Friends of Aagaaz Meet By Vardhna Puri

Aagaaz has been growing in so many ways. Our work has diversified and we’re in constant need of support to be able to ensure that rent, salaries and stipends are given on time. This is what led to the formation of ‘Friends of Aagaaz‘. While we’re still in the lookout for people who align with our values and would like to offer support, we know that we couldn’t make it this far without those who have already pledged to be a part of this journey. This meet was an endeavor to (re)introduce them to the work that has been happening.

The poetic invitation, doing justice to the importance this event holds for us, brought together an eclectic mix of people together on the evening of 27th August. Sanyukta, Devika, Nishant along with the core group members worked tirelessly to create an impressive visual display of the various programs.
This with the hope that the tree grows as the programs expand.

True to their word, all our friends turned up with food fit for a feast. The homemade caramel custards and masala idlis spoil us rotten. So did the coconut bread from a bakery in Nizamuddin basti. After the informal introductions, as promised, the presentation of the work began. Taking forward the tradition of Aagaaz, we could not have settled down for just a talk. A session of किस्से connection ensured that all the people who have been involved in the journey of the program got an opportunity to talk about their personal journey. The members became books, some for the first time and the friends were the readers for the evening. The members answered questions ranging from their association with Aagaaz to their thoughts about the program as well as their hopes and aspirations.

After two rounds of conversations, everyone settled to watch performances. First one was Urban Turban, a performance initially conceptualized for Gender Bender 2016 in Bangalore. The performance looked at everyday lives of young girls and their experiences of living in and navigating the basti. This was followed by Duniya Sabki, a play based on a poem by Sadar Hashmi with the same name. The premise of play being Akbar expressing ownership over the palace he considers rightfully his’, yet being humbly reminded that either it belongs to everyone or no one. Pertinent in the current environment, the play merges this with the everyday experiences of children, raising so many questions. Does the city/its banks/its parks/its roads belong to some more than the others? The performances culminated in a round of applause and followed by questions from the viewers.

The meet was heartening to us in so many ways. Each person has interacted with the group in their own way, however for the first time, so many of them came together. It opens up another forum for us to implement programs and come back to a space, not just to report but to reflect on our own processes.

My Mentoring Journey with Shahid by Anirban Ghosh

My mentoring journey with Shahid began around mid 2016. Shahid was interested in learning the guitar, so we started with basic lessons. He picked up the guitar (along with singing) pretty quick – he would work on the exercises diligently and come prepared for the subsequent sessions as an inspired learner with keen interest in pursuing an art-form. We continued with the lessons until he started playing/composing songs on the guitar. He would practice his singing skills as well and along with the guitar, he soon started performing. Seeing Shahid take up music (along with Theatre) seriously was indeed fulfilling for me.

Initially, we would meet twice (sometimes thrice a week). I would give him books, material and lessons which he would thoroughly work upon. Post June 2017, we started working towards creating a schedule for his 12th board exams study. We mutually decided the timelines and study schedule. Just like his enthusiasm for music, he started working on his syllabus as well.

Every mentoring session that I have had with Shahid has given me so much to think about – from my role as a mentor in his life to challenging him enough to take on things that he really wants to excel in to giving him the right kind of guidance that (more than a piece of advice) enables him to think and act on his own. Every time I have met Shahid, it has answered so many of my own questions/apprehensions/ideologies that I have now started work on creating a music programme for adolescents which deals with building a positive attitude and working towards social good as opposed to it just being a skill building class of sorts. Shahid is slowly becoming my co-conspirator in creating community engagement programmes and hopefully, post his board exams, will join me in this endeavor.

Ismail and Muzammil go to college.. by Devika, Ismail and Muzammil

‘Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead’- Nelson Mandela

We gave you a glimpse into this in the last newsletter and we are happy to share details about a particularly significant news with all of you.

Ismail and Muzammil, who happen to be familiar faces from the core group at Nizamuddin have made it to college. This is a great moment of pride and relief for all of us since they are the first from Aagaaz (and from their families) who have managed to cross this milestone of getting admission into an higher education institution.

It has been a crazy journey which included long exhausting hours of going to colleges all over Delhi to get admission forms and filling them up with full determination. In addition to that, these boys had to prepare for auditions and showcase their artistic abilities.

This was our first time as well. All sorts of questions arose in our minds. It seemed like we were all going to college and this starting preoccupying our mind. All the madness paid off since these both of them found their way to the top 15 of Delhi University’s ECA (Extra Curricular Activities) merit list.

We could not have been happier, especially since Muzammil has now started their Bachelor of Arts at Zakir Husain Delhi College and Ismail is doing the same at PGDAV College, Nehru Nagar. This is what they have to say:

ISMAIL:

मुझे कॉलेज जाना बहुत अच्छा लग रहा है | कॉलेज अब मेरी एक नयी journey है जिसे मुझे तय करना है | कॉलेज में नए दोस्त बनाना और नए teachers से मिलना अच्छा लग रहा है | और एक बात जो सबसे अच्छी है वो है के में अब जैसा चाहूँ वैसे get-up रख सकता हूँ बिना किसी भी रोक-टोक के !

मेरे ख्याल से मेरे परिवार में मै इकलौता इंसान हूँ जो कॉलेज जा रहा है | यह मेरे परिवार और मेरे लिए अच्छा है क्यूंकि मै वो मुकाम हासिल कर पाऊंगा जो आज तक मेरे परिवार में कोई हासिल नहीं कर पाया है |

कॉलेज के द्वारा मुझे एक नया experience मिलेगा, मेरी knowledge बढ़ेगी और मुझे अच्छे job offers मिल सकेंगे | मै well-educated हो जाऊँगा और मेरी self-respect बढ़ेगी | और मेरे educated होने से मेरी आने वाली पीढ़ी भी well-educated हो जाएँगी न की मेरी पिछली पीढ़ी की तरह अनपढ़ |

MUZAMMIL:

मुझे कॉलेज जाना बहुत अच्छा लग रहा है | काफी कुछ नया सिख रहा हूँ और बहुत सारे नए लोगो से भी मिल कर उन्हें जानने का मौका मिल रहा है | धीरे धीरे कॉलेज और स्कूल के बीच में फर्क समझ आ रहा है, यहाँ कोई -टोक नहीं है बिलकुल भी !

मेरा कॉलेज जाना मेरे और मेरे परिवार के लिए बहुत ज़रूरी है | में अपने घर से पहला हूँ कॉलेज में पढने वाला, इस के वजह से एक chain टूट गयी है हमारे परिवार में स्कूल के बाद ना पढने वालो की और अब आगे भी टूटती रहेगी और बदलाव आयेंगे मेरे सोचने के तरीके में भी | बहुत सारी चीज़ें पता चलेंगी हमारे परिवार को जो पहले पता नहीं चल पाती थी |

मेरे कॉलेज में पढने के कारण मेरे लिए बहुत सारी opportunities खुल जाएँगी; में  नौकरी ढूंढ सकता हूँ जो अभी मेरे परिवार में कोई नहीं करता है, में मेहनत कर के IPS बन सकता हूँ, law पढ़ कर lawyer बन सकता हूँ | में अपना पुराना life-style भी बदल पाऊंगा इन सभी मौको के कारण |

This opens up a lot of opportunities for them and we want to support them in the best possible way. Currently we are hunting for sponsors who would like to fund their education. We would love to discuss possibilities with you if you’d like to help, or know someone who could. It goes without saying- Do spread the word. We look at this sponsorship as an opportunity to create bonds between these goofy boys and their newfound support structure.

Core Group Members Talk…

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SHAHID:

मैं आगाज़ के बाकी बच्चो के साथ जून के महीने में DPS, श्रीनगर में एक Theatre Workshop co-facilitate करने गया था | मैंने वहा पर बहुत सारी बातें सीखी पर सबसे अच्छे से सिखा और समझा  के लोगो की सोच उनकी शक्ति होती है मैंने यह भी जाना के मै अपनी आज़ादी को अच्छे तरह से इस्तेमाल नहीं करता हूँ | अपने उम्र के और छोटे बच्चो के साथ काम करके और Facilitation करके मैंने यह नया सिखा की हर तरह की सोच को साथ लेकर चलना आसान नहीं होता है | पाँच-छ दिन साथ में Theatre करने के बाद वहाँ के बच्चों ने मुझे कुछ ख़ास बातें बताई जो मेरे दिल को छू गयी |

ZAINAB:
हम जून महीने के अंत में कोलकाता में हमारे नाटक ‘रावण आया’ के shows करने गए थे | मेरा role वानरों के तीसरे leader का था | कोलकाता में हमने चार shows किये थे | मुझे बहुत अच्छा लगा, उसका एक reason है | मेरी acting काफी improve हुई उधर, नवीन sir ने काफी मदद करी | मैं अपनी acting के बारे में छोटी छोटी बातों का ध्यान रखने लग गयी थी | ऐसा पहली बार हुआ के बार ईद हम सब ने घर से बाहर मनाई | वैसे तो हम सब आगाज़ के  दोस्त ज्यादातर साथ में ही ईद मनाते थे निजामुद्दीन में पर कोलकाता में भी अच्छी बीती, बिलकुल अलग experience था |
‘रावण आया’ अब हमारे group का हिस्सा है और किसी भी चीज़ की जितनी भी बार करते है हर बार नयी-नयी चीज़ें सामने आती है और हमने उसके चलते improvement आता है | मुझे life में हमेशा theatre करना है और ‘रावण आया’ अब उसका part hai तो वो भी आगे करते रहना चाहती हूँ |

Raavan Aaya Travels to the City of Joy- By Sanyukta Saha

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Think Arts and Jhalaphala reached out to us in the month of May to take Raavan Aaya to Kolkata. Raavan Aaya was the opening proscenium play at Jhalaphala’s annual theatre festival for young audiences, Ikir Mikir, supported by Think Arts. We also performed at Mahadevi Birla World Academy and New Town School to middle and high school going audiences. The fourth show was at Swabhav, for a group of theatre practitioners from various grassroot level theatre groups from West Bengal, Delhi/NCR and Jaipur.

We were in two minds when the invitation came in, as we already had plans of traveling to Srinagar during Ramzaan, and knew that we would be pushing the families of the actors by asking them to let their children travel during Eid. We are still a bit taken aback by how little the families resisted to this idea. Two days after the Ballabgarh lynching, we unfortunately had to wish each other Eid Mubarak in hushed tones as we made our way to the City of Joy. Most of the festive day was spent looking ruefully at the glitter and festive glow through our windows as we passed many a small village and town in Bihar and West Bengal.

16 of the cast members, and Anirban, Sanyukta and Naveen (from Third Space Collective) split into two groups at the nostalgia inducing Howrah railway Station, to find our way to homes generously opened up for us by relatives in Jadavpur and Salt Lake City. With 24 hours of travel for the third time in a span of three weeks, the evening had to be spent celebrating Eid, in all sorts of gorgeous finery we assembled at Azad Hind in Ballygunge to fill ourselves up with Biryani, and fill ourselves up we did. Calling it an early night, content with laughter, friendships and amazing food, we prepared for the marathon performances beginning the next day.

We had realized that traveling and coordinating between the two houses that were hosting us was going to be a challenge, what with all the props and costumes we were constantly lugging around. An adventure began on the 27th of June with the show in Gyan manch and the preparations that preceded. The setting up included Neel, the director of Raavan Aaya, on a video call, to check out the light design. Hail modern technology! After the big evening with many familiar faces in the audience (included Neel’s father!), we feasted on famed Kolkata egg rolls. The two shows the next morning were scheduled at schools at opposite ends of the city, and we made it through the humid day, full of anticipation and activity, inspired by the insightful questions and comments that came our way from the students.

The last morning in the city we packed all our bags and headed to Rash Behari Avenue to meet our friends – Vartika and Ankur at Swabhav. The plan was to spend the morning sharing with each other about our practice, and then explore Gariahat before boarding our train back to Delhi from Sealdah station. As we reached the beautiful, old house that is now Swabhav’s nest for the gorgeous work they do, we decided that we could actually perform Raavan Aaya, for all the participants of the playwriting workshop that was in progress. It was a very different experience performing for an audience comprising of just theatre practitioners. It was also exciting using the house and its elements for the piece.

The performance was much appreciated and led to conversations about the role of theatre in society, for it to change. We shared our perspective of beginning by understanding and developing the self for the its connection with society to become tangible, so that change is tangible. Listening to narratives of theatre groups working with labour movements, and villages, made us reflect on our own practice in the urban landscape of Delhi. Bittersweet conversations led to consuming melt-in-the-mouth rosogollas, a walk in the rain through the streets of Gariahat and a mad sprint to the station.

While it’s lovely having our feet rooted in Delhi for a while as we work on our next production and the many big plans for Aagaaz, the travel bug has definitely bitten us, and we are holding our breaths for the next opportunity that comes by.

Kya Duniya Sabki Hai- Drama and performance in DPS Srinagar- By Sanyukta Saha

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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.

Puppetry workshop with Katkatha by Ismail Shaikh

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Ismail and Shahid from our core group at Nizamuddin got an opportunity to participate in a week long, puppet making workshop with Anurupa Roy at Katkatha. They seem to have learnt a lot and we have thoroughly enjoyed the process of listening to their new stories and insights. Ismail has shared a small reflection that offers us a glimpse into this new world of puppet theatre. 

मैं कटकथा में एक workshop  के लिए गया था जहाँ पर मैने Bunraku Puppets के बारे में सीखा| इन puppets को चलाने के लिए 3 लोगों की ज़रूरत पड़ती है| मुझे यह भी पता चला के इन को अख़बार से कैसे बनाया जाता है| क्या आपको पता है के एक puppet के लिए 7 अख़बार की ज़रूरत पड़ती है?

उसके अलावा मैने masks बनाने भी सीखे| मुझे यह जानकारी मिली  कि बड़े masks में ज़्यादा layers होती हैं और छोटे masks में कम layers होती हैं|

इस workshop के दौरान puppeteer के शरीर के बारे में मुझे बहुत कुछ पता चला| उनकी body काफ़ी मज़बूत और strong  होती है और उन्हें अपना हर movement, puppet  के शरीर से जोड़ना पड़ता है| उनको अपना काम अच्छी तरह से करने के लिए बहुत सारा warm-up और exercise करना होता है|

इस अनुभव से मुझे केवल puppets बनाना ही नहीं, उनके साथ perform करने के बारे में भी जानने को मिला| हमें बताया गया था कि पहले अपनी body को study करना होता है और फिर उस movement को puppet में डालना होता है| हमें अपनी body की strength  को भी बनाए रखना होता है ताकि हम बहुत देर तक खड़े रह सकें|

Puppet Theatre workshop में सीखे गए exercises, warm-ups और movements का मैं अपने theatre के काम में उपयोग कर सकता हूँ|

आख़िर में मैं यह कहना चाहता हूँ कि मुझे अनुरूपा के साथ काम करने में बहुत मज़ा आया| उनके बात करने का तरीके, काम समझने का तरीका और स्पष्ट नज़रिया मुझे अच्छा लगा| Ma’am एक ज्ञान का भंडार हैं आर उनसे बहुत सारी नई चीज़ें सीखी जा सकती हैं| मैं उमीद करता हूँ कि मुझे उनके साथ काम करने के और मौके मिलें|

The production manager of पास्कुअलनामा- by Muzammil Shaikh

Muzammil, one of the core group members at Aagaaz worked as a production manager on a play called पास्कुअलनामा with Third Space Collective and Instituto Cervantes. He assisted his mentor Dhwani and seems to have learnt a lot out of this experience. We would like to share his reflections with you. 

मैने जिस play पर काम किया, वह एक novel पर आधारित था जो एक पसकुअल दुआर्ते नाम के आदमी के बारे में थी | मैं इस play में production manager था और मैं stage setup और props ढूँढने का काम करता था| उसके अतिरिक्त मैं रोज़ rehearsals के लिए जाता था और नाटक ready होने तक टीम का एक हिस्सा था|

इस experience से मैने नए-नए warm-up के तरीके सीखे और बहुत सारी games सीखी| Physical theatre और group work के बारे में काफ़ी कुछ सीखने को मिला|

ध्वनि के साथ काम करना मुझे बहुत अच्छा लगा| उनके काम करने के style के बारे में सीखने को मिला| उनके leadership का तरीका और rehearsals के दौरान serious रहने की आदत, मुझे काफ़ी useful लगी|

ध्वनि के साथ काम करने से मेरे direction पर भी प्रभाव पड़ा| Calmness और coolness के साथ leadership करना, मेरी सबसे बड़ी सीख थी| Play को ready करने से पहले characters को कैसे तैयार करते हैं- उसके बारे में भी जान पाया|