I’ve always used my hands to express while talking but now I find myself doing it so much more. And that’s thanks to the last three weeks that we have spent working with thirty kids from Vatika Special School – a school for children with hearing impairment.
My first day with them was a complete disaster. We stood there looking at their faces, having them stare back at ours and just not knowing what to do. I remember the day we had a meeting with the principal and teachers of the school. They said “Oh they’ll teach you sign, don’t worry! And the teachers will be there to help you.” We were convinced that it wouldn’t be too difficult. We went in thinking we’ll speak and the teachers will interpret and it’ll be like the many other workshops we do. And I still cannot figure out whether we were totally naive or totally stupid!
So anyway, the first day. We struggled with a few easy games after realising that most teachers had a limited vocabulary in sign language themselves. And like most school kids these children were trying us out; trying to figure out how far we’d go.
And then the last day of the workshop – the day of the performance. It was magical! The children were sharing with us how they feel, learning and practicing, cracking jokes with us and then up on stage, all done up, being their most confident and fun selves and flashing warm, proud smiles.
How did this change?
Our attempts at learning sign language initially didn’t work well as the words and concepts we were trying to communicate weren’t a part of the students’ vocabularies. It took about three full hours for us to communicate “how are you feeling right now?” and not because we hadn’t memorised and revised the signs for that.
I recall it feeling like going for an exam. We had been given a sign language dictionary and I sat up for a major part of the night either signing at my friend or at the mirror. In the morning was revision time; signing at myself in the mirror while getting ready, frantically asking my colleagues for signs I’d forgotten and hoping and praying that an accidental wrong sign doesn’t offend the kids.
That morning we were greeted with smiles, and then they all stood in a circle waiting for us to do something. I took my place in the circle and signed – “how are you feeling right now?” and all I got in return were confused looks. They understood each independent sign I did but didn’t quite understand what the entire sentence meant. Gradually all of us had a go at it and ended with similar responses, with the teachers in the background insisting “they won’t understand!”
I was thinking, “how can someone not understand something so basic?”
After a good three hours of trying to explain, with a very limited vocabulary in sign we finally found a way through. And on our way back from the workshop we realised that they’d probably never been asked this before.
So, from here to the last day – what changed was not that we’d mastered the dance of sign (which we’re still quite bad with) but we had found more languages to communicate with. The language of being silly, the language of the clown and however clichéd it may be...the language of love.
We spent a lot of time learning sign language; not from books and youtube but from the students themselves. We jumped up and down, danced around the room, laughed and bawled like babies and did whatever it took for us to be able to communicate to them. And when they understood what we were trying to say they would patiently and beautifully move their hands and smile at us...and we would learn a new sign!
As we made an effort to learn their language, they opened up and tried harder to understand. When we learned that parents of 90% of the kids we were working with didn’t know any sign; when they shared that they didn’t have anyone to communicate with apart from the community that the school offered them, they kindly invited us to experience and explore their world...a walled world of rhythms, silence, loud laughter and compassion. They showed us their community, their family.
An interesting thing that I noticed was that there were very few instances of them bullying each other. Usually I’ve found that that’s quite rare in a group of school students. But these kids seemed to be a loving and supportive family; they were there for each other – to teach, to share, to fight and to hold.
The beauty of this community helped us pick a story for the script - a story about a traveller who brings together a broken, sad and poor village by cooking 'stone soup'. A story about community and everyone in the community working together, bringing whatever they have, little or more, to create something magical.
So the last day, up on the stage the students revelled in the bright colourful lights, they basked in the silent claps and shared a little bit of their world and language with the spell bound audience.
And what we got out of it? A beautiful experience, lots of loving hugs, an amazing play production, lots of lessons of life and even more animated talking than before.
The joy of a beautiful conversation,
of listening to a story,
of having laughed with abandon,
of a true authentic story shared,
of being drenched in the now,
of knowing the blur between a hug given
The magic of a circle,
of a peek into someone's life,
of the ease in a stretch,
of moving with your body,
of meeting yourself again...anew!
Our work and the people we meet bring us this magic and joy often....recently co-created and experienced at the Looking Space workshop in Nagpur.
"The workshop was a great learning for me in terms of understanding the nuances of facilitation. The love stories, DT3 and generally the way people opened up was great! And so inspiring! "
"The Looking space workshop brilliant! A wonderful, scrumptious blending of very close interactions and sharing opportunities with heavy duty skill and knowledge-creating."
"I loved the way all the threads were tied up spread over the period of the workshop and woven into a tapestry that showed the picture so clearly. Awe inspiring experience!"
"The tools and matter was very simple and yet the impact still exists in my mind. It helped me understand my communication and listening therefore helping me to understand myself and people around me better."
"Thank you for that awesome experience, which opened up a new being in me, someone who was still locked up and I didn't know it..:)"
"It was a really awesome experience. I learned a lot...with fun and love...it added a new confidence in me!"
Carnival, to me, means colours, celebrations, games, rides, interesting food, masks, funny clothes, hustle bustle, confusion and air filled with excitement. Amidst and sunk in all that, is how we spent three days at the ‘Chandigarh Carnival’.
We were the nonsense people at ‘the nonsense corner’ inviting everyone to explore and have fun with their silly, jazzy, nonsensical sides. We created a small world of nonsense which had the world’s silliest games, some nonsense tukbandi and us; all ready for lots of nonsense gupshup . Many people came – some completely ready to take the plunge in to the world of nonsense, some testing the waters, and some looking at everything from a distance, sceptically. But at the nonsense corner, everyone was welcome.
It was a three day long theme party with guests coming and going. We, the hosts had lots of fun entertaining and getting entertained and we were moved by the amount of love we received.
When we were offered the space at the ‘Chandigarh carnival’, it took us no time to make the decision as to what we wanted to do there. ‘Nonsense’ it was, and we found ourselves jumping in our seats at the thought of it. We were thrilled because it undoubtedly meant lot of fun but also so much more.
We believe that, nonsense does not only make people laugh, but it also presents them with the opportunity to connect- with their true selves and with others.
Being silly requires us to be vulnerable, to break away a whole lot of barriers and loosen up our minds and bodies. When we are silly, we stop thinking, stop judging and start being. This is when we are the closest to our creative selves, miles away from judgements, pressures and all sorts of self alienating agents.
So, to us, Nonsense makes ABSOLUTE sense.
And, the biggest and the ultimate truth is that, we all have nonsense running through our veins ;)
Dr. Seuss says “Nonsense wakes up the brain cells. And it helps develop a sense of humor, which is awfully important in this day and age. Humor has a tremendous place in this sordid world. It's more than just a matter of laughing. If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.”
Are you a nonsense fan too? Would you like to share with us what nonsense means to you?
Or Nonsense makes sense because....
Most businesses and organisations start with a passion, a thought or an idea – that may sometimes be seen as random, silly and unrealistic. We love those ideas! (And God knows how many we discuss on any given day!). We like them for their uniqueness. Unique? Because even if it has been thought of before; even if it is done to death, my unique idea has a little bit of me to offer to the world.
We facilitate to find that bit of you in your idea and help put it out there.
We’ve spent the last couple of months working in collaboration with Green Curry Design – a communication design firm. We work with their clients; using facilitation to glean and help communicate their ideas and uniqueness. We just finished working with Mary – an individual who loves to travel and who runs an organisation that designs travel experiences – “The Wanderer me”
After long hours of filter coffee, chit chat, mind mapping, travel stories and staring dreamy eyed at the world map...we gathered and designed the business concept that would bring the Wanderer Me immense joy.
We've noticed that a lot of brilliant, ground shaking, angels bowing ideas come up in random conversations at dining tables, bar stools or in coffee shops...as opposed to ideating meetings. And of course we have our theory for it...which we will happily share -
Wouldn't it be lovely if all ideating and planning could happen like this?
We create spaces such as these and glean from the conversations the uniqueness and you-ness of your business and work.
How do we do this? We listen...to what is being shared, to the dreams, the ideas, the possibilities and the randomness; and from that together articulate and design the you-ness.
"I could not have asked for a better facilitator. It has been great working together for the realisation of my dream and putting it into some form for my website. From my initial meeting and to present, how the website is shaping up, there's a significant achievement and my sincere thanks to Nivi for her invaluable support and contribution to the process. I am really impressed with the way Nivi mind mapped my ramblings / incoherent thoughts back into some semblance of order. Simply loved the outcome of it all! "The Wanderer Me" would be ever grateful to Purple Mangoes! Thank you!" - Mary Hemchand from The Wanderer Me
Every morning in the month of October, 2013, the purple mangoes team woke up early in the morning, sat in the car and travelled for an hour and a half from Chandigarh to Ambala to go to school. For some of us, this exercise had been long forgotten or maybe even blocked out of our memories.
But going to Mind Tree School, at least during this month, was not the usual affair. We were working here for one month; designing, coordinating and directing the school's annual day celebrations - engaging a little short of 500 students of all ages armed with limitless questions(!!).
Purple Mangoes had been working with Mind Tree School in the earlier months by running activity clubs on theatre, environment, storytelling and poetry, photography and heritage with classes 6th to 10th. There was to be an exhibition displaying the work done by the students of these clubs. And after the exhibition, the audience would enjoy the performance of the play, Haroun and the sea of stories, based from Salman Rushdie's novel of the same name. The plan was to invite the audience into a world of stories, full of wonder and play
The school, graciously gave us one month to implement this plan. There was a lot to be done, designing the exhibition, making decorations, casting the play, rehearsals, costumes, props, learning, playing, having fun, etc. Of course, we were not the only ones doing this work. The whole school was divided in different groups, according to the different tasks they had to carry out. There were the actors, the dancers, the singers and musicians, the artists, the environmentalists, and so on. And there was the production team.
The production team had some 5-6 street smart kids of different classes, who, unfortunately, understood very early the power that came with being "production". Still these kids got the bigger picture and were very eager to work. They sat in at every script reading, every briefing, every casting, ran around the whole school, fetching students, delivering messages, photocopying scripts and making lists. Making lists. They were the 'list gurus', in charge of making sure every students gets a role to play in the whole celebration. Their 'lists' carried the name of every child, class wise, and what they were to do. By the end of the month they had memorised every kid's name.
We made sure every child, no matter how small or big their role was in the whole celebration, from designers to the singers, from the puppeteers to the ushers, knew the story of the play; knew every small detail in the story; knew how they plugged into the bigger picture… well almost! Almost because it was hard to pull most of the students out of the "competitive paradigm". It was hard for them to be able to see how important everyone's role was int he making of the production. So everyday, till one day before the annual day, we had at least 3 crying students, insisting they wanted to do something else, something 'bigger'.
And then came the day we had been preparing for a month. The entrance was an installation designed by the school's art teacher. People passed through curtains of flow-y cloth, giving the illusion of a sea. And as they came out, the whole world transformed into a land of origami birds and flowers and creatures made from waste. They were greeted by our ushers, each dressed up as a different fictional character, welcoming them in their own character, helping them make sense of what just hit them! Next, they showed them to the exhibition of the clubs. The exhibition led the way to the huge stage, where the play, Haroun and the sea of stories was staged, with all its live music, dances and a fantastic story. Gyandev from Delhi illuminated the stage with his wonderful light design and Jasmeet Shan from Chandigarh choreographed the beautiful dances in the play.
However, the annual day was not the only celebration for us. It was indeed the whole month of October. Our celebration was about involving the whole school in the process of putting up this show. It was about giving children the responsibility of making this show happen. Where ever you walked in the school you would see a group of students quietly working on their projects, un-attended by teachers, there were students taking initiative in their work, in the grounds, in the corridors, in the verandas, running around, getting things done. Teachers were at ease, having faith in the kids to be responsible. It was a transformed institution.
And this is why going to school, in this month of October wasn't a usual affair. As soon as this sleepy team entered the doors of the school, a wave of energy gushing through the corridors of the school hit us, bringing an instant bounce in our step. We could hear this distinct buzz of excitement and creativity throughout the school.
How often does one get to go to school like this?
“Walking on the road gives me a headache.”
“I walk to my school and back home every day; it continues to be an unpleasant experience.”
“I am really scared of the big cars and buses that go so fast on the road.”
“I feel like telling the drivers driving the big cars and buses that they are not the only ones on the road.”
“Bus drivers think they own the road because they are big.”
“I am extremely scared of crossing the road.”
These were some of the responses of ten and eleven year olds from Swarn Public School, Khirkee extn, New Delhi. They were asked to share how they felt while walking on the road.
This and many such feelings, dreams, ideas and thoughts about the roads around them were shared by these children as a part of a week long theatre workshop that we facilitated. These were then, together with the children, woven in to a play.
Watch the video of the play...
This workshop was done under ‘Aapki Sadak’- an initiative to improve the quality of life in a few neighbourhoods of Delhi by making the neighbourhood streets pedestrian friendly, clean and enjoyable.
The Purple Mangoes clowns happen to be at Anhad's 1st Birthday party, amongst the caterpillars, the wishing tree and other fellow humans (tiny and not so tiny). And just for your information, the clowns had a such a great time (and we are told the others did too)!
They showed off (well almost!) their great hula-hoop and juggling skills and even turned part of their audience into an orchestra!
Unfortunately, the clowns are not great at performing and clicking themselves at the same time, so here are some pictures of what went down in the green room....
It has been quite a journey for all of us...these last two months – a lot happened for all of us. I remember when we got this project, we were filled with excitement. We wanted to listen to, share, understand and talk about gender to as many people as possible. We wanted to know stories and share stories. And so, the design for the sessions, that we came up with, had conversations, personal stories, mapping, expression walls, and writing letters. All of this involved engaging with a wide range of people- walking on the streets, in the malls, market places, college campuses etc. on-‘Gender gap’- a topic much raved about , and that which triggered reactions of blame, anger and frustration.
It excited me to think that we would be engaging with people with a very different approach, on a much bruited topic. Our approach focused on giving importance to every story, every experience and which replaced the blame, criticism or accusations with listening, understanding and empathizing through conversations and stories.
And so, we started by making our first appearance at a public space -the select city walk mall where we got two full days to be around and interact with people. I was quite excited because this was going to be our first interaction with people at a public space. But it did not go how I had imagined it. Although quite a lot of people stopped by, looking curiously at the colorful expression walls and trying to read what the posters said, a very few really seemed open to engaging in a conversation and sharing their views. And so, the first day I stood there feeling a little disappointed and wondering why did we not have hordes of people wanting to talk about it as I had imagined. “May be people did not want to talk about it so much, or they had set agendas to visit that place and did not want to give their time to anything else, or they were not comfortable talking to strangers about it” these were the possible reasons that came to my mind.
But the second day had a lot of stuff changed, not in terms of how the day went but how I looked at it. The expression walls were full of post its, with comments, opinions, desires and thoughts written on them by people. I realized a lot of conversations were going on around us. One such conversation that caught my attention was between a mother and a daughter, near the expression wall, which started when the mother wrote her answer for one of the questions on the wall...
Mother: (to the question, “when do you feel proud to be a woman) “All the time.”
Daughter: “Do you really want to write that?” “I think you should read the question again.”
Mother: “why?’’ “What’s wrong with that?” “I do feel proud to be a woman all the time.”
Daughter: “I think the question requires you to tell that one time that you felt proud to be a woman.”
Mother: “Ummmm....but why one incident when I actually do feel proud being a woman all the time........”
....and the conversation continued even after they left.
This, and many more such instances, made me realize that we managed to spark a lot of conversations between people, and so I realized the importance of holding that space and many more such different spaces after that.
What also made my heart swell was, that someone, who like us, believed in the power of conversations, expressed his admiration and elation by calling us ‘Conversation Starters’
And so, whereas at a public spaces, people stopped at our stall in wavering numbers, holding a session indoors meant an invited group of people, a huge space and personal stories. And for us (the facilitators), it also meant talking about gender all the time- at home, outside home... thinking gender, dreaming gender.
In addition to long discussions on ‘Gender’ otherwise, to prepare for the sessions, all of us would sit together and reflect on our lives and personal experiences related to ‘gender’. This was followed by articulation and sharing of our stories with each other and later with the invited group of people for the session, at the venue. Doing this, I realized we all had so much to talk about. And, once again, I realized the magic of telling and listening to stories. I have always felt that there is something very fulfilling and heart warming about sharing stories, and I experienced that yet again.
It amazes me how all of us, when provided with a few listening ears and a seemingly safe space can really make ourselves vulnerable and share stuff that we do not know we hold inside. And how only by feeling listened to, we feel like the world has changed for us.
All of this was a part of our storytelling sessions. By talking about our honest feelings through stories, we could together create a space which brought out feelings of trust, love and support in all of us.
These two months took me through some very powerful and profound experiences. It also brought us all closer and together (the Purple Mangoes), and these experiences were quite transformative for me in many ways.
We did a clown workshop with 80 super excited students of Government College for Girls, sector 42, Chandiagarh in February, and we loved every bit of it! Here's a glimpse of them with their new nose jobs.