Archive for February, 2007

Opening the Open Box: The Khola Baksho Launch

posted by bishan samaddar


On Sunday, February 18, 2007, Kalam launched its annual literary magazine ‘Khola Baksho’ (Open Box). The run-up to the event had seen all of us really tense. The copies of the magazine did not arrive till about a few hours before the launch. After seven months of gestation, and quite a few days of labour, we were all really anxious to see the magazine, to hold it in our hands and stare at it like a precious little thing we all created. Two nights before the launch, our printer (and eternal saviour) Ronnie had warned me that the images used in the magazine had been scanned at dangerously low resolution, and would most likely look pretty bad once printed. Thus, my expectations were, sadly enough, quite low.

At noon, when Uma, our Design Editor, walked in, I could feel that she too was as tense. And then the copies of the magazine arrived. I tore open the packet, held the thing out, and sighed. It looked exactly like what I had thought it would look. I ran to Uma, and she was elated. She quickly flipped through the pages and screamed: “But this looks great!” It sure does! Pooja arrived at that moment, and she too was ecstatic to see the magazine! One by one the Youth Staff members started pouring in. There were a few (almost glaring) errors on the pages of the magazine, and we immediately got to correcting them. The event-flow for the evening was also planned. Mrityunjoy had interesting suggestions, which were unanimously accepted.

By the time we all reached the site of the event, the stage had already been constructed. But the background was looking a little blank and uninspiring. Bina and Sudeshna got to work at once, and soon the black stage was scintillating with alphabets cut out of paper, a symbol of Kalam’s essential association with the written word. The young poets who would read the poems had started to arrive. Soon it was 5 p.m. and the chairs had filled up with a diverse crowd. The Press had started to arrive by the dozens, much to the beaming satisfaction of Arundhati, our PR coordinator. I was having to run around from one mediaperson to the other. Anindya Chattopadhyay, a youth icon in himself, and member of Chandrabindu, the famous Bangla Band, had agreed to officially launch the magazine, and also conduct an informal tête-à-tête on stage with the published poets and the young editors of Khola Baksho.

Once he arrived, we started the show (although about 15 minutes late). Mrityunjoy was the MC. A box had been created with a copy of the magazine sealed inside, and Anindya had to forcefully tear through the box to pull out the magazine. Once it was done, once everybody had had a quick look at the inaugural issue of Khola Baksho, the young poets were given the stage one by one. A series of very smart presentations followed. Some of these young boys and girls were getting on to a stage for the first time, but that was never evident. They were bursting with confidence and pride as they read their own poems out to a crowd of more than a hundred people. In the interaction that followed, Anindya posed interesting questions at the young poets, who were eager and forthcoming with their answers.

Abhijit Lodh said that his poetry was like love, a constant companion in life. Rahul Goswami spoke of the “boiling blood” inside him and other young people that often expresses itself through poems and songs. Prakash Upadhyay was extremely happy to be on stage in front of the public, and said that he really wanted to be a Radio Jockey when he grows up. Monika Ghosh said that Khola Baksho has made a difference in her life because it has given her a platform that no other entity so far had. Priyanka Gayen expressed her confidence that Open Box will always be open for people like her whose voice doesn’t get any attention anywhere else.

On behalf of the Kalam Youth Staff, who were also called upon the stage by Anindya, Nargis spoke of the challenges faced by us in the production of this magazine, and announced assuredly, assuringly, that we will be progressively professional in the act of bringing out this yearly magazine. The event ended, as planned, at 6:30 p.m. It had passed off well. People had been buying the magazine like mad, and we had run out of all the copies we had. The weather had been fine, with no hint of rain. The young poets were happy. The Youth Staff were happy. We were all pretty relieved. It hadn’t been easy. After tearing through the box that contained the inaugural issue of Khola Baksho, Anindya Chattopadhyay had symbolically said, “It’s not easy opening boxes”. Well, we know.


Just an Open Box of Thoughts

Khola Baksho Launch


Just an Open Box of Thoughts

by Chandreyee Chatterjee

Kolkata, 20 February 2007

Piyali Mondal,14, lives in a shelter home in Jhargram. Sarathi Khatun, 13, goes to school but doesn’t have many friends. Shikha Roy, a young enthusiastic speaker, stays in a shelter home but doesn’t have a platform to interact.

Piyali, Sarathi, Shikha and many like them staying in slums, shelter homes and red-light areas are leading lives in a tightly-closed environment.In order to help these “marginalised” youngsters express their feelings, a little magazine for the young, by the young, of the young, was launched by Kalam: Margins Write, a city NGO. “The magazine is the brainchild of our young members, who have been with Kalam since it was formed. Our idea is to give these youngsters a platform to speak out and reach the mainstream,” said Bishan Samaddar, programme coordinator, Kalam, an initiative of the Daywalka Foundation.

The magazine, featuring poems, stories and write-ups in Bengali, Hindi and Urdu was launched on Sunday. “I never knew I could write poems. I am so glad that my poems have been published,” smiled Sarati Khatun, who has written in Hindi and Bengali. The magazine has come as an achievement for Kalam and its youth staff. It has been conceived, developed, edited and designed by the youth brigade. “A few years back, we were attending workshops, learning how to express ourselves. Today, we are conducting workshops and teaching how to write. The magazine is our dream. We never thought we could be able to bring out the magazine,” smiled Reshma Khatun, of Kalam.

The magazine will be available at the Kalam office, local newspaper and magazine stalls and stands, along with some of the popular bookstores. It is priced at Rs 10 per copy. Kalam: Margins Write works with underprivileged youths to provide them a platform to express their creativity through writing workshops, public readings and publishing small volumes of poetry.

Global Health through Different Lenses

posted by sahar romani 

The 5th Annual Western Regional International Health Conference – “Global Health through Different Lenses: Reflections, Perspectives and Visions for  the future” took place  this weekend, Febuary 16-18th at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The  conference included a break-out session, “Empowerment Work in South Asia,” which aimed to share and discuss a range of empowerment-based models for creating positive personal and social change with marginalized communties in India.  I was  invited as a panelist for this session to discuss Kalam as a model that uses art education and creative writing as an empowerment process for young people. In a global health context, I discussed Kalam’s  pedagogy and programs that work towards address creative and intellectual health of marginalized young people in Kolkata. I shared how Kalam believes the nourishment of creative and intellectual health  is imperative when imagining holistic empowerment interventions for marginalized communities.  This session also included a discussion by Vinoy Odhar from Action Aid India who spoke of empowerment interventions with Dalit communities in Bihar. The session was a well attended by a range of students and public health practitioners, and was followed by an  interactive Q&A session.

Pre-launch Story: A Box Full of Young Lives


A Box Full of Young Lives

Kolkata Saturday, February 17, 2007

Adversity is their life-partner. Every moment of their lives is crowded with hardships. Education is not a part of their daily ritual. They live scattered among the darkest or the near-darkest areas of the city. Sunrise doesn’t bring into these areas the romance of life.

Really, how little we know! We always arrive at conclusions and definitions from the outside, and we start uttering our regular exclamations of pity and superficial compassion, believing that to be the end of our responsibilities towards the marginalized.

That is why we can think vainly of ‘Poetry’ and ‘Rhythm’ as things extraneous to the intelligence of the marginalized.

But THEY don’t. And fortunately they don’t. Otherwise our vanity would never have been punctured. We are talking about an international non-profit organization, the Daywalka Foundation. They fight trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation and work for human rights and social justice in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. They enter closed spaces like slums, red-light districts and shelter homes and light up the nooks and corners of these dark spaces with their initiatives.

Kalam: Margins Write has been a companion of these marginalized people since 2004. Kalam is a wing of the Daywalka Foundation, and a unique initiative: an initiative to elicit the creativity of disadvantaged childhoods. Kalam inspires youth to bring to the tips of their pens the rhythms that crowd their young minds. Away from the eyes of ‘all-knowing’ society, these childhoods, these youths grow up silently into writers and poets. Soon we shall be holding in our hands a poignant reflection of their hopes and fears, their dreams and dreamlessness, written by them and presented according to their sweet whims: Khola Baksho (Open Box), a Little Magazine of a very different order. In the making for months, it is a yearly magazine. The entire initiative and responsibility of bringing out this magazine rests with a group of spirited youth. Khola Baksho is filled with poems and stories in Bangla, Hindi and Urdu. It has life, it has pain, it has romance, it has joy. And above all, it has in store for a vain and arrogant public, a silent tight slap: “We can do it too!”

That is why, tomorrow’s evening, in which ‘Khola Baksho’ will be launched, is an evening of great promise.

You are Invited


Join us for the launch of Khola Baksho’s inaugural issue.
All are Welcome.

Sunday, 18 February 2007, 5pm
Madhusudan Mancha Complex, Dhakuria, Kolkata

Run-up to the Khola Baksho Magazine Launch

posted by bishan samaddar

A Khola Baksho poster at T3

So the day of the launch that has been waiting for quite a while is finally here. From Sunday, February 18, Khola Baksho will be available for people to read. It will be a magazine featuring poems and stories by marginalized youth. It will be brought out by a group of youth who themselves hail from the margins of urban society. It will be the first of its kind.

The run-up hasn’t been perfectly smooth. Even as I write, imagining that 72 hours from now everything will be done and be over with, there are issues. There are issues with the quality of printing, issues with ensuring a good turn-out at the event, with the apathy of the local TV media, with the pixelization of the photo on the banner, with the number of chairs to laid out before the stage, with what to do with extra food packets, with…. Endless. Last Sunday, before the rooftop poetry reading, we had arranged for a “Stylistic Poetry Reading” workshop for all the poets whose poems have been published in Khola Baksho. One of Kalam’s friends, Mounik, had himself suggested that something like this really benefit those who would read their poems out on the day of the launch, and had agreed to facilitate the workshop. Unfortunately, and in spite of repeated reminders to the possible participants, very few turned up for the workshop. It opened our eyes as to how difficult it actually is to get young people to come to attend such workshops or events. We cannot take their presence for granted. Hence, getting the young poets to the launch is our primary challenge right now. We have worked out strategies for it, giving responsibilities for certain groups of poets to certain members of the Kalam Youth Staff.

Nargis, for instance, is responsible for bringing all the poets from Development Action Society to the site of the launch, and that too two hours in advance. We are confident it will work. Arundhati, Daywalka’s feisty PR Coordinator, had volunteered to lead up the Press. She’s outdone all expectations. She’s got the unlikeliest of people to come and do stories about our efforts at Kalam, especially Khola Baksho. And we are expected tons of media people on the day of the launch. The TV channels have been a little reluctant to cover the launch, but then, a few of them, including Rajdeep Sardesai’s national channel CNN-IBN has expressed interest in doing a general story on Kalam. Arundhati has even managed to convince one of Calcutta’s leading confectioners Kookie Jar to donate fifty packets of food for the young people present at the launch. Mrityunjoy, one of our most devoted Youth Staff, has been working tirelessly on getting the word out. He has been leading up the poster campaign, and, thanks to him, even the Calcutta Metro stations have posters now announcing the launch of Khola Baksho. We had hoped more of the Youth Staff would be able to contribute to these campaigns, but then February heralds the ‘Exam Season’ in. So, many of our youth are actually pre-occupied with studies and not easily available. In spite of this, however, they have pledged all possible time to Kalam and in helping with the launch.

So, as we know, it is here now. The day of the launch. We are all doing our bit, and somewhere deep inside, we are all confident we will sail through pretty fine.

Delhi’s Mohallas

posted by sahar romani

LNJP Basti and Ambedkar Nagar in Delhi are bustling with vibrant narratives. To an outsider, these mohallah’s or neighborhoods may seem like the standardized slum settlements, but the young practitioners at Ankur/SARAI’s Cybermohallah program write the nuanced histories, stories, and lives lingering in lanes and corners of their neighborhoods through words, images, and digital media.

The Ankur/ Sarai Project is an experimental collaborative initiative for the creation of nodes of popular digital culture in Delhi between Ankur, a Delhi based NGO and Sarai, the New Media & Urban Culture Programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. The word Cybermohalla, suggests a hybrid location, which has the open-endedness of cyberspace, qualified by the local specifities and intimacy of a mohalla or a dense urban neighbourhood.

The project works with young people living in slum settlements and working class neighourhoods. It brings together the energies of community based social intervention, creativity with texts, sound & images and innovative uses of computers and digital technology, while remaining alert to the imperatives of social and cultural specificity and autonomy.

Since 2004, many young practicioners were also writing in Naangla Maanchi — a 30 year old settlement along the western bank of Yamuna river and over the fly-ash deposits of a thermal power plant, that encountered municiple demoltions last year. The youth in Ankurs/Sarai Naangla Maachi’s small compughar or practitioner’s lab captured the stories, rythms, images, emotions of Nangla’s life and displacement like no journalist could. In the words of a young writer:

Pyaaso ki pyaas bujhata hai Nangla
Dilli sheher mein aane walo logo ka basera hai Nangla

It quenches the thirst of the thirst, such is Nangla.
Its shelters those who come to the city of Delhi, such is Nangla.

We in Kalam are deeply inspired by Ankur’s powerful work through the city of Delhi. We’ve been privileged to be in conversation with Ankur as we began as a pilot program in 2004 and evolve today as an organizaiton in the making. Ankur’s educators and the young practicioners continue to nourish Kalam’s imagination, practice, and belief in the meaningful work with words, youth, and margins here in Kolkata.

We are in solidarity.