SUPW with Karan

By Karan Thakkar
(Karan took on the challenging task of leading the Campaigning class for Socially Useful Productive Work (SUPW) for the Middle School (Std V to VII). As a farewell gift, he gave us the EcoFest which sought to, and did, spread awareness about wildlife and its conservation.)

I had just quit my job when Gerish Khemani (one of the teachers at Shishuvan) invited me to visit Shishuvan. It was a regular day and I thought rather than sitting idle at home I would take this opportunity. So I went to Shishuvan. The first thing that struck me was the school uniform. It was bright in colour and more comfortable compared to most of the other school uniforms that I had seen. Although I didn’t have any preconceived notions about the school, I thought Shishuvan would be like any other school.

Gerish took me to Shubadra, the Head of Department, High School. I was surprised to see the warmth with which she accepted students in the cabin. Then I accompanied Gerish for his lecture. On my way to the classroom I noticed the respect with which students addressed the helping staff. I was pleasantly surprised until I reached the classroom. Working in a company makes you accustomed to discipline and professionalism. So here I was in the middle of students yelling and screaming and running around. I just couldn’t bear it. I wanted to leave the classroom as soon as possible. I was happy with the visit but was sure that I couldn’t teach.


Karan with his Campaigning team:(first row L-R) Shaily, Bhakti, Anushka, Riddhi and Maitri. (second row L-R) Tanay, Dhruvin, Karan, Raj, Niral.

While I was leaving, I met Kavita Anand, the Director of the school. What she said is something that I will never forget. “Students have immense potential. How you treat them is upto you.” That was my first and most important lesson as a teacher. So I took up the role of a SUPW teacher.

The reason I quit my job was to start my venture. One of the key skills of management is handling your team. Here I had a bunch of students with extreme potential and I had to channelize it. My role was to make them sensitive towards the environment. The initial few months were very difficult. I used get disappointed as we couldn’t achieve our goals. Then I realised that you have to be one of them and then take them slowly and steadily towards the goal. Over a period of 15 months, the students kept surprising me. We participated in skits, workshops, fairs etc.

I have quit the school now, but the school and students will always remain dear to me. Teaching has been one of the most unplanned decisions that I have taken so far. But something I am extremely happy about. Just like a child gives birth to a mother, a student gives birth to a teacher. I have learnt more than what I could teach, received more than what I could give.

Jaya Madhavan weaves a story in Shishuvan

Jaya Madhavan is the author of ‘Kabir the Weaver Poet’, a gripping novel about Kabir, the man we remember as poet, saint, social reformer, revolutionary, and much else. Published by Tulika Books, Jaya’s novel is for older children and young adults. It is a powerful read, and much in keeping with the spirit of the Kabir Festival co-hosted by Shishuvan for residents of Mumbai. This is her story at Shishuvan:

Shishuvan, to me is a clutch of sweet memories now- the robust voice of Prahlad Tipanyaji, the energetic singing by Bhanwari Devi, the hearty applause from children around me and the taste of Shishuvan’s masala tea in my mouth….that is how my day began in this lovely school. A lot of things about Shishuvan left me smiling and pleasantly surprised.


The author weaves, her book “Kabir the Weaver Poet” is in the background

Foremost in my memory is the confident way in which a couple of students gave me company through the day, the way they met me in the eye while talking, while complimenting me about my book and the composed manner in which they served us a simple but delicious lunch of Okra and dal ….one girl even managed to persuade my usually reticent daughter into walking around the school with her. My daughter came back beaming with a pot with her name “Prasanna” beautifully painted over it (a work of art that adorns our showcase at home now.) I particularly liked the “symbol for silence”, what in Bharatnatyam we call the Mrigashirsha mudra or the “deer” mudra, which the teacher used to bring order without lacerating her voice cords. And boy was I surprised that the students should call their teachers by name!!! “Too much”, I thought to myself.


On the way from Rags to Tapestry: Labdhi, Rashi, Arushii (Std. X) absorbed in the process

“Our children are very enthusiastic about a variety of things,” Shubadra was saying and I was rather intrigued, for when I was that age I just wanted to be left alone. But we (Archana, Shruthi and I) did have a good session of weaving, singing, dancing and reading with the children. I must say my knees knocked in nervousness when the weaving teachers from the school (who am sure are past masters at the loom) were watching attentively the manner in which I made mats out of rags. I sighed in relief when they smiled in validation at the simple weaving technique I used. And here I must mention that Shubadra supplied some truly exquisite “rags” for the weaving and I couldn’t resist asking her for some (plus two frames). She parted with them so generously and I am proud to say am putting all of these gifts to good use. A lot of pleasant memories like these. The way the school called up the restaurant where Archana, Shruthi and I had gone for some snacks and informed that they would be picking the bill. What a sweet gesture! The way a kid who had spent the entire day with me said at the end “You are Jaya Madhavan? You are Jaya Madhavan? But I didn’t know!!” To which I replied, “What difference does it make?” and the kid replied, “But I have read your book!!!” Now, that anchored me again in the fact that the art is always more important than the artist! And finally,I nearly exploded with surprise when the children told me that they run “Asanjo” or “Our radio” and wanted an interview from me. A radio run by children! How wonderful!


Jaya Madhavan speaks for Asanjo Radio recorded by Mahir and Bhavish (Std IX)

I congratulate the school from the bottom of my heart for harnessing the teen and pre-teen’s fiery energy in so creative a manner. Hope to see you all again sometime.

(This year the Kabir Festival was held between 17th-19th February 2012 at various venues across Mumbai. -Ed)

The day we used Facebook in school – by Abhay Adhikari

I manage the Digital Identity project which helps people and organisations re-imagine how they can use social media to support their personal development. As part of this project I had the opportunity to visit Mumbai and work with students, teachers and parents at Shishuvan earlier this year.

The workshops at Shishuvan have been one of the most rewarding and formative experiences since the project began. And due credit needs to be given to Neha Chheda who was fearless and enthusiastic in her support for running a series of activities for students using Facebook.

Working in small groups, students from classes 8 and 9 identified a unique question and went about answering it by carrying out a series of research based tasks online. The final answer was posted as a Facebook update. The challenge was to provoke an intelligent reaction or create meaningful conversation with their peers online. Whilst there wasn’t any censorship on what could be asked or the nature of the answer, there were a few basic rules and guidelines they had to abide to.

Over a period of three days, we had over 140 students gain ownership of their ideas and opinions, and learn how to construct an argument and respond to questions without getting defensive. I believe these are vital soft skills which are intrinsic to what many define as holistic education.

The constantly growing number of social and digital resources can play a vital part in supporting the development of young people by encouraging critical reflection, self-awareness as well as communication and enterprise skills. We may chose to disregard these digital tools, but they are fairly ubiquitous, which is why schools should take lead in conditioning a positive relationship between young people and technology.

This responsibility doesn’t lie with the school alone. Parents can play an important role, but it is understandable that they might be anxious or unsure of where to begin. So we ran workshops for teachers and parents to demystify social media. The quality of discussion and open exchange of ideas was thoroughly inspiring. I was also humbled by the dedication of this group to make time for the sessions in spite of their busy schedules.

I hope the workshops have created a foundation for Shishuvan to re-examine the relationship between social media and learning. The experience has helped me define a constructive and positive approach for working with schools which I apply here in the UK and India. And finally, a special thank you to Chintan Girish Modi and Shubadra Shenoy for their good humor and help in running the sessions.

Abhay tweets @gopaldass and can be mailed at contact(at)digitalidentities(dot)info

The story of a story telling session! – by Sushree Mishra

(Sushree Mishra is a storyteller, author and educator who visited Shishuvan and conducted some fun sessions with students of Std. III and IV)

Story telling has always been a gratifying experience for me. Interaction with the audience infuses a new energy into the whole process. I always look forward to a story telling session. Each session teaches me something new. Preparing for it in itself is an experience to cherish! Which story to choose so that the audience enjoys it? Which method of storytelling to use? Should I read the story aloud? Should I use props? Which is the best way to narrate the story? How do I make it more engaging for the audience? And of course, the endless practice sessions in front of a mirror!

An opportunity for story telling came by when I was asked to narrate a story at Shishuvan. I decided to choose the latest story I have written, a story about a curious chameleon and its adventures in a jungle. I was excited about the sessions but at the same time I had pangs of anxiety. I am always apprehensive before sessions, but this time it was a little more, since it was my own story. Would the children like the story? Would they like the character, Girgit, a chameleon who was curious, naughty, and always ready to explore? Would the children feel the same excitement that I felt when I wrote the stories? There were many questions that were playing on my mind.

But interacting with children is always rewarding, so I entered the room at Shishuvan where my audience, young children with bright yellow tops and a group of teachers awaited me. I greeted them and said, ‘You all look so bright!’ I got an unexpected reply, ‘We are sunflowers.’ Everybody in the room smiled. Only children can do this, put a smile on your face when you least expect it. With that smile on, I started narrating the story. In the first scene of the story, the baby chameleon walks through the jungle to find a new friend. As a part of my narration, I said, ‘On her way in the jungle, Girgit saw an animal which was tall and had a long neck…’ Before I could complete my sentence, everybody knew which animal it was. (I am sure you have guessed it right!) I thought to myself, ‘I had rehearsed a few more sentences and expected a response a little later.’ This is what happens if you have an audience that is alert and listening intently to what you are saying. I continued describing other animals in the jungle that Girgit met, and indeed the children guessed all the names before my ‘rehearsed’ lines were over.

During the narration, I observed an assortment of expressions on the children’s faces. They could feel the emotions of Girgit. They were angry when someone was troubling Girgit, happy when Girgit’s tricks worked, and smiling when Girgit could not understand the obvious. The audience at Shishuvan would be a delight to any story teller!

Only if children can connect to the story, they enjoy it. I felt the children were connecting to Girgit. I continued the story. In the tenth scene, the chameleon enters into a tortoise’s shell to escape from an eagle. Then the old and wise tortoise advises the chameleon to hide from the eagle instead of running from it. Girgit learns to hide from the eagle by changing colour and blending in with the colour of the surroundings.

I saw many confused faces after I narrated this part. And the question-and-answer session started from then. One of them asked, ‘How can a chameleon hide in a tortoise’s shell? There is no space for the chameleon to go in.’ Another confused voice enquired, ‘How can the chameleon change coats so quickly?’ I did not have to answer that question. Another enthusiastic child resolved that query by saying, ‘Oh ho! The chameleon was very tiny. So it could change coats very quickly.’ I heaved a sigh of relief. Now it was my turn to answer the first question. We all arrived at a conclusion after a brief discussion that events like the chameleon talking, the chameleon changing colours are possible in the story as it is a fantasy. ‘Even I can enter a tortoise’s shell in a fantasy,’ I said. Having said this, I thought to myself, ‘just as Alice had entered the rabbit hole.’

In the end, I asked two questions, one of them being whether the children wanted to hide from someone. I felt I had opened a Pandora’s Box when the children started expressing how they would hide from their mothers and teachers. The reason was simple – mothers and teachers gave a lot of homework. I thought to myself, I wish I could do the same when I was young! But of course, sometimes, homework is important. If I hadn’t done my homework, which is rehearsing for the story, the story telling session would have been different. The other question was a little more interesting. I asked, ‘Does anyone want to suggest another end to the story? How would you have scared the eagle?’ One of the eager listeners of the story replied confidently, ‘I would call all the animals of the jungle and ask them to stand on top of each other. Then I would put a huge cloth over all of them and paint the cloth with colours so that it looks like a giant monster. I am sure the eagle would be scared.’ I was stunned. What a creative end to the story! Seemed more plausible then the end I had!

My learning from the session: I have to think about a few questions. ‘How CAN a chameleon enter a tortoise’s shell?’ Spontaneity is a vital ingredient for a story teller in addition to energy, voice modulation, adapting to the audience, action, expression and setting a stage for the story. Incorporating suggestions from your audience always makes the story better. Enjoy the story yourself and your audience will enjoy it too!

I had narrated a story about one Girgit who was curious and always wanted to explore, but when I left the room, I saw several Girgits in the class. I had connected to the children of Shishuvan through Girgit.

I started walking back from Shishuvan with a thought in my head, ‘After a long time, I see a school where children are happy!’

Green, green the rushes grow – by Usha Mukunda

(Usha Mukunda has inspired generations of children to discover the joys of reading. She set up one of the most awesome libraries in India at Centre for Learning, Bangalore. Read about it and see pictures here)


Kanchi Thacker tunes in to Usha Mukunda at Madras Café

Wednesday morning, and I climb up the stairs to the Assembly Hall at Shishuvan. I have formally taken permission to attend but everyone I see, teacher and student alike, give me a smile of welcome as I walk into the large room. At first all I see is a sea of green. Then slowly my eyes come into focus and I notice that a child next to me pulls out a chair for herself to sit on, another has a mischievous grin as he whispers to a friend, two or three students look important and primed as they wait to take the Assembly. The teachers too walk in looking relaxed, and smiling at the students. I feel at home.

That was my introduction to Shishuvan. The night before I had been met at Dadar Station by Mr. Ratan who overturned every stone and brick to make sure I was comfortably ensconsed in the guest room.

The assembly progresses with much interaction from the students and while they are aware that I am a newcomer, they have seen, accepted and moved on! Their attention is on the moment.

The next day, I was gleefully told by Chintan that I would have sessions with students from 8 a.m. onwards, during lunch I would meet with the librarians, more children after lunch, and at 4 p.m I would meet with all the teachers. Gasp! Well…I was not going to let Chintan have the last laugh……so I laughed bravely and said, “Sure!” And they came, eager and open groups of children swarmed in one after the other. Time flew by. The breakfast so kindly brought for me sat unopened. The librarian had joined me by then and jumped into the fray. I was talking….raising questions…..initiating some activity….and listening to these exuberant kids. Plenty of questions were shot at me too. The thought came to me that contrary to what I had believed, (that relationship and contact needs smaller numbers) these children were proving me wrong. They were happy, showed no fear or inhibition with the adults and looked free. As the day moved on, I met teachers too, who were genuinely interested in what I had to share.

My final encounter was with the leaders of the school who took me on a tour. What struck me was that they could freely walk into any room including the Principal’s, with impunity, and with the awareness that they were trusted and would not betray the trust. That to me is the essence of relationship and that was the underlying theme to everything I saw at Shishuvan. The relationships across the spectrum between students, teachers, support staff and heads!!

The day was rounded off with an impromptu snack along with some teachers at Madras Café, the South Indian restaurant nearby. Kanchi Thacker, a student of high school, squeezed into the bench next to me to ‘interview’ me. No sign of awkwardness at being hemmed in by so many adults! Time to leave and I have one last impression to take home. On the ride to the airport, Kavita Anand’s children Karamvir and Diksha expounding their ideas, thoughts and feelings with a bubbling insouciance which was delightful to hear.
Thank you, Shishuvan!

Usha Mukunda.
July 27th 2011.
usha(dot)mukunda(at)gmail(dot)com

My Time at the Shishuvan School – by Ben Medina

(Ben Medina, a 15-year-old filmmaker, was hosted by Shishuvan as visiting faculty to train students in basic techniques of filmmaking.)


Ben directs a shot with Std VIII Film makers using a dolly

Last November, after a lengthy audition process, I was humbled with the opportunity to travel from my hometown of Palatine, Illinois to Hyderabad, India, to serve on the Children’s Jury of the Golden Elephant International Children’s Film Festival. I had an incredible time, and met so many fascinating people. Most notably, I met Kavita Anand and her son, Karamvir Singh, while appearing on a panel of young filmmakers. I was completely blown away by Ms. Anand’s vision, wit, and wisdom, and so when she invited me to teach a film making workshop at Shishuvan, I leapt at the opportunity to share my passion for film making with others. When I finally arrived at Shishuvan with my father, we were given a splendid tour by one Yashvi Gada. Shishuvan’s outstanding approach to education, from the uniforms which label individuals not as girls or boys, but as students, learners, to the emphasis on a classical education and study of the ancients, is exactly what I, as a homeschooler, and my parents, as the facilitators of my education, have labored to achieve.

The film class itself was amazing. Each of my classes, from 5th graders to 9th graders, was a different experience, and I adapted accordingly. The fifth and sixth graders had boundless energy, enthusiasm and creativity, but not the greatest attention spans, so I placed more emphasis on playing games and putting cameras in their hands as soon as possible, rather than spending more time on lecture, film theory and history. The 8th graders had a rather higher tolerance for my babbling, so the class was about evenly production and discussion. The 9th graders, too, were about evenly discussion and production. My “manifesto”, so to speak, is that to embrace filmmaking, and education itself, one needs to explore all avenues of life and thinking, and read as much as possible. Therefore, in class discussions, I introduced Jung’s theory of collective unconscious, Freud’s superego, ego and id, we discussed Iggy Pop’s song Lust for Life, I talked about Orwell’s 1984, and Aristotle’s theory of Pathos, Logos, and Ethos. I also almost exclusively showed clips from films that might be considered “challenging”, including Black Swan, Magnolia, The Darjeeling Limited, The Shining, and La Dolce Vita. Through the class, we also dissected the heart of storytelling, traveling back in time to Shakespeare, Homer, Romulus and Remus, and finally deceit, that sign of intelligence in a rapidly developing species. Storytelling, and therefore film making, is really only a complicit lie.

My students more than rose to my challenges, with a brilliance that truly shines. Their short films were incredible and innovative, and the eight and sixth grades were already in preproduction on their next films as I left. I believe the 8th grade is making two films, one a Wes Cravenesque horror film, and the other a thriller involving cricket and crime. The 6th grade was making a historical fantasy epic about a war between brothers. I honestly cannot wait to see what they do next. My days at Shishuvan were some of the greatest of my life, and I would love to come back.

Finally Free! A short story by Aditi Shah, Std. X

Finally Free!

A short story by Aditi Shah, Std. X

Aditi Shah’s essay was shortlisted as one of the best ten essays in the Albert Barrow Memorial All India Interschool Creative Writing Competition 2011, and was published by the Council of the Indian School Certificate Examinations.

It began in the year 978 B.C. The Genies and the Humans finally, after decades of unrest, had broken into war. The Humans rushed to conquer our territory and make us slaves so as to have their wishes fulfilled. We Genies had already made it clear. We were not toys to be messed around with. The humans refused to listen and under the command of the President of the United States of America, invaded our territory.

Now, we Genies have a zillion secrets that we keep from the nosey Humans. One of the things the Humans do not know about us that we were hypnotists too. As per the Genie law, hypnotism was not to be practiced, but of course, there were these rebels who tried to. However, they failed miserably since they didn’t know the ‘H’ of hypnotism and merely tried for some quick cash. The thought they could talk the Humans into giving up theirs. However, when the war broke out, we had no choice but to hypnotize the Humans. The battlefield was filled with transfixed Humans, staring at the Genies, their eyes an unblinking yellow.

It was sad, but that is how it had to be. After a total of seven decades, 386 Council meetings, and 1349 Genies, we drew a conclusion: we were to release the Humans from the hypnotic spell. This caused uproar in the Genie community itself but the decision remained unchanged. The Humans were free from the curse and the Genies went into hiding.

Andremain Jumbaaz, a reputed magician, finally revealed his best discovery to the Genies: the Lamps. We could now hide in those and the Humans would never find us, until they figured they had to rub the lamp and chant a spell. We rejoiced and disappeared into the Lamps assigned to us. Little did we know that Andremain had inscribed the spell on a rock on a cave in Libya. Little did we know that we would be exposed once again.

Back to the present. It is 2011 A.D. Greetings! My name would be Fehzrhea Waters. I am a half-American, half – Egyptian Genie. I was born inside a lamp. A rather stuffy lamp, if I may add. I was given my own lamp at the age of thirteen. Can you believe it? Thirteen years stuck in a tiny lamp with an annoying mother is not my idea of fun. It’s pathetic, really. Back in the Ze’raat (the Genie world inside a lamp), rumour is that the oracle spoke a new prophecy. Correction: a new one word Prophecy. Personally, I find it unbelievable and rather funny. Sadly, I can’t tell Humans what it is.
What I’m going to tell you now is well .. unbelievable. I was freed. From the Lamp I mean. A swarthy Human, about six feet tall did it. He spoke the words of the spell, rubbed the lamp, and in an instant, I was out! It felt rather weird at first, but it began to grow on me even if at a ridiculously slow pace. Everything around me was so different, so bizarre .. Yet it gave me a feeling of happiness, like it was welcoming me. After I realized what had happened, I felt somebody’s eyes piercing the warmth in my body. I turned to find a Human of the masculine gender giving me a cold stare. He squinted, and after a couple of seconds of wide-eyed staring, his lips twitched slightly; he was smiling. I smiled back and offered my hand. He took it, shaking it vigorously. “Fehzrhea Waters,” I introduced myself politely. “Alexander Diggums,” he replied. I stared at his face. Something was different. I looked closely. His polite and warm smile had transformed into an evil laugh.

Now I was scared, the human, probably in his thirties, was laughing his head off. “S – Sir?” I stammered. “My wish! Fulfill my wish!” he bellowed. A wide grin spread across his face revealing a silver tooth. I stood still. How could I have not known? I tried to keep my cool, but I knew this was it. I spotted a piece of paper lying near a candlestick on a small table. I picked it up and read the words. It was the spell he had used to free me. I read it again. The words looked familiar, yet strange. I knew the spell because my mother had taught it to me when I was three. After a moment or two, I realized the spell on the sheet gave us Genies what was called the ability to twist the wishes we granted. Clearly, the Human did not know that. My life just got more dramatic.

Obviously, I decided to keep it a secret. “Your wish is my command, Sir,” I said. This was going to be fun. Diggums was still smiling, lost in thought. Then, in a flash, he snapped back to reality and said, “I will brief you about the mission first.” Puzzled, I nodded. He bragged about how he was an extremely rich Human and how he owned some 350 hotels and casinos all over the world. I snorted. After some family history, he told me how his grandfather, Walter Diggums, an archaeologist, had found the inscription of the spell and entrusted the secret to him. “Now, the mission,” he began. “We are in the midst of the Atlantic Ocean right now, heading for the Arctic Circle. I plan to build a city there, near the North Pole.” This man was crazy. “I want you to provide the manpower.” My jaw dropped. Now ay was he doing that! I simply could not let him build a city right near the North Pole. “I want you to change the climate of the place to suit a Human’s requirements.” Not going to happen, Sir, I thought to myself. “You must wish properly after saying the words: Arkhen deh lemapth jesrah mhitzen,” I said. Diggums nodded. Obeying my command, he repeated the words, and wished, “Arkhen deh lemapth jesrah mhitzen. I wish for manpower to build my city and for the weather in the Arctic Circle to be warmer.” I merely laughed. I had twisted his wish.

“It will be done, Sir.” “Good. You may occupy the cabin next to mine whilst we are on the ship.” I nodded and spent an hour in the cabin allotted to me. I dreamily gazed at the painting of an apple. I sighed. Did I want to go back into the lamp? Could I? I figured I would steal it the day I left Diggums. I wanted to stay out in the wild for a longer period of time. My ears twitched as I heard a knock on the door. Somebody shouted, asking me to go outside. Apparently, we had reached.

It was paradise, like the Earth was asleep with a white blanket pulled over it. Diggums walked me over to a few other Humans. Scratch “few”. There had to be more than five hundred. Well, this was going to be fun to watch. The work began. They worked all day while I sipped coffee. By nightfall, they had managed to construct forty houses and the walls of the city. Boy, were they fast! But it was a shame; all of it was going to come down crumbling in a few hours.

I had twisted the wish in a manner that allowed the men to work all day but at night, when they slept in the houses they built, all of their hard work would collapse on them and crush them to death. And that is exactly what happened.

After dinner, the workers slept in the houses they had built. Diggums let me sleep in one of them but I secretly crept out late at night. I entered Diggums’s house only to find him fast asleep. I searched hard for the Lamp. The whole place was a mess. I had to hurry for the house would collapse any minute.

I finally found it in one of his shoes and managed to wake Diggums from his beauty sleep too. I made a run for it and just as I ran out of the gates of the city, the buildings collapsed on Diggums and his mad. A rather narrow escape for me, don’t you think?

Yes, I am evil. But it was to save the planet and to show the Humans that we Genies are not their slaves. I am finally free.

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We are always upto something in Shishuvan… always. This blog is all about sharing all the crazy/ adventurous/ awesome/ eye-opening/ mind-boggling things/ events/ people at Shishuvan. Come, enjoy vicariously as we relive our memories new and young, as we take you on this magical blog-ride…