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Visit from UWC Mahindra College
July 11, 2014
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Written by Barkha Sharda

This week started with an interesting new segment. Bookworm had visitors from UWC, Maharashtra’s Summer Programme ‘Religion in India’. This is a group of pre-university students between 15 and 18 years of age. The group comprised of youth from Germany, Argentina, China, Mexico, Italy, Israel and India. The idea of the programme is to encourage the participants to examine, understand, challenge and further develop their own approach to and position on religion, while engaging with religious ideas and practices in India.

While at Bookworm, the session was themed around ‘Religion, Language and the Goan Identity’. We started the session with ‘The web of life’. This activity is used as an ice breaker between diverse groups wherein a ball of wool is used to physically create the web. The participants are required to guess something about any one they do not know and if the answer is correct then the respondent wraps some of the wool around his/her palm and accepts the ball of wool. The same activity is repeated with each participant till everyone becomes a part of the web and also reveals how we arrive at decisions about people and identity based on ‘markers’.

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After this activity, the participants were introduced to the idea behind Bookworm and what we do. The next two activities involved breaking stereotypes and using experiential learning. The fourteen participants were divided in groups of seven. They were given five chits of paper and pens. Each group was given a basket with five objects in them. They were asked to write down the first association with the objects. The chits were then exchanged between both the groups. The members of group A were asked to guess the five objects of members of group B without looking at the other group’s basket and vice versa.

The absence of embodiment removed the context from the objects making it vague and ambiguous for the members of both the groups. At the end of this activity some of the chits were discussed and the participants discussed what they had learnt at the end of the activity. It was revealing and comforting to hear that many of the young people in the room realized that we read symbols, that we arrive at decisions/ conclusions and if we do not have a common culture, these might be varied. There was a hint for everyone to begin to process the complexity of symbols in language and how these can be culturally loaded and require experience to sometimes really know.

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Sujata made a presentation with some photographs wherein she asked the participants to find the cultural context and identify it. There were images of weddings, children, individuals at work/ play, people etc. The observations were both interesting and thought provoking and again reminded the group that we read the signs and the symbols and they might be operating unconsciously but are significant none the less.

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Sujata spoke briefly about the relation of Bookworm’s work with language, identity and culture. There was a request from the faculty coordinator to talk about bi script on Konkani, which was discussed form a historical and practical context. The days ended with sharing stories on reading and books from different cultures with the participants. These included ‘The Why-Why Girl’ by Mahasweta Devi, a renowned Bengali novelist and writer and ‘That Book Woman’ by Heather Henson, The Kamishibai Man by Allen Say, Biblioburro – Jeannette Winter, Nasreen’s Secret School – Jeannete Winter, The Librarian of Basra – Jeannete Winter.

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