“The psycho of children”

“Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.” – John W. Gardner

I have said this earlier – and would like to validate again – I am not a theatre person. This is a tag that has been given to me by others along with the much woolly label of being ‘multi-faceted’…whatever that means! Most expect me to break into a ‘song and dance’ on demand, whilst all I can do is to look at them and squirm with discomfort. Cursing them and then myself.

I have never thought of myself as a theatre person. I use theatre and drama as a medium of instruction – period!

So, what/who am I? At the risk of derisive sniggers, I would like to be known as a sensitizer and an educator. Who? What?

I would also like to be known as a wild-life person. What! Who?


Last month, a bevy of newspaper reporters looked at me with nothing in their eyes or words and asked inane questions with well-practised mediocrity. Some didn’t even know what they were talking about; few were prompted by seniors with clout; others wanted printed sheets of information only – nobody wanted to meet the children concerned or talk about education per se. Their questions baffled me:

“Sir, are you working with the psycho of children?” How am I supposed to respond to that? ‘Psycho’ is an offensive term. Does she mean psychology or psyche or what?

“Uncle! What is the politics of your theatre?” Uncle!!?? $#*! My theatre? Politics?

“So, what message are you giving to society?” Duh!

“Don’t you think street-plays would help Annā’s cause?” What has Annā got to do with my project here and what really is his cause? And anyway, aren’t his dramatis personae playing the streets?

“Halloji! Theatre aur media ka samajik role kya hai?” Ask Arnab Goswami, Barkha Dutt and Company!

“What has theatre got to with the Tiger?” Grrrrrr……Snarl! Chomp, chomp! Yuck! Spithooie!

“Tell us something about yourself.” ???????????????????

They were all looking at me with the intensity of a bog pit. This is why I think that ‘art critics’ in the larger sense of the term are a great requirement – but there is a lacuna – we don’t have any. Most read a few books, watch random movies and plays, fraternize the hotspot cultural venues/cafes – and become critics. They fundamentally have no idea what ‘art’ means and here more so – what is theatre for children and young people? What is drama therapy? Why is it imperative? How powerful it can be? What it can do? What does education mean?


This particular post is significant. The 60-odd days workshop-cum-production, laden heavily with incongruous holidays, at a Jalandhar school, brought back memories of what I technically call the Urvakshi/Arti/Sanjay/Anisha/Meghana/Nikhil et al days; and, I am sure if they are reading this they will know what I am talking about and nothing more is required.


Jalandhar again after three years. Still opulent, sprawling bungalows with an obscene mixture of styles and architecture displaying only the wealth of the owner; additional malls and branded outlets; more vehicles than human beings; loud, aggressive and filthy; people ever ready to get into an argument; abusive; closet conservative and viciously competitive at the social level……..

Like any other city and town in India?

But something happened here, this time. Beyond the smooth-talking teaching and non-teaching personnel, inadequate working hours, parental manipulations, public holiday for Karva Chauth, Valmik Jayanti and more, roaring SUVs and souped-up mobikes and radio mirchi propagating “Dulhan wahi jo piya man bhaye, patni wahi jo karva chauth ka vrat nibhaye”…. I connected with the lives of thirty young people. For some extraordinary reason they kept reminding me, of me and Shiv Niketan.

Learning is a basic human activity, and it occurs all the time. But the early years of childhood are the most significant period of life in the context of learning. By and large, the home and the school provide a powerful learning environment for children in their impressionable foundation years.

The inclination to learn from life itself and to make the conditions of life such that all will learn in the process of living is the finest product of school. Hence, education means the enterprise of supplying the conditions which insure growth, or adequacy of life, irrespective of age. Since growth is the characteristic of life, education is all one with growing; it has no end beyond itself.

The instinctively mobile and eagerly varying action of childhood, the love of new stimuli and new developments, too easily passes into “settling down”, which means aversion to change and a resting on past achievements. Only an environment which secures the full use of intelligence in the process of forming habits can counteract this tendency.

In order to help our children learn we need to force ourselves into intellectual discomfort.


Unfortunately, in our country (in the best of so-called schools), the development of educational drama is painfully slow and mostly neglected. It was with this broad scenario in mind that I decided to develop a concept that would not only stimulate, educate and nurture the minds of the participating young people but also give the audience an opportunity to witness a true theatrical event enabling them to think about and appreciate a performance that had nothing to do with television soaps, reality shows and ramp-walks.

It talked about children and young people – their Being, their life stories, their threats, their awakening, their freedom, their coming together and their Hope.

It requested the world to look at them; to be aware of their aspirations; to empathize with them; to let them spread their wings on a foundation of respect and understanding; to give hope to their freedom and thoughts and allow them the independent flight – their udaan.  It has always been perceptible to me that most children live under tremendous anxiety, arising from the insurmountable expectations from their adults – be it parents or teachers. Add to this the peer pressure and you have a potential crisis not only of identity but survival of the spirit. How long do you think a young person can cope with the continuous pressure to achieve; make no mistake; not fail their parents or teachers; always be first; always succeed; never stop studying? Add to this the burden of restrictions, more so on the girl child!

As such, the project ‘Neev Se Udaan Tak’ was the story of a child’s journey of transition, to find and choose his/her own destiny. Asking for an enlightened education in the apt sense of the word. To listen to their unspoken voices!


As for my gang of 30! ‘Tony’ will always cherish their smiles; treasure their tears and learn from their perseverance.

For them and all those who have touched my life, Observation by W. Hart-Smith

Now and then concentrating

on the very small,

focusing my attention

on a very small area

like this crack in sandstone

perpetually wet with seepage,

getting so close

to moss, liverwort and fern

it becomes a forest

with wild beasts in it,

birds in the branches

and crickets piping,

cicadas shrilling.

Someone seeing me

staring so fixedly

at nothing

might be excused

for thinking me vague, abstracted,

lost in introspection.

No! I am awake, absorbed,

Just looking in a different direction.

11 Responses to ““The psycho of children””

  1. 1 amishi gandhi
    December 27, 2011 at 4:42 am

    Parents place huge pressure on the children to perform academically – I have noticed this in India in particular. A kid I know came home with a 96% in a math test and the mother’s reaction was why not 100% ? When I questioned this of the mother – her response was that in order to get into a “good” college – the kid HAD to perform outstandingly in everything. But the kid was still in Junior school! Besides isn’t 96% outstanding? What immense pressure! What expectations to live up to. Thank God for someone like you who understands their anxiety and its brings some fun into education. The photographs are indications themselves of much they appreciate what you bring to them. So @$% the reporters and the other critics. Just carry on with what you so obviously love because it IS making a difference to the ones who matter.

    PS: How did “Tony” come about?

    • 2 bichhubooti
      December 27, 2011 at 5:02 am

      The Punjabis are very fond of ‘pet-names’ – all connected to the ubiquitous ‘puttar’. So, one comes across Soniputtar, Puttuputtar, Pappuputtar, Luckyputtar, Tonyputtar, Billuputtar, Tituputtar etc. and the now famous Harryputtar! I don’t know how the ‘Tony’ evolved, but I think it established itself when I started using this during attendance and asking the group in a twangy Punjabi accent, “Oji! Tony hai ji, Tony?” Also, it made the saddest of them smile.

  2. 3 Samira
    December 27, 2011 at 9:35 am

    If one day I can pass on to others how you have taught me to look at “different directions”, I will die happy.

  3. December 27, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    We will never forget what you have taught us. I really wish to meet you again Sir and thank you properly.
    We talk about you all the time, every little thing reminds us of you.Miss you alot sir !
    Really wish we could meet again…..<3

  4. December 29, 2011 at 10:18 am

    We love tony a lot!!!! missing him a lot. Proud and lucky to be part of the play. Really wanted to meet u again.

  5. 6 nikhita
    January 1, 2012 at 4:01 am

    it was a best part of my life ………….never gonna forget it…………….WANNA MEET U SOON SIR……….

  6. 7 vaishali
    January 6, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    misin everythin soooo much sir…..i want to turn back the clock n start the practises again…u brought us 30 kids together as a one big family!!

  7. 8 sacredfig
    January 16, 2012 at 12:02 am

    Was laughing out loud in the interview part of the post – and really enjoyed how you’ve captured the thoughts in the latter half of the post. Thanks for linking to the videos – the ‘puttars’ made my day 🙂

  8. 9 effem
    February 29, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    o arun, mind of my dreams! why aren’t there more of you. yes, you read right! i said mind of my dreams!

  9. July 9, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Interesting post, I enjoyed reading it.

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