ACTing on and off stage

The core group of actors from Aagaaz, have been engaging with regular conversations about gender and sexuality. The adolescent girls meet me on a weekly basis to co-create a safe space.

I have always been fascinated by the prospect of exploring gender as a theme with adolescents. However, this group at Nizamuddin is responsible for opening my eyes to the struggles and significance of such crucial and controversial work. I feel that I have come a long way as a learner, if not a facilitator. My initial conversations with the girls were primarily scientific and factual. We discussed the details of menstruation and spent a whole lot of time naming body parts and critically examining myths and taboos around menstrual health. Gradually, we moved towards understanding personal space, ideas around consent and objectification and slowly transitioned into exploring the notion of pleasure.

Aagaaz’s vision statement says “we relentlessly question ‘what is’ to probe ‘what could and should be’ to learn ways to act and perform beyond just the stage”. We constantly strive to understand the world through theatre, and sometimes we dramatic work based on our lived experience. Being selected for Gender Bender in 2016 ( a festival co-curated and supported by Sandbox Collective and Goethe Institut, Bangalore) with Urban Turban, was more of the latter.

As I watched the three actors perform the work-in-progress piece in Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti on the 23rd of April, I saw how beautifully they are negotiating their understandings and confusions around their bodies, identities, and their worlds through the thin overlapping space between performing on and off the stage. Urban Turban explores how gender plays out in the everyday lives of three girls living in Nizamuddin Basti. The play explores their struggles, their confusions and their attempts to make their space in the world. It explores their stories, yet manages to encapsulate bits of their next-door neighbour’s story, bits of their school friend’s story, bits of my story and maybe bits of the story being lived by a woman you saw walking on the street.

Our director, Dhwani Vij uses aspects of physical theatre, object theatre and immersive theatre to create an experience that makes the intricacies of these everyday episodes come alive.

In the play, we see the girls in their familiar environments doing the things they do. There is a morning routine, going to school, interacting with the neighbourhood and being at home. The theatrical technique is highlighted when the girls start singing about all the things they don’t understand about the world. The lyrics of the song are comical yet powerful. There is a point where the girls say that ‘sadkon par masti nahi karna samaj nahi aata’ and the simple statement blatantly outlines the patriarchal power structures and the restrictions they create.

Coming back to the show I watched in Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, we performed for the community workers of Aga Khan Foundation. This show will remain in our memories for posterity. It was extremely special. This is the school the girls went to as children, this is the neighbourhood where they live and the audience comprises of the people who co-exist in this environment and share this ‘lived experience’. Performing in these circumstances takes a lot more strength, especially when it has potential to confront reality. There is no possibility for the actors to remove themselves from the context after the curtain call.

 

Process oriented theatre is slow work. Sometimes, it takes a while to notice small yet significant insights that emerge over a period of time. This performance for the community, and a few other instances have marked a major shift in how the girls interact with world. 17 year old Jasmine feels that change doesn’t happen overnight and little interventions can make a difference in the way people perceive gender. She feels optimistic about using performance to challenge mindsets and hopes that these messages would influence her environment at home. 18 year old Nagina was glad to see that the questions thrown at the actors, were answered by the women in the audience themselves. She felt that it signified common experience and a relatable understanding of the context. The play triggered moments of self- evaluation for some of the women in the audience and that was also a crucial response, according to her. A moment from the audience interaction that stands out for me was an older woman in the audience saying,” I am going to stop gossiping about young girls from now onwards.”

16 year old Nagma, has other perspectives to offer. She talks about the fear of performing in front of people who might tell her parents what her ‘theatre’ is all about. At the same time, there is acknowledgement of the fact that performances such as these, have potential to show a mirror to society. She strongly believes that change starts from the self, and Urban Turban is a trigger in that direction.

Suddenly, I am able to see how the girls are understanding th larger purpose and long term impact of their work. They feel the need to create more sustainable and frequent exposures in their community. In addition to the performative element, our Darpan sessions have also seen some beautiful turning points. One such moment happened during a recent workshop exploring personal perspectives on gender. We used improvisation games, embodiments, visual arts and scene work to talk about society and the moral standards it imposes on girls. We also managed to do deeper into it, by looking at our narratives of ‘Ideal Women’ and detecting the loopholes there as well. This snippet from a short piece they improvised during this session, highlights their ability to understand the topic with respect to both context and privilege.

(An interaction between a low caste scholar, a middle class housewife, a wealthy socialite and feminist activist)

Scholar: मेरी बेटी को तो देखो कैसे कपड़े पहन के बाहर घूमती रहती है| समाज क्या सोचेगा?

Activist: उसे जो करना है करने दो| समाज समाज समाज!! क्या समाज तुम्हारी थाली पर खाना रखता है या तुम खुद?

Housewife: हम इस समाज का हिस्सा हैं और अभी हम यहाँ से बाहर नही निकल सकते| ह्मे खुद को लोगों की बातों से बचाना है, क्योंकि ह्में ही सुनना पड़ता है|

While dialogues in Nizamuddin are becoming more nuanced by the day, we are still quite new to creating similar spaces with unfamiliar adolescents. Our work at Pehchan Centre in Jaitpur, is taking a different trajectory. Recently, we realised how engaging with the arts consistently can transform an exercise from an intimidating instruction to an opportunity for personal expression. And this hardly took us a few weeks. However, the challenge now lies in pushing ourselves to go deeper into the ideas and the processes.

Ajab Gajab Diaries ~ Jasmine Sachdev

As a part of my internship with Aagaaz’s program Ajab Gajab, I have been working with children at Khirkee to create an ensemble piece based on Tulika publication’s A Kite Called Korika. An everyday session includes following our opening and closing rituals along with scene creation, dialogue development, working with silence and stillness, our own and other bodies in space, movement, listening and lots of games. A part of our practice is to understand from the people we work with, what they feel about the sessions and how it helps them be. The following are experiences of two of the people we work with – one directly and the other incidentally.

The first is the Consistent Cat. She is an  11 year old girl who hasn’t missed a single session. On the days she was sick she chose to sit at a side and observe. On asking her what she has learnt from the sessions, she said that all the rules that she follows in the session she tried to follow them outside it.

She now asks people most of the times before holding their hand and hugging them and does not cling to them without their permission. The rule that we should take care of our surroundings helped her realise how the peepul tree near her house wasn’t being taken care of. So now she waters it everyday and doesn’t let anyone pluck the leaves. From the rule of listening to everybody and staying for the entire session, she explains, how in her school everyone used to never listen to the teacher and just run ahead but she tries to listen to her teacher and not bunk classes. She stays in the class for the entire duration.

She gleefully expressed how the games played during the session have helped her during playtime at home. Now all her siblings at home get in a big circle and breathe in and out and practice eyeballing. She says everyone in her home makes a lot of noise but in that moment everything is happy and quiet. She also told how she learnt to work with other children and she teaches them the dance and drama exercises that she learns in the circle which she absolutely loves. Learning how to join words to make stories and expressing them through dance and drama and telling her family members all that she has learnt makes her feel proud.

The second experience is that of Mr. Magic Eyes. He is one of the Guards of Jamunwala Park, the space we work out of. He has been observing us work with children using drama. He expressed he is learning that children don’t necessarily learn through things told to them. He marveled at how children are learning through play. He realized how always telling kids to do or not do certain things in the park made them rebellious, and thus he started using what they learnt in the circle to address the difficulties he faced with them.

The children are often labelled as violent and rude. He shared the perception until he began to notice that a lot of people in the park spoke to the kids rudely and didn’t respect them and thus the children would not talk back with respect either. He said that he saw a different dimension of the children while they are in sessions with us. He realized that if he treated them with respect, they might also reciprocate and perhaps start listening to what he says. He started doing just that and proudly tells us that he has a better relationship with the children today. He felt if similarly the entire society treats each other with love and respect and works together, the world will be a better place.

I am not sure if the world will become a better place, however, these are small wins for us at Aagaaz. Things that make us jump with joy, bring tears to our eyes, and make us believe in the work we do every day.

Kisse Connection with Food!

In December, the Canteen at Khoj Studios hosted a really interesting event called Food Kisse Connection, which was a human library related to food! This event was held in collaboration with the Aagaz Theatre Trust.

A part of the Khirki festival held at Khoj, this event gave participants an insight into the lives of four “books”, (actually people!) who shared their food memories paired with a particular dish. On the menu was Sadaf’s Kacche Gosht Ki Biryani, Shubha’s Dahi Bhalla with tamarind chutney, Priya’s dish with fish and spinach,  and Ivis’ Alloco (Ivory coast speciality).

The event started with a lot of excitement, as the registration team encouraged festival visitors to sign up. Once there were enough participants, the event began. Ivis from Ivory Coast was the most popular book, and he told the readers about Alloco, a fried fish, plantain, salad, and greens based dish, and the memories he has of his country. He regaled the readers with special insights about his country, and told them tales they had never heard before. Ivis is a binding force in the neighbourhood, and is a regular at the canteen as well. Hence, his presence as a book was really refreshing and lent local flavor.

Sadaf’s kacche gosht ki biryani was also really well appreciated. The dish was made in a pot, layering the meat and the rice. An interesting ingredient he used was raw papaya, which helped to marinate the meat. Marinating the meat overnight also made a lot of difference.

He told readers about his childhood years, eating this particular biryani, as well as cultural cues and nuances related to this dish. Sadaf has also been a contestant on the popular Masterchef India TV show, and is a consultant chef at various cafes. Hence his food repertoire is immense. The readers were pleased to hear his interesting take and insight on as basic a dish as biryani. He also lives in Khirki like Ivis, and hence his participation also gave the event  local flavor.

Shubha told the readers about a different time period, where life was simpler, and people still celebrated marriages in neighbourhood parks, centered around food like dahi bhalla. As the readers relished each bite, Shubha took them back to her childhood, with great ease and panache. She told them about weddings and how they were held back then, with the destination being the park or community hall,  and not a fancy location outside the city or country. Surprisingly, one of her readers told her that in her hometown, weddings were still celebrated the old school way. This brought about fond memories and camaraderie between the book and the reader.

Priiya’s dish, which she called “A fish’s dream”, was fried fish with spinach. Her story was about how she met an old woman on a ship, (The Istanbul Steamer). The destination of the ship was to Andaman Islands. The old woman lived on a house half drowned by the tsunami. She gave her a fish recipe that was probably older than the existence of ships and steamers in that area. This simple dish was tasty and fulfilling.

This event was great learning for the canteen team. We went beyond our usual repertoire of poha, khichdi etc, and learnt how to make new and exciting dishes like biryani! Sadaf actually stood in the kitchen with us and made the dish, which made the experience all the more worthwhile.

The canteen is planning another Kisse Connection for July, and we hope to see a lot of you then.

Dialogues Transcending Boundaries

We are guilty of saying it too often about too much, but then it’s true! We are so excited about Nagina, Muzammil and Ismail. Aditi and Radha from KHOJ reached out to us earlier this year about 18+ year olds from Aagaaz, who have worked in Khirki Extension, being a part of a project supported by World Learning (USA). The project explores the dynamics of cultural identity and cultural heritage through. A group of young people from from Khirki Extension and Aagaaz have been virtually engaging with young people from New Mexico. A programme designed to create cultural exchange, two of the three from Aagaaz will travel to New Mexico in early July. Very few of the core group members fit the criteria, specially the former. The three of them, though are constantly bringing in their learnings from the journey to the rest of us. Watching the project from the fringes, we leave you to read what those directly involved in the process have to say.

Aditi Chauhan, KHOJ

Diversity of rituals belonging to clusters of human population worldwide has created behavioural references that continue to outline our identities, passed on with a purpose of persisting through time. While the celebration of this diversity has found more enthusiasts now more than ever, the virtual proximity across space alluding to ideas of globalization has also seen great resistance and adverse reactions to migration of cultures. The necessity for documents validating and defining our identity (simultaneously accentuating the difference) in a particular place restricts movement of expressions and interactions.

Redefining the margins and tracing the routes back to cultural heritage and cultural identity, youth in the neighbourhoods of New Delhi and New Mexico are collaborating through a virtual exchange program titled Voices From the Margins. This community arts initiative by Khoj International Artists Association and Global One to One (USA) supported by World Learning (USA) as a part of their global project Communities Connecting Heritage seeks to preserve and promote longevity of cultural heritage by engaging with youths worldwide through creative mediums of expression.

The eight members of the team from New Delhi represent a vivid network of socio ethnic communities existing in the city and hailing from different Indian states and countries. Ashif Khan, Ismail, Nagina, Muzammil, Leeda Ferozy, Romeo Kiseke, Suraj Tamoli and Yanki Lhamu Bhutia will navigate their ways to understanding their identities and resolving conflicts through discussions and exercises in spoken and written word format, illustrations and performing arts. Teams from both the countries have been interacting virtually, bringing to fore varied interpretations of the margins, sharing specificities of their heritage and identity, similarities and unique perspectives on issues that concern the youth from diverse backgrounds in different situations and spaces. This four month long project will conclude with an in person exchange of both teams and exhibition in June, 2018, with the aim of encouraging this dialog in public and personal spaces and facilitate the creation of a more receptive environment to cultural diversity and preserve the heritage that outlines our identities.

Nagina, Aagaaz Core Group Member

The team members from Aagaaz have some very interesting insights to offer. 18 year old Nagina explains that she never analysed her heritage so closely. ‘Voices from the Margins’ has helped her see how much her everyday life is influenced by the hand-me-downs of her heritage. She talks about something as simple as her surname and religion and goes on to her something as complex as her angry temperament. Interacting with a diverse group of people, has also managed to increase her awareness about the difficulties one faces due to migration and racism.

Ismail, Aagaaz Core Group Member

19 year old Ismail expresses the joy he experienced while talking to the exchange students in New Mexico via virtual means. He claims that the interaction was his favourite moment since it managed to defy the need for common spoken language. His words indicate that the two groups of young people found common ground, in being strangers to each others’ worlds.

Muzammil, Aagaaz Core Group Members

Muzammil, who is of similar age chose to talk about the long term impacts of being a part of such a program. As a performer who is keenly interested in theatre direction, he looks at this as an opportunity to find relevant thematic areas. He has been observing the exercise that they are doing around creating an ideal state, and is specifically interested in going deeper into the challenges they are facing in the process. He feels that they throw light on the current state of humanity, which has possibilities for dramatic exploration.

Friends of Aagaaz Speak: Vernon Fernandez

My first experience with theatre was in the annual school play – a perfect excuse to spend about a month away from the classroom in rehearsals. You can’t be in a large production and not get bitten by the theatre bug, though. I’ve loved entertainment ever since, even changing jobs to work in the industry. Being connected to a play in any part of the production helps one to see exactly where one fits into the bigger picture, know that every little role matters – and allows you to escape a little. Theatre has provided me with amazing experiences, fond memories and some long lasting friendships. Sanyukta is one example of those – we met once a year at a theatre competition for three years running – yet have stayed in touch for 10 years after that!

When Sanyukta told me about Aagaaz, I had already heard about all the work she had been doing in the basti. Using theatre to reach out, to connect and to help children develop seemed so obvious, I wondered why people weren’t doing it already. I knew that the team would make the maximum out of whatever they had, and while I couldn’t help in person – a contribution was a small way to ensure that theatre continued to improve lives…

I’ve been extremely proud to hear about Aagaaz – each update I get only tells me more about how the children working with Aagaaz are improving. Their exposure to life and opportunities is increased, their drive to be better is stimulated – this is that one investment that I can see having a snowball effect which just keeps growing.

In which Ajab Gajab bachchas take to the stage ~ Priiya Prethora

It’s difficult to feel the impact of performance till we perform, till we feel the stage is a space we step on to, claim as ours and be watched while we express what it is that we feel. This feeling is an amalgamation of what we have learned before, what being on stage at that particular time does to us and what it’s going to feel like once the performance is over.

Early on in January we decided to put together a short performance with the Ajab gajab gang  of Jamun Wala Park. We chose to work with the opening song of our play Duniya Sabki – Kahab Toh Lag Jaaye Dhak Se, because of the group’s enthusiasm about it following the shows during the Khirki Festival. They already knew the lyrics to the song, although in a sequence that their own imagination created, often strung together on the basis of the closest rhyming word in the previous line. There we were, humming and buzzing our way to the sopranos and falsettos, dance movements of our own making. Much like their cartwheels, they would suddenly flip the flow of the workshops with wide eyed, disbelieving questions – “are we actually going to be on a stage?”, “Will there be a real audience?”,  “Will we dance?”

Sweccha bestowed upon us a colourful room with a giant mirror that is the fourth wall, which became our rehearsing space for this performance. The mirror in the room was our constant audience and we were inseparable, like spirits who have found the long lost bodies which they once inhabited in the living world. We watched ourselves watching ourselves, keeping a check on how we looked while we sang, danced or did nothing but just kissed our reflections, sometimes for more than three minutes. The things did turn around when we designated the space where the audience will be, which was on the opposite side of the mirror. The song has a casual rhythm like that of bullock cart riding on a mud road with drop and lifts caused by puddles so we started manoeuvring our bodies for the lyrics to become thoughts in actions.

The number of children kept varying, especially when we would rehearse in the park, some of them were shy of being watched while rehearsing. The dance choreography consisted of stunts and flips by some of the children and the usual spur of the moment additions by almost everybody. The entire piece took about eight/nine sessions to be completely choreographed.

This particular group of children, with their exuberant energies, often struggled to engage with each other without violence. They also embraced the single narrative that the world around ascribed onto them – they steal, nothing will come off working with them, they are abusive and violent, wild, dirty. This workshop created a tiny crack in the ways in which they see themselves – of the other stories that they can possible be. For children who were written of as uncaring and what not, each one of them had scrubbed themselves clean and worn their best clothes for the show without any instructions from us – they had dressed for a special day. With the workshop’s focus on silence and stillness and the first show that had an audience of 30 strangers – the children discovered the thrill of working together to create an experience. Their post show joy was very tangible palpable in the room after the show.

The theatre bug administered – they are creating their first devised performance for the end of June led by Jasmine Sachdev and Devika Bedi along with our core group members. I cannot wait to see what emerges.

Khirki mein Drama – Theatre and Music at the Khirki Festival ~ Sanyukta

Khirki looked like it was celebrating Diwali or multiple weddings for five days in the month of December. The month of December kept all of us on our toes. The entire studio was abuzz with workshops, exhibitions, food stalls, events – people of varied ethnicities and age groups running up and down the stairs, laughing and talking in the otherwise serene environs of S-17, Khirki. KHOJ International Artist’s Studio on its 20th year of being, celebrated through a festival in collaboration with the local community and artists/arts organisations. Aagaaz led three element that were a part of the celebrations – the Khirki Music Ensemble, two plays based with children from the Community Library Project and 4 Kisse Connections.

The Khirki Music Ensemble came together in August last year – Romeo and Zoom – two young musicians from Congo, Kumud, a prodigious 15 year old with no formal training in music but awe inspiring, her mother Leela who never did realise her dreams of singing publicly, Shahid – one of the core group members of Aagaaz who has been getting trained in vocals from Manzil. This motley crew was led by Baan – our Managing Trustee and the co-founder of Dastaan Live, a pathbreaking music ensemble. They jammed through many a hot and rainy day, with the one common language of music bringing them all together. Re-arranging known songs and mash-ups of a few others – their hour long set list left the audience at the Jamunwala park enthralled.

The audience was a fair sample of the diversity that Khirki epitomises – and for once they were sharing an experience that was beyond the everyday. Through the performance though we battled the energies of the group of children from the tongewalla community that we work with through Ajab Gajab. There efforts to be up on the stage and join the performance were endearing and frightening (for the sake of the musicians and their hardwork) all at the same time. Bigger were the fears about the performances by the children from The Community Library Project scheduled for the next day. Most of our young actors were going to be on stage for the first time – what if they were intimidated by these younger children?

Safdar Hashmi has been an inspiration for us. His works for children used in drama workshops, beautifully allow for conversations with children to open up. The Community Library Project shares our desire to create spaces for children to be curious, think, and ask questions. It is an ideal collaboration. We worked with two groups of children over a period of two months. One of the groups had already created a performance of Duniya Sabki – we did a movement based workshop with them and used Hashmi’s Kitabein as a thread to explore the notion of stories. We explored the stories that they had read and relooked at these narratives from the perspective of a lesser know character, or a changed decision, or a parallel ending. The final show had new versions of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and the age old fabe of the Lazy Caterpiller, while looking at Mahasweta Devi’s Kyun Kyun Ladki in the context of one of the participant’s life. The new group of children dipped into Duniya Sabki and explored prejudice based on the colour of skin and gender discrimination – simply explored from the perspective of the participants. Our core group members were a joy through the process – they have visibly grown in their abilities work with young children using drama.

We approached the the day of the performance with great caution – what with the experience we had during the show by the Khirki Music Ensemble. We spent the morning talking to the Ajab Gajab gang, clearly demarcating stage space, collecting volunteers to guard our young performers. Once the show started, however, we experienced the unexpected. Everyone in the audience, specially the little ones – watched, rapt in awe. They watched as children, only slightly older than them, from their neighbourhood captivated an entire audience – despite all the distractions that performances in public spaces right next to a busy main road and opposite a big mall can bring. After the show, the performers looked ecstatic with a furtive look that I have grown to associate with young people who have suddenly stumbled upon the addiction that theatre can be. The Ajab Gajab gang accosted us and demanded to be put on stage too – and of course we would comply – they have since done two short presentations for their immediate community and are prepping for a bigger show in the end of June. The play will be based on a book by Tulika – A Kite Called Korika. Do read Priiya’s article about the presentations by this group in December and January.

The Kisse Connection sessions during the festival were special – for we experimented with our format. Other than the regular format of exploring personal memories, this time around we also did a session in collaboration with the wonderful Khoj Canteen led by Devika Menon. We explored stories around food and to talk about our experience would need another feature and more space, so do wait for our next issue.

As with most festivals, we worked in a state of intense momentum and breathed a collective sigh of relief as it drew to a conclusion – however, unlike most such times, we didn’t dip into a state of post rigour ennui and instead continued all our engagements with a steady pace and renewed vigour. Watch this space for all that followed and is planned. Much excitement!

Friends of Aagaaz Speak ~Steeve Gupta

This October, we decided to start a new column in the newsletter- ‘Friends of Aagaaz Speak’. This space is dedicated to all those people who have invested their trust and money in Aagaaz. Their association is valuable to us and we really wanted to know and share why they have chosen to become a part of our journey.

This month we are featuring Steeve Gupta. This is what he has to say:

“If you’ve met one child from Nizamuddin Basti and managed to understand what their challenges are, then you’ve met one child from Nizamuddin Basti.
To think that most children in such spaces will have very similar challenges and require similar solutions is the path to band-aid support.

Living in a delhi slum is an all-out assault on a child. A child who is very aware of the world around and therefore even more sharply aware of the hurt it is receiving.

What I love about Aagaaz is that it provides a space for these children to build their own identity and their own methods of living through this reality. Thriving even (maybe).

The use of drama helps in the children being able to deconstruct events and look at them in a more healthy and non-victim way.

More importantly, the focus of Aagaaz is what I love. There is this group of children and Aagaaz has taken up their emotional & social well being and development needs until the time they can go out there and start making a life of their own. This focus helps me as a friend of Aagaaz know that there will be tangible action and results from any time or funds that go into it. We are seeing the results already.

As a friend of Aagaaz, a rule I follow is to check two things:
One, what can I do to make things easier for the Aagaaz team to do their work?
Two, what should I do to ensure the Aagaaz team doesn’t have to spend time taking care of me or my needs so that they can focus on the work with children.”

Steeve is the Managing Director of Maynardleigh Associates India. In 2002, Steeve graduated from the University of Central Florida, with an MBA and specialization in International Business. In theatre, Steeve worked closely with Aamir Raza Hussain at Stagedoor productions and Oscar Nominee Victor Banerjee. He is known for his deep insight into people’s behavior, his experience of working with thousands of leaders and his commitment to creating an engaging, experiential & partnership based learning environments that focus on the growth of businesses and individuals.

Neuro- Dramatic Play Workshop with Sue Jennings ~Devika

23658584_1562311580523226_3619662062090565350_n

Aagaaz has embarked on a journey towards nurturing and enhancing the development of its team members. In November, Devika attended a 3 day workshop on Neuro-Dramatic Play and brought back new ideas and plenty of insights. Here is a small reflection, that highlights her detailed observations while interacting with children during this process:

The first of our workshop was a beautiful journey of self-exploration, sensory play, and rhythmic movement. We experimented with themes and ideas and put ourselves in the shoes of the children. It was an experiential session, and it would never have been authentic enough without that element. The real learning, however, started on the second day. Discussing theoretical frameworks about pedagogy or pretend play with adults could never compensate for first-hand experiences with children.

Luckily! This training involved children. I found myself in a group of 4 adults who facilitated for 3 children. Their distinct personalities made the whole process more dynamic. Vaishnavi (6-girl), Shweta (6-girl) and Shalu(8-boy) responded to the same stimulus in very different ways. I spent about 4 hours with these children in the span of two days and managed to observe various skills and patterns in the limited time period.

My first lens for exploration was- ‘Connection with metaphors’. Sue had introduced us to a rain metaphor that was used as a narrative for all our activities. Vaishnavi and Shalu didn’t show much resistance to this idea. Vaishnavi, whose play resembled that of a younger child was more fascinated with sounds, repetition and displaying her capabilities. Shalu, with his hearing and depth perception difficulties, was quite active and enthusiastic about what we brought to the table. Shweta didn’t connect to the metaphor at all and got distracted every few minutes.

Messy Play was another revealing exercise for all of us. It led to joy, energy, imagination and social play for the children and the adults. Vaishnavi was initially quite enthusiastic about the activity. She spent a long time playing with the shaving foam and liked the possibility of connecting with others through the medium. After a while, she got quite flustered and annoyed with the substance on herself, and wanted to clean it off as soon as possible. Shweta also explored the texture of the medium, tried to extend her imagination and wanted more and more for herself. Shalu on the other hand, engaged in individual sensory play, without paying much regard to what others were doing.

I was quite fascinated by the children’s tendency to adapt to the new flock of adults around them. Initially, they all operated with apprehension and curiosity which soon transformed into openness. The first indicator was visible when the children decided to include us in the drawings they were making. All three of them were particularly friendly, yet they showed different characteristics. Shalu was accepting of the facilitators, yet he didn’t seek much attention. On the second day, however, he chose to go and hug one specific older person he felt comfortable with. Shweta liked the attention and holding our hands, yet she managed to separate herself from us when she felt like it. Vaishnavi sought a lot of physical touch and affection, and constantly indulged in hugging and kissing. This led to a lot of questions in my mind about the care at their centre. However, I was aware that I couldn’t jump to any premature conclusions about attachment behavior.

Stories became a good tool to gauge listening skills and memories. Sue had narrated a story on the first day the children arrived, and we asked them to recall details on the second day. My co-facilitators and I had noticed that Shweta was particularly restless and distracted during the storytelling. My assumptions around her lack of attention were challenged, when she managed to recall important details from the story. Shalu was also quite attentive and his body language coincided with that. Vaishnavi, didn’t show signs of having remembered much from the story. She seemed to be struggling with sitting still and paying attention. What I love the most about working with children is that they are unpredictable and more than capable of shattering perceptions.

I was curious about the extent to which children exhibit initiative taking and leadership in group activities. On the first day, I noticed that both Vaishnavi and Shalu enjoyed leading the singing and dancing exercises, while Shweta found the theme difficult to connect to. On the second day her attitude was very different and robust. She seemed way more confident and enjoyed the process of initiating aspects of the work, especially while narrating the story.

Lastly, there were a lot of unique patterns that I tried to pay attention to. Vaishnavi, was particularly restless, resisted following instructions after a certain point and went into sudden outbursts of expression- especially anger. Her patience levels were very low and told more than one facilitator that they were making her dirty during messy play. She also wanted a lot of things while doing a craft activity and showed very little inclination to share. Sue had made some very acute observation about how she was involved in games such as ‘peek-a-boo’ which were developmentally inappropriate for her age.

Shweta had a fantastic memory that remained throughout the 4 hours. Her understanding of subtlety was quite impressive. I noticed this in two instances. One of them was the story recall, where she was clearly more confident than the other two. I made simple eye-contact with her when she spoke out of turn, and she always caught it as an indicator to slow down. Her drawing also showed some very interesting details and nuances. She coloured the bird in her drawing, in two different colours to signify that some movement had taken place. She also seemed to enjoy the process of mocking others, especially adults.

Shalu was expressive in his drawings and very calm at the same time. He showed very little resistance to any activities. He wanted to do the work given to him and also liked the process of displaying and showing it off. She showed curiousity and interest in other people’s drawings, and seemed to have very little competitive tendencies.
My favourite moment in the whole workshop was when the children were asked to pull apart their craft work. I could hear my heart breaking, because they had put a lot of effort in creation and ideation. The children, being their wonderful selves were actually quite open to that process. I was awestruck by their responses and felt almost sad they would have to grow up to be adults someday.

Explorations with a new group ~ Supriya Puri

25114899_10214080472188509_1377168872_n

The journey over the last couple of weeks with the girls at Pehchaan has been of wonderful revelations. Exploring different avenues of social, affective and emotional domains; has been the key in decoding how individuals perceive the world and how the human experience differs from one person to the next.
Working with various modalities within the art based spectrum facilitated a comprehensive understanding of individual processes without making overt observations embedded in interpretations. One can gather behaviour and thoughts through these means without over-reaching personal ideologies as art as a construct, supersedes conscious patterns and helps to create meaning by simply being a custodian of unconscious manifestations that are brought to fore in a very organic way.
In order to bring about change, one must gauge where, what and how, can the shift be encouraged without imposing individual ideas of where it might seem relevant. The past couple of sessions have been a container of just observing, the overt manifestations, reactions as well as creating causes and conditions which sustain and persist the current way of being, without introducing structures and activities that inhibit free expression for the girls
Facilitating, or providing scaffolding for them has been the main area of focus, so that the element of social appropriateness and good vs bad do not seep inhibit natural reactions. Whenever such an instance occurs, the girls are encouraged to question the validity of norms and standards of conformity that they have come to absorb from their social environment.
To understand their coping mechanisms as well as how they view the social construct within which the operate, along with cognitive, affect, emotional and physical parameters an art based tool, called 6 piece story making was conducted individually as well as in pairs. This session gave wonderful insights about their inner dialogue and inter vs intrapsychic conflicts.
This gave us a fair understanding of what the focus of the next sessions would be, in terms of affirming and establishing immediate goals. As the follow up of the story making session, a container for object relations and improvisation was conducted which focused on using different day to day objects, for instance, a mirror, a pen or a scarf and establishing different meanings to the ones with which they are associated, originally. This  proved to be of immense assessment value as it re-affirmed the line of thought that improvisation and affective expression would be limited and it was observed that very few of them were able to use their imaginative capacity to the fullest potential. The reasons for the same are multi-layered but fall within our current understanding of all these young individuals.
Moving ahead, working with rhythms, body, movement and encouraging exploratory play would remain the guiding principles towards actively bringing about awareness of the self and the other and eventually hoping to create an ease of dialogue about concepts under the broader purview of gender and sexuality. This will be a long journey indeed, but one which both Devika and I are looking forward to undertake.