Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife.  
The first question was, "Did you bring joy?"  
The second was, "Did you find joy?"

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Peaceful, Easy Feeling

When Eva suggested that I come to Santiniketan, she said that it’s a very different experience to be living and working in India rather than being a tourist, even if you are only working for a few weeks.

I haven’t really been working all that much in the last week. But I have a purpose, a job that is making itself up as I go along. In addition to going to the village to meet the women who I’ll be creating a short Tagore piece with, I helped Eva do two art workshops at the Antaranga School.

As the chief fundraiser for the Antaranga School, Eva has planned an exhibition in Switzerland of artwork created by the students. On Friday morning we worked with 20 of the younger kids. I started off the class with an acting excersise designed to get the kids thinking about different environments. The students were divided into 5 groups; each team was assigned a place: The Sea, Jungle, Desert, Outer Space, The Circus. Members of the “Sea” group came up one at a time and created a frozen picture of the Ocean by announcing what they wanted to be and striking a pose of that thing: wave, fish, whale, shark. Once they were in place, I had the non-sea kids count to three, at which time our “ocean” would come to life. It’s a simple, but very effective way to get kids moving creatively.

After they got their imaginations going, each team used thick finger paint to create large paintings of their environment. The paintings were great; but ended up being more specific than Eva had anticipated. She had hoped the students might work a little more abstractly so that in the second half of the workshop, which takes place on Monday, the young artists could be freshly inspired by the backdrops to imagine a new environment into which they could introduce the appropriate animals. We needed more paintings.

I thought quickly. I had all the kids gather the paint in the center of the room, then I had us all sit in a clump around the paint. I told the adults to put paper all around our circle. With Nandu translating into Bengali, I told the kids to listen to my voice and to move their hands in the air to the music I would make. If the music was fast, they were to move their hands fast. If the music was very melodic, the fingers would become softer, more flowy. The kids were really listening and adjusting accordingly, so I made the next leap.

I said, “Ok, now I want you to choose one color. Dip your hands in that color and go to a piece of paper. Don’t touch the paper till you hear my voice, then paint to the sound of my voice.” I hoped all that would get through in Bengali.

The kids coated their hands, got to their paper. I started singing, slowly. The kids started pounding the paper indiscriminately with paint. I said, “Stop! Listen to my voice.” I tried again with a very rhythmic sound. The kids just pounded at their own pace again. I said, “Stop. Nandu, tell them to watch me.” I demonstrated.

The kids got poised to paint again. I started to sing.

You could feel the coin drop. Suddenly the students were really listening and painting to the sound of my voice. Several times I told them to freeze and I would change the feel of the music and they would change their tempo, their hands would get softer or harder accordingly. It was really thrilling. I asked another volunteer, Kristin’s daughter, Michaela to sing a song. She started into Castle on a Cloud. The students basically danced with their hands on their canvases. When we were done we had a room full of backdrops for Monday’s class, a huge mess of paint on the floor, and I had a green face.

Part of what made both activities so fun was that the teachers at Antaranga were so tickled by them. The teachers at Seattle Children’s Theatre have been using the first “environment” game for years, but it was totally new here in India. I was so happy to be opening up doors in thinking for both the young kids and their mentors; they all repayed me a million-fold with wide-open faces and hearts. Because of their trust, I felt so free and creative that that second exercise just fell out of my mind. I wasn’t stressed about whether it would work, or about proving myself to anyone. I followed my instinct and everyone went with me. Of course it helped that Eva had thought so long and hard about what she wanted out of the workshop and Nandu and the other teachers were so good at their jobs. I certainly wasn’t the only one working. It was a true collaborative effort, with each soul in the room doing their part, teachers and students alike.

The evening workshop with the older kids was very much Eva’s baby. She did a stellar job. Barbara and I facilitated along with Nandu and two other teachers. I got to be the hard-nosed teacher who ran around saying, “10 more minutes!” “Five more minutes!” “Two more minutes!”

I learned how to say that last one in Bengali. It’s really hard: Du minute!

When time was up, I learned how to say, “Cess!” (Stop!) I would go to one group and say, “Cess!” then dance to the next group singing, “I’m learning Bengali-eeee!!!” Then say in my mock hard-ass voice, “CESS!” to the next group.

Today, Saturday, the school is closed so Eva, Barbara, and I had the day off. I needed to get my sandals fixed, so I took a rickshaw to the cobblers. The two shoe fixing guys work on a platform at the base of a banyon tree on the main Santinikitan drag. I sat and watched while the younger of the two guys went set about matching the purple leather of my sandel, reglueing, sewing, and pounding my shoe back to life. The older guy then cleaned both shoes. The whole process took 15 minutes and cost 50 cents.

This afternoon Eva took Barbara and I to the Saturday Hut, a market for artists to sell their wares that is held in a large field on the outskirts of town. I almost didn’t go because I was super tired after a two hour bike ride yesterday afternoon and I didn’t really feel up to another ride out of town.

I’m glad I went.

The Saturday Hut was a dusty affair, accompanied by the music of several musicians playing traditional Bengali drums and stringed instruments called Ektas. The arts and crafts were pretty fantastic, but not as amazing as the faces of the folks who made them. Soul, that’s what they all had, depth and soul. The people who were buying the goods also seemed like pretty neat folks. I wanted to talk to everyone, to know their stories. But I contented myself with basking in the whole atmosphere of the Hut which was a thick soup of heat, dust, and melody with an undercurrent of creative energy that seemed to swell from the earth itself.

I think I’m beginning to get a handle on that enigmatic shift that I noticed when I came North. In the Kerala, the people lived ON the Planet. In Santiniketan, the people feel OF the planet.

Who knows, maybe it’s just that I’m more grounded.

When Eva, Barbara and I cycled home from the market, I stopped on the dirt road to take a picture while the two German ladies went on ahead. It was dusk and the road was crowded with rickshaws, bikes, motorbikes, trucks and cars headed home from the Hut. I clicked my photo then started off again on my own. A few feet away a package fell out of the basket on my bike. I had to jump off the cycle and run to get the package before it was run over by a group of guys on motorbikes. I got back on my bike and started off again. A few feet later my scarf got caught in the wheel of my bike. I stopped again. When I took off, I only made it a yard or two before a truck ran me off the road. Then, I got back onto the road only to be caught behind a mini-van spewing exhaust. To cap it all off, after I finally got up some speed I was bumped off the road again and my shoe fell off! It was like I Love Lucy, but not quite as funny.

All through this crazy ride, I just kept smiling…really smiling. As frustrating as it was trying to get down the road, there was nowhere else I wanted to be. My body was sore and tired from all the cycling, my lungs were filled with dirt and fumes. On top of all that, men were staring at me in a way that would have unnerved me just weeks ago, but now it doesn’t bother me in the least. After every setback and through all the attention, I just kept getting back on my bike, my heart full of gladness, to continue the journey home.

When I was able to just ride for a bit, I wondered why it was that I was feeling so different, so content, peaceful and easy about all the obstacles that I was encountering. “Is it the magic of Santiniketin? Is Santiniketin even that magical? Am I just acclimated, finally, to India? Is it the yoga, the exersice? Is it going to work and being of use? Is it all of the above?”

Ultimately, I don’t suppose the reason matters. But I also don’t imagine that I’m going to stop trying to figure it out.

(More pictures will be added later to all the Santineketan posts, the internet is extremely slow in these parts....)

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