Wednesday, September 18, 2013

PACHyatra - to Sapera Basti, Mandi Village


In my last two letters, there is much that I have told you - about you, about me and about us. All of us. However, while glancing through them again today, I realized, I left so much unsaid. You know what, lets just summarize it in two words again - Crazy and Magic. Yes. That is what I have come to understand you as. After our last tryst, I am further convinced that you are capable of doing magic, and that too in a manner which is unanticipated and plain crazy. Yes, so while you are going crazy with excited disarray in your head, people still call you organized. Fun? May be. Humbling? Sure!

I did have an idea, but I could never have created a complete image of the place where I met you this time. You took us on a trip, literally and otherwise. Had it not been for you, I would never have known that somewhere, at the end of winding roads which are like modest boulevards lined with grandiose farmhouses, there exists a village of one-time snake charmers, which does no justice to the exotic image of India which the Occident created. Given animal rights regulations, most of these villagers could not take up their familial occupation, and many had to resort to odd jobs, or contend with being jobless, yet survive. In this Basti of Saperas, we met some little faces in whose world we got lost for hours. Not some, a lot of faces, different expressions characterizing different faces - innocent, naughty, sincere, curious, sulky, blank, eager, reserved, distant; and then, I think I saw some nastiness, and some awe as well in those faces. I am sure that the young ones of the entire village had assembled with us after a point - the point at which we stopped trying to ascertain what number of children are we trying to involve in our creative session.

Meeting Elizabeth and Shibumon - the minds behind Bharat Seva Samity - was an experience I was wanting to have, and needed to have. Their story is both, lovely and inspiring. So yes, PACH, thank you for making it happen. What I need to thank you more for is the kind of amazing day you gave us, in which, my friends and I, and the little kids we had just met, left nothing unexplored in the realm of creative arts. We made the kids dance, sing, draw, recite rhymes, share ambitions, and do just about anything that made them feel happy, and open, and confident. Did you notice the bright smiles on their faces? I know you did, but perhaps you were too tired to sit back and savour all the magic you spread. Still, what you should know is, halfway through the session, a child wanted to know if we were going to come back and do all the masti with them again. I don't know about you, but I was too touched to be able to answer it.

I have many favourite moments from the day, and I think I should take out some best frames to show those to the world reading this letter along with you. So yes, here.

That is my friend Neha. Umm, twin Neha. Till about a month ago, she would need a push to share her lovingly written stories with us, and this day, she confidently places herself in the middle of all the kids to narrate a story about her favourite being in the world - her pet dog, Chintu. Kids talked about their pets as well, and I stood somewhere, really happy to know, that her stories, written keeping children in mind, are now finally reaching their destination. 

Don't see these two for what they seem like. They are generally known as Anup Bishnoi and Sidhant Mago, but here they are Chintu doggy and Dolly baby, characters straight out of Neha's story, performing antics and enthralling children. Forget children, I caught myself bursting with laughs. Yes, bursting is a good word here. 

Thats Nabila Sadiq, the sincere one among us to have carried an original poem to share with and teach kids. More than the poem, what she aspired to tell this young crowd was that its important to dream, and so dream, they must. Along with her, it was only Shrutiy Chakraborty who got a poem customized for this very special gathering, but once lost in the world of kids, forgot to share. I think PACH feels bad, and has its ears perked up for a reading among an audience which is slightly elder, but only in years. 

Though I am not sure what exactly is happening here, I can take a guess. In this setting which reminded us constantly of Sholay ('Solay', as echoed), the famous 'Kitne Aadmi The' dialogue is being played out. Popular culture works so well to engross and amuse everyone! I loved this rock, and secretly hoped that I would get to climb up and settle there. But my back. Bah. 

This picture was clicked on request - I requested this star kid to pose with me, because I like to remember good singers.  And Ankit, for that is his name, is sulking because I made him stop drawing his red car under blue clouds for this click. He sang a romantic bollywood number with confidence and innocence which only someone of his age is capable of combining. 

This tiny tot, whose name I do not remember (Jatin, may be?) troubled me the most. However, I think I made good friends with him at the end of it all. 

The laughter he spread was so contagious and effective, it was only obvious that Sidhant Mago would end up being a huge hit among all the children. The caricature a child attempted to draw of him (successfully, of course) is only a proof of what kind of love all of us received at Sapera Basti. 

Among the many rhymes we taught them, I think we did this the best. Chubby Cheeks, acting out the Dimple Chin here. What an amazing feeling it was to hear these simple, childhood words being echoed all around us in a cacophonous chorus. I have no idea when I last did this, acting out rhymes. Its good, I've done some practice before I have kids of my own. Aah, I'll try and keep my focus. 

This girl wants to go to Mumbai when she grows up - her ambition quite evident in this picture. Like all, I too was pleasantly surprised when all this talent was unleashed on us by these incredible packets of energy. 

These pretty packets were put together with much love by some resourceful PACH members, and, more importantly, enthusiastically decorated by the tiny students of Crayons and Strokes - art school run by Aastha Seth, who is the creative genius behind all the unbelievably amazing posters which announce our fortnightly poetry sessions. Isn't it a wonderful thought, that little kids from one part of our city spent a day making colourful stuff for little kids located on the fringes of our city? Fascinating, for me at least. 

This is where the madness of drawing and colouring finally started. Calling it madness is an understatement. But I know each one of us enjoyed it, most of all, Aastha di, I guess. You can see her in the back, getting ready to manage her set of learners, while Anup settles right in the middle to spend a fun and harrowing time among all these fans he cultivated. 

Why am I the crazy, laughing woman in the picture? Because a very composed and bright girl named Pooja wrote a rhyme for me, and made it pretty with all these colours and a rose. When you go along with PACH, and return with a poem as a gift, it feels as if all the pieces have fit in perfectly. 

Applauses. This is what we gave them in copious quantities. We gave a lot of love too, but then, they gave more of it back. 

So, coming back to you PACH, tell me, how do you actually lead us to such 'scintillating' highs? No, how? Those who witness the day said that this party-like class was the best they had attended. Here, this is what Duolos Jose (he, of course, the person who made this event possible) had to say about what we accomplished on Sunday, and you must hear - 

"It was the longest event in this basti, they usually get bored fast (even when I show them movies)! Your interactions (mixed with fun) had a great impact which held them back for hours. Also, I never knew that some of the kids could dance and sing so well.. even paint so well. Hopefully, an artist shall emerge from that slum some day."

So, there. I am actually short of breath as all these musings come to an end. There is one, tiny memory which lingers on. When we asked the kids - "Aap bade hokar kya ban-na chahte ho?", a boy of about 8-9 replied, "Padhe-likhe". Just that. That simple, yet not.

May be I will come back here someday.

Crazy, again.
You're all of two months, and though you are growing at an alarming rate, these are still your nascent days.
And you're just not ceasing from showing us your magical ways.

PS - You can read about Bharat Seva Samity, and Elizabeth and Shibumon here -

Thanks Aaqib, Navin ji and Aastha di for the wonderful pictures. How will we ever relive PACH moments if not for you all. Thanks Archana and DJ for making this happen.

I loved quoting a particular verse (half of it, perhaps) in my school days. I  don't know the poet, but I am taking the liberty of reproducing it here, hoping that in some way it applies to all those kids we met on Sunday.
"Hum toh dariya hain, humein apna hunar maaloom hai
Jis taraf bhi chal padenge, raasta ho jayega"

Among my favourite pictures from that day.


  1. Bahot khoob!

    Benazeer befikar jeeye jaa
    Tu apne hunar se nakkashi keeye jaa
    Aahista aahista parchhaiya bhi sulag padengi
    Tere junoo ki parvarish me!

    Keep up the good work!! Every time I interact with you I see the spark in you; like a dancing flame weeded with strife in the fleeting wind. May the flame continue to nurture the spark and life(s) around. Bless you Panda :-) Pach is your baby and so are you to Pach. :-)


    1. You impress me. Thats an understatement. You stun me, but surprisingly, you are someone who does not cause envy in me. I only wish to learn from you.

      And of course, I have to thank you for all the love and support you always shower on me, and also for the way you take care of me. Means much :)

  2. I love this so much! :)
    Yeah, too tired to savor it on the day of magic, but couldn't work another day spent savoring :p

    This did surprise me completely, we must be some awesome.
    Follow up zaroor karte hain with that curriculum thing.

    1. Same here, you know. It was not till I settled in the car that I realized how much we could do in those few hours. I think I will really go back sometime.

      And the curriculum thing, already on it. Connected DJ with a few people, and now exploring my circle for some experts in that domain.

      PACH is reaching such unexpected places, doing such unexpected stuff. Its such a happy feeling.

  3. I love reading your posts. Specially when i miss being a part of the awesomeness .. keep writing and stay awesome

    1. I will, and I do hope you miss no more awesomeness. In fact, I hope you augment our awesomeness :)

  4. the fact that PACH did this so selflessly speaks of the wonderful people it is blessed with. The photos are reflecting the innocent joy the children had.

    KUDOS to PACH.

    Soumya di you wrote this so well that I shared this piece with my mother n suddenly she wants to meet you. Maine smjhaya sare apke bete ki trh velle thodi hote hain. :P

    1. I sincerely hope you come to all PACH meetings Kamal, because you are part of those wonderful people PACH is blessed with.

      And bring your mother as well, I would love to meet her! In fact, I can't tell you how nice it feels to know that reading this made her want to meet me. So cool!

  5. from anup's kuttapana to display of my inner Dollyness, from neha's pet to teacher's pet, from chikni chameli to aashiqui 2, from chubby cheeks to 'eyes are blue', from SOLAY to JAAGLE, from chanting to paintings, from snake charmers to the charming setting... every moment was crazy and magical.

    mai nahi aata toh bahot PACHtata

    1. Yaar Mago! Yahaan bhi apni creativity se floor kardo sabko. Jo maine ek lambe post mein kaha, aapne kuchh hi lines mein bol diya. Thats you awesomeness :)

      This is your first comment on my blog, and I it makes me so very happy!

  6. Good Work Saumya, really praiseworthy!

  7. Saumya, I wanted to write a post on this, as it was a day which demanded to be remembered forever, and I wanted to relive it every now and then. But then, when I read this post, I relived the whole day to the effect that it really felt like a flash back, so now I wont bother writing, coz for me this post is for me :)
    Thank You!

    1. It is indeed for you Neha. One of the first persons I knew I was going to mention even before I had gotten started with writing this was you. You made my proud, like someday my daughter would, or like Shreya does.

      You know you are me, back in time, right?

      Much love :)

  8. Wow!!! I can very well imagine the magic you all must have experienced on that particular day. Great post. Touching and crazy at the same time, light and serious at the same time. Only you can do that. Keep writing, I love to read your posts.

    1. Thanks Alka!

      Coming from an author who did a fab job with her first book, your comment means so much! I think its time we met. Let me know if you come around Delhi any time.

    2. First off sorry for replying so late. Life’s been tough in the past month. My son had been very sick and admitted to hospital so it’s after a long time I am able to read your message. I love the idea of meeting you. Even I wanted to meet you. I have shifted to Delhi permanently some time back. I will get back to you once I settle down and we can set some time to meet.

    3. Please do. I will be waiting eagerly for it - you have a friend in Delhi already, I am sure we will gel well. I'd also want to invite you for these warm poetry meets we conduct - would be a great to have you around.

  9. I am stunned to see the activities related with 'PACH' and its followers. It is the best example for our youth only complaining about the situations and poor resources. One always can try to do good things for society, however little in scale, even putting a smile on the faces of poor children, it will not cost them a dime.From now on 'CH' in 'PACH' should stand for 'Caring Humanity'. Nothing Cheap can stand between these extra ordinary people.

    Lines are from the Gazal of 'Bashir Badr' a well known Urdu poet of Ayodhya and a fellow of Aligarh Muslim Uni.

    1. Thank you sir.

      You always encourage us with your words, sometimes witty and humorous, other times sincere and encouraging. It is humbling, trust me when I say this. I do hope PACH keeps growing into a finer, better entity with time.

  10. Nishabd kar diya aapne to.
    I relived it all reading this.
    PACH made me so proud to be a part of it by doing such a thing on sunday and I am glad I didn't missed it...for the smiles on those kids faces was worth everything :))

    And magical wrote it all in the best way :)

    Gaye the hum kuch hassi bathne
    Le aaye sath apne pyaar beshumar :)

    1. Bilkul sahi kaha aapne!

      Don't call me a magical writer. Call PACH a magical inspiration :)

  11. Replies
    1. Thanks Rahul!

      You have missed too much of PACH. Now get well and be back!