My experience with Aagaaz has been too many words and too many stories and I feel highly reductionist while trying to articulate it. I think it came to me at a time I needed it most and became an inseparable part of my life. The learning has been in multiple spectrums, but most of it has been connected to my personal journey and how it has evolved and changed.
I came to Aagaaz with an expectation of responsibility. I wanted to eat, sleep and breathe work and I believe I did justice to that desire. Suddenly, I found myself involved in so many areas that I couldn’t stop to think about the weather or what I’m going to cook for dinner. I immediately got involved with coordination and logistics of rehearsals and workshops.
On my first day, I somehow knew that I was going to align myself to these new people and a new focus. Losing our original work-space, finding a place to rehearse in and chasing everyone from one place to another became the challenges of my life. I experienced authentic problem solving situations, where I needed to think on my feet to make things happen. Somehow, I can never be thankful enough for that. Additionally, I found myself trying to create content for a website and figuring out design. These were skills I never had, and yet the struggle was something I enjoyed and felt energized about. The mentorship program effortlessly became my project for the few months. I worked on generating designing and sharing posters, going crazy on social media and actually thinking about the role of a mentor. I came from my own relationship with my mentee, and felt that the role has to be much deeper than an academic engagement. Communicating these ideas, setting up meetings amongst mentors and between mentors and mentees was another thing I undertook and tried to see through.
The spirit of the collective was something I understood and experienced properly, while working at Aagaaz. I came to terms with the intent of working together to create art. I engaged with the practicalities of creating this sustainability, which only seemed simple at an ideological level. Somewhere within the social sector and the world, people often submit to ideas of charity and philanthropy that allow power structures to creep in and hierarchy establishes. At Aagaaz, we questioned this power and tried to push towards a sense of collaboration. The kids would often struggle with this sense of ownership themselves. Thankfully my way of thinking aligned with that of Sanyukta and Baan, which helped us create those dialogues with the kids. I loved the feeling of being on the same page as the people I was working with.
During my few months at Aagaaz, I saw myself opening up in so many ways. Firstly, my whole hesitation about theatre reduced. I saw how beautiful and fascinating the field could be. I learnt about the different forms and the joy of working with one’s body and expressing through performance. I realized that it’s something I would like to try as well. Additionally, I opened up to the idea of working with adolescents and youth. Previously, I was very strict about engaging with younger children and didn’t want to venture beyond a certain age group. This adventure made me accept my own love for engaging with an older age group, which has its own set of learning experiences.
Gender and sexuality education was something I was an area I was waiting to explore. I got this opportunity here, where we engaged with the ‘real’ questions that arose in a community like Nizamuddin. The ability to separate contextual experiences from universal ones developed, as I heard the stories and questions from the kids and tried to find interesting material to engage them. Luckily, the kids were open minded and enjoyed these discussions which made it a highly interactive process.
My apprehension about working with adolescents reduced further, once I started mentoring Danish. He became the primary focus of my everyday life and I suddenly experienced mothering instincts towards a boy not much younger than me. Initially, we collaborated because of our interest in working with our hands. Inevitably, it was no longer a relationship based on craft or reading English but a deeper emotional connection that continues to exist. I saw myself learning so many skills from him and he also challenged me to think harder about teaching English to an adult. I experienced a lot of separation anxiety while traveling, and I eventually realized the beauty of this interdependence that came out of affection and trust.
While working with Danish and learning all these new things about myself, I began to question my own passion and future. I realized that the willingness, love and energy I was experiencing at Aagaaz were very alive in me. Somehow, a college scenario seemed too distant from this lifestyle that I had established for myself. The process of re-evaluation became crucial for me, as I understood ownership properly only after coming here.
Ownership is a dominant aspect of relationship with Aagaaz. Previously, I played a small role in every place I worked in and felt a sense of attachment but wasn’t able to call anything ‘my own’. The tables turned immediately after being here. I suddenly found myself involved at every level of functioning, which made me feel like an important part of something bigger. I would tell myself that I could work here for the rest of my life. The few months that I’ve been away have only strengthened my feelings. I continue to be connected to Aagaaz and I’m glad that I feel inseparable.