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Discovering a New Way of Sensing & Playing-back to a Community
Some powerful learnings from a Scribe's documentation of Agamishaala
If I have to trace the trajectory of how the idea of this documentation began, it really was seeded by the intention that Manish, Artika, Samarth and I held - as people. This intention was fed most certainly by our roles as convenors, facilitators and witnesses of an experience but with it was also an equally potent reserve of what we were seeking for ourselves. It is deeply humbling to see how we sometimes create a little bit of what we are looking and yearning for. In the culmination and process of Samarth's scribe documentation 'It Takes a Village - हमारी रानीखेत की शाला' I'd like to believe there is ठेराव और प्यार, the first few steps towards the next field of play, a deep investment in the journey of the other and a negotiation of the self within the practice of a craft.
As we carried both collective and personal intent into the design of the 4th cohort of Agamishaala to be held at Ranikhet, it became increasingly clear that this edition needed a radically different way of capturing and playing-back what we do. Over the last few cycles, the videos that documented the experience were effective in communicating the premise of Shaala, offering a glimpse of the learning community it fosters and situating the role of this community in the larger movement of building justice solutions. Revisiting our guiding philosophy of the individual being a critical unit of change, we arrived at celebrating the members of the cohort on their changemaking journey, being witness to the shifts they are experiencing and holding space for the inquiries relevant to them as the purpose of this edition of documentation.
A series of serendipitous happenings led us to roping in Samarth (who goes by the pen name Roeqin) as a scribe - to participate and chronicle the process through his craft of building graphic narratives. The deliverable was an artefact for limited circulation within the group that would follow the journey we undertook over the three days and offer a reflection of each individual's experience within the larger collective. The freshness of the medium was exciting, so was the possibility it held to bring in a levity and provide a window to the intimacy, vulnerability and humour that brings a group to life. The explicitness of photographs and videos often becomes a limitation in spaces like Shaala where the invitation is to put aside inhibitions and performance. For a storyteller entering this space there is a constant dance between preserving the sanctity of it and capturing the activity - internal and external - within it. Samarth articulates how he navigated this dance and negotiated the dichotomy between self and collective in the following excerpts from the introduction of the book -
This book is supposed to be a collective memory that is documented and narrated by the scribe. You might ask, what is a collective memory? आप सोच रहे होंगे की collective memory, यह सामूहिक स्मृति, क्या चीज़ है? The collective after all is made up of individuals—समूह तो लोगो से ही बनता है , each with their own unique ways of feeling and perceiving. To add to that, the subjectivity of the author.
How much of it is my own understanding and how much is in the service of the collective?
I had seen the documentation of the previous few Shaalas, the feeling I got from them was that they were created for an ‘outsider’ looking ‘inside’—पिछले कुछ Shaala के documentation को देखकर, मुझे एहसास हुआ की वो बाहरी नज़रिए से अंतरुणी नज़ारा दिखा रहे थे. My intention as a scribe, then, was to change the tone of the documentation. I wanted to capture this Shaala as an ‘insider’ looking at ‘us’—मेरी इच्छा थी की अंतरुणी नज़रिए से मैं हम सब के अनुभव दिखा सकूँ.
… Each of our experiences contain learnings that are themselves mutating and maturing over time. It is no wonder की 4 दिन के इस सम्मेलन को जब collective memory के रूप में दर्शाया गया तो वो 70 pages बन गये —at its simplest. These multitudes don’t separate us. Instead, we find ourselves in each other’s experiences—हम ख़ुद को एक दूसरे के अनुभवों में ढूँढ सकते हैं. Even the pages that talk of one of us, contain learnings that would find resonance with every other member. Looking at the work now, I realise that as a participant-scribe, as a member of this village, as an insider looking at us, this story could not have been captured any other way. It seems like the entire process of becoming a village blurs the lines between the individual and the collective, the scribe and the participants—village की इस स्थापना ने व्यक्ति और समूह के बीच का अंतर मिटा दिया.
This collective memory has truly come to resemble what I had hoped it to be—family photographs. कुछ जो हम सबने witness किए, कुछ जो सिर्फ़ एक जने ने witness किए, लेकिन यह स्मृति हमारे समूह की ही है —the ownership of these memories lies with the collective. That’s probably what collective memories are.
A memory is a snowball of many things. Samarth's documentation, in its collection and remembrance of the sounds, smells, environment, ambient presence of people and beings is a portal to a moment in time. It helped us, our group of 25, remember Shaala as a vivid and rich moment in time - which leaves us with more than just a residual trace of what surfaced then but a more real feeling of being back there. Each member is able to see themselves at a poignant juncture during those three days, one that held personal value for them.
For Manish, the chief facilitator at Shaala, this was a powerful reminder of the impact of social arts in the context of facilitation - the position of storytelling not just as an ancillary task but as an intrinsic part of design, as something that adds to it. It also brought within our purview the latent third facilitator - the space, its physical, topographical and emotive qualities and how it is a vessel for the experience.
In parallel, there was scribing being done by each member for themselves. It took the form of a calligraphy strewn journal for one, and a beautifully rendered artwork by another. The dance between individual and collective experiences playing out here too.
In Samarth, who held this role for the collective, is the artist’s interpretation and discernment. A way of seeing that revealed to us a different articulation of Shaala in a new language. The choice of using a bilingual script, Hinglish as we use it in common parlance, was a conscious effort to bring a core design principle into the playback of the shared journey, to truly honour the group in its entirety.
The Scribe documentation sits with us in our present, in the now, to bind us not just as change makers on parallel journeys but as a people whose paths intersected for a brief period of time. It sits to remind ourselves of ourselves, a version of us - aspirational, comforting and at times catalytic.