Tagore Utsav by Flying Birds of India
By Aseem Asha Usman
Rabindranath Tagore’s role in the innovation of educational ideas has been eclipsed by his fame as a poet. He was a pioneer in the field of education. For the last forty years of his life, Tagore was content to be a schoolmaster in humble rural surroundings, even when he had achieved fame such as no other Indian had known before. He was a pioneer in India to implement principles of education which have now become commonplace of educational theory, if not in practice.
What the child imbibes at home and in school is far more important than what he studies at the post-school level. We now know that teaching is more easily and naturally communicated through a child’s mother-tongue than through an alien medium, that learning through activity is more real than through the written word, that wholesome education includes training of all the senses along with the mind, instead of the rote memorization of knowledge and that culture is something much more than academic learning alone.
Flying Birds of India, a permanent programme of Aseem ASHA Foundation, New Delhi, India, wishes to share the noble work of such a great poet as Tagore with as many students as possible since many children only learn what is available through their textbooks. Few of them have the opportunity to come across people who would encourage them to read on such wonderful personalities as Tagore. This indeed is the hopeful spirit behind our Annual Tagore Utsav, dedicated to a true guru who established his school, Santiniketan, with the motto ‘Yatra visvam bhavatieka nidam’, which means, “Where the whole world meets in a single nest.”
Aseem ASHA Foundation has already presented four annual Tagore Utsavs and showcased the creative works of Tagore in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi campus. More than 700 students from Jamia Schools and marginalized communities of Delhi have participated in Tagore Utsav during these last four years.
The festival is celebrated for three days in the second week of May, to coincide with the birthday of Rabindranath Tagore and held in collaboration with Jamia Schools and Department of Sculpture, Faculty of Fine Art, Jamia Millia Islamia. It is always celebrated based on themes inspired by Tagore’s philosophy, life and works. This year (2015), the theme of the Utsav was ‘Santiniketan’. In the past, heroines from Tagore’s short stories, Bauls from Bengal, children and Tagore were some of the themes for the festival.
In 2015, 150 students from Jamia Middle School and more than 50 students from Flying Birds of India group learned sculptures, clay-toys and clay-house making, storytelling through yoga, bird feeder and nest making, T-shirt painting with Kala-Bhavana (Santiniketan) patterns, hand fan-making, tribal jewelry and floral garland making, carpentry and book-binding.
Students making Tagore in clay
Tagore Utsav is made possible only by the sincere efforts of the volunteers and participants. They offer a brief overview of Tagore’s life to the attending students and inform them of Tagore’s Santiniketan.
In 2011, the group Flying Birds of India introduced a group of children to the recipes and food Tagore loved the most. They cooked dal (lentils), bhat (rice) and sandesh (sweet meat) with the help of neighbours. A short film was shot while they were cooking the poet laureate’s favourite delicacies. Titled ‘Tagore’s Kitchen’, the film was screened at various schools in Delhi to educate students on Tagore’s extraordinary life. The group has produced several short films based on different poems written by Tagore.
Mushtaq Ali from Aseem ASHA Foundation tells about his experiences during the event celebration, “I was a young Muslim boy studying in Jamia Millia Islamia in 11th class. I had been learning the art of storytelling through video film-making and visual arts during those days at Aseem ASHA Foundation. Guru Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel laureate from India, has been very close to my heart. I enjoy reading his poems in my Art & Cultural group, FLYING BIRDS OF INDIA. We did a community kitchen to cook and share food that Tagore used to enjoy with his Bengali relatives and friends. We not only cooked the food in Bengali-style but also served it in terracotta pots and banana leaves to our Muslim friends and neighbors. Community people offered us their kitchen and contributed for this Tagore commemoration lunch. Our teacher recited his poems during the lunch. My friends and I shot a small film of this celebration. I have already screened this inspiring film during our UDAAN COMMUNITY FILM FEST in many schools, colleges and communities.”
Mushtaq also exhibited his first solo photo-series on Guru Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Santiniketan’ this year at Jamia Millia Islamia. Last year, his trip to Santiniketan was organzied by the Aseem ASHA Foundation. There he screened his short poetry and documentary films based on the life, philosophy and works of Rabindranath Tagore. Mushtaq is the student of B.A. (Hons) Political Science, 2nd year at Jamia Millia Islamia.
A photo-walk was also organized by the foundation from Jamia Nagar to Jamia Millia Islamia to spread awareness about the contribution of Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan.
More than 50 heritage walkers exhibited the photographs of various buildings in Santiniketan such as Kala-Bhavan, China-Bhavan, Hindi-Bhavan, Upasana Griha, Ramkinkar Baij’s sculptures and mud-houses, where Tagore lived.
They also displayed quotes of Tagore written on cardboards during this heritage walk. Later in the evening, they lit candles in memory of Rabi Thakur and concluded the second day of the celebrations by singing the national anthem in front of the Tagore Shila installed in Jamia Millia Islamia.
Shaad, a student of class 8 from a local school of Okhla Gaon, made a short poetry-film based on a poem “VOCATION” written by Tagore. It echoes a child’s ever-changing dreams for the future through the search for a vocation. The poem describes the child’s longing for the freedom he sees in the lives of those around him. Through the film-making process, Shaad could relate the characters of the poem such as the bangle hawker, gardener and watchman with those who live in his own community.
Shaad says, “It was a great experience for me. I had no interest in studies during those days. I could not pass my 6th class examinations so I was expelled from the school. When I did this project I felt great meeting with different types of people within my community. I learned script writing, camera handling, and voice-over recording.” He adds, “Earlier I was camera shy but after working on this short film I developed my confidence for camera. Now I am also doing well in my studies. I scored more than 75 percent this year in my 7th class annual examination.”
Farhana Saifi and Adeeba Saifi from Okhla community painted women characters from short stories written by Rabindranath Tagore in a unique pictorial calligraphic style.
Pictorial calligraphy by Farhana and Adeeba
Farhana lives in Okhla slums of Delhi. She has completed her 12th class and has been making Tagore’s reproductions for the last couple of years. She is busy in making a series of pictorial calligraphy telling the stories of the heroines of Tagore and plans to exhibit her work at more places to raise gender issues. She has made a calligraphy depicting the life of Damini from Tagore’s Chaturanga.
Farhana says, “Choosing Tagore’s heroines were an interesting story. We saw a short drama on Tagore’s women characters from his short stories during our Tagore Utsav at Jamia Millia Islamia. This inspired me and my cousin Adiba. Later we started thinking about this theme for our pictorial calligraphy.” Adeeba also lives in the Okhla slums and is a student of class 11th. She has been making Tagore’s reproductions for the last couple of years with Farhana. Adeeba’s work depicts the story of a woman whose name is Kumudini from Tagore’s novel, Jogajog. Her pictorial calligraphy shows a clash between two antipodal concepts of marital love and sex as represented by an affluent, Madhusudan and a very sophisticated, refined and sensitive 19-year-old woman, Kumudini, who firmly believes in Hindu ideals of womanhood and traditional concepts of wifehood.
Adeeba says, “I boldly chose very vibrant but sophisticated colors to show the mood and temperament of Kumudini. My approach and tones are feminist because I also relate these stories written by Tagore with my surroundings, which is male-dominated and patriarchal in nature.”
Another volunteer of Aseem ASHA Foundation, Akbar Raza, from Seelampur slums, started Tagore Peace Initiative for Aseem ASHA Foundation. This peace campaign is a part of Tagore Utsav.
This peace initiative is dedicated to the works and life of the Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. Akbar Raza, a migrant from Bihar, was a government school student of class 12 and a creative embroiderer from Seelampur, when he took this project forward. He works at his embroidery to support his large family and has used his skills to reproduce Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings. Akbar Raza has been running the Tagore Peace campaign with his colleagues for several years and has gifted his hand-made stich-paintings of Tagore to many eminent personalities.
Akbar Says, “I made these stitch-paintings to spread the message of universal love that I learned by reading about Tagore. I came to know many new and interesting things about him through our Tagore Utsav. I experimented and used Tagore’s sketches, doodling and masks to create the stitch-paintings.”
Akbar’s calligraphy in embroidery
The curator and anchor-presenter of the Udaan community film festival that showcases short films made by children on Tagore’s life, works and philosophy, Kiran Rai says, “I feel great when I see children enjoy technology and creativity together in this unique festival. I myself learn a lot during the question-and-answer session after the film screening. Children share amazing experiences of their daily life after watching these films. They always want to know more about Tagore. Apart from film-watching and film-making, they sing and danced with Baul performers from Bengal though that folk art form and language were absolutely new experiences for them during the annual festival.”
Baul singers from Santiniketan performing at Tagore Utsav
“I learned making sculptures, paper toys, clay pots during Tagore Utsav. I and my friend, Ali Hasan, also danced with Baul performers. This was a unique unforgettable experience for me,” says Hasan Raza from Government Boys Senior Secondary School, Noor Nagar.
“I loved writing Urdu translations of poems, originally written by Tagore on the dry leaves falling on the ground in calligraphic style,” says Seema Mushtaq, a student from Sarvodaya Kanya Noor Nagar School. She further tells, “I don’t know Bangla so I tried to understand these poems in my own language, Urdu.”
Bilal, from Jamia Middle School says, “For me my most favorite activity is walking in TAGORE PEACE MARCH on the second day of celebration. I enjoy when people ask me many things about Tagore during this walk in our locality.”
Ayan and Ali Hasan live in Noor Nagar and visit the foundation’s Okhla center daily. They take great interest in singing ‘EKLA CHOLO RE’, written by Tagore. Ayan says, “I sing this song with my friends, though not all of us understand the language. But we love its tune. I play khanjri and my friend, Ali, plays jhaanjh on it. This enthralls us and touches our soul. We feel like dancing peacocks during our performances.” Ali says, “I want to learn Bangla and more Rabindra Sangeet. This awakens my curiosity to know more about Bangla culture.”
Tagore Utsav is also designed especially for non-Bengali communities. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore often spoke about how art and creativity can connect one with the real world. This festival is an awakening of such awareness in modern life where art and aesthetics are often sadly lacking. New generations of India rarely know about the great work of Tagore that can still inspire so many to think beyond the limits of the marketplace.
Aseem Asha Foundation, run by Aseem Asha Usman, is a non-governmental, non-commercial registered organization in New Delhi, India. The organization is engaged in teaching and promoting the innovative use of new media tools and technologies. A branch of the Foundation, Flying Birds of India is involved with popularising and propagating the local issues of marginalised communities through the production and dissemination of short documentary films and digital print designs on local, state, national and international levels. Aseem Asha Foundation’s holistic approach involves bringing together art and cinema for social change.
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