Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Brandeis University news feed

FYI: an article on the Brandeis University website about this project.

The end

Day 20-30th June

Woke up and left relatively early to Juhi’s place for our closure meeting with Manjul. I was really sleepy as usual. I had mixed feelings. Couldn’t believe that the whole program was over and we would not be going to Wadala everyday anymore. I was happy that I could still go visit them at any point and that they would be able to study properly now. But it felt weird that it was over and now I’ll have to move on and do all my pending work at home. I literally had blocked out my entire world of friends and even family to some extent during this program. Many people were angry with me but at that point I was not worried. Those who know me well had understood how much I valued this program and the necessity to block out everything else. But now that it’s all over I have to get back to reality. During our meeting, we reflected on the previous day as usual. Then we talked about how each of us had gained from this project. We also spoke about our great leap form negativity to positivity. On Wednesday night we were at out heights of negativity and had lost all hope but after we had received a concrete plan and decided to be happy with whatever we achieve, enjoy our time with the children and not worry about the final product we had moved on and actually reached our goal. After this we spoke abiut our future plans and expectations. I hope to write more about our experiences in due time and put it together well. I also hope to do more amazing projects like this and to always be in touch and ready to help Parivartan, ETF and Revive: Mumbai.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Final Day

June 29th, 2009- Monday

How do I feel? Elevated. Empowered. Ecstatic. In disbelief that its over. Why? I’m still trying to process… I don’t know where those three weeks went! I no longer identify with the “numb” and “surprised” person I was on June 10th (when I started this project). It seems like I’ve had a world of an experience these past days. It’s hard for someone else to understand or for me to justify this in words – let’s just say that sometimes the simplest and most available experience proves to be more valuable than something that we give up (not only monetarily) so much to attain.

Today was the last day, the final day with the children in the classroom. Zohar and I spent a good 40 mins at a shop buying some last minute gifts for the children, teacher and organization. The three of us were really excited during our ride to the school and decided to just let the children be – enjoy the last day. We reached there, played for a while with the kids until it started to get loud. We then decided to do a run through with the kids. Gave them a little pep talk, got them excited for the special guests that were coming today to see the play and for the surprise gifts that we had for them. We also told them to not worry anymore since we’ll be just doing the play inside as some of them (especially Sahil) requested. At that point Sahil suddenly got up to retaliate! He said that he spent all weekend getting ready to perform outside, now we HAVE to! Then some other kids started yelling saying that they wanted to do it inside..some back and forth…then a consensus- we’d do it inside AND outside! Everyone agreed to that decision, which I think was a first.

We then gave them a break to call their parents- more confusion- no one landed up with any of their mothers for individual reasons. During the recess time, we tried to coordinate the entrance of our family, photographers and friends. Since we took a little longer than expected, Gayatri teacher took quick charge of keeping the children occupied while we went to get the family (..sign of smooth team work again- the fact that we didn’t have to ask her, she assumed the role while we were gone instead of remaining apprehensive..)

There was a reason why I wanted my two closest friends, my sister and mother to see this. One reason was that I wanted to share and they had the right to know what I’d been so passionate about that I couldn’t spend much time socializing or why I didn’t get enough time to visit family since I’ve come back from the US. Another reason why I was excited about them coming to Sangam Nagar to see the play rather than on just video was so that through their reactions of walking in the community I could get a sense of volunteers for future projects. I asked the car to bring them through most of the distance so they didn’t have to go through the entire grind. However, as expected, they were completely surprised by the walk they had to go through to reach the class. Through the narrow dirty walls on the mucky mud, through the houses with staring and curious people, half-naked children running around, past the aimless goats and chicken, over the trash and red spit marks, with the distinct smell.. basically getting the raw experience of the slums. My mother was quick to note that ‘these people need to learn how to live. Its just so simple to put a plank over the mud to walk!’ Seems like a simple solution. Something I could relate to EVERYDAY. Everyday I saw problems with basic solutions. Everyday I discussed with Gayatri. Then I realized that its easy for us (the educated population) to comment, but only after talking to Shabana did I realize that most of the ‘simple’ problems are much more complicated than we think. Hence I decided that for the short term, it was best to not dwell into those concerns and trust that education will somehow propagate the needed cultural change in that community as well. With a little expected discomfort, they climbed the tiny stairs to the classroom.

We introduced the children to the guests. The children were delighted to see them, especially our mothers. Gayatri was very happy to see Ria after 2 weeks, as were the kids. At that time Gangadhar and Shoab had reached as well. As the children started the play, the guests got much more comfortable in the room. The children were extremely smooth and barely needed any prompting. The ‘leaders’ of the group assumed charge at times of slight confusion as the rest followed. Everyone was very confident including Sahil, Hina and Khushnuma. Hina had refused to be a part of anything until 2 days ago when they decided that they wanted to sing. Khushnuma had never been to school and had just come from the village for the first time. Her hindi wasn’t fluent and she was very shy. But she wanted to sing, and so she did. Both these girls were not consistent in being comfortable enough to sing. They refused during practice, but today they voluntarily stood up! Everything was falling into place. Shoab ended the play with a strong comment on “how are we supposed to work in a world like this when we have so many problems? We all have dreams and we want to be something after studying, but how can we when we live in a society like that !? Please tell me! Please tell me!”
Everyone was very impressed with the children, their acting, their message, their dialogues and with us. They got perspective. The children were very happy with their performance as well! Hearing everyone’s comments, their confidence level shot rocket-high and they were ready to go outside. We asked Gayatri teacher to lead the way while we followed. The children didn’t take much time; they started as soon as they reached. Soon enough, more than 50 people started to gather. Someone close by was playing loud music. As I walked into his house to request him to switch it off for 5 minutes, a little boy came running screaming out to the man to turn off the music! Many of the people possibly couldn’t hear anything..they still watched. Some commented, but they watched. Shoab was reluctant to end it, but he mustered the courage and did it well. I was proud and I’m sure it was the same for the children, Gangadhar, Gayatri, Zohar and Sriya. As the children started to walk back to the classroom, Gangadhar was calling the three of us over to a conversation where an old man was asking about the performance. The old man was a Congress leader and an influential person in the community (as Gangadhar explained). He said that he couldn’t see the play himself but within those few seconds heard about it. He wanted his son to be enrolled in this program that we were doing and wanted to talk to us. We explained that Parivartan is who he should talk to, but he wasn’t willing to spend money on education. That’s when we brought Gangadhar the conversation that led to some political topics. So we left.

We went back to the class, surprisingly my 2 friends and sister wanted to come back with us (the mom’s went back) and play with the children as well! We played the Jan, Feb,…game which got to a fun level of competition. After that, we danced for a while. All of us were having a great time!!! But ALAS! It was 10 to 5pm. We gave them the gifts.. which got very chaotic and nothing like I had planned (which seemed like a common theme throughout this experience anyway). After that, we took a few pictures with the kids and said our goodbyes. Saima cried and made me promise that Sriya and I would come back to visit. I promised in a heartbeat. She said that the only reason she came to school was because of us. But she will promise to continue. I still have the little plastic bottle she gave me as a gift.

THE day!!!

Day 19- 29th June

Today was the last day, performance day. After Saturday I somehow felt like I didn’t want to expect anything in terms of the performance. I just planned to have fun with the kids and say our goodbyes. I didn’t even invite anyone to come. Juhi and Zohar called me in the morning and told me they were going to buy presents and sweets for the kids, Gayathri teacher and Gangadhar. I was happy, as I really wanted to give them presents. On our way to the school, Juhi told me that two of her friends, Ria and her mom were coming. She herself spoke to my mom who was more than happy to come. When we got to the school, we didn’t walk but went by car right till the inside. We went to school and all the kids were so happy to see us and we heard “Namaste teacher” for probably the last time. ☹
The kids also saw the number of extra bags we were carrying and immediately knew we had something for them! I noticed Asheep had a paper plane and got so excited since I love paper planes so much! I showed him how to make a different plane I knew. We all got into a circle and did the wave again! Then we tried playing this game called ‘message-receiver’ and then some other calm sitting down games in the circle. We were telling the kids that our mothers and were coming to see them. They seemed happy. We also asked them if they wanted to perform inside or outside and to our surprise they said both! They were completely prepared, excited and ready to do anything. It was really a great atmosphere and their excitement flowed in to me too! I was looking forward to having my mom there and wanted her to glimpse into my experiences of the past 2 weeks. After we played games, Gayathri teacher sent the kids out to recess and we asked them to bring their parents with them when they come back. During recess, I sat and spoke to those kids who stayed back. Heena finally came to me with her book and asked for homework. After I gave her homework she was back to normal and spoke to me properly again. I was so happy that she was talking to me. That’s all she had wanted. I sat with Asheep to play some more games. Then he made a rose out of paper and gave it to me! We also took some pictures with all the kids. As the kids started to come back from recess, our guests arrived. We led my mom, Juhi’s mom, Ria and Juhi’s two friends to the centre through the narrow lanes. I went just so that I could see their expressions. The tiny little stairs to the school was also quite a task to them. After they arrived, we introduced them to the kids and then there was the first performance! The kids were brilliant! I felt so proud of them. They went through the whole play by themselves. Gangadhar was also there to see them and took pictures. We also had a professional photographer. The audience shared their experience after the play. All of them thought the play was great and told the kids to be more confident and loud when they went outside. We headed towards the main street. Gayathri teacher led them. By them we got outside with all the kids, most of them were already in a big circle with a decent audience around them. They started with the song. Little Ahmed, as adorable as ever, led the group around as he sang- “dariya ki kasam, mauja ki kasam, ye tana bana badlega…. Tu khud ko badal, tu khud ko badal, tabhi to zamana badlega…”
We definitely attracted a great deal of audience. People came out of their houses to watch as the kids did an absolutely amazing job. They all looked confident. There were no mistakes and they all just went about doing their roles. After the performance, Zohar and I went and spoke to around 2 or 3 men and asked them what they thought of the performance. They all said it was very good! The kids went back inside while Gangadhar was talking to a politically important person of the community. He introduced Zohar, Juhi and me to the man. The man was talking about the necessity of school and how he really wants to send his grandchildren to the municipal school that was built after a lot of effort. However, he did not want to pay any money to send his children to school. Gangadhar had a little bit of an argument with him where he basically questioned how the man could think that way. After that we said goodbye to both moms and went back to the centre. Ria and Juhi’s two friends stayed back. When we went back we all joined the circle and sat down and played the January-February game for the last time. We asked the kids how they felt after the performance and told them that it was amazing. The happiest moment for me throughout this whole program was when Sahil shouted out saying that he was so strong and could do anything now. He wasn’t scared of anything anymore. This is exactly what we had wanted. We had empowered these kids to feel strong and have the attitude that they can achieve absolutely anything. It wasn’t about how good the performance was or how many people saw it. It was about how these kids who were once shy to even say their names out loud could now go out into the street and act out their dreams and lives. I was truly happy and felt like we had achieved something. Then we played music and danced on two songs. After this we decided to give the kids all the presents. First we presented a globe to the class and showed them where US is on the globe and where India is to show how much Zohar didi has travelled! After this we gave out coloring books that the kids fought for cause all the covers were different. When that was settled, we gave Gayathri teacher a present. Zohar was then giving out sweets as I said goodbyes. I was a little choked. I didn’t really want to leave. Especially when Asheep walked up to me and said he was leaving. I asked him to give me a hug. I don’t know if he realized that I might never see him again. Even if I do visit Parivartan (which I definitely will) he will be studying at the municipal school from now on. One by one all the kids started leaving. The older girls Saima, Sana and Sama were hanging around. Talking to us and making sure we say we’re coming back to visit. I spoke to Heena and Ahmed and told them that they should study well and come to school everyday. I told Heena that I would be calling Gayathri teacher to ask her if Heena came to school everyday and then visit only if she did. She agreed and promised to come to school everyday. I gave them all hugs. I really didn’t want to let them go. But they had to go home and so did we. Saima started to cry as she left and I gave her a big hug and promised to visit and never forget them. We then said bye to Gayathri teacher as well and walked out of the narrow lanes. We visited Gangadhar in the office and gave him his present that he refused to accept. We got to say bye to Shaoib and the teacher from the other centre. The three of us then walked out through the main road. Crossing the market with vegetables, fish and meat vendors. Passing by the goats, the scary dogs and walking through the muck because of the rain for the last and final time as the team of powerpuff girls!

Saturday, June 27, 2009


“MEHMAN BHAGWAN HOTE HAI”, this is a common phrase in Hindi that every grandparent or parent has imbedded into the minds of their children. The English translation being GUESTS ARE LIKE GOD. No matter who it is, it is important that you let the person into your house and offer them shelter and refreshments.
You would think that the people living in poorer conditions would be unable to provide or afford this sort of hospitality; once again we were proven wrong!
While we went from door to door asking people questions, a really nice family offered us refreshments, she insisted that we have something to drink and asked her child to run out and get a few bottles of coca cola. We stood there and chatted with her to learn that all her children are currently enrolled in school. At the same time Gayatri teacher gave us some news that hit me out of the blue, the lady living in that house was well off and she good afford much more than she currently lived in.
This got me thinking, why doesn’t she live in a better place, maybe she’s grown accustomed to the environment, she’s is drawn by the powerful sense of being part of a community? This question was left clearly unanswered as the lady just smiled and didn’t really have a proper response.
Juhi also met with this lady who lived across from the Parivarthan school, everyday when Juhi would leave and enter the school, she insisted that Juhi spend a night at her house. She hated us leave, probably scared of the day that we would not return?

It amazes me to see that even within soo much poverty there exists soo much love and selflessness. They are willing to give more than they are able to make and I strongly believe these are the people who make Mumbai what it is today ☺, after all slum dwellers make up approx. 60% of this city

Performing outside

Day 18- 27th June

After the meeting yesterday, we were on our way ready to have fun! We reacher earlier today as the excecutive board meeting was scheduled for 12 noon. The members present at the meeting were Gangadhar, Gayathri teacher, Shakil, Devi, Rushabh, Sukanya (who we met for the first time- Part of Indian express, executive board member and Shakil’s friend) and us. We were only listening for most of the meeting. At the end of the meeting we asked them for the thoughts and reactions to our 2 weeks with them. It was nice to hear form all of them that they appreciate our work and would also like to talk to us about future projects. Shakil said that it was one of the policies of Parivartan that for all volunteers and staff the learning should be mutual between the children and volunteers. He said that we had followed with this policy and I completely agree that the learning has been mutual. Towards the end of the meeting all the kids arrived and sat quietly along the other side of the class that we sat. When we were done with our meeting all the members of Parivartan stayed to watch the children perform. It was their first experience performing without us guiding them. Zohar, Juhi and I stepped back and let the children run through their play. I felt SO proud of them! It was their very first time and they did a wonderful job. Everyone knew their respective roles and went through it beautifully. I was really happy. It was nice to see that Shakil was also really happy with the performance as he clicked some pictures. After the first run through, we decided to add another scene about ‘cleanliness’ hoping to get all the little kids to act it out and thus give them a role. It was really hard getting this organized. Saif Ali, the big kid, came today and he really wanted to be a part of the play but unfortunately he has to go to the municipal school on Monday and so we could not give him a proper role. Shoaib did an amazing job. He told us today that he had passed his 10th standard and gave us all sweets! He had told me the first day I met him which was also my first day at Wadala that he was here on a job as Gangadhar’s assistant. He was the one who had guided us through the community and led us from one place to another. We asked him to say a few words to help conclude the play. He did a great job improvising. After that we had our little dance party again! I wasn’t really in the mood to dance and kept sitting down a few times until when Asheep actually came to me and called me to dance! I was so happy to see the change in him. He was back to his original self the first few days that we had seen him. After dancing and also being flung onto the floor by Shoaib, which was quite hilarious, we had a photo shoot during recess. Ahmed suddenly appeared wearing his raincoat and looked as adorable as ever! We took many pictures and kept getting jumped on by all the kids. At this time, Heena was on my back and I was just talking to her casually when she said something about me coming everyday. I told her that Monday would be the last day that I was going to come. Then she said that if I don’t come there then she too would stop coming. This really disturbed me. I really hope this doesn’t happen. I really don’t the kids to stop coming because of us not being there. I really think we should talk to them about this and I also hope to visit them even after Monday. When the kids got back from recess, we took them out to the street for an actual run through. This did not go well at all. The kids were really scared, most of the boys were all over the place running around. Some were shy, some just seemed really happy being able to run around and some just seemed lost. The crowd that gathered to watch was quite large but they did not really seem to understand what was happening. They all stared and none of them clapped even when the kids were clapping after each scene. The circle the kids made was quite small and so no one could really see what was happening. Just one man came up to us and asked if we were doing a survey. When we said that this wasn’t for any survey he just assumed that it was for entertainment. I really wanted to tell him that this for awareness and to help change and develop the community. However, I couldn’t bring myself to put it into words and did not say anything. After the performance, which the kids didn’t even end properly, we went back to the centre. There we all sat down in a circle and decoded to reflect on the performance. Most of the kids were sating that they were scared and that they did not perform well. Even Gayathri teacher was shouting at all the kids. The three of us did not shout at all. the way the kids had acted was completely justified. It was the first time they were being made to perform something all by themselves out in the open. There were some people they recognized outside and most other were strangers. I’m sure they felt very uncomfortable and the fact that they even went through the whole play, although shabbily was a great achievement. Sahil, the boy who played the role of a drunken father was the only one who had played his role very badly compared to usual. He kept laughing and just said all his dialogues softly and without any expression. The rest of the kids as well as Gayathri teacher were shouting at him while he was really quiet. We called him close to us and spoke to him. We asked him how he felt when he acted the role outside. He said he felt shy and he would not like to do it in front of the public, as there were people he knew. He also said he would never do it in front of his parents. He said that he was comfortable and would do it well inside but he was not sure he’ll do it well outside. We told him that he has the courage and was a very good actor and that the point of this play is to show everyone outside what is really happening. He agreed to do it on Monday but said he doesn’t now if he’ll do it well or not. The older girls, Parveen and Aisha, were very scared at first to perform outside but they did a great job and seemed to look more confident inside. I even heard Parveen say to another kid that she was never scared. After this we let Gaythri teacher teach the class since we had used most of their time today. As she taught them the three of us just sat at the back of the class. After a while we just decide to leave early. Juhi was exhausted and I also felt we were only being a distraction by sitting there. While saying bye I noticed that Heena was not talking to me at all. That’s all I’ve been thinking about the rest of the day.

The First Run Through

June 27th, 2009- Saturday

Sleeping in the car on the way to Wadala is ALWAYS a bad idea. I was SO exhausted when I reached that I could barely open my eyes. Infact, I was really tempted to take the car in instead of walking all the way..Zohar and Sriya pushed me to get out-they said the walk would wake me up..I guess it worked along with the 5 cups of amazing cutting chai that I downed once I reached the class room.

Following up with Gangadhar’s request, the three of us joined in at Parivartan’s bi-weekly meeting. This time however, they decided to keep the location the class room where we worked. I thought it was an amazing idea for them all to get a feel for the children in class. Our agenda was to just observe since we did a lot of talking last time..that’s when there were more of ‘us’ than ‘them’ at the first meeting. This time we had Devi, Sukania (assumed spelling) and Gayatri teacher join in as well. Devi and Sukania are also on Parivartan’s executive board but I’m not sure of their specific roles. We didn’t really get a chance to talk to them personally since the meeting started late and the children were already lining up outside the classroom. I was really glad to see that there were some important issues that were being addressed by Parivartan- an image I didn’t really get last time. Towards the end of the meeting, we asked them to go around and tell us about their experience of us working in Sangam Nagar. Gangadhar was saying that he was really happy with the turn out of the number of children that have been coming to school, he said that this was probably our influence because usually children don’t come at this time. It takes a lot of energy to get them to class. That point was really heart warming for me.. Devi mentioned that initially she and Rushabh were convinced that we would be one of those volunteers who would go back after two days of coming to the community. She said that the first time she met Zohar, she knew that Zohar wasn’t going to turn back. Devi was very impressed that we actually continued..Rushabh and Shakil, along with a nod of approval, were happy with our work as well. Gayatri teacher was glad that it was a two-way stream..she said that there was a lot that she learned from us while we learned from the children and the children learning from us. I’m sure I’m leaving a lot of the words out, but these our some of the important points that I remember..we just listened the entire meeting..I liked that.

During the 2nd half of the meeting, the children had already line up outside the door, on the staircase. Since it was 1pm already, Gayatri teacher let them into the class and asked them to sit on the side. It was amazing how disciplined they had become while there were new people in the room. No one talked, no one moved, it wasn’t something I’d seen in a LONG time. Given that, we asked the kids to perform for everyone in the room who was at the meeting. They did an AMAZING job! It was really pleasing to see the expressions on everyone’s face in the room. From my impression Shakil was impressed/happy, Devi and Rushabh had a good time, and Gangadhar -I couldn’t tell. The best part was that the children themselves were very happy with their play!! That was the first time that they had performed without any directions from us. They followed through carefully without too much commotion. So much so, that I thought it would be a good idea to add another scene at the end where all the little children would be included. The scene is on cleanliness (against littering and spitting)..Along with this, Shoab (Gangadhar’s assistant) agreed to close the play with a few lines to the audience. It all worked perfectly well.
Next, the kids really wanted to dance. We didn’t do it yesterday for various reasons, but today we thought they deserved it. We switched on the music and within seconds everyone had a move. It was full of energy..everyone was having a good time. After a few numbers, we let the children go for a 15 minute break..after they came back, we took them (after a LOT of difficulty) outside to try the play. The kids made a circle, did the song, but some of the boys were feeling “shy and conscious” so as a defense mechanism they ran off and weren’t acting like they usually do. We couldn’t do the last scene that we practiced in the class. We took them back to the classroom and talked to them – asking them how they felt. One boy, Sahil, who was doing the drunk man’s role wasn’t ready to do the scene outside. He said that people would make fun of him if he did that in the open. Also, if his mother found out, he would get beaten up. This is a situation that we need to talk about, and find a solution. The others had a good time and wanted to do it again. After talking to them for a while, we decided to allow Gayatri teacher to teach. Once we sat down, exhaustion was starting to creep up my limbs, numbing every part of my body including my brain. Zohar was exhausted as well since she’s not been sleeping a whole lot so we left at 4:30pm instead of 5pm. Walked back silently, we were very lucky with the weather today. We decided to go over by the short cut.. the heap of trash so that we could just dose off in the car. Spoke to Manjul briefly- it felt like an effort to open my mouth or hold the phone. Headed home for the first time reached at 7:30pm.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Rainy Day

Day 17- 26th June

Woke up today on a relatively bad note… both mom and dad were saying how badly it was raining outside and how we really shouldn’t be venturing out today. I thought about it. It did seem quite bad and scary. BUT I really wanted to go and knew we needed to be there today. So when my dad said that I should go if it’s absolutely necessary, I decided that it really was and set out. During our car ride there all three of us were really quiet and kind of slept off. When we got there it had stopped raining and Juhi mentioned how we were so lucky that it stops raining when we have to walk. She said that too soon. At that minute it started pouring. Juhi and I had chai before we walked to the school in those really cool glasses that all the chaiwallas around Bombay have. SO GOOD. Then we decided to the school using the shortcut with the bridge of pee. BAD DECISION. It was all good until we got to the heaps of garbage. That was the worst experience I have ever had in my life. It was absolutely disgusting. As I felt my foot sink into the garbage, that had become all squishy because of the rain, I actually screamed. It was the most horrible feeling ever. It was black mucky water with onion peels, plastic bags, definitely pee, poop, school bags, dirty cloth kind of things. And the worst part was that as I stepped ahead and felt like I was about to puke I had to keep moving forward to get out of the place. We got through it in the end and made our way to the school after washing our feet using a water pump on the way. As soon as we climbed up the stairs and entered all the kids shouted out “Namaste teacher” louder than ever today! They even came running up to us to shake hands! This they had never done before. We went and sat down while Gayathri teacher continued telling the kids a story. After that we got the kids to stand and run through the play, right from the song in the beginning of the play, to the drunken scene. It went really slowly. The transitions from one scene to another takes a lot of time and the most of the little children are just so distracted. The bad points for today are that Abhid Ali wasn’t there. We had to get someone else to do his part. First we chose Nazir to do it and he did quite a good job. However, Saima was at school today and is so demanding that she finally took the role. I think we ran over the play around three times with the kids. During recess, Gayathri teacher got us chai! In between rehearsing I was giving “jhoola” rides again and doing the “fugdi” with Heena, Asheep and Afreen! Then when we everyone got back we started all over again. I found that all the children enjoyed watching the drunken father scene so much. They were most disciplined during this scene and always wanted the kids acting in it to do the scene again. They actually seemed to enjoy it and I didn’t feel too good about that. We did another scene about gender discrimination in terms of education. During the last run throught for the day, Zohar, Juhi and I were just sitting down and watching. We spoke and told them to move on but they mostly went about it by themselves. Most of the kids were just bored of doing the same thing over and over again and did not co-operate. This is understandable as they are kids after all and doing the same thing is boring when they think that the whole thing is a game and we were only there to play. A really good thing I noticed today was that Parveen was really loud and was no more the really quiet grown up girl. She did a great job as teacher in the play. She also was telling the other little children to sit down or to speak loudly and instructing them. Especially after she had heard that other people (excecutive board of Parivartan) were coming to watch them tomorrow. At the end of the day, the kids came running to me for homework like the last two days. They really wanted and were ready to do a lot of homework even if it’s the same thing as the previous day. One girl said that she had nothing to do at home and so wanted homework! Everyone wanted to dance again but then Juhi want up to it and came asked me if we should. I didn’t really want to dance either not only because I felt a little tired but also the kids had been all over the place unlike yesterday when everything had gone smoothly. When we told them that we had to leave as it was raining heavily and that we would dance tomorrow if they acted out well they were surprisingly very understanding. We left and walked back the long way, which was also a mess because of the rains but much better compared to the shortcut with the garbage dump. Today was just like the weather outside. We had progressed but it had been hard. It was gloomy. We then had a meeting with Manjul at my house. After reflecting our thoughts for the day Manjul told us to write down the answer to how we have impacted the children/parents/staff of Parivartan and community in the two aspects 1) live life interventions and 2) theatrical interventions. My thoughts were expression, initiative, education (priority of parents/community), loud voices and belief in teaching using the methods of theater. Then we had to write about the impact of this whole program on ourselves in the same two aspects. My answers were that I am definitely more self-confident, feel useful, not so worried about other peoples thoughts when I believe in what I’m doing and what I want to do, think it is definitely important to make my family a part of everything I do for it to go smoothly, have seen another side of my own city that I always knew existed but never experienced, learned a lot from all the new people I have interacted with, learned to appreciate what I have even more than I already do, “hold my space” much more than I did before and have learnt and now believe in the use of ‘theatre of relevance’. A great accomplishment overall! We then discussed some concerns about the play and heard Manjul’s advice for performance day!

Everything's not ALL that rosy :-/

June 26th, 2009 –Friday

It was POURING outside. There were rumors that it’s going to be a huge flood since it was also high tide at the time. My sister had been stuck in traffic for 3 and half hours and my dad for 2. Zohar and I decided to wait it out, called Gangadhar, checked with a few people and decided to go regardless of the parents’ concerns. This is important, last 2 days. We can’t let the children down. The fact that Sriya was assertive with her parents meant a lot to me..

We got on the road. It really wasn’t as bad..although we did take 2 and half hours to reach. I fell asleep in the car since I didn’t get much sleep the night before, instead of feeling fresh, I was more tired..chugged some tea and shook myself awake. What really woke me up was the heap of trash that we decided to walk over. It was the short cut and we though it was a brilliant route that we hadn’t taken full advantage off! Walking on it while it was pouring wasn’t a good idea at all..all of a sudden those extra 20 muddy minutes of walking didn’t seem so bad. The trash smelled of urine and I couldn’t stop thinking of the lady who told me that she threw the dead white/yellow cat in the trash! Everything was coming back to me, I was about to throw up and didn’t have the courage to look up at how Zohar and Sriya were doing. I just screamed out to them to not think of anything..it was hard considering my shoes were letting in all the dirt..i could feel it with my toes. While I was staring at my feet after the walk, a boy looked at us and said ‘kitna bekar hai nay eh jaga?’ (isn’t this area disgusting?) I don’t know if he was mocking us, or laughing at the situation – since there’s nothing else he could do. It struck a chord with me..can’t say how, but got me thinking..

Anyhow, we made a collective decision to never do that route again..

We reached the class late because of the traffic. Gayatri teacher was teaching, but yet the children screamed at the sight of us and ran over to shake our hands as we entered !! I’d never seen them so excited to see us!! It threw me aback, but I was extremely thrilled. After Gayatri teacher was done, we practiced the play once.. it was OK. Gave them a break, came back and practiced again. COMPLETE chaos. I was slightly disappointed in the lack of progress..but it was still nice to see the children high in sprits. Their ability to sustain that level of energy ALL the time always amazes me. We wrapped it up, not feeling the same as yesterday, but still happy. Zohar said that she was really glad with the way things went. I couldn’t say that for my experience.

We met up with Manjul at Sriya’s house. He made us write down 10 points of achievement from a perspective of ‘life’ or ‘theatre intervention’ for the students, organization, community and ourselves. We then shared it with each other.. I realized that there was a lot more that we had to be proud of than thought of before. In discussion, I realized that when we started this project, all the organizations involved- Parivartan, AID, ETF, Brandeis University, Revive: Mumbai and us had a different purpose in mind. Now, they all connect through us. Another reason for pride. We talked a little more about some of the issues with a few students and the most diplomatic way of handling them. Speaking to Manjul helped clear out our options. We were all set for the weekend!!!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

You Don't Need To Know Hindi To Dance

June 25, 2009

Whenever you fall you get up.

When “things are bad, they can only get better”.

After yesterday- a blur of anger and resentment- today was fresh.

Heavy rains waking me up, I put Teva sandals on my feet instead of sneakers

This is a change in me. Before this project others had told me “wear close-toed shoes in the slums, you don’t know what kind of things are on the ground there.” When it rains the grounds are muddy and in that mud can be bugs, trash, non-hygienic things relating to the bathroom, etc.

Today I saw past it all. In truth, wearing sneakers isn’t that helpful anyway because they get wet and muddy- but there is still a sense of protection.

With my sandals I had a new attitude for the day. The past few days have been a blow to my self-esteem and confidence- doubting my skills, leadership abilities and interests in life. I have been more passive role in and out of the classroom, have not wanted to connect with the children, and in one word: distance.

Calm, fun, be with the kids.

Passing the spot where the cat used to lie, we are asking the family nearby. “It died yesterday. Got washed away by the rains…” This was a completion, (maybe to my major frustrations), and a lead in to the birth of the play.

Peeping my head from the ladder into the classroom I hear the kids screaming “teacher!” It still gets to me. Every time. The excitement in their voices, smiles, hands waving.

Immediately I notice the leader of our class, worried anxious upset?

I start thinking of reasons: she is nervous for the play because we have given her such a big part? She is starting to realize that we are leaving in a few days? She is looking out the window longingly, gazing at the rooftops: is she thinking that we are a symbol of hope like Manjul said, but that she is losing hope in herself for the future? I don’t know.

We show the kids a videoclip on children performing street theatre. Interested in their reactions I am looking at them all watching…smiles on their faces! When the boy in the dvd starts hitting the girl (as a drunk man coming home and hitting his wife) many of the kids, specifically the boys, had huge smiles on their faces and were laughing at this. Even one boy was clapping. Why? Why does it bring this reaction to them when they are dealing with this reality on a regular basis? These kids are starting to think about their lives, but are they thinking that this physical abuse is wrong? If this is the way they are brought up and aren’t exposed to much outside culture and customs (except t..v occasionally), then what gives them the moral understanding that this is wrong?

At recess Gayatri turned to me, positioned her arms to play the swirling game and asked if I would play. WHAT?! A sign that today would be full of liveliness! I twirled with her, she was so happy and free.

The music played from the laptop, and all of a sudden the bare classroom turned into a playful fun house. Jumping, Bollywood dance moves, swinging kids upside down like planes, shaking bodies left right up down, we were laughing, having fun, twirling more with the kids we were in it. Everyone was smiling, kids were excitedly coming back from break. Now there is a new definition of recess. We were actually playing and enjoying each other’s company.

We asked one kid: what do you want to be when you grow up? “Police”. Us: Who wants to be a policeman here?

4 boys stood up and improvised a scene. Came Everyone contributed (the rest of the kids who are sitting in a circle) to the scene by making sounds of a police car.

Next: who wants to be a teacher?

Two girls went up and immediately a bunch of little ones went up to play students…

One of the “teachers” was confidently in charge, she went straight into saying “a is for apple…” teaching the kids a lesson. It is true, this is a moment where the kids can believe they are in their fantasy job world. Next was doctor.

One of my goals today was to appreciate the kids. It is starting to sink in that I am only here for a little more time!

Time to practice WAH! We changed the word after a while to “Sooonooo”, which means listen. Today’s agenda was working with the kids games that we had played during the week (Manjul’s idea) and adjusting them to themes related to their lives and ultimately the play..

We practiced walking in from a line clapping, singing the song and going straight into the Soonooo Soonooo. The older boy looked proud leading the group, and all the kids were involved- yes!

Next we worked out the scenes from our original script- which is great. Started off with scene of drunk dad coming home to beat up mom. Originally we didn’t have the boy who had told us his story, acting it out. Too personal?

In the end this boy really wanted to act out the dad. We let him do it- and with full confidence and expression and energy was it acted out! So well! Watching Gayatri’s expression the whole time, it was full of sorrow and excitement and pride and nervousness.

A girl who came out and sang then inspired another girl to come out (who had been in the corner the whole time!)

That’s how it works- peer pressure or peer support. Works both ways. You want to be the cool one= the person who is entertaining, who is confident, who has the spotlight.

We ended with the kids sitting in a meditative position with eyes closed and hands on their laps, open.

Meditation: On how this has been a great day and not to forget what we have done!


I have never sweat like this before in my life.I believe I was at an ultimate high because: 1) dancing requires no verbal language 2) I love dancing in general.The kids were remarkable: Shaheel was doing a sort of breakdance routine. The whole time- nonstop.

I couldn’t have asked for more.

Complete disbelief: how did this happen?

I am very proud. It seems like after all the sweat and panting all the way through training and reflections, if anything this day was the day that proved to me that it was ‘worth it”.

Everyone was having fun. We didn’t divide the class, as I had thought was completely necessary to be productive.

Also a touching moment was at the end of the day when all these kids went up to Juhi and Sriya with their notebooks asking for homework. They wanted us to write them words to learn. I want this scene in the play. (Look at picture on the right)

What a hunger for education. You don’t see this everywhere. It was beautiful.


June 25th, 2009- Thursday

WHAT AN AMAZING DAY!!!! We started off as usual at Sriya’s house to go over and recreate the game plan for the day. Yesterday had completely put us in a different mindset and I was ready to rethink everything. We threw out our old script and decided to start thinking like the kids. What do they really want to do? What does this ‘play’ really mean for them? How could we work with their frame of mind? There’s SO much energy there that we could channel.. but we can’t force it in any direction..and I think were trying to take too much control over that channel. We realized that we were trying to make them do something that they weren’t necessarily interested in or our expectations were too high. Yes, we saw the potential for change and yes, we want to do everything in our power to make that change..but we needed to rethink our purpose, how much we’d already achieved and where we were planning to go from here. Manjul directed us to rethink all of that yesterday in our oh-so-intense meeting. He mentioned over and over again that I referred to the children as “them” and used the word “people” to refer to them in third person. That showed a major disconnect and possibly the core of the problem. I had lost track of when I started to look at the project from a birds-eye-view/ as only a teacher/ as an organizer and not a
s a level headed person building confidence within these children by directly relating to them, by being WITH them.. it all seems SO obvious now..

What I’m glad about is that not only did we recheck our attitude, we also implemented the new trade of thought and ended up with an extremely positive result! This time, after creating a general plan and goal, we weren’t as meticulous in planning during the car ride as we usually are. We decided to ‘let things flow’.. follow the energy in the classroom. We entered the classroom, briefed Gayatri teacher with the plan of the day as usual. While the teacher was teaching, I was observing the children from the back and felt a sudden surge of love for them all. I saw the beauty in the uniqueness of each child and it wasn’t ‘annoying’ or ‘f
rustrating’ anymore..it was something I was excited to work with!
We showed the children 2 videos of street play done by ETF with children of their age. They saw one of the videos twice. Apart from three children who were completely disinterested, the rest enjoyed the videos thoroughly. It was really interesting to see their reactions in specific scenes..

We asked Gayatri teacher to lead us into singing the opening song of the play. After singing it a c
ouple of times, we opened the leadership opportunity to anyone who was interested. One of the boys (who’s usually very good at remembering songs and loves singing) took up the job. We then added in the 1,2..CLAP with the song while they went in a circle. They then rehearsed “hum Bache”..till it became chaotic. Then for some reason they were given a break by Gayatri teacher without a warning. That turned out to be a good thing in disguise because we decided to turn on some music in the room and started dancing. I don’t completely remember or understand the transition to this moment. All I know is that everything was out of control..and this time in a good way. We (including Gayatri teacher) danced for a good twenty minutes, which burned out a lot of their energy for the moment. Taking advantage of that fact, we got them to get into the circle and then picked on one boy and asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said police. We asked who else wanted to be a police? Three other boys enthusiastically raised their hands. We asked them to come in the center and act out their impressions of being a policeman. They were stumped and didn’t know what to do. I gave them a few ideas, they accepted them, put them forward to Sriya and Zohar..we decided to shortlist two and combine them to make one scene. They improvised on our advice in a beautiful way.. similarly, we had a teacher, doctor and singer..We then asked one boy to lead them again into “hum bache..” That’s when we started to lose their attention again. So we decided to open up the floor to another game that we played before and the kids loved called “WAH”. We replaced the “WAH” with “SUNO” which would lead into the “hum bache” song.. we played another game and then got them to sit back into a circle. We then asked two boys and a girl to act out a domestic abuse scene. Initially, I wasn’t comfortable having the kid who told us the story about his parents to do the father’s role for various reasons. But he really wanted to.. He wouldn’t sit still! We gave him the shot, and he did a brilliant job !!
They practiced the whole sequence again. I noticed Gayatri teacher sitting with a big smile on her face. That’s when I knew that the children had impacted a large part of the community. The teacher’s smile spoke a thousand words. I could see a whole new level of respect for the children in her eyes and that meant a lot to me.

We ended the day with some meditation and reflection time. It was 5pm, but the children wanted to do some more dancing. We danced for atleast another half an hour and EVERYONE was dancing! I was soooo impressed by some of the moves!

I’m going to take the night to get myself down to earth again, have to be ready to face the chaos if it occurs tomorrow. Have to remember to work with what we have (i.e. creativity and energy) and remain calm, because there’s always a way to work things out. Today I felt the most connected I have with the children. I have completely fallen in love with them, and am enjoying every moment of this experience :D

Putting on the Dancing shoes!

Day 16- 25th June

Ahhhhh…AMAZING DAY… today was just loads of fun… loads…. I was really tired this morning but looking forward to it at the same time…. after the intense conversations yesterday and a new idea, I was excited and just wanted to go try it out and see what happens. Juhi and Zohar came home as usual and we spoke about what we could do today. We decided to play the games we had been play
ing with them throughout last week, show the kids the video and try to use our new strategy to progress with the play. We were on our way and in the car we spoke less about what we were going to do when we were at the school. We didn’t have as concrete a plan as we had been making the last couple of days. But I still felt ok about that. Was just looking forward to the children and kind of a new start after the horrible day yesterday. We were laughing and joking a lot along the way as we walked to the school. Like Zohar even said in the morning… I was feeling the energy and really felt positive. On the way to the school we found out that the cat we had been seeing the last few days had died. It was sad. As I turned the lane to the school I was hoping that the chicken and the little kid who threw it on me wouldn’t be there. I really did not like that yesterday. We entered the school and sat down. It seemed like Gayathri teacher had been late today, as she seemed to have just started teaching. She said that majority of the children had been admitted to the municipal school and will be leaving Parivartan next week. She wanted to hand over the class to us. I noticed a couple of new kids in class today. I later found out they were old Parivartan students. Juhi then started setting up her speakers and I set up my laptop on a chair in front of the class. We played the 10-minute video that Manjul had given us. Some of the children were really enthusiastic that they were getting to watch the video. Although most of the enthusiasm was just for the fact that they were being shown a video on laptop, which is probably something they have never seen before, some kids actually paid attention. They recognized the clapping, singing and formation of a circle, which they had done too. They also watched it a second time. Then we also played a 7-minute video featuring one of Manjul’s previous works that was covered by “M TV.” After this most of the children went home to eat lunch as it was recess. Just as I had put the laptop away, one kid asked Juhi if she could play music and so we set up the laptop with speakers and music. We danced for half an hour. It was great. The energy level was really high and all the kids were up and about dancing. Even gayathri teacher was enthusiastic and joined in. After that all the kids came back and then we sat in a circle. They all sang the song they had learned yesterday. Ahmed volunteered that he knew the song and so we guided him to lead the rest of the group. Then Kushnuma, a new girl who had just come from the village and is new to Parivartan came up and volunteered to sing a song. It was the first time I heard her speak out loud. It was amazing to see that change. She had been very quiet on her first day. And now she was up singing a song all by herself. Then we made the kids whose dreams were to become police come up and act like they were policemen. It was amazing. Ahmed became a policeman’s bike. The whole group created sound effects. Then Asheep became a thief and Sarfaraj and Sahil became the police who both caught Asheep and came up with their own amazing dialogues. Then we created a classroom scene with Parveen and another new girl as teachers and a whole bunch of kids who volunteered to be students. Again, they came up with the dialogues completely by themselves and beautifully. Lastly we had the doctor scene with Asheep as the patient and Nazir and new girl’s sister as doctors. They were great too. After this we played the January-February clapping game with the kids and tried to change the words so they could use it as part of the performance. This didn’t work too great. Then we played the “wah”game and change the word to “suno” (listen). We also got Abhiday to say some dialogues that he turned out to be great at. He is one of the older kids of our group and is one of the calmest kids I’ve seen. I’m so glad he’s a part of this since he only joined us this week. After this we actually managed to run through everything from the beginning. This went surprisingly, very smoothly. We couldn’t be happier. We still had some time left and decided to try and do another scene. We wanted to show the scene of alcoholism and domestic abuse. Sarfaraj was trying to be the drunken father and this is where I thought that showing them the video had been a good idea as he actually said, “Accha, video kai jaisa karna hai.” (Oh, we actually have to act like in the video). Sahil then enthusiastically volunteered to be the drunken father, so we gave him a chance and we had Sana reluctantly do the part of the wife who gets beaten up. Although we would have like Saima to do she had left early since she had a headache and wasn’t feeling too well. Ahmed and Sarfaraj acted as sons. Sahil did an AMAZING job acting and with his own dialogues which were better than anything we could have come up with. Probably since he has grown up watching such scenes in reality. We were all hesitant in giving him this role since he has actually experienced it and if his parents watch him acting out such scenes they could probably hit him for doing it. But I don’t think anyone could do it better than him. I hope that his parents do see it and realize their mistakes. Gayathri teacher also seemed really surprised/impressed with Sahil’s acting. After that we had planned to wrap up for the day, extremely happy with the progress and glad to have something created in the name of a performance. BUT Abhiday came up and asked for music to be played. Then I connected the laptop again and played music. We danced like CRAZY for a whole hour! I just felt it. I was thinking a lot. The number of days I’ve spent there. The first time I saw those kids and they saw me. And now things had changed. From both ends. We all were up dancing. I was swinging some children around. Giving them “jhoola” (swing) and airplane rides. And I thought oh my god. This is so much fun and we have such little time left. I am seriously attached to these children. And I cant wait to go back tomorrow. :)

On our way back Gayathriji showed us a shortcut
. We passed HEAPS of garbage. HEAPS. It was horrible. Urgh. I wish I could do something. I’m going to try. It was obviously worse because of the rain. We then crossed a bridge of pee!!! And Juhi stepped in muck! But then we got home safe.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The cat still manages to breathe

June 24, 2009

My mind is thrashing, my ears aching and my confidence desires wishful thinking has been swirling all day into a big pile of mud.

I do not remember the last time I felt so hopeless, so exhausted, burdened by expectations, limited by communication, reliant, and transparent.

Every day now this past week, the group of us has passed by a dying cat on the way to the school. I always think when I pass the cat that this will be it- the last time- but the cat somehow continues. It is caked with mud, spots of yellow die, it’s legs are as thin and fragile as legs, and we see it’s body rise up and down with every last breath in the narrow lanes of the slum while people pass over it carrying piles of rice and construction supplies.

I felt like this cat today: barely making it to the next breath- yet still managing to keep on keeping on.

Before school the three of us sat down for 2 hours compiling a skeleton of the play itself based on the ideas brought forward by the young boy the day before. We had an elaborate sketch of a play covering issues such as domestic abuse, gender discrimination, education and cleanliness. We were excited by this completion, hoping that the kids would fill it in with many bright colors.

When I brought up the title of the play Juhi mentioned that maybe it should be something involving the word Parivartan, which means change and is also the name of the school.

When arrived Gayatri told us that she had been told her to go survey the community and take care of some other tasks, but we were a little let down by this. This project is for the growth of the students, teachers, administrative staff, families, community members and ourselves. As a side note, I think it is imperative in the future when this type of project happens which includes training, that all teachers and administrative staff be present for at least part of the training.

Juhi went over the script overview we had written with Gayatri while the kids played a game that I initiated with Sriya. That game in English is called “Indian chief” and involves taking turns being the leader. The brilliant thing was that the kids were all jumping all over the place wanting to lead the group- great initiative. Empowering?

The second we said that we were working on the play all the kids jumped with excitement! We immediately assigned the roles and eventually when we were trying to work all together (younger and older kids), the little kids were running around like crazy- filled to the brim with ENERGY.

Sriya took the younger ones to one side of the room to create invitations with them. Since they don’t know how to write, we had them draw images and we will write messages on them later.

I was helping Juhi with the directing. By helping I mean I was standing there not knowing what to do. I have been feeling this for the past few days now, just lost in my role there.

I know that I could direct kids. I can direct adults. I have had experience, in very challenging and experimental settings, but with this specific case, I am at a loss. The language comes back to haunt me time and again. I don’t want this to be a crutch, seriously though. I would hate to keep sticking to it.

I am standing there, not knowing what it is I should do with myself. Should I continue to discipline the children, babysitting them? While Juhi is directing, she is telling the kids where to go and sometimes what to say, and I told her that maybe I should give the visual of where to stand and she will fill in with the lines, but I stopped myself. Wouldn’t it just take double the amount of time doing it this way? Isn’t it quicker if she just does it independently and I help with the “housekeeping” tasks?

I was questioning what it was I was doing there. I was evaluating my skills as a director, as a practitioner of theatre. I was aware of the time, as my other facilitators kept asking me what the time was. I was aware of my hunger. I was aware of my tiredness. All this was a signal to myself that I was not being present and invested in my work. I just felt handicapped without being able to say the words and fully understand the children--- and that handicap keeps tripping me…

At that moment Gangadhar appears with Devi, the third member of AID Mumbai that I had met the first day I came to see the community.

She met the other girls and said that it looks like the kids are enjoying me despite my early worries that they wouldn’t be able to communicate with me.

We practiced moving on stage in a line clapping into a circle. The kids were sort of in unison, and Gayatri had sketched out a circle with chalk on the ground.

Once the circle was accomplished, chaos continued.

We were left with the kids, full of energy jumping jumping jumping.

Wanting to play.

And we had our play in mind.

Although we had great lead actors they were also being distracted.

While rehearsing Sayma, one of the students was getting nervous about performing. I patted her on the back and say that she was doing great!

There were two kids that volunteered to be waterpumps. They stood there with their arms like waterpumps for more than an hour straight- so disciplined, maybe the best actors of the day.

After a while, when all the kids were distracted, the little kids were running on stage, I told juhi to do a meditation with them asking if they really want to continue on with the play. We spoke to them about how we are here for a specific purpose- not just to run around and play.

One the kids left, the other two were exhausted from yelling and having the kids climb all over them, but I was exhausted from the opposite- from feeling like I am not doing anything.

The second we left the building one of the kids threw a live chicken at sriya. Here is the picture of the event, of which I was very proud of Sriya considering her fear of animals.

Then came the meeting with Manjul, which was…

Well it was like stuffing that Paan into my mouth. Except instead of a rose explosion it was an explosion of expectations, hopes, understandings…

The first part involved a lot of venting. For 2.5 hours we talked and talked about the day and our hesitations. I said that I think tomorrow we should split up the older and younger kids. That we put the older ones in the center with the office and leave the younger with Gayatri.

After explaining the day in depth, we started asking Manjul really for some concrete suggestions for moving forward. He told us that the problem was that conceptually we are seeing an “us and them”, meaning that we are seeing this as our project and not the children’s. We need to let the children lead us.


Day 15- 24th June

Today we were supposed to meet early so we could formulate a script, atleast in skeleton form that we could start working on when we get to Wadala. We were very happy to write down a script that incorporated all the problems we wanted to portray and thought we had written it down in the simplest form so its easy to understand for the kids. We planned all along the way, in the car and had our script ready.

When we got to the school the kids had been writing and learning Hindi alphabets and words. They all showed us their books that had words that had been neatly written over and over again. Then Juhi decided to go through the whole script with gayathri teacher. At this point the kids were a little restless and so I asked Zohar if she could suggest a game that we could play to keep them occupied. Zohar did think of a gaem and then we got into a circle to start. The rules of the game were that there is one prson who goes way to corner and there is a leader in the rest of kids in the circle who keeps making some actions that the group is supposed to follow. When the person whose turn it is comes back, he/she has to guess who the leader is. Yes, complicated. And only the start of mess. The biggest change today was that earlier when we played something we had to get the kids to come out and volunteer being leaders and keep encouraging them. TODAY was wayyy different. EVERYONE wanted to be a leader. Actually, not everyone. Some kids just remained quiet as always. But a whole lot of them were jumping about and of course fighting. It was definitely a goo thing they all wanted to be a part of it but I just couldn’t handle all the fighting and jumping. We then started to play the January-february-months-clapping game. By this time Juhi was done with Gayathriji and we all got into the circle. At this point, the kids started fighting with each other to hold my hand. I wasn’t even sure if they wanted to hold my hand. It seemed like they just wanted to fight for the sake of fighting. At one point I stood with my hands on my head. Cause I didn’t know whose hands to hold and my hands actually hurt from being pulled by everyone. I went and held Zohar’s hand and then saw that Heena looked really sad and was looking at me. I then went and held her hand and stood in the circle. We did the wave thing around the circle cause the kids wanted to. Then we picked out the main actors of the play. Juhi and me went to one side to start working with the older children (main characters). Gayathri teacher made all the little kids sit down and learn the song “ dariya ki kasam, maujo ki kasam, ye tana bana badlega…. Tu khud ko badal, tu khud ko badal.. tabhi to zamana badlega.” They really seemd to pick up fast from what I over heard. After a few minutes, Gayathri teacher just disappeared. The little children were ALL OVER THE PLACE. Jumping, shouting, swinging, fighting. Then as Juhi tried to get the play done, Zohar and me decided we could engage the small kids with coloring to make invitations to the play. I made them all sit down in a circle. Handed out paper and stationary and got them to start coloring. It was all happening very nicely. Then problems stated coming up. Fighting for colors, for paper for everything. Someone’s paper tore. Someone’s pens didn’t work. Someone had too many crayons. Everyone wanted his or her way. Gangadhar and Devi (from AID) came to the center at this point. As they sat down and watched I was having a hard time telling the kids what to do, answering their questions and trying to find more colors when I had two kids on either side of me and one on my back. They then had recess. I played games with Asheep who had come and told me that he wanted to do so. That was the only part of the day I enjoyed. We got into the circle and tried to do the clapping with the singing. It didn’t work at all. The only day that Gangadhar had come to watch. These kids seemed to have no clue what they were doing or why? After that, more kids wanted to draw, some who should be practicing the play all excited to draw. Some kids wanting more paper to draw for the second time. Some others trying to get the most crayons. Some throwing the caps of the colors all over. One creating a tower of pen caps. PHEW. I don’t think I ever get so fed up with kids. But this was probably the first time. I didn’t want to be there. I just wanted to go away. Then Juhi started calling all the kids to a circle and I collected all the drawings from them. And just sat quietly. Having no clue what to do. Gayathri teacher was missing all this while. Juhi gave them a lecture and made them think about what they were doing. She said a lot of things to motivate them to work and do something and listen. I could see she was losing her voice/patience/sanity. I wanted to help but I couldn’t think of anything to do. When they all got up again it seemed like the talk had helped a little. But then they all went back to jumping and shouting. Juhi was asking if we could just finish off early for today. I was thinking the same. I didn’t mind playing a game and not thinking about the play. But I didn’t have any hope that it would go well. Gayathri teacher came back at this point. When all the kids had left, the three of us went into a CRAZY fit of giggles. We had seriously lost it. To add to everything, while walking down from the centre this girl who had her face painted pink for some reason THREW A CHICKEN ON ME!!!!! She thought it was a game. IT WAS NOT FUNNY even though I laughed. I was really scared of that chicken. And when that kid was throwing it at me all I wanted was to go home RIGHT THEN! We were depressed, negative, fed-up, needed help, lost, worried about how we had such less time and tired beyond imagination.

Then we went to Juhi’s grandmom’s house to meet Manjul. Hoping for some advice and help in this situation. The meeting started off with reflecting our thoughts and experience for the day. Then Manjul went into some analogies and spoke a lot and made us think. When he told us to write down what he thought he was saying, my thoughts were-
Not to be worried about the final product/performance
Believe in ourselves and appreciate what we have already done
Think like the children and not about how we think the performance should be
I really doubted how much we have actually done. I felt the change in me but I wasn’t sure if there really was a change in the children. But Manjul assured us of the change and made me see it. After this I was lost for rest of the conversation. Had no clue what everyone was talking about and too tired to attempt understanding. Then finally when Manjul asked us to perform the script we had made, before we could even start he positioned the three of us and gave us a very simple option of getting the performance together. It was like the bell noise Juhi makes, in my head. TING. It clicked. It was like whoa. Why didn’t we think of this? I was happy. And suddenly felt awake and up. We have an idea and I couldn’t wait to try it and was really interested in seeing the results of it. I came back home and somehow felt so motivated and so positive and like there was so much time left to get this together and we really didn’t have to worry. Our script was literally out. And there were new ideas in my head. New visions. And HOPE.


June 24th, 2009- Wednesday

I walked back to the car at 5pm completely frustrated- with the children, Manjul and myself. I mentioned in one of my blogs that script writing was the biggest challenge. Quite wrong! There’s no such thing as the “biggest challenge”! Everything is a challenge! For the first time I GAVE UP! This is very unlike me. Also, I lost my sense of calm which I usually pride in and started to freak out. I sensed that Sriya felt something similar and Zohar seemed lost. I know she wants and can to do a lot. This is HER thing and I really want her to experience this more than ever..but language seemed like such an issue at this point, that for a large part Sriya and I have assumed control while she has started to slowly retreat. This was not the intention.

Anyhow, the start of the day, we reached early at Sriya’s house, started to write a script. We were doing really well, being creative at the same time real. We discussed it further in the car- had a skeleton and now we had to get the children to give us the dialogue. It all seemed so clear and easy! Little did we know what to expect…We asked Gayatri teacher to teach the little kids a song we were going to start off with while Sriya and I took the older kids aside and gave them a synopsis of their roles in the play. Then the commotion.. some didn’t agree with their roles, but didn’t have a preference. Some smaller kids wanted a major role, but didn’t accept anything else offered. The first scene required the children to go to sleep. ALL they had to do was lie down .. but it took me a good 15 minutes to get them to be in their spots. (All this time Sriya and Zohar were trying to entertain the children by making invitations for the play) Once they FINALLY got into their spots, the mother and father had to exchange some dialogues. The great thing was that they were amazing and came up with their own dialogues. The mother (actor: Siama) whispered in my ear that she was actually starting to feel the dialogues as she was saying them- that they were coming from her heart! This was the highlight of my day..However, soon enough Saima wasn’t feeling as confident any more so she started to give up. While I was trying to give her a mini- pep talk, I lost the father who ran away to make an invitation card with the smaller kids and refused to come back. The kids who were sleeping all this time, were getting antsy as well. Two of the boys started to fight with each other.. I was losing it.. all control…didn’t know what to do…

Somehow we managed to get a few rehearsals of the first scene, and then Ganagadhar and Devi (from AID Mumbai) came in and watched us for a while. Gangadhar’s presence made the children nervous and they didn’t want to act. At that point some of them were hungry so we decided to let them off for break - much needed for me to gather my thoughts and rethink my strategy. We waited for a while, talked to Devi. Then in an informal setting started to talk to the lead actors and made them do some mini- scenes with their own dialogue..they did it really well. Excited again, we gathered all the students ..didn’t work..too distracted..did the 1..2…clapping thing (the only think that works to keep them quiet) and getting into a circle. Tried to perform the song learned in the morning..they forgot it. The clapping wasn’t in order, they repeated every word I said..it was cute, but really not helping our purpose. Tried to get back into performance mode..lost some of my actors who wanted to play more but when I tried to replace them, they kept running back…lost control again…this time of myself. I yelled at them to get into the ‘sitting in school format’ asked them to close their eyes and reflect on what they achieved in the day and if they were happy with it. Again explained clearly the reason for this play. Gave them a lot of courage and instilled hope.. they listened quietly and paid attention. I was really happy. They got up, tried the play again…same routine.. lost control..gave up..asked Zohar and Sriya if we could call it an early day.

Driving home from this frustrating day, I felt like I was ready for our meeting with Manjul. I wanted to let out the fact that all we did over the weekend wasn’t really working. We have the confidence in US, but still don’t know how to work with the children!!! At this point I felt like it was the kids versus us.. that we couldn’t work together. There were a LOT of thoughts going through my mind, my brain swirling as I once again looked into Manjul’s eyes. I let it out..vented. Felt good, but still needed direction. The meeting went on for 3 hours. There was a lot of questioning and understanding..I was determined to not feel the sense of calm that he’s so good at transferring until I was sure of wanting to feel it. Didn’t want to admit it- Manjul was right. There was something completely wrong with the level of negativity since Monday and I didn’t see it. Instead of letting ourselves remain with the kids, we are trying to hard to get them to reach OUR expectations. Then we were getting attached to those expectations. I still have a few questions unanswered, but for the most part I know what I want to do tomorrow. Lets see how it works out.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The journey of change

Day 14- 23rd June

When I woke up I was really excited to be going back to the school today. Juhi and Zohar came to my place like yesterday and we made our concrete plan for the day. Our focus was trying to find a way to get a script from the children. We had our activities planned out, bought the required stationary on the way and went to the school. Today was a rainy day. But we were really lucky that it stopped raining when we were walking to the school as well as walking back. The path was mucky and gross as expected. The garbage seemed more visible. We decided to meet gangadhar at the office on the way to the school and give him an update that our plans for the outing were canceled and that we planned to show the kids some videos of other plays instead. We reached the school and glad to hear the now familiar “Namaste teacher” with smiling faces! The kids had been learning the Hindi alphabets and words with Gayathri teacher. They all had their notebooks out which they showed us. The kids seemed really noisy today and Gayathri teacher had to spend time shouting at them and even hit some children. We finally got them into a circle to start. We did our ‘wave’, like we had done last week with the children in the circle. It was fun. Then we sat down and asked for volunteers who would come up and act out how their facilitators (i.e. Juhi, Zohar and I) have acted in the past week. Saima and her girl gang came up and acted out a scene where they wake up in the morning and the general things that they do when we wake up. This was similar to the play that the three of us had acted out the previous week. When we further tried to make them understand and act out our ways, they observed exactly how we were sitting at that moment and Saima chose 3 girls to sit in front of the 3 of us in the same positions we were. At one point I found it really funny that when I moved my hands about, Saima came up to me and said “Didi, aap aise karoge toh kaise hoga?” (what will we do if you keep doing such things?) She actually meant that I had moved my hands and so placed them back in the exact same positions. One thing I noticed at this point is that, this girl Rukhsana, who always stayed out of activities and never wanted to reply to my questions whenever I had tried interacting with her, actually came and sat by my side and put her hand on me. We exchanged smiles. It was really sweet. This was the first time that I had seen her come up and join an activity. After this activity we told the kids it was recess and told them to come back on time as we were going to paint. During recess, most of the kids stayed back and watched. We got everything ready for the painting activity. This was to create some kind of visual art that would get them express their thoughts and feelings. We had figured that since they were already good at painting and drawing, we would use this to get them to come out with their thoughts. We made 3 groups according to ages like yesterday and they also had the same topics. The kids also had the same 3 topics that were Gender discrimination, education and cleanliness. The kids had to be motivated and we had to keep asking questions to get them to do something. When the kids were doing this I started playing some games with Asheep and another kid. They asked me to join them playing some games with their hands and we had some fun doing that for a while. After painting, we played a game using props that the kids were extremely creative with. Their imagination ran wild. The group I was sitting with had a broom for the prop and they had to basically think of different ways it could be used. They used the broom as a fan, bat, umbrella, bottle, fish, bird, car, rod, wooden stick to even an airplane. They not only just said that the broom could be all these things but could actually use noise effects and actions to show them. After that we got into a circle again and were going to re-do the plays we did yesterday but then the children wanted to play this other game related to months of the year that was completely unrelated to anything we were trying to get at. Then we just decided that since we didn’t have much time left we would just sit down with the children and start penning down the script while we spoke to them. We decided the script should start in the morning when they wake up. Almost all the children agreed that the mother woke up first, showered and then made food. The father woke up showered and then asked the mother for tea and breakfast, the father then went to work. All the children then woke up and had their showers as and when they woke up one by one. The children then did housework and then went to school. As we spoke to the kids about all this some of them were getting fidgety as these were mostly the questions we had been asking them most of last week. We told them that those who wanted to go home could leave. Many children did stay back and speak to us. Finally Sahil, his sisters and another boy stayed till the end. Sahil spoke a lot about his different experiences at home and his thoughts. I felt really amazed, shocked and worried about all the stuff he said. The tone he used to say everything matter-of-factly was more surprising than the actual events he was relating. Hearing the stuff we did from a 10 year old like him was completely heart breaking. Then we said bye and all started waking towards the car to come back home. On the way we saw that the market was really really busy. Full of vendors with spices, masalas, toys, mangoes, vegetables, clothes and many other things. Some things we had been walking past the previous few days really got to me today. The cut chickens and cows we saw on the way along with the fish. I saw some blood on the ground and was disgusted an felt pukey. The smell of the meat and fish was unbearable. Added to it today was the sudden traffic of autorikshaws and taxis….the perpetually scary goats and DOGS and the people who stared at us all through the way. The mucky dirty conditons had gotten worse. We were lucky again that it wasn’t raining. On our way in the car we discussed the day and spoke to Manjul over the phone. We have decided to meet for a long meeting tom before we go to the school. We plan to make a final script that is definitely to be subject to change and then start working on the play. The kids today had been extremely sticky with us. Many children had spoken out more than usual while some of the loud ones had become a little quiet. The children were really loving and all over us. Fighting to hold our hands and to sit closest to us. Though it gave me a feeling of being loved and I loved that the kids wanting me to be there with them it was a little overwhelming at times having so many of them on me thinking I was some kind of game. At one point today I actually had 5 children on either side of me hitting my hand as I shouted! They wanted me to carry them while they stood on my feet and actually fought a lot over who would hold my hand. The girls definitely fought more than the boys but I also noticed some boys who came up and wanted to hold my hand. We have a plan for tomorrow and a general idea. These kids do actually have a lot of things to say and even though I feel that we should have started questioning them more in the beginning to get more ideas of their lives, it is only because they have spent so much time with us that they now don’t mind telling us and are pouring their lives out to us. They definitely do not realize what we view as “problems” in their lives, as they have never seen the other side to know about them. I feel a little hesitant in planting these thoughts in their minds that what they’re being made to do is wrong. I feel like this might create a lot of changes in their houses. This change can be good in terms of them getting hit less and having to do less housework and study more or also the families could dislike that the school they’re going to is encouraging rebelling thoughts like this and could stop sending them to school. We really have to plan out what we’re doing tomorrow and how the script is going to get this message across without creating controversies. So looking forward to tomorrow and hoping for the best…