The dictionary definition of a quest is a “long or arduous search for something” which usually calls for the searcher to leave the comforts of their home to find something. Usually, this search doesn’t happen alone; there’s either a team of people (think The Secret Seven or Scooby Doo and friends setting out to go find their clues and put together pieces of puzzles to unravel a mystery), or a hero and their ally / sidekick heading out to take on the world (Tintin or Sherlock style!) Even for the ones who set out alone, there’s always help pouring in from unexpected corners — from a stranger who extends a hand, a curious passerby who may ask the right question at the right time, or the mysterious and serendipitous hand of fate delivering the important messages at the time they are needed.
While designing The Rabbit Hole of Quests, Akhila, Swapnika and I went through a bit of a rabbit hole of ideas ourselves — what can we do, how do we do it, how do we make sure they are holistically engaging, how do we make it fun, how do we bring drama into the sessions without calling it drama? We arrived at the idea of a quest because it literally was something we all were feeling — full of questions and curiosities about what young people are thinking about and feeling today. In this dystopian scenario of a pandemic ridden world where grief and fear are so widespread and young people haven’t been to school for over a year, how do we ask the right questions and create the kind of space that fosters the values that Aagaaz dreams to cultivate, how do we feel the expansiveness of searching through different terrains without leaving our homes? So we decided to just sow the same seeds of curiosity into the very fertile soil of the minds of our young participants, to create an environment where THEY are the creators of a multi-quest narrative that we all play together in.
A lot of our design sessions were extremely fun because of how much we ourselves enjoyed finding and unwrapping each other’s questions and riddles. Akhila is someone who has in the past created murder mysteries for the Facilitators’ Collective to solve and has also played with this in the DIE Jams. So designing with her and Swapnika — who is also a basket of beautiful questions and explorations most of the time — really took me back to my days of wanting to be a forensic scientist. (I was a huge mystery + whodunit fan growing up — I read and watched CSI, The X Files, Law and Order (SVU), Bones, Johny Quest and CID (of course), and so many more. I loved the idea of finding these clues that would lead to answers. My friends and I would often meet in the park or the community center and we would create mystery plots and play them out, digging for skeletons and what not!)
We broke our four weeks of the workshop into four main explorations -
1. Identity — Who am I ? What pronouns do I go by? Who is my explorer?
2. Mapping our Goals — What is my explorer searching for? What terrain am I in? What are the kind of obstacles that seem to come in my way?
3. Allies — Who is going to help me through my journey? How do I overcome my obstacles?
4. Collaboration, reaching the destination and celebration — What happens when different quests collide? How do we support each other’s’ journeys? And how do we celebrate when we overcome them together?
While designing and reflecting upon these sessions, we realized how central to the workshop curiosity and seeking had become, how much the sessions actually asked very important questions without outwardly asking them! I ended up wishing so much that processes like this were facilitated safely for us growing up — to let us know that we each have goals and obstacles and there will always be allies and all we need to do is reach out for help!
Through the four weeks, Swapnika and I worked with them in session while our special guest aka Cookismita (Akhila’s character) designed their quests with us and visited us, dropping important clues and questions and urging us towards her Digital Dinner at the end of four weeks! Cookismita also brought Gobble Gobbler (Kanishk) with her for one session to show us the importance of an ally and the importance of asking for and extending help!
At the end of four solid weeks of creating characters and maps and solving Cookismita’s mind boggling crosswords and riddles and anagrams, we all collaborated with each other during the last week to cross that “Final bridge” before we jumped into a Digital Dinner together — each person brought a snack and we shared through the screen and shared the feeling of togetherness, even despite the virtual distance.
When we realized Akhila’s last week before she moves to New York for her M.A is upon us, we naturally couldn’t think of a more apt way to say thank you and farewell except to play a murder mystery together — one that she didn’t have to design! Grace and I started making the plot only to understand how much work goes into it and how effortless Akhila’s made it all look in the past!
So one fine Wednesday at the end of July, we all became inmates at Cheshire Sanctuary for Wellbeing (~*We are all mad here*~) where one patient had died with a smile on their face and all other staff and inmates are suspects. Grace (Assistant Inspector) and I (Investigator) asked pertinent questions and dropped secret clues into everyone’s zoom DMs after sending everyone a script (except Akhila, who only got the script after she came into the Facilitators’ Collective zoom link expecting a meeting but entering to mystery music). Together, we solved the Mystery of the Murder of Patient 0! Playing with each other, even if via zoom, really brought the team together after a few months of being busy with separate workshops and work. I couldn’t help but see the connection between the two — the spirit of the quest!
I think there are two very important things I’m taking with me from these experiences — the joy of exploring together and asking questions, and finding a balance between the cerebral and the kinaesthetic (“bringing it back to the body” — as Akhila would say, and I would repeat to myself a million times while planning for any work with young people!)
Subhadra [aka Subu] is a musician, theatre practitioner and facilitator, who has been working with young people using music and theatre (and whatever else she can lay her hands on) for the past decade. She has worked with The Yuva Ekta Foundation, Music Basti and Black Box Okhla. She is also associated with One World College of Music.