To me, Sahyadri is a place I grew up in, a place I dream about, a roosting-place for wandering souls… and no matter where I live, my home. Visiting after three years, I felt I could see the many Rahis of my past around me. I peered in classrooms, surveyed the whispering grass of Asthachal Hill and stopped by the pond to see who, if anyone, had inherited my spot by the fishes. Indeed, to visit Sahyadri was also to visit my former selves.
When I was invited to take a workshop and be a part of the Art Fest here, I thought of those selves, those times, and what I of the present may have been able to offer them. I didn’t intend to ‘teach’, but to act as a facilitator who could introduce the participants to new ways of thinking about things—thinking about connections, about longings and belongings, and what it takes to feel a part of a larger whole…the whole of yourself, a group of friends, the school, the ‘whole’ of things that grow, and the vast universe.
The workshop opened with an exercise in which the participants were invited to draw each other with charcoal. Following a session of guided observation, I encouraged them to simply draw as they saw, without worrying too much if the image resembled the person or looked like a portrait ‘should’. I believe that drawing as an act has the power to bring us face to face with the immediate physical presence of things in a way that can be most intimate, but still requires the distanced eye of the observer.
In the moments of intense silence, with each person peering intently at the other’s face, a space is created where we are free to look upon each other, not with attraction or repulsion, nor with the intent to emotionally or intellectually ‘tackle’ the person and what they represent to us, but simply as one person looking at another. It was heartening to hear a student a reflect, “When I drew my partner, I could not judge him, I just had to draw him as he is.”
Exercises over the next few days explored the relationship between the individual and their surroundings. We delved into the world of sound, texture and space, exploring how these elements interact with our bodies and thoughts. One of the exercises required the participants to draw a map of the space around them, marking the positions of windows, walls etc. as well as the various people sharing the space. Participants then labeled the map as parts of their own body. And so windows became eyes (and eyes, windows), door-hinges were elbows and ears, flaky wall-skin rose over the empty-stomached floor.
Conversely, in another exercise, the participant visualized a carefully observed location as situated within the body—calm waters in your mind, the hills and skies and corridors inside the boundaries of your skin. Skin is textured like the Earth, isn’t it? And so porous, blurring the notions of ‘inside’ and ‘out’.
In this way, I wanted to lead the participant to expand their sense of self. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that there is more to being than our daily anxieties, our likes and dislikes, and that our sense of exclusion and inclusion need not have anything at all to do with popularity or groupism, or what we casually refer to as ‘batch politics’. We wandered around blindfolded, feeling surfaces and documenting them, we drew and colored sounds as we heard them, and wondered about the ‘materials’, the bones and incidents and environments, that make us.
The last few days of the workshop were dedicated entirely to creating individual self-portraits, which became an opportunity to visually articulate many of the themes we had been discussing over the week. Who am I? What are the parts of me, and what am I a part of? We looked for ourselves in charcoal, in paint, in balancing glass jars and bits of twigs, exploring a variety of materials and techniques. It was good to get to the real stuff, our naked fears and hopes and senses, and especially to be able to do it together, to hold and respect that space of vulnerability for each other.
It was immensely moving and exciting for me to see the students take up various concerns and make it their own, staying up nights and waking up early, collaborating with each other to put together the display. The discoveries of the workshop helped me to reaffirm my belief in the effectual power of creative intervention as a means to empower the individual and bring together a community.