Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Fashionably Late Home Term Report

Lakshmi Nilakantan

Tuesday, September 23

Leo, Jaidip, and I accompanied the children to Agara Lake. There, the children were introduced to the lake ecosystem through observation. We walked around the lake attempting to identify the various types of birds and to understand how and why the birds clustered together in certain areas; we noticed the inflow and ouflow systems of the lake; and we surveyed the general upkeep of the lake and its surroundings. The children were fascinated by a few fishermen catching fish with nets or homemade fishing reels.

We sat down in the tower and discussed the history and the importance of lakes in Karnataka, the traditional methods of harvesting rainwater for agriculture and drinking, the interconnectedness of water bodies, the responsibility of maintaining tanks, and the idea of public resources and spaces. We examined what has changed in government policy with regard to water bodies in India, and in Bangalore in particular, and saw its severe repercussions in everyday life. We talked about the consequences of massive scale ‘development’, as in the tragic outcome of the 3 Gorges dam.

As it was the autumn equinox, the children learnt how to calculate their exact latitude.
After lunch, the children walked down busy streets trying to understand traffic patterns. They immediately noticed the immense difficulties faced by all pedestrians, and even more so by the disabled, elderly, and school-going children. They also observed the types of vehicles on the streets and their passenger loads.

Wednesday, September 24

The next morning, Latha and I took the children first to Nanda Road, where we met Vinay, a software engineer and member of Hasiru Usiru, a group concerned about how developmental decisions are being taken in Bangalore. Vinay summarized for us some of the key issues related to Bangalore’s Metro, its colossal cost, its environmental and social impacts, its projected ridership, the corruption involved, as well as some of the laws that have been violated from its inception. The children readily comprehended the monstrosity of the Metro when Vinay succinctly compared the cost of the Metro to what the central government has given the farmers who have practically been driven to suicide because of their poverty and debts. After Vinay left, the children spent some fun time in the doomed park squeezing Tulip Tree pods at each other.

Next, we went to the Avenue Road area to meet up with Srinivas. The children were taken for a tour of his workshop, and they observed the intricacies involved in making silver crafts. The children were especially delighted by the flattening out of silver bars, and by the blowtorch. We also saw his sari making factory, and learnt about warp, woof, and weft, and the painstaking ways of the loom. Srinivas had organized a scrumptious lunch for us catered from a local Avenue Road shop. We discussed the history of the road, and later saw the place where, as legend has it, Kempe Gowda released four bullocks in order to demarcate the boundaries of Bangalore. We talked about the heritage value of the road, the variety of shops there, and the government’s plan to widen the road. We walked through the busy alleys teeming with people, and the children interacted with several shopkeepers.

We ended our energetic two days with a walk up Turahalli hill. The children, as promised, had lots of fun trying their hand at rock climbing. They went home, I think, with their minds opened up to the complexities, challenges, and fun of city life.

It would be nice to hear the children’s comments on their experiences.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A library interaction at my home!

Usha Mukunda

A medley of shapes and sizes tumbled out of the school van. It was a Thursday during Home Term Week and a group of seniors were coming home for a library session. You may well wonder what a library –at-home looks like. So did I! But read on and see what happens.

The first thing I wanted was to get a feel of their reading habits. So I asked them to do ‘mad ads’ about any book they had read recently. My challenge was to spot the book. So groups got formed and they disappeared into various rooms to prepare. In a little while, the first group began. Vishnu looked forlornly at me through the grills of my front windows. The rest looked like they were relaxed and killing time. I racked my brains but could only come up with “The Count of Monte Cristo.” A mischievous glint in Prahlad’s eye gave the game away. He had chosen to depict his own story. Not fair!!!! The others did some dumb charades for me and I was able to squeak past with correct guesses. So having established our pecking order, we were ready to interact!!!

We did a couple of exercises of book acrostics together. Ask them how it works. Together we came up with one that they could take back and display in the library at Shibumi.
Since they had travelled through the city, I read out a story of the way a city works. I had two selections. One was “The Cop and the Anthem” by O. Henry. The other which I decided on was“The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde. They were of differing ages and levels of reading so I wondered if this would go well. But it did... amazingly well. I was struck by the quietness and attention with which they listened.

The next part of the day was a walk in Malleswaram to see some old sights. Before that I drew them a rough map and grid of the Mains and Crosses that Malleswaram is known for. The idea was that they could navigate their way and I would be around to rescue them if needed. First we went to a 99 year-old house. The Centenary birthday was fast approaching according to the owners who were much younger. The unique feature of the house was the monkey-top roof. Rajat’s
mom can provide more data on this, I’m sure. The kids asked the lady of the house some questions and at the end of the visit, they got a bag of Puja snacks!

Next stop – Malleswaram Railway Station.
This is a quaint old station which is fast getting modernised.The rain trees there are truly special and are certainly more than a 100 years old. We were awaiting a train and much to Dev’s joy, a super fast train came swooshing past us. The poem “From a railway carriage,” by Robert Louis Stevenson was read out later and the kids seemed to jive to the rhythm of...”faster than fairies,....”

From there we walked to a Bengali Puja Pandal where the Durga image had just been installed. So we had a short conversation there about the story of Durga and her various manifestations in different parts of India.
On the way, we saw the roots of a tree which had been felled pretty devastatingly. So later we read a poem by Gieve Patel called, “On killing a tree” which starts off with the words, “It takes much time to kill a tree” and goes on to say how violent one has to be to do a thorough job of killing a tree. We talked a little bit about why the poet may have chosen this way of saying what he wished to. What was he trying to convey, anyway? Interesting discussion.

Homeward bound with the kids leading and actually finding their way back. Viju and I reached to find them all at home in every way. A leisurely lunch followed by another library activity called a book auction. After this we talked a bit about detective writing and about
Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the first super detective, Sherlock Holmes. We showed them a film of “The Norwood Builder”. Frequent pauses to ensure all were awake and following the story!

For me it was a wonderful day. I had not thought it would flow so smoothly. The kids promised that if I came to Shibumi they would be ready for an on-site library interaction! So on to Shibumi for a home visit for me!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pallav, Kiri, Tarang, Isaura

For those who are not directly involved with Shibumi, some of the names appearing in our recent blog posts were probably confusing. Pallav, Kiri, Tarang and Isaura are the names of our four age-wise student groups.
The youngest group is named Pallav, which in Sanskrit refers to 'young shoots and leaves'.
Kiri, the next group, is a Cambodian word for 'mountain'.
Then comes Tarang, Sanskrit for 'wave',
and finally the senior most group -- Isaura, a Greek word meaning 'soft air'.
The staff group is named Dharitri, which is Sanskrit for 'earth', but we rarely have to use this group name!

Mask-making at School

The theatre workshop planned for Kiri on Tuesday could not happen because Saraswati, who was going to conduct it was ill. So we planned a half-day mask-making workshop using collected junk and natural material, to be followed by a film screening for the children. Angie and I were going to conduct the activities for the day.

The mask making activity was something I had done in college and enjoyed tremendously, so I was very excited to do it with the kids, but of course there was no knowing how it would actually go! I started the day by showing the group photos of several different kinds of masks from different parts of the world and some junk art, just to get some juices flowing in the kids’ minds. They were quite enthralled and fascinated, and in hindsight it did feel like a useful presentation to have made. We then went out for a walk around school armed with plastic bags to collect interesting things from the roadside. Some of the children had chosen to pair up for the activity, others were happy doing it individually.

We got a few quizzical looks from onlookers and even a bit of a shouting from a watchman. The kids wanted to know why he was trying to shoo us off – it is interesting to observe how sometimes when someone doesn’t understand what’s going on, they sort of decide that it must be something improper, and try to stop it. I tried to explain to the kids that it was probably a very alien sight for the watchman to see a bunch of people scrounging around for things along the road (since we didn’t quite look like rag-pickers).

In under an hour we were back at school, reviewing our collections and starting to get them cleaned up. Siddhu preferred to let the mud be on his objects, while Anuj went and got a bowl of water with a rag to scrub his objects clean. Everyone’s ideas were evolving at different rates with very different trajectories, obviously, but most of the work was being done quite independently. Almost all the children were, for about an hour and a half, actively working at their projects, completely motivated and engrossed.

The materials we used ranged from plastic bottles, rubber discs and wire, to coconut husk, leaves, wood shavings and seed pods, to mention just a few. A variety of adhesives too were used – fevicol, glue-stick, cellotape, insulation tape, M-Seal.

I think the children felt happy with what they had done – and we had beautiful results! This is the sort of work in which the most interesting things happen when one allows the found objects – their form, colour, texture and physical behaviour – to shape and change the ideas. This back and forth process between conceptualising/imagining and attentively responding to the character of the material as it is being revealed, is for me the immensely alive core of such a process. And it is so much fun! Through such activities, I’d like to loosen the need to control one’s tools and materials (which seems to get built up so early in the child’s life), and to see if we can instead find an intelligent and alive way of moving and playing with the material.

The film watching plan was under a cloud because we had no electricity at school; the kids ran wild for some time while we tried to figure out what to do. Finally we showed them ‘Because of Winn-Dixie’ on the laptop and stopped halfway when the battery was about to run out and it was time to wind up. The whole group was completely engrossed while they watched – I believe that was a first among the films that have been screened at school (otherwise there have always been a few kids who weren’t interested)! We’ve promised we will show them the second half of the movie as soon as we can. None of the kids wanted to go home when it was time and we went through all kinds of negotiations (we even considered delaying the return and informing the parents but decided against it) before finally ending the day.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Being at Natraj Gurukula

It is enriching to be with children in lots of different contexts.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Home Term

This week is the home term! The children are off with different people, doing different things. Here is the rough plan. We hope there will be a blog post on each activity, as it happens.





Holiday. They made a trip to Kaigal over the weekend.

Visit to Anubhava Science Centra with Nagaraj, Aditya’s father.

Book-buying for the library at Blossoms, a used book store.


Activities organised by Viji (mother of Srishti and Tejasvi) at her house.

Theatre was planned with Saraswati, a theatre artiste.

Because she suddenly fell ill, an art activity and possibly a film has been planned by Aditya.

Programme planned by Leo, Lakshmi and Latha, parents of the school. A visit to Agara lake in Sarjapur, with bird-watching and discussion. Also, observation and discussion of the traffic and transport issues of Bangalore.



Baking with Shruti, Ved’s aunt.

Programme planned by Leo, Lakshmi and Latha. A visit to Avenue Road and then Turahalli Minor Forest.


Rock-climbing at Nataraj Gurukula with two teachers and Michael, father of Yannick

Rock-climbing at Nataraj Gurukula with two teachers and Michael, father of Yannick

A day with Usha Mukunda. A library activity as well as a heritage walk in Malleshwaram has been planned


Puppet-making and watch a puppet show at Ananya school

Puppet-making and watch a puppet show at Ananya school

Puppet-making and watch a puppet show at Ananya school

Home Term: Book-buying

As part of the home term, Tarang and Isaura, along with Angie and Shalini, went book-buying for the library! We sold a whole lot of books and bought books with the money we received. We bought books worth Rs. 4300 altogether (without actually spending a rupee). Here are images of all the books we bought. Sorry, we are having trouble making the first group of book covers appear larger on the blog!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weekend in Kaigal

As soon as we got to Kaigal we went for a walk with Karthik along the stream that meanders through hard rock! The sound of the waters flowing was so so loud!As soon as the children spotted a pool that was neither too small or too deep for them, they jumped in! After playing in the water we got very hungry! Muniamma treated us with a simple and yummy meal! After which we were back on a walk and soon into another pool and splashing around! And back again for some more food! After dinner the children drew,played with their torches, sang, and played in their sleeping bags before sleeping! They were all up early again and we went for another walk in another direction for another swim and then back again to the house for another yummy meal!

We also managed to become friends with the dogs there! Tasted and smelt a lot of the medicinal plants that grow in the nursery with Krishnamurthi Anna. Looked at their 'seed collection'. Watched Lakshmi Akka make paper bags. :)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Excursion to Kodai...

Seeing Kodai with Nath Uncle (Nanaji as the children fondly called him) was perfect! Nath Uncle did a lot of wonderful activities with us.... showed and shared with us his carpentry tools and passion.... taught us how to make maida glue.....reuse envelopes.... make sturdy boxes....recited urdu poetry for us... made meal time a jolly time ... often broke into a song (which the children enjoyed!)...took us boating..It turned out that he had planned many more things to do with us, but the six days was not enough :) We also walked a lot in and around Kodai with him... he's been there for more than 25 years now and knows almost every other person who crossed our paths....

We also met a lot of other wonderful people....friends of Nanaji......Harry Uncle who owns a restaurant called Tava treated all of us to a wonderful meal,where we ate as much paneer and srikhand as we could! :) ... Prasanna Uncle and Meenakshi aunty who run a little bakery called Daily Bread.....invited us for breakfast and stuffed us with cream rolls,sandwiches,pastry,pizza and hot chocolate...they also gave a tour of there small bakery where all the goodies were made !! We also visited a school run by Padmini Aunty and participated in the art class there and all the children played football together... Subramaniyam Uncle did pottery with us ....

On our walks, the the clouds opened up to magnificent views, we saw flowers in so many colours ,we walked through many farms and we ate radish flowers while we went through them. On these walks in and around Kodai Nanaji would talk about terrace farming and explain what a valley is ! :)

Apart from all these activities...the children did stitching with Roopa aunty....played mikado, carom, trees, collected wood, plucked brambles,sang songs, saw snakes and listened to stories before we went to bed!

We stayed with N in his beautiful house on the side of a hill.It is in the middle of a farm with pear and plum and peach trees. The plums were just ripening as we walked through.....In N's house Elsy akka cooked simple but yummy food for us and John anna took us around the garden and plucked fruits with us.

We also have to introduce another friend we made during our stay at Kodai.... Whitey.... the
pampered and hugely loved dog! :)

Roopa's sharing

It felt great to be able to share home and birth family with the Shibumi family, and the responses of the children were a delight to watch. When my father first saw them , he wondered aloud" They look very young, will they be able to stay away from home for so long?"

On the last day, the children were sorry the excursion was over so quickly.

Some of the learning was for us, seeing them in new situations.....when to intervene, when to just watch , and often Tanu and myself would exchange notes on our responses to a situation.

For the children I think it was a long time away from the familiarity of family and home....and it was amazing how easily they adjusted. On our return , as we sat on the Kodai road railway station eating our curd rice off banana leaves, co passengers curiously asked about our 'family'!

And personally, for me it was wonderful to have the house filled with laughter and mother who was one of the most amazing teachers I knew was surely part of the celebration from wherever she has gone to!