What became a gorgeous workshop and performance in Srinagar in the 2nd and 3rd week of June, began with a chance meeting with Sunanda Dhar while Anirban and Sanyukta were traveling through Rajasthan in December 2016. Sunanda and her family have been working tirelessly into creating a space full of music, drama, visual arts, and stories for the DPS Srinagar community. She has been single handedly creating the Special Education Department in the school. A few more meetings in Delhi and we knew we were traveling to the valley for a couple of week with many of the young Aagaaz members for a Duniya Sabki workshop.
When Sanyukta started working with the group it was difficult to get the children to come in for workshops regularly. From there to now traveling together as a group for most of Ramzaan and Eid (for shows in Kolkata) in the month of Ramzaan was a big ask! It was heartwarming to feel the trust we have developed with the families of the core group. There were many tears shed as we embarked on our journey. For the families it was a leap of faith to send their children to Srinagar (at a time when the media is rife with unfavourable news from the valley) for so many days. We were in a train, together, for the first time. It was also the first time ever that Zainab had boarded a train. Made me think about the many things we take for granted in terms of children’s experiences – there have been so many references to train journeys made in the last few years, without having realised that some have never actually experienced one.
After Udhampur what followed of course was new to most of the group. We were traveling through an absolutely unknown terrain to our destination, and I have to day that I am in shock at the negligible number of episodes of altitude sickness (yes, I am using a euphemism here). It is also surprising (yes, after all these years I am still surprised at the magic of drama – each time!) how easily the first day of the workshop created an absolutely equal space between the participants from DPS and the Aagaaz members. The workshop was facilitated in two batches by Sanyukta and Priiya and 6 of the Aagaaz members were co-leading with each group. Nishant and Devika were to observe the workshops, and Anirban spent the first 3 days of the workshop with us to help with sound design.
After traveling for more than 24 hours we reached Srinagar amidst rain and and cold winds on the evening of the 8th. Even as we settled into our dormitories and rooms and sipped on chai, we were informed that the next day (also the first day of our workshop), a bandh had been declared in Kashmir. We were unsure about the number of participants attending, and planned with a lot of space to be spontaneous.
The next morning, as is always, there was much awkwardness in the space before we began the workshop. We had decided to do away with formal introductions and just played. By the time we wrapped up the session and sat down to reflect, we realised that the space had automatically transformed into one of play, genuine curiosity and friendships. The next few days were spent working on voice, body and exploring the theme of Duniya Sabki. Friendships deepened as the participants and facilitators exchanged stories through images of feeling disconnected from the world they live in. We were surprised at how little we expected themes like bullying, falling in love, trouble with parents, feeling unheard, and struggles with academics to feature during the workshops.
On the second last day, we performed 2 shows for students and a show for parents in a span of two and a half hours. From Safdar’s words about the world either belonging to everyone, or not belonging to anyone, we moved into narratives about transgenders, bodies that are differently abled, falling and failing in love, depression and suicide, bullying, nepotism, and the relationship between gender, state and the military. To riveted audiences children from Nizamuddin Basti and DPS Srinagar performed with their energies absolutely in sync to tell stories to change, ACTing to change.