Playing with poetry in Gatlang

Photo courtesy: Srijanalaya

 

“म त भर्खर आएको

मौसम थियो पानी परिरहेको

गत्लाङको चिसो हावा,

अगेनाको तातो राप

आहा!

कत्ती न्यानो!”

As soon as our jeep entered the village, a gang of kids started running behind it with full energy  – laughing and shouting as they chased the vehicle. This was the most perfect welcome I had ever received. Those sweet smiles and playful eyes of the children, the cold Gatlang breeze and warmth of the fire that burnt during the evenings – all this touched my heart. I tried to capture these blissful experiences through my words and performed a poem dedicated to Gatlang at Nepal Rastriya Secondary School for Srijanalaya’s Art Works, Sangai Khelaun program, sponsored by Shikshya Foundation Nepal. One of the main goals of this program was to explore the Tamang identity through the eyes of the children and youth living in Gatlang, a village with a majority-Tamang population, in northern part of Rasuwa. This beautiful place which lies in the Tamang heritage trail for trekking was devastated after the earthquake of 25th April, 2015 and the upshot of this havoc is still visible and felt. And thus, another aim of the program was to find out how, through the use of different art forms, one could help in building or rebuilding the future of the young people of Gatlang, post-earthquake.

Held from Feb 28 to March 6, 2016, this was the second trip of Art Works, Sangai Khelaun in Gatlang. The team worked with primary level kids in the first trip and with secondary level kids in the second trip. There were different groups working with various art forms such as mural-making, music, dance and poetry. Nischal Neupane and I were facilitators for the poetry group.

Our group was initially focused on spoken word poetry. We wanted to introduce the students to this art form through which we hoped they could freely share their thoughts and feelings on various topics including their Tamang identity. After five days of intensive classroom workshop, the students would then perform the poem in front of everyone. We started our class with an ice breaker called ‘Step into the circle’ in which students had to share a truth about themselves to the rest of the class. In the beginning, they were very shy and constricted. After a few attempts however, the students began to gradually open up. At one point into the game, some of them became so comfortable that they even revealed embarrassing memories from their childhood which would perhaps not have come up in the classroom, if it weren’t for the game.  For us as facilitators, having heard those truths helped a lot in understanding their ground level experiences of growing up and living in Gatlang.

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Team meeting Photo Courtesy: Srijanalaya

The group for mural, music, poetry and dance was formed by dividing the students in four groups on the basis of the number call they were in, and this ‘poetry’ section was somehow considered the most boring section for kids. A number of students even said that they wanted to join another group like music or dance as they had no interest in poetry. This made us think a little bit more about how to get them interested in writing poetry. But the problem was not only limited to that.

The class was totally unaware of other forms of poetry than those they’d studied in their school books. So we then opted to introduce them to Nepali language spoken word poetry videos such as Ujjwala Maharjan’s ‘Roti’ and ‘Jibro’ and Milan Neupane’s ‘Shanti’. We soon found out that the students were unable to understand these poems which are considered to be appropriate and simple enough for secondary level students here in Kathmandu.

Most of the students were not really interested in poetry in the beginning. However, there was one eight grader who had a huge interest for poetry and joined our class from the second day, even if she was initially in the mural making group. On the second day, we introduced the class to some poetic elements like sensory details, metaphors and similes through writing exercises like ‘three things I know to be true’ and ‘love and hate letter’. Despite being confused and hesitant initially, they did surprisingly well. However, getting them to write a poem and perform on the final day of the trip was still a challenge.

On the third day, we were all set to do whatever we planned in order to meet our goals. But, my colleague Nischal did something completely different than planned. I immediately caught on to his track as what he proposed seemed to be what we needed to get them into writing and performing. The idea was to make students write down the lyrics of their local folk songs rather than to push a form that they were not so familiar with.

Nischal talking to the students. Photo Courtesy: Srijanalaya

Nischal talking to the students.
Photo Courtesy: Srijanalaya

So, we started with a line and let them complete it with their words. This is the stanza which they created for the very first time:

शब्दमा भाव कोर्नु छ-२

रमाइलो गरी बसौं है

जीवन फुलबारी गोड्नु छ

In this way the students created a whole lot of different stanzas, completely on their own.  These lines were not only in Nepali but also in their own mother tongue- Tamang. Some stanzas were a mix of both languages as well. The group of about 17 made a total of 19 stanzas by the fourth day. We sorted the lot and picked 12 stanzas that seemed to connect well with each other, to create a new piece. The various verses embraced the hopes and possibilities after the devastating earthquake, expressed the joy of studying and going to school, and depicted the beauty of Gatlang and their culture.

Photo Courtesy: Srijanalaya

Photo Courtesy: Srijanalaya

Another beautiful part to the poem was that not only did the students come up with the words all by themselves, they also performed the whole song in the original melody in front of whole village on the final performance day, in collaboration with students from the music group. (Click here to watch the students perform)

For me, this was a truly beautiful experience, the beauty of which, I am unable to express through a set of alphabets.  Art works, Sangai Khelaun in Gatlang has taught me much more than what I went in to “teach” to the students. I express my immense gratitude to the Srijanalya team and wonderful people of Gatlang for a memorable experience.

To watch Kriti’s performance, go to this link: https://goo.gl/Qgo4w3
To watch the students perform, go to this link: https://goo.gl/vhCHYK

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