May 13, 2014

Dream Factory

Balaji is a confident young boy who studies at a Corporation School in North Chennai.  He is never shy of talking to strangers and elders confidently in his mother-tongue Tamil. He has seen several foreigners talk fluently in English and has never got an opportunity to talk to any of them. Given a chance, he would try!

Ahmed is a cute and shy young boy studying in Balaji's class. He has an Aryan origin and his relatives stay in the northern parts of India. He stays with his parents in Chennai. He could not figure out where he belongs- not only geographically! He had a problem with memory, communication and confidence. A deadly trio! Any one of these three problems on its own is adequately sufficient to pull someone firmly down to the floor while trying to spread one’s wings. Ahmed was pressed hard by all three of them. His wings were slowly becoming numb to ambitions.

Balaji and Ahmed came together in a group at ‘Kanavu Pattarai’ – a 4-day residential camp that Nalandaway, an NGO, facilitates in association with the Government of Tamil Nadu and Dakshin Chithra – a south Indian heritage centre on Chennai’s East Coast Road.

On the fourth day of the camp, they were standing behind a table with a lot of painted charts, paper masks, balloons, colour papers and their fellow group mates, putting up a display of their learnings and creations accomplished at the camp. Adrenalin levels were soaring high in both their bodies. Their school mates had set up an art exhibition full of their own works and the public touring Dakshin Chithra were invited to drop by and have a look. This is where they met James.

James is a European traveller who is on a holiday to explore India. James does not speak fluent English. But he can manage himself in India with the English he knows and the white skin he wears. He politely accepted the invite and entered the exhibition. He was curious to see the exhibits of Balaji and Ahmed's group and wanted to know more about the camp. Aided by a facilitator-translator, who was yours truly, Ahmed and Balaji explained to James about the camp and their work. Surprisingly, Ahmed was in the lead and not giving a chance to Balaji to talk to James. Seeing Ahmed's wings coming out, Balaji took the backseat and let him fly. Because he had got his chance to converse with a foreigner and he had done well to his contentment. Besides, he was also proud and happy to see his friend Ahmed emerge.

They spoke of how they were lacking in confidence, self-esteem, communication skills and clarity of thought when they entered the camp. They spoke of the transformation they underwent in the last four days. For now, they have realised that they can face the world on their own if they willed themselves to.

What did ‘Kanavu Pattarai’ do to them and many others in similar camps over the past year spanning more than 10 batches? It quenched their self-esteem needs primarily and showed them how good they can be. It allowed them to experience various art forms, to bond together in a conducive setting where experimentation and self-expression are encouraged and to realize and appreciate the talents and worth of self and peers. It sowed seeds for a transformation and put the onus on the kids to live up to themselves in their lives.

At the end of Ahmed's explanation, his group mates requested James to write his feedback for them. James gave them a thumbs-up, appreciated and thanked them but hesitated to write and politely shied away. Little did the kids know that James himself can’t write English! English is a foreign language to him too, just like the kids themselves.

Before leaving, James suddenly remembered and asked Balaji what the name of the camp was. He said the name aloud. James turned to me to translate. ‘Dream Factory’ – I translated ‘Kanavu Pattarai’ to him. ‘Aptly named’ he said and smiled!


(All names of characters involved in the post are changed. The incidents are true accounts)
Photo : courtesy : Bhagya Sivaraman

Nalandaway Foundation is a non-profit that works with children from the poorest districts in India, helping them raise their voices and issues through theatre, visual arts, dance, music radio and films. Kanavu Pattarai is a project run by Nalandaway Foundation. It is an inspirational residential camp for adolescent children from difficult socio-economic backgrounds that aims to instil in them self-esteem and a sense of belonging through arts. This post is the first of a series of posts inspired by similar transformational stories witnessed in Kanavu Pattarai - the Dream Factory!


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