I have always found it a good idea to put out there in the public domain any challenge that I am setting for myself. I find that it helps to keep me from making excuses and sneaking away later. That's why I've been giving statements in a couple of interviews last week about how I intend to write five books by the time I'm 40 ( 2 down, 3 to go and 6 years to do them, so that sounds do-able, right? Right!)
However, this one is a more short-term and somehow rather daunting one. It's the Happy School Annual Day challenge.
I told the lovely Mrs. Kamal Capoor ( who runs this wonderful institution for underprivileged kids where I volunteer on weekends) that I've been thinking of doing a little Zumba session for the kids in my class, rather than the regular story-telling and so on. I missed a couple of weeks of going to the school for a bunch of reasons, and when I landed up today with my laptop and music, I discovered that she would like me to prep the kids for a little performance for their Annual Day, on the 31st of March. I wasn't sure about whether I'd be able to do it given the limited time, but said I was willing to just give it a shot today and then decide.
She said she would arrange to have some of the kids come in, and while I set the music up, they trickled in. A rather enthusiastic, motley crew, I noticed, aged anywhere between 6-8. I recognised a few of them by name, but not most.
'Where are the others?' I asked them.
'Madam, they are in the other practice, Madam.' came the high-pitched reply.
Okay. Whatever. I figured it might be easier to just manage about eight or ten kids anyway. I finished getting the music ready. Their courtyard with its raised platform that acts as a stage had been cleared for my benefit and the other regular teachers sat around, looking on curiously.
The music started up. I figured that my original choreo to ''Gal Mitthi Mithhi Bol'' would be simple enough and yet peppy and fun. And so we started, me on the stage and the rest of them looking up at me bright eyed and eager. I got into the groove and within about three seconds realized this was going to be a disaster.
Mrs. Capoor was bustling about but I knew she was keeping an eye on things. The teachers looked more interested now, and a bunch of older students came and sat around to watch too. I kept the movements up, but I was fairly aghast at what I was witnessing down there.
This bunch of little children was the most uncoordinated I have ever seen in my life. When I went one way, half of them went the other. I raised my left hand, to indicate they should raise their right, and again there was massive confusion. Single-single-double moves became double-single-spin. I asked them to spin to the right, they went left. You get the picture, right? Absolute. Disaster.
I re-started the song, and decided to keep my back to them so that I was facing in the same direction. That, I thought naively, might cut out some of the confusion. I repeated the moves to the song, glancing backwards with some difficulty to see what was going on behind me. I caught sight of little Peanut's face, as she stood hiding behind a pillar, peeping out to see the performance. It reflected a mixture of horror and amusement. She caught my eye and grinned cheerily. I could see her mouthing the words ''All wrong, Mama!''
Luckily, at this point, we were interrupted by some heaven sent visitors from Saudi Arabia who wanted to check out the school. A wise decision by somebody was made that their well practiced Vande Mataram might paint a better picture for this worthy school in the international scene than the parody that I was leading. I said I would take one of the classrooms and practice there. At least we wouldn't have spectators here.
The little performers dutifully followed me into the room and I shut the door behind me. This was the nursery classroom and only two tiny children sat there, looking rather surprised by our entry. I realised that since everybody was preparing for Annual day, all the regular classes were on hold. The Grade 2 kids cleared the chairs to the side, keeping their chattering up.
'Okay.' I let out a sharp breath. 'Let's try this again.'
I worked with them on the steps over and over again. Their enthusiasm seemed to wane. Madam wasn't being that much fun today. This song was tough. The steps were too tough. I simplified the steps. Still too tough. Simplified further. 'Yes, Madam, this is easy, now can we go?' NO, I told them, show me the steps if you think they're all easy now.
After about fifteen more minutes of this, I was sweaty, tousled and clutching my forehead in despair. Peanut, having overcome her shyness in this more private setting was still inordinately cheerful. 'They are still doing it all wrong, Mama!' She informed me.
'I know that, I can see!' I snapped at her. I stared at the little devils. They stared back, some with eyes shining brightly, most looking like they were wondering what they had done to deserve this. I stood there, hand on my hips, thinking this just wasn't going to work out.
As if on cue, the door opened and Mrs. Capoor poked her head in. I looked at her beseechingly, and there was warmth and kindness in her eyes 'I know...I saw they are having some difficulty...you see, they aren't the best of the students.'
I looked at her closely. 'As in?'
'Well.' She said 'The other children have already got parts in the play, or other songs and dances...these are the ones who weren't selected for anything else...'
Aha. This was starting to make some sense. She said 'What I can do is see if there are some of the other kids who are more likely to get what you want them to do...at least then you'll have some...'
'No, Ma'am.' I made a random, impetuous decision. 'I'll work with these kids only. Don't get me any others, it will just mean more kids to manage.'
She smiled, her white hair glistening and she then quickly withdrew from the room, to go and manage something else that needed looking into.
I stared after her thoughtfully.
These were the kids that hadn't been picked for anything else. No wonder then that this had been a nightmare so far. But then - these were the kids that wouldn't get to be a part of anything if I gave up on them. No way.
I turned to them, steely resolve in my voice 'So, are we ready to try again?'
They looked at me dully, arranged in various positions, languidly hanging about the room except for one little boy near the front who was jumping in excitement - either that, or he had to go to the loo and was holding it in. My heart sank as I took their appearance in - they looked worn out and defeated and we had barely got even one of the steps right yet. No way were we going to be ready on time, even if I came in every single day.
As if in answer to my question, two of the children who were sitting on top of a round table suddenly crashed to the floor as the table tipped over, unable to withstand their combined weight. Immediately, the other kids surrounded them.
'Pagal hai kya?'
'TOLD you not to sit there.'
'Madam, yeh hamesha aise karte hai.'
'Practice time pe koi baith-ta hai, kya?'
'Nikaal do inko, Madam.'
'QUIIIEEEETTTTT' I yelled and everybody froze, including Peanut. I never used that tone in the classroom ( it is especially reserved for Pickle and Papad, usually). But this was serious now.
Unfortunately while I was about 2/3rds of the way into my yelling, the door opened and one particularly sweet-faced Saudi Arabian lady with her scarf wrapped around her head poked her head into the room. Her camera hovered uncertainly as she took in the scene, and I tried to make up for it by giving her a pleasant smile. She gulped a little and snapped a quick picture of us and then scuttled away. I growled a little under my breath and went over and shut the door tight, even bolting it from inside to make sure there would be no more interruptions.
'Now.' I barked. 'Do you guys want to do this or not?'
'Yes, Ma'am.' came the obedient reply from about three of the children.
'NOT GOOD ENOUGH.' I said. 'Did you hear what Kamal Ma'am said? You guys haven't got parts in the other performances. This is your only chance. Do you actually want to be sitting around and just watching the others for the whole day, or do you want to be in a performance.'
'Yes, Ma'am! Hum bhi dance karenge.'
'Well then I do NOT want to see you wasting time. I want to see you paying attention and doing this PROPERLY. And that means I don't want to hear any conversation or complaints about each other, you hear me?'
'Yes, Ma'am.' Stronger and more enthusiastic now. It seemed they were now realising that this was their only chance to get up on stage.
I saw one of the kids edging towards the door. 'WHERE ARE YOU GOING?'
He turned around trembling and I realized he was one of the two tiny 4 year olds who actually belonged in this Nursery class that we had taken over. He had his bag and his bottle and was apparently merely trying to leave for the day. Feeling a little foolish, I patted him on the head and unbolted the door to let him out. His remaining little classmate made a spot decision and fled with alacrity too. I shut the door again and turned back to practice with the now-pumped-up Grade 2 students.
A couple of hours later at home and after the indubitably unsuccessful practice session, I was complaining about the whole predicament to Vijay who had dropped in to pick up some stuff and grab a quick bite of lunch. His immediate contribution through a mouthful of food was 'Machhar Dance.' I drew myself up icily but he hastened to explain that I should just build in some random arm-flapping and get them to freeze at certain points. I'm not sure this can work, but I do know they are good at playing Statue - in fact, that's the only way I can get the class to quiet down during my regular lessons. How I can build it into a song where I'm going to just be watching from the sidelines, I don't know, but there must be some way. I will also need to work on the steps further to make them super-simple and easy to remember. The next day days are going to be interesting. And I know I can still say ''No'' and focus my attention, energy and time on some other projects, but it's just the next couple of weeks and by GOD, I think I can DO this. Step one has been to announce it on my blog.
Don't let me chicken out of this, guys.
P.S - Here's the list of participating students that I noted down today. I'm not sure why this is important, but you can send them positive vibes and loads of encouragement and pray that they actually get to go up on stage on the 31st of March.
Sunny (Just Sunny)
Gulfan ( who said it so softly and shyly, that I thought it was Toofan the first few times, but suspected it couldn't be the case)
Rishi (the bright eyed kid who was still jumping at the end)
Let's see how it goes, eh?