Geeta Ramanujam

Arts Collaboration

Grant Period: Over one year

Geeta Ramanujam, a librarian by profession, applied to IFA with a collaborative project concerned with taking stories and related crafts to children in and outside schools in the Bangalore district. She had already been conducting storytelling workshops for some time that drew children of different age groups to accessible venues during weekends or school holidays, where in addition to listening to stories, they painted, dramatised, acted, sung, and invented their own stories. Lalu Narayan, a potter by training, also involved children at these workshops with clay modelling, adding an interactive dimension to their experience of storytelling.

Ramanujam’s proposal identified Vijayalakshmi and Narayan as co-collaborators. Widely experienced in supervising and researching into welfare and developmental work, Vijayalakshmi was meant to fulfill an administrative and managerial role in the year-long storytelling programme that the team envisaged. She would also meet with school authorities to discuss how best Ramanujam’s workshops could be fitted into a workaday school routine. Lalu Narayan would translate stories into clay modelling and craft work at the storytelling workshops, and would also be responsible for contacting other artists to lend their expertise to the workshops and involve children in activities. The larger aims of the project included using storytelling as an educational tool, and setting up resource centres for storytelling and allied activities.

The second proposal included a work plan that explained how the collaborators proposed to divide their time during the term of the grant, doing preliminary research, establishing contact with schools and other institutions where the workshops would be held, collecting stories including folk tales, identifying resource persons, and conducting weekend workshops during the first six months, followed by workshops in and outside schools during the rest of the year. It was also proposed that all the books and other material collected during the course of the project, as well as written and photographic documentation of the workshops, would be housed in an appropriate place and serve as the beginning of a data bank or resource centre that might be built up gradually to cater to those interested in the stories themselves, as well as those eager to apply the methods of storytelling in wider learning contexts. The revised proposal also included a list of schools that the project partners intended to cover, and one of venues outside schools where weekend storytelling sessions would be conducted.

In the course of further interaction with the collaborators, it was learnt that Vijayalakshmi’s role in the project had been taken over by Sujatha Pai, former teacher at The Valley School, Bangalore. Programme staff were concerned that the other two collaborators had not thought it necessary to inform IFA formally about Vijayalakshmi’s departure, let alone explain the reasons for the change. They conveyed their apprehensions to the team. Ensuing discussions helped everyone concerned to arrive at a better understanding of how an idea like this can be best put into practice. The overall impression that emerged from the three-month long dialogue was that while Ramanujam and her collaborators were evidently committed to the project, they often lost sight of the practical details to the detriment of the whole project.

Ramanujam proposed to invite at least five resource persons from Bangalore and adjoining areas to join the team for workshop sessions, and add to the creative possibilities arising out of an oral narration. The team plans, for instance, to invite folk artists, who can contribute music and drama to the sessions, puppeteers, and craftspersons working in different mediums like bamboo. Ramanujam is careful not to follow any fixed methodology in her workshops, allowing the response to a story to manifest itself in several spontaneous ways. She usually has at hand, paper and drawing materials, as well as worksheets that help children to respond to the stories they have heard, or recreate them with a little assistance. Apart from these preliminary activities she also had one craft activity planned along with the story, which carries forward the process of experiencing it in varied ways. The team also plans to draw arts teachers in schools into the project, encouraging them to participate in the workshops, and apply what they learn there to their own teaching. The group proposes to have workshops for parents and teachers outside schools.