Kaath By Sanyukta Saha

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In one of those existential moments earlier this year I was wondering why I took the plunge of birthing Aagaaz. With some pondering I realised that I enjoyed being on stage and the process that precedes it so much, that I decided to create that opportunity for the enthusiastic bunch of bachchas I worked with in Nizamuddin (yes, I am talking about the formidable group that is now known as the Aagaaz’s core group). Until the end of 2014, being on stage as an actor was a big part of life. I would often brag about how theatre was my life’s energy source. However, with a fledgeling of an organization making its own demands, my own practice of theatre took a backseat. With a great sense of purpose, I had decided to make 2017 the year I went back on stage.

Friends know that I keep reiterating that if you say something often enough, it will happen. It’s true. It does. I happened to be a part of four productions this year (one is still a work in progress). While the first was a play with the group I grew up with – pandies’ Theatre’s Ismat’s Love Stories, the second was Third Space collective’s short play – Malang (a piece that’s been memorable and important for a few heart reasons). The other two are pieces for very young audiences. Here, I shall write about only one of them (the other you are most definitely to read about next year in April). Ruchira Das, the Director of Calcutta’s Think Arts, a company that creates and curates arts and literary experiences for the young, reached out. Helios Theater, Hamm, a company revered for its plays for toddlers, had given one of their shows – Woodbeat to Think Arts. Ruchira wanted to know if I would be interested in performing the piece. Of course I agreed with a lot of excitement – after all I had made a pact with myself to do theatre this year.

A couple of days spent in Hamm was enough to realise that working in this production was going to be a huge learning experience. Woodbeat is an exploration of wood in its various forms with elements of puppet theatre. Other than a cursory participation in a week long workshop with Anurupa Roy years ago, I had never attempted puppetry. Brought up in Delhi, with a very conventional schooling, I had also never held an axe, let alone using one to sever blocks of wood. As the dates for working on the piece drew closer, one of my most reccurrent nightmares was losing a few fingers during a show, in front of an audience, mostly comprising of toddlers. The nightmares only went up in frequency and sub-genres once I started working with Michael and Marko on the creating the piece. While the experience watching the duo perform in Bombay and then Calcutta was fantastic, it only led to more and more doubts about whether I could actually pull of the performance. At Aagaaz we believe that arts create powerful learning experiences – for children as well as adults, and, what I never for a  moment doubted was how much I was going to learn about working with toddlers through the creation of the play.

As the show premiered in The New Town  School in Calcutta, I realised how fantastic the journey with Kaath (that’s what the name of the Indian version of the show) was going to be. The audience was full of 5 year olds and they were all engaged in each and every moment of the play. Perhaps one of the most powerful moments of performing the first run of shows was in Nizamuddin. We performed at the MCD Primary School in the basti for children from aanganwadis, nursery class, and grade 1. I was performing in the very space that saw the beginning of my journey with Aagaaz more than 8 years ago. After the show, the teachers walked up to me in awe, “these children were not screaming and running. They were sitting quietly and watching performance. That’s never happened. We didn’t have to ask them to be quiet even once.” With all my fingers intact, I smiled.

Friends of Aagaaz Speak By Priyam Jain

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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 Priyam Jain. This is what she has to say:

“As a distraught teenager struggling with issues of bullying, alienation, and loneliness, I would often hope that someone would help me make sense of my self and the environment. It was during college,  that theater happened and I became acutely aware of the power of arts in healing and critical thinking for me. It was, to say the least, life changing!

A couple of years back, when I first bumped into Sanyukta, the founder of Aagaaz, I became a witness to a community of young theater makers from Nizammudin reinforcing what I had experienced first hand. I was both inspired and eager to support this lovely group.

 

 As I came on board in the role of a friend of Aagaaz and a mentor to one of the members, I got to have an insight into this community of changemakers. Against the backdrop of many odds, they were making work that transformed each member and the audiences. Aagaaz for me is a community of changemakers, theater lovers, inspiring individuals and most of all hope givers.

Not one interaction has been ordinary and their creativity constantly pushes the boundaries of my own biases and perceived limitations about applied arts in community spaces.

Thank you Aagaaz for your ability to help us look at critical questions to do with the spaces we inhabit and bring both heart and insight into your work.”

Priyam is a trained counseling Psychologist and a certified art therapy practitioner, She has worked extensively with people across ages and diverse communities.

Unlearning Uncentred Restructured By Vardhna Puri

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The Unlearning Uncentred sessions have been happening as you all know for the past 9 months. It is quite a sight to see children involved in playing games, which have been designed for them from a learning objective. These months have been interesting and have given us so many ideas to move forward. Let’s call that Unlearning Uncentred- Chapter 2. We now have onboard Noopur, who works in the area of education. With this we plan to structure our program and reach out to children in our capacity. The sessions will continue on a regular basis but with tweaking, in terms of learning goals they address.

What the sessions till now have done for us is to create visibility in the community and generate a buzz that we engage with children. This month started with a field visit where the parents of the children were individually visited. A lot of the children who come to us have dropped out of school and those who are still enrolled in the formal system, are not making too much out of it.

The next step is to individually assess children on what point are they in their learning journey and how can we make it more attuned to their lives. We plan to use themes such as- ‘understanding self’ and want to gain insight into the community as a way to generate interest in learning. So one of the activities this time around was for children to talk about the places that they like or dislike; feel happy or scared in. This gave us not only a glimpse into their relationship with their community but also ideas for further engagement.

For now, we plan to create a deeper relationship with both the children and the community at large.

Khirki Music Ensemble- Journey so far.. By Anirban Ghosh

What started as an experiment in Khirki (Somehow Khoj had trust in us that we will be able to create interesting programmes with this community) today has resulted in 3 full-fledged programmes for us at Aagaaz (Unlearning Uncentered, किस्से Connection and Khirki Music Ensemble). Khirki music ensemble emerged from the need to create and engage the hidden musicians from Khirki, and give them a platform to express and collaborate with other like-minded individuals from within the community.

The first audition call was a disaster – we actually waited (somewhat like the two photographers from Jane Bhi do Yaaron – Naseeruddin Shah and Ravi Baswani who are waiting for people to turn up for the opening of their photo studio) till 4 pm but nobody showed up. We knew we had to do this and it would somehow work out, so we started finding ways to get people to join this ensemble. That’s when we bumped into Swati’s ‘Recharge ki dukaan’ where she was also running a makeshift recording studio. I started spending time and jamming with the musicians who come to record there and found some amazing rappers (Anubhav and Ravi) and a young Bollywood singer (Kumud).  Zubin (from Khoj) connected me to these two Congolese musicians (Romeo – guitar/vocals and Zoom – Bass man / vocals) who blew me with their renditions of some really hip Congolese songs. I started jamming with this group and this began the journey of creating KME with this motley crew of young musicians from Khirki.

The ensemble right now is just 5 rehearsals old, but we do believe that we will be able to put together solid performances given the enthusiasm and will of each individual. We are hoping that more people will join this ensemble in some course time, but till then, we will keep doing what we do the best – create music that crosses borders/languages/cultures and brings people together in Khirki.

Theatre with ‘The Community Library Project’, Panchsheel Vihar By Priiya

 

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There is a deep sense of kinship to be working again with a group of participants who have already been led into a theatrical journey of sharing ideas and experiences, and it provides for a pleasant challenge. These workshops become a continuation of an educational exercise through theatre and play an important part in the evolution of thought itself.  The group of kids from The Community Library Project at Deepalaya at Panchsheel Vihar are in gears for the second series of workshops with us and that has us moving.

Following the first performances that culled out of Duniya Sabki in a workshop format, the second series revolves around stories, storytelling and the storytellers. The stories that we are working on are the ones that have been read by this group of 12 avid readers over the last few months, stories that they carried beyond the books . Through a range of narrative and improv exercises, we are experimenting with the numerous ways in which these stories could possibly be told. Their choice of stories they want to tell is in itself a fascinating reflection of what appeals to these children as unique individuals.

As with most workshops, as much as planning ahead of time is essential, many thoughtful developments happen during or after the planned activities, and the dynamics of set exercises are prone to modification on a daily basis. After the initial step of sharing stories in our workshops, we are now gradually shifting our focus towards the act of narration of the stories, using various techniques involving images, machines, non-linear narratives and humanization of objects around us. In the recent workshops, most of the brainstorming sessions have been whirling towards an attempt of bringing to surface the impact of invisible characters in each child’s story. This exercise is an effective way of understanding the varied perspectives that can alter the narrative direction of the story being told. This has set in motion the process of not only thinking but also acting from various point of view. Interestingly, one of the children has chosen the guitar in her story to be the storyteller and another one is trying to make a box of paint talk, oh! it’s going to be fun.

किस्से Connection at Jashn-E-Aman By Shreya Jani

 

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On 2nd October, 2017 STEP Trust collaborated with Aagaaz and organized किस्से Connection in Lodhi Garden, as a culmination of our 12 day Peace Festival Jashn-e-Aman.

The topic of the event was ‘Bridge the Gap’, which focused on stories of navigating identities to understand issues of class, caste, gender, region, religion, and aspiration. The preparation for this event started a week before- on 25th of September when Nishant Paul held a short orientation workshop with our human books, at the Aagaaz office in Nizamuddin. We played a game called ‘Zombie’ and laughed a lot before we started to discover each others’ stories. The Aagaaz team and STEP team spent the next few days on the creation of registration forms with the audio recordings and eventually reached out to readers.

There were 10 books in total and around 25 readers who gathered on a beautiful Monday evening at Lodhi Gardens, over some tea and cake. The event started with some warm activities, followed by one-on-one book readings and a debriefing session. This intimate experience brought people from many walks of lives, together and gave them a glimpse into each others’ narratives.

Here is a reflection by one of the readers Paramjeet Bernad an entrepreneur who runs women’s vocational training centre in Uttam Nagar:
“As one of the readers, I found this concept to be an interesting and connecting experience. I discovered that everyone’s life stories are similar and every journey resonates with mine. I find such interpersonal reading has capacity to bring people together to understand the value of human life. It also brings about a sense of interconnectedness which might be helpful to bridging the gap between two communities or two people.”

Rajat was one of the human books and this what he had to say about his experience:
“As a person who loves to read, the word library is no less than an aphrodisiac. So when Shreya told me about this human library project I immediately registered for it. The theme- ‘Bridging the gap’, difficult but also interesting. It made me and my fellow books think of an incident in our lives where we overcame bias/prejudice/ignorance or any other experiences along these lines. For me it was ignorance, a life event which had recently opened my eyes to a greater reality of gender equality and one’s chosen identity. Putting my memory and lessons learned onto paper and then recording it was a unique experience. I was really excited to be borrowed. My title “She is not the man” was well received. I was happy to answer the borrowers’ questions and some of their questions gave me a fresh perspectives into things. I received healthy feedback and priceless comments. The session also got the books to interact with each other which is unique to library of human books. The whole process of human library and the interactions turned out to be an exhilarating experience for me. Thank you everyone!”

My first encounter with the Drama in Education Jams- Dikshant Sharma

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I came to know about DiE jams through a post published on Facebook.
It sounded quite interesting for it came across as a free, open space to brainstorm and explore endless possibilities.
A space to use and explore drama as an educational tool through various methods and activities, was naturally inviting.
The session turned out to be no less than expected. It was a fusion of several energisers, creative drama exercises and reflections; carried out by every individual present.
Since everyone had acquired and adopted the art in their own unique way, the possibilities to explore, and ideas generated in a single session were remarkably impressive.
To sum it up, it was an open, liberal space where one could engage with smart and like-minded individuals in order to create a methodology, thereby, applying theatre to education.
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मैं और मेरी mentor.. By Jasmine

मेरी mentor गायत्री है ! मुझे उनके साथ बात करना और time बिताना बहुत अच्छा लगता है | मैं अपनी सारी बातें उनसे share करती हूँ और गायत्री सब सुनती है | वो तो मेरी मजाकिया हरकतों को भी झेल लेती है!

ज़िन्दगी में कभी कभी मैं बहुत ज्यादा अकेला feel करती हूँ और किसी को बता भी नहीं पाती | कभी-कभी बहुत सारी कठिनाईयां आ जाती है जिसका मैं सामना नहीं कर पाती या मेरे किसी दोस्त की परेशानी मुझे परेशानी दे रही होती है या फिर पढ़ाई में कुछ problem होती है | मैं हमेशा चाहती थी के ऐसा कोई इंसान हो जिसको मैं बिना घबराये ये सब बता सकूँ | अब गायत्री मेरी mentor है तो उनसे बात करके feelings share कर सकती हूँ और कई बातों का solution भी निकाल सकती हूँ |

इन सब चीज़ों के अलावा गायत्री और मैं बहुत कुछ साथ में भी कर सकते है और आगे चल कर करेंगे | मैं गायत्री से नए-नए पकवान और English सीखना चाहती हूँ | मैं चाहती हूँ के गायत्री dance सीखे और मुझे भी सिखाये | और हम कई दिन साथ में गाना भी गायें !

मैं चाहती हूँ के गायत्री जैसी है हमेशा वैसी ही रहे, कभी न बदले | हमेशा मेरी एक दोस्त की तरह रहे | कभी-कभी मुझ पर गुस्सा भी हो तो मुझे अच्छा लगेगा ! I love you गायत्री !

My Journey as a Mentor By Gayathri Sreedharan

It’s been a little less than a year since I first became acquainted with Aagaaz. It took me very little discussion/discovery before I asked to be part of the mentoring programme. My relatively brief experience mentoring two young women from Aagaaz’s fold has dealt me a few life lessons already. Above all, this – ‘mentoring’ a young person of an impressionable age, from a less privileged, minority background is much, much tougher than it looks to be. It’s not unlike backseat parenting; you have to do more than just consider, but actually measure every word and action, and be ready to be questioned, have your belief system challenged at the most unlikely times.

For starters, when I was assigned my first mentee (I’ve had two since January), I started our relationship with the [arrogant] assumption that, as my mentee, I needed to teach or coach the young woman concerned. The power dynamic was established in my mind even before I had met her. In our first meeting, I asked her for the things she needed help with, and she reluctantly trotted out answers about a school subject or two that she may need help passing. I imagined helping the young woman study on a weekly basis would give us time and regularity, and in so doing, help establish trust and intimacy.

But it was evident that my mentee found our sessions boring, and forced. I’ve always enjoyed a spontaneous connection with children and adolescents, if I say so myself. For the first time in many years, I found myself scrambling to look and sound interesting, for some faux ‘with it’ element that might engage her, but with little success.

Funnily enough, I didn’t face such a block with children her age in the drama classes I co-teach over weekends in Rajouri Garden and Civil Lines. When spontaneous chatter fails, I sometimes resort (shamelessly, or maybe not so much) to infantilization, giving funny and just wrong answers when necessary, and sticking to certain failsafe topics such as the latest movies, what’s wrong with this public figure or the other, current affairs and general knowledge. The teenagers I work with there take pride in being up to date on the latest facts. I’ve rarely received a silent stare or Mona Lisa-esque smile in return. The power dynamic exists, but that infantilization trick allows me to turn tables for a bit, or just until somebody crosses a line, which is when I drop pretences and take on a sharper tone. It’s not an uncommon story.

But with my mentees at Aagaaz, it’s been a learning experience precisely because these children already know so much about the real world. Despite my limited interactions, I suspect they know much more about the kind of performance that would truly demand attention and respect. It’s this realization that has brought me to re-examine the very definition of mentoring, and indeed teaching – indeed, the question, what gives me the authority, the presumption that based solely on my age I can truly mentor someone?

The ice wall unbroken with the first, I found a slightly more organic and genuine start with another young woman. Following my mother’s unexpected demise in August, she has offered me more support than I have for her, which has further demolished any notions I might have had about the process of ‘mentoring’. Perhaps it’s a more symbiotic relationship than I previously imagined.

My engagement with Aagaaz By Naveen Sharma

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Aagaaz – a ball of positivity and love, is a beautifully knitted environment by Sanyukta Saha, showering love and positivity to the world of these amazing kids and whosoever comes to this place. My association with Aagaaz wasn’t a planned one. It all started with my six-day journey to Kolkata for Raavan Aaya. I hadn’t seen the play, nor had I met the group earlier. So, directly working on the play and getting the shows done in an unknown city was a humongous responsibility. I was quite worried initially but the nervousness faded away, thanks to the wonderful group. The Kolkata leg went well and gave some great experiences.

After the Kolkata event, I wasn’t sure about my association with the group again. San wasn’t in town and four performances were around the corner. ‘Duniya Sabki’ was a part of the ‘’Not In My Name’ campaign, ‘Raavan Aaya’ had a performance in Gurgaon, and URBAN TURBAN was a part of ‘Jashn-e-Aman’ festival.

‘Duniya Sabki’ performance went well and elicited a  good response. Next, was ” ‘Raavan Aaya’ performance in Gurgaon. Since we had worked earlier on this, I expected the execution to be easier this time and did not anticipate newer challenges like – ‘Recasting’. Some of the actors weren’t available and we had limited time due to exams. We had three days, two hours each day to get things sorted. The show went well with positive feedback and some amazing food to our treat. The next show in line was ‘Urban Turban’. Since it was work in progress, nerves were different. The day was full of surprises. First, the unexpected rain and then the performance space. Nagma, Nagina and Jasmine brilliantly managed the last-minute adjustments and put up a powerful performance. It was simply beautiful to see such efficiency and talent. The conversation after the performance with the viewers added a lot to the play, surely beneficial for the team.

The major difference observed this time was in the way the kids took major responsibility and worked so efficiently. Aagaaz is a constant now and my eternal source of energy. I am sure I will visit Aagaaz more often and will reciprocate the energy that they instilled in me.

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