Children of Culture
By Adnan M. S. Fakir
Life in this malevolent magical world is invariably a very thorny path for many unfortunate kids and unless you are or were in similar situations, it is really difficult to appropriately empathise with them. However, maybe not from empathy but from sympathy we can introduce the kids to the small pleasures and smiles that lie hidden in every life. That is exactly what One Degree Initiative, a volunteer group of young active and hyperactive adults, has been doing for the past years in trying to improve the lives of the kids to whom the world dealt an unfair card. Their recent project conducted in cooperation with Urban Studies Institute (USG) included a cultural camp and a children's cultural show at Old Dhaka, where such activities are few and much required.
One Degree worked with students from three schools namely, S A H Kalandar Girl's High School, Islamia Bohumukhi High School and W V A Primary School, where they taught them dancing, singing, art and theatre, twice a week for one month. To keep things at pace here I should probably mention that these schools have no such extracurricular activities in their curricula due to restrictions and the kids are pretty much deprived of such entertainment, which is why One Degree stepped in to fill the blank as much they could! The kids were also super excited about this and one thing they had mentioned from the beginning is that they would like to have the experience to perform on stage, which I find bold and endearing. So, after the one month of twice a week of happiness, the kids performed on stage this Friday the 9th, at the Lalkuthi Club at Farashganj, Old Dhaka.
The fascinating feature of Old Dhaka is its infusion of history in every corner; and as such the Lalkuthi, sometimes referred to as the Northbrook Hall, also has its tales. The citizens of Dhaka to commemorate the visit by Lord Northbrook, the then viceroy of India, in 1874 erected Lalkuthi or Northbrook Hall. It is an elegant deep-red building blended with a fusion of Mughal and European Renaissance architecture opened in 1880 by the Commissioner. Subsequently used as a town hall, public library, telegraph office, women's college, and various offices, it blended the architectural elements cunningly. The library was started with 1000 books, procured mainly from the UK, supported by many zamindars some of whom were otherwise known as oppressors of their peasantry. The old grandeur, now a theatre stage, was a perfect spot and a platform for the kids to perform while reminding the people of their history.
With activist Selina Hossain as the chief guest and with colourful flowers and trees as the backdrop, made by the volunteers, the kids performed neatly choreographed dances to patriotic and folk songs such as “Purbo digonte shurje utheche,” “Dhono dhanno pushpe bhora” and “Kolo kolo cholo cholo nodi kore tolo molo” which always gets the blood flowing. Many of the little ones recited rhymes by Shukumar Ray such as “Sardar Daktar,” “Alladi” and “Tik tik” followed by a lot of “awwww-s” from the audience. There were also a few short plays performed, one being a modified Bengali version of Little Red Riding Hood where the girl tra-la-las to taking chom chom sweets for her grandmother and ends up sharing it with the wolf; another was a dramatic performance along with “Bir Purush” where the little one saves the mother and lives happily ever after, as per the poem of course. Oh and funnily right at the beginning of the performance there had to be a power cut, as per national standards. Luckily there was back up and the show did go on; just shows how important the generator industry has become in our country.
Getting the inexperienced kids to learn so many things in such a short time was certainly a very difficult task but also reflects the passion the volunteers put into it. One of things that intrigued me was the male and female students performing together. This can sometimes be an issue for these schools in Old Dhaka, and goes on more to show the achievement of the group. Overall, there are few volunteer organisations working in that area and One Degree's initiative was certainly one to applaud. So well done you hyperactive lot and here is a request for more!
USG and One Degree together had also prepared a documentary on the historical relevance of bara and choto katra, the Buriganga river fort, the central jail and the Armenian Church, which unfortunately they couldn't show during the event for technical difficulties (oh I love how this two words are so specific). However, they will probably upload it on Youtude soon so do look out for their Youtube channel. For those who are interested in history and preserving history, USG also organises a weekly heritage walk in Old Dhaka as part of their work for conservation of heritage and area conservation through community development; those interested to join do email them at firstname.lastname@example.org for details. Trust me, once you are aware of the history you will never look at the area in the same way, and just might be captivated by its charm.