Udantya Issue # 14

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The Positivity Issue

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Welcome to the fourteenth issue of Udantya! ____________________________________________

This month on Udantya, we are heartened by stories of Spreading Positivity! ____________________________________________ Backstage Pass The Essence of Udantya Megaphone A Word from the Editors Spotlight Acts of Positivity: A conversation with Radha Ramaswamy - Aparna Vidyasagar Darkroom Teaching for Humanity - Namita Azad Jam Session Sirisha - Aparna Vidyasagar Poetry Jam Cameo The Incredible Joy of Little Things - Karthik Narasimhan with photos by Prasanna Shiridhi

©Namita Azad

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The very essence of artistic expression is that, it is captured in many different ways.

A picture, a word or a tune. Your rebellion, your journey and your destination. Here, we aim to capture it all. Join us or explore with us. Welcome to Udantya. Welcome to our creative space!

Udantya aims to be a collaborative effort. If you have any articles, photos or music you would like to share, please email us at udantya@gmail.com. Future themed issues will be announced a month in advance.

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From the Editors

Positivity- sometimes big, sometimes small, sometimes conventional and at other times surprising. We are all better for positivity in our lives. Happy conversations with strangers; acts of charity; brave souls who put the causes of others before their own; those who find solutions never imagined before. Positivity inspires us and comforts us. _____________________________________________

In Jam Session, Aparna shares her experiences in the Sirisha Rehabilitation Center, a school for special needs children in the small town of Vuyyuru, India. We’re also back with Poetry Jam! Our Cameo contributor this month is Karthik Narasimhan, who writes of the delight in the little things in life. His essay reminds us of the moments we must cherish. Adding wonderful imagery to Karthik’s piece is Prasanna

In this issue we touch upon many of these aspects of


spreading positivity. Our Spotlight this month is on the Center for Community Dialogue and Change (CCDC) spearheaded by Radha Ramaswamy.

CCDC promotes social and personal

change by using theater and the techniques of the Theater of the Oppressed.

We chat with Mrs. Ramaswamy about her

vision for CCDC and her personal journey. Darkroom features Namita’s experience teaching the school children of Ghiana Village in

Punjab, India, about

cancer and basic health education.

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Happy reading!


CCDC’s primary mission is to marry the philosophy of the ‘Theater of the Oppressed’ with mainstream education, while

Acts of Positivity: A Conversation with Radha Ramaswamy!

utilizing the techniques to promote self-awareness and understanding – of self and community.

Each of the many

workshop formats is designed to explore a social or personal

by Aparna Vidyasagar

issue – in silence by simply using one’s body (Image Theater)

Positivity wakes us up, pushes us out of inertia, and

or by presenting a problem as a scenario to enact (Forum

compels us to do better for ourselves and those around us.

Theater), and of course by using words to create effective

Those who choose to spread positive energy – ambassadors of


change – are just as inspiring as the work they do.

India, for varied groups of people – retirees, teachers and


individuals not only work tirelessly for others, they also constantly discover innovative ways to reach people. The work done at the Center for

CCDC conducts its workshops throughout

students, children and medical professionals. We sat down (virtually!) with Radha Ramaswamy, to learn more about her story and the work at CCDC.

Community Dialogue and Change

*For a list of all CCDC workshop techniques visit http://www.ccdc.in/about-

(CCDC) by Radha Ramaswamy


and her team, is just such an


example. CCDC was founded by Radha Ramaswamy in 2011, in

What is the very essence of the work done at CCDC? In what ways do you hope to impact mainstream education?

Bangalore, India and utilizes the

In one sentence, our workshops create opportunities for

techniques of the ‘Theater of the Oppressed’ developed by

participants to discover their own potential to create change in

Augusto Boal in the 1960s, where the goal is to initiate social

their personal and/or professional lives. Most of our work is

and political dialogue and change through theater.

with teachers, teacher educators and students, so we hope to set

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off a process of positive, creative and critical thinking in a system that is currently perceived – not without justification! – as rigid, closed, and irrelevant to real life. You must be asked this question quite often!


prompted you to make the leap from education to theater? The journey – it didn’t seem like a leap! – was not so much from education to theater, as from one understanding of education to another, a broader, more meaningful one.


impetus for actually quitting my mainstream teaching job came from changes in my classrooms, just realizing more and more strongly that students seemed to want something else, or something more than what the classroom was offering them. I had heard of and experienced a little bit of Theater of the Oppressed (TO), and the training at the Mandala Center with

A workshop for children at a school Bangalore (L). ‘Col Hypnosis’ (R). Small children play with adults/teachers or older children. Here the children have the opportunity to reverse the normal power dynamic between these pairings. What were your initial experiences as you trained to become a facilitator (at the Mandala Center)?

Do these

now impact you, in your role as a facilitator, and in your interactions with the participants?

Marc Weinblatt was my real introduction to TO. After Marc’s

During my training in 2010 at Mandala, I was constantly

one month residency in India that we had organized in early

processing the experience for application back in my context in

2011, which was a sort of an apprenticeship for me, I was

India. It sort of took away from my workshop experience a

convinced that this was what I was looking for. It was sheer

little, and I was aware of this, as I knew that this is exactly

magic, the way TO integrated education, theater and social

what I would be telling my workshop participants not to do!

justice work – the three areas I had always been focused on.

Perhaps I had been an academic for far too long. And although Marc would keep saying, ‘Don’t think too much’, I was doing precisely that

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Immediately after the training, I did not feel confident that I

carefully designed to be much more than just warm up or group

could become a facilitator. My biggest anxiety was about not

building activities. These also help a facilitator understand the

being a hardcore theater person. It continues to gnaw away

group. I have a standard pile from which I choose, depending

somewhere at the back of my mind though I have proved to

on how long a workshop is.

myself time and again that my workshops have a stamp that is

Hypnosis, Carnival in Rio and The Glass Cobra have been

peculiarly mine, and that is being appreciated both by my

favorites with my workshop participants**.

Games such as Colombian

participants and the audiences for my Forums (Forum Theater). The ‘relevance question’ is huge for me. I think I am happiest when I feel strongly connected to my participants because of a shared context, and this has helped me evolve a certain approach to planning my workshops. I start by looking for this shared context. Sometimes this is very general – I have been a teacher, so I understand teachers. But sometimes this is more

Carnival in Rio (L) and The Glass Cobra (R) _

specific. A school schedules a workshop on a holiday, and I let the group know that I understand how that feels, especially for the women. Even though I would have a program planned, I

Image Theater, where participants make shapes (images) with

have often changed it, depending on what I sense the group

their bodies in response to themes, without using language is

needs or expects.

central to TO.

Of course this is nothing unusual – all

facilitators do this. In fact, all teachers do this in their classes! Which of the Theater of the Oppressed techniques do you use most often in workshops (and why)?

This is where the essence of much of the

philosophy lies. We spend quite a bit of time on the different kinds of Image Theater, again depending on the time available. Besides this, the one that I use the most often is Forum Theater,

There are the games that always help the group to warm up, to bond, get into their bodies, and all of Boal’s games are brilliant,

a public, problem solving technique that is perhaps the most widely used technique.

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In every one of my standard 2-day

workshops, groups create short scenes which we then ‘forum’.

wanted to ‘help’ the woman.

A group of senior citizens that I work with have successfully

unexpected, magical moments.

performed six public Forums in the last year, all over Bangalore, highlighting issues of relevance to them such as retirement, senior abuse, and dementia.

Forums are full of such

One intriguing technique of the Theater for the Oppressed is the Invisible Theater, where actors create a situation in public and the unknowing public becomes involved. A true

Which of your many workshops or participant feedback has resonated with you the most?

social experiment! Have you conducted one to date? No, not yet. You need a well trained group of actors to do this

Actually every time I get feedback after workshops, there’s

right. I do now have a group that trained with me in June 2012,

always at least one that makes me go ‘wow, did I really do

we might consider doing one soon!

that?’ When a teacher says the workshop helped her rethink what education should be, I am happiest. As for workshop moments/stories, there are some that I keep sharing. A scene

Can we adapt these techniques (or their essence) on a smaller scale to our daily lives?

was being ‘forum-ed’ where a group of actors, all men, went to

You know, it’s interesting you should ask this.

help the ‘oppressed’ woman (a daughter-in-law) in the play.

training had 24 participants from different parts of India and

They began arguing loudly with the ‘oppressor’ ( the father in

one person from Egypt, and by the end of the 6 day training,

law) about women’s rights, and how they wanted the father-in-

this group was feeling intensely connected. I felt lucky that I

law to do this and that, and the raised voices went on for a few

had got such a good group, while at the same time being aware

minutes. Suddenly, the woman says “Stop!” and when she had

that this was not unusual in workshops of this nature. But two

their attention, she continued “Do you want to know what I

things happened that might answer your question. The first is

want?” For a few seconds jaws dropped, then quickly one of

in a lighter vein, though serious, really. A couple of days after

the men recovered, and said “haan, haan, Savitri beti***, tell us

the training, one of the participants from Bangalore asked her

what you want.” It was a priceless moment, where we could

friend and fellow participant on the phone: “Are you practicing

all see that that some real learning had happened for those who

TO?” The friend was not sure how to answer this, as she felt

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My June

two days after the training was too soon to start facilitating a

husband and son, who are also TO practitioners, have all felt

workshop. It turned out however, that this person was using

the impact in our relationships. My husband Ram and I also

the word ‘practice’ in a very special sense, to mean ‘living TO’,

see deep connections between Vipassana meditation and TO,

practicing it in your everyday life! When the friend narrated

although they seem so different in their approach to life. And

this incident to me, it was an epiphanic moment for me. You

of course, TO has given me a whole new take on teaching.

see, at the close of the workshop, many of the participants had deeply moving testimonials to offer, about how the workshop

What’s next for CCDC?

had affected them, but I had never asked myself this question:

More workshops, of course! Until now we have focused on

Was I practicing TO? So, the answer to your question I guess

reaching as many people as we can, and we have managed to

is yes, the essence of TO can be practised in our everyday

reach very diverse schools, across India. We are now seriously

lives. The group called Bangalore Jokers, that did the June

planning long term engagement with educational communities

training, meets once a month to continue to learn TO, and the

– schools as well as teacher training institutions. When we say

most important part of the meetings is ‘the catching up’ when

‘school’, we are looking at the entire community that it

we all share what’s happening in our lives. This helps us flow

represents – parents, children, teachers and non teaching staff

naturally into the other parts of our meeting where someone

and the management. We would like to see TO in every school

facilitates games, we plan Forums, or discuss facilitation issues

in India!

such as ensuring safety for children, etc. It’s all organically connected.

We are probably also the only TO organization that has worked with medical colleges as a part of their Medical Humanities

Have you changed through the course this journey?

programs, a completely new field of interest in India. If this

It’s impossible not to be changed by something as powerful as TO. What continues to amaze me, after nearly two years of doing workshops, is how parts of my life, things that I say or

interest becomes a large scale movement to re-humanize the medical profession, we would be very happy to contribute in any way we can.

do, suddenly light up for me as “This is TO!”. My family, my

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For all our dreams to come true, we need to create

** Details of these games can be found in Augusto Boal’s book, ‘Games for

“multipliers” – Boal’s name for TO practitioners. So we are

Actors and Non-Actors’. ‘Columbian Hypnosis’(p.51), explores the dynamics

now focused on trainings, on creating a large pool of

of power between the players. ‘Carnival in Rio’ (p.104) , through the use of

facilitators. I am thrilled that the group that participated in my

sound and action,

June 2012 facilitator training came from not just different parts

understand and negotiate notions of unity and diversity. The Glass Cobra (p.

of India but from diverse professional interests – some work

118) played with eyes closed, often becomes a deep and powerful journey into

with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, some are

oneself, as participants ‘lose’ their partners and try to ‘find ‘ them within the

theater trainers and practitioners and some are members of


civic bodies keen on building community awareness about civic issues. There’s a demand for more trainings, and we are

provides insights into how individuals and groups

*** (Hindi) “Yes, yes, Savitri”.

gearing up for the challenge that these plans for growth will bring! How can those interested help out at CCDC? Visit our website www.ccdc.in. Do our workshops. Train as facilitators. Tell people about TO. Write in with your ideas, suggestions, opinions about our work, and possibilities. Help organize workshops in your neighbourhood. ‘Practice TO!” * We, at Udantya, would like to thank Mrs. Ramaswamy for taking the time to interview with us. We were so heartened by her enthusiasm and excitement. Thank you! ***

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Teaching for Humanity by Namita Azad

I believe that education and awareness have proved to be one of the strongest tools of change. Our team of five, from the Betty Cowan Research and Innovation Center, (at the Christian Medical College, Ludhiana, Punjab, India) set out to the village of Ghiana, near the city of Patiala, Punjab, to teach fourth, fifth and sixth graders about cancer and basic health practices. The southern belt of Punjab, which includes many small villages such as Ghiana, is among the highest incidence and prevalence rates of cancer in India. This is primarily due to the improper use of pesticides, which has in turn infected the crops and water consumed by the locals. I spent the afternoon teaching the students about cancer – what one is supposed to do when they think they have cancer, and that not everyone who has cancer, has to die. The students were shy at first but after a few ice-breaker questions, some were readily asking and answering questions. With the fourth graders, I had a session on basic good-health practices which included drinking clean water, eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and sanitation practices such as hand cleansing. It was a truly humbling and enriching experience to have interacted with these children who are the truest beginnings of change. I witnessed first hand the bewildering questions and thoughts on cancer. I realized yet again, that change in any realm of society has to begin at the grass-root level to grow stronger. It may be that many of the children may not remember anything from the sessions; but even if a handful do, their healthy lifestyle has already begun and will spread.

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headmistress mentioned to me that in for certain high-energy

by Aparna Vidyasagar

children, the act of painting and playing with colors is calming

On our last trip to India, we went to the Sirisha Rehabilitation Center to distribute snacks to the children. This school and home for children with special needs, is located in Vuyyuru, Andhra Pradesh – a small town which is surrounded largely by villages and farming communities. Sirisha is run by a local foundation, started by a gentleman whose daughter is also a special needs child.

and holds their attention for long periods of time. And, for all the children, it is rewarding to see a tangible result of their efforts and a product in which they have much pride.

teachers were focused on the children’s individual needs and temperament.

Most importantly, they emphasized family in

order to provide a comprehensive and continuous level of care for the children, sharing with the parents, the tools that they use in school. At the end of the day, these children were learning

The goal of Sirisha is to create an environment where

skills that could enable them to become independent adults.

children with special needs – physical disabilities, Autism Spectrum disorders, other neurological conditions or Down Syndrome – can thrive and learn artistic skills which can then be put to use as a vocation. The teachers believe strongly in the therapeutic and practical value of art.

During my visit I was struck by the energy of the children, they were bright, excited, smiling, and confident. The teachers were enthusiastic, proud of their students and truly dedicated to their work. And above all, I was gratified to see a locally run institution, that sought to bring a positive and

It struck me that, while the teachers were not practicing the therapies so common in the West (for example, a structured

proactive venture to a rural pocket of the state (Andhra Pradesh) – a place that might have otherwise been ignored.

program for Autistic children or special learning programs for children with Down Syndrome), they were nonetheless extremely intuitive and effective.


For instance, the

Sirisha Rehabilitation Center is run on government funding and private donations. Some of the children’s artwork and crafts are also put up for sale in order to raise funds for the

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school. If you would like to contribute in any way to Sirisha, please let us know and we will be happy to put you in touch with them. For more information on the work that they do, please visit their websitehttp://sirifoundation.in/about-us.html

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The first smile,

Poetry Jam

A hot cup of brew,

Another Day

served with a, Hello, How are you?

by Aparna Vidyasagar

In such simple words, what is it that we seek?


Perhaps to ignite,

She wakes-

that, within us, so weak.

cloud over her head.

A tenuous chord,

She just can’t get out of bed.

to those around;

Filled with dread,

tethering us, to the ground.

pain, sorrow… she didn’t feel this way,

What is within,

when today was tomorrow.

must be remembered. Always present;

One hour goes by,

not discovered.

two, and three.

And thereon a shift.

How difficult it is, to just, be.

Enter hope.

Tentative steps,

Something surges; eager to cope.

finally outsideToo little too late?

Time passes,

At least she tried.

perhaps an hour or two. The weight slowly lifting. The feeling of old; yet so new.

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right away.

I can’t emphasize

enough the feeling of optimism t

The Incredible Joy of Little Things

hat a well made cup of hot coffee

by Karthik Narasimhan Photo Credit: Prasanna Shiridi

instills early in the morning! The cleaning lady at my

I admit it.

I couldn’t think of anything profound to

workplace, an old Malay aunty,

write about. At first, I thought, how difficult could it be to

wears this splendid, beatific

write a piece, with inspirational anecdotes thrown in good

smile every morning as she asks

measure? A ‘Chicken Soup for the blah blah Soul’ of sorts.


Turns out – very! Although I’m a good liar (my doctoral

oredi?” (translated from

dissertation vaguely claims I’ve discovered a cure for cancer), I

‘Singlish’ to English as, “Hello, have you had your breakfast”).

didn’t want to attempt that. They wouldn’t be stories out of our

A simple question, laden with genuine concern; it never fails to

everyday lives! And so, I decided to write about something

put a smile on my face and make me feel special and cared for!

ordinary. Something mundane. Something all of us can relate

As a true scientist looking to give a name to everything, I did a

to – how some of the most awesome things in life come in the

bit of research and it turns out there is a whole philosophy built

smallest packages with the most inexpensive price tags.

on this feeling that there is someone watching out for you all

Just think about how a perfectly made cup of coffee is truly a game changer! The power held in a skillfully brewed cuppa, at the optimal temperature, with just the right amount of caffeine induced bitterness and sugar induced sweetness, is immense. It can kick-start your day and put you on top gear



the time. The Africans call it ‘Ubuntu’ which basically says “I am what I am because of who we all are.”

Indian culture

espouses the same philosophy as ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, a concept, which when simply put, says – “Only small men discriminate; saying, ‘One is a relative; the other is a stranger’. For those who live magnanimously the entire world constitutes but a family.” (Maha Upanishad; Chapter 6, Verse 72)

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I doubt whether

with a luxurious shower and a healthy dinner with a glass of

Rahimah Aunty

wine of fine vintage! Wow! What a day it has been.

studied these concepts in depth or



conscious effort to incorporate the philosophy into her life. But the spontaneous warmth in her daily ritual is simply second nature to her and it always evokes a sense of positivity that radiates through me as I walk through the doors of my office with a spring in my step. The day is full of such little joys. At the outset they would seem mundane and insipid. Yet, their therapeutic effects can hardly be quantified. A text from a dear friend who lives in

Learn to cherish those moments. The little victories and the small pleasures of life, all add up and that’s what counts at the end of the day. A day where you haven’t wrested a huge business deal or completed a marathon still has plenty of successes!

The pensive moments spent listening to your

favorite melody, the time spent chatting with your loved ones, the pleasure of reading a book watching the setting sun on a normal day, are all simple joys of life. Collect them all and treasure them devoutly! Half full or empty, I wouldn’t cry myself hoarse debating about it. The bottom line is, there is always something awesome in my cup and I’m blessed for that.

a different continent, just when you are close to frustration; a lovely lunch when you feel the day spinning at a crazy velocity; and friendly banter with colleagues when the post-meal slump sets in. There is something intoxicating in the sweet pain in the muscles and the hard earned pearls of perspiration from a long run and a heavy workout session in the gym. Follow that up

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Yes, of course! We will try to find a place for it. You may even give us ideas for more themes!

We’ve had a few questions over the past few months, so we thought it would be a good idea to chart out our very own FAQ page.

Might I make a suggestion? Yes! Questions, comments, suggestions and ideas are all welcome. Just email us at udantya@gmail.com

Do you have specific requirements to submit to Udantya? Absolutely not! We love it all; the quirky, the unexpected and the conventional. Share your ideas with us. We want to highlight creativity and artistic expression in all forms. Since we are a web-magazine, we have not yet felt the need to set any page limits or length restrictions. If that changes, we will let you know! How much time do I get to submit a piece? We usually announce the following month’s theme when we release an issue. Our rough editing scheme is as follows. (When you email us to contribute to a particular issue, you will get a set dates for that month). -We usually ask for a short summary of your idea for the intended piece by the end of the first week of the month. -The first draft follows roughly a week to ten days later. You can submit a first draft even if you didn’t tell us your overall summary. Partial drafts are also accepted, so that we get an idea of the direction of your piece. -We like to work closely with you and reserve a week thereafter to finalize a draft. Our goal is to facilitate your vision for your piece and we view this portion of the process as a team effort. Can I send you stuff even if it doesn’t fit a theme?

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