Segregation to Inclusion: The Way Forward

We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion Max de Pree Society, of late has divided itself into various communities. One such community is what the layman calls the community of the specially-abled which is often subjected to segregation rather than inclusion in mainstream society. However, every individual in this world is differently abled than the other; hence the idea of distinction holds no value whatsoever. But the stereotypes and myths garnered by the society over a period of time has actually lead to an attitudinal problem in the minds of the people. Two of the most important sectors to focus in this regard are early development including parenting and schooling; and employment opportunities. The Transcendent Knowledge Society (TKS)  presided over by Amrita Roy Chowdhury has been working relentlessly in trying to do away with the imaginary barrier created between the ‘normal’ and the ‘specially-abled’ through their work which includes running an integrated school, parental counselling and support groups, vocational workshops and regular awareness seminars and conferences.

 

On the 12th of August TKS along with the support of the Lions Club of Calcutta Roshni ,Julian Day New mission, Down Syndrome Federation of India (DSFI), Keystone Institute India and National Trust organised a seminar on Segregation to Inclusion. It was an interactive discussion on the Rights and spheres of included life for people with disabilities. The seminar opened a platform for a plethora of discussions regarding the specially-abled individuals which included topics on parenting, inclusion in family, integrated schools, and discrimination in schools during admission as well as employment. It saw an array of eminent speakers including Dr Monidipa Banerjee Senior  Consultant Paediatrician; Dr Rekha Ramachandran, Chairperson, DSFI;  Mr Aditya Tiwari, youngest single-father in India ;  Betsy Neuville, Director of The Keystone Institute; and a discussion by self-advocates, Priya , Diya, Pritha and Saptarsha.

The worth of acceptance. . . .

Dr Banerjee started her speech by drawing an analogy between landing in Holland on an Italy—bound flight to having been blessed with a child with special needs. Just as a new destination becomes acceptable and enjoyable after the first few unsettling days; similarly parenting children with special needs becomes equally desirable and fun after the first few days. However, the essence of such parenting lies in acceptance of the situation and letting go of the expectations. Parenting is not a rat race to compete in creating customized children to its perfection. It is instead a journey, one which needs to be enjoyed in every stage and cherished forever. No statement, comment or saying is ever more than the smile on the face of a child.

The value of health. . . . .

Dr Ramachandran focused on few relevant facts which have so found a home in the attitude of certain parents that it restricts their liberal thinking and jeopardizes the scope of giving their children a chance to pursue their alternate paths. It is often the fear of societal pressure that ends up being more prominent than better parenting. In fact, through word of mouth and nowadays the internet, parents gather excessive knowledge which at times can be dangerous. Moreover, teachers and students in school have a number of inhibitions regarding those needing special care. That is primarily because they are not trained or aware enough to handle the situation. This is a lack on the part of schools in giving training to their staff for creating an integrated learning platform. She also touched upon the ‘attitudinal issue’ often displayed by schools who are on the lookout for ‘high level functional performers ‘ to carry their legacy forward. Dr Ramachandran pointed out a very important factor which is almost forgotten and that is the accompanying health issues that the children face. They need to be regularly monitored health wise so that they may lead a better life.

Focussing on employments she stressed on how in Kerala more than three thousand children are made to work in the temples and how in Jaipur most of the Dholak boys are individuals who need special care. But they have made a mark for themselves through their talents and vocations. She rounded up by focussing on support groups for not only parents but also siblings so that problems can be openly discussed and solutions found to deal with certain situations.

Breaking barriers. . . . . .

Aditya Tiwari has become a role model in contemporary India having been courageous enough to fight for the adoption of a child with Down syndrome and compelling the Court to amend its adoption laws. His journey with his son was inspiring for every individual present in the conference. At the end of his speech, his valour and courage was given a standing ovation by the audience.

Meaning of inclusion. . . . .

Betsy Neuville focused on the idea of Inclusion. According to her, ‘This is not a campaign, not a scheme, but a vision.’ This vision cannot be achieved overnight but would definitely be achieved overtime through openly talking about it and accepting it. She spoke about the Stages of Inclusion and discussed the importance of role model or imitation. Children often pick up behavioural patterns from their models and elders. She stressed on the idea of RE-SPECT. One should not only respect them but also re-spect themselves to change their perceptions about the society to make it more inclusive. Betsy too ideated on the need to create social groups as well as taking a risk with the children. The essence of her speech would be to not jump to the conclusion that special children need special assistance; rather to rethink it as special children need a typical environment with a little modification.

My dreams, my aspirations. . . . . . .

One of the great moments for the children and young adults was to be appreciated for their service in the canteen and providing refreshments at the conference through their first entrepreneurial venture Sip and Bite. They were handed out their first pay-cheque at the conference in the presence of all the dignitaries. This boosted their morals and gave them encouragement. They also got their second order from the Lions Club of Calcutta Roshni. If you want to hire their services for your functions or events please drop a mail at chaitali.gami@yahoo.in

Few other self-advocates shared their dreams with the audience. Priya is an assistant teacher and wants to join as a dance teacher later on. Diya wants to pursue Hotel Management as her career. Saptarshi has found his knack in baking and is one of the members of Sip and Bite. Pritha loves to work and opined for being given more work to showcase their abilities.

My biggest takeaway from this conference was meeting some wonderful people. Two things which would always be with me was the fact that the children are not special. The parents are. They were chosen to take care of some of the most beautiful souls in this world. Further, there is a need to change the I and the Eye. Changing the I would mean to change one’s mind set and attitude and changing the eye refers to changing their perception.  I wold personally sum up my feelings through this quote by Theodore Melfi which says, ‘You have a responsibility to make inclusion a daily thought, so we can get rid of the word ‘inclusion.’

Korean Storyteller Spreads Love in City of Joy

Storytelling is very special for me. Having grown up listening to stories by my grandmother, I instantly felt connected to Seung Ah Kim who established Arirang Storytelling in the memory of her grandmother. Seung is on a very special mission- to spread the Korean Culture throughout the world through Korean traditional stories.

She is the first Korean Storyteller to have been bestowed with The Parent- Child Mother Goose Certification. Having visited places like Italy, Greece, Malaysia, USA; she is currently in Kolkata, as part of her K- Culture Storytelling tour. She has been conducting various storytelling sessions and I was privileged to attend her session ‘Stories and Fingerplays from Old Korea’ at The Orange Door. She is being hosted by Priyanka Chatterjee of Wild Strawberry. Priyanka Di, whom I know personally for quite some time is a storyteller of international repute having delivered sessions in not only Kolkata and India but also in places like South Africa and Malaysia. I am thankful to her for giving me this opportunity to conduct Seung’s interview.

Here are the excerpts. . . . .

  1. How did storytelling come to you? Why did you want to become a storyteller?

It’s Destiny! In 2007, I went to Toronto to study TYC course called Teaching Young Children because I was an English teacher and my interest was always in doing research about storytelling. One day I found that there is a storytelling festival. It was the last day and the last programme. I got the ticket and I attended the show. I cried throughout the programme and I decided to become a storyteller because I thought it is very needed for adults. Since I became an adult nobody told me stories, but I thought maybe adults need to be loved and to be talked. That’s it. This is for adults! So I started as a storyteller for adults.

  1. How important do you think is storytelling for a child?

For a child, we observe so many things, by listening to stories. For example, when I was a child, I read a lot of books and my grandmother told me a lot of stories from all over the world. That’s the way I can travel to each country. So I learned a lot from the stories. But you know a child cannot go anywhere without their parents. But through stories they can go anywhere. So, that’s why for children it is very important to explore the world and also explore some experiences which they cannot do it by themselves.

  1. Tell us something about your K-Culture Storytelling Tour.

I learned a lot from telling stories to people. This is one of the popular ways to introduce Korean culture. Also for myself I learned a lot from my culture. It gives me confidence, identity and empowerment. Once you know about your culture, then you can feel proud of your culture and also of yourself. So, that’s why I realized that this is the thing I can share with the people in the world. Nowadays because of K -Club and K- Drama people would like to learn more about Korean Culture, especially traditional culture. That’s why, I thought, if I establish K -storytelling centre in Seoul, it would be nice for everybody who wants to learn more about Korean Culture. That was kind of my dream and how I can make my dream come true. So that’s why I started to think if I tell stories, Korean stories to one million people. If they donate one dollar each, then I get one million dollars. So I can donate the money to establish K-storytelling centre. Then I made a one year plan that I would travel all around the world to show Korean culture and stories.

  1. What made you come up with the idea of storytelling as a platform for parent and child bonding?

One of the reasons I established my company Arirang Storytelling is in the memory of my grandmother.  As a child I couldn’t communicate with my mother, because my mother was so busy. She had to take care of her husband, who is a businessman and also she had to take care of three children and her mother-in-law, who was my grandmother. I missed so many things with my mother but luckily I had my grandmother. So my grandmother told me a lot of stories. Since she passed away I realized that it’s a great heritage for me to keep. But if I keep it to myself, I am not a good person. So, I decided to share it with more people. Just imagine if you are a millionaire and if you just want to keep the money only by yourself, it’s not fair. So it’s time for me to share my heritage, my treasure with the people.

Stills from the Session at The Orange Door
  1. Please share some memorable experiences that you had on your tour.

Oh yes, already I had so many memories especially in America. I met my Facebook friends face to face. They were so happy to see me and then I didn’t have any chance to tell Korean folktale to them. But just seeing me in Korean traditional costume they were so happy. So I find it a good way to share my culture wearing Korean traditional costume.  I thought wearing Korean traditional costume and telling Korean stories is the way I can make people happier.

Then in Taiwan, I participated in a show with my Taiwanese storyteller friend and a little girl came to me and talked to me in Mandarin. I couldn’t understand what she said. Then her mother translated.  The girl had said , “When are you coming back?”. I was so touched.

Another girl, she gave me a box of sweets. The last day I had to pack to go back to Korea. We realised that the box is too big. The wife of my storyteller friend in Taiwan, she said “Okay let’s take out the sweets, outside of the box and then you can just keep it inside your bag. So let’s throw away the box. “This happened in the airport. The people in the airport said that your bag is too heavy so we started to sort things out again. And then suddenly she came back and said, “Seung Ah look at this”. She, you know, tore off the box and then there was a picture done by the girl. She drew me. You know it was very touching. Then I realized that even though children look as if they don’t pay any attention but they remember everything. So it’s a great moment.

  1. Who is your favourite storyteller?

My grandmother. Also, nature. Nature tells me a lot of stories. It gives me a lot of inspiration.

  1. What advice would you give to budding storytellers?

I think if you follow your heart, you can be a good storyteller. I mean, I realised it is very difficult for us to follow our hearts because we think too much. So, that’s the simple rule for me to follow. So sometimes people you know cannot understand what you are doing. But if you truly follow your heart maybe among them even if one person is touched by your story, touched by your love, then that is enough.

Seung Ah will be performing on the 5th of August at Gyan Manch, Kolkata from 10 – 11 am and 11:30 – 12:30 pm. If you want to catch her in action, then do get in touch with Priyanka Chatterjee to get your tickets as soon as possible.

Getting Candid with Vaijayantee Bhattacharya

Last Sunday (23rd July), I was lucky enough to have been invited to the press meet and book launch of Mosaic Vision , a beautiful anthology of poems written by Vaijayantee Bhattacharya, at the Oxford Bookstore Kolkata. Vaijayantee is a Poet, Editor and Journalist by profession.  A true Calcuttan by heart, she has been living away from the City of Joy for the last fourteen years- in Delhi and in Bahrain. Thus, it was a magical moment for her to be able to launch her maiden book in the city she grew up in and is so attached to, amidst well known dignitaries and friends and family.

The Press Meet was organised by PR Sufia Khatoon wherein almost twenty media houses came in to interact with Vaijayantee. Her book was launched , following the press meet by chief Guest Shri Jawhar Sircar. This was proceeded by a panel discussion by Dr Sanjukta Dasgupta (Professor, Department of English, University of Calcutta), Mr Shahenshah Mirza (descendant of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah), Ms Saira Shah Halim (Educator, Activist and poet) , Ms Saheli Mitra (Journalist, Author, Poet, columnist) and Vaijayantee herself. The topic for the evening was ‘ Is poetry a reflection of emotions recollected in tranquillity or disturbance? What is its relevance in today’s morbid world of prosaic reality? ‘

I am humbled that Vaijayantee gave me some time from her busy schedule to answer my questions. She answered an array of questions posed by me . Here are the excerpts.

Tell us something about the first ever poem that you had written.

The first ever poem that I had written was in a train to Chennai when I was probably 8 or 9 years old. I was quite taken by the scenic beauty of world outside. That’s when I composed a poem out of the sheer delight of visualising something so beautiful.

How does a poem begin for you- an idea, a form or an image?

 It is either of these and sometimes it can even be a sound, a sight, a news byte or a piece of music. For me, poetry or writing is triggered by anything that emotionally moves me.

 Do you have a particular time when you sit down to write your poems or do they come to you spontaneously?

They mostly come to me spontaneously unless of course there is a subject that I have been invited to write on like a few other anthologies in Bahrain with a specific theme.

 Do you think at times people find it difficult to connect with poems as it has several layers of meaning to it ?

Poetry unlike prose usually is succinct and precise and to attain this precision it often rides on cryptic phrases or imagery like metaphors, alliteration and so on. While poetry is not written in any coded language that a reader needs to decode or crack, sometimes people do find it difficult to appreciate a poem in its entirety not knowing it’s significance.

Vaijayantee reading a few lines from Mosaic visions
Photo: Abhizit Dutta

What does’ being creative ‘ mean to you?

‘Being creative’ to me means being able to create something new and aesthetically pleasing. The new thing created could be a poem, a write up, a painting, a handicraft, a song, or anything that aesthetically pleases the soul.

Has the publication of your first book and its reception affected your writing style?

No, not really. I remain quintessentially the soul that I have always been, changing, growing and evolving only in response to time. My first publication is a matter of great joy to me but I can’t say it has or can change my writing in any way.

Which, out of the two , do you think is a better medium of reaching out to your audience- through the screen or through paper?

I am essentially a scribe or a writer and poet. If by screen you mean the electronic media, then certainly that’s not going to be my platform aptly. But by screen if you mean the Kindle or the online media then I would say my writings/poems could be savoured well on both media, depending on the comfort level of the reader with his preferred medium of reading.

How do you measure your success as a poet?

Success of a poet to me is not in the number of poem he writes or the number of books he publishes. If at the end of the day, even a single poem of his can emotionally touch a reader’s soul and can resonate similar feelings and sentiments that is where the poet’s success lies. In this context may I mention the great Nobel Laureate and poet Rabindranath Tagore. His poems and songs are the source of succour or sustenance of innumerable people who remember his immortal words of creation in some song or poem at every possible state of emotional upsurge.

If you could communicate with one dead poet, who would it be ; why and what would you tell him/her?

If I could communicate with just one poet, it would perhaps be William Wordsworth and I would tell him that like him I derive absolute joy, love and peace from Nature.

A message you would like to give to your readers . . . .

If you want to savour the taste of different facets of life, through small and big incidents, experiences and observations of a perceptive soul through poetry, then Mosaic Vision is perhaps the book you should pick up. I can’t promise you great moral or material upliftment through my poetry but I can assure you of a more inclusive perspective where you savour the delight of living, loving, longing and appreciating the different nuances of through our daily existence.

Mosiac Vision is not only a book of poems but also a collection of thoughts spanning over eight years . With varied subjects, experiences and emotions intertwined in a few pages, it is bound to bring the reader closer to the poet and also reflect on her take of the world. A review of the book would be published shortly. You can purchase it from your nearest bookstores soon or order a paperback or kindle version through Amazon. Keep Reading !

 

Books, Monsoon and Chai: The Booklovers Gathering

Books, Monsoon and Chai was a unique concept devised by Pradipta Mandal and Aniesha Brahma to get together all book lovers under the same roof. Held at The Chaiwala on the 2nd of July, this event was truly special for me. A small gathering of a few bookworms and a healthy discussion regarding their favourite books was an enchanting way to start the event.

After a brief introduction Aniesha Di, reiterated her love for the young adult genre. In fact, she even pointed out the reference many of them have to fairy tales. For me, fairy tales have been a part of my childhood like any other,  however, I had never given much thought to them after reading them once or twice. The idea of stirring a plot with reference to the fairy tales for the youth has already gained my attention.

Having worked in the field of art education , books on child psychology interests Pradipta Di to a great extent. I believe that child psychology books are of immense help to not only children but also to their parents. Books are a reflection of life and they show us how to deal with certain situations better. She spoke about John Holt, an author she enjoys reading.

Moments from Books, Monsoon and Chai

Subhro Da, gave me many new insights to the world of children’s books and their relevance in contemporary times. He spoke about his interest in the words of Roald Dahl and Sukumar Ray– both evergreen authors of their own time. He quoted from The BFG. – a quote so childishly written and yet so powerful in its versus that it connects with the fate of human beings in contemporary times. With Sukumar Ray, the world of gibberish has been fascinating to the young and the old. It has drawn readers to itself with nonsense-syllables only to emerge them completely into the pages of great classics like Abol Tabol.

Madhubanti Di , escalated the conversation from the different genres and our favourite books; to the emotional and imaginary level. She pointed out how they (the books) have always remained our constant companion in each of our moods. There is always a book to read when we are happy, sad, anxious, angry, disturbed and the like. These books have the strength to calm us down, a strength missing in the real world at that moment. She continued how books are a doorway to understand, relate and form different perspectives and interpretations of the common and uncommon situations. In fact, Madhubanti Di focussed on the fact that while reading a book, we often tend to consciously or unconsciously become a character in it. This is something that I personally believe in. After reading a lot of books throughout the years, I still contemplate at times, how I became the rejected Karna in the Mahabharat ; Mukesh from The Mother I Never Knew (Sudha Murthy) who journeyed to far lands in search of his mother; or Seema from The Teak Almirah (Jael Siliman) who saw the world change around her , a community disintegrate around her and yet held the fort refusing to part with the city she was born and brought up in , waiting only for a lost love.

Pradipta Di and Aniesha Di

The conversation then took an interesting turn with two varied but much debated topic. Everyone was more or less agreeing to the fact that the new authors in the horizon must be given a chance for their creative talent. In fact, it is always good to be updated with the current authors, for their writings are fast- paced, thrilling, action- oriented, bordering more on fantasy than real life; but definitely worth a read. Another interesting topic of discussion was how books were made into movies; and whether one prefers to read the book first and watch the movie later or vice –versa.

Paroma Di , discussed how Pride and Prejudice formed an inevitable part of her life . This timeless classic has always been her constant companion when it came to packing her travel bags. Having read and re-read the novel so many times, it has definitely left a profound impact on her. The second novel which had touched her and many other readers was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Personally, it is one of those books which I can never forget myself.

During my turn, I spoke about the fact that I preferred to enter into the field of world literature and hence have recently taken a liking towards translations. Having read the entire treasure trove of Bengali literature in translations, I had shifted the territory to Indonesia and Kabul for the moment. Though there are many who do not prefer to read translations but in the original language the book was written; it is not realistically achievable as one cannot know all the languages of the world. Hence, reading the translations would at least provide a gist of the story and I firmly believe that reading the gist would also help to understand the crux of a beautiful novel; rather than missing it out completely.

My biggest takeaway from the event was meeting like- minded people. Often there are many who love to read books but cannot write about their impressions of the book or articulate the impact the book left on them. But this discussion was definitely a high for me where everyone came together to share their love for literature. In fact, Subhro Da also informed me about the short stories by Edgar Karat and Peter Bexel from Germany, books that I have already added to my wish list.

I would like to thank Aniesha Di and Pradipta Di for arranging such an event and inviting me as well. It was a fruitful discussion and gave a platform for book lovers to gather around and interact with each other. I am certain that such events would continue and people would take part in it, in large numbers.

Another event for the bookworms is being planned on the 13th of August. If you love books, and want to be associated with this event or just join in for some fun , do come for the event (details will follow soon) and you know whom to contact as well!

P.S Cover Image Courtesy: Books, Monsoon and Chai

 

#NotInMyName Enlightens City of Joy

Not in My Name’ is a phrase which has a powerful meaning to it. It is defined solely by the different interpretations that people give it through their perspectives. 28th June, 2017 saw the gathering of about thousands of people from all walks of life at Madhusudhan Mancha, Dakshinapan, Kolkata for the solitary purpose of supporting #NotInMyName. One of the primary Human Rights that we usually boast of, is the Right to Live. Theoretically, at no cost can that be taken away from anyone in the world. But the reality is far from the written principles where day after day, we read in newspapers and watch in television channels that another life has been put to an end.

I would define #NotInMyName as  an artistic gathering of people and standing in solidarity for a social cause. The evening progressed with an amalgamation of performances including- poetry, songs and speeches. It witnessed the presence of social activists, well- known celebrities like Aparna Sen and Dhritiman Banerjee; and the local people.

The crowd was a very enthusiastic one consisting of the young and the old; known media professionals from channels like NDTV, Times Now, ABP Ananda and others; many entrepreneurs and school and college going students. Such was their enthusiasm that even the monsoon showers could not dampen their spirits. What caught my eyes the most was when the Namaaz was read beside the slogans of #NotInMyName.

‘Not In My Name’ as said earlier can be perceived in various ways. It can be seen as a person being aloof to the current situations; someone who does not want anything good or bad to happen in his or her name. On the other hand, it can also mean that what is happening in the name of society, which consists us, is actually happening in our name and it is time to stop that- by standing shoulder to shoulder against the heinous atrocities.

India is an ancient country with its principles and community life aging back to years best spelt out by historians. However, it has from the very beginning shown co-existence among people of all race, culture, caste, creed, sex and religion. Thus, now is definitely not the time to undo the rich heritage of the country. In fact, if people do witness it being undone, it is time to come together and rebuild it on stronger lines so that no one can ever breach it in future. Thus #NotInMyName is not only a slogan but also immense power given to each one of us to support what is right and raise our voice against the wrong. In the words of  Andrei Sakharo, “Our country, like every modern state, needs profound democratic reforms. It needs political and ideological pluralism. . . and protection of human rights and the opening up of society.”

I would love to know what it means to you and what it stands for you. Do leave a comment so that through dialogue and debate we can take it further and not restrict it to just another evening gathering.

Lastly, I would leave you with some photographs from the gathering.

 

Bohipeer: A Theatre Review

Synopsis: Bohipeer, brought to you by DRAMMAR depicts the story of five individuals who crosses path after a cyclone in a Zamindar’s Bajra. The Zamindar (land lord) who was travelling with his wife and son comes across the boat of a Bohipeer ( a religious Godman) and rescues him and his servant by giving them room on his Bajra. Unknown to them, in the same bajra travels a young maiden who was forcibly given to the Peer in marriage but showing remarkable strength and determination she ran away from an unhappy and unwanted life right before her wedding. She too was rescued and given shelter by the landlord’s family.

Having read the synopsis it can strike you that the main character would either by the Bohipeer who with his faithful servant was out searching for his to-be wife or the young maiden herself; but looking closely you would find that every character had soul, strength and a different personality of their own. A recurring line during the start of the play by the Bohipeer ‘Karor Monai Shanti Nei. ‘(There is peace in no one’s heart) is indeed true.

Bohipeer reveling his sly plan to Hokikullah.
© 2016 Dramar

Be it the strong- willed and determined Peer who plans and plots to convince his to-be wife to return to him; or the generous landlord who has lost his nights sleep because his lands would be auctioned in no time, a fact that he has hidden from his family for days. Be it the land- lady who has started developing concern for the young maiden but knowing that she was to be the wife of the peer, is scared for inviting the curse of the peer to her or her family; or the young maiden who is a symbol of revolt to the society and wants to live in peace without having to go back or being chased by the Peer anymore. The young son of the land lord too is at unrest. His heart bleeds for the young lady they have given shelter to. But knowing the limits of the society and his mother’s views hesitates in accepting his blossoming attraction for her. In true sense of the term, each one is experiencing unrest in their heart, similar to the cyclone that just went by. As the story unfolds scene after scene, one witnesses the complex reactions of each of the characters and how they write their own fates.

Tahera, the young misunderstood protagonist, played by Biyas Saha.
© 2016 Dramar

What is commendable about the script is the boldness of each of the characters who retains their morality and yet goes against the norms of the society. It talks about women empowerment at a time when women were considered to live only within the precincts of the four walls of her house. At such a time, it talks of a young seventeen- year- old who runs away from her marriage because she has a voice and an opinion of her own. If you carefully look at the story line it also depicts how men come forward and genuinely help women in their times of crisis. A striking contrast is also seen in the character of the land lady who holds on to her old-fashioned beliefs of superstitions instead of trying to think in a futuristic manner.

Bohipeer, is thus a play which reflects tremendous social consciousness and is relevant in contemporary times. All the characters are  quite realistic in nature. The situations highlighted through the play are modern day situations too. It would be wrong to think that such cases are only prevalent in rural areas but also in contemporary urban society. Hence, such plays should be staged more often as performing arts have always been a platform to showcase , protest and suggest regarding the matters of the society and its unrealistic dogmas imposed on the people.

Cast: Sukumar Chakraborty, Krishn Sanyal, Raju Sardar, Biswajit Chakraborty, Biyas Saha, Niharendru Bannerjee

Playwright: Syed Waliullah

Director: Sukumar Chakraborty

Production: DRAMMAR

Make-up: Biswajit Saha , Set: Madan Halder, Set Design: Sunil Mitra

Music: Upamanyu Das, Lights: Tapan Bhattacharya

KobiGuru Rabindranath Ke Kolkata Storytellers er Pronaam

Dariye Acho Tumi Amar Gaaner O Paare (You are standing beyond my songs) Rabindranath Tagore is just not remembered as a poet, artist and writer; but as an icon of West Bengal . Today, as we celebrate his 156th Birth Anniversary on the 9th of May (or 25 -e- Baisakh in the Bengali Calendar); we are truly standing on the other side of his works which has elicited curiosity, interest and respect from people across boundaries and generations. Thus, to share his stories and ideals with the children, Kolkata Storytellers came up with the concept of ‘Stories by Rabindranath Tagore’ hosted by Wild Strawberry. A one and a half hour long program held at Starmark, Quest Mall, dealt with selected works of the KobiGuru. The idea of trying to enact his poems as well, in the form of a story brought in freshness to this tribute to the great bard.

Kolkata Storytellers saw its inception in March 2017. It is represented by Priyanka Chatterjee, Arpita Nag and Kavita Gupta. ‘Stories by Rabindranath Tagore’ was attended by around thirty enthusiastic children along with their parents. It started with the National Anthem of the country. I could personally have not felt more proud when I saw the entire busy and bustling store stand up and sing the National Anthem. The store keepers, watchman, cashiers and of course those browsing through books on a Tuesday evening, stood up still and paid homage to the Bard and the Nation together.

Priyanka Chatterjee

The session started with a brief enactment of the ‘Feriwala’ by Priyanka Chatterjee. This piece of work sums up the simple childhood desires, how one can easily get influenced by a person or the person’s lifestyle and how rapidly do these aspirations change and jump from a Feriwala to a Gardener to a night guard.  The second story was titled ‘ Icchapuran’ which narrated the strange soul exchange between a father and a son. This story teaches us the important lesson of contentment; that we should be content with whatever we have and however we have been made is a moral that we cannot forget. The third item was presented by Kavita Gupta. She enacted a story about a parrot and how every brilliant mind tried their hands at teaching and educating it.

Arpita Nag narrating Birpurush

The fourth story was the famous ‘ Juta -Abishkar’ (The invention of Shoes) by Arpita Nag. This has been adapted and translated in English from the poem of the same name. It talked of a time when the world was without shoes and how it ultimately came into existence. This was followed by the ‘Talkative Turtle’ and the story of ‘Abdul Majhi’ who had the unique talent of spinning unreal stories. The last story of the evening was an enactment of the poem ‘Birpurush’. It depicted the story of a happy-go-lucky imaginative boy who loved to take his mother on his travels with him and have lots of adventures on his journeys. It was narrated by Arpita Di with special appearance made by Priyanka Di and Kavita Di ; and of course one cannot forget the little palki bearers from the audience. Stealing a moment after her performance Arpita Di commented, ” My idea behind translating these poems was to expose our child audience to Tagore’s works in simple language. Also since a sizeable chunk of our audience are non Bengalis… we took this opportunity to acquaint them with Tagore’s work.. Hence the choice of  (English) language. “

Kavita Gupta

It is interesting to notice that in this digital age when most children are exposed to the wonders of the computer, mobile phones, ipods, kindles etc; there are still many who took immense interest in storytelling. This shows that this ancient art is here to stay no matter how advanced technology becomes. In fact, that these young children came to listen to stories by Rabindranath Tagore also signifies that his works will be carried on ahead generation after generation and would never die. I must say that Kolkata Storytellers have put up a commendable performance knowing that it is probably difficult to select stories and poems from Rabindranath Tagore’s vast collection for children of such young ages. They also tried to involve the children themselves in each and every story so that they could better connect with the story and take back something from the session.

Kolkata Storytellers hold regular sessions for children at various venues every month. You can always browse through their page for more information. I personally enjoyed the session a lot and would hope to attend more such sessions in the future.

Under the Table and Dreaming : An appeal to your senses

We cannot create observers by saying ‘observe’, but by giving them the power and the means for this observation and these means are procured through education of the senses. – Maria Montessori

Under the Table and Dreaming  is a unique concept visualized and developed by Ruchira Das, Founder Director of ThinkArts in assistance with Tamali Bhattacharaya, Administrator ThinkArts ; Priyanka Chatterjee , Wild Strawberry; Kavita Gupta , Mirror Workshops for Children’s Theatre and Bolaka Chattopadhyay. It appeals to your senses by allowing you to touch and feel different textures; smell various items, listen to the sounds of nature and develop the depth in perception and sensation listening to music while gazing at Vincent Van Gogh’s famous work of art – The Starry Night. At the end of a wonderful sensorial experience, the children are given papers, bindi’s, pebbles, flowers, leaves and foam to create their own amazing masterpieces. This event is open to children of ages 3 to 6 from the 3rd May to the 7th May 2017 at The Doodle Room.

 

Each session lasts for about an hour with a batch of not more than seven to eight children at a time. An introduction is given to the sensory organs and the sense of sights, hearing, smelling, touch and taste; after which they are left free to explore the surprises waiting for them under the tables. At all times, the children are assisted by volunteers present in the room. They started the trail by passing through a foam-filled tunnel. I could hear giggles coming from inside the tunnel as the soft foamy textured touched their skin. Their next destination was the river sounds box. One at a time the children took turns to sit inside the box and hear the sound of the river waters. It was  calming and soothing to the senses which when listened to for a little while would not fail to transport you to another land.

From here, they had choice to enter four different tables and sense jute threads and ice cream sticks, paper strips and soft pom- pom balls, mango leaves stitched together in numerous hangings and glittery shapes strung together in numerous strings. Most of the children at once took a liking to the glittery shapes. The different colors that they could see and the idea of various shapes appealed to them a lot. The last table had provisions of two children at a time. They were to lie down in a makeshift-bed complete with two pillows; and look up to the famous Van Gogh painting with a subtle music playing in the background. This table seemed to be the biggest hit as most of the children entered it twice or thrice within the one hour session.

At the end of exploring the tables, the children were made to do a little activity. They were provided materials to create something of their own. They utilized flowers, pebbles, mango leaves, foam pieces and pom -poms in a unique manner. Thus, the event not only appealed to their sensorial perceptions but also touched their creative chords to come up with new and exclusive ideas. A little feedback was taken from the children before finally ending the session. While most of them answered that they had liked the session as a whole, a few pointed out the colorful shapes and the river sound box to be their favorite among all others.

The event is on till the 7th of May 2017. Each day it has various sessions starting from 11 am and going on till 6 pm. The registration details for this event can be found here.

Uncovering the Legacy behind Fake News: Workshop on Media Literacy

The Workshop on Media Literacy focusing on Fake news, its impact and solutions in the context of Indian classrooms was facilitated by Joyeeta Dey at Peaceworks, The Seagull Foundation for the Arts on 28th April ‘17 under the aegis of the History for Peace Project.

Following the demonetization financial cash crunch, according to a leading news channel the new 2000 rupee notes would have nano chips embedded in them which would allow it to be tracked by the satellite from anywhere on earth.

According to leading news, the recently formed UP government scraps reservations in private medical and dental colleges.

These are examples of the two of the leading fake news which have been doing the rounds recently in the media through Social Media platforms. The former, regarding demonetization erupted as a viral WhatsApp message all over the country. In fact, many have even tried to scrape through the note to gather evidences for themselves. According to Buzzfeed , “The primary vector for the spread of misinformation in India is WhatsApp. The instant messenger is fast, free, and runs on nearly all of India’s 300 million smartphones. Twitter is a fertile ground for all kinds of rumor-mongering, but with just over 30 million users in the country, its impact is limited.” The reason why fake news cannot be distinguished most of the time is because people tend to go with the flow of the news and crowd instead of logically analyzing the situation. For instance did you think that with a nano chip the worth of a 2000 rupee note would be more than what you bargained for?; or the new government might be planning to do away with reservation but ‘scrapping’ it outright might be a little suspicious? These questions probe the analytical part of our brain to go into the depths of the news instead of believing what is served to us on the platter.

How do fake news originate?

Interestingly, the term ‘fake news’ may have been identified by the experts recently and is open to further discussions than before; but fake news or misinformation –deliberately or not- existed even  during the times of the Roman Empire. According to the UK Telegraph,  “Octavian famously used a campaign of disinformation to aid his victory over Marc Anthony in the final war of the Roman Republic. In its aftermath, he changed his name to Augustus, and dispatched a flattering and youthful image of himself throughout the Empire, maintaining its use in his old age.” Furthermore, today such types of news has started originating from ‘small groups of people taking advantage of social media interaction and algorithms through creating hyperbolic articles around a major political event’. With a rise in citizen journalism, various studies and researches have found out that most of the originators of such news are youngsters who make a monetary benefit out of the ‘fake news business.’ Remarkably, these youngsters belong to the strata of the society that may be financially weak and have no real connection towards the betterment of the society- hence resorting to spreading hoaxes and rumors which in turn brings chaos upon the society.

Turning to the Indian scenario, a few factors have influenced the trend of rising rumors through social media networks. According to the Times of India, “American media critic Jay Rosen, who writes the blog pressthink.org, argues that ‘ People can talk back to the news system and make their own media. That’s a power shift.’ This I call The Great Horizontal.” With people not willing to pay enough for news consumption, a shift in the advertisement revenue systems, sacking of field reporters, changing news dissemination and consumption patterns and an extreme rise in the citizen originated news stories; India has become a melting pot -pouri of the origin of  fake news.

Characteristics:

Fake news has various subtle characteristics. Some of them are:

  • 100% false news: For example the death of Pope Francis.
  • Slanted bias: For instance a confusing headline like ‘Katrina hits the town’; might mean the actress coming to town for promotions or performance or the Hurricane hitting and causing devastating impacts on the land.
  • Pure propaganda: Taking advantage of the laziness of human nature, many people bend the news to favor propaganda.
  • Misusing the data:  According to study done in the West it was found out that for a headline which stated ‘Have a beer good for your brain’, the study was done on mice and not human brain.
  • Imprecise and Sloppy Headline: Wrongly worded headlines can sometimes make you distinguish between real news and fake news.

Reasons you get duped by Fake News:

There are three main reasons why you get easily fooled by fake news.

  • Laziness: Most of us are lazy enough to go on re-checking news from other sources.
  • Layered Sources of news: The hierarchy in which news reaches you is layered by many platforms. The general hierarchy includes newspapers, politicians/ celebrities, twitter, friends, facebook and then you. This layered consumption of news often leads to confusion and chaos among people.
  •  Repetition: At times, news is made viral through most Social Media platforms such that even the news channels and papers take it up and make stories out of it. Once, a hundred people start re-iterating the same facts around you, the natural instincts lower your abilities to question and challenge the facts.

Data Misrepresentation:

A skype session with Debanik Saha, former Data journalist at IndiaSpend gave a more detailed outlook towards the fake news scenario. As a data analyst, his tips included to check whether the headline matched with the content; cross-check the claim with the content; if the articles quotes from reports, to cross- check the facts with those reports; and to never believe on Whatsapp Forwards without checking the facts for yourself.

At times various trusted brands of news dissemination agencies misquote data.  They do not give a valid methodology by which they reach to the conclusion of their surveys. According to the result of a survey a news source stated that around 90% of the citizens of India supported demonetization. The argument here was the sampling population census was nowhere mentioned; the people had no choice but to accept the decision and furthermore, most people were too busy gathering their financial assets than have time to vote in the poll. Hence, data was misquoted and represented in this news piece and to prevent yourself from falling prey you must check the quotes and sources and find out about the methodology.

Debanik focused on the threat citizens have in terms of news consumption when fake news are planted in trusted newsrooms. He further emphasized how one must rely on at least two news sources before believing it for a fact. With an advent of power he also stated that regional media might probably be comparatively less biased than its national counterparts. His focus shifted to the nexus between politics, industrialists and media next.

Practical Examples:

Another Facebook Call to The Wire Journalist, Anoo revealed some interesting facts that might help teachers in leading their students in the right path. It is recommended to trust mainstream sources of news especially those stories which have a byline. The moment a story has a byline the writer and the editor are both equally accountable to the people of the credibility of the story and can be cross questioned if the facts are proven to be wrong. Websites, on the other hand are written by web desks, where often one finds callousness in fact checking. The main objective of web desks is to get maximum news out in minimum possible time.  Hence, these some of the important parameters to keep in mind before you blindly trust a news piece.

Solutions:

The discussions regarding the solutions to tackle fake news in a classroom revealed some interesting activities that can be experimented with, on your students/child. These activities would enhance their critical thinking abilities and help them in analyzing the news deeply than before.

  • Look carefully into the sources of the news and try to verify it with two or more trusted news sources.
  • OPCUL proposed by Calcutta International School deals with Origin, Purpose, Content, Values and Limitation. This is a strategy which is built over a period of time. It helps in creating awareness and improving analytic skills among children.
  • Another idea was to be a part of the process itself. In fact, you can start by writing for a site. The disadvantage is that anyone can write; but the advantage is anyone can edit. The challenge is to see how long the information lasts on the website. The longer it lasts the closer it is to the truth.
  • An interesting thought put forward was to choose a random real news and draft a fake news based on it. In the process, it was revealed that the subtler changes made in the real news to make it a more believable fake news, is tougher to draft than the real news itself.
  • It was also discussed that it is not the responsibility of the student alone; but also of the teachers. They need to keep on updating their knowledge and not fall prey to intimidation by the sheer amount of digital platforms available today.
  • It is a moral and ethical responsibility of every individual to share updates and news only after checking the facts with trusted sources.

Hence, the workshop on Media Literacy was an extremely interactive one which brought in a community of teachers, students, educators and journalists to discuss, debate and brainstorm regarding this emerging problem in the society and how to help prevent vulnerable children and students from falling prey to it. I personally hope that Seagull organizes more such workshops in future.

 

 

 

Avenir 2017 Pulls Crowd with a Harry Potter Themed Tech-Fest

Avenir, the Netaji Subhash Engineering College techno management fest, started about ten years ago, with the agenda to help students over two-hundred colleges in West Bengal, to realize their talents and  reach greater heights.  Since then it has witnessed average participation of over five-thousand candidates from different colleges all over the state.

This year Avenir 2017’s theme was one of the all time favorite-  Harry Potter! Avenir was conducted by Phoenix, the official tech- club of Netaji Subhash Engineering College. Kolkata Bloggers were  proud online partners of the fest. Avenir 2017 took place on 13th  to 15th April, at the college campus. There were about thirty- six events under the broad categories of  General and Fun , Lensified, Robonix, Nirmaan, Cybernix and Gaming.

The events under General and Fun Category were Quizaard, Enactology, Picto-Press, Face Painting, Paper Trend, Beg Borrow Steal, Treasure Hunt, Carrom, Soduko, Dispute, Tech Fair, Knighted and Contrive. Let me tell you more about this Harry potter Themed fest which got everybody’s attention. Quizaard was not about testing your general knowledge but about knowing your interests in books and trending television series and of course, Harry Potter! Enactology was about acting and stage performances. Students who were secretly passionate about writing took part in Picto-Press which focused on creative writing. Paper trend meant fashion related designs with newspapers. Knighted was a chess competition and Contrive involved  circuit designing.

Paper Trend

Lensified as the name suggests included,  photography competitions like  Sprectrum based on street, travel and portrait photography;  Instaclick involved a competition over Instagram;  Lenz’s eye and Click-O-Mania were  exclusive in-house student competitions with the theme of light and shadow and Avenir , respectively. Bioscope was a short film making competition to bring out the storytellers in the students. Cine Articulate was a film reviewing competition.

Lensified in progress

Artificial Intelligence is an slowly gaining grounds in the fields of academia or even Social Media. Hence, the theme Robonix  features events which dealt exclusively with robots (popularly known as bots) and artificial intelligence. Line Tracer, demanded the creation of  a robot which would  follow black lines on a white surface. In Brick Mania, the participants had to make the robot count and differentiate between small and big blocks while in Terra Ranger, they had to create an all terrain robot.  Robosoccer and Royal Rumble saw robots playing soccer and engaged in mini-robot wars.

Line Tracer under ‘Robonix’

Nirmaan which stands for Creation in Hindi, introduced City planning to the fest. It included events like Surv-o-lare,  Bridge-o-mania, Brick-o-arc and Construzoine. the candidates were required to plan and execute their land surveying skills, design bridges with ice cream sticks and build roads in Autocad.

Bridge-o-mania

Cybernix, as the name suggests is an amalgamation of digital engineering. Coding competitions held were Encoding, Web Designing and Stack Race, where the competitor had to eliminate the bugs. In Bon Appetite candidates were given the freedom of designing applications (apps) .  The events under Gaming were NFS, FIFA 14, DOTA 2, COUNSTER STRIKE GO and MINI MILITIA.

Events under Cybernix

No fest is complete without its sponsors. They not only help in the event organisation but also encourage such youth based events in college. Avenir 2017 had many sponsors such as CONSUMER AFFAIRS, Simplify Zindagi, Gate Forum, Endeavour, Niit, Ims, Prepmaestro, Jamboree, Net Wizard, Ogma Tech Lab and ARDENT. Its media partner was Siti Cable and radio partner was 91.9 Friends FM.

 

Text: Sampurna Chandra

Photographs : Netaji Subhas Engineering College.