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

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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

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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.

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!”