An acquaintance who is part of the Teach for India programme asked whether I would be willing to come to a small government school in Chandannagar and talk about my book, about writing and about dance. I was tremendously excited by the prospect, and agreed immediately.
When I got there, though, I realised how different it was from anything I had expected.
The energy of the class was different. They were restless, not willing to sit and listen. They jumped up and down, walked (or rather crawled – because they sit on the floor, not at desks) around the class. They wanted to talk about everything.
Sometimes, shamefacedly, I had to ask for explanations of what they were saying. Yes, they speak English, but sometimes, they just give me the key words and expect me to figure out what the sentences are.
I told them the story of the Prologue to The Story-Catcher. They did not know the word ‘giant’. I explained it to them, reminding them of the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. They asked hundreds of questions, and I kept struggling to retain their attention. They asked me questions that were totally random at times, and I kept trying to channel that surplus energy towards me and towards what I was saying.
In the Prologue, there is a little girl who has to make a story with the words ‘giant’, ‘invisible’, ‘colour’ and ‘fire’. I persevered through the story, drawing their attention to it over and over again, ensuring that they understood, talking about words like ‘imagination’ and ‘inspiration’. And finally, I finished the story.
A girl raised her hand to speak. I smiled at her, hoping she would not ask me something totally random like where I live or how old I am. I had grown to expect that in the course of that half an hour that I was speaking
“I can make a story with those four words,” she said.
Surprised and happy, I asked her to tell me the story.
“Once there was a giant,” she said. “He was very angry. He was so very angry. There was a village near him. He blew fire on all the houses. People were scared. The colour of the fire was everywhere. Then, a small invisible man came. He came and he tickled the giant. Tickle, tickle, tickle, tickle! The giant laughed. So much he laughed that his fire got over! So the people were saved.”
I wanted the class to clap for her, but I doubt if many were paying attention. There I was, telling them about dance, telling them about writing and helping them understand different words that I associate with creativity.
After a little over an hour, I was exhausted.
Yet, now, I want to go there and begin all over again, a little more prepared and with a lot more energy.