Collaborations with The Community Library Project ~ Devika and Shahid

July, 2018 marked the beginning of yet another engagement with The Community Library Project, Panchsheel Vihar. Mihir and Shahid took ownership of this project consisting of 15 adolescents and pre-adolescents. Sundays became theatre days at the library, and the children got acquainted with the format of TUNE IN, REFLECTION and ENGAGEMENT.

A long time was spent on preparing the actors’ bodies and helping them develop the skills for effective voice projection and dialogue delivery. In addition to that, multiple experiments were conducted to build on improvisation skills and the utilization of space and time in performance.

After establishing familiarity, the children and the facilitators started engaging with their notions of safe and unsafe spaces. The sessions grappled with difficult questions that gave rise to many stories, anecdotes and grievances. The children shared their experiences of harassment, bullying, being overpowered by authority figures and not finding places to play in.

Our struggle with absenteeism and behavioral management continued, but we have managed to come up with some beautiful pieces and can’t wait for them to be performed this February.

Aagaaz’s Team Grows ~ Sanyukta

Aagaaz was imagined as a space for its members to grow as professional theatre practitioners. We took a big leap towards both these goals in August 2018. Our core group members will be joining us every year now, as drama-based facilitators.

Saddam, Nagina, Muzammil, Ismail, and Shahid are the first of the lot. Each of them have been co-leading Ajab Gajab projects with Sakhi and Devika. While Ismail and Muzammil led the project with the Heritage School  in Vasant Kunj; Saddam, Nagina, and Shahid co-led the project in Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti. Shahid has also been working with children at The Community Library Project along with Mihir.

The group of five have also taken on a larger chunk of production related work with our two plays— Raavan Aaya and Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan. All of them are also equipping themselves with skills such as working with lights, handling sound equipment, learning to use emails, and documenting. We are excited with the possibilities of the team developing and working with many other children led by our core group members. Our goal is for them to begin leading independent projects by August this year.

Meanwhile, we wait for Nahid, Zainab and Jasmine to join the gang.

Raavan Aaya by Junoon ~ Sakhi

The months of October, November and December brought along a slew of newfound engagements for the Raavan Aaya team— a string of shows in multiple cities in association with Junoon Theatre for their Arts’ Encounter programme. What did this mean for us? Not only do we get to revisit a play which never fails to challenge us as performers, but also we get to share our boggling inquiries with a group of schoolchildren. 300 students in each show to be more precise!

Each show was preceded by a brief introduction to the play where we discussed the possibility of multiple versions of the Ramayana, and the possibility of the canonical characters living different lives in each version. Food for thought— “If Harry Potter’s story was written from the perspective of Voldemort, would it be the same story?”. Probably and possibly not. After four shows in Ludhiana, two shows in Agra, and two more in Rajnagar, we were met with an enthralling post-show discussion which challenged the characters as well as the audience. “Why did the King kill one of his own soldiers?”, “Why were the vanars not being given water?”, “The play is titled ‘Raavan Aaya’, but where was Raavan?” and finally, “Why did Raavan never come? Who is ‘Raavan’, then?”. The journey with this play continues as we continue to reimagine and refashion it, hoping to take it to more schools across the country to be me with a fresh package of curious musings.

MLA Fundraiser ~ Sanyukta

On the 18th of May this year, Maynard Leigh Associates India‘s office was crazier than usual. They had all brought out clothes, books and other goodies from their homes for a garage sale. They decided that they would spend, be merry, and donate whatever comes off it to Aagaaz. This organisation is known for its rare combination of talent, intelligence and heart. In one evening of mad shopping sprees and a hilarious auction, Aagaaz’s bank account was richer by INR 46,000. What touched us most was the fact that even while most people in the group have their own financial struggles, they gave, gave whatever was possible, and did with so much joy.

Fundraisers always bring in a special kind of excitement— of sharing, celebrating and just being with those who believe in the power of the arts to ‘change’—  whatever that may entail. Fundraising for Aagaaz is synonymous with celebrating the idea of Aagaaz, and we hope to carry this energy forward as we prepare for a joint fundraiser with The Community Library Project in the month of March this year. Searching for a multitude of ways to celebrate, move forward and expand our family is always a never-ending source of happiness in the work that awaits us as performers, facilitators, educators and everything in between. We will keep you updated with the when and where. There are some surprises in the mix. Stay posted.

Exploring boundaries in lands far away ~ Ismail Shaikh

मुझे जब पता चला के मैं New Mexico जा रहा हूँ, मुझे बहुत अच्छा लगा क्योंकि मुझे नई जगा जाना बहुत पसंद है। नए-नए cultures, नए लोग, वहाँ के खाने पीने के तरीके- मैं सब बारे में सीखना चाहता था।

हम New Mexico में Chaco Canyon, Santa Fe और Taos गए थे। Chaco Canyon वहाँ की सबसे पुरानी सभ्यता है। उसको देखकर मुझे हड़प्पा सभ्यता की याद आई, जिसके बारे में हमने school में पढ़ा था। उसके अलावा हमने Pablo House नाम के ऐतिहासिक घर देखे, जो ज़मीन के अंदर बने हुए हैं। मुझे Santa Fe भी बहुत पसंद आया। वह भी एक historical site है जहाँ लोगों ने कहीं सारी jewelery की दुकानें खोली हुई हैं।

एक चीज़ जो मुझे interesting लगी थी, वो थी वहाँ के लोगों की rules follow करने की आदत। वहाँ के लोग बहुत आराम से गाड़ी चलते हैं और मोड़ पर हमेशा slow हो जाते हैं। वे हमेशा left और right देखते हुए आगे बड्ते हैं और road cross करते हुए लोगों की सहायता करते हैं। यह careful तरीके से जीने वाली बात मैं अपने theatre skills के द्वारा आगे लेकर जाना चाहता हूँ। मुझे लगता है के हम सबको इससे कुछ सीखने का मौका मिल सकता है और शायद लोगों की सोच में बदलाव भी आ सकता है।

मुझे एक दिन याद है, जब हम सब गाड़ी से कहीं जा रहे थे। अचानक से हमने आसमान में एक खूबसूरत rainbow देखा। ताज्जुब की बात तो ये है के उसके दो minute बाद एक और rainbow भी आ गया। आसमान 2 rainbows के साथ बहुत beautiful लग रहा था और मुझे अच्छा लगा के उसे देखने का मौका मिला।

America जाने से पहले मैंने expect किया था की वहाँ ज़्यादातर बड़ी बड़ी buildings होगी और एक अलग सा वातावरण होगा जो मुझे बहुत खास लगेगा।  मैंने सोचा था के वहाँ का खाना तो बहुत ही अच्छा होगा। लेकिन America के जिस हिस्से में हम थे, वहाँ ना तो बड़ी buildings थीं और खाना तो मुझे बिलकुल पसंद नयी आया। असलियत जानने पर मेरा भी नज़रिया बदल गया।

Korika: The Wishing Kite ~Jasmine Sachdev

Khirkee is a vibrant community bustling with energy and people from various backgrounds living together, making art together and making purported  ‘ends’ meet together. The diversity helps one experience a manifold of images, scents, sensations and interactions all at once and more- this is what makes this community special. We, at Aagaaz, worked with the children from the community using drama through the story of Korika: The Wishing Kite. The book, A Kite Called Korika by Sharada Kolluru formed the basis of our work. The story of Yelliah and her family exposed the children to various aspects of a new yet familiar environment in someone else’s life, and they started on the journey to understand it and learn from it by making it their own. Over the last 6 months, the work with the children was focused on building listening, consistency, working with other bodies in space and eventually grounding their voice, body within a makeshift narrative.

In our efforts to work with other bodies in space, we worked through our norms on consent, listening, being consciously aware of the objects, sensations and people around us. We started requesting the kids to ask us before they extended any touch, and did the same for them. Through the last 6 months, the awareness and practice around asking the other person for permission before establishing physical connections has increased and now the children correct the facilitators if they touch them without asking them. To make sure that everyone learns in the space and one person’s energy doesn’t distract the rest, we worked with stillness and silence, and doing exercises like eyeballing and Columbian hypnosis. We made the activities a part of our rituals, and it helped us build focus and awareness of our cacophonic surroundings. The children are now able to stay on task and focus, even while working in a space like the JamunWala Park which being a public space contained a lot of exciting stimulus but also distractions.

To work on our listening, we used call and responses, which made the children stop and move with the facilitator amidst the maze of activities and tasks given to them. The reflection circle at the end of every session helped us build on the skills of observing and listening to those around you. Working on oneself, as well as a sense of listening to and supporting the other came through this conclusionary exercise. A sense of collective ownership was built where we all, facilitators included, gathered that to make anything work and take any objective to task, we all need to work together; as if this belonged to all of us collectively, in equal parts and one person or just ‘I’ doing it well won’t ever be enough.

We struggled with working on consistency till the end of the program, however, we improved on it immensely over the course of 6 months. Our rituals that made our space, practicing and building on the same things in each session, saying true to our word, and having sessions consistently with children despite our problems with the space; even with the children having to work at home to support their parents, changing timings to make sure we meet, helped us build on this value over time.

We worked on all the above values and sensibilities through what is core to the team and the work, i.e. drama. Warm up exercises and songs building on our voice and body, working with the changing quality of one’s vocal energy. Children realised the varied ways they could use their voice to express themselves or a character’s emotions, and working on the body helped them see the different ways their legs and arms could move to depict something. While working on the ‘narrative’, the children co-created the scenes, building their own dialogues with improvised actions which revealed interconnections throughout the story, learning how to tie various fragmented scenes to create one single, unified piece. Amongst all of this, glimpses of connections bridging the gap between the self and the other, between them and those around them, between what they held to be true and what was being discovered as ‘new’, could be found.

English Learning at Aagaaz ~ Shailaja

When approached by Devika to help the Aagaaz group hone their skills of speaking English, my reaction was more of the joy in getting to interact with the group than the ‘how’ of the requirement. It is only when I started giving deeper thought to it that I realised that getting to know them was the important component in embarking further on this path.


So we started by meeting every Sunday for an hour or so, initially just being together, me trying to reduce my ‘Devika ki mummy’ tag and they were probably just getting comfortable around me. Simple vocabulary exercises, rhymes and games were introduced and I was able to gather data on where they were and how we could go ahead. What was enjoyable was their lack of inhibition with me and willingness to try it all.


Some were comfortable with speaking but seeking flow, vocabulary and pronunciation, others were hesitant to speak but willing to learn. As the weeks passed, a rhythm evolved. We started with simple word games and moved to sentence level exercises. Role playing was an important part of the sessions. It gave context as well as comfort to a group that is already immersed in theatre and its processes. In fact, sometimes the challenge was to have more speech and less drama.


Recounting stories, converting Hindi song lyrics into English, stories to scripts and then enacting them, directed conversations as in interviews and reporting were some of the activities that enabled the group to practise their speech as well as use diverse vocabulary. Vocabulary based word games were an integral part of each session even if a very mundane task of selecting words out of a theme and creating sentences using those.


For the initial sessions focus was not placed upon correcting them at all, the aim was for the group to be at ease with speaking and to acquire a certain flow. There has been a challenge in the varying abilities but the activities allowed flexibility within that for most cases. Reading was avoided for a long time due to this. Off late we have upped the ante and simple scripts have been introduced for chain reading, together or in small groups. Here a little intervention for pronunciation is being included. Recently they have embarked upon creating their own script and the idea is to keep increasing the complexity of that self-furnished text.

It’s a wonderful group with lively participants, the  sessions are largely joyful and friendly, the varying dynamics between the young adults lending to the relationship with and within the session in interesting ways. The endeavour is also to let them learn within the space of being themselves and not turn ‘English’ into a larger than life institutional requirement. There is tremendous (un)learning for me as I gather my intuitions and dispositions to be challenged, negotiated and ‘played’ with every Sunday at Aagaaz.

Samvidhan Live Culminates~ Sanyukta

Commutiny the Youth Collective’s project Samvidhan Live interested us from the word go. It was developed while Nishant and I were still Changelooms fellows in October 2016  when our mentor Kanika Sinha, was knee-deep into developing a board game that facilitated young people’s experiential engagement with the Constitution. We were interested from the word go.

However, of the many organisations participating in the game, we were only able to join in earlier this year and completed the exercise week before last with an end of the project reflection. Eight of our core group members participated  as four pairs. Here are some of their ruminations from their journey.

 

  • Jasmine and Saddam

They visited three heritage sites to complete one of their tasks. Safdarjung’s Tomb, Lodhi Garden and Humayun’s Tomb made their list.

Their primary struggle was overcoming their resistance to history related research. Since their experiences with subject had not been great, they had to push themselves to ask people for information.

They were fascinated by the comfortable presence of people from the transgender community, at the Safdarjung Tomb. This helped them think about the inclusive/ exclusive nature of public spaces in Delhi.

They also visited a religious centre for education to compare its practices to those they have seen in schools.


The Jagriks decided to go to a Madrasa- School of Islamic Studies. They discovered that these centres were relatively much more well kept and clean than any school premises they had seen.

After speaking to someone who worked at the Madrasa, they came to know that violence was quite prevalent there. They also felt uneasy about the lack of freedom given to the students in the space.

 

  • Shahid and Nagina

There was a week when they found a particularly difficult task to grapple with. They had to pledge for organ donation.

The Jagriks realised that their families would not give them the permission to make an independent choice about such matters. In addition to that, their religion and culture also didn’t encourage organ donation.

However, this didn’t stop them from looking at this as an opportunity for learning. They discovered that the procedure for donation is far from simple and generally takes a long time. They also came to know that sometimes organs are removed prematurely, which can lead to major problems.

With another task they had to explore their relationship with the environment. What are the sustainable practices in their everyday lives?

Their primary struggle was asking people to consider switching to more environmentally friendly options. In addition to that, they decided to feed their neighbourhood animals, and came to terms with the care and attention it required.

Their major takeaways were the changes they decided to make in their own lives. It was an opportunity for them to acknowledge the areas in which their contributions can make a difference.

 

  • Muzammil and Zainab

They got a chance to think about their duties. They created some adolescent friendly amendments and closely analysed their loyalty towards the constitution.

They struggled to find information about their constitutional duties, especially when they didn’t have instant access to the internet.

Their major takeaway from the task was understanding the procedure around reporting, women’s harassment complaints.

They also had to speak to a child labourer, in order to complete their task.

Their primary struggle was convincing a young child to talk to them about his/her situation. They confronted a few individuals who showed no inclination to entertain their questions.

The Jagriks expressed that they did get a glimpse of the oppression, without actually having one-to-one conversations. According to them, the responsibility on the children itself was reflective of their burden.

 

  • Ismail and Nagma

With one of their tasks they  explored the validity of the law that marks poverty lines are below  Rs32.

They spent a whole day trying to survive within that measly sum.

They realized that the amount would get exhausted within the first few hours of their day. Ismail spent his money on petrol, while Nagma paid her mother their daily rent, and finished her cash at the washroom.

The Jagriks expressed that the law they experienced was extremely unfair and needed immediate attention.

Like Saddam and Jasmine, they too spent a day visiting heritage sites. Humayun’s Tomb, Lodhi Garden and Matka Shah’s Peer made the list.

Their primary struggle was asking people about these places and their history. The whole process of inquiry was harder than they had imagined.

Their major takeaway from the task was understanding how the origin of these various heritage sites is relevant to their existence today. They also got an opportunity to observe the distinct ways in which people interact within these public spaces.

With a simple board game, the Jagriks (that’s what the participants were called), would explore two tasks each week – one to be completed individually, and another with their partner. The tasks were based on the rights and duties that create the backbone of our Constitution. It is a powerful set of words, and I am tempted to say ‘especially now’. Through this game we discovered that it’s not just a set of words, but a living, breathing, dynamic text. We, who live in the world of theatre, where we know that the meaning of the written word lies in its performance, found the Constitution close to our worlds.

Towards a Theatre of Possibility~ Sakhi Upadhyaya

When Sanyukta and I walked into a “capacity-building” workshop organised by Junoon Theatre in Mumbai, I did not know what to expect. It was my first “professional engagement” as a member of Aagaaz. I was jittery, nervous even. What capacities were we attempting to build? What actually awaited us was two days of deliberation, not so much as building but breaking apart what we understood ‘theatre’ to be. “Theatre for children” to be more specific: What did the assembling of these words in this specific order entail?

Theatre, drawing from my interpretation of the haphazard combination of flowcharts and notes from those two days, could be anything one wanted it to be. Especially so with children, toddlers and young adults. A language, a space, an exploration, an activity. Theatre was social, it was political. It was relational, contextual. It was imagination and assertion. However, for me, theatre was always ‘in the making’. It was powerful, but a power that was malleable and subject to destruction or creation as one saw fit. What I mean is that in my limited experience of being a theatre practitioner in Delhi, the edifice of what we called ‘theatre’ was always being broken down and built back up; not by self-professed practitioners like me, but by its encounters with the public at large. Who best to tear something apart and build it back up, refashion it and give it new life, than children?

Theatre was, and in my experience with Aagaaz, has never been a “struggle” to perfect that performance, or to become an expert in this form. The Junoon workshop was an appropriate beginning, of thinking about the possibilities enclosed within what parades as ‘theatre’ and myself. “So let us proceed.” I thought to myself, “Let me allow things in my narrow worldview to fall apart and fall back together.” And that is exactly what I know August will bring, as my journey with Aagaaz “formally” begins. The possibility of many stories, many failures and many creations. Before we left for Mumbai, Sanyukta and I were talking over the phone. “You know, I’m not jittery in the ‘scared’ way, just jittery in the excited, there-are-so-many-things-to-do-and-discover kind of way. Get what I mean?” I told her. And I could hear her subtle acknowledgement in the giddy laughter she replied with.

Aagaaz, No longer a Toddler!- Devika

Children in their years of early development, slowly start to understand concepts. They develop a sense of self and discover time which eventually leads to the acknowledgement of something as simple as age. Aagaaz has had a very similar journey. Dates and starting points were very irrelevant to us when we were smaller and younger. Now, our work and our community has grown and we are beginning to grapple with our identity in the larger ecosystem and ways to stay connected – to our growing world and also our roots. We decided to create a birthday ritual for ourselves – drama games and a show and all our friends.

June was an amazing month for many reasons. One of them was lack of time, which made the process of planning and preparation rigorous and exciting. A special version of Duniya Sabki was the most important element of the day. The core group put their hearts into it and they did everything required to ensure that the play was made, that too beautifully. They practiced at night, negotiated with their families and pushed their bodies without complaining about fatigue. The grown up Aagaaz, was reflected in their actions and decisions.

Muzammil, the director of the play shared that this became a process of mapping Aagaaz’s journey. On an occasion like this, he wanted to present something meaningful and relevant to the group.Despite all the challenges they encountered, he received a lot of support from the rest of the actors. He was impressed by their commitment, especially since they all agreed to practice during late hours. There was a lot of hard work involved and inputs from Sanyukta and others only came in one night prior to the performance.

Saddam, from the core group found the preparation rather challenging at first. He expressed that a lot of the actors didn’t show up initially and punctuality was an issue. He was also constantly concerned about Muzammil, Ismail and Nagina’s energy, which varied depending on the intensity of their work at KHOJ Studios. He was glad to see a gradual shift in the attitudes. Saddam pegs the success of the performance, on the seriousness that emerged during the last few days of rehearsal.

The day itself was like an exercise in ensemble work. We co-created the space for our guests. Cleaning up the space, bringing food, cleaning, labelling and greeting people- all of it happened without much effort. The larger community also blended in with ease. Something about the whole experience was magical. ‘Bhelpuri Khalo’ and ‘Roohafsa lelo’ became the code words for ice-breaking and conversations happened with old friends and new.

We were lucky that some of out near and dear ones, took out time on a busy weekday. The added their own zeal to the space. Like every other birthday, we couldn’t have survived without a small dose of rituals. Mridula from Theatre Professionals and Dhruv, who mentors Aslam – one of our core group members, fulfilled this need by bringing two wonderful cakes. This helped us embrace the cliches we love, and allowed us to consume them in grand proportions.

The performance spoke for itself as the refrains of Safdar’s lines cushioned Aagaaz’s journey and Ankit from Play for Peace helped us set the tone with energisers that had all of us radiating with joy and sweat on the muggy day. Awkwardness permeated the air when everyone was asked to share their favourite ‘Aagaaz Memory’. The initial discomfort gave way to some thoughtful sharings, funny anecdotes and significant stories. There was laughter, running, dancing, selfies, unexpected conversations, and ideas that emerged out of nowhere. Our initial nervousness around not being able to host people, slowly disappeared. Eventually, an invisible thread connected us all and now we are further tangled up in each others’ stories.

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