I’ve not really written or performed poems that are very personal or that reveal the flesh and bones of my life. I remember I tried once to recite a poem I had written about my grandmother after her death and I didn’t even complete the poem. I just left midway as I would have started crying had I gone a line further. I also remember breaking down into tears in a workshop when I was reading out a poem about my once-happiest-place-in-this-world, my “Mamaghar”. I don’t even write about things that affect me the most. Sometimes, I consciously avoid writing about it. And even if I do force myself to write, I rarely am able to share it with anyone, forget performing it in front of people. So when I read or watch people bare themselves on page or on stage, I am in awe of their courage.
As a spoken instructor, I’ve come across some really personal narratives of spoken word workshop participants. I remember being in Padma Kanya School with the BookBus doing a spoken word poetry workshop when a girl in grade 8 wrote about her sister who she says was burned to death by her step mother. She had started off with lines about how sadness is the way of life and I thought it was yet another of those general and abstract poems philosophizing life . After the first paragraph, it was clear it wasn’t. She was reading out a part of her own life story, about her sister’s screams bouncing off the walls and not being able to forget.
That was the first time I froze in a classroom and did not know what to do. I remember her friends at the back of the class wiping their tears away, I remember giving her a hug but realizing she didn’t need it (I needed it more than her at the moment) and I remember her doing another poem- philosophizing life again but this time on a cheerful note of smiling through, well, life. I can’t help but wonder how people, at such young age, are capable of such strength, if strength is really the word for it.
During our Write to Speak intensive workshops as well, our participants let us into their lives, their past, their own tragedies and their courage through their poems or through conversations during the various activities we did. Nisha Chauhan expertly veiled her past under metaphors of wells, Rojina put her father’s drunkenness into refrains, Bimala poured her sense of abandonment into her monologues. During each of these instances, I remember being very still, close to being frozen. It always comes as a surprise. Of course, as daunting as we know it is to be personal, we keep encouraging them to do that and when they do, I for one am always taken aback- not in a bad way- but again, awed by their gutsy honesty.
I’ve also seen courage manifest in a very different way in our workshop. Roshni Khatun had never travelled alone. I remember girls from the Madarassa school telling me it was an adventure finding the location for their auditions during QC Awards 2015 earlier this year. They were almost beaming with pride when they showed up in the locations in a group of 3 or 4. I also remember waiting for Roshni and Shadiya to pick them up in Jawalakhel chowk the first day of our intensive workshop. They didn’t carry cell phones so giving them directions and asking them to call in case they got lost was no option. Add to that they’re only 14 -15. You get worried.That day, I saw the two girls in kurtas with their heads covered with their shawls running around Jawalakhel chowk, fearing they were terrribly late, and searching for me. Before I could call them, they ran towards the Zoo, into the Saturday crowd and I was running myself, in fear I’d lose them in the crowd again. Fortunately, they were easy to locate with their shawl covered heads and as soon as they saw me, they ran towards me. And after apologizing for being late, they said with a sense of pride that it was the first time ever they had traveled to this part of the town.
There were a few days Shadiya couldn’t make it for her own reasons. But Roshni did, alone, on her own. She let me in that it wasn’t without a lot of deliberation, dilemma and fear. But when she came into QC that day, she was beaming – “First time, I traveled alone, mam. I was scared, but I did it.”
Photo credit: From a picture book “Courage by Bernard Waber: Sometimes even the smallest act requires bravery.”
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