Thursday, 29 January 2015

The project has just begun ..... for the girls

Today being the last full day of the camp, it was time to show them around the campus of Rukumini Devi College of Fine Arts. We could not take photographs of the space, as it is prohibited, but the children were taken for a tour starting from their music room, to the dance classrooms, and the visual arts section. They were also given a tour of the natural worship space of the campus which is maintained and looked after by the community in their own way. One of the most striking features of the campus which the children liked very much was the open classrooms and the colourful dresses rather than the boring uniforms they are used to in their schools. There were one or two after seeing the campus who showed interest in wanting to study at Kalakshetra Foundation.
There was also one of the girls from the Goa group who now is happy to stay on and never return to Goa, as she is so happy with the space and all the activities happening here.
The day was spent by the girls finishing their fabric prints, rehearsing their dance, making cards for all the facilitators and organisers etc. The day just went by and it was 4.30pm.

We were graced by the guru of Mrs.Priya Murali, Prof.Sudharani Raghupathy (Padmashree Awardee) who usually does not go out much anymore, but she made it all the way to be the guest of honour. Also, Ms.Priyadarshini, Director of Kalakshetra Foundation and one of India’s most famous dancers of the current generation was also present.
We also had invited all the parents of the girls from the Chennai school and the representatives of Nalamdana.

Before we started the presentation, with the help of the Nalamdana volunteer to translate, we spoke a little to the parents of the children to explain to them the purpose of the camp, why we were doing what we were doing and why we were also a little strict on discipline and behaviour. We let them ask us questions if they had any, cause we also believe that along with changing the education pattern for the children, the parents need to be educated as well in the same way.

We then started off with each group coming up to introduce themselves and also show the work they have done at the photography workshop. They all looked great with their colourful painted veils. In their own way they told their story of the camp.

We then had them present their dance, alongwith Mrs.Priya Murali, adding on a little introduction for the parents about the purpose behind the dance workshop.
The evening ended in just excited euphoric activity amongst the girls and visitors, and a big sense of achievement and freedom for them all.
Prof.Sudharani Raghupathi, also handed over a book which is the first volume of the basics of Bharatnatyam, along with a copy of her CDs of a performance and book on the same to all the children.
The parents we highly grateful at the end of the presentation, and really felt joyous about it all, with one mother asking us to take her along with us to Goa.

What came out of this evening basically was the simplicity of a community, simplicity of life coming together, simplicity in creating a joyous moment and the simplicity in sharing. 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

till you don't make a start, how will you know where to go????

“If we have come together then we need to learn from each other”
Today was the last class of the dance workshop by Ms.Priya Murli, so the girls worked on understanding the dance completely, revised their mudras and stances, and then had an interaction session of what they learnt out of the entire workshop.

Since from day one, she had been emphasising on posture, stance, body language, these were points that the girls brought out about their learning.
Miss.Preethi Ramprasad, is a student of Prof. Sudharani Raghupathy. Preethi Akka (sister) has been a great inspiration for the girls, as she has mingled with the girls, been a teacher and friend. Preethi is a committed artiste, who was born and brought up in USA but has now spent 3 years in India and is a part of Teach for America Programme. It’s her ambition to study at Harvard, and work on developing the area of arts for education.

Preethi took the morning session.  The girls enjoy her company as well since she not only teaches them but becomes one of them during the workshops. Preethi’s expressions, stance and posture encourage the girls further to better themselves.
Prior to the dance workshop in the morning, we all assembled at the terrace of the hostel to learn some natural dyeing. We had been sponsored white basic fabric from a friend for the girls to do some printing on it but since white would be too dull, we decided that it should get a little colour. 

The most easily available natural dye is haldi or turmeric. Making two dye-baths, the girls were given options of either dyeing their fabrics completely yellow or working on a resist dyeing technique. They enjoyed the process and were amazed at the results.
Post lunch we got the dyed fabric, and began painting the motifs from our paper inspirations on to the fabric. This piece of fabric will act as the angavastram which is a part of the costume for their dance. It was important then for them to know how the same shall be draped by them all for a performance because based on the way the drape would be they would have to figure out the placement of the motif before painting their fabrics.

An interesting exercise, as once again the girls had to focus on their piece of work, try to make it as precise as possible to look like a print especially because it had to now become a part of their costume.
One of things that all the girls have been eager for was a visit to the beach. Even though both groups are living in beach towns, there has been a demand for the beach for the past 3 days and we have been putting it off as it should be a trip earned. But, today, even our hearts melted to their demands. What a burst of energy and enthusiasm! But the sad part is that most of the beach stretch is so dirty and there is a lingering foul smell that almost wants you to run as far away from the ocean as possible. But the girls had a blast.
Somehow they are also feeling that the camp days are getting over so we suddenly see a greater interest to finish the work started. So post dinner all were back in the studio completing their fabrics.
There may be loads of disconnect, dissimilarity, language barriers, unfamiliarity when a camp of this sort starts off but as we start winding up its amazing how the children start slowly warming up to each other.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

question your learning and respect your learning....

“Take responsibility for the choices you make, and also accept the consequences of your actions”
This is probably what came out of today.

At the dance workshop Ms.Priya Murli continued to teach them the dance on the poem, Bharata Samodayam Valgavay, but a bigger learning today was understanding the importance of “discipline”. Somehow because everything comes easy and no one questions a growing individual regardless of caste, class or background, time, punctuality, respect and responsibility are human factors missing in most of our systems of learning.

In our age old guru-shishya (teacher-disciple) education system, there was immense respect, trust and faith in a teacher and hence a pupil always maintained discipline and respect for the teacher but we see in most young groups today these traits are dwindling, and this was brought to the notice of the group of girls softly but in a straightforward manner by Ms.Priya Murli by making the girls understand that true success only comes to disciplines people.

It was a tough morning to get through and some of them struggled with the new steps but once again it was brought to their notice that by concentration and understanding no problem is too difficult.
Post lunch, once again, we had the girls stroll into the afternoon session nearly 20 minutes late and demanded that they go to the beach as a break but since the beginning of the camp somehow we have been giving into every demand we decided that they need to earn their beach day. So we once again emphasised the need to be punctual and if we can get that from them in the next two days we would consider their request.

We started adding colour to our paper prints as this would at the next dimension to the work, also since it is a print exercise the girls had to use patience and concentration to try and make it an even pattern.  For some the pattern started emerging only when they began filling colour. But we clearly observed that many like to play it safe and are smart to find ways of cutting corners to hasten their work.
The evening photography session was working with each group and taking a look at all the photographs shot by them in the past 4 days and guiding them to finding their stories to compile forward. While Kaushik Jay was working with one group, we played trivia with the rest of the group, asking questions that we know they all should know as they were questions framed from their geography, history, biology, basic science subjects, and we were quite shocked at them not knowing some simple answers to questions like “which are the 5 metro cities of India?” “what are metals?” or “name the current president of India?”….for most basic questions their answer was we know it because we learnt it but don’t remember it for which we asked them that if they had understood why they had studied it in the first case? Some of the girls in the group are from class 9, and did not know why they study a subject like geography or history? … but somehow it not their fault, it just goes to show how rote learning has become the order of the day.

We called it a day by having a small chat to make them understand the importance of questioning what they are learning, understand why they are learning what they are learning, not to be afraid to give their opinions and always know that there are always multiple answers to life’s questions and it is not good to just follow a system blindly but learn to question and then make individual and independent choices.

Lastly, we made a time table for tomorrow to get confirmation on their seriousness about time and punctuality, and also informed them that they have to be responsible not only for themselves but for the entire group to be on time. Now we have to see if they will “respect” our request.

Monday, 26 January 2015

we call ourselves a republic?

Republic Day was celebrated across our country today. Today we are supposed to be proud Indians living in a democratic, free environment having the choice to elect our leaders and exercise our rights.
It was with this thought that the day begun with Mrs.Priya Murli starting her workshop today not to continue to just teach more mudras and steps of the dance but by introducing the importance of working and learning together, emphasising that it was even more important today being Republic Day and made each one realise that before they are Chennaites or Goans, they are all Indians, and it is the beauty of this variety that makes India so special.
She then started her class asking each one to be proud of herself, and hold her posture and mudra with confidence because good posture makes for good body language which helps in building oneself holistically.

Once the rhythm was set, she then taught started working on a small dance piece with them using a tamil patriotic peom written by Subramanya Bharati called Bharata Samoodayam Valgaway.  The poen is really simple but beautiful piece talking about the diversity of India being the beauty and pride of the country. Priya made the steps and sequence seems so effortless for the girls that they learnt the first half of the dance in no time.

Priya then spent some time giving them a little theoretical knowledge about the dance, ending the session with stretches and silent meditation, to help them understand the need for physical exercise to keep our bodies agile and healthy.
Since, we had observed that the two groups of girls were just not warming up with each other, we changed our workshop plan from print development to working on trust exercises and team-exercises to imbibe more group dynamics amongst them. 

Apart from the fun they all had it really helped in making them communicate with each other to complete a task and work further and find solutions.
We then once again put them with their partners and worked on an outdoor sculpting exercise where they pairs had to collect materials from the surroundings and build an structure together.

It was challenging for many who had not worked together before but once again since the task compelled them to work together they found a way. Many of them were very proud of their creation once done.
We ended the day with an interaction with two friends of Tara Trust from Chennai, Anjali Krishnan and Karpagam Maya coming to participate in the activities and then interacting with the girls but telling them their stories of growing up as girls and finding a path to fulfil their dreams and professional ambition. 

Anjali Krishnan, advertising and styling professional actually got to explain her work first hand, as Kaushik Jay brought along a model to teach subject based photography. Anjali took a short session of how space, lighting is chosen and how one helps a model to fit into a particular mood etc with Kaushik guiding them to work on a subject and see it from all angles. Of course, the most interesting part for most of the girls was to meet a model.

The day was really good and all of us facilitators could start seeing some more interaction and communication between the girls, and all of it was lost in no time because there were families of 4 of the girls from Chennai who came to visit them. These girls have been let out of their homes for the first time, so the anxiety of the parents in understandable but somehow they are so protective that they are coming to check on them every day and it just breaks the momentum built in the group. We have, our partner organisation Nalamdana has and so has the principal of the Chennai school explained to the parents the importance of letting them be alone for the camp days but they don’t want to respect the rules at all. It is quite upsetting because somehow all what one works for is washed off in a moment but we don’t give up but also realise through these experiences that it is not the children but the parents need education. This is a story prevalent in every part of India … and we call ourselves a “REPUBLIC”

A rhythm in the chaos

Today the girls got introduced to the classical dance form of Tamil Nadu – Bharatnatyam. Having come to Chennai, for an art camp and living at Kalakshetra Foundation only meant that the girls get a taste of this dance form.

Mrs.Priya Murli, with nearly 43 years of experience in this dance form, who now works in the arts and education sector, has obliged us with her time for the next 5 days, where she is going to try and introduce them to the dance but also help them connect it with their daily life and skills.
The discipline that dance brings into an individual’s life is immence. It helps with concentration and building self-confidence. The stance, the movement help in building better posture and presentation of one’s self.  These are traditional forms of education that helped a person not only to grow but also discover life in a more interesting manner, which is somehow lost in our formal education system. That is why even though we are trying to work with these children it is a challenge to make them understand the opportunity of growth that they have through this experience because the schools and our society have inbred into them that only high marks and rote learning can help them succeed in life. It does not matter if you don’t have people skills and social skills.

The 2 hour dance workshop helped in trying to open the girls to the idea of understanding themselves through a fun exercise. Mrs.Priya Murli was truly amazing, making such a difficult art form seem so simple, easy and understandable to all. For the first class where not one of the girls have had any formal training in dance, she appreciated their interest and dedication.  It will be wonderful how this workshop develops.
The excitement of the dance workshop lasted through lunch and post lunch session; where instead of relaxing most of them were trying to practise in their groups.
But, the “groups” became a concern, because somehow the two circles have not been mingling much, any free time, any break, they just go back to each other even though they have been paired. We are not able to figure out why? And we have not been imposing them to work with their partners but this afternoon we had to remind them again about the purpose of this entire camp.
Somehow, we suddenly seemed like running a scout camp making the rules very clear but then sometimes discipline has to be imposed and forced. A lot many faces were not happy about it but life is always not fun and games.

The post lunch session was to bring out the deeper inspiration of the character sketches they girls had made the day before of their partners to be able to find a motif and pattern from it. The purpose was to get them to relate nature to creation, be able to find the simplicity in the all the objects around them through basic shapes they learn in geometry and then to bring out a pattern from their own sketches.  It was an exercise to help them find answers within themselves rather than always seek it outside, and find connection in every story, and relate it to the rhythm and patterns they learnt in their dance, to understand simplicity.
We ended the day once again with a photography session with Kaushik Jay, who reviewed the pictures taken by them through the day helping them move forward towards their picture story.

Once again helping them find a relation and correlation in the pictures clicked, find the method in the madness, the rhythm in the chaos.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

A Capturing Day ...

We were welcomed by brilliant weather this morning. Usually it is said that Chennai’s climate is Hot, Hotter, Hottest, but today was a pleasant cool morning with a bit of thunder showers that started our day fresh and energetic.
Having the entire campus to ourselves, we took the opportunity to work on our pathway exercises outdoors in the sand and shade of the trees all around us. The pathways is mainly an activity to get the children moving and also start perceiving and working with each other in a space without having to ask for space or feel insecure about their space. It is also a great way of accepting everyone around oneself and also the space you are in. We added a little bit more of a challenge taking the wet sand after the rain, to try and mark our pathways and also count our steps to really understand each one’s way. As usual, it does no matter what age, sand is a playful material for everyone.

While being holed up in a little room waiting for the rain to subside, the girls worked on a few more rhythm exercises, trying to make as many sounds as possible using their limbs and sounds. It was challenging as none of them have been ever exposed to thinking of such sort. They were shy initially to do more than clapping, but over time they started innovating on the sounds.
After about 2 hours of warm up, we settled down to knowing more about each other. Everyone was divided into pairs and given the task of drawing portraits of each other and also finding out each other’s stories to exchange with the rest of the group. Some very interesting faces were perceived through the exercise.

Post lunch we went deeper into the subject of getting to know each other by making them now look at one distinctive feature of their partner and draw that feature in more detail. Once again many were just not happy but the idea that we were trying to work on was that usually if we leave our perception to our eyes only we do not get to understanding a subject better.  We also asked them this time to try and find out a little bit about each other’s cities and towns, so once again a little more information can be exchanged of where they come from.

The stories and information we got from all was amazing, from fish curry rice of Goa to Marina beach of Chennai.
The evening session had Kaushik Jay, come in to introduce them to photography. Initially the group was shy, as suddenly after an entire day and a half of being amongst girls and ladies, a male member amongst their midst saw them close down. So when he started the workshop by asking how many like photography there were only 6 hands, but once he began showing them a few photos to give them a little bit what photography is about, and suddenly every hand was up after looking at pictures he showed them.

We just had time to introduce the girls to the basics of a camera. Divided into 5 groups, each of them have a different make and style of camera but there was a lot of excitement in them all.
The evening ended with all of us watching a brilliant production by the students of a local dance school – Chettinad Shree Hari Vidyalayam. It was a two and a half our production but each of the girls sat mesmerised and amazed at the production, the quality of dance and mainly because it was completely performed by children of similar age group.

Today was a day that captured them all, through their portraits, through their cameras and then by the dance performance.

Friday, 23 January 2015

A welcome change....

The Vasco-Chennai Express reached Chennai Central station bringing along 7 curious and shy faces into probably the most crowded city any of these young girls have ever been too. When asked how the train journey was, they said “very nice, except the last hour when we had to bear the stink of the city”. We really did not have an answer to that but only reassured them that they will soon be back in a green paradise that they are used to.
Bundled up in 2 large cars which was graciously sent to us by a friend and long-time supporter, Chennai city welcomed these curious eyes with excitement now, as they rode down the Marina Beach promenade that shows off its opulent statues and arches on one side, and all the colonial building of the University and Government buildings on the other.
Landing in Kalakshetra, leaving the traffic, noise and crowd behind, and entering a place which will make any loud, aggressive person to become silent and peaceful, they once again started feeling at home. Still a little curious as to what’s in store for them but glad to be in a quiet and clean environment.
After settling them in their rooms, we waited for the girls from Chennai who were going to join them at the camp. They arrived in a bus, 10 of them accompanied by their anxious and protective parents along. Here the story was different – the parents of these girls have never ever let them out of their sight, and to let them go away for seven days! Even though the girls are in the same city and actually not far away from their homes and schools, they still did not seem convinced about leaving their daughters behind. We assured them that they will be fine and it is also learning for them towards making their girls independent human beings. After being promised that they could come and visit the girls once in these 7 days, they felt better, said their good-byes and left.
It was tea time and so both the groups met at the common mess of the institute but obviously in the chaos amongst the other students of Kalakshetra they formed two distinct groups of Goa and Chennai. We let them be only informing both groups that they will not be so for long.

Being the first day, we just worked on some group and rhythm exercises, with a fun name game, as we realised the first comfort factor to be formed within the group has to be familiar with all by their names. We made it challenging by adding movement and co-ordination as a part of them to get to know each other.
Every Friday, the student fraternity of Kalakshetra has a bhajan (Indian devotional songs) evening, which we were all invited to. A first time again for all the girls, they sat with curious faces looking at all the future artists of our country all gracefully dressed for the session. After the session, we were all formally welcomed by the community and served dinner in the traditional way by being served by the students.

In the days to follow, apart from all the creative activity in store, we are looking forward to the two circles merging into one, and then not wanting to let go by the time we have to go back to our daily lives. But, for sure for both the groups today was a “welcome” change!