I grew so comfortable in the quiet that I was caught off guard when Benaifer began to speak. What ensued was a masterpiece of synchronicity and narration. The two took turns in sharing vignettes, snippets of their lives that followed a loose chronological order. They began with tales from their childhood – Benaifer detailing her memory of waiting till 4:00 pm struck to rush to her grandmother’s side to have samosas and other treats. Monsoon picked up as the stream of words dried up, sharing her memory of biting her father’s leg and seeking refuge under her grandparents’ bed. And so the stories ebbed and flowed, weaved and parted, dredging up memories of pain, anger, joy, ecstasy, paralyzing fear and freedom. They discussed the experience of coming out to their parents as being a lesbian, of being sexually harassed by men who engaged you in genial conversation but moments ago, the toxic sense of self-loathing that develops from hating your body, the dogged determination that they seized onto when diagnosed with cancer. The stories explored a myriad of experiences, concerning gender, sexuality, illness, culture, and violence.
The most astounding aspect of this performance was that it was utterly unscripted. The two women performed ex tempore. I was rendered speechless by their ability to recall these life experiences (I struggle to remember one interesting fact about me during the staggering number of ice breakers we play at Clark) let alone be able to complement the preceding tale and explain them in such vivid detail. I could feel the steaming hot samosa in Benaifer’s hands. The heavy clink of Monsoon’s mother’s silver bracelets as she clasped her hands over her distraught face rang in my ears. Everyone in the room waited with bated breath, hanging on every word and exhaling with lusty laughs at the punch lines and the witticisms that seasoned these fragments of two lives. I felt as if I had crossed into a sacred space, “the sacred space between listener and teller” as was defined by the event. My spatial awareness was reduced to the two mesmerizing figures in front of me, and I felt intimately connected to their lives, privy to their deepest secrets. In turn, they connected with me, related to me, and fed off the energy my listening engendered. The evening ended all too quickly, bringing me tumbling back to Clark in a rather Dorothy-esque fashion. To Benaifer, Monsoon and the Higgins School I say bravo! I cannot think of an evening better spent than listening to tales that were as much my life story as those of two unknown women who talk.
– Themal Ellawala
– Photo credits: Demet Senturk