The First Red Tent in India


This December I’ve had the delight of my job taking me to Goa for two very different festivals.

The first of which was a yoga and mind body spirit kind of affair. As the only female sound engineer in my company (and possibly in the whole of India! -I would love to meet another!) I had the unexpected pleasure of being assigned to the women only red tent. The men who had sent me there were somewhat fearful and at the same time intrigued by this womblike red cavern and the fierce band of women ruling the space. One guy joked that if would love to record the sound so he could find out what on earth they were doing in here! I was wondering the same thing myself as the women carefully created am altar in the center of the tent, fussing over candles and flowers and the authenticity of their firewood- I pitied the production manager responsible for ensuring their every need was satisfied- while immediately liked each of the red tent team they definitely struck me as women I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of!

As it turned out there were no sound requirements for the morning session other than music playback at the end so I joined in the first activity, rather harmlessly titled ‘Breath Work.’ little did I realise I was to be brought back to the moment of my birth via a trance like state induced by a breathing technique that many people (mistakenly) think is hyperventilating. We were all assured that no one has died of breathing and it was perfectly safe so I laid back and gave it my best. My first thought was that it brought me back to the experience of giving birth rather than my own birth. The feeling produced by the breathing was very similar to the gas given to you when you are in labour. My head started spinning and all my limbs and extremities were tingling. This developed into painful cramps and I passed out a couple of times, my consciousness spiraling off down a dark tunnel with a eerie green light at the end.

Previous to the session we were briefed on the fact that all these things might happen and were perfectly normal as it was our bodies physical manifestation of our resistance to let go of our ‘personal lie’- our deepest innermost fear or insecurity. We also talked about our own births i.e. were they natural or did we have a chord around the neck, forceps etc. This worried me a little as I was a cesarean and as far as I knew adopted from birth, so I wasn’t entirely sure it was an experience I wanted to relive. With all this in mind, after the seed of thought had been planted I naturally began to consider what my personal lie might be whilst flat on my back in my trance. I found myself wanting to cry and overwhelmed with emotion but there was a voice in my head telling me not to let go as technically I was at work- imagine if one of the boys came to ask me for a microphone or cable or something and found me half passed out in floods of tears on the floor proclaiming that I am terrified of being rejected! Not a good look!

Imagebra on mixing desk (not mine!)

Anyway the session got over and the day went on with a goddess galaxy ceremony run by fashion designer Malini Ramani and a talk on what it means to be feminine by a sex psychotherapist Shanta Gyanchand topped off in the evening by a film on the history of the red tent movement. Red tents have been around for a long, long time. Originally they were places where women went to at their time of the month to bleed together and I expect have a bloody good moan as we all like to when we are brimful of hormones and menstrual cramps. Over time some hippies and a few feminists decided this was a good idea and it would be great to have a space where women could meet and share stories and love and generally be empowered as well as have a good moan about their periods. I fully agree with them after watching the film and seeing first hand the effect the red tent had on the women that visited over the weekend. My personal highlight had to be the wisdom imparted by Shanta in her talk on interpreting women’s sexual fantasies using dream analysis theory- fascinating stuff! Apparently the reason why lots of women have submissive fantasies, sometimes to the extremes of rape or sexual slavery, is because women often find themselves having a lot of heavy responsibility in their lives and in these submissive situations all responsibility is relinquished- makes a whole load of sense!

I also loved Deepti Datt’s reinterpretation of Sleeping beauty as related to the coming of age of a young girl (getting your period) and the rest of the details I won’t reveal here as they are a treat best heard first-hand.

This was the first time there has been a red tent here in India- a fact which really surprised me considering India’s large hippy populace who are especially concentrated here in Goa. The tent was run by two women of Indian origin, which also surprised me and I felt uncomfortable about the fact that it did. This was until I thought about it somewhat and realised that the reason it surprised me was exactly the reason why India needs the red tent movement- women have been oppressed here and many still are. Often this happens in their own homes and there is a definite need for a space they can go where they can talk openly without being judged in terms of religious rules or the expectations of Indian society. Of course there is a feminist movement here but red tents are not simply about feminism or hippies- they are about support, healing and education which is something every woman has a need for regardless of social background. I was very privileged to witness and be a part of one and really excited to see several women announcing at the end their intent to take the idea away and start up red tent women’s circles in their own Indian cities and wish them the best of luck!

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Published by anenglishwomaninmumbai

A Brit writer, creative technologist and mother, living, working and loving life in Mumbai and beyond.

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