Scorching May’s torture has given away to a slightly merciful June. Among other things, I’ve finally found a few minutes to breathe, after having spent two months running after … kids. Why, you ask? It’s the season of Summer Workshops, of course.
Holidays can be a rather indeterminate time. Gone are the days when parents simply let the kids loose, just telling them half-heartedly to “play in the shade” – not that anyone was going to listen – and let it at that. Come hell or high-water, it was kid-business after that, and parents could go hang. I myself, have known the joy of rolling around filthy streets and returning in the evenings, smelling like an orc. The city, however, has other ideas. What with schools vying with each other to satisfy parents’ demands about producing child prodigies that have to develop an IQ of 187 and find the cure to cancer, AIDS and other life-threatening diseases or blow up this world … the poor things desperately need some time off. After all, as one parent eagerly put it to me, it’s not all about studying, is it? A child needs to be well rounded. There needs to be some Value Addition. Children have to take back something deep and fulfilling within their hearts. To do something actually worthwhile, without running mamas and papas ragged, or feel guilty as hell that they aren’t devoting enough time to him or her. They have to learn pottery-making, papier-mâché doll-making, puppet-making, shadow theatre, mat-weaving, karate, judo, take back home clumps of activity sheets – and have fun besides. Tough job.
The answer: Workshops.
Workshops for everything: from pottery, clay-dough, scrollwork, calligraphy and sticking little glitzy papers to a white sheets in the general shape of Hanuman. All hours of the day, and beyond if only such a thing were possible. They enthrall the mind of a child – develop him or her into a magically god-given angel that can complete a Ph d thesis in the summer holidays – not to mention turn them into a paragon of virtue. They are anywhere and everywhere. And they provide, today, what the blazing empty roads, empty houses, long verandas and playgrounds of the previous century could not: fun and adventure.
Not to say that all workshops are necessarily terrible and teach nothing – but one must admit that there are a gaggle of workshop-conductors who claim to be enriching a child’s perception, give him or her a sketch pen and tell them to draw a house. Day after day after day. Or indulge in long speeches about children being allowed to be as free as a bird, as responsibility is an abusive word – and allow them to run amok, turning the area into a badly pounded Afghan war zone. But the schemes work. The moral of the story seems to be in learning how to utilize English at its most impressive, and throw a volley of them at baffled caregivers who are only to happy to sigh and look fondly at their children. From afar. The benefits are in the frequent meetings with other fond parents who exchange notes on how many classes their children attend each, and compare progress. Most workshops actually turn into an exhibition for a study of contrasts. Mrs X complains that her daughter is “shy and won’t make friends,” while Pooja or Shonali yells about eight octaves higher than anyone else. She or he also “doesn’t like stories at all,” and one finds them usually curled up in a corner of the room devouring Harry Potter-esque books without getting the mandatory Hogwarts headache.
One particular favourite parent of mine went so far as to say that her child was a pattern-card of behavior … until she saw her little girl stuff five wafers into her mouth and refuse to share any with the rest.
And then there are a few workshop conductors who wish to return to society something of what they give. They have a mission towards improvement of mankind. Money is, quite frequently, not an issue at all, and the grimace on their faces is clue enough of their distaste of such mundane, worldly considerations. When there’s a question of charges, though, one finds that they “simply cannot work together – but perhaps there will be other projects they would be glad to participate in.” Child improvement and social service can go take a toss.
Caught in this milieu are genuinely talented workshop coordinators who have a flair for engaging a kid for three hours straight – but are subjected to endless torture by parents who want to see a file on their children as huge as the secret dossiers a la the ones maintained on the Priory of Sion. “I teach children to make artifacts out of coconut shells,” says Sheila, one hassled workshop resource person. “But I can’t make files for six year olds.” Alas, they have now learned to follow the way, as well, and provide computerized presentations in an age where excessive computer-oriented lifestyles are decried.
In the midst of it all, some storytellers like Jeeva Raghunath (also known fondly as Aunty Jeeva), really do take the time to make a story come alive – with gestures, noises et al. wonder of wonders, she also says she’s most comfortable in Tamil, for that’s the language she “feels and understands the best.” Some, like them, are the saving grace, the exceptions that still retain some romance in that age-old phrase, Storytelling.
And among endless hours of yelling and screaming, you do come across cute and well-mannered kids who really do fulfill the criteria of what a child should be: good, kind, serious, funny, willing to share, eager to participate – and end up giving you a hug and a card at the end of the session. They’re the ones who make it worthwhile. I treasure every single card and hug I’ve received.
Perhaps they’re the reason such things still persist. Let everything else go for a toss – but sometimes, you end up with the perfect combination: that elusive storyteller and the real child who can still bring the magic of a folktale to life. For a few hours, you are genuinely transported to the world of kiddie kingdom, where Terrorism and Paris Hilton’s jail antics and Raj TV’s sudden accession to TV thronedom are all far far away … and you’re still eager to know whether the King and Queen really did live happily ever after. And your day’s made.
Two months of workshops gave me four or five such hours. I’m happy. For now.