Walking with Rama

Faith Gonsalves

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When I entered “Barsoom” a bar in Hauz Khaz Village, Delhi, Faith Gonsalves was sitting on a chair with her knees pulled to the chest and immersed in her Macbook.

Barsoom is a woody, science fiction inspired and eclectic space which offers wonderful food, cocktails and great music. It was only seven in the evening and the café looked empty.

Faith is the founder of Music Basti, a non-profit that provides structured music education to under-privileged children living in shelter homes in Delhi.

“We want to make a lasting change in the lives of these children through music.”

“We call our programme ‘Re-Sound,’ which introduces the elements of music including appreciation, listening and song writing through a creative and fun methodology, especially focused on voice and group learning.”

The entrance to the bar had a sliding door, which the guests who had started trickling in seldom closed it. This bothered Faith, she reached out her hand and closed it every time without showing her annoyance. She did not give up.

“Spread across 30 lessons over eight months, our trainers use both Hindustani and Western styles. The programme finally ends with a showcase, where kids perform to a wider audience,” she glowed with confidence.

What impressed me the most, unlike other young social entrepreneurs, who normally struggle for structure in their projects during their early years, Music Basti very soon had built a programme that had clear goals and a well defined implementation plan.

“Music is a powerful equaliser. It brings with it a whole host of learning and developmental benefits – whether it’s learning math and rhythm, language and singing or how to work together with other children,” she concluded.

While I shook hands with this beautiful and confident girl, the bar was filling up with a good mix of men, women and techno music.

Sriram Ayer

‘Walking with Rama’ is series of stories from my meetings with artists, musicians, dancers, actors, craftsmen and mavericks across India.

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Walking with Rama

Is that an earthquake?

“My chair is shaking. Is that an earthquake?” asked my friend.

My friend and I were having tea this Saturday morning at a café in Delhi.

My chair was shaking too, unusually long, for more than a minute. Very gently but not scary enough to run for cover. I felt weird. Actually surprised at how I felt the whole time. We looked at the attendants and they seemed curious and concerned too. A young bartender at the counter, who looked like someone from the north east or Nepal, seemed more excited about the unusual experience, than the rest of us.

We quickly googled and found that an earthquake had hit Nepal. My friend quietly asked the attendant if the young bartender was from Nepal. He nodded in affirmation and said that his family lived there. He then discreetly mentioned the news to the bartender.

Much to our surprise the bartender continued his work without batting an eyelid. He wasn’t curious to know more. He did not run to the telephone to call his family. He simply turned his back, perhaps to evade all our judging eyes.

Maybe he did not like to be identified as a migrant.

Maybe he needed more time to process what had happened.

Maybe he wanted to take a deep breath, alone.

Maybe he did not know what to do.

Maybe.

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Walking with Rama

Medhavi Gandhi

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“Sriram, I am here.”

It took me a while to figure out Medhavi’s office. After some initial reluctance I called her to help me with directions.

“Hey there,” I said after noticing a petite girl waving at me from a distance. She led me to her desk alongside a longish glass window with a gorgeous view of the lush vegetation outside.

Medhavi Gandhi, is the founder of Happy Hands Foundation based in Delhi. Her organisation trains youth in traditional craft forms like Dhokra metal sculptures from Jharkhand, Cheriyal scroll paintings from Telengana, Bidri craft from Andhra, Jadupatua paintings from Bengal under the guidance of master craftsmen. After training, these young people make use of the craft works and paintings to tell stories about heritage to school students.

“Traditional art works speak of stories, customs and rituals from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and folk lore. Our children are hardly exposed to any of these stories or these beautiful art forms,” she said.

I was impressed already.

She continued, “we also train artisans to create newer designs, improve their marketing skills and find new customers.”

Before I proceeded, a little rat paid a visit, probably curious to know about her work like me. But the hairy visitor’s sudden arrival got one of her colleagues riled up.

“We are now very excited about our new school programme on the Vijayanagara dynasty where we would get children to learn history through art, craft and puppets,” she said with the excitement of a little girl.

“I would love to start a travelling museum that would travel to our schools to teach children our heritage. Perhaps even an institute where people of all ages can learn these art forms.”

“How do you stay motivated in this lone race?” I ask.

“When I see a handmade craft, I see simplicity, I see grace, a story waiting to be told, an art dying to be promoted and I know there is a large audience waiting to hear these stories,” she replied confidently.

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Walking with Rama

The Beginning

Three weeks ago, quite whimsically I decided that I would go on a tour across India to meet  artists, musicians, dancers, actors, craftsmen, and schools who teach arts to children. I am hoping that my meetings with these men, women and children would help me make connections, learn about their work and find ways to use them at NalandaWay.

But I also see this as a pilgrimage, a journey for introspection and search for meanings. The journey which I foresee to be short travels through the year, does not have a goal. Atleast not yet. I am calling this nomadic tour, “walking with Rama.” This Rama has nothing to do with the husband of Sita. It just implies, “walking with myself.” My name is Sriram too, just in case you did not know.

I intend to write about my conversations and my reflections here.

My walk with Rama began in Delhi this weekend where I met some incredible women, men and a dog. Their stories will follow soon.

Be nice, read and do comment.

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In medias res

Madhu

I am extremely proud of my dear friend Madhu, who works for the rehabilitation of refugees who flee Syria. She is based in Jordan in the region that borders Syria. Two aid-workers from her organisation have been brutally murdered by ISIS barbarians in the last one year. News from the region always gives me chills, worried about her safety. She messaged me earlier today that she was doing fine and she may be leaving for Iraq soon. I do not have the courage to do the kind of work she does. More power to you Madhu. Proud of you.

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In medias res

Study tour

I am planning to go on a study tour on arts education across India. I would like to meet artists, musicians, dancers, actors, craftsmen, and schools with experience in teaching their art forms to children. While I prepare my schedule, which I foresee would be short travels through the year, can you suggest names of people/institutions that I should meet? Also looking for fellow travellers who would like to join me on this pilgrimage. Hit me if any one is interested.

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In medias res

Kuttram Kadithal

This morning I was at the music release function of the Tamil Film, Kuttram Kadithal – The Punishment. This film had won the National Award for the best Tamil Film recently. The director Bramma, lead actor – Pavel and associate director – Suri were my colleagues at Nalandaway Foundation. Besides the child actor Ajay, two assistant directors Deva and Praveen, now young adults, had undergone NalandaWay’s programme when they were in their teens.

When Bramma told me that Rajnikanth had called him last week, to congratulate him on the award, I jumped with joy.

When Bharathiraja, one of the master directors of Tamil cinema and also a National Awards jury member in his speech today said, “Bramma, you and your team have made a film that I have never had the courage to make,” I was in tears.

I have been a close witness to their dreams and struggles; their moments of hope and despair; their love stories and heart breaks.

Nothing is as sweet as success. Savour the moment. You guys deserve this win.

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