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All of us, at some point in time of our lives have experienced sadness. Sometimes the sorrow is so deep and pervasive that we can’t shake it off. Folks around us may tell us to ‘snap out of it’, and yet we seem unable to do that.

Sometimes, there is a ‘valid’ reason for our sadness. At other times, the trigger seems incredibly trivial. Only too often,people think we are indulging in self-pity. And in professional settings, causes and potential interventions continue to be discussed.

Unfortunately, we are still a long way from destigmatizing  mental illness. While psychiatric intervention may be needed even on a life-long basis in some situations, medication does not address the totality of depression. One because it focuses only on the chemical changes in an individual’s brain because of the medication and two, it fails to address the myriad alternatives that can help maintain positive mental health, even attain it.

Preventing depression would be possible in many situations if we considered what we, as societies, as families, as friends do that pushes people over the edge. We could help a person climb back out of an abyss if we could reach out, unobtrusively with appropriate support. If we could inform ourselves about the realities of what a ‘depressed’ person ‘looks like’… if we can move away from the stereotypes often foisted on us by media that loves drama and sensational news.

Anyway, the reason for this rather long-winded introduction is that 7th April 2017 was World Health Day; and this year’s theme was Depression.

I participated in the various activities organized by CMHCC [Chaitanya Mental Health Care Centre] to create awareness about this issue. And the opinions I have held as a professional, as well as a lay person returned full force. A key component of this awareness programme was the screening of the film KAASAV [Directed by Sumitra Bhave & Sunil Sukthankar & Produced by Dr. Mohan Agashe]. That it gained recognition with the winning of the ‘Suvarna Kamal’ for the best feature film just the previous day was heartening that it might not get widely distributed seems a shame. http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/OldNewsPage/?Id=10366&Kaasav,/A/Marathi/Film/That/Has/Won/Laurels/But/Where/Are/the/Distributors

But what’s so special about it?

That it is an exquisitely nuanced film is only one of its many charms. Even without deliberately setting out to educate oneself about the theme of depression one could enjoy the film for its story line, its direction, its acting, its music, cinematography, even the beautiful locales [all indigenous!] it  is filmed in.

I’ve always been keen on using media for therapy. Seems a pity to drown in mostly inane, gaudy and stereotyped song and dance routines that Bollywood abounds with when we could have such sensitive empathetic fare!

Watching the film is only the start. It stays with you, as a good film should. But that also means that the emotional arousal, the subtle connect it creates could be gently channelled into conversation with those who need reaching out; or at least open the door to that possibility.

At a point in time when instances of depression seem to be on the rise even among children [including better quicker diagnoses] we need to pause and question what can be done. Is there ‘someone’ around us that we could help by just being there? Am I the ‘one’ that needs to make that little effort to seek help? Are we ‘those’ who are pushing ourselves and our children toward unmitigated and never-ending frustration that turns to helplessness and despair? It is distressing to hear every single day about a suicide, a retreat into a shell, a closing down of all contact…

Could a film like KAASAV be shown far and wide so someone out there will see IT isn’t the end…? That there are other possibilities…?

I think it could… and should. Because films and other media [as also other alternative therapies – dance drama, music and art] are powerful means and we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t use it. And even with just a film; we can just ‘be there’…

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/marathi/kaasav-wins-big-at-national-awards/articleshow/58063876.cms

A Reel Look At Mental Health: Through Kaasav, Mohan Agashe puts spotlight on depression

 

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A moment… one moment. That’s all it took.

early morning sun filtering through the palms at Rankala

6th April 2014 – Rankala

The day started pleasantly enough. A beautiful sunrise filtering through the palm trees across the small road between Avi’s flat and the Rankala Talao.

A couple of hours later, I was lying by the side of the road enroute to Sindhudurg; simultaneously marvelling at being alive, yet pitifully aware of my vulnerability and not just because of the immobility caused by my injuries but by a gathering mob. A mob that attempted to push through their ideas of what should be done.

What had that young man been thinking as he sped on his motorbike on the empty highway and crashed into us?!!!

That split second changed everything. And it’s ripples spread to every corner of my being…. Personal, professional, social.

Every so often one comes to a fork and has to take a decision. I’ve had many such moments too, and taken decisions that have altered the course of my life. And I have not regretted them, not even when some of them turned out to be the cause of much pain and distress later on.

But this was not that kind of moment. This was not one of those times when I could consider my options and then decide. Here, the reflection came later…

As I lay immobile and flat on my back slowly recovering in the months that followed; as I gradually learned to walk again, I saw things happen that I could no longer influence even a little bit. And I paused to contemplate…. Plenty of scope for that between each excruciating step as I regained most of my earlier mobility!

on the walker

First Success – standing up

So much was happening that I didn’t like, so much going on in ways that I disagreed with. And despite the many joys and successes, the awareness of being ‘not in control’ grew. The reflection of those first few months and the first year of recovery inched me even further toward detachment, toward ‘vanaprasthashram’. It gave me the power to act on my convictions and retreat. It gave me the strength to reorient my priorities. It enabled me to renew my focus on ‘the children’ and draw both joy and meaning in life.

It gave me the strength to reclaim my body and soul.

And I still look out a window or two and find beauty in a sunrise… and a sunset.

through Anand's window early morning 6Apr2016

Through Anand’s window, this morning 6th April 2017

No extreme highs; no extreme lows… just an all pervading sense of contentment, and the accompanying tranquility. This by no means is to say that all my challenges have disappeared or that I don’t experience the occasional frustrations.

Yet, as I move into a phase of life when my overall feeling is one of serenity, I return from time to time to a question that I have asked myself many times through my life… Does contentment keep me from striving, from achieving?

It’s a pattern that has existed all my life. I recognize what I need and should be getting, yet have typically never demanded it. I have not hankered for status or position, but it did not keep me from commitment and diligently working hard to ensure a job well done.

I remember my mother telling me often as she recalled her experiences as a young mother that she would have to come and see if I had woken up and needed to be fed, because I would not cry but would suck patiently on my thumb awaiting someone to come attend to me. But then is that not dangerous? To not have an instinct for survival? To not be able to ask for basic needs to be met assuring one’s essential well-being?

Didn’t this tendency mean I made mistakes in my life? Of course…Plenty of them! Do I regret those mistakes? In the larger scheme of life as I see it… NO!

Behind every ‘mistake’, choice and action was whole-hearted commitment. I held nothing back. And so I learned from every single ‘mistake’.

But then I think about the many children I have met and continue to meet. What happens if they are unendingly acquisitive and ride rough shod over any one in their path? On the other hand, if they are ‘content’, will they give up ‘the search’? Will they miss out on success because they lack the urge to ‘achieve’? Will being satisfied with what they have, keep them from asserting what is their right?

So what’s the line between insatiability and complacency? And how can we ‘teach’ children to differentiate between the two?

And how can we enable them to be truly content?

The relationship between the children and the grannies at KNB PSSP has always been special. They became a member of The Granny Cloud family ahead of their becoming a part of the School in the Cloud labs and it was always amusing and heart-warming to hear the children share about their interactions with the grannies. Because of limited facilities just Grades 6 and 7 used to have Granny sessions.

pre-sole-lab

A Granny session – Before the SOLE Lab [Photo: Suneeta Kulkarni]

But with the building of the SOLE lab, [A4 Phaltan turns 2 today on the 3rd of Dec 2016] the children from Grade 1 upwards got a chance to get into this very special room… very much their own. The older children had participated in visualizing and designing it and all of them continue to take responsibility for decorating and keeping it clean.

visualizing-the-lab         cleaning-the-sole

Visualizing the SOLE    & Cleaning the SOLE  [Photos: Suneeta Kulkarni]

Here’s an  an email I received this morning:

rin-email

Through these 2 years, the children have fallen in love with the idea of the SOLE and wait [rather impatiently I must admit!] for a full-fledged SOLE session. They have explored topics at their own initiative [e.g. the concept of independence] and explored topics brought up by the grannies [e.g. children’s rights]. When Big Questions [and not so big questions J] were posed they have jumped in with enthusiasm and made it their own wandering to into territories  [mangoes and butterflies & polar bears among them! ] that hadn’t been anticipated. The older children are used to being in the sessions on their own and delight in what they refer to as ‘mini SOLE sessions’. Because it all has to be wrapped in under 40 minutes! And the teachers at KNB have watched, seen the children’s engagement with learning and begun to consider using this with their own classes. The concept of the SOLE spreads….

involved             concentration

In SOLE sessions [Photos: Suneeta Kulkarni]

It was also the one lab where, ‘Granny’ emerged as a profession! When children were asked what they’d like to be when they grew up, there were several who enthusiastically responded ‘A Granny’!

So, the Phaltan SOLE lab is a busy place, a very busy place! Now back to being a self-funded SOLE lab at the completion of the TED Prize School in the Cloud Project, it isn’t wasting one bit of this resource. In the past few months, the Granny sessions have extended to include the preschool children and even teachers participate enthusiastically!

Watching from the side lines when her elder sister was among the first children to experience the wonders of the granny cloud, was Shruti. And she has begun to take on her future ‘career’ as a part time granny [she plans on joining the IPS – Indian Police Service] very seriously as she steps in to facilitate sessions for the preschool children.

young-facilitator

Our youngest Granny session facilitator! [Photo: Madhura Rajvanshi]

So as A4 Phaltan marks 2 years of their SOLE lab, we wish them all the very best!

Angan SOLE

The full import of the relevance of Taratai’s [Taratai Modak] ‘Aanganwadi’ and ‘Kuranshala’ [Meadow School] came to me only when I became professionally involved in the field of Early Childhood Education in the late 1970’s. Till then, especially as a child, it was something that I only heard my mother talk about, sometimes with Taratai herself. And visiting an aanganwadi was a holiday treat at Kosabad…

But the full potential of what could be done if the Aanganwadi concept was combined with SOLEs and the Granny Cloud was an idea that steadily grew as I had my first experiences with the Hole-in-the-Wall Kiosks in Sindhudurg [specially at Shirgaon 1999], and subsequently the first Indian SOLE labs in Hyderabad [2008-2009]. It was then that The Granny Cloud was born from Sugata’s [Sugata Mitra] idea of bringing in native English speakers to engage the children in conversation; simultaneously encouraging  the learning of a language and developing their abilities to question and explore and search. The SOLEs and the Granny Cloud continued to evolve emerging into the concept of the School in the Cloud with Sugata’s being awarded the TED Prize in 2013.

It was the ethos on which the original SOLE labs and the Granny Cloud were built that brought these two ideas together in my mind. It was the desire to reach children in disadvantaged settings/locations, with minimal, sometimes no resources [material as well as in terms of ‘trained’ persons].

The concepts of the SOLEs [www.theschoolinthecloud.org ] and the Granny Cloud [www.thegrannycloud.org ] are delightfully simple and doable and extremely effective even in well-resourced settings with every facility under the sun available to them. Because the context of working in collaboration, drawing upon the vast, unending resource of the internet is not only natural and relevant to the way we live, it is necessary for us to function effectively in the future ahead.

Taratai embodies for me a school of thought that chose deliberately to work in some of the hardest contexts of remoteness and disadvantage; a school of thought that took in the best of many other thinkers and philosophers [Montessori, Froebel, Dewey and Tagore included]. It embodies an independence in thinking that brought together many ideas in a way that was feasible and relevant for the disadvantaged contexts for which they were conceived.

In Taratai’s days, the internet was still way ahead in the future… today it is ever present. But the past and the future are connected; and we build on what came before. Hence the idea of the Aangan SOLE. The Granny Cloud will soon [in December 2016] be launching the first Aangan SOLE ever! SAMIDHA has been running, a small stand-alone SOLE for several years in an urban slum in Pune, and it has been harder and harder to run given financial constraints and community scepticism. Hence, Aangan SOLE! Grannies will skype in with the help of volunteers; and children will gather around a donated laptop around which ever ‘katta’ or open space available; even under a tree…

The trial [end November 2016] went well… 2 great ideas come together. Let’s see what lies ahead…

aangan-sole-gv-pune

Note: The word ” Aangan’ literally means courtyard in Marathi. India’s ICDS programme uses Taratai’s aanganwadi concept as a way to reach preschool age children and mothers across the country. Taratai and her team would set up ‘school’ in courtyards in far flung village hamlets and called it an aanganwadi, or when set up in a meadow for older children so as to reach the children of shepherds a ‘kuranshala’. A long overdue tribute to her subtle impact on my life…

I woke in the morning to calls and messages greeting me on the occasion of ‘Guru Pournima’. And I found myself recalling the many different people I have learned many different things from through the years.

There has been a sense of wonder and joy in much that was learnt, but there have also been bitter lessons. I skimmed through some pictures to find some that I could use for an album to remind me of some of the key lessons I learned from them. There were many pictures that evoked memories of times when I began to learn. Learning to be my own person, learning to be content within myself, learning to be patient [even more than I have a reputation for !], learning to be less gullible, learning to believe in myself, learning to be prepared for the unexpected, learning to have fun, to take care of myself, to find new strategies to cope with challenges and sorrow, to get up and start over when I have fallen, to reach out for a dream… and so much more. I haven’t always been successful but I have learned along the way, that I could continue trying…

It may sound trite, but for me it isn’t.. I have drawn from elders and peers and children in this process of learning. But it is life – all of it – that has been the biggest Guru of them all.

I come with a long history in Early Childhood Education. That brings with it a healthy respect for the need for varied and enriched sensory experiences. But in the settings I have chosen to work in, the reality is, almost always, very far from the ideal.

In encouraging, warm classrooms I’ve watched children peering over a teacher’s shoulder, occasionally even sitting on her lap as they lapped up the story, drawn by a kind and soft tone, and gentleness of demeanour…But when it comes to skyping with grannies over the internet, well, then… how can one even begin to provide for ‘touch’ and ‘smell’?  Yet, time and again, I am amazed at the extent to which a good, clear connection can point the children in that direction.

One of my fondest memories is of Sue reading a story to children from Grade 1 from one of our Hyderabad SOLEs way back in 2009. They were totally engrossed and kept trying to get as close to her as possible. When asked what they were doing, they said –  she has such “soft cheeks, such soft hair”. They wanted to reach out and touch her cheeks and stroke her hair….

Might this compensate just a little bit for children who would not have sensory experiences provided to them anyway?!

 

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Compensating for limited sensory experiences.Photo by Suneeta Kulkarni

 

This June [2016] we are fund raising to help get the School in the Cloud & the grannies to many more children across the world. Do support us. https://www.crowdrise.com/the-granny-cloud

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