Collaborations with The Community Library Project ~ Devika and Shahid

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

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

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

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

Korika: The Wishing Kite ~Jasmine Sachdev

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

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

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

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

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

Why Rituals? ~ Jasmine Sachdev

Since the last 6 months, thrice a week, on cool mornings or hot sunny afternoons, a bunch of kids at the Jamunwala Park stand in a circle, look into each other’s’ eyes, and walk and exchange places, or sit in a circle and catch an imaginary fish. These are just two of our rituals that we follow in each of our sessions with children at Khirkee as we make our first play together.

Rituals are characteristic to a space. A ritual holds and binds the space and makes the space what it is. Rituals are also at the heart of practice as theatre practitioners – it is consistent and central to the work we do with our children.

The Opening Ritual

Chhota Chuha

The opening circle includes revision of our norms through a song. The tiny rat (chotta chooha) comes in to remind us of the actions that will make the space, a safe and a happy space for everyone. We created the song to fit our purpose and are sharing it here with you. Feel free to pick up elements, change things around, and build it into your work with any chhota chuhas you might know.

chhota chooha chhota chooha
touch karne se pehle poochta hai
chhota chooha chhota chooha
Sabki baat sunta hai
chhota chooha chhota chooha
Aas paas ki cheezon ka dhyan rakhta hai
chhota chooha chhota chooha
Poore session ke liye rukta hai

Eyeballing

We all stand in a circle in neutral position, one person walks towards another person, looking into their eyes and takes their place while the other person does the same with the third person in the group and so on. This helps us to centre our energy and focus.

This is followed by other drama activities related to the objective of the session for that day.

The Closing Ritual

Once we are done with all the activities for the day, it is time for our closing circle.

We sit in a circle, breathing in and out (smell the roses and blow off the candle), calming ourselves down after all the energy and action and drama the session had.  

We reflect and share with the group a thing we did well and one thing we did not do well and will do better next time.

The session ends with playing Machli, where one person creates an imaginary machli with their hands and everyone has to catch it together when it jumps by clapping at the centre – it centres the group’s energies in the moment, bring the session to a complete circle.

Our journey with the rituals in this space has been an interesting one. There was a time last year when we had to call the children so many times to get to a point where we all are standing in the circle in a neutral position. Today, the children don’t need Devika or me or anyone else to do eyeballing. They lead it. A few sessions back, both Devika and I had to be out of the session in the beginning due to some other distractions around, the children did eyeballing by themselves and then we continued doing the rest of the activities with them. Earlier we were struggling with reflections as most would repeat just the sequence of the events that happened, however now the reflections are getting deeper and the kids have started identifying behavioural actions they do well and want to improve. They are taking turns in making imaginary machlis and successfully catching them together.

We(the children and the facilitators) are still learning and progressing and growing. At times, we still laugh or don’t listen attentively to others during their sharings and at times break into a small dance step at the end of our turn in eyeballing, but we get back to neutral again, try to listen again and hold the space for us and each other again.

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.

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.

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.

Cooperative Games with Manish Kataria By Nishant Paul

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To keep adding dimensions to our approach towards creation of the Unlearning Uncentered space in Khirki, it’s important for us to keep looking outwards at more methods of facilitation and the different spaces that already exist. We started the process last month and invited Manish, our friend and a facilitator for cooperative games, to play with us for a two-day workshop at C-5!

It became a day’s workshop eventually due to some reasons. We still had copious amounts of learning and fun in that one day! Along with the Unlearning Uncentered facilitators, the youth club members also attended the workshop. Manish has an arsenal of games which focuses on cooperation rather than competition. In the 5 games that Manish shared with us, we could see the very subtle elements of cooperation woven into them, mostly later, by reflection. We already knew some games and had played them multiple times but their different versions surprised all of us. The games stirred a different kind of energy in us.

One of Manish’s favourite games, ‘Who’s Goofy?’, has become our favourite too; it has stayed with all of us and we keep playing it at every opportunity!

We also wanted to have Manish come over to the Unlearning Uncentered space and share some cooperative games with the little children but that couldn’t happen unfortunately. We hope to be able to incorporate the elements of what we have learnt in the workshop in our own ways in the Unlearning Uncentered space

A mind-washing experience By Himani Haswani

   

Himani, our extremely committed & artistic volunteer, came to know about Aagaaz through iVolunteer and has been an important part of Unlearning Uncentred since the very first day that we started meeting the children in Khirki. Himani shares here with us her reflections on the experience in designing and facilitating Unlearning Uncentred and her forever evolving relationship with the children!

Initially, when I met the children, I had just heard about them dubbed as “The Tonga-walas”.  So the comparison here starts with identity being the first factor of comparison between me and the children. My perception of the children’s identity changed as time passed by and we built our relationships as their fellow playmates. On the other side, my identity experienced a change too. Earlier, I was just Himani, a distant facilitator trying to form a relationship with the children. Now, when I see the children looking for me or playing with me, I get a sense of acceptance from them as if I am one of them.

Being a facilitator at Aagaaz, I have seen multiple aspects of my character change as well as the children’s. And I’d like to share those here!

The way I used to think earlier about a session or lesson plans was based on pure imagination and anticipation without any sense of reality. There was a false sense of certainty about the execution of everything exactly as planned in mind. But with enough experience now, I’ve learnt multiple valuable lessons like making plans in accordance with energy levels of the children, etc.  I hope to incorporate all of them while executing our sessions plans. Session planning and execution require a lot of work and thought than what I had expected. With constant experience, I’m able to develop my skills and approach, and look at the whole undertaking in a new, informed light.

There’s an evident transformation in my approach in terms of my actions, reactions and perspective. I have started using the loudness feature of my voice, which reflects my newfound confidence to articulate my thoughts more comprehensively. I have also learnt about the subjectivity in relation to what’s wrong and what’s right. We all are different, a common realisation that has been amplified in my experience. There is a positive change in the children’s behaviour too for they seem to call the shots for their own learning when we leave them free to explore. ‘Activities’ have a new meaning in their lives now. Boundless experimentation, learning and development are achievable, it seems.

 On a whole, I have experienced a lot of good mind-washing and have enjoyed it thoroughly. 🙂

Without Himani with us at Unlearning Uncentred, there wouldn’t have been a lot of activities and motivation that eventually came our way during all these months!

Unlearning Uncentred- अब तक का सफ़र| By Nishant Paul

     

It has almost been seven months since we started meeting the children who live near the Jamun Wala Park in Khirki and make it the happening place that it is. Without them, the park would only look green but not ‘happy-green’! We have met each other at least 30-32 times (for sessions) and are now aware of each others’ idiosyncrasies. We see glimpses of trust in our relationships now, which has been the foundation as well as the result of the ‘work’ that we have done.

When we started working (thanks to KHOJ), we began with a very basic premise that focuses on the psycho-social aspect of working with children. From our own experiences and the wisdom floating around, we have known that majority of the existing learning spaces (be it schools, home or even society in general) are stifling any free movement in children’s minds and actions for they merely cater to the ‘wants’ of the world. We wished to create an informal, unstructured learning space which doesn’t fall into the established trappings of the existing systems. On the face of it, it might look like a pretty vague idea to start with but that’s what we had to begin with. Consequently, we initiated our interaction with the children at the end of January on mounds of garbage, the erstwhile state of Jamun Wala Park!

Along the way, the facilitators, which includes many children from the core group of Aagaaz too, have been setting aside some time to work on polishing their facilitation skills and also, learn about working well with children with all kinds of energy. Additionally, we plan to invite educators and facilitators to train all the Unlearning Uncentered facilitators in the area of working with children and informal learning spaces. The pre, post-session planning and review aspects are in place now and have become a helping source of reflection and generation of further ideas for Unlearning Uncentred. Currently, Devika, Himani and Nishant are regular facilitators, with Sanyukta coming in as the observer sometimes. Himani has been the most consistent volunteer at Aagaaz and an integral part of Unlearning Uncentred since the beginning! More people are going to start helping us out with the space starting this month, as facilitators and designers of the space; Jasmeen, Saddam and Nagma from the Aagaaz core group as facilitators & Vardhna, Nupur and Shipra, our friends and educators, as designers. We are really looking forward to that!

Along the way, the facilitators, which includes many children from the core group of Aagaaz too, have been incorporating time & space to polish their facilitation skills and also, learn about working well with children with all kinds of energy. Additionally, we plan to invite educators and facilitators to train all of us in the area of working with children and informal learning spaces. The pre, post-session planning, and review aspects are in place now and have become a helping source of reflection and generation of further ideas for Unlearning Uncentred. Currently, Devika, Himani and Nishant are regular facilitators, with Sanyukta coming in as the observer sometimes. More people are going to start helping us out with the space starting this month,- Jasmeen, Saddam and Nagma from the Aagaaz core group as facilitators & Vardhna, Nupur and Shipra, our friends and educators, as designers. We are really looking forward to that!

We are looking to understand the needs of these children better and respond to those by designing the sessions in a suitable way. Also, in order to support such designs, we are looking to study and understand child development in depth. The children whom we meet twice every week (till July we used to meet them once every week) belong to diverse age groups, This is another factor that needs to be incorporated in our session plans to ensure every child’s engagement. It’s a challenge and something that we look forward to addressing since the crux of our work is to be able to give everyone the space to be.

The adults from the community have started responding to us differently as well. Whenever a regular facilitator doesn’t come, some of the parents are bound to ask us about them! Recently, one of the children’s elder sister wanted to learn all the songs that the children had learned. In response, all the children gathered around her and shared every song in one go! This kind of sharing that has been initiated on its own within the community is a beautiful sight and opens doors for our future engagement with the larger community in Khirki.

It’ll take us some more time and experiences to be clear about our vision for the space. Though what we are really sure about is that our program’s approach will continue to be informal, inclusive and playful and that there will be a lot of learning and unlearning, for everyone, including us. Hopefully!

Unlearning Uncentred Intensive

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We have been working quite regularly with the children in Khirki under the umbrella of Unlearning Uncentred. Since the past few months it has been a weekly engagement that aims to allow children to be able to find many mediums of expression for their stories and start using them in their daily lives in small ways.

During the last three days of April, we decided to do an intensive 3 day summer workshop with the children. The intention was to get the group to work more cohesively and also to deepen our relationship with them. This was also an experiment for us, which allowed us to observe the quality and nature of the work in an enclosed space.

We worked on three different ways of expressing stories –oral storytelling, storytelling through drama and storytelling through visual art. These activities were led by three volunteers from Aagaaz-Nishant, Priiya and Himani. We also had Zainab, Nagma, Nagina, Saddam, Shahid and Jasmeen co-facilitated the sessions.

As the days progressed, we understood the value of time and commitment and the difference it makes. We decided to put boundaries on entry and demanded punctuality and noticed how it automatically made this smoother. The children responded to the mediums quite beautifully and expressed their inclination to want to explore them further.

We are now thinking of ways to create learning journeys for the children that nurture their curiosities and allow them to engage with areas that fascinate them. As facilitators, we need to find opportunities and resources that would equip us to create such a space. We also need to look at strategic ways of managing emerging needs and unpredictable circumstances.