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The Hindu Sunday Magazine: Writing in the Margins

THE HINDU SUNDAY MAGAZINE
April 29, 2007

Writing in the Margins

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.

Empowering youngsters

“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.

Professional attitude

“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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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.

UWEEK.org 
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

 
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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:

Identity

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

Just an Open Box of Thoughts

Khola Baksho Launch

THE TELEGRAPH

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.

Pre-launch Story: A Box Full of Young Lives

DAINAK STATESMEN [Bangla Edition]

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.

The Telegraph: Creativity without Chains

posted by sahar romani

THE TELEGRAPH
Metro Section, Kolkata Edition

Creativity without Chains

By Romila Saha

Kolkata, January 25, 2007

asu_kalam_story_telegraph_250107.jpg

Talking stories, that’s what students of Arizona State University (ASU) and the English department of Jadavpur University were busy doing on January 11. In India, as a part of the Kalam initiative of Daywalka Foundation, Melissa Pritchard and her students from the creative writing department at ASU delved into the stumbling blocks of fiction writing in India and the world over. The foundation has been working with underprivileged children associated with city NGOs to provide them with a platform to express their creativity.

Rimi B. Chatterjee, who is the coordinator of the Writing in Practice course at the Department of English, JU, spoke of the sense of violation in putting one’s writing for judgment before a readership that is quick to criticise. Pritchard referred to the scenario in the US where political forces often silence stories. Deemed as one of the many ways in which the creative voice is being muted, students also spoke on the traditional marginalisation of women writers. Bollywood came under discussion as an arena where melodrama is considered a valid expression of creativity.

The financial hurdles before people who take up fiction writing as career was brought to the fore by Subhadeep Paul, a final-year MPhil student of JU. He spoke on the difficulty of balancing the dual roles of academic and writer. Rimi B. Chatterjee, a published author herself, agreed, saying “writers have to survive in India by hiding deep under the cover of an academic”.

Responding to a student’s comment about being unable to write after reading Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Pritchard stressed the need to find one’s voice: “The best way to read is to unpack the writer’s work to find out what you like about him — read like a taxonomist! You can’t let yourself silence yourself.”

Many from the morning session came together that afternoon again at Caffeine on Elgin Road to read out their works.

On January 12, Pritchard’s crew participated in another creative writing workshop with youngsters from Kalam. A magazine, Khola Baksho, put together by them will be released in February with contributions from underprivileged children of NGOs Sanlaap, Diksha and Development Action Society.

During the workshop youngsters Nargis and Reshma Khatun asked how identities of characters from real-life incidents can be protected in narratives and how best to handle sexuality in fiction. Michael Green, an ASU student responded: “Poets have to be courageous. They are the ones meant to break the barriers of complacency. If you want to talk about sexuality, go ahead and talk about it.”

India Today: Bangla Edition

posted by pooja das sarkar

INDIA TODAY: BANGLA EDITION

(a summary translated in english)

The Poet’s Pen: The Language of Protest

By Madhuja Bhattacharya

Kolkata, 22 January 2007

kalam_india_today00012.jpg

Bapi, Shiuli, Krishna, Gopal, Bijoy – all of them are poets. They are all very young and they all dream big. Next month they are coming up with an annual magazine called Khola Baksho. Writing in this magazine are

those youth living at the socio-economic margins of society. Their

writings will be edited by other marginalized youth. Those youth whom we label so easily; whose personal details interest us more than their survived life’s struggles, are revealing their new identities to that collective “us” through the magazine as poets. And goading them on in this endeavour is Kalam.

But why poetry alone? Why not the form of an essay or a story? ” These young boys and girls have seen the hardcore realities of life up-close. Residing in red-light areas, railway platforms or slums, they are not in the habit of reading and writing in their day-to-day struggles. In such a situation, their inner-most feelings find expression most lucidly in the language of poetry”, says Bishan Samaddar on behalf of Kalam.

These youth study in local schools and they were introduced to poetry through their syllabus, although it was through Kalam that they came to know that poetry exists outside the syllabus too! Kalam conducts regular poetry workshops. Modern Bengali poetry of contemporary poets is also read out in these workshops. It was after Kalam’s Nargis Khatun had read Joy Goswami’s ‘Ghumiyecho Jhaupata’ that she began to find the courage to translate isolated moments into the language of poetry. There are many such youth who have been inspired to write through the workshops that Kalam has organized.And Kalam is planning many more such ways to give vent to the creativity of these youth. One such endeavor is the Khola Baksho which is being brought out by the youth next month, which has their stories, penned by them.

‘The Indian Express’ catches up with Kalam

posted by sahar romani 

In May 2006, 10 young writers from Kalam transformed into Kalam’s Magazine Youth Staff to create an annual literary magazine called Khola Baksho/Khula Baksa/Open Box. This 100%-youth-run, multi-lingual publication features literature and writing from teenagers living along Kolkata’s social and economic margins. Khola Baksho’s premier launch is on Febuary 18th at the Madhusudan Mancha open space (Dakshinapan Complex, Dhakuria, Kolkata).

Today’s edition of The Indian Express covers the story of Khola Baksho.

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

Verses from the Margins

By Pragaya Paramita

KOLKATA, January 18, 2007Verses from the Margins

Bohudin pore likhte boshechi/ janina ki likhbo/ janina ki likhbo
Tobu mone bhabi aamar lekha to shesh hoyeni/ kintu ki likhbo
Lekhar chondo ekhun aar posh manena/ lekhar shey goti amar sathi hoyena
Lekhar shey posh aaj amay matiye tolena/ aaj amay pagol kore tole na.

(A poem about the dilemma faced by a writer troubled by a loss of words and a sense of loss)

Whenever words don’t fail eighteen-year-old Rahul Goswami, he knows he has a platform for his thoughts — a magazine for the marginalised. Goswami is just one of those from the under-equipped quarters of the city whose verses have found place in a magazine that contains not just thoughts and poetic expression but also provides a peep into the world often left ignored and neglected at the roadside. From the fringes emerge Goswami’s poems. “The idea of Open Box took shape after we participated in a series of workshops. We realised that the workshops brought out the best in each one of us,” says Mritunjoy, a member of Kalam, which is a project initiated by the non-government organisation Daywalka . Teenagers like Goswami fitted the profile of the kind of people —all from an underprivileged background — who could possibly bring out the magazine. And so Open Box was created — a magazine where the marginalised youth found its voice, the first issue of which will be launched this month.

“We wanted to provide a platform where the youth can come out and give vent to their feelings via writing, be it prose or poetry. These youngsters feel there are not too many people interested in listening to their voices. We wanted to change that,” says Bishan Samaddar of Daywalka, who is in charge of the project. While many would consider it to be an ambitious project, the youth members are planning Open Box as an annual magazine which will have writings of 15 to 18 year olds in four languages: English, Bengali, Hindi and Urdu. “We plan to circulate the magazine everywhere from big bookstores, to small road-side tea-stalls. We want everyone to hear their voices,” says Mritunjoy.

It has certainly come a long way since the time the members approached Kolkata-based NGOs working with underprivileged children like Praajak, Don Bosco, Diksha and Sanlaap, and a few schools, to hold creative writing workshops with them. Teaching the children the nuances of poetry writing was not easy as the group soon found out. While quite a few of the children were unlettered, many suffered from Attention Deficit Syndrome. But that did not deter the ten young members of Kalam who took the initiative of launching the magazine from going to places far of as Malda to hold the workshops.

“We realised most of the children were writing about love and about things they felt but could not express. Most are in fact seeking love,” says Bina, another youth member. Most of the youth members have already had a few poems published in poetry books brought out by the NGO, poems that give an insight into their thoughts, agonies and hopes. For the children, attest the youth members, it was a surprise when they realised that people would be interested enough in their poems to want to publish them.

Once the early confusions were taken care of, the poems came in a torrent. Says Shiuli, a member: “Maybe Rahul had a bad affair that leads him to pen poignant verses, or maybe there are other reasons. But poetry has become his only outlet.”