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Aastha Agarwal

IWB Intern

“Parks Not Only For Men To Loiter,” Solo Traveler Sanjukta Basu Reclaims Public Spaces

  • IWB Post
  •  December 18, 2018

The word Travel strings some really odd wires inside me. Sanjukta Basu, a Traveler, a Photographer and a Storyteller, ignited my love for traveling all over again. I couldn’t contain my curiosity and dug into her life like a fan in the making.

And trust me she converted me into one by the end of this hearty telephonic conversation with her.

funny happy excited laugh excited gif

Me: Which role do you think you fit in the most?

  • Single Woman Budget Traveler
  • Writer
  • Photographer
  • Feminist
  • Researcher

Sanjukta: I can tell you which roles do I like the most. Photography, it gives me immense joy and happiness. To go out, see and capture interesting stuff is something that I have always endured. And moreover, when people see and appreciate your work, you feel a different kind of contentment.

Also Writing, I find pleasure in writing too, but yes, always lesser than Photography. Writing requires you to sit at one place, opposite to Photography wherein, you go out and explore new things.

You have got to read her blogs, though, they are amazing!

Me:  What do you like to capture the most in your Photographs?

Sanjukta: I like to do Documentary Photography the most, especially Social Documentaries. I find it a very learning experience in itself.

Also, I am a Feminist Photographer. As an Individual, I strongly feel for women.

Her photography is so close to reality, in fact, it is more real than reality. 

Me: What is your idea of Feminism?

Sanjukta: Yes, I call myself a Feminist. It has become an integral part of my identity now. I find women are not equal to men in any institution – be it marriage, fashion, beauty, legal, medical. People perpetuate women as inferior. I continue to fight for those rights.

I always make sure that even within my social circle, be it my nana, mama, or whoever that I always speak about it. I don’t want to be sitting on the fence and commenting. I remember this one time when somebody cracked a sexist joke in my family, and everyone started laughing, and I stood against it saying that this was not right. After all, I am a Feminist, for which at times you have got be an activist too.

Feminism + Activist = Feminist

Me: What did you mean when you said, that you want to reclaim Gender and Public Space?

Sanjukta: By Public Space, I do not mean Government. I mean anything outside your home, be it roads, paths, parks, buses, mall, etc., where the public goes. But, this remains a masculine space. Women are asked to stay at home. Men go out, work and earn the livelihood for the family, for years this practice is going on. In most cases, women are not allowed to work at all, and if at all they are, they are expected to work on straight lines. Go on time and come back on time!

Even if a woman faces any act of violence in a park. People say “wo itni raat ko park me kya kar rhi thi. Ladke chahe raat bhar park me bidi piye ya patte khele. But ladkiya agar der raat ko park me hai toh wo loose character hai.”

She couldn’t be more correct!

I clicked this picture in Varanasi; it is a large boat. There is a group of pilgrims nicely divided into males and females. There is a clear demarcation: men and women cannot interact and enjoy together. Women are not allowed to explore alone. They can’t loiter around just like that!

Sanjukta Basu

Me: Why do you choose to go on budget travels?

Sanjukta: Because I want to know the ground realities. I like to travel by bus, in trains without reservation. People say it is unsafe for women, but I really want to challenge that. I want to push the boundaries.

Me: Was it scary for you at any point?

Sanjukta: So, I went to this place called Champawat (Uttarakhand), and from there I had to go to Abbott Mount, for which I took a bus. The bus dropped me at a very secluded village. I had to figure out how to go uphill on my own. While I was walking, a guy on a bike stopped and said: “chaliye madam mai apko chod deta hun.” That was when I got a little scared. But I said NO and kept my cool intact.

It gets scary sometimes but not to the extent that you would want to leave everything and go back home. “Jitna hum sochte hai utna scary nai hota, aisa nai hai k thoda bhi risk lia toh gaye.” On a scale of 10, if I have to rate our pre-conceived fear and the actual one, I would rate as:

Pre-conceived – 8…Actual is only nearly 4 

She’s right. You have got to try things first to experience them. I might just give it a shot next weekend, so should you!

Me: Tell us one of your most heart-touching tales, during your travel.

Sanjukta: I was in Abbott Mount (Uttarakhand) and had to take a bus to go back. So while I was waiting, I met a woman in her mid-60s. She asked about who I was and why was I here and was I married or not? I told her everything about me that I am not married, I like to travel and share my experiences across. You will be shocked after hearing what she said next, “bohot acha kar rhe ho, kuch nhi rakha shadi wadi mein.“ This lady was very lively, I spoke a lot to her. You must’ve figured out by now, that I can be very talkative (embarrassingly).

Me: No, please go on I would love to hear all your stories.

So, ya after talking to her, I realized that our perceptions about village women are totally wrong.They might not be as well-read as we are but, they aren’t clueless about things also. I could feel that she too probably wanted to do something else with her life but couldn’t!

I want to take a moment here to congratulate Jaipur Women Blog for publishing such inspiring stories. Stories that most women totally relate to!

A sense of achievement quickly ran into me, and I was all Yaayyyyy… in my head 😉

Also, I saw this young girl in Varanasi. She was a boatwoman, selling Dias. I was so delighted to see the only boatwoman amongst several boatmen that I couldn’t resist clicking a picture.
Sanjukta Basu

Me: Some tips for Women Travelers.

Sanjukta: I believe the very act of traveling is very brave for women. I would suggest women to Go out, Travel, Explore the world, but not with family. Otherwise, it will not be challenging. Try to Go Solo and connect with yourself, or go with a Group (who you become friends with on your journey). Don’t do a luxury travel; this way, you don’t get to know the roots of the place, the ground realities, the culture of that place. I suggest you do a mix of budget and luxury.

Me: Was it easy to convince your family to take up this as a profession?

Sanjukta: My immediate family has always been very supportive. It was very easy for me. My father and I share a strange kind of relationship. In his heart, he knows that what I am doing is absolutely fine, but when people come up to him and say “apki beti ye kya kar rahi hai.” He will always reply, “mai kya karun, she doesn’t listen to me.” He and I have an amazing understanding. He has never told me “ye nai karo kyunki mai nai chahta.”

About my Mother, she absolutely loves to travel; if it weren’t for her Arthritis, she probably would be traveling the world more than me. She writes empowering feminist poems. As a child, she had also witnessed her Mother being a victim to domestic violence.

Me: You said you fell in love with a man who loved to travel.

I have fallen in love many times! Those were the initial days of my solo travel. He used to travel solo for 3-4 months at a stretch; he would share stories with me like – “I was on the way to somewhere and bike kharab ho gyi, I stayed with truck drivers, ate maggi.” I would hear all those stories and think that a woman can never do it. If a woman stays somewhere even near a trucker, she would be raped and murdered, to begin with!

Rest of my encounters wasn’t love, they were one-sided. So, ya never been in love, love really!

Me: How do you earn from Travel blogging?

Sanjukta: I haven’t started earning from Travel Blogging yet. I quit my full-time job in 2015, and I am trying not to go back to my 9-5 job. Even today, I am extremely dependent on my family for my travels, though, be it visa, tickets, finances, etc. But, I hope my work saves me enough that I don’t have to look back.

So, I basically make money from paid photography, wedding photography, social documentaries, etc.

Also, I write for First Post, Huffington Post. I conduct seminars and workshops. Apart from that, I am a Social Media Consultant for NGOs and SMEs. I help them create their website and Facebook page etc.

Me: Really quick then, I’ll say the following, and you will have to name a destination in India which fits really well with it:

  • Budget destination – Manali to Leh/Delhi to Leh
  • Peace & Calm – Kullu
  • Beauty – Ladakh, I’ve not been to North East yet so can’t say!
  • Party –Mussorie and Goa

I just didn’t want to hang up. But, you know how the clock never stops ticking! I was completely in awe of her, though.

Sanjukta, I want you to know that you are doing a great job. Not all women gather the courage to go out there and face it like a BOSS! You are a true inspiration.


First published on Dec 27, 2016.

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