LOVE LETTER TO AGASTYA

by Payesi Chheda

 

Payesi is our effervescent Labour and Education Minister in the Shishuvan Parliament. Their class visited Agastya for an educational field trip and it took her breath away. Below is her poem – her labour of love, for the Agastya trip:

 

The most beautiful train journey
The rocky mountains, the sunny valleys.
The songs we sung, the games we played,
Taboo, Antakshari, Mafia all fun in their own way.
The 24 hour train journey went away like an hour,
Although we didn’t realize it, from home we were far.
The day came when we reached Agastya,
My expectations just hit the highest bar.
The buses were so comfortable we didn’t need a car.
The jokes we cracked, the fights we had,
We had music sessions from Sahir’s dad.
But now that the days have gone by so fast,
I am unhappy that this day is now the last.
I hope to come back here again,
I give this trip a ten out of ten!

Monsters’ Valentine

~ Jai Sonwalkar

(Jai often tries to understand the other side…like the monsters under the bed and behind the closet door. After years of studying them she has found out that Monsters have a heart too….and a big appetite! Here’s a little love story she once witnessed involving two monsters…)


(image courtesy: google images)

“I’d get under the darkest bed, scare the oldest kid, if you’d only be mine!
I have the biggest closet waiting for you my love, be my valentine!”
wooed Gooey-green Glob as Snotella snorted coyly.

Snotella batted her only eyelid as Gooey-green’s tentacle wrapped around her.
But boo! What’s this? She unhinged her jaw
The Glob disappeared, inside her ravenous maw!

“Buuurppp!
Sorry that I couldn’t flirt,
you see you were just what I wanted – a jelly dessert!”

No wonder they say,
for monstrosity’s sake –
the way to a monster’s heart is through her tummy,
Snotella found her true love, in green gummy!

My experience with Shishuvan

by Avni Rambhiya

(Avni works for a digital media consultancy firm based in the US. She was invited by a parent to have a talk about software and its vulnerabilities to students from Std IX. In this post, she shares about her experience with Shishuvan.)

There are visions, and then there are visionaries. As cliched as this may sound, I found myself in awe last week while taking a tour of the remarkable Gandhian, democratic world of education that is Shishuvan.

Guided by their dynamic external affairs minister Anushka, my dad and I were privileged to see first hand what progressive visionaries and the unleashed natural enthusiasm and curiosity of children can accomplish together. Like the sunflower whose colors inspire their handspun khadi uniforms, these children are truly driven to turn and face the sunshine, whatever direction it may come from. To Premji uncle, high school HOD Subhadra, school principal Neha, and parents Lincoln and Swati Gada, and also to the ever-effusive Darshan Gada, I owe my thanks for this eye opening and heart warming experience.

In theory, I came to talk to the children of standard IX about what software is, how it can be altered, and how developers and users of software can keep themselves secure from threats of malware, piracy and counterfeiting. I came equipped with only 10 slides for a one-hour talk, with the plan to devote at least half the talk to interactive discussion and Q&A. That was a good thing, for no sooner had I started talking than I realized two things. First, that these kids were far more adept with consoles, smart phones, ecommerce, electronic banking and software app business models than many supposed industry veterans I meet. Second, that they were not afraid of asking questions. Not just about technology, but also about the politics, ethics, business considerations and future opportunities in the field. Thus it came about that in practice, we discussed everything from hacking gaming consoles to the role of technology in Syria and Egypt, from motivations for hacking to global disparity in laws regarding fair use and content access, and from the legality of corner-store refills of printer ink cartridges to the process of stealing credit cards. After most talks I give, I come away satisfied that I my audience’s time was well spent because I was able to impart a good amount of information to them and broaden their horizons. This was one of those rare and treasured engagements where I came away having had my own horizons broadened. The hour passed in a blur, and I never once felt I was talking to school children – these were curious, well informed, outspoken and yet extremely respectful adults-in-the-making.

As I left, I was given yet another gift, also unexpected. A hand made gift bag, made with recycled materials, with a hand made card and a book called Divasvapna – day dreams – that tells the story of a young Gujarati educator in British India experimenting with Montessori and natural learning methods in a fourth grade class. I’m now bitten by the bug of Gandhian educational methods, and look forward to reading and learning more about ways to teach integrated curricula in thought-provoking ways in our own gifted classrooms back home in Baton Rouge. I also look forward to continuing to engage with the Shishuvan community, and wish this oasis of learning and creativity the very best.

Kind regards,
Avni

Of Curiosity and Creation: The Unveiling

By Yashvi Gada

(Yashvi has just finished writing a collaborative novel with one of her friends in eighth grade. She loves painting and photography, holds the External Affairs Ministry portfolio in the Shishuvan Parliament and maintains a blog that is simply gorgeous! Here’s her review of a play she recently watched.)

A heated discussion.
That’s what happens when a boring finance consultant and the mastermind Albert Einstein meet on another planet and try to answer life’s hard questions.
This play is called ‘The Unveiling’. My ex-math teacher Gerish Khemani directed it, and he asked me if I could come watch. So I did.
The play was deep, philosophical, and intense.
It asked me questions that made me think, made me look deep inside myself, made me stare into emptiness and nothing; it awakened me.
It was beautiful how the play filled so much in 50 minutes, enough to keep me in awe for around two days. The topics changed so rapidly, they built curiosity in us, the intensity with which every topic was discussed, the way it made me think, the tension, the loudness, everything just kept building up, and -

BAM!

It ended, leaving us in deep, deep thought, away from the real world; just, in another realm.
Then set, the lights, the costumes, everything suited the play perfectly. It all came back to three things- darkness , curiosity, and creation.
The set was just ropes hanging in the sky (which, obviously, was the ceiling) – acting like an entangled web of questions and their answers.
There weren’t many costumes since there were just six actors, but the back kurta-pyjamas were perfect for two dead people living on another planet. There was a woman wearing an enormously beautiful white gown – she was a pretty white butterfly.
The play was dark, but at the same time very bright, it was new, but old, it was artistic, but scientific, and the very most- it was beautifully inquisitive.
The play was sheer brilliance.
If you havent watched it, you’ve missed out on beautiful questions and answers, explanations to life, death, and our very existance, the purpose of it.

“If man creates something that destroys things, is it really worth creating?”
-Joshua Matthews, The Unveiling.

(Note: This review was first published on Yashvi’s blog: http://weareallabigpartofit.blogspot.in/2013/02/of-curiosity-and-creation-unveiling.html)

An Ode to Agastya

By Dhvaneel Visaria

(Dhvaneel of Std. VIII who serves as External Affairs Minister in the Shishuvan Parliament writes a poem about his experience on the class field trip to Agastya International Foundation.) 

Destiny took me once again on the hands of God,
To experience the heavenly, peaceful atmosphere.

Nestled in the world of Science
Was Agastya International Foundation.

As it approached my life,
My excitement grew higher.

With the bright Sun in the day and gleaming orange moon in the night,
This majestic place shone

Around me were gigantic, mighty hills,
Wearing a lush green coat.

No fear of society, no fear of anything,
Joyful times I spent amidst the wild and wise.

Constant exploration of every sphere of life,
My ‘yes’ turned to ‘why’ and ‘no’ to ‘why not’

This was the miracle sprinkled on me,
With Agastya’s grace and blessings.

And hereby, one of the immortal chapters of my life began…

 

Jee chaahta hai

By Sini Santosh Nair

(English teacher to eighth and tenth graders at Shishuvan, Sini takes a stab at writing a poem in Urdu. Her first public recitation of this was at the talent show organized by the Cultural Ministers on the Std. VIII field trip to Agastya Foundation.)

Fakeer ban jaane ko jee chaahta hai
Is duniya ki nadaani par hasne ko jee chahta hai
Kya ranj aur gam in deewanon ki baaton ka!
Inki inhee baaton par hasne ko jee chahta hai

Kya karun apni is deewangi ka?
Koi kaafir toh koi pagal samajhta hai
Bas itna mujhe yakeen hai mere maula
Tu zaroor mujh par yakeen karta hai

Sach aur masoomiyat ki pehchaan mushkil hai
Sabhi chehre mukhauton se dhake hain
Kuch to hai is dohri zindagi mein
Jo sabhi mujhe aisa banne ko kehte hain

Par ye dil hai jo apni hi rat lagaye rehta hai
Wahi karta hai jo uski samajh mein aata hai
Nahi jaanta ya samajhta who is duniya ke nazariye ko
Bas sach aur sahi ki awaaz sunta hai

Shukraguzaar hun apne parwardigaar ki
Jisne sach dekhne, samajhne aur kehne ka hausla diya
Hamesha apne kareeb rakhna mere maula
Ik tu hi hai jisse beintehaan pyaar maine kiya

My trip to Agastya

By Jay Gala

(Eighth grader Jay serves as Law and Justice Minister in the Shishuvan Parliament, enjoys playing basketball and is always eager to answer questions in class. He writes here about his experience of the class field trip to Agastya Foundation near Kuppam in South India.)

Leaving all the family love and gearing our socks, we boarded the train.
A trip for uplifting science in our lives was upcoming,
The beginning was wonderful and enjoyable.
The food, the service of Agastya and the learning was totally awesome.
But then many dark clouds were upon us,
Clouds of sickness and groupism were harassing one and all.
Pupils deprived of the joys lost courage and began criticizing Agastya.
The love and affinity was lost,
No one had a good mood,
The environment was sad, gloomy and melancholy.
But still for me this was the best trip,
Only for the fantastic learning and superb activities.
I personally appreciate all, who put in their industrious and hard work.
This trip was the one and only with the blend of joy, fun and sorrow, grief.

Two days of ‘real’ fun

By Sahir D’souza

(Eighth grader Sahir has just finished writing his first collaborative novel with friend and fellow bibliophile Yashvi Gada. He serves as Minister of Human Resource Development, and his job includes mediating between fighting parties and helping them sit down and listen to each other. Noting down minutes of meetings is something he enjoys doing, especially when he can pack in some time to doodle around the notes. This article was first published in the February 2013 issue of Teacher Plus magazine: http://www.teacherplus.org/the-other-side/two-days-of-%e2%80%98real%e2%80%99-fun)

My school, Shishuvan, hosts either a project-day or a fair every year. They are times of anticipation and fun for all of us.

Last year, which was my first year at the school, we had the fair. The topic was ‘fun’. In previous fairs, the topics had been ‘harmony’, ‘democracy’ and so on. This year, however, the topic was fun. Why fun? Well, the school noticed that quite a few children were indulging in activities that were supposed to be ‘fun’, but were really inhuman: there was a lot of physical fighting and rudeness. For this fair, we explored the safe activities that we put under the umbrella term, ‘fun’.

I was in the seventh grade then. We came up with a lot of games to put up and eventually shortlisted our favourites. Then, we were divided into groups to work on the various games. I worked with the ‘Kaun Banega Minutepati?’ stall. This was where the visitors would need to complete the games in a minute. In all, there were six games. There was the game called ‘Oolta Fulta’, which consisted of having to recite the alphabet backwards in a minute; we had ‘The Water Rusher’, where people needed to transfer water from one bowl to another, with a straw, in a minute; we also had ‘One-Minute Talkies’, consisting of three bowls, with age-appropriate topics (such as ‘house for young children, ‘Harry Potter’ for the teens and ‘newspapers’ for the adults), about which people had to speak for a minute. The teacher in charge of my stall, Vahbiz, was very supportive and helped us a lot. We assisted each other, worked with one another and became a firm team. We made posters advertising our stall and our games, and we put them up all over the school.

Finally, after a few weeks of preparing, the two big days of the fair arrived. A humungous poster, proclaiming ‘FUN!’ in larger-than-life letters, was strung up at the main gate. In the centre of the ground, a stage was erected, on which there were performances ever so often. We were given time-slots: two hours each, per day. We arrived early and put up the posters, made sure the items that we were going to use were in place and waited for the visitors.

At 4 or 4.30, people arrived. By 5, the ground was full of noisy, interested people. They visited the stalls; soon, some came to our ‘One-Minute Talkies’ stall. We told them the rules and had them speak. I remember that there was one lady who spoke with great force, about newspapers. People were generally ready and eager to talk. Those who were successful, or close, in speaking for a minute, were given badges saying things like ‘CHATTERBOX’ and so on. Quite a few people succeeded in saying the alphabet backwards. And by the end of the day, the table used for the water rusher stall was dripping wet. Every half-hour, there was a performance of some sort on the stage: there was a ‘Shivaji Dance’ by the eighth standard; a ‘soylattum’ dance by the sixth; while my class, the seventh, put up a qawwali, which we’d seen when we went to Delhi from school. The qawwali was a big hit; the group sang ‘Dum-a-dum mast kalander’ and ‘Chhaap tilak’. On the second day, during the last qawwali performance, all the teachers and our principal joined in. Our science teacher, Meera, even sang the aalaap, much to our delight.

The soylattum, which was performed by the sixth grade, was a combination of two South-Indian dances, which they (the sixth) had learnt when they had gone to Chennai. The Shivaji dance was also one the eighth had learnt on their visit to the Konkan. A stall from our class dealt with fortune telling: there was handwriting-analysis, zodiac signs and so on. It was rather fun, but not very believable. Another stall from our class had a laughter challenge. This consisted of the person who’d come to the stall trying to make one of the stall-members laugh, without touching them. I failed miserably to make my friend, Sushil, laugh. One also had to combine snippets from proverbs to create one’s own proverb. For example, birds of a feather make Jack a dull boy. The fifth grade had a stall that included a cardboard clown with two long pieces of string coming out of his mouth. We had to balance a ball between the strings and then try to get the ball through the clown’s mouth via the strings. Great fun! There was a food stall, too that served juice and also paani-poori, with pomegranate. Not bad.

The fair was a great success. We had lots and lots of visitors. With this fair, the school hoped that the students discovered various ways to have fun; ways in which both the parties enjoy themselves. ‘Real’ fun. In the end, we all went home, tired, spent, but extremely happy.

Speak up, be fearless!

           

By Chintan Girish Modi and Sini Santosh Nair

(Chintan and Sini facilitate Personal Development and English sessions with eighth graders at Shishuvan. Here they write about their interactions with students about freedom, sexuality, rape, fear and much else in the aftermath of the brutal rape and murder of the young woman in Delhi who has inspired many to speak up and be fearless. This article was first published in the February 2013 issue of Teacher Plus magazine: http://www.teacherplus.org/2013/february-2013/speak-up-be-fearless) 

On the first day of school after our Christmas vacation, we sat down for Circle Time with one class of eighth graders. Welcoming them after the break, we asked what they would like to talk about. Amidst whispers and murmurs, Hriday spoke. “I want to ask a question. We have been hearing about all these protests in Delhi. I don’t understand why these people are blaming the government,” he said.

That was a powerful moment in our classroom. We did not have to work on setting the stage for a conversation we had been waiting to have with our students. That question brought us straight to the heart of what had been troubling us during that Christmas break – the gang rape and murder of the 23-year-old woman in Delhi. Newspapers and television channels were full of it, so were homes, streets and Facebook status updates. The students knew about what had happened. Some were able to recount details of what happened to the young woman and her male friend on the bus ride. Others knew about the protests happening in various cities, including some of the slogans; one of them: “Don’t tell me what to wear. Teach him not to stare.” Others were acquainted with the police investigations, the medical condition of the woman before and after she was flown to a hospital in Singapore, and also the Honey Singh concert in Gurgaon that got cancelled after strong public outrage against the lyrics of his songs. Sahir had also managed to watch the video of Kavitha Krishnan (National Secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association) that had gone viral on YouTube and social networking websites owing to its powerful appeal for ‘bekhauf azaadi’.

Illustration by Manava Savla, student of Std. VIII

One of us had participated in a silent protest march in Mumbai and came back very moved and charged with the desire to do something substantial. One of us had written a blog post seething with rage at deep-seated patriarchal mindsets that valorize males and oppress females, often justifying inequalities, discrimination, and violence. This Circle Time session gave us a lovely opportunity to show our students what makes us sad, what inspires us, what makes us want to stand up and make a difference. The students in our class heard us speak passionately about sexual violence and about the sea of solidarity that emerged all over the country in response to a crime that was not one woman’s tragedy but a symbol of the hurt, pain and anger of multitudes of women who decided to stand up for themselves and of men who found the courage to stand alongside.

As teachers of young people, we believe that it is important to bring the world outside the classroom right inside. We were utterly convinced that we needed to discuss these things with the students, instead of trying to foolishly shield them from these uncomfortable, disturbing realities. In fact, ‘rape’ is a very important ‘event’ and ‘theme’ in To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel they are studying this year. This made our discussion even more topical and immediate.

A few days later, while planning a three-hour Integrated Learning session weaving in History, Hindi, and English, we decided to use the Kavitha Krishnan video as a starter. It drew a resounding applause from the students. It had clearly made an impact on them. They looked inspired and eager to share. They were able to understand and summarize the key arguments made by the speaker, and also offer their own insights on gender discrimination in our society.

They were also able to connect the video to Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Where the Mind is Without Fear’, a poem that is part of their curriculum and also their school diary, and spells out with remarkable intensity the same theme of living without fear, and breaking away from narrow societal frameworks to create a future that carries the promise of hope. In his notebook, Sahir wrote, “Tagore’s poem asks for equality and the eradication of social evils like divisions of caste and religions. Kavitha Krishnan is asking for the freedom of women to wear what they want, go where they want, when they want. The poem asks for the freedom to hold one’s head high, to search for knowledge without fear, to find reason in the darkness of thought. Kavitha Krishnan asks for fearless freedom, for stereotypical social norms to be pushed aside, for a world that ‘has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.”

Fear is something that we rarely talk about though it is at the very root of the conflicts we are part of and surrounded by. Fear is a very tangible thing for children, as it is for adults. In their case, fear of asking a question that might invite a teacher’s ire, fear of giving a ‘wrong’ answer that might make their classmates laugh at them, fear of failing a test, fear of being punished by adults for not meeting up to their expectations, fear of not knowing how to communicate that one is being abused, etc. Big and small fears conspire to keep us away from realizing our full potential.

To take forward this theme, we decided to introduce the students to ‘Bol Ke Lab Azaad Hain Tere’ (Speak, for your tongue is free) a celebrated nazm by Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. We chose this not only for the meaning it carries but also because this was the poem recited by actor-activist Shabana Azmi at the silent protest march in Mumbai, and also because the young woman from Delhi was referred to as ‘Nirbhaya’ or the fearless one in several news reports.

The lyrics and metaphors were a bit difficult for them to understand but the English translation helped, and the meaning was effectively conveyed. We realized that when Hriday raised his hand and said, “The poet is saying that you have very little time, so use it well and speak what’s on your mind.” It is in this spirit that we wrote this piece. Students never fail to surprise and inspire us.

References
1. Kavitha Krishnan’s video on ‘Bekhauf Azaadi’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=pbOhDJFc0Dc

2. Video of Tina Sani singing ‘Bol Ke Lab Azaad Hain Tere’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbwcUsWTy_I&list=PL849519A3551567ED

3. Lyrics and translation of ‘Bol Ke Lab Azaad Hain Tere’ http://urduwallahs.wordpress.com/2012/09/26/bol-ke-lab-azaad-hai-tere/

Note: Special thanks to Jaya Dayal and Vahbiz Dhalla who teach Hindi and History respectively, for helping with the Integrated Learning session mentioned above

Memories of Agastya

By Manav Sheth

(Manav is an eighth grader who enjoys playing volleyball and loves to express his thoughts through rhyming verse. Here’s his first post for our blog, one where he shares his experience of the class field trip to Agastya Foundation near Kuppam.)

To visit Kuppam, we were excited
To observe everything, we were farsighted

From the first day in Chemistry, many experiments were performed
From which many compounds were formed

In Physics, we learnt about light
Everything was practical; it took place in front of our sight

The concept of the activities was very clear
In our minds they did not create fear.

Manav with friends Hriday and Devansh on the field trip

For spotting birds we acted like a spy
But when they flew away, we used to cry

While observing each evergreen tree,
We all felt free.

I am running out of words to describe.
But sorry now, it’s time to say goodbye.

Note: Group photo courtesy Yashvi Gada