Close
Igniting Ideas For impact

Embarking on a transformative journey through six chapters, we traverse India's landscape, exploring pioneering startups and their revolutionary...

9 months

‘I Didn’t Know Who She Was’: Why Losing My Mom Led Me to Photograph ‘Women At Leisure’

Surabhi Yadav, founder of NGO ‘Sajhe Sapne’, launched ‘Basanti: Women at Leisure’ to explore the importance of leisure in understanding women’s lives, inspired by her late mother’s moments of joy and freedom. She aims to challenge the societal emphasis on constant productivity and advocates for recognising leisure as a significant aspect of life.

‘I Didn’t Know Who She Was’: Why Losing My Mom Led Me to Photograph ‘Women At Leisure’

When did you last engage in an activity done purely for leisure?

I pondered upon this during my conversation with Surabhi Yadav, a photographer and the founder of Sajhe Sapne (NGO). As she eloquently detailed her photography project ‘Basanti: Women At Leisure’ I found myself reflecting on my lifestyle.

While I reluctantly conform to today’s professional environment, there are moments of sheer frustration when I strongly feel, “I’m not made for this hustle culture!”

The project ‘Basanti: Women at Leisure’ encapsulates this sentiment.

“To truly understand who a person is, you should observe them at leisure. However, the work culture that our society has fostered often denies us this opportunity. My project is a modest artistic endeavour to create a space where people can contemplate women’s leisure,” she explains.

With over 1,000 pictures of women at leisure captured from different parts of the country, Surabhi has successfully captured the attention of many. Her Instagram page ‘Women at Leisure’ boasts thousands of followers.

After taking care of her one-year-old niece and doing house chores, Rinki finally found some time to work on her eyebrows during the lockdown.
After taking care of her one-year-old niece and doing house chores, Rinki finally found some time to work on her eyebrows during the lockdown.

In an interview with The Better India, she delves into the inspiration behind the project and shares the stories behind her captivating pictures.

An ode to her mother’s leisure

When you visit Surabhi’s Instagram page, you are welcomed by images of women at their best. From capturing moments of women dancing their hearts out to others enjoying on swings, these women’s faces convey the satisfaction they derive from embracing leisure.

The realisation of the importance of leisure dawned on Surabhi years ago when she lost her mother.

“In 2013, I lost my mother, and it felt like I had lost a part of myself too. In an effort to keep her memory alive, I began conversing with my relatives and those close to her. It was during these conversations that a profound realisation struck me — I didn’t truly know my mother at all,” she shares.

A group of women in village Sukkhad (H.P) got together in the nearest temple at 9PM to celebrate Janmastami, a Hindu festival. They celebrated by singing and dancing together until midnight.
A group of women in village Sukkhad in Himachal Pradesh celebrate Janmashtami, a Hindu festival.

“Some people described her as ‘chulbuli and mazakiya’ — fun and prank-loving. I was left utterly astonished. To me, she had always been a disciplinarian, managing a household with four children. The idea of her being someone who enjoyed playing pranks was entirely foreign to me. I could never associate those words with her,” she reflects.

Surabhi informed that at that time she was yearning with grief but also started to feel a sense of guilt. To fight this and to get to know my mother, she started to interview more and more people,” she says.

“I found myself unable to stop thinking about all the places my mother used to frequent — small pockets of time and space where she was incredibly carefree. It was in these moments that she exhibited traits seemingly out of character, diverging from the routine of her everyday life,” she says adding that these were the things that made her realise that to know her mother, she needs to find out what she did at her leisure.

Leisure as a way of expressing oneself

Women from a neighbourhood in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh after finishing all the chores singing and dancing together.
Women from a neighbourhood in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh after finishing all the chores singing and dancing together.

In her pursuit to understand her mother more deeply, Surabhi began reflecting on instances where she witnessed her mother at leisure.

“As few as these moments were, one significant memory stood out when she wasn’t the disciplinarian mother I had perceived. We were in Madhya Pradesh, and I witnessed my tall mother swimming for the first time. While everyone else was engaged in pooja and taking a dip in the river, there was my mother, joyously leaping into the river for a swim,” she recalls.

Surabhi continues, “I was astonished. I had never seen her so happy and carefree. It was a side of my mother I never knew existed — she was having a great time, and I was discovering a whole new dimension to her personality.”

In the 23 years that Surabhi knew her mother, she says this was one rare instance she remembers her mother at leisure, being her chulbuli self.

Another instance that Surabhi recalls is that her mother in her free time would practise writing her name — Basanti — on a piece of paper.

Women in village Madhopura (Bundelkhand) got together to mourn as well as to celebrate the death of someone who died after a full life.
Women in the village Madhopura (Bundelkhand) got together to mourn as well as to celebrate the death of someone who died after a full life. 

“She was not educated. She went to school only till Class 8 and that too she had to fight for it. Her practising to write her name was because she wanted to hold on to that education. So she could sign our report cards with confidence, that was my mother,” she says.

So the answer to who her mother was as a person was discovered by Surabhi at her mother’s leisure. “It was this internal revelation about my mother that fueled my project. It started with me documenting my sister’s life and them posting it on my personal account, but then someone commented how these pictures deserve a page of their own,” she says.

She adds, “I actually laughed at it. I declared, in general, that I didn’t want to be on social media, insisting that having another account was nonsensical. Yet, six or eight months after making that statement, I found myself creating a new page because I couldn’t resist capturing moments through photographs.”

Until Surabhi started the project, her grief and guilt were a source of pain for her. “All of a sudden, I found this window where I could experience joy amidst my grief. It became a way for me to cherish my mother’s memories without being engulfed by sorrow, acknowledging that she was no longer with me. One’s leisure reveals their personhood, and it revealed my mother’s too,” she says.

 Women in Khargone (M.P) enjoying an ice cream break on a hot summer afternoon.
Women in Khargone (Madhya Pradesh) enjoying an ice cream break on a hot summer afternoon.

‘Being at leisure is the need of the hour’

“The question of who deserves to be at leisure and who doesn’t is something that I am trying to highlight with my project,” she says.

While the world runs towards hustling and making a name in society, Surabhi, through her project, wants to bring our focus to the importance of taking a pause.

“As a plan for the future, I aim to lead workshops on women at leisure, encouraging in-person discussions in various settings — be it corporate, college, or informal groups. Recognising the scarcity of conversations on leisure compared to the prevalent focus on hyper-productivity, my goal is to challenge the association of worth with work and earnings, addressing underlying issues of a capitalistic and patriarchal mindset,” she says.

Women in Maheshwar (MP) are enjoying an afternoon chit-chat on a busy touristy day.
Women in Maheshwar (Madhya Pradesh) are enjoying an afternoon chit-chat on a busy touristy day.

“Our worth is determined by the amount of work we do and that is a sad world to live in,” she remarks.

Surabhi has also given a TEDx Talk in Hyderabad, talking about the importance of leisure in the life of women and the need to break the hyper-productivity culture.

You can follow her work here.

Here are some more photographs by Surabhi as part of her ‘Basanti: Women at leisure’ project:

Sneha, helping her partner, Sourabh, put on a face mask. She put on their daughter’s hair bands on his head to prevent his hair from falling on his face.
A sweet moment between husband and wife with Sneha, helping her partner, Sourabh, put on a face mask.
Babli is engrossed in journaling her thoughts on a beautiful sunny day in a village in Himachal.
Babli is engrossed in journaling her thoughts on a beautiful sunny day in a village in Himachal.
Surabhi relaxing during a picnic outing with friends.
Surabhi relaxing during a picnic outing with friends.
Women dancing in a wedding in presence of men in the community. It is considered immodest for daughters-in-laws in Bundelkhand to show their face, let alone dance, in front of men. Wedding is an excuse to let it all free.
Women dance at a wedding in the presence of men in the community. It is considered immodest for daughters-in-law in Bundelkhand to show their faces, let alone dance, in front of men. Wedding is an excuse to let it all free.
- Young rural women from Sajhe Sapne enjoying a game before their learning sessions begin.
Young rural women from Sajhe Sapne enjoy a game before their learning sessions begin.
Sushma & Asha enjoying their everyday evening chat before they leave for dinner preparations.
Sushma and Asha enjoy their everyday evening chat before they leave for dinner preparations.

(Edited by Pranita Bhat; All pictures and captions credit: Surabhi Yadav)

This story made me

  • feel inspired icon
    97
  • more aware icon
    121
  • better informative icon
    89
  • do something icon
    167

Tell Us More


We bring stories straight from the heart of India, to inspire millions and create a wave of impact. Our positive movement is growing bigger everyday, and we would love for you to join it.

Please contribute whatever you can, every little penny helps our team in bringing you more stories that support dreams and spread hope.

Support the biggest positivity movement section image Support the biggest positivity movement section image
Shorts

Shorts

See All
 
X
 
Sign in to get free benefits
  • Get positive stories daily on email
  • Join our community of positive ambassadors
  • Become a part of the positive movement