“Being Human” at Apeejay School, Kolkata

BEING HUMAN @ Apeejay School, Kolkata

The BEING HUMAN workshops presented me the opportunity to connect with a bright bunch of students from Apeejay School, Park Street, Kolkata, over two visits this July and August. It has been a warm loving interaction, full of joy and laughter, as a mixed batch of  students from classes 9 to 11, shared a range of experiences with me. I have come away rejuvenated, with a fresh group of young friends who continue to teach me what Humanism is all about!

6th July, 1pm : having landed in Kolkata that morning, the first session of the workshop kicked off at noon, with a round of introductions. Approximately 50 students opened themselves up to one another, sharing personal aspirations and deep rooted social concerns. A warm ice breaking session flowed into a calming meditation, creating a network of love and light amongst the group, fusing it together with the common intent of discovering what being Human truly means. They were introduced to the world of energies, of the two primary states of Love and Fear and of becoming aware of what one’s operating energy is at all times.

The next day we tried to define qualities we would associate with being “Hu-Man”  i.e. a Being of Light. Among the words that resonated most with the group were Love, respect, dignity, compassion, humility, integrity, transparency, accountability, responsibility, gratitude and courage.

To further explore what these words really meant to us, we broke up into smaller groups of 5 students each, and attempted a short improvisation to express our understanding of the chosen word, and catalyze a large discussion within the group, to add new dimensions to our understanding.

Various meditative exercises guided us into spaces of deep calm and beauty, an opportunity to connect with our inner selves in a way we had not conceived of earlier. As we shared our experiences with the group through our creative writing and drawings, we grew more confident about our own sense of Self, of expressing what we truly felt without anxiously looking for the other’s approval.

Connecting with a partner through the mirror and trust exercises was fun, the therapeutic massages even more enjoyable! Phase 1 ended on a note of great joy and laughter, with children promising to use the tools they had been taught in situations outside the workshop.

I was back in the first week of August for Phase 2 of the program, in which we moved from ME to WE – understanding my Self within the context of my environment, becoming aware of my rights and responsibilities and how best I could use my Free Will to make responsible choices.

A session on one’s awareness of “e-motions” i.e. “energies in motion” became an experiential meditation on the 7 Main chakras of our body, through which we can cleanse and heal ourselves of deep seated issues.

The next day we watched an electrifying documentary on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and were incensed by the injustice of it all! Even after 26 long years, the victims have yet to get adequate compensation, the ground water around the Union Carbide factory is still poisonous, the toxic waste still to be cleared, Warren Anderson continues to move about a free citizen and Dow Chemicals has been invited by the government to do business in India! We were so angry that we each shot off a letter to Shri Manmohan Singh, Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, demanding he take adequate and timely action. Perhaps the letters will make a difference, perhaps the Prime Minister won’t even get to read them, but the sheer expression of our anger connected us even deeper to the issue and left us with a sense of responsibility towards our fellow countrymen.

As Ashish Kothari, one of the students writes; “As a young citizen if India, concerned about the lives of my fellow countrymen, I’m writing to you in reference to the Bhopal Gas tragedy, which took place in 1984. You have probably received numerous letters like this before, which you and predecessors have kindly ignored. Let me assure you sir that such letters will continue to reach you and will not stop until justice is delivered to the Bhopal Victims.”

Another student, Anmol Nautiyal writes, “Sir, I wish you would empathize, as a human being rather than sympathize as a decision maker for there is still time to prevent another such disaster. There is still time to save someone from the agony of living the ‘nightmare’.”

The following session focused on Conflict resolution and the importance of building consensus. Different groups chose to led to enact different situations of violence – the civil strife in Sri Lanka, Child soldiers in Sierra Leone on the blood diamond trail, child labor, natural disasters, drug abuse by gangs, discrimination against women in Saudi Arabia, street violence and conflict with parents on career choices by their children.  As we focused on our “operating energy” within a situation, we realized that very often, what comes back to us is what we have unleashed ourselves, at the very start. And therefore to change a situation from one of conflict to one of consensus and dialogue, one needs to be calm and centered and flow in the energies of unconditional love – a state of expanse and inclusiveness that is difficult to maintain most times!

And then we were off to Shantiniketan, to experience a reality very different from ours! An exciting train ride from Howrah station got us to the Vishwa Bharati University, a living embodiment of the vision of the great philosopher Shri Rabindranath Tagore and his progressive ideas on education. From the refreshing open air classrooms to Kala Bhavan, to the hutments in which Tagore himself had lived – the peaceful natural surroundings, lush green during the monsoons, seemed to be the most appropriate environment for a flourishing of the arts – sculptures, murals, art installations dotted the campus.

A short drive ahead was Amar Kutir – a workshop as well as an outlet for rural artisans, a part of Tagore’s vision of helping them build a life of dignity through economic empowerment. A brief walk through the workshops area that housed the men and women, earnest in their work, confident about their tomorrow, made me wonder why they had not been similar efforts replicating this model throughout our country?

Later that evening we met the Block Development Officer, as well as two members of the local Panchayat, to understand local issues and the response to them. They seemed to suggest that development in the village was going well, with more resources being allocated to education and health care. The interaction helped the group to understand the divide between Bharat and India, and to value all that they had taken for granted back home!

About the trip, Suryansh said; “We people in the urban areas are given all the facilities, which we usually don’t respect. This is one of the lessons I learnt – Life is not just about acquiring all the luxuries of life but also to realize that there exists a world where people don’t even know what luxuries are, leave alone achieving them.”

Ashish said, “Our trip to Shanti Niketan as a part of the workshop was nice. Though we had mostly not been able to distinguish how it was different from other trips, I feel that it is this very quality of indifference that defines how it was part of our workshop. There, we were able to understand better the difference between our lives and of those living there.”

The next morning we visited a Santhal village close by. Though most of the people had gone their paddy fields, we chatted with a young girl who allowed us to look around her simple house, in which 11 inmates lived. Tarunima Panwar said, “talking to the village girl made us feel grateful to God for giving us such wonderful parents and a much easier life than them”. A short walk along the embankment brought us to a wooded area – a natural site for a meditation we couldn’t resist. Sitting amongst the lush green trees with a soft breeze blowing through one’s hair, breathing in the pure air was an extremely restful experience!

And then we boarded the train to come back to Kolkata, to wind up the workshop the next day.

A quick recap of understanding my Self, my roles and identity and connecting with my Core – who Am I? The primary choice I make in exercising my free Will is whether I choose to operate out of Love or Fear, as I constantly give and receive energies through the relationships I build around  me.

A short meditation crystallized our thoughts and enabled us to express our feedback on the workshop as well as articulate the difference we were going to bring about in the world.  After all, our training as agents of Social Change had just begun!

-Puneeta Roy, Facilitator and Trustee, The Tehelka Foundation

This is what the students had to say about the workshops:

“Just one word to sum up the entire workshop- refreshing!!” Soham Bannerjee

“It was a great learning experience; it showed us the true meaning of being human and gave us the realization of our true self. It showed me how to respect others, get over my anger and that love is something we all possess and we all can give. It showed me how to express myself in the correct way and forget our ego. How to trust people and believe in God who resides somewhere amongst us all and we should show him to others very often as he gives us unconditional love..” –Tarunima Panwar

“The workshop “Being Human” was really interesting. The name of the workshop actually reflects what its all about. Being Human means trying to be more understanding and to have control over our emotions.” – Heeya Datta

“I really enjoyed myself during the “Being Human” workshop and would love to e part of it again. It was an enriching time where I learnt how to concentrate, how to focus and how to be myself. I leant that we should always express ourselves and should look at any situation from our point of view, but keeping others in mind. The workshop helped me become more confident and helped me connect more with the others and myself.”Rajat Kothari

Here are a few pictures from the trip to Shantiniketan, 4th and 5th August, 2010:

3 responses to ““Being Human” at Apeejay School, Kolkata”

  1. Thank you for posting all the pictures ma’am..!! :)

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