THE HINDU SUNDAY MAGAZINE
April 29, 2007
by ANTARA DAS
Khola Baksho encourages creative writing among marginalised and underprivileged youth of Kolkata.
TALES of courage and inspiration hardly ever begin with food packets. This one, however, proved to be an exception, as one learnt at the launch of Khola Baksho (Open Box), a magazine meant to encourage creative writing among marginalised and underprivileged youth, who spend their lives in shelter homes, red light districts, urban slums and railway platforms.
“When poetry writing workshops initially started in our shelter home, I used to look forward to it more for the food packets than anything else,” said Uma Dutta, one of the 10 youth workers of “Kalam: Margins Write”, instrumental in conceiving, developing, editing and designing the magazine.
“Kalam: Margins Write”, is a wing of the NGO Daywalka Foundation, a U.S.-based NGO that fights trafficking in women and children for commercial sexual exploitation, with special focus on India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Kalam, a rights-based creative writing programme, empowers marginalised young people to script their own story instead of it being written and spoken from outside.
The idea of Khola Baksho manifested itself when Uma and other youth workers of Kalam, who had gone through a two-year period of reading, writing and composing poetry, decided that they must do their bit to bring other marginalised voices to the forefront.
So began the journey that saw the youth workers travel through the city as well as the outlying villages, the open box in their hands, urging young people in schools or shelter homes to write about themselves, convincing the uninitiated that in their fledgling efforts lay a world of possibility waiting to be discovered.
Often, the youth workers were turned away at the gates of the institution themselves. Sometimes, they were mistaken for vendors who were selling those boxes. But wherever they managed to deposit their box, they never came back empty handed. “After all, the urge to express our feelings is present in every one of us,” says Uma .
A strong sense of professionalism marked the approach of the youth workers involved in the production process. Mostly in their teens or early twenties, they devoted themselves to the production process, quickly becoming proficient in the use of software necessary to edit and compile the poems written in Hindi, Bengali and Urdu by these new and emerging writers.
“The youth workers, many of whom have a very traumatic past, were more professional and stricter about deadlines than any of us,” said Bishan Samaddar, Programme Coordinator for “Kalam: Margins Write”. The Daywalka Foundation financed the entire initiative.
At the official launch of the magazine on February 18, the youngsters who had contributed to the magazine read out their poems on the stage in front of an assembled audience.
While a poem by 13-year-old Bobby Makal explored the meaning of life (“What is life, a torn blank page that is carried away by the wind… “), another by Prakash Upadhyay, 14, recounted the memory of a previous love, ending poignantly with: “She left, and in her wake/she left behind her memories.”
What emerged, from the act of reading the poem as well as through the interactive session that followed, was that these young adults had well rounded ways of looking at their past and present and a lot of hope for their future.
So while Prakash wanted to become a radio jockey and Sarathi Khatoon wanted to involve herself in social work, Rahul Goswami was already a part of an aspiring Bengali rock band.
Kalam had initiated this programme as it had felt that the time had come when the margins started writing for themselves instead of waiting for someone outside to do the job.
But as Anindya Chattopadhyay, a youth icon and member of the Bengali rock band Chandrabindu, who had come to launch the inaugural edition rightly summed up, “Poets do not reside in the margins; where they reside is the fountain of creativity.”
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