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.

Kisse Connection with Food!

In December, the Canteen at Khoj Studios hosted a really interesting event called Food Kisse Connection, which was a human library related to food! This event was held in collaboration with the Aagaz Theatre Trust.

A part of the Khirki festival held at Khoj, this event gave participants an insight into the lives of four “books”, (actually people!) who shared their food memories paired with a particular dish. On the menu was Sadaf’s Kacche Gosht Ki Biryani, Shubha’s Dahi Bhalla with tamarind chutney, Priya’s dish with fish and spinach,  and Ivis’ Alloco (Ivory coast speciality).

The event started with a lot of excitement, as the registration team encouraged festival visitors to sign up. Once there were enough participants, the event began. Ivis from Ivory Coast was the most popular book, and he told the readers about Alloco, a fried fish, plantain, salad, and greens based dish, and the memories he has of his country. He regaled the readers with special insights about his country, and told them tales they had never heard before. Ivis is a binding force in the neighbourhood, and is a regular at the canteen as well. Hence, his presence as a book was really refreshing and lent local flavor.

Sadaf’s kacche gosht ki biryani was also really well appreciated. The dish was made in a pot, layering the meat and the rice. An interesting ingredient he used was raw papaya, which helped to marinate the meat. Marinating the meat overnight also made a lot of difference.

He told readers about his childhood years, eating this particular biryani, as well as cultural cues and nuances related to this dish. Sadaf has also been a contestant on the popular Masterchef India TV show, and is a consultant chef at various cafes. Hence his food repertoire is immense. The readers were pleased to hear his interesting take and insight on as basic a dish as biryani. He also lives in Khirki like Ivis, and hence his participation also gave the event  local flavor.

Shubha told the readers about a different time period, where life was simpler, and people still celebrated marriages in neighbourhood parks, centered around food like dahi bhalla. As the readers relished each bite, Shubha took them back to her childhood, with great ease and panache. She told them about weddings and how they were held back then, with the destination being the park or community hall,  and not a fancy location outside the city or country. Surprisingly, one of her readers told her that in her hometown, weddings were still celebrated the old school way. This brought about fond memories and camaraderie between the book and the reader.

Priiya’s dish, which she called “A fish’s dream”, was fried fish with spinach. Her story was about how she met an old woman on a ship, (The Istanbul Steamer). The destination of the ship was to Andaman Islands. The old woman lived on a house half drowned by the tsunami. She gave her a fish recipe that was probably older than the existence of ships and steamers in that area. This simple dish was tasty and fulfilling.

This event was great learning for the canteen team. We went beyond our usual repertoire of poha, khichdi etc, and learnt how to make new and exciting dishes like biryani! Sadaf actually stood in the kitchen with us and made the dish, which made the experience all the more worthwhile.

The canteen is planning another Kisse Connection for July, and we hope to see a lot of you then.

Dialogues Transcending Boundaries

We are guilty of saying it too often about too much, but then it’s true! We are so excited about Nagina, Muzammil and Ismail. Aditi and Radha from KHOJ reached out to us earlier this year about 18+ year olds from Aagaaz, who have worked in Khirki Extension, being a part of a project supported by World Learning (USA). The project explores the dynamics of cultural identity and cultural heritage through. A group of young people from from Khirki Extension and Aagaaz have been virtually engaging with young people from New Mexico. A programme designed to create cultural exchange, two of the three from Aagaaz will travel to New Mexico in early July. Very few of the core group members fit the criteria, specially the former. The three of them, though are constantly bringing in their learnings from the journey to the rest of us. Watching the project from the fringes, we leave you to read what those directly involved in the process have to say.

Aditi Chauhan, KHOJ

Diversity of rituals belonging to clusters of human population worldwide has created behavioural references that continue to outline our identities, passed on with a purpose of persisting through time. While the celebration of this diversity has found more enthusiasts now more than ever, the virtual proximity across space alluding to ideas of globalization has also seen great resistance and adverse reactions to migration of cultures. The necessity for documents validating and defining our identity (simultaneously accentuating the difference) in a particular place restricts movement of expressions and interactions.

Redefining the margins and tracing the routes back to cultural heritage and cultural identity, youth in the neighbourhoods of New Delhi and New Mexico are collaborating through a virtual exchange program titled Voices From the Margins. This community arts initiative by Khoj International Artists Association and Global One to One (USA) supported by World Learning (USA) as a part of their global project Communities Connecting Heritage seeks to preserve and promote longevity of cultural heritage by engaging with youths worldwide through creative mediums of expression.

The eight members of the team from New Delhi represent a vivid network of socio ethnic communities existing in the city and hailing from different Indian states and countries. Ashif Khan, Ismail, Nagina, Muzammil, Leeda Ferozy, Romeo Kiseke, Suraj Tamoli and Yanki Lhamu Bhutia will navigate their ways to understanding their identities and resolving conflicts through discussions and exercises in spoken and written word format, illustrations and performing arts. Teams from both the countries have been interacting virtually, bringing to fore varied interpretations of the margins, sharing specificities of their heritage and identity, similarities and unique perspectives on issues that concern the youth from diverse backgrounds in different situations and spaces. This four month long project will conclude with an in person exchange of both teams and exhibition in June, 2018, with the aim of encouraging this dialog in public and personal spaces and facilitate the creation of a more receptive environment to cultural diversity and preserve the heritage that outlines our identities.

Nagina, Aagaaz Core Group Member

The team members from Aagaaz have some very interesting insights to offer. 18 year old Nagina explains that she never analysed her heritage so closely. ‘Voices from the Margins’ has helped her see how much her everyday life is influenced by the hand-me-downs of her heritage. She talks about something as simple as her surname and religion and goes on to her something as complex as her angry temperament. Interacting with a diverse group of people, has also managed to increase her awareness about the difficulties one faces due to migration and racism.

Ismail, Aagaaz Core Group Member

19 year old Ismail expresses the joy he experienced while talking to the exchange students in New Mexico via virtual means. He claims that the interaction was his favourite moment since it managed to defy the need for common spoken language. His words indicate that the two groups of young people found common ground, in being strangers to each others’ worlds.

Muzammil, Aagaaz Core Group Members

Muzammil, who is of similar age chose to talk about the long term impacts of being a part of such a program. As a performer who is keenly interested in theatre direction, he looks at this as an opportunity to find relevant thematic areas. He has been observing the exercise that they are doing around creating an ideal state, and is specifically interested in going deeper into the challenges they are facing in the process. He feels that they throw light on the current state of humanity, which has possibilities for dramatic exploration.

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.