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Archive for May, 2011

Balancing Acts…

It’s not a case of ‘either’ ‘or’! Just some juggling that will take me through to “My 12 step (and More) programme”  🙂

  • Staying home to take care of  Baba and Anand and accepting professional challenges that necessitate being away [and contribute to a livelihood].
  • Working from my desk at home at all odd hours because of the flexibility it affords me and having an office away from home where I can have relatively fixed, uninterrupted work space and time.
  • Being involved in ‘SUPW’ [‘yuck’ when its put that way… but can’t resist the temptation] and engaging with friends just for fun
  • Putting away a penny or more for Anand’s long-term care and indulging in desires to pamper myself
  • Reorganizing my life to fit in with others’ needs and priorities and going ahead with my ‘lifelines’…
  • Supporting Anand to go about his ‘job’ and letting my work be the priority.
  • Organizing the home environment so that Baba can continue writing & discussions and getting folks to recognize that at this stage of our lives my work needs to take precedence.
  • Playing with the ‘little ones’ who help me stay young at heart and being with the adults who help me move on
  • Working to earn a living and doing volunteer work both of which meet my professional goals
  • Enjoy watching Lohit and other cute kids I adore as a ‘grandmother’ and documenting their development as a child development professional.
  • Watching TV to keep abreast of world events and watching TV to let myself go ‘numb’.
  • Staying online and seated at the computer to connect with folks and curling up with a good book in bed.
  • Traveling for fun and traveling for work
  • Expressing what I feel & think [learning to be assertive] and holding on to my feelings because someone might be hurt [retaining my totally adaptable nature] :-).
  • Waiting for others to connect or reconnect and taking the ‘first’ steps .
  • Writing for catharsis and fun and writing reports to earn a living.
  • Holding on to warm memories that sustain me and letting go of memories to open up the possibility of creating new ones.
  • wanting to take care of others and wanting [oh SO MUCH!] to be taken care of myself….

Basically,

meeting my needs and those of others…

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Sad but true. We live in a world that is filled with distrust born of  ‘differences’. Differences born of religious beliefs. Communal tensions arising from fears of what we might do to each other. We have learned to eye each other with suspicion. To assume the worst in the other.

What’s worse is that not only are our children growing up in this atmosphere, but we are actively telling them how we stand apart from each other. How we are not, therefore, the same. One of the saddest examples of this that I saw was in an elite Bombay school that actually had the children tell everyone else in class what community they belonged to [and this in the immediate aftermath of the Babri Masjid riots and Bombay blasts in the early 1990’s!]

“pan amhala khelaychay”  [But WE want to play] addresses this issue head on. It is my absolute favorite GRIPS play [Anand’s too]. I have always enjoyed the music and the lyrics. The latter not only carry the tale ahead, but portray so delightfully the everyday mad rush in the mornings as each household prepares for the day and the children for school. [We used to play the tape in our home to egg Anand on… and he still listens to it with great enthusiasm!] And then at other points in the play, the lyrics and the music combined evoke  strong images of children torn away from each other, of bewildered children  trying to make sense of their now unfamiliar world…

I first saw ‘pan amhala khelaychay’ in 1996 as it emerged through rehearsals. As a member of the audience through umpteen performances over the years, it continues to enthrall. I must admit to going in with some reservations about what the show would be like yesterday. The performers were at a disadvantage anyway… having seen the play so many times before I have grown used to the nuances, the inflexions, the emphasis on certain aspects of the dialogue. But today’s troupe came through brilliantly [Mrinmayee – I really enjoyed watching you ‘in action’ and hope I get to know the rest of the group too!]  Though the voices were low  a few times, most of the time there were high energy levels that carried the audience with the events. It’s a powerful script [Shrirang Godbole – please, please, when can we have more?] and the actors did it justice. I still had shivers go down my spine, and fought the tear in my eye as the children tried to come to terms with the concept of ‘us’ and ‘them’. The moments of pathos evoked by the haunting music [Rahul Ranade at his brilliant best] were still the same. There were some really nice touches to keep it current. The nosy, orthodox neighbour has transformed into the  ‘bhai’ from the local underworld, the ‘rickshaw gangs’ have metamorphosed into IPL teams. 🙂

But there was one discordant note and for me that was the ‘audience’.  It’s sad that the only way we seem to have of showing appreciation is to ‘clap’. Somehow, to me, it seemed out-of-place…. just when the children’s world is coming crashing down around them… when they are having to face the harsh realities of adult strife and ‘war’, an audience that claps?! [Granted that it had to do with the powerful performances, but it would have meant even more acclaim if the audience could have stayed with the high tension ambience and retained the hushed silences.

I have many special moments in the play that I like a lot… and not only because of the insight they provide [often with humour despite the grim theme].  It’s also special because we made some fairly extensive resource material to use with it [following the GRIPS Germany approach]. That it never got used beyond pilot testing it because we didn’t have the resources to publish it… is another matter… 🙂 There is always tomorrow!

It’s a play worth seeing again and again, and like all good GRIPS  plays it ends on a hopeful, yet, realistic note. The parents agree to reconsider their decision to send the children to neighbourhood ‘community schools’. The children’s protest as well as its manner is not only viable in current times but a demonstration of constructive action.

I wish the play were no longer relevant… I wish we had been able create a better world for our children. But there you have it…. It’s an imperfect world and one that seems to get more and more fragmented as days go by… The lines between ‘them’ and ‘us’ seem to grow stronger…

Can we help children ask the questions that will break down the walls that divide us? “Pan amhala khelaychay” can help….

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Another day… Another GRIPS  play… and this one was worth the wait!

Project ADITI is about one of my pet peeves – Dance/Song Competitions for children. I [as many others] have always been concerned about the ‘behind the scenes’ pressures children are put under as they are egged on by parents, ‘well wishers’, media personnel on the look out for a ‘good story’, and society in general. A pressure that is, more often than not, inappropriate given the developmental stage these children are at. But all that, in another blog.

Now back to ADITI. The story revolves around an extremely talented youngster whose mother’s heart is set on her achieving stardom through her singing [through one of  these televised competitions we see so much of these days]. A dream of her mother’s own childhood, a dream her mother had not been allowed to follow. But must we offload on the children what we were unable to do in own childhoods? While that might have been unfair, does it help to continue to ‘perpetrate the same crime’ through yet another generation?

As Project ADITI unfolds, we are treated to some thought-provoking  situations that throw up all kinds of questions: issues of child abuse in all its forms, socializing with playmates from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds, unintentional yet hurtful discrimination between 2 children etc.

Finely nuanced through the dialogue, the body language of all the performers, the reference to currently popular [but easily replaceable] icons, and the SCRIPT; ADITI is an accurate portrayal of the way children are at ages 8 – 12. It comes through in their queries and the way those questions  are asked, it comes through in their acute observation of adult reactions, of their ultimate acceptance of their own reality. The humour is occasionally slapstick, [bringing gales of laughter from the youngest members of the audience], occasionally subtle – appealing even to an adult audience. It is even present in the way the word ‘celebrity’  and ‘star’ become choice abuse words!

ADITI represents many homes. Caring parents who want the ‘BEST’ for their child. Yet with misdirected efforts which lead to natural consequences of high drama and tension [Aditi loses her voice!]. The solution comes about naturally, with the active involvement of ALL, the protagonist with the support of her playmates who effectively bring to their parents attention her distress, but also the ‘next door grandfather’ who subtly intervenes and finds a way to chat with the parents about the situation. The parent’s willingness to go to all lengths [including visiting ‘ENT specialists &  ‘psychiatrists!]. And the culmination of it all, in a viable & realistic solution  which brings Aditi’s voice back.

As I have mentioned before… GRIPS plays always have hopeful endings… but what exactly do the children do, what do the adults do…what is the solution they work out? Go find out… Watch Project ADITI!  For me, it was a wonderful homecoming to GRIPS!

Thank you Vibha…. Kudos to the entire team!

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Didn’t think, I’d ever feel this way about a GRIPS play… but there it is! Yesterday’s play “mitra majhe” was disappointing. Not because of the performances or the direction, but the script itself. The theme related to a young girl getting ‘addicted’ to the computer and letting reading, playing outdoors become low priorities. Undoubtedly, a concern for many parents and a valuable ‘lesson’ for children somewhere. All GRIPS plays have messages… they all hold out hope… but preaching and sermonizing is OUT!

And when it has to do with something as appealing as the computer and the internet, we need to tread carefully. It’s a topic where ‘content’ becomes obsolete within a day [and a key feature of GRIPS plays is their evergreen relevance and appeal]. So there is a huge challenge for a playwright who wants to address this theme. Not getting caught in specifics that are dated, not giving in to the temptation to tell the children what’s GOOD for them.

After all, the computer is just a tool. It’s for us to use it judiciously. Getting scared off [often because we can’t fathom its depths] is not the answer. Could more scenarios with ‘natural consequences’ be presented? Could other ways of involving the children in activities that are as appealing [though perhaps for different reasons] be demonstrated? I think so. Perhaps as parents we need to ask ourselves what are the other things we do with our children? How can we make these more attractive?  How can we help them ask the questions that will enable them to take appropriate decisions? [And no one decision is going to be the RIGHT one for all]

In my middle 50’s and leading an ‘independent’ life, I baulk when told what I must do. How much more distressing must that be for a youngster exploring the world and all its possibilities? Let’s just be there for our children… By all means let us share how we see the world… but let’s be careful about that fine line. Let’s not fool ourselves and pretend we have all the answers… that we know best. Let’s avoid the sermon!

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I first watched a GRIPS play when Anand was only 4 years old. I didn’t know about the ideology then. I was just a mother trying to find meaningful theatre experiences for my son. I still remember taking Anand to Chhabildas School in Dadar [West], Bombay. What I remember even more is his response to this genre of children’s theatre. This is Theatre FOR children at its best. Both of us became die-hard GRIPS fans that day and have remained so through the years. The performers are typically adults [for a good reason, and one day I will write a blog about the ideology that underlies this approach].

After we moved to Pune close on 15 years ago, it became possible to be involved in GRIPS activities in many more ways, given that this is the HUB!

For a few years in between, for myriad reasons, I haven’t been able to participate in GRIPS programmes as much as would have liked to. But this year; it’s a different story. GRIPS is celebrating 25 years of existence in India and Anand and I were there for the 1st day of the annual Summer festival and plan on being there as much as possible.

A new generation of kids along with their parents who were once the child audience. Several of us ‘old timers’ stood behind and couldn’t hold back from silently mouthing the dialogue [and hearing it in our heads as we had done so many times earlier with different performers]. We sang along with the songs and the absolutely fabulous music [Rahul Ranade].

Some of the plays are adaptations from original German ones, some completely original Indian themes and issues, many the brainchild of Shrirang Godbole. That’s what makes them so special. They address head on, really sensitive issues, be it parental authority,  environmental concerns, or communal riots. They are filled with humour, reflect children’s realities, are not patronising or stereotyped in their portrayal of children. There are moments of high drama and tension. There are moments of unbridled laughter…. and at the end you go back with questions for yourself. And this happens again and again and again. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times you’ve seen the plays. Many of the plays have themes that are evergreen.

As a parent, I have to thank a lot of people for this treat we have had. Too many, but here are just a few… Dr. Mohan Agashe for bringing GRIPS to India, Shrirang Godbole for some fantastic play and song writing and direction, Rahul Ranade for music that creates the most delightful ambience. Rasika Oak [Joshi], Anand Ingle, Vibhavari Deshpande, Amit Patwardhan, Rujuta Deshmukh, Neeraja Patwardhan, Upendra Limaye, Devendra Saralkar… [I could go on and on] for some of the most energetic, mesmerizing performances. And there is  the next generation…  and the entire behind the scenes team… from the very beginning…but of these most specially Shubhangi Damle.  Through the years, she has stepped into any role needed, on stage and off, mothering each new lot of performers and audiences… enabling them to get the very most from this experience.

Thank you… all of you. Anand and I look forward to many more years of GRIPS 🙂

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Just the other day, I got a call from the office of the housing complex in which I live. The ‘young’ girl on the phone was calling to confirm that Anand was my son. She hadn’t met him before, and she was, by her own admission a little scared of him. Anand had gone there yet again [without my knowledge 🙂 ] to complain about some leakage in our apartment. Anand has an intellectual disability, and also contends with bipolar disorder so it is quite a challenge to shake him from something that bothers him.  🙂

And the cycle started up again. People noticing the ‘difference’, staring at him, avoiding him, not quite sure what to make of him. In some ways it was easier when he was younger. Cute, irrepressibly talkative [he has a real flair for languages], the ‘negatives’ didn’t matter as much. Sometimes I wondered if what I was saying about his disability even reached people.

But as a young man of 29 [2 weeks to go!]  it’s a different story. Folks on the road assume that he is ‘mad’ or otherwise weird since he is in some ways oblivious to what is going on around him, unaware of the reactions people have to the way he looks, the way he talks, the way he behaves. He speaks fluently and people’s expectations of what he should be doing or can do, seem rooted in that one aspect.

Have I done him a disservice? Have I raised people’s expectations about his capabilities to unrealistic levels? Yes, he speaks several languages. Yes, he can navigate his way around the city [and outside] in a rickshaw or by foot. Yes, he knows how to turn the microwave on and warm up some food. Yes, he can make iced tea for his grandfather and take him down for a walk every single day. Yes, he can fill the water bottles and go pick up bread and milk from the local grocery store. Yes, he can use email and skype and even Facebook. But what’s the big deal in an almost 30 year old man doing that?!!! How do I explain to folks that each of these capabilities reflect  great achievements, great successes for him.

How do I explain that to people that there is an almost invisible support system in place that facilitates his doing these tasks? The microwave safe dishes are in a specific shelf. The measuring spoon for the iced tea is predetermined. The grocery store people have been introduced to him and he is encouraged to frequent the same ones. He carries a tariff card with him to help determine how much to pay the autorickshaw driver. And many months were spent traveling to the same spots with him over and over again [followed by many more of doing so on the quiet] till I was sure he knew how to get to a specific location on his own. And I still watch over him, unobtrusively, as he goes around connecting with his favorite people in the world.

But how do I explain that he can’t ‘earn a living’? How do I explain that he isn’t going to go to college and get  a Ph.D like everyone else around him?

How do I explain that that doesn’t matter! How do I share the frustration and joy of being his mother? How do I get  people on the road to accept him?

And then I remember that he has made his own place in the world. There are many people who love him and that he loves back…. unconditionally.

And some of the pain… goes away….

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A couple of weeks ago, a journalist from a regional newspaper from Sindhudurg, Maharashtra asked me to write a short article related to the SOLEs to mark Maharashtra Day [shared with May Day]. I was happy to raise the issue of the SOLEs, but with a precondition. That it wouldn’t necessarily be a laudatory article. I am only too aware of the potential of the solesandsomes. I spend enough time with the children, in person and via skype to know how much this means to them… And I am always left with the feeling that we are, somehow… letting the children down. So I tried to strike a balance between the joy of a celebration [deserved or not], and the need for introspection, so that WE, as a community, do what needs to be done. The text [in English as I sent it] of my article [which appeared, with a not terribly accurate translation in Marathi] follows:

Each time a special day comes around [and certainly the 51st anniversary of Maharashtra Day can be considered significant], we seem to be energized and wanting to mark all manner of achievements. At the risk of sounding a discordant note in the midst of all the celebrations, I urge each one of us to reflect and ask ourselves whether these celebrations could be more meaningful. Does it reflect just another day that comes by every year, or has it genuinely taken us forward? Instead of ‘birthdays’ can we celebrate ‘growth days’ our own cultural concept of  “vaadhdivas”? Can we look to the future and renew our efforts rather than being content with what was done but was, possibly, just a flash in the pan? In May 2009, a SOLE [self organized learning environment] was set up in a brand new building with state of the art technology in Shirgaon so that children could access such facilities and be on par with children elsewhere in the world. An achievement that was heralded, and has been mentioned in the media, in India and abroad, every time we want to showcase what is possible. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the concept, ‘self- organized learning environments’ facilitate children learning on their own, even when other educational resources may be at a minimum. We may operate in remote areas, with inadequate schools, libraries, and so on. But access to the internet can level the playing field and open up for these children a world that many of us from earlier generations could only dream of. There is absolutely no doubt about the potential. Given a chance, the children use it to the fullest. Just a few months ago, in the few days of access that children at Shirgaon got to the SOLE, they were in daily contact with children and their teacher in Melbourne, Australia. And they discussed, yes… discussed a range of topics; from music to currencies, religions, food, lifestyles, animals, climate, school life, festivals and much more. What was possibly even more critical is that this discussion took place in an atmosphere of openness, of ‘equality’ not ‘supervision’. There was interaction, there was sharing, there was an explosion of ideas. Can we really ask for much more? But before we get too excited, let us take stock of what is the present situation of the SOLE today? Is it really enough to have such ‘events’ taking place once in a while? I am not going to give you any figures. But let us ask ourselves… How many children are really benefiting from the facility? What if anything is it being used for? Have the hopes been lived out, has the vision been achieved? Have we made good our promise to the children? Perhaps we need to go by frequently and provide the help that is needed from the community to make sure that the promise is fulfilled. More recently, another, much smaller, SOLE [with just 2 computers] has been set up in Talere in an attempt to remedy the shortcomings of the earlier project. Sustainability, and ensuring that children continue to have these facilities to use in the long-term, is the focus of the current efforts. The inaugural function, at which Prof Sugata Mitra [the brain behind approach known as self organized learning environments] and I, were present, was yet again covered by the media. It is still new and we are still figuring out how children might make the most of such a facility. There is a flurry of activity and I am filled with joy each time I visit or connect to the children on skype and they tell me what they have been doing, not only in the SOLE, but also in their lives. Each little success of theirs fills me with hope that perhaps, just perhaps, this time around we will give them what they need and deserve. I am an optimist. When I see the degree of community involvement, when I talk to the parents of these children and hear what they have to say, when I watch the children as they search for, and play all manner of games, I feel hope rise again. Today they are playing games; tomorrow they will explore so much more. Exploring concepts such as global warming, energy alternatives such as solar power, and being exposed to varied occupation options is a just another step. But only if we truly keep this up. Not just on inauguration day, not just on Maharashtra Day, but EVERYDAY!  Then we will truly have cause to celebrate!

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