Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Red. Bleeding, flowing red.

Red. The colour of Christmas.

Happy families ushering in the festivities with Christmas trees, Christmas gifts, planning the Christmas dinners. A few just taking the chance to spend time with friends and family, planning holidays and getaways. Even fewer spending time with those less fortunate, spreading cheer and happiness at orphanges and old-age homes.
Christmas, a time to hear the happy carols of little voices, see  the joyful laughter on little faces, read their letters to Santa and watch them eagerly opening their Christmas gifts.
Christmas, the season, children all over the world look forward to.
But for a few, this Christmas, meant none of the above.
The innocent ones who got killed. Before they could even imagine their gifts this Christmas.

Red. The colour of blood

Terrorists rounding up school children and killing them mercilessly. I can't call them humans. They lost that claim the day they killed children. Nameless, impotent animals who could look at the children in the eye and round them up and murder them. Unflinchingly. Mercilessly. Using religion to justify the massacre. Children who had probably gone to school with eager hearts, full of plans for the holidays. Children who had probably thrown paper planes at each other, waiting to open their lunch boxes and drawing cartoons on their notebooks when the teacher turned his back.

Till he entered. Till they entered. The gunmen.

Red. The colour of rage

I cannot even imagine what the parents of the children who were gunned down feel. No parent can. It is the worst imaginable nightmare. And the children who survived? Can anyone even feel their terror and their fear? Their friends being gunned down in front of their own eyes? As a parent, I sit, numb with fear, my hands shaking even as I pour out words. As a writer, I know I am shooting words as the only medicine that I feel can stop my shaking. Anything that will make me stop everything and run to my daughter's school right now. Hold her close and pray. And  wonder how I'll explain to her about evil that even I cannot comprehend.

We teach our children to gaze into the prism of imagination, paint a rainbow of dreams that crosses the bridge of reality. We teach them to be brave, to be independent. Can we teach them how it feels like to be held at gunpoint, in your own classroom, in your own school? Can we teach them not to cry when they are alone at that moment, needing us desperately? Can we take their place and save them from a destiny that was never meant to be theirs?

What should we tell our children?

Red. That's the colour all of us are probably seeing today, in our hearts, in our mind.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

A 100 hands and more

Centuries ago, Kabir, the weaver and the mystic poet wove his tales of mystic wisdom in his bhajans that transcended boundaries of faith and race.

Today, a Hundred Hands and the Handmade Collective that showcases work of artisans across India celebrated its 5th edition of annual exhibition in Bangalore bringing together work from states across India using multiple mediums but all interwoven with the common thread of poetry.

Artisans, poets and singers have often been inspired by the everyday nuances of life that they saw around them.  But people have rarely tried to combine them together and search for the common threads of history. Today, as many such traditional, hand-made art forms are struggling for patronage, it was wonderful to see the Collective bringing together people for such a wonderful cause. And it was much more than an usual Delhi-Haat copycat exhibition where the sellers sold outpriced material to the unsuspecting, rich buyers.

Here, the focus was more on awareness and interaction which worked better than just selling the wares. The Let Poetry Be event, an informal session with poetry and music discussed the many dying art forms such as Miniature Mughal Paintings and the Sojni art form of Kashmir. And to have a theme of art inspired by poetry, was indeed something Kabir himself would have dedicated a bhajan to!

Who knew that the Mughal miniature artists lose their eyesights by the time they are in their 40's needing to train their next generation or forever lose the mastery of the craft?  And the paintings, which started as an infographic recording of the kings' valour, have now become a recording of the history of the times? Or that the baskets that are woven in different parts of India have their own quirks and stories? Yes, history played a large role in the event as the interplay of motifs and colours across the regions of India added variety and richness to the display.

The delicate wares might decorate upmarket drawing rooms in apartments across the country. But for the artisans, it was a chance to tell their stories. Each stall, a story, of dedication and determination. And if some of them sold, well, then that wouldn't be a very high price to pay, would it, to adorn our beautiful drawing rooms?

The exhibition will continue till Sunday, for those interested in participating.


Monday, 1 December 2014

Who needs stories more?

Stories. We all loved them as children. Some of us still do. Last week as Kathalaya celebrated 15 years of their storytelling journey, that's what I felt as I heard internationally acclaimed storytellers Anotoni Rocha, Geeta Ramanujam and Prahlad Acharya shared their magic with the audience.

A folk tale from Brazil with crocodile and chicken teaching the powerful lesson of universal belonging. A message we would love our children to learn as the world increasingly becomes more polarized and intolerant. A lesson we might have thought they are too young to understand. But a lesson made simple and memorable by the plight of the thirsty, dancing chicken and the questioning, lazy crocodile.

Sometimes, even sounds and words seemed superfluous. With just hand movements showing the caterpillar's walk transforming into the flight of a butterfly and a spider busy spinning his web, Antonio created a world we had all seen, but rarely stopped to observe.

Geeta shared the simple message of spreading happiness through the tale of a scary, monster that was too scared to look at its ugly heart. Happiness, how much more simple could the message be? How much more important could it be for our children, and for us?

And then Prahlad showed his magic, literally. A single string of rope that transformed into threads of magic in his dexterous hands. Not happy with just showing kids the Indian rope trick, he also had them in splits with his ventriloquism act with an oversmart monkey. And saving the best for the end, he demonstrated the classic "Mile sur mera tumhara" with shadow play. 2 hands. All he used to recreate the differences and similarities of the myriad, different faces of India. Mesmerizing. Not just for children. Quite a few adults were moved to tears.

For two hours, children forgot their iPads and video games. Parents ignored their whatsapp messages and facebook posts. As they all returned to the simplicity of a world of stories. "Storytellers are just observers. We observe and then we share." Antonio summed up the evening even as eager children clamoured for autographs from their new heroes.

Over 15 years of storytelling from Kathalaya has now become a larger movement in Bangalore. New storytelling institutes have emerged today, engaging with schools and parents to share stories with children. Lessons of history, morals, geography are being shared today in the language children understand the best. Stories.

As a mother and a storyteller, I only hope more people join this movement. And that stories weave their colours of imagination and tapestry of dreams in the hearts of our children.

But wait a minute. We all know children love stories. What about us? Don't stories have the power to still give inspiration for the most cynical souls among us? The ones who have lost their way, the ones who are tired of battling with their own demons, the ones who are just a tiny step away from giving up, the ones who are so busy that they have forgotten how it felt like to just forget the world and hear the magic of a simple story? Can we observe and learn again? And share?

Stories. Our children need them. But I guess, we adults need them more.