Archive for the 'Community Awareness' Category

Kalam and Thoughtshop: Towards creating a sense of belonging with the community

In March-April, Kalam has been holding a series of 4-5 workshops with Thoughtshop Foundation, a Kolkata-Based social communications organization. Thoughtshop is in the process of conducting a 2-year process with certain para clubs with a mandate of social development, helping them to go beyond performing certain altruistic activities with the community throughout the year, equipping them to take on the role of para resource centres. The young people had already been trained to make hardcore surveys in the para, focussing on statistics, facts and figures. Kalam was asked to step in at this point and take these young people through certain experiences/processes that would build a sense of deep bonding and ownership with the community, as well as increase critical and creative thinking about the same.

We put together four sessions, partly inspired from Neighbourhood Diaries but diverging from it in many repects. We have been working with seven people from different communities, in the 21-27 years age range, from slumlike areas close to the Airport, Khidderpore, VIP road and Lake Gardens. The first session happened on 7th March, where we focussed on discussing the “geographical” vs “emotional” boundaries of a para, drawing a “personal Para Map”, and creatively writing about one’s para using the 5 senses. In the 2nd session on the 14th, we tried to reach an understanding of the sense of “home” within the para/community, as well as the diferent types of people within ones para, and how we could reach across to them. On the 28th, in the third session, we examined the different stages in our personal lives, what we were, what we are and what we are yet to become, recollecting memories as well as visualizing our roles in the community, and then went on to research parallely the stage-by-stage history of the community in the same way. In the 4th session on the 4th of April, we focussed on trying to bulid up a sense of belonging/pride with our community through the process of writing tourist book articles on our paras.

The process was quiet fruitful. We could see the sense of ownership with the para/community develop and deepen as the process of introspecting and critical thinking went on. We will meet these people for the 5th and final session after two weeks, in which we will try to clarify and redefine “para” and “community”. The participants will also create scrapbooks about their communities, putting together all the writing and artwork they have done with us so far, and adding snaps.


Student Impressions on Poetic Spaces Exhibit

Students from an undergraduate course at the University of Washington — South Asian Studies 436: Social and Political Geographies of South Asia — visited the Poetic Spaces exhibit at Odegaard Library last month.

This course, taught by Rowan Ellis, looks at the changing nature of education, employment, and political participation in the context of economic liberalization. It also explores the contested notions of development, modernity, and identity. The course meets twice a week for two hours with roughly 20 students, who are primarily upper-level Geography and South Asian Studies majors.

In the third week of the course the class went to see the Kalam’s exhibit in the undergraduate library as part of an attempt to “ground” e scholarly accounts of economic inequality and urban living. Sahar also gave a guest lecture to the class on Kalam and its work as an alternative development program for youth communities in Kolkata.

Here are some impressions of students after touring the Poetic Spaces exhibit:

Student Ashish Gupta said,

Ambition, nostalgia, personal identity; these are things that connected me with the work of these poets, transcending the gulf between our backgrounds. I was also captivated by some of the imagery and descriptive language. In “Banks of the Ganga,” for example, I was whisked away, my mind immersed in the natural sights and sounds of the riverfront. “Full Moon Night” was instantly relatable; its beautiful imagery captured the feelings of countless dreamers, and I could not help but revisit the many nights I have spent looking at the stars and thinking of the future. I was struck by the perfect simplicity of “Identity”; the metaphor was unique and the tone of the poem struck a wonderful balance between melancholic and hopeful. I really appreciated the work of these Indian poets, and I am now inspired to pick up a pen myself!

Student Brad King said,

These photographs seemed to focus on conflicts of identity. They show a struggle between the new and the traditional or as we learned it, the east and the west. These images are of young men wearing tattered dress shirts and khakis, reading books. In my mind, they show people expressing what I see as a duality of the different identities that they have been presented. These photos and essays also help because they show the individuality and make it harder for us to generalize or make the assumption that all that exists is a large faceless group of poor people. It helps us to appreciate the complexities of their everyday life and the essays and poems give us deeper insight to the conflicts they face, the differences that they have and help us to understand how they see themselves being portrayed.

Adrienna Jones said,

Poetic Spaces was a touching display about people living in Calcutta who were able to write poetry about their hardships. They lived in the red light districts, shelter homes in Kalighat and the suburbs of Bagha Jatin. Since there was a preface on how these people had or were living and what their status was, the pictures struck me as a window. I expected the display to be more depressing or overwhelmingly shocking. It was not. The poems did not deal with prostitution or extreme abuse. They did reveal a genuine person who has undoubtedly been through hardships but was able to still show their dreams and strength.

For example, the poem about the boy who wrote about the stars, at first I thought he meant shine as a human being who does great things. I realized that he was an aspiring to be a Bollywood actor. Or the poem, From a Rock to a Tree, it is difficult to imagine that a person who has been exposed to extremes or has committed crimes that there are such deep thoughts and touching words. The man who wrote that poem fell in love and was married.

The people’s work on display seemed just like anyone else who has dreams and aspirations. The program Kalam, has taken a handful of people in India and empowered them. I believe people have to find their voice and find a way to feel good about themselves. People who have been marginalized can be angry, sad, bitter, violent, scared and suicidal. The program showed that just because these people and many more are or have been in their same situations they do desire similar things to those who are socio economically stable or have not lived in extremes. Being able to hear directly from the people is a change from the lens of NGO’s. It is wonderful concepts to have the people represent themselves instead of someone else advocating for them.

Student Joni Solema said,

I thought that the exhibit was wonderful and it was nice to see that a writing group can add so much more intrinsic value to their lives, given that I was under the impression that most of these young people either lived in shelters or were very hard working. I generally related the authors to people of being from a lower class rather than the middle class that we are currently focusing on in the readings and lectures. I thought that the use of images and chosen poetry displayed very well the growing economic disparity that is going on throughout India and the concentration of commercial growth focusing on the middle class and the kind of invisibility or ability to over look the forgotten, which in this case is the young and impoverished cohort that is roughly half of India’s population. In many of the images we could see the huge advertisements in the back and the sort of way that the children’s lives are despite the economic reforms that are in progress.

I thought that the description of “A Red Light Area: Kaligat, Calcutta” of who was involved in the writing was very interconnected with the economic conditions with wording that in some senses were great opposites of each other like; “stigma, violence, dysfunction” and “jubilation and euphoria” when describing the landscape that they have to live in everyday. Also the description of how identity is achieved through poetry and expression, which also has dramatic pros and cons. In many of the poems that I read I got a sense of freedom within the author’s expressions. In which many of the writers described a feeling of being trapped and abandoned and how through poetry their expression of wanting to be more and feelings accomplishment prevailed. This exhibit showed for me the strength that everyone has in them and that anyone can endure and prevail given the right access and outlet to change, despite their socioeconomic status. My personal favorites was the poem entitled “Banks of Ganga” by Nitai Naya, that even through the beauty and greenery of the surrounding views the author can still see the thatched roof hut in the horizon, which kind if displays the kind of endless cycle that they have to endure given their environment and position, even though India is pushing for a more modernized culture there is still a great amount of poverty that they have to deal with before they move on. Another one of my favorite poems was “From a rock to a Tree” by Amit Pal, in which through the writing program he saw and experienced freedom from a world that otherwise confined him and in the end he found love and personal expression and growth.

posted by sahar romani