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.

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