Archive for the 'Events' Category

Rising Voices Reports Back with Rahool

David Sasaki of Rising Voices accompanied Rahool at the Interdependece Day Summit in Brussels last week. Here is is report from the Rising Voices Blog:

interdependence-day banner.jpg

Greetings from the sixth annual Interdependence Day in Brussels, Belgium. I am here with Rahool Goswami of the Neighbourhood Diaries project in Kolkata, India and Patricia Rakotomalala of the Foko project in Madagascar, both of whom are representing Rising Voices at the first ever Youth Summit of Interdependence Day. rahool and pati

Pati and Rahool at Interdependence Day Intellectuals, political leaders and artists from around the world gather each year for the four-day forum that corresponds with the 9/11 anniversary to help find cooperative alternatives to terrorism, and to help create democratic solutions to global challenges related to economics, the environment, technology and health. The theme of this year’s forum, “The City as Commons in a Divided World”, examines the challenges facing multicultural cities like Brussels as microcosms of the greater challenges to peaceful co-exitence in our era of accelerating globalization. Here is a ten minute promotional video about the event.

At last year’s Interdependence Day in Mexico City the organizers of the event realized the importance of involving young people in the discussions about achieving global interconnectedness and ‘interdependence’, which led to this year’s inaugural Global Interdependence Youth Summit. Around twenty young participants from around the world representing Rising Voices, Remedee, OneVoice, and the The Flemish Youth Council all came together to discuss issues related to intercultural dialogue. Picture 1.png

Participants of the Global Interdependence Youth Summit

For Rahool Goswami from the Neighbourhood Diaries project, this was his first time out of West Bengal. Here are his impressions on the differences between his hometown of Kolkata and Brussels.

The Youth Summit gave the participants an opportunity to interact with well known intellectuals and celebrities like Cornel West who candidly answered whatever questions were put to him. Here is Professor West speaking about the internet, hip-hop, and hierarchies of power:

Dalia Labadi, one of the Palestinian representatives of OneVoice also produced a video interview with Cornel West about the Palestinian struggle. The youths also had a chance to talk amongst themselves and lead their own discussions, including a dynamic group exploration of identity. The final day of the conference was specifically dedicated to the Youth Summit. Unfortunately most of the adults from the previous three days did not attend the youth forum, but all of the Youth Summit participants were pleased to find out that they will be invited to next year’s Interdependence Day which will take place in Istanbul in September 2009. They made several suggestions about how the Youth Summit can be expanded and improved. The final panel of the conference examined “The Need for Intercultural and Transnational Collaboration.” It gathered Benjamin Barber, James Early, Adam Michnik, and Ferenc Miszlivetz along with four of the youth participants: Shlomo Haar from Israel, Christoforos Pavlakis from Greece, Patricia Rakotomalala from Madagascar, and Hainalka Szarvas from Hungary.

Unfortunately most of the conversation bounced back and forth between the adults on either side of the table, which makes Pati’s point about adults needing to take more seriously the thoughts and suggestions of youth all the more poignant: There were originally supposed to be five young representatives from Rising Voices at Interdependence Day, but Diego Ospina, Deneiber Mesa, and Taslima Akter all had difficulties securing their visas. Hopefully they will be able to join Rahool, Pati and the other youths at next year’s Global Interdependence Youth Summit in Istanbul. While Diego, Deneiber, and Taslima were not able to join us, we were fortunate to receive a surprise visit by Sipagasy, a longtime supporter and volunteer of the Foko project who is based in Paris. She wrote a post in French on the Foko blog about her participation in the event, and particularly the guided tour of Molenbeek by activist priest Daniel Alliet. Rising Voices has shown that, slowly but surely, the internet can bring together individuals from across cultures, countries, and languages. But nothing beats being able to sit down face to face and enjoy relaxing conversation.

We are grateful to the organizers of Interdependence Day for enabling us to do just that in Brussels and we look forward to more great conversation with more diverse voices in Istanbul next year.


Launch of Khola Baksho 2008

‘Kalam: Margins Write’ cordially invites you to the launch of its annual literary magazine

Khola Baksho, 2008 Issue 2

April 12 2008, 5pm

Worldview Bookstore, Jadavpur University Campus
Subarna Jayanti Bhawan
188 Raja S C Mullick Road, Kolkata- 700 032

An annual magazine published under the initiative of Kalam:Margins Write, Khola Baksho is a platform for young people living in the urban margins of Kolkata (railway platforms, slums, red light areas and shelter homes) to share stories, reflections and artwork from their everyday lives. Khola Baksho started out with the belief that, instead of being defined by the world in many ways, the margins need to speak for themselves.

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

Glimpses from ‘Poetic Spaces’ at Odegaard Library

Poetic Spaces: An Exhibition of Photographs and Poetry of Youth In Calcutta was on exhibit at University of Washington’s Odegaard Library from March 19 – April 30th, 2007. Here is a glimpse from the exhibit, as well as, comments from visitors:

Poetic Spaces Exhibit

Visitors Comments:

“Wonderful Photography, beautiful prints. Thank you for such a beautiful show, and intimate look into another perspective, from another culture, ringing out with the humanity we share.” — KB

Beautifully presented. Poignant poems and photos. Lovely prose describing the placse of people and activities of their lives. Kalam’s work is so wonderful and valuable. Awesome. Thanks for bring it to us. “Every poem adds to the stock of our Realities” (Jane Hirshfield). We need to see these photographs and here these poems. — Anonymous

Odegaard Library

Second Floor, Odegaard Library

I was blown way by this exhibit! The way the artists are portrayed; the photography itself; and the way the exhibition is presented was really powerful and moving. I felt inspired and empowered to hope. Thank you. — Nitika

The poetry speaks the words that many times the photographs can not. But the photographs gives the poetry a reality, a soul, a place on this earth for its existence, because it has a face, a place… I think this is such a wonderful project that you have displayed here. The combination of photography and poetry can surely touch a person’s heart. — Suzanne

I really enjoyed the exhibit, as well as the way it was narrated. I am happy that you guys were so clearly thinking about issues of identity and voice. –Rowan

posted by Sahar Romani

Claiming Poetic Spaces: The Poetry of Youth in Calcutta

Kathy Sauber
Sahar Romani, founder of Kalam: Margins Write, left, and Sakina Hussain, a fellow graduate student associated with the UW South Asia Center, prepare to hang a photograph of a student poet. 
The University of Washington Faculty and Staff Newspaper
Mar. 29, 2007
Claiming poetic spaces: The poetry of youth in Calcutta

By Catherine O’Donnell
News and Information


Bijoy Das sweeps the floors in the Malda train station outside Calcutta, India. But the young man is more than a janitor. He’s also a poet.

Das is part of Kalam: Margins Write, a creative writing program for young people ages 16 to 22 living around Calcutta on train platforms, in a red light district, or in a shelter for daughters of sex workers.

The young people’s writing is the heart of Poetic Spaces, a photo essay mounted by Sahar Romani, a graduate student in UW South Asian Studies, who created the Kalam program. The exhibit, which began March 20 and continues through April 30, is on the first and second floors of Odegaard Undergraduate Library.

Romani, 26, created Kalam — in several south Asian languages, it means “pen” — as the result of a seven-month trip to India and Nepal, where she studied alternative education programs.

The first Kalam workshop began in 2004, producing one booklet of poems. Since then, Kalam has expanded to four workshops a year plus a series of poetry booklets, performances and exhibits. Twenty Kalam interns work with three coordinators, including Romani. Charities help Calcutta people with food, shelter and education, but intangibles are needed as well, Romani explained. “There’s also a basic need to nurture imagination and one’s own voice. Our program is for these young people, to help them struggle with lives beyond labels, to think outside the label.“Oftentimes, when we think of urban youth in Calcutta, we imagine them helpless victims, but their reality is more nuanced,” she said. “This photo essay tries to capture those nuances. It captures the poetry in their daily lives. In their own neighborhoods, they’ve claimed poetic spaces.”

Many of the young people Romani works with know how they’re expected to respond to police and aid organizations, said Keith Snodgrass, associate director of the UW South Asia Center. Rarely, though, do such people have chances to speak candidly. “The Kalam Project helped provide the opportunity,” Snodgrass said.

Photographs next to the poems speak of simple things: teenage girls in a bare, rustic dormitory; a girl studying a book while lying on her stomach in the sun; a boy writing in a notebook while perched on a railway platform.

The poems and photographs give a sense of perspective, said Seattle resident Lalit Kraushaar, who visited the exhibit in late March. Lives Westerners might perceive as desperately poor and ugly may actually be hopeful and even joyous.

“Sahar Romani recognizes the power of helping young people find words to share both their joys and their struggles,” said Christine Stickler, a member of Kalam’s advisory board and director of The Pipeline Project, a UW center for experiential learning. Romani and Bishan Samaddar, who helped build Kalam and is now a program coordinator, wrote the exhibit text. A friend, Tapomoy Guha Sarkar, took the 28 photographs.The UW Center for South Asia is sponsoring the exhibit as part of its four-year Exploring Asia Project. This year’s emphasis is youth and childhood in Asia.

Funding for Kalam, $20,000 a year, comes from The Daywalka Foundation, which is based at the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University.

Two poems from the exhibit:


One day I went to Calcutta city.
Suddenly a guy asked me
“Hey kid, who are you?”
Then I told him
“I’m a poet.”
The guy said, “But you sweep train floors.”
I said, “I do sweep floors,
But on my own I’ve become a poet.”

By Bijoy Das


The Umbrella

The second monsoon month
A red sky
I had gone out with an umbrella
Amid the crowd on the main road
But I was alone
Raindrops were flying in the wind, the smell of
Dust and burning tyres
And my umbrella flew off and was lost
Just as some people lose their love, faith, shelter.

By Gopal Paswan

Exhibition Comes to Seattle

Poetic Spaces Poster

Poetic Spaces: An Exhibition of Photographs and Poetry of the young living on the Margins of Calcutta

Venue: Odegaard Library, University of Washington
Dates: March 19 – April 30, 2007

Poetic Spaces — an photo essay of poetry and photographs of youth living on Calcutta’s social and economic margins — that Kalam created in the monsoon of 2004 is now on exhibit at University of Washington’s Odegaard Library.

This photo essay challenges the reductive language and imagery of associated with the ‘poor’ and ‘underprivileged’ youth of Calcutta. It seizes twenty adolescents living in two popularly stigmatized social spaces – a red-light area and a juvenile shelter home – unveiling their lives in daily moments of agency, resistence, and creativity as creative writers and cultural thinkers.

Poetic Spaces was first on exhibit at Seagull Arts and Media Resource Center in Kolkata, India in August 2005. It is now on exhibit in Seattle. It sponsored and supported by University of Washington’s South Asia Center of the Jackson School of International Studies, The Daywalka Foundation, and Kalam: Margins Write.

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.