On a cold winter morning, we hop on a tuk-tuk, that is painted in sunshine yellow. It makes up for today’s gloomy weather. The four of us cram ourselves and the two boxes- one with a speaker and the other stacked with colorful ‘Fight the Good Fight’ notebooks, and poetry chapbooks- in the narrow space of the tuk-tuk and head down the flat, stretched Birgunj roads. The chilly morning breeze softly mingles with a Bhojpuri song the tuk-tuk dai decides to play for us. We are headed to our workshop venue, Kadambari Academy where we will have our Write to Speak poetry workshops for the next two days. While on our way, Ujjwala Dd quizzes me with a question, “How do you carry out ‘Human Atom’?” I take a deep breath and try to remember the steps. “Pretend you are free electrons and go about the open space, modulate the pace of your walking, freeze, move again, act out scenarios. Have fun.”
We get to Kadambari Academy. After registration, handing out the notebooks and the poetry chapbooks, and division of the 60 or so participants into four groups, we enter our respective classes. Just as I enter, 11 pairs of expectant eyes stare back at me. I try to hide my trepidation behind a smile and introduce myself to the kids. And suddenly I feel like my legs are wobbly spaghetti tangled between the teeth of a fork. I feel like a woodpecker is mercilessly picking on the epithelium of my guts.
Ajay tells me on a scale of 1 to 10 on his Excited-O-Meter, his level of excitement would probably break the scale and suddenly I am not as nervous as before.
We head to the ground and carry out different activities. During Name Game, we alliterate our names: we become Lazy Larisa, Happy Harshit, and Nice Najnin. Like free electrons in an atom, we spread and move around the ground like the electrons of a ‘Human Atom’ and act out our favorite cartoon characters. Sijan takes out an imaginary gadget from his pocket, giggles and calls himself Doraemon while Shalu suddenly transforms into Motu and demands for a samosa. Next, we talk about our truths and learn how to write down lists like ‘ Three Things I Know to Be True’. Avishek, in his list of ‘Three Things [He] Knows To Be True’ writes that this is the first time he’s doing something creative like writing poetry besides the usual school work.
In a letter addressed to me, Sijan writes that he really likes my cheeks because they remind him of his younger sister’s round, chubby ones. (बहिनिको पुक्क-पुक्क परेको गाला) And I think this is probably the sweetest thing I have heard in a while.
And on a wave of nostalgia, I ride back to the QC Awards 2015. I remember sitting behind a desk and jotting down what makes me happy and what makes me sad in my Sensory Details Chart. I remember reading People Are Made of Places for the first time and trying to grasp the sensory details in the poem. I remember Anudeep Dd introducing us to the ways of using the sense of touch, taste, smell, vision and hearing to write down our very first list of Sensory Details and Yukta Dd alliterating her name with Youthful Yukta.
Today, in front of these kids, I am reading out the same poem, underlining the same sensory details, using the sense of touch, taste, smell, vision and hearing to comprehend how people are really are made of the places they come from.
Today we exchange our classes. I take Nasala Dd’s class while she takes mine. There are 14 kids today, younger than the ones I had yesterday. I endure; calming down my unusually jittery nerves crackling like live wires since today is the day we write our first metaphor poems. With the chalk, I write ‘My heart is like a’ on the green board and leave a long dash. It’s like a game of filling in the blanks, I tell them. We compare our hearts with other objects like butterflies and radio, a water filter and even a donkey.
Later the kids come up with more ingenious metaphors and more interesting things to write down. While writing a metaphor for Birgunj, Abhigya writes- मेरो बिरगंज हज्मोला जस्तै छ, यहाँ जती मान्छेहरु आएपनि एस्ले मज्जाले पचौछ
Chandan, who originally hails from Bara, writes a metaphor for his hometown: मेरो बारा जलेबी जस्तै छ, एस्को बाटो जलेबी जस्तै घुमौरो छ
After the lunch break, there is a short session on how to perform a poem. I tell the kids I am going to give the best performance of my life and that they must intently watch me to learn the performance basics. I ask Deepraj to introduce me to the stage like an emcee does. He holds an empty mineral water bottle like a makeshift microphone and tells the young audience to welcome me on the stage to give my best performance. For a while, I toy around with my phone, pay no attention to the audience, make no eye contact, mumble under my breath, hang my head low, shift from one clumsy leg to the other, scratch my head, turn my back on them, run and hide behind the door before even finishing up my poem. The kids crack up..
Rajan asks me if what I did just now is a poem or something else. I tell him that is my best performance and he shakes his head in response. As the kids give me feedback on the ‘best performance of my lifetime’, we discuss the ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s of performing a poem. This is the perfect time for discussing my perpetual problem of stage fright and so I recount many of my personal experiences of embarrassing and funny moments I’ve had. We laugh together and groan about our frustrations in unison. We all have stage frights, some of us learn ways of distorting it into confidence while some of us struggle with dry mouth, sweaty palms, and a racing heart. But if I can overcome my stage fright, so can you. This is what I tell the kids. I share with them my stories of struggle, of grappling with nervousness and how with a bit of practice, a pinch of perseverance and a few sporadic incidences of embarrassment on the stage, we all can walk up to the stage with an air of confidence and own it like a boss.
Ujjwala Dd and I climb on top of a table and tape this huge flex on the wall of the Jaycees Hall. We jump down and admire our handy work. On an orange background, white clouds float around the words that say कविता IS कूल like hollow birds flying across the sunset sky.
Fun Fact: Larisa interestingly rhymes with Mother Teresa.
And I wouldn’t have known this if it weren’t for Anuj’s poem. In his poem, he recounts the two days of the workshop and all the fun he had.
The kids share the poetry they wrote during the two-day long workshop. In the limited time, we have space for only 25 performers while the ones interested to perform are 39. So we’ve written down their names on small chits of paper and mixed them all up in a paper bowl. Yukta Dd runs her fingers among the paper pieces and picks out one and calls out their names. However, towards the end, everyone gets to perform their poems. We have a happy ending.
Just as this Birgunj tour starts nearing its end, we share our bitter goodbyes, hug each other and promise to see each other soon.
In the past three days, I have learned so much more. I realized how much I enjoy working with kids, playing with them and interacting with them. I realized that if you muster up enough courage to shake off the dust of fear and nervousness from your shoulders, and take one small leap anything is possible. This also includes conducting a spoken word poetry workshop all by yourself for the first time.
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