Saturday, 22 December 2012

Story of a little village road...

... the ever energetic Suchismita

Suchismita was the highly energized one. So high voltage, that we had to find new ways to keep her focused and channelize her energies. Though she was also the one coming back with new ideas and arguments, which took the class forward.

Suchismita had an older brother and no father. He committed suicide, a few years ago trying to repay a loan he had taken to start a new business. Suchi, 13, wasn’t aware of the reason. I was told by the cycle van driver who took us to her house.

Suchi and 9 of her friends from class 9 of Dhablat Lakhsman Paribesh School were in an 8-day workshop making a film on sustainability. Their vision of sustainability, from their lived experience. I was the trainer who was a teacher and a co-learner at the same time. We were in the biggest island in the Sunderbans delta. All of 300 sq Kms. called Sagar.

Each child made an interesting journey to school. We thought we should explore Suchi’s. Just to know our filmmakers better. Suchi’s grouse was that on exam days she would be very anxious waiting for the boatman to finish his lunch and take her across the river. This excited me and Dharma, my co trainer, to do this journey with Suchi, one day after the workshop was done.

Suchi was thrilled. Her Sir had decided to visit her home. Evening was closing in. A small rivulet was to be crossed first. We waited for the only ferry boat in service and then waited for it to be full up before we could cross. A daily passenger Suchi, was today in the limelight. Everyone was asking- who we were? She proudly announced that she was making a film and these were her filmmaking Sirs.  

The boat ride was short. Then the cycle van. A flat bed made of wooden splats on two wheels drawn by a cycle. You sit on the wooden splat bed, careful not to get your legs entangled in the wheels. The ride took us about 30 minutes. We had to take a longer route today because the shorter one was being flood repaired.  Bobbing up and down on the village mud roads, we came upon a scene and there was commotion. Members of a family including women and children were sitting out on the road. On inquiring, we learnt that there had been a theft in their house.

The light was fading fast by the time we reached Suchi’s straw, mud and roof tiled house. Powered by their own solar ‘plate’ on their tiled roof. Her mother promptly produced tea for all of us and we had a few laughs over Suchi’s overflowing energy levels. Her house was next to a small patch of forest, which gave them fuel wood. No famed Sunderbans tigers on this island.

By the time we were out of her house it was pitch dark. There were no streetlights as is common in rural areas. Our cycle van driver produced a contraption which was a torch slung by a string over the cycle handle, pointing towards the road, throwing a small pool of weak yellow light. Visibility wasn’t more than a few meters. The road was a raised strip and the sides ended up in a ditch before the rice fields began. Once one of the back wheels was found precariously fighting a complete dislodge into the ditch. Thankfully it won that round and we all were still safe. We crossed the family out on the road. The cops were awaited still. One oil lantern had been added to the crowd.  Amidst the cacophony of cricket, the village was lit by tons of flickering oil lamps though a few low voltage CFL bulbs were also on display powered by solar plates. What I dreamt that night was, what if our cycle van had lost the battle and we overturned into the ditch?!

The children were making a film on the proposed development of the island. A port, a bridge joining mainland Kolkata to their island and power stations were proposed. Tourism and infrastructure development were next. The children were apprehensive of the new proposals of the adults.  They were ready to take an extreme ‘all development is bad’ tenor in their film, had it not been for my trip to Suchismita’s house that evening. Is, having streetlights in their village a bad idea?  Roads, which don’t flood every monsoon? A small bridge across the river, which may help Suchi bring her cycle across and not wait for the boatman to finish his lunch on exam days?

Controlled and an inclusive development is good. But a runaway development especially for an island ecosystem, could spell doom is what their film said.

Ajaner Deeper Golpo- A story of an Unknown Island.

Perched on the edge.... on the way to Suchi's village

Krishnendu Bose
New Delhi
22nd December 2012

Watch this space to view this film…

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

3 New Films on the Way

3 New Films... conceptualised, scripted, shot by 3 groups of children/ young adults from the Sundarbans and Kanha are in their final stage of production....

Waiting to share new voices and thoughts with you soon...




Saturday, 3 November 2012

Sarang, one of our children filmmakers from Adharshila feels...
"trignometry is like filmmaking... is like music. all 3 need loads and loads of practice" :)

Scroll below to watch 'Trikon Khirkee Wala School', a film made by Sarang and his friends from Adharshila in a collaborative Participatory Video process with us at ECO. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Link to Trikon Khirkee Wala School

Children from Adharshila Learning Center in the heart of tribal south Madhya Pradesh make a short video about 'why shouldn't education be fun and interesting?' To push boundaries in true ECO style, they step outside the world of their own school and comfort zone to dialogue with children from mainstream public schools in a small city a stone's throw away from their school.

This film narrates the journey of these children and captures what happens when these two worlds collide...

To watch the film, click on the link below:
Trikon Khirkee Wala School
... a school with a window to the world.


Monday, 10 September 2012


Adharshila, a name that would come up every now and then in the Earthcare office. And for the last few years I had been wanting to go there out of curiosity, to find out what was so unusual about this Adivasi school. I have worked with Adivasi children many times before but I was told that Adharshila is different.

Opportunity came when Kavita designed a participatory video project for Adahrshila kids. I was excited to take on this one.

Kavita had told me that the school was on a small hill surrounded by villages. Throughout the 15-hour journey, I kept imagining and picturing the school. Most of my previous work with Adivasis was more or less inside the forest or around it. So I was visualizing a school among tall dense trees, birds chirping...…. a typical forest scenario.

Kamal had come to the station at Indore to receive me, and no time was lost between us to break the ice.  I was joining the workshop in the second phase. After I reached Adharshila, within no time I was sharing a good rapport with the kids. Thanks to Kavita, they already knew me.

As I walked into the campus, I saw small groups of children scattered around. However, I could not make out what they were doing and before I could explore, Kavita took me to meet Amit bhai and Jaya, the brains behind the school.  I admire them for the choice and sacrifice they have made in their lives. It is not every day that you find people like them. We had a brief chat about the school and how it was conceptualized.

Thereafter I thought of getting myself acclimatized to the surroundings and took a walk through the campus. I came across a group of children with glucose bottles and drips, something I had only seen in hospitals and wondered what the kids do with these. Upon asking, a boy promptly explained to me that these are used for drip farming and he practically showed me how it is done. I don't think any text book would have explained drip farming better than my new little friends.

As I continued, I saw children doing so many things practically, which are connected to their course books and otherwise, as if to see if the theory actually works in real life.  I was amazed to find the connections each child had made with life, how they wanted to find a solution to everything, even if they didnt find one,  their quest continued.

At the chicken pen I saw a boy sitting and observing chicks. I asked him what he was doing. He said that some chicks are dying and that he was trying to figure out, why . This was Tota Ram, he became my favorite at Adharshila. He is fond of birds and has recorded over 70 birds in and around  Adharshila. He borrowed my bird guide book, and for the next few days I saw him wandering with the guide. On the last day, he returned my bird guide with all the birds he had seen book marked in it.

Each day  I was surprised by  the little innovations these kids made, be it finding a solution to make a shower for me out of broken material or providing a makeshift screen for viewing films. There is all round talent in Adharshila and a never dying curiosity to explore and learn.

The uniqueness of these Adahrshila kids, which distinguishes them from most of the children I have met earlier, was such that it never brought my attention towards the barren landscape.

The blanket of stars, driving Sureshji’s three wheeler, sugarcane juice after each screening, cooking in Amit bhai’s house, swim in the dam and so many other things will stay with me for years to come…

And yes, Tota Ram did manage to save the chicks, he found out the reason but that’s another episode...


Dharma Singh did the camera and was part of a crew, which worked with 10 children from Adharshila to make a film called 'Trikon Khirkee Wala School'. You can watch the film, get a closer look at Adharshila Learning Center and embark on a journey with the children by clicking here.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Memories of Adharshila

Reaching Adharshila, a small school located in the remote village of Sakad in Madhya Pradesh, after travelling for almost four hours in the scorching heat, should have robbed me of all my enthusiasm for the grueling three weeks that was to come. Instead, I found an oasis amidst the barren and desolate landscape. And the sheer energy, love and kindness shared by the kids rinsed out the tiredness and drove me to work harder and push the boundaries.

On being offered the project, as is common to our generation, one of the first things I did was “google” Adharshila. I was the only one among the crewmembers who had no idea about the space and I was anxious to change that status. What I found on the net was not exactly very illuminating; neither did it promise a great scope for enjoyment. It was just a school for adivasis (indigenous people) employing alternate methods of learning. My initial reaction was one of cynicism. Oh! Another one of those vocational training schools that dot the countryside.

At that stage, what was most interesting was, that we were going to hold workshops on filmmaking, teaching the young kids the craft and technology that it has become today, at the end of which they would make a complete film. Our task was to capture this whole process along with the day-to-day running of the school, its activities, mode of working and other aspects of the life of these kids.

We were met at Indore station by Anil and Sarang, two of the kids who would be participating in the workshop. Things started going berserk the moment they were given a handy cam. A camera in the hands of even adults turn them into children and these guys were, well, just kids! But through that process, somehow I managed to become their friend.

That first night, we slept under the stars out in the open. It was quite an exhilarating experience though lugging all that equipment and travelling for almost a day in that heat had completely worn us out and we were asleep in no time.

The morning brought fresh challenges, as there was no running water in the bathrooms. In fact, for all purposes, there were no bathrooms. One had to fill up buckets and find a secluded corner and do whatever we needed to do. Anyway, we had scheduled our first meeting with the kids post-breakfast and I got ready for the day.

Before the meeting Kavita, formally introduced us with Amit bhai and Jayashree didi, the people who had left a much more comfortable life in the cities to go into this tribal heartland to open a school for the adivasi children of that area. They came across as honest, hardworking who really cared about their surroundings and the people they were working with. Afterwards we had our first meeting with Revali, Pushpen, Prakash, Lelsingh, Anju, Quram, Sanjay and Vinesh who along with Anil and Sarang made up the group who would be attending the workshop and in the process make a film of their choice.

The first session was spent getting to know each other, discussing the format of the workshop and Kavita, the trainer and our director, laying out the ground rules in no uncertain terms. The only spoilsport was the intense heat, which started taking its toll even on our equipment.

The unique thing about the workshop was the participatory element. Right from the very beginning, there was no attempt to impose pre-conceived notions or ideas. The inputs given by Kavita were purely on technical aspects of film making such as different kind of shots, method of editing and storytelling and of course once in a while streamlining their chain of thoughts, if it was travelling in a haphazard direction. Primarily, the film was taking shape through a process of discussion and brainstorming between the kids. It was fascinating to watch them think of an idea, then discuss ways of visually and aurally achieving it.

As the workshop progressed and the participants started opening up and getting more involved what surprised me was the kind of creativity with which they started ideating and building up the film. The process of the training pushed them into terrains they hadn’t explored earlier and that set their imagination free.

In the course of my stay I came to know Adharshila intimately. The first realization of course was that this is not just another vocational training institute. What Amit Bhai and Jaya didi were doing was teaching maths, physics, chemistry, english, history and other things in a practical way, easy to understand and would remain with them for the rest of their lives. It was more about learning by doing. So one group of kids would spend the whole day intimately creating the battle between the tribal leader Khajya Naik and the British forces. This not only helped them learn history and their own culture but also forced them to think innovatively. Thus colourful bottle caps would replace helmets of the British soldiers while painstakingly collected twigs of various shapes would become the arms of the brave tribal warriors. Whoever said that necessity is the mother of invention was bang on.

Children here not only have fun but also learn things that no text book can teach them. They would know as much about quadratic equations as they would about drip farming. And amazingly, they were doing it against all odds. There was always a conflict with power and acute water shortages. The famous Indian ‘jugaad’ was at its zenith there.

Despite power shortages and having to work at night because of the heat, and after endless fights, discussions, arguments and the much-needed forceful motivation from Kavita, the film was finally made. The children and all of us in the crew were so excited. This whole process was a revelation of sorts as each one revealed their strengths and weaknesses. By then I had become Shankho ‘Bhaiyya’. The long hours spent waiting for electricity would transform into spontaneous jam sessions between Sarang on the tabla and me on the guitar or an intense discussion on Hindi films prompted by Anil who happens to be a huge Mithun fan. What it actually did was build a connection that would remain etched in my heart forever.

As I look back, in spite of the hardships we had to go through, the heat, the unavailability of certain comforts, I fondly remember the nights we spent sleeping on an open terrace under a clear sky with the kids talking about constellations, bollywood and music. We fondly referred to it as our ‘million star hotel’ and that is what it is going to remain for me. Forever.

Shankhayan Chowdhury
July 2012

Shankhayan recorded the sound and coordinated production besides being the children's friend on this production.

'Trikon khirkeewala school' is a work in progress and should be up in a few days from now…
This film as well as training children in Participatory Video was supported by Community, the Youth Collective, New Delhi.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


Kakoli was wearing a new dress that day. The white kurta had tiny silver stars, which shimmered as we set out. The children where all excited and showed it in their own ways. Kakoli sang under her breath. We had been training now for 5 days. But most of that had been under controlled situations. Either inside the house or in the neighbourhood. We could sense a new excitement as the children loaded all the gear in. They would be able to test what they had learnt. See if it was all for real.

We were headed for Dumdum Railway Station. Most of the children had spent their early childhood on the platform and the streets of this busy railway station. They still had parents, siblings and friends living there. During our training we had discussed how to start shooting when you arrive at a location. How we should not just pull out our cameras and start shooting. We should give it time. Relax and observe and become a part of the scenario as it were. Only then we could pull out our cameras and maybe just casually sling them around our neck or our arm. We would talk to people. Let them see clearly that we carried a camera and then slowly just pick it up and start shooting. If we sense discomfort, then talk to the people and share with them what we are doing. All this we had discussed and practiced.

We arrived at Dumdum. Got off at the maath (field). An unused parking lot just outside the station. This is where the children had lived before they came to the home. The place was dotted with countless street dwellers. Little families on one end, cooking up lunch under a wood-fire. The lush green leafy vegetables piled high on a wok. Some boys, playing cards near the mud pile. Children running around playing with a largish rag doll and so many others. Just sitting and chatting. The children’s family. Kakoli’s family. Her friends. But the children hesitated. Hung back. Almost hiding behind us. Suddenly the purpose of their being at Dumdum… to make a film about their life had created a barrier between them and their own people. They felt awkward and shy. So we had to break the ice and reach out and then there were hugs and kisses as mothers came rushing and embraced their children. Aunts and sisters and brothers came running. They where all at once hugging, talking, laughing and before we knew it, the cameras were out and the children had started filming. Talking with their friends and family and filming. The awkwardness was over and the stories began to flow. We stood back and watched. A proud moment.

The children wanted to interview some of the other children. But it couldn’t be done on the ‘field’. They had decided to talk about some controversial stuff. So we had to be away from the eyes of the police and other people. The children selected a spot below the over bridge and we set out in small groups. Kakoli was interviewing a brother and a sister. Much younger than her. May be 10 or 12 years old. They began talking about a policeman who came and beat up children in the night. He beat up the children and threw out the ones sleeping on the station even if it was raining or cold. They were so scared of this policeman and his stick.

Suddenly we heard a commotion behind us. We came out from under the bridge and there was chaos on the field. The wok full of vegetables lay splattered on the ground amidst embers from the fire still smouldering. Some bundles of clothes lay scattered. People stood huddled in groups and chattered angrily, anxiously. While we were away the police had come and just hustled people up. Kicked out the wood-fire and the family around it. Beat up some of the older boys. Kakoli’s brother had been beaten up. Why? What had he done? Nothing really. He lived on the streets. That was crime enough to be beaten.

Kakoli wanted to rush out and film the policeman beating up her people. I held on to her hand. Stopped her. She walked away. She was angry. Very angry. Tears came to her eyes. What’s the point, she said. What’s the point of having a camera and not being able to shoot? She wanted to shoot the policeman. How do I explain to this girl who is angry and hurt. Not just for today but for the years of torment that she and her family and friends had suffered. She has a camera in her hand and she wanted to shoot the policeman. Her anger was not misplaced. She was right for being angry. I tried to explain to her that if she took a shot at the policeman today then he could break her camera. Worst still, he could just pick up her parents or her brother and beat them up. Throw them in the locker. So we have to be careful. Having a camera doesn’t mean that we can just shoot. We are responsible for what we do with it. One act of bravado can have severe consequences. We have to be aware of those. We have to chose. It is up to us. If it was just me or some other filmmaker like me, we could have filmed the police beating and then gone back to the safety of our home. But for Kakoli it is different. Her family will still be on the streets, vulnerable to this policeman. And the policeman could use this vulnerable chink to stop her from shooting again. If she wanted to make a difference with her camera, then a strategy had to be laid out. Consequences weighed. The decision would then have to be made very intelligently. All of this I tried to explain to her standing in one corner of the field. Holding her hand. Feeling unhappy for her tears. My own eyes smarting.

That evening we got back tired after a full day of shooting. On our way back, Kakoli was singing again. She later told me that she had wanted to walk out from the film project that day. She was so disappointed and frustrated. Whatever I had said did not make any sense to her. But she had stayed back and continued because she trusted us. She said she stayed back because she loved us. Now, after their film is made and has had so many screenings... I hope she understands.

Kakoli is 16 and lived her childhood on the Dumdum Railway Station. Today she lives along with many other children like her, at ‘Apon Ghar’, a home run by an NGO, OFFER, which works for Social Orphans in the city of Kolkata, West Bengal.

Kakoli together with her friends, Arup, Sukumar and Leema have made a film about their lives and the lives of other children living on the streets of Kolkata. This film was a part of a larger film made by urban middle class children of Delhi and the tribal children of Madhya Pradesh.

Scroll down below to watch the film and to read more about this project.

Kavita Das Gupta
6th May 2011