It’s been more than three months, now. After finishing my fellowship, all I was yearning for, was to get back to my roots. I packed my bags, left the rented room of the Indian capital city and headed towards the city of Mithila aka Madhubani, Bihar. This time, nothing was similar to my past experiences. My mother was not waiting for me. Yes, Papa, as usual, came to the bus stop, an hour ago. Where was my Maa? She was busy taking care of her Maa. My Nani was suffering from cancer and unfortunately, she took her last breath at the age of 81. Finally, Maa was home and I started having cravings for moving out of the house. After all, that’s what I have been doing since 2011 …
I visited the trade union of unorganized sector workers, Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan (JJSS) based in Araria district in Bihar. I felt their lifestyle was similar to Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in Rajasthan (I got an opportunity to volunteer with them in the year 2015, for a month).
Meeting a woman from a rural area of Bihar (which has been often termed as one of the BIMARU states) and getting exposure to work for organizations like Video Volunteer was refreshing. When I enquired more about their work then got the very special insight. Among 30 permanent members, only 3 are doing full-time work and remaining 27 have their primary jobs such as labor, farmer, electrician etc. They are giving their remaining time in JJSS. But what are the projects on which they have been working?
The answer is they don’t work like a non profit at all i the first place. JJSS is working in 4 districts in Bihar – Araria, Vaishali, Saharsa, and Katihar. They visit the villages and work on every prevailing problem there by taking part in the social audit process with the government. What makes JJSS unique is they don’t depend on the institutional fund but rather prefers the individual funds.
After staying there for 24 hours, I again got an opportunity to get connected with them but this time, in a different way. JJSS asked me to support them in few theatre workshops in the Saharsa district. The trainer, Effie Makepeace, was from Malawi. They were looking for a translator cum co-facilitator for 3 workshops as the participants were all non-English speakers. Apart from acting in few dramas in college, I knew nothing about theatre. When I started my journey for Araria this time, I was trying to make an image of how the theatre workshop happens. But with my blank canvas alike mind, I sat in the discussion and came to know that when communities join JJSS then they only stay till the point of solving their specific problem and next thing is to leave JJSS. They wanted to sensitize the people, especially youngsters about all the social evils and to make them understand that directly and/or indirectly; they are getting affected by all the issues. This was the first instance for me to see an organization have such a clear exit plan …
In the evening, we played few games like splash, chain-game, zip and zap, khaya-peeya-soya (name changed as per Indian background), tiger and trees. Effie told me that we would be playing these warm-up games with the participants before the workshop. Next day, I along with Effie, took the bus to the village, Amrita in Saharsa. After reaching Madhepura, we were told to take the share auto where we had the company of local sculptor along with the few villagers. The sculptor was traveling with clay idols for upcoming Aghan-panchmi mela.
Finally, after an hour, we reached our destination, village Amrita. Along with the kids, two members from JJSS came to receive us. After having the discussion about the agenda with the other teammates, Vijay and Munna; we again played with the kids. But I was still unable to make an image of how the theatre would fulfill our motive. The next day, we started off for our first village, Manori and waited for half an hour because all the participants were boys of the age-group of 13 to 20. It was not something very shocking as we were told that we might end up like this without any girl. As per our prior discussions, we started with warm-up games and then made 4 groups. In this workshop, all I did was to translate everything between the kids and Effie.
By the way, why did Effie ask the kids to form the 4 groups? I was told to instruct the kids to make images and kids started murmuring among themselves. I informed them they would not get any pen, paper, color etc. as in theatre, an artist shows the image through his/her body. This activity became another competitive game where all the groups were told to make a still image of the village through their body without uttering any word. And everybody tried to understand that what other team was showing through the village image and its meaning. This activity brought the discussion about patriarchal society, feudal system, lack of opportunities, the need for the school, toilet and other religious places except for temples. It didn’t come out easily. First, we asked the kids to become trees, then tractor and then the village.
I not only learned few theatre skills but had a lot of fun in the process. The similar experience, we had in the village Soha but this time, we had few girls as well and I participated more in the workshop. A couple of days later, we had our last session in Amrita. But just like the first session, again, girls did not participate much due to their shyness and ‘norms’. It was quite understandable as well, we were just strangers there. We made peace that we would have planned our workshop for 3-4 days with one group instead of just 4 hours and at least, they accepted to sit with the boys in the same room. That is also very uncommon among teenaged kids in villages. We left the village after having lunch at the fisherman’s house.
I feel the India Fellow program has definitely given me a new pair of eyes to see things and people in the different light and now, I observe everything from different perspectives now.