Follow your heart, say Ananya children

I walked into the auditorium in Bal Bhavan, Cubbon Park, to a stage full of little people dressed from head to toe in black, wielding puppets over half their size.

Hope for the flowers performed by students of Ananya school. Pic courtesy: Ananya Trust.

It was a puppet show organised by Ananya Trust, which runs a school called Ananya Shikshana Kendra to educate underprivileged children. Students complete their 10th standard and also undergo internship at companies like Printo. The school educates first generation learners and has a life skills program which integrates teaching and real like experience. The puppet show was part of their life skills program.

An extremely fluorescent caterpillar wrapped itself up in a sheet (to show a cocoon). The puppets then starting moving to the popular tune "I believe I can fly". While there were no dialogues, placards placed on the sides provided some explanations. Later conversation backstage with the director helped me get a better picture.

 The group will perform at JSS College Auditorium on February 12th 2010.

The story focussed on a caterpillar and his journey of discovery. He joins the rat race to the top, blindly following other caterpillars, before he finally realises that his destiny is to fly as a butterfly. The play dealt with issues such as competition, the rat race and succumbing to peer pressure.

The audience consisted of about thirty people, mostly adults. Poonam C, a member of the trust explained that the play was an "extremely detailed performance of nature". The black light performance had fluorescent costumes on a darkened stage created beautiful illusions. It was the first time many have seen such a show.

An adaptation of a story by Trina Paulus, "Hope for the flowers" was conceptualised by Shashi Rao, the founder of the trust. The play was directed by Rohit Bhatia, who has been working closely with the Ananya Trust for over two years.

After the show I went back stage to meet the puppeteers. Some were students of the tenth grade getting ready to write their National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) examination, while others were undergoing internships. One thing all these students shared was their love for acting. According to Jayanth, a student of the tenth standard "puppetry is difficult but I really like the acting challenge". Many of the students aspire to be actors or dancers.

Ananya students making the puppets. Pic courtesy: Ananya Trust.

Ananya Trust is planning to introduce a platform for puppetry, which would be one of the first in the country. With limited resources for puppetry available in the country, Bhatia dreams of the platform providing a space for puppetry programs and resources.

The students enjoy performing and Pallavi G, a student said they had a lot of fun. When I asked her what she learnt from the performance, she replied simply, "I learnt to follow my heart and not to follow (others) blindly."

Rohit Bhatia says, one aim of the initiative, is to provide vocational training to these students. Apart from acting skills, the students learned carpentry, tailoring, sculpting, music, lights and stage management as well. They have made all the puppets and the sets. Learning to handle the puppets, they also learned science concepts, from centre of gravity to measurements to mechanics. All the puppets were made of low cost recyclable material and as Bhatia says, were, "low cost but priceless".

The Cubbon Park show was open to all, while the remaining shows are ticketed, with the proceeds going to support the school. The play was a unique combination of puppetry, technology and creativity and a great effort on the children’s part.

The group will perform at JSS College Auditorium on February 12th 2010.

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