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

The flight attendant

My Spice Jet flight to Chennai from Delhi earlier this evening was delayed for more than an hour. While I was waiting at the gate for boarding, I noticed an elderly couple walking anxiously towards the gate next to mine. Indigo flight also to Chennai was boarding its passengers from that gate. It was very close to the departure time and the Indigo ground staff were announcing their last call for boarding. The elderly couple approached the Indigo attendant at the gate. The gentleman in a low voice requested that they be given a little more time to board as his wife had to use the toilet. The attendant accepted their request without batting an eyelid, but requested them to be quick as the flight was already late. The couple quickly ambled towards the nearest toilet. There was no sight of them for sometime and the attendant became anxious but had got an empty bus waiting just for them. After ten minutes the couple slowly and nervously came back to the gate. The attendant smiled at them courteously, inquired if they were doing fine and led them to the waiting bus.

The attendant all through the episode remained composed, courteous, empathetic and did not show even a gesture that could have made the couple uncomfortable who were clearly embarrassed.

There are still beautiful people in this big rude world.

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In medias res

Asha

“I got a call that a mafia who had trafficked children from Assam had been busted and a team from Assam Police had landed in Delhi,” Jyotsna took a brief pause and sipped cappuccino from a large mug. We were at a small quaint café in Delhi that had bright white walls with yellow windows.

Jyotsna is a documentary filmmaker with a dogged focus on the issue of child trafficking.

“It should have been 1 pm,” her large black eyes did more talking, “police, social workers all of us barged into this house. After initial resistance, a lady allowed us inside and everyone settled themselves on the available furniture. I was confused. Did we come here to invite them for a wedding?”

“The man of the house got very defensive initially but had to eat his own words when Asha sneaked in accidentally into the room, Asha (name changed) should be 12 or 13 and was working as a domestic servant in the house. I was filming the entire drama.”

“Can you imagine what he said now?” she placed the coffee mug on the table with some force that a few drops spilled on my journal.

“He said, ‘Asha, go make tea for all of us,’ I was like, what? really? He really had the guts to ask a child, whom he had employed, to prepare tea to the people, who have come to rescue her. And you want to know the irony? Everyone in the search party except me drank the tea that she served,” she was livid.

“Asha did not want to come with us. She did not know what trafficking meant. All she knew was that her father was a drunkard and would beat both her mother and her. He never gave any money to study. ‘When I wanted to study none of you came to help me. Where did the Assam police go when my father threw me out of the house?’ She cried profusely. I stayed next to her at the police station that night.”

“I questioned myself, are we rescuing her just to be put through another hell?”

“The next day morning, I was sitting next to a string of reporters. The story was now big. 19 girls had been rescued and 4 traffickers have been arrested; everyone wanted a slice of the pie,” Jyotsna took a dainty bite of the cinnamon cake on the table.

“Asha came next to me, she was looking tired, sleepy and worn out.”

“She said, ‘didi’ do you want to take my interview? I did not speak to anyone. I only wanted you to have my story.”

“I hugged her tight.” Jyotsna was emotional, “I told her to go sleep.”

“I hated myself that day.”

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