Meena comes to Dornapal
By Siddharth Tripathy
Dornapal, Dantewada,: It was the night of 15th November 2006. As she slept on the floor of her one roomed house, Kumari Jyoti had no clue about what the next day had in store for her. The following day in class she was more than surprised to see new faces in the school.
One of the 1,878 children studying in the makeshift schools of Dornapal, Jyoti was as ignorant as her friends about the new arrivals. Timidly they clustered around the vehicles trying catch a glimpse of what lay within. When it was formally announced that UNICEF was here to celebrate a fortnight of creativity and fun with the children in Dornapal schools, Jyoti hid her face in her scarf.
An unheard of development in a place like Dantewada, the Child Rights Convention celebration was a tiny slice of fun and freedom for the children of this region who are subjected to the trauma of violence and internal displacement.
With a host of interactive programs, performing arts and fun games, ‘Gatividhi’ was one of the creative teams that had arrived. The trio of Ms. Rupa Singh, Mr. Bakhtiyar Khan and Pummy from Bihar, had their job cut out for them. In hardly a week’s time they were supposed to select children from the schools, train them and put up a ‘Meena Muppet Show.’ Developed on the plot of the popular animation film ‘Meena’ this play was designed to portray specific local issues of sanitation and health along with a central focus on gender equality. But more importantly it was a play to involve children and help them enjoy their freedom through a creative expression of theatre.
Before all that though, the most important challenge was that of language. The children here spoke and understood a local dialect called Gondi, something that the Gatividhi folks were unfamiliar with. It was here that their experience of working with children came in handy. As they unpacked their baggage, Mr. Khan suddenly announced before the scores of curious eyes riveted on him – “we are here to dance and play…those who want to join us can come along…” A full minute of silence…. And then a loud roar of ‘WE’.
Soon the children were running around the visitors, showing them the school, their books and perhaps their lives. Apprehensions melted like snow as the team of Gatividhi re-discovered an old truth – children communicate with love.
By the evening, Jyoti was helping fasten the ropes of the tent that would be their rehearsal room for the next few days. She was selected to play the role of Meena in the play. Much in semblance to the character of a bubbly Meena, Jyoti went home with an excitement that was difficult to contain. The words of a newly learnt song humming on her lips – Humri bahni chala mili juli Ka Kha Ga Gha padhi…(come sister, lets learn the alphabets together)
For all the eleven children selected to perform in the Meena Muppet show, the following week saw a rigorous routine of training from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. And yet not a trace of fatigue showed on their vibrant faces. Be it Jyoti, who played Meena or Priyanka – the parrot, their indefatigable spirits and sincerity encouraged Mr. Khan to rehearse hard for a twenty minutes long play.
The rehearsal-tent was always surrounded by kids who wanted to have a look. For all the other children not part of the play, a Meena Film Festival was screened throughout the day in one of the tents. Later on, when the toil of the day was reviewed, elements of local relevance were incorporated into the play. Basic ideas of cleanliness were rhythmically interwoven in a song, while laconic dialogues on the use of mosquito bed-nets were creatively added for the audience of a malaria prone region.
Nerves ran high on the final day when the performance was scheduled. It was the first time that students from the schools of Dornapal were putting up a play. Who would have believed that these were the same shy kids who merely a week ago had never heard of a theatre show, never seen a television, boarded a train or been to a place bigger than Dornapal. Now here they were, enacting a play, all by themselves before an audience that resonated with their performance. The students had so well rehearsed the play that they repeated the show on the valedictory function in the absence of their trainers from Gatividhi.
Clearly, Meena had arrived in Dornapal, Jyoti knew it. Whenever she walked through the serpentine alleys of Dornapal, she could hear her new name being whispered – Meena..Meena…Meena.