Interesting Initiatives

Gypsy Grooves on the Stage

Gypsies, ostracised from mainstream culture, are survivors, nonetheless. Often seen as ‘outsiders’ and despite being scattered across vast geo-cultural spaces, they are united by a common thread – the richness of their music and dance.

Through the years, their lifestyle has influenced many early forms of modern dance forms as disparate as north-Indian Kathak, Spanish flamenco and Egyptian belly dance. Giving Bangaloreans a glimpse into what a Gypsy life is like and how they have influenced modern day culture, a dance performance part of The SaraLuna Dance Project will be held on Saturday.

The SaraLuna project comprises of Indu Manohar and Kavya Viswanathan

The SaraLuna project comprises of Indu Manohar and Kavya Viswanathan

The project, founded in June this year by Studio Tarang – an open cultural space for dance and drama, traces the journey of the Roma people – often referred to as the ‘gypsies’ – through their diverse dance forms. “It will be an evening of dance, showcasing flamenco and belly dance. Many modern forms that we see today owe much of their early development to Spanish gypsies or gitanos and Egyptian gypsies known as the ghawazi,” says Indu Manohar, one of the founders.

 Indu, who dances kathak, odissi and flamenco, dons the hat of Luna and her friend, the belly dance instructor, odissi dancer and co-founder of Tarang, Kavya Viswanathan is Sara. Indu adds, “Kavya is a globetrotter. In order to learn the dances of the nomadic community, she had travelled around the world. In fact, she was in Turkey earlier this year and will chase down the last gypsy dancers of Egypt in November.”

Together, reflects Indu, they “seek to explore the contradictions of the gypsy existence through dance – they are united but diverse, nomadic but have a home in music and dance, persecuted but imitated, assimilated but kept estranged.” They also hope to study the different Romani trail dance forms that have come in contact with different cultures and civilisations through intercultural performances.

Saturday’s event will herald a series of performances throughout the city in the coming months. The dancing duo aim to raise awareness about the community’s immense contribution to culture around the world and also throw light on their current plight through workshops, classes and social activities. 

The SaraLuna Project will be held at Opus in Vasanthnagar at 7.30 pm on September 6.


First published in The New Indian Express on September 4, 2014

Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Culture, Interesting Initiatives, Music & Dance, Theatre and Art | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two artistes, three villages, one Bus Project

Should art only be confined to closed spaces, the high-end galleries and convention centres, catering to only the elite and the art enthusiasts? Two artists, Martin John and Saji Kadampattil have attempted to answer this question and in doing so, have tried to reimagine the idea of a performance space. They embarked on a journey a year ago in Thrissur on what they called ‘The Bus Project’.

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‘The Bus Project’, was a travelling stage that moved from place to place and interacted with local audience in villages like Manakody, Pazhuvil and Mattom. For the production, the duo used a bus as a performing arena and developed shows around it. The objective, Saji reiterates, was to move away from the conventional theatre spaces and cultivate the idea of an interactive theatrical display. Saji recalls, “We got a bus and altered it. We created two performance spaces –the bus opened on the side to become a platform where actors staged their plays and we converted the top as well. It was like a carnival on wheels.”

They used the bus as the central theme for the production, Odichodichu – Oru Bus Natakam, delving into the history and evolution of the mode of transportation which has become a life support for thousands of people in Thrissur and everywhere else. Saji says, “We had staged which revolved around the premise of ‘a disappearing bus’. The bus veers off in the wrong direction and falls into a deep ditch. The play is a parallel between two worlds — one that takes place inside the bus and the other, of the people who are trying to pull the bus out of the ditch.” Then there were workshops on sculpture making and painting and music performances.

By offering grants, the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) has supported the artists in their endeavour to make theatre accessible to the public. Arundhati Ghosh observes, “This was a very interesting initiative of building an audience for theatre. Unlike others who drum up an audience by distributing flyers and making announcements, their idea was simple — to take theatre to the masses and make theatre accessible to everyone.”

Will the bus travel to other cities in the country? “We haven’t been able to do that due to roadblocks pertaining to certification and bus permits. We are helping them get in touch with civil authorities regarding this,” says Arundhati.

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First published in The New Indian Express on August 21


Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Culture, Interesting Initiatives, Music & Dance, Theatre and Art | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Healing lives through ‘Ascent of Harmonies’

Back in 2009, musician Vinay Rao conducted a music workshop at the Loreto Day School in Sealdah, Calcutta. Loreto educates children who come from well to do economic backgrounds as well children from impoverished and abusive backgrounds, who live on the school premises. This inspired the 24 year old, who is part of the band ‘Fourth and Main’, to start his own musical programme to enrich and empower lives of less privileged children through music. Vinay says, “Seeing how music helped the children at Loreto, I had the desire to start a similar program on a regular basis in Bangalore.” Thus Ascent of Harmonies (AOH), a Bangalore- based registered Non-Profit music outreach programme was born.


In a chat, Vinay tells me more about how Ascent of Harmonies aims to impact young minds.

About the programme

The children who live and study here have been rescued from various circumstances. There are children who used to work as laborers, beggars and some who have been abused. There are also many who come from dysfunctional families, those who have dropped out from other educational institutions due to various reasons and orphaned children. These are children who are recovering from physical and mental abuse and we want to help them through music therapy.

We work in collaboration with the APSA (Association for Promoting Social Action) Dream School Project in Bangalore. The Ascent of Harmonies was officially registered in 2011 and our music outreach program in collaboration with APSA began in July 2013. We have been working with them over the last one year.


The music education program is for 20 hours, 5 days a week. We have daily music classes and when required additional practice sessions. Currently our curriculum is focused around guitars and vocal classes. We wish to expand the program by including keyboard studies. We also teach English as a second language (ESL) through lyrics and songs.


The experience has been phenomenal in terms of the impact we were able to make. We have over 40 students at the moment.  

AOH 1609657_1409420529307744_101554053_n

How do you sustain the programme?

Since we teach the children for free, we were fortunate to raise funds for this program in India and also abroad. We have also used crowd funding programmes like Indiegogo.

Looking ahead

We want the program to grow over time and make a larger impact in terms of music education and therapy in India. We hope to provide this opportunity of music education to more children who do not have access to it. We plan to raise awareness primarily through benefit concerts and through other musicians.

Managing your music career

My passion for music and the outreach program are linked. I do not differentiate between them. I get to teach music and use this as a means to help people while at the same time working on my own material with my band.


Published on July 14, 2014 in The New Indian Express. 

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Wikipedia does its bit for sexual minorities

Globally, the LGBT propaganda has taken on a large scale over the last one-and-a-half-years, with a lot of civil rights movements and pride marches being conducted, all fighting for their equality and freedom from discrimination. In support of LGBTs across the globe, in June this year, Wikipedia launched its campaign ‘Wiki Loves Pride’, their first ever campaign for the community. As part of Wiki Loves Pride, Wikipedia, the world’s largest free-content curation website, has held a series of edit-a-thons across the world in cities like New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Oregon, and closer home in Bangalore and Delhi on June 19, 2014.  

Wiki Loves Pride is a global campaign to expand and improve LGBT-related content across several Wikimedia projects

Wiki Loves Pride is a global campaign to expand and improve LGBT-related content across several Wikimedia projects

Portland_Pride_2014_-_036   SF_Pride_2014_-_Stierch_6

Through these edit-a-thons, the foundation aimed to increase the scope of public-domain coverage of the community in order to improve their representation. Says, Netha Hussain, one of the organisers, “In India, one will not find much information about the community or their culture. As such, their representation is very low online. We wanted to give them the recognition they deserve.”

At the edit-a-thon, Srikanth, the treasurer of Wikimedia, India chapter, says, “Wikipedians edited and added content to the website on topics surrounding LGBT.” The topics ranged from history, identity, politics, culture, rights and attitudes in order to make content widely available internationally. The edit-a-thons also worked towards adding more content in regional languages. But the most important aspect was adding content that is accredited to third-party sources, Srikanth emphasises, as poorly researched articles can negatively affect public perceptions. “The goal was to get as many articles as possible from credible sources like Government bodies, newspapers and scholarly papers and remove information that is not authentic.”

The volunteers, close to 15 of them from Bangalore, were also be encouraged to reach out to associations working towards LGBT rights and people who have publicly identified themselves as belonging to this community. Netha opines, “There are many such organisations in the country and they have a wealth of information that we make available on the public domain.”

Though they had received a good response from the participants in both the cities, Srikanth laments the lack of institutional support in the country. “In many places, there are government institutions involved in the workshops,” he says.

However, overall they are upbeat about the movement. Netha says, “We have already received a response from two LGBT-rights organisations in Bangalore and Chennai to curate content. We expect more to come forward and help us with this internet revolution.”

Published on July 15, 2014 in The New Indian Express.

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Making electricity accessible in Bangalore

For the most part of their lives, a family living in Ejipura did not have access to electricity, making it hard for them to work indoors, even during the day. Early this year, an NGO named Liter of Light visited them and installed a device on their premises – a device which, they assured, would provide electricity during the day. The NGO used a 2.25-litre pet bottle, a plastic waste which is often discarded, and filled it with water and liquid bleach. Then they stuck it to a plastic/galvanic sheet in the house with one-thirds of it above the roof. When sunlight fell on the upper part of the bottle, water refracted the light and the solar bottle illuminated, providing light as good as a 65-70-watt bulb.

Liter of Light is a global movement with an aim to provide ecological and free-of-cost lighting solutions to houses. The idea was developed in 2002 by Alfredo Moser from Brazil. Then Illac Diaz from Philippines introduced it as a social enterprise in 2011 under MyShelter Foundation. Based on this model, the Bangalore chapter, spearheaded by Tripti Aggarwal and Pankaj Dixit, started its operations in November, 2013.

Tripti says, “A team of volunteers from Liter of Light Europe and Liter of Light Mumbai had visited Bangalore. They conducted an initial workshop and installations in Laxmanram Nagar, a slum in Ejipura over a week, and helped start the chapter in the city.”

Their first installation as a full-fledged organisation was in January this year. Tripti recalls, “Incidentally, it was around Pongal. We visited a poorly-lit classroom of a government school in Banashankari I Stage and installed these bottles there.” And the outcome, she says, was stupendous which encouraged them to continue with the work in other parts of the city. So far they have installed over 21 daylight bottles and 1 night light bottle in Ejipura, MRS Palaya in Benson Town, Naganahalli in Hebbal and Nandidurg Road.

How cost-effective is this approach? Tripti responds, “The glue which is used to hold the bottle ensures that the unit is leak and crack-proof. The bleach used in the bottle keeps the water clean and prevents algae, moss etc., from growing in it.  So a bottle once installed will last up to a five years with almost no maintenance costs.”

So far, they have been able to sustain the project with a little help from the society. They work with SIKA, manufacturer of speciality chemicals to procure industrial glue. They also reach out to caterers and restaurants, students and corporates and rag pickers to get good quality pet bottles.

The only downside to this method is that these bottles only work when the sun is shining bright. “The bottle will be a little dim on a cloudy day, producing upto 30 watts of electricity. Also, so far our solution works only during the day.”

But Tripti says they are working on an equally simple and affordable way to harness solar energy using solar panels to light up the bottles at night.

Going forward, they will also be scaling up their activities – moving to many more parts in Bangalore and subsequently in Karnataka by introducing sub-chapters.

“We are eager to touch many more lives and lighten up the city in collaboration with like-minded organisations who want to take up this green movement with us,” Tripti concludes.

The members of the NGO use pet bottles and liquid bleach to make lamps

The members of the NGO use pet bottles and liquid bleach to make lamps

 Published on July 21, 2014 in The New Indian Express.

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Bangaloreans Devise Unique Leaf Disposal Method

Come summer, and the streets of the garden city are strewn with leaf litter. While some roads are swept clean by workers daily, in most places these dead leaves are just set ablaze. Smita from Tippasandra agrees, “Everywhere you go, there are leaves accumulated in heaps. At some places, the leaves are even burnt, causing pollution in the surroundings.”

To prevent this, many communities in different parts of the city have joined hands with Bruhat Bengaluru Mahangara Palike (BBMP) and devised a model to dispose of dead leaves in a clean and healthy way. Residents of Malleswaram, Koramangala, Indiranagar and many other areas have successfully created low-cost leaf litter collection units to keep the neighbourhood clean and eliminate the risk of garbage-burning.


In Malleswaram, a team of residents called ‘My Clean Malleswaram’ has created a huge pit in a park where dead leaves can be stored. The BBMP pourakarmiakas, as part of their daily routine, collect the litter from the residences and streets in the area. The waste is then segregated and the leaves are thrown in the pit.

Apart from leaves, during the months of April and May, the pits are filled with Nitrogen-rich Pongamia flowers. “Since these flowers are rich in Nitrogen, they help produce good quality compost,” says Vani Murthy, an expert in waste management.

Pourakarmikas at work at the pit dug for collecting dried leaves at Malleswaram| NAGESH POLALI, NIE

Pourakarmikas at work at the pit dug for collecting dried leaves at Malleswaram| NAGESH POLALI, NIE

The Residents Welfare Association in Koramangala 3rd Block had introduced a similar model a year ago. However, instead of storing, the leaves are made to pass through a shredder. The shredded powder is then mixed with cow-dung flurry and enriched with neem flowers to create compost.


While this project is beneficial, it requires a certain amount of investment in terms of labour, machinery and equipment. The Koramangala 3rd block Residents Welfare Association spends `25,000 on an average every month.

Given the costs involved, how can the communities sustain this model in the long run?

Anil Chinniah, the secretary of the association, says, “We sell the compost to the residents. Some Agro companies are also our customers. This way, we ensure there is a constant cash inflow to fund the programme.” He proudly mentions that the association was able to garner 80-100 tonnes of compost in the last one year.

Does it help if you have support from the BBMP? Sandhya (a member of My Clean Malleswaram )and Anil agree. They say it is easier to seek permissions and approvals when you work with the authorities.

Sandhya adds, “There are many households in Bangalore where leaf-composting is already done. But we wanted to create a holistic system where we involve all the right people so that it is a community effort and not just an individual initiative. This is why we work with the local corporators and resident welfare associations to ensure there is smooth functioning of the activities.”


These communities don’t want to stop with this. “Since this requires minimal capital, we can replicate this model any where- in parks, educational institutes, apartment complexes, etc. We also want to create workshops for terrace gardening and organic farming which will help keep the environment clean,” says Sandhya.

Published on May 3, 2014 in The New Indian Express

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