As an artist, I am constantly indulging in meaning making in the mundane madness of what the world keeps throwing at me. As a creator, a practitioner and facilitator, or a performer, I seek the excitement of that explosion of creativity, of that deviation from the “normal” and the beautiful self combusting burst of energy I get from breaking the routine.
When I entered Aagaaz, I was questioning the very integrity of the things that gave me joy. An erstwhile performer stuck in the nothingness that the COVID 19 time warp threw us into, I had begun to wonder what even was the meaning of any of the creating and performing I had done. My colleagues at Aagaaz though, gently nudged me towards what I now find becoming my anchor — rituals.
Communities that come together bound by different kinds of rituals have always shown some kind of strength and integrity. While most workplaces have their rituals, I had known very few spaces where they were sustained in a regular way. Being in a rather unorganized sector as a performing artist, rituals kept changing from one space to another. But here at Aagaaz, I was pleasantly surprised by how small things had a huge and lasting impact on me. I thought about writing about some of these internal processes that made me understand how one can really embody values rather than just talk about them. I admit some of these things did take their time to settle into our routines and now these have become our healing spaces, something I look forward to and learn from each time I’m a part of them.
Our weeks begin with Monday core team meetings- these are meetings where we look at the week that went by and the week that is to come. I know, it sounds like a mundane corporate Monday morning, except these start with what we call a check-in where people talk about their feelings, their weekends, their struggles, their joys and their needs. The check-ins are a space where it’s really okay to say “I am not okay” without any judgement, any reactions or any sympathy from our colleagues. We simply listen to each other, try to understand, snap our fingers when we relate to something and later extend support to whoever may need or want it.
Mondays are also our Learning sessions with our facilitators — we learn from different practitioners who work within the organisation as well as facilitators from outside who come work with us on facilitation skills, understand the needs of children, hone our documentation skills. We end the day by planning for our week’s sessions with the children and youth from Basti Hazrat Nziamuddin. The repertory continues into their Creative Practice session, which is a ritualised space for the actors to work on their theatre skills and create or rehearse their work together.
Tuesdays are Open Library days, the day begins with planning for the open library session and by 1.30, Khwab Ghar is full of young people bustling between rooms doing various activities centred around a text or a theme. Wednesday to Friday the children have arts based sessions where they work through play, theatre games, music, movement and books on working together, listening to each other and expressing themselves, while reflecting and questioning things in our world. Each session with the children is also full of small rituals, beginning with a check-in, a warm up activity and then ends with a reflection and a check-out, and “catching the fish” which is a beautiful way to close a session playfully!
Wednesday evenings are also our peer learning sessions with the Facilitators’ Collective, a space where diverse practitioners from around the city come together to share and learn more about arts-based/applied arts facilitation in community settings. Saturdays we now have a dialogue session where the group either engages on a provocation based dialogue or addressing conflicts that may be niggling away within the group or in the larger community. This a space to bravely question and dissent as well as listen with courage without feeling bogged down by any fears of judgement. Every second Sunday is a Drama Jam at Khwāb Ghar day, a community led peer learning space for drama enthusiasts from around the city.
Once a month we also have a Chai Pe Gupshup where parents of the children we work with are invited into Khwāb Ghar to play and share their thoughts and feelings over a nice hot cup of chai (or a nice cold glass of sherbet, depending on the weather).
We have a monthly Psycho-Social Education session, facilitated by the Hank Nunn Institute where we engage with various themes centred around mental health and well being. The monthly Huddle is a space where all the team members share their work over the month or quarter through presentations and conversations, all the while breaking the sit-down-and-listen setting with games. Each quarter, we have a mutual review space, where team members share their journeys, learnings, challenges and desires for the coming months, while giving feedback to each other. This is in addition to weekly individual check-in meetings/one-on-one mentorship where similar themes are engaged with.
In our sessions with Sukriti Agnihotri, a psychologist who’s been working with us on understanding child psychology and needs, we learnt that a sense of rhythm and regularity and patterns makes space predictable and comforting for children (and we think also for adults!). We try to keep some of these patterns while also keeping them exciting. The methodologies keep changing, little things are added or modified to keep the freshness of the space alive.
Why some of these spaces feel different to me personally are:
1. The non hierarchical way in which the spaces are held, different people lead the sessions each time and each person has the same set of questions and themes to engage with
2. The mutual-ness of the spaces, where difficult things can be said to each other with love and respect, without thinking about who’s older, who’s “senior”.
3. The empathy with which each person’s challenges are viewed, also creating space for vulnerability and honesty in communication.
4. The openness with which all questions are received and all issues are heard out.
Since the work at Aagaaz is also constantly striving to function in response to needs that arise real-time, mechanisms like our daily / weekly / monthly / quarterly rituals deeply inform how we tweak our programs and our work.
No matter who you are, when you step foot into Khwāb Ghar, you are welcomed with warmth and compassion, and you’ll find yourself being offered chai and food. FOOD — of course that’s my favourite community ritual- everyone sitting in a massive circle sharing their tiffins and eating together,silently nodding or loudly appreciating (sometimes also critiquing) the food are some of my favourite moments in Aagaaz. There is an acceptance which I have now tried to take to every space I get to be in. Post pandemic as performances have slowly resumed now, I’ve found myself trying to take a little bit of my anchoring from Aagaaz to every rehearsal or performance, and I’m amazed by how these small things are reciprocated and how they slowly spread.
Subhadra, better known as Subu to all, is a musician and applied theatre and music facilitator. With a vast experience in performing arts practice as well as the social sector, she is a precious team member at Aagaaz. She is the Programme Director, Applied Arts and Longterm Community Initiatives in the organisation.