NGO SMS girls win praise (and my heart) for their dance!


I have known the people behind the NGO Srijanatmak Manushi Sanstha for a few years now. Archana Kaul and Neelam Thapliyal, two residents of East Delhi, have formed this ambitious organization to help the children in the village/slum near their house. They have been teaching arts, crafts, drawing, dance and declamation to willing children from a tiny couple of rooms in the village. Some of ‘their kids’ are in college now or learning and performing dance professionally, of which they are very proud.

I always look forward to my trips to SMS. This last one was at that time of the year when we are all preparing to worship Ma Durga during the Navratri, and so these girls gave me the satisfaction of worshipping the kanya. Archana and Neelam are always full of warmth but what never fails to surprise me is the unfailing enthusiasm of these children (mostly girls) to show what they have learnt. They were dressed in their best, with white bindis on their foreheads, starting from the youngest ones to the eldest, all geared up to dance and act. There are so many kids and so little space that at times, it becomes a problem to accommodate all of them dancing together!

The older girls, who have been learning for a few years, lead the items and guide the little ones. Their performances are well-coordinated and the children are motivated to perform the movements correctly. This training is taken seriously by both tutor (Archana, who has learnt Kathak from Kathak Kendra) and pupils – the mandli is invited to perform at various puja pandals, festivals and events. The craft products that the children make under Neelam’s guidance – keychains, earrings, necklaces, even rugs – are sold at college melas and other fairs (the money goes right back into the sanstha). A few of the girls who have been learning for a few years have been accepted at the Kathak Kendra’s junior centre for further learning. I would say that the dance and the motivation are both much better than professional institutes, where more fortunate children are usually less interested!

This evening, as always, the girls could not have enough of performing – nothing excites them more than showing what they have learnt. ‘Tic tic plastic tik na paye’ was a catchy number, with the girls performing some leaps, lively moves and twists. It’s an easier way to drive the point home. In ‘Kanha Re’, they showed graceful Kathak movements and chakkars. Some of the monologues they recite can move you to tears. The first one was about female infanticide, where a girl abandoned as a foetus talks to her mother, and the second was about the freedom of women to say no. This was a very funny albeit strong piece about a Muslim woman who has asked to be divorced on the basis of marital rape. The line that hits hardest is ‘jab na karna ho toh azaan ki tarah na karo, dheere se na kehne mein haan chhipi hoti hai’.

Then the girls performed to the melodious Bengali tune ‘Ta ta thui thui’.

Finally, Tarana Sharma of the Tarang Dance and Music Academy taught these girls a salami and a tukda in teen taal. It really was amazing how fast they picked it up. Tarana is my Kathak teacher and she made this visit pro bono with us to see for herself how good these children were.

After each of these visits, one question always comes up in my mind – why is it that we cannot drill so much enthusiasm into our own children when these girls with their meagre means are so keen to learn? I personally do what I can to ensure that Archana and Neelam can take this much further ahead. If you too would like to help them and want to find out how, find them on Facebook (see the profiles of SMS, Archana Kaul and Neelam Thapliyal). If you can’t contact them there, please email me and I will forward your details to them.

Pics and videos: Courtesy the both of us and Archana and Tarana


Post a Comment