My Knights at the MOP table scouted around, discovered a small group of 26 houses amidst a coconut grove and stumbled upon approximately 45 children waiting for stories.
We had a new site. The name of the ‘bhat’ ( coconut grove) has been contentious because some of the children refer to it as Peter Bhat but all documentation and lore we have been able to assimilate names the area as Padri Bhat.
Like most urban poor settlements this one too resides along the creek that flows from the Nagalli Hills into the Arabian sea. It is picturesque. Assembled between trees are tin houses and from them sari’s , dupatas and clothes that look like Prayer Flags flap in the wind. Living in this area is not romantic. Every time there is heavy rain, the sandy soil turns porous and treacherous. After a few days of repeated downpour the water levels rise requiring the community to move to another location until the water levels subside.
But for now, with the monsoon clouds having moved we seem better placed to sit outside and tell stories and look for the moon as she begins to peek at us through the palm fronds.
Shamim Padamsee’s book Dancing on Walls lends itself optimally for a Read Aloud in a setting like this. The moon was visible, each house has a courtyard, many young children like Shirvi are home while their parents complete errands in the city and everyone has wishes …. so our context was a perfect match.
When I find books like Dancing on Walls, I am often astounded by how far removed this knowing / awareness is for so many children. Most of the children in the group had seen this kind of representation some where ( a popular advertisement on Television a few years back , apparently was one such!) but had not questioned it, not had any opportunity to explore where it originated, why, what do the patterns mean and such.
We were able to talk about many of these things through the story. I revelled in the little thought provoking bits sneaked into a clean story line – about the moon creatures coming down to smell the flowers, listen to bird song and climb the coconut tree. Given our location at Padri Bhat we were able to find many birds and song , we were surrounded by coconut trees but flowers were absent. There was a ruefulness there but also an opportunity for reflection.
We were able to talk about how Shirvi kept a secret and whether we should keep all secrets and / or tell someone everything. Tannu , all of 9 years said, “some people need to tell, they cannot keep anything inside, some people can keep everything inside so it depends “.
It is all there, the wonder , the thinking and being, it can all be elicited and shared in a story circle and we can celebrate this kind of learning which is far stronger and will last longer than other kinds.
We shared other books with the Warli style of representation so that the children’s minds were able to visualise how different artists interpret the style within story and each child was asked to represent something that could dance on their walls.
It was a good evening at Padri Bhat as we said bye to the children, there was a suggestion that the moon creatures were waiting for us to go, so that they could come down and climb the coconut trees, listen to bird song, and avoid the flowing creek, because the Shirvi’s were all making their way home !