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.

Nafrat ke Khilaaf, Aagaaz ki Awaaz! By Sakhi Upadhyaya

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On the 10th of September, Aagaaz headed out to rediscover an old production – performing ‘Duniya Sabki’ at the Nafrat ke Khilaf, Humaari Awaaz event in Lodhi Garden.

After two hours of rehearsal, rehashing dialogues and sharing Biryani, the team left Nizamuddin. We decided we would walk to Lodhi Garden – it was right in the neighbourhood, and we could talk amongst ourselves in our comfortable group of 15. “Log dekhenge kya?”,“Logon ko kaise bulaayein, ya shuru kardein?” were our immediate conversation-starters. It was a different kind of anxious, mixed with the unique wonderment that accompanies every performance. However, this was our own personal (and maybe ‘political’?) intervention in a public space – confronting picnic-goers and Sunday relaxers at the Lodhi Garden with a play that was so dear to us.

So what was this ‘event’ about? Over the past month, thousands of people collected in “citizen protests” across the country, to publicly condemn the violence of ‘hate’ perpetrated against Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, and other disadvantaged and minority groups. Gradually, each subsequent ‘protest’ became a realization of collective harmony, reflected in the music and poetry that filled the streets wherever #NotInMyName registered a presence. Another such exercise was to take place in Delhi, in 100 localities all over the city. We thus found ourselves at Lodhi Gardens with two volunteers from #NotinmyName and banners that announced, “Nafrat ke Khilaaf, Humaari Aawaaz / Say No to Hatred”.

“Who does this land belong to if not all of us?”, seemed an appropriate question to ask on a lazy Sunday evening in the backdrop of a magnificent tomb, surrounded by families out for a respite, teenagers frolicking around, and ‘grown-ups’ on their day off. We were accompanied by our friends from the Kutumb Theatre Group, who filled the makeshift performance area with the humming of their guitars and the rhythm of their voices. The sun was about to set, and just like that, we had taken our final bow as well. We breathed a sigh of relief that a substantial crowd had gathered. Thank God!

We decided to walk back to Nizamuddin. After a quick check of all our possessions, we left the space just as we had found it. Just like that, our impromptu performance had come to an end. No stage, no lights, no predefined ‘audience’, but ‘Duniya Sabki’ had discovered a new form of itself, one that existed in the minds of those who stopped and looked at a group of young adults telling a story in a public park, even if for a little while. Maybe they had the time to read the banner as well?

Nizamuddin के facilitators! by Devika

As we had mentioned in our last newsletter, the core group from Nizamuddin has given rise to 6 aspiring facilitators who are on a year long apprenticeship journey that will train them to lead workshops and sessions of various kinds. They are getting exposure to drama facilitation,  interacting with children learning spaces and understanding methods of conducting conversations around sexual health and body. This is an exciting time for all of us!

The kids have all grown up,
One day Sanyukta realised.
Now two of them were in college,
And our work had maximized.
We had to think of livelihoods, so
Their passions weren’t compromised.
They’d like to be facilitators!
An apprenticeship was devised.
Saddam, Ismail, Muzammil,
First the eldest were finalised.
Then Nagina’s, Jasmine’s and Shahid’s,
Energies were also utilized.
Theatre, Darpan, Unlearning Uncentred,
Were the areas categorized.
And last but not the least!
A special stipend was formalised.

Here is what some of 2 of them have to say about their experience: (translated from Hindi)

I enjoy the process of facilitation, yet sometimes when I have to experiment with something new- I feel nervous and afraid making mistakes. It’s, of course, easier to guide someone to do something that I am good at and feel confident about. I’ve also noticed that while working with the core group. I rarely feel this nervousness. This is probably because I’ve been with them for many years.”-Saddam

“When I started facilitation, I had no idea what to do. Then I tried to remember all the things
I had learnt in theatre that would be easy enough for the children to pick up. This actually helped me recall everything I had done. In addition to that, I also came to terms with my own ability and capacity to teach others how to understand and learn. I tried to think of ways to connect their lives to theatre. I wanted them to think about the episodes and incidents in their lives that could be expressed using this art form. So, I thought of activities that could help them express their inner feelings and personal stories.”- Shahid

We will come back to you with more stories and developments from their apprenticeship journeys!

Youth Club! A new group in the making By Sanyukta Saha

Each week a group of young people gather at C5 for a couple of hours of drama and play. The sessions are being facilitated by me and the six core group members who are now a part of the facilitator apprenticeship programme. The youth club began on the 13th of August with ten young people from Nizamuddin basti, Kale Khan, and Sundar Nursery.

We are happiest about four of our erstwhile Aagaaz members coming back to us. They had to leave because of their family’s objection to them doing theatre – it took them two years, but they fought the battle and are back! The rest in the group are friends of the Aagaaz core group members who have been hearing about their friends’ experiences and wanting to be a part of Aagaaz. Nishant and Devika are also bona fide members of this club.

We had plans of beginning youth clubs in different parts of the city led by the Aagaaz core group members, to create spaces for thought and dialogue through drama. The space created itself in Nizamuddin, as adolescents kept walking in to ask if they can join. We want to take this group on a journey similar to that of the core group’s, and they will be the ones leading the process, closing the first of hopefully many loops.

Six of the core group members led the second session of the youth club, facilitating various exercises that led to improvisation. We have also begun exploring the inner dialogues of the new members through image theatre. Although the core of the youth club’s engagement will remain drama, they too will engage in conversations around their bodies and relationships through Darpan.

The new members, when asked about their expectations from the youth club,  said they wanted to meet more often and for longer, and create plays together. We are hoping to begin working on a play with this group by the end of this year. The core group will be leading this production.

जैसे best friend, वैसे ही Mentor! By Aslam

Hi! नाम तो सुने ही होंगे आपने, असलम और ध्रुव | हम आगाज़ में सबसे ज्यादा मस्ती करने वाले Mentor और Mentee है ! में पहली बार ध्रुव से वहाँ मिला जहां मैं बचपन से पढ़ते आ रहा था, निजामुद्दीन के MCD स्कूल में | मुझे तब बहुत nervous feel हो रहा था क्योंकि मैंने कभी भी किसी Mentor के साथ काम नहीं किया था |

लगभग एक साल से हम बहुत बार मिले है और बहुत सारा सा काम भी किया है | ध्रुव पहले बहुत शांत रहते थे और ध्रुव के साथ मैं इतना friendly नहीं हो पा रहा था | पर धीरे-धीरे जैसी ही मेरी पढ़ाई पर काम चालू होने लगा वैसे हम बहुत friendly होते चले गए और अब हम बहुत ही अच्छे दोस्त है |

कई बार हम घूमने भी निकल जाते है, कभी हुमांयू का मकबरा तो कभी निजामुद्दीन का छतरी वाला park और कभी कभी हम C-5 में भी मिल लेते है (पहले B-5 यानि अनहद के office में मिलते थे) | ध्रुव ने मुझे मेरी आदतों पर काफी ध्यान देना सिखाया है, एक दर्पण या आईना जैसे | मैंने और ध्रुव ने एक दूसरे के साथ बहुत कुछ share किया है |

मैं आपको दो दिन की बात बताता हूँ | एक तो मेरा best दिन था | उस दिन मैंने और ध्रुव ने साथ में पेंटिंग करी थी | ध्रुव ने इतनी अच्छी पेंटिंग बनायीं थी के मैं तो shock हो गया था ! और एक और दिन मैंने ध्रुव को छतरी वाला park में अपना dance और stunts दिखाए | उस दिन जब ध्रुव वापस जा रहे थे तो मुझे अच्छा नहीं लग रहा था क्योंकि मुझे best friends वाली feeling आ रही थी |

ध्रुव ने मेरे साथ बहुत सारे magic tricks भी share किये है | मुझे ध्रुव ने Maths tricks भी सिखाई है | अब हमने English पर काम करना शुरू कर दिया है, मैं अभी vowels और consonants अच्छे से सिख रहा हूँ |

जैसे best friend, वैसे ही Mentor !

My journey as a mentor By Dhruv Samrat

     

Calling it ‘mentoring’ narrows down to its singular sense which is far from the truth. Meeting Aslam has been quite alike to catching up with your little brother, listening to his stories, discovering him, and fitting casual lectures into the conversation where you feel the need to impart some guidance.

Since our age difference does not exceed six years, there is almost no sense of distance that I might feel in the light of his adolescent behaviour. To my advantage, I can see glimpses of my own teenage years in him and that somewhat makes us closer. The resultant empathy aids me way better to counsel him on certain issues where I feel the need to do so.

The challenge comes when the difference in our cultural background and lifestyle seeps in. In my consequent effort to look at things from his perspective, I’m able to widen my own, talk to him with a better understanding and gain valuable lessons for myself. That’s when the whole mentorship program becomes a beautiful journey for both of us.

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.

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