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.

Samvidhan Live Culminates~ Sanyukta

Commutiny the Youth Collective’s project Samvidhan Live interested us from the word go. It was developed while Nishant and I were still Changelooms fellows in October 2016  when our mentor Kanika Sinha, was knee-deep into developing a board game that facilitated young people’s experiential engagement with the Constitution. We were interested from the word go.

However, of the many organisations participating in the game, we were only able to join in earlier this year and completed the exercise week before last with an end of the project reflection. Eight of our core group members participated  as four pairs. Here are some of their ruminations from their journey.

 

  • Jasmine and Saddam

They visited three heritage sites to complete one of their tasks. Safdarjung’s Tomb, Lodhi Garden and Humayun’s Tomb made their list.

Their primary struggle was overcoming their resistance to history related research. Since their experiences with subject had not been great, they had to push themselves to ask people for information.

They were fascinated by the comfortable presence of people from the transgender community, at the Safdarjung Tomb. This helped them think about the inclusive/ exclusive nature of public spaces in Delhi.

They also visited a religious centre for education to compare its practices to those they have seen in schools.


The Jagriks decided to go to a Madrasa- School of Islamic Studies. They discovered that these centres were relatively much more well kept and clean than any school premises they had seen.

After speaking to someone who worked at the Madrasa, they came to know that violence was quite prevalent there. They also felt uneasy about the lack of freedom given to the students in the space.

 

  • Shahid and Nagina

There was a week when they found a particularly difficult task to grapple with. They had to pledge for organ donation.

The Jagriks realised that their families would not give them the permission to make an independent choice about such matters. In addition to that, their religion and culture also didn’t encourage organ donation.

However, this didn’t stop them from looking at this as an opportunity for learning. They discovered that the procedure for donation is far from simple and generally takes a long time. They also came to know that sometimes organs are removed prematurely, which can lead to major problems.

With another task they had to explore their relationship with the environment. What are the sustainable practices in their everyday lives?

Their primary struggle was asking people to consider switching to more environmentally friendly options. In addition to that, they decided to feed their neighbourhood animals, and came to terms with the care and attention it required.

Their major takeaways were the changes they decided to make in their own lives. It was an opportunity for them to acknowledge the areas in which their contributions can make a difference.

 

  • Muzammil and Zainab

They got a chance to think about their duties. They created some adolescent friendly amendments and closely analysed their loyalty towards the constitution.

They struggled to find information about their constitutional duties, especially when they didn’t have instant access to the internet.

Their major takeaway from the task was understanding the procedure around reporting, women’s harassment complaints.

They also had to speak to a child labourer, in order to complete their task.

Their primary struggle was convincing a young child to talk to them about his/her situation. They confronted a few individuals who showed no inclination to entertain their questions.

The Jagriks expressed that they did get a glimpse of the oppression, without actually having one-to-one conversations. According to them, the responsibility on the children itself was reflective of their burden.

 

  • Ismail and Nagma

With one of their tasks they  explored the validity of the law that marks poverty lines are below  Rs32.

They spent a whole day trying to survive within that measly sum.

They realized that the amount would get exhausted within the first few hours of their day. Ismail spent his money on petrol, while Nagma paid her mother their daily rent, and finished her cash at the washroom.

The Jagriks expressed that the law they experienced was extremely unfair and needed immediate attention.

Like Saddam and Jasmine, they too spent a day visiting heritage sites. Humayun’s Tomb, Lodhi Garden and Matka Shah’s Peer made the list.

Their primary struggle was asking people about these places and their history. The whole process of inquiry was harder than they had imagined.

Their major takeaway from the task was understanding how the origin of these various heritage sites is relevant to their existence today. They also got an opportunity to observe the distinct ways in which people interact within these public spaces.

With a simple board game, the Jagriks (that’s what the participants were called), would explore two tasks each week – one to be completed individually, and another with their partner. The tasks were based on the rights and duties that create the backbone of our Constitution. It is a powerful set of words, and I am tempted to say ‘especially now’. Through this game we discovered that it’s not just a set of words, but a living, breathing, dynamic text. We, who live in the world of theatre, where we know that the meaning of the written word lies in its performance, found the Constitution close to our worlds.

Towards a Theatre of Possibility~ Sakhi Upadhyaya

When Sanyukta and I walked into a “capacity-building” workshop organised by Junoon Theatre in Mumbai, I did not know what to expect. It was my first “professional engagement” as a member of Aagaaz. I was jittery, nervous even. What capacities were we attempting to build? What actually awaited us was two days of deliberation, not so much as building but breaking apart what we understood ‘theatre’ to be. “Theatre for children” to be more specific: What did the assembling of these words in this specific order entail?

Theatre, drawing from my interpretation of the haphazard combination of flowcharts and notes from those two days, could be anything one wanted it to be. Especially so with children, toddlers and young adults. A language, a space, an exploration, an activity. Theatre was social, it was political. It was relational, contextual. It was imagination and assertion. However, for me, theatre was always ‘in the making’. It was powerful, but a power that was malleable and subject to destruction or creation as one saw fit. What I mean is that in my limited experience of being a theatre practitioner in Delhi, the edifice of what we called ‘theatre’ was always being broken down and built back up; not by self-professed practitioners like me, but by its encounters with the public at large. Who best to tear something apart and build it back up, refashion it and give it new life, than children?

Theatre was, and in my experience with Aagaaz, has never been a “struggle” to perfect that performance, or to become an expert in this form. The Junoon workshop was an appropriate beginning, of thinking about the possibilities enclosed within what parades as ‘theatre’ and myself. “So let us proceed.” I thought to myself, “Let me allow things in my narrow worldview to fall apart and fall back together.” And that is exactly what I know August will bring, as my journey with Aagaaz “formally” begins. The possibility of many stories, many failures and many creations. Before we left for Mumbai, Sanyukta and I were talking over the phone. “You know, I’m not jittery in the ‘scared’ way, just jittery in the excited, there-are-so-many-things-to-do-and-discover kind of way. Get what I mean?” I told her. And I could hear her subtle acknowledgement in the giddy laughter she replied with.

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.

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.

Theatre with ‘The Community Library Project’, Panchsheel Vihar By Priiya

 

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There is a deep sense of kinship to be working again with a group of participants who have already been led into a theatrical journey of sharing ideas and experiences, and it provides for a pleasant challenge. These workshops become a continuation of an educational exercise through theatre and play an important part in the evolution of thought itself.  The group of kids from The Community Library Project at Deepalaya at Panchsheel Vihar are in gears for the second series of workshops with us and that has us moving.

Following the first performances that culled out of Duniya Sabki in a workshop format, the second series revolves around stories, storytelling and the storytellers. The stories that we are working on are the ones that have been read by this group of 12 avid readers over the last few months, stories that they carried beyond the books . Through a range of narrative and improv exercises, we are experimenting with the numerous ways in which these stories could possibly be told. Their choice of stories they want to tell is in itself a fascinating reflection of what appeals to these children as unique individuals.

As with most workshops, as much as planning ahead of time is essential, many thoughtful developments happen during or after the planned activities, and the dynamics of set exercises are prone to modification on a daily basis. After the initial step of sharing stories in our workshops, we are now gradually shifting our focus towards the act of narration of the stories, using various techniques involving images, machines, non-linear narratives and humanization of objects around us. In the recent workshops, most of the brainstorming sessions have been whirling towards an attempt of bringing to surface the impact of invisible characters in each child’s story. This exercise is an effective way of understanding the varied perspectives that can alter the narrative direction of the story being told. This has set in motion the process of not only thinking but also acting from various point of view. Interestingly, one of the children has chosen the guitar in her story to be the storyteller and another one is trying to make a box of paint talk, oh! it’s going to be fun.

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

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.

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