In late February and early March I got to spend a week in Jaipur. It truly is a jewel of a city. Located in Rajasthan, it boasts one of the most visited cities on the “Golden Triangle” circuit. I can see why. It has a rich history of forts, palaces, majestic views and a number of locations for shoppers to buy all kinds of beautiful block print materials, tailors and seamstresses who can make anything you desire, and of course beautiful gems. There is a lot to do in and around the city. This time I made it to many places that were a little bit off the beaten track, but totally worth it.
The main reason for being in Jaipur was the Fulbright Conference. Each year it is hosted in a different city in India. All the Fulbright scholars that are in the country as well as neighboring countries in the Central Asia are invited to attend to share their research, listen, meet and make connections. I was on a panel of educators to present what I had been working on with NalandaWay. It was a great opportunity to listen to my colleagues, as well as listen to other researchers present on their subjects.
I felt fortunate to be a part of the whole experience. Not only were we well taken care of at the hotel, I had a chance to extend my stay and take a printmaking workshop by a master printer.
This is going to be a series of posts, because it was a week long adventure in Jaipur. It was an extremely interesting place to visit a second time. There were a lot of things I didn’t notice or experience the first time because I was mostly in heavy tourist areas. This time I ventured out into other parts of the city, had a chance to visit some real neighborhoods and interact more with local people. I also was able to compare my experiences in India. Having been in South India for two full months before traveling back to Jaipur, I realized that it was a much different place than Chennai. Jaipur seemed to be a bit more conservative, and there was a clear dividing line between tourists and citizens. I really hadn’t experienced that in Chennai, even though it was obvious that I was an outsider.
I was glad I got to observe these kinds of experiences, it made me think about how India is such a diverse place, full of possibilities, challenges, experiences, and cultures. There is no wrong, there is just different. It’s hard for me to lump India into just one package now. There isn’t just one India. It would be like saying the United States is all the same. Each region has it’s own special traditions, culture, and attitudes. The more I visited, observed and took part in the daily life, the more I learned about that particular place and myself.
It’s hard to believe that with all of these posts, I still haven’t gotten into March! One of the last events I attended in February was the Chennai Photo Biennale. It was simply one of those things you actually couldn’t avoid. BUT- Why would you want to!?! There were photo exhibitions all over the city. Some in galleries, some in restaurants, but many that were out in public. Many performances and happenings occurred around the city at different times and places. It really felt electric throughout the city, because you never knew when you would happen upon an exhibit, and when you did, it was always something intriguing, thought provoking, and surreal.
A perfect example of this occurred in my neighborhood. I lived in the oldest neighborhood in Chennai called Mylapore. It is known for it’s temples, it’s also considered the center of the city, because everything built up around it. It’s a very historic part of the city, and I loved being able to walk around and view all temples mixed into the contemporary apartment buildings, old shops and restaurants. One of the best places in the entire city is actually a park. Nageswara Rao Park is a large park where people walk, jog, play badminton, have fun on the jungle gym and swings, and of course do yoga. It’s a lively place. It got even more livelier when a photo exhibit was placed all around the park. It was an amazing exhibit, with giant poster sized photos from a group of international photographers. Their topics focused on a variety of social justice issues which included: child marriage, race relations, poverty, homelessness, and culture. The pictures were from around the world. Not just focusing on India.
I walked through this park most days, but when the exhibit was there, I made sure I passed through it everyday. One day I saw people taking down the exhibit, and soon it was gone. The park was still great, but for a while I felt like there was something missing. Art in public provides a profound experience for those who interact with it. What an amazing change for this particular community to interact with the photography and also the messages it conveyed.
I took thousands of pictures while I was in India on the Fulbright. I carried my camera around with me wherever I went. The one time where I ran out of memory and battery power was the time I spent at the arts camp in Kuppam at the Agastya Foundation. I wanted to record everything I witnessed all the days I was there. The Kanavu Pattarai arts camp was something I wasn’t sure I was going to experience. Fortunately, I did. The experience was something that I will never forget.
This particular Kanavu Pattarai camp is supported by collaboration between the NalandaWay Foundation and the Agastya Foundation. NalandaWay provides the teachers, the curriculum, the resources, and Agastya Foundation provides the space. The camp pulls from near by towns. Both boys and girls, ages 13-16, attended this camp. It was not a residential experience but a day camp for 3 full days.
The first day students were introduced to each other and jumped right in on camp activities. The teachers organized the whole camp, and when there was some spots that needed an activity I filled in with yoga and a quick lesson in making origami cranes. I also participated in a trust exercise, which was really fun for all of us.
All the students were extremely excited to participate. They made a large amount of art in just three days, and presented on topics that were important to them and their school community. It just goes to show you, that when students are given a chance to perform, act, interact, create, make, design, and do—THEY WILL! Most of the students were really into the arts projects and produced a lot of amazing work together.
Collaboration is a big piece of the puzzle for this kind of camp, especially since the goal is to build a community of peers. One of the best parts of the camp for me was when the students were tasked with creating a group song. It was a huge challenge. Many students were very happy doing visual arts, or even making posters, and speaking. BUT singing? That was a big leap for some of them. Many of the students didn’t know what to do, or how they should attempt that particular task. However, there were a few girls who would not give up. While the group took a break from song writing, a couple of girls stayed back to finish the melody and lyrics. They were the only ones in the building, and I don’t think they were even aware that I was paying attention. What I saw was true collaboration, respect for one another, and the desire to come together to accomplish the task. These girls continued working on the song until everyone came back in the room. They shared their lyrics and taught the whole group of students the melody of the song. The other students were amazed, excited and couldn’t wait to be a part of the musical task once again.
As a group they practiced (led by the girls and a few other boys). The way the girls problem solved and helped their fellow peers was amazing. They reached out as a team to put something together that would bring a lot of joy to everyone in the whole entire room.
On a whole, this group exhibited a wide variety of talents and problem solving skills. I thought that this was a strength because they all had a particular way to exhibit that strength. It made the group of 30 kids extremely strong. Students exhibited a lot of empathy and compassion for each other. Most times when one member of their group was having difficulty another would job in and say,” Maybe we try this?” The students always seemed like they were looking for ways to solve problems, think creatively, use the set limitations to their advantage, think outside the box to use limited art materials in a new way, and most importantly not give up on the project or each other. Only a few students really needed some extra help, but I think it was only because they had never had this much going on at once. Not much exposure to arts, not much exposure to group work and collaboration.
The Kanavu Pattarai camp is much more than a few days for kids to get away from school and have fun. This program is creating ways for kids to build their self-esteem, gain leaderships skills, practice problem solving, and be more self- aware. Without the arts, students are unable to see some the values that already exist within themselves. By providing arts camps, NalandaWay is essentially strengthening the school communities. The students who participate in these camps take everything back with them and share it at their school. They are able to talk about their experiences and show what they accomplished by participating in the camp.
I was delighted to collaborate with NalandaWay on this program. I was able to expand the camp to five days, and add additional components like yoga and mindfulness. The more time we spend providing meaningful programs for youth to connect to each other and their own communities, the stronger we build the future for all of us.
I had the chance to visit the Kanavu Pattarai camp in Andhra Pradesh. I was mostly in the very southern tip of that state where Tamil Nadu and Kerala come together. First we traveled by train, and toured around in a car until we got to Kuppam. That is where the camp was held. The landscape was very similar to the southwest. Dry, arid, blue skies, and puffy clouds. It felt like a very familiar place. I loved the Southwest when I lived there, and I really got used to being in this type of environment again. If felt so familiar.
It was the perfect setting for the camp. Very quiet, serene, beautiful. Rambling vistas everywhere to just stare at, and take a very deep breath. I think students would have no problem feeling inspired to create in this space. In the morning and evenings it was quite cool. However, just as you may have guessed, the day time was hot. You really had to keep up your fluids up here, or else, heat exhaustion. I loved visiting the Agastya Foundation and staying on their campus for those few days. It was a great break from the traffic, humidity and people-packed city. It would have been great to see more of the State itself, but I was happy I got to see this small corner.
When I visited this school, I had no idea that these students were so apt to show their talents. The students were so eager to show off their dance moves and singing. We had a whole evening of pre-dinner performances. Many of the students improvised and made up percussion with the objects around them. These two kids were really quite amazing. It just goes to show you, that no matter what your background is, your circumstances, art transforms the space. On first glance many of us may look at the state of the classroom and think nothing can be accomplished in a grey, uninspired room. Sometimes it just takes a single action to transform the space. The students who shared their talents that evening made the environment warm, joyful, exciting, and playful.
The major highlight of being involved with NalandaWay Foundation was being able to attend, observe and help facilitate an arts camp called Kanavu Pattarai (dream workshop). The purpose of the camp is to immerse youth in community building strategies. By using arts based and mindfulness practices, Kanavu Pattarai camps educate and train diverse communities to create responsible children who are expressive and positive in their choices.
Before we arrived at the camp for this session, our group stopped along to visit some other groups at some different schools who had already experienced Kanavu Pattarai in previous sessions. The kids had recalled what they learned, shared with us the art and skits they created during camp. I even got to facilitate some group yoga practices. What a treat!
The best part for me was being able to interact with the kids, and noticing how receptive they were to my presence and trusting me to guide them through some poses. What a warm reception and some stand out, unforgettable moments.
Here is a glimpse of some of the students I met, the schools I visited, and what they shared with us:
I was approached by NalandaWay to help with a community project they were spearheading to bring groups of students and artists together in a school communities to create a murals. The idea was not only to improve the environment, but connect and integrate arts into making positive relationships. I loved this project so much I think I’m mentioning it twice on this blog. I had never posted the before and after pictures together, but I will today.
In early February I went to the school to choose the place for the mural. The Principal and a a co-worker went with me to help coordinate and choose an appropriate place for the mural. We decided it would be good to place the mural in the hallway, so that when kids saw it, they would be able to see it and interact with it. The hallway itself was an elementary part of the school contained in a larger high school. I would be working with kids in standard four, but the mural would be right outside of the door of the standard one and two classrooms.
I was so excited to be working with kids by this point. I had been out of my own classroom since December 22nd, so I felt like it was about time to have some interaction with kids again. The hard part would be deciding what would go on the wall. I had seen so many murals throughout the city of Chennai, what could I do for this school that could be a little different but also represent the school?
For some reason my mind immediately stayed with the word “school” and I decided on a “school of fish”. I found out that, I actually would have to draw the mural and create the idea. There just wasn’t enough time to include the students input on everything. However, they would be able to paint, mix and choose colors.
The mural had to be created and completed in about 2 1/2 days. It was a fast turn around, but I had some help. Two fantastic volunteers from Fidelity came to help me sketch out the mural and do some preliminary cleaning and painting. Without their help, it never would have been completed.
The second day, the kids would come paint. AND PAINT THEY DID! They loved seeing the wall come to life and already you could notice a change in the environment from just the buzz that was happening with the student painters. They had a blast mixing colors and getting to work. Many of the students passed up playing in the school yard so they could help paint more. They were so focused and dedicated. So many of the students were eager to speak with me in the English words they knew. The students shared how proud they were of their painting with their other friends and teachers, and when students were being picked up after school, some students took their family back to the wall to show off what they did.
Day three, was all in the details. I was working by myself to just clean it up a little and add the details that may have been missing. Many students came by to check in with me to see how it was going. They offered to help again, so I let them. They helped layer some of the details, and clean up some line work and mix colors. One little girl came to sit with me and talked to me a while. She told me stories about what she ate for lunch, and who took care of her. She told me her favorite foods, her favorite cartoon, and what she liked to do in her free time. She was a sweet, gentle, sensitive girl. I tried to persuade her to go back to her class, but she seemed to have no interest in leaving my side. At first I was a little worried that she may get in trouble, but no one came looking for her, and the other teachers who passed by us seemed to think that this was kind of a normal behavior for her. She wanted, maybe needed, some attention and kindness, and I was willing to give it to her.
Below, are some before, during and after pictures. It really was one of my most favorite experiences in India. So much so, that I would love to replicate the experience.