Three men in their 60s were sipping tea outside a thattu kada on an afternoon in Thiruvananthapuram. Suddenly, one of them noticed a young woman in red, standing still and holding a cardboard placard with a sign on it.
Written in Malayalam, it read, “Have you got a job, have you got married, is there some news? (Hint: pregnancy),” with a red stop sign painted on top.
Confused and intrigued, one of the middle-aged men walked to the woman, peered at the sign, and asked her, “So, have you got married yet?” To this, she rolled her eyes and replied, “This is exactly what you should NOT be asking!”
This anecdote was one of the responses to a never-before-seen demonstration, that induced stares, chuckles and frantic finger-pointing from startled pedestrians (mainly men) in Kerala’s capital city.
At many roads in Thiruvananthapuram last week, people spotted two women holding up signs that made statements like “My bra straps will not burn your eyes”, and even bolder ones like, “Fuck is a word, Myru is an emotion.”
Twenty seven-year-old Arya Prakash and Toolika Suresh (24), the two creators of this quirky experiment, say that their motive behind doing it was just to have a bit of fun. “This is just silly goofing around, a real-life meme template created by two women. And I want people to know that I am aware that I am not doing some big, revolutionary thing,” says Arya who founded PopCult.Tribe, a social media page which posts funny funny content on Malayalam pop culture, cinema and more.
However, Arya says that there is some feminist messaging to their initiative as well. Describing their placards as “shower thoughts turned into sign boards”, Arya says, “Because Toolika and I are feminists, the signs just reflect our politics.”
Photo credits: PopCult.tribe
She adds that the ‘bra straps’ sign was an obvious choice due to the intense dress policing women face in Kerala, the ‘fuck is a word’ sign was a bolder choice. “I’ve always wondered why saying the F word did not induce the same of satisfaction as uttering a Malayalam cuss word. The F word is just not relatable enough. And for women, it takes a certain irreverence to freely swear in Malayalam,” she chuckles.
According to Arya’s account, on a particularly idle day in February, she and Toolika, who manage PopCult together, took inspiration from ‘dudewithsign’, an Instagram account which documents two men who roam around New York City holding up signs that ‘nobody asked for’.
Created by Seth Phillips and Elliot Tabele, a quick scroll through dudewithsign’s Instagram account shows Seth turning into a real-life meme by holding up signs with random but relatable lines, such as “That Meeting Could Have Been an E-mail” or “Stop Wearing T-shirts of Bands You Don’t Listen To’.
Photo taken from instagram handle of @dudewithsign
The NYC based Instagram account now has a cult following. But Arya and Toolika felt it would be fun to create something that strikes a chord back home.
‘There’s no way that these dudewithsign guys are going to represent Malayali culture and write things that Kerala’s people can relate to. So, we took that all-important job upon ourselves and decided to roam around the city holding up signs that nobody asked for,” Arya adds with a laugh.
About a week ago, Arya and Toolika, with the help from 4-5 people from PopCult, scribbled lines on cardboard placards and roamed around the city’s Manaveeyam Veedhi, Museum Road and other famous boulevards, displaying their posters made for public perusal (and scandal). And the reactions they received were priceless, they say.
“The most memorable reaction was a bus full of Kerala RTC passengers staring at one of the placards, scandalised that a girl was holding it,” Arya says. While some people stared at them, others didn’t want to engage, thinking that the women were on some sort of protest or part of a TikTok shoot.
Photo credits: PopCult.tribe
“On social media, a lot of people commented saying they loved our idea. Some people commented ‘vere pani onnum ille?’ (Do you not have any other work?). Clearly, they hadn’t read our caption which mentions that we are, indeed, quite jobless,” Arya says with a grin.
The duo hasn’t stopped with the three posters, as they plan to take their ‘idle’ experiments to other cities in Kerala.
“We are thinking Kochi but haven’t decided anything else. It’s all very impromptu. And like I said earlier, the intent is to just goof around, scandalise people, feel the adrenaline rush and have fun,” Arya say