‘Lil’ moments of meaningfulness

Untitled-2 copyIt took him plenty of courage in that already fearful state of mind, to cross over and go to the outer side of the rappelling wall. It is at this point that one is supposed to lean behind as an initial step to climbing down the wall. It is at this point that the fear reaches its peak. As one participant child told me, ‘It felt like I would fall down and the back of my head would hit the floor!’ Although all the safety harnesses are used, and the participants are aware of that, fear finds its way. This boy, around eleven years old, already seemed too scared – most participants are, children and adults alike, when they climb those stairs which feel like they are floating in the air, with no walls around them. This, coupled with the widely prevalent fear of heights, makes the activity even more challenging for many, especially the first timers!

The moment he got himself to the outer side of the wall, he almost freezed there.  The technical expert tried encouraging him to lean back and start rappelling down, but in vain. Just when I started telling the technical expert to get the boy back inside, I saw tears in his eyes. We got him inside. I told him to sit, breathe and relax; offered him some water. It seemed liked he wanted to be alone for some time. So I started attending to the other participants, while constantly aware of the boy and how he was feeling. After sometime, I sat beside him, and we began conversing.

JBCN1We were looking at other participants doing the activity while we were talking. Almost everyone had that look of ‘I’m scared but I would like to be able to do it!’ on their face. I made him aware of how the initial part of leaning behind was scary for all of them, after which it got easier. He expressed his concerns and I explained to him how the safety gear that we use keeps us in total control and keeps them completely safe. Not once in the conversation did I ask him, ‘Would you like to try again?’ That didn’t feel right to ask at that moment. In fact, I told him that I’ll take him safely down the stairs if he wishes to do so. I reminded him that we had already decided earlier as a group that we would be following the principle of ‘Challenge by choice’* and no one would force him to complete the activity. I was quite surprised by the way I was dealing with the situation. It almost felt to me like I was being his ‘mum’ at that time, who was trying to make him feel safe and was trying to do the right thing for him at that moment.

A few minutes passed by while the other participants continued doing the activity. And then came that moment of magic! He told me that he wanted to do the activity, this time, with a lot more confidence in his voice. He got up. We helped him put on the safety harness. He crossed over to the outer side of the wall. No wonder he was scared! But this time, he did not freeze. With some encouragement from our side, he leaned behind and went down rappelling on the wall. I saw him from above when he reached the floor. With both his hands up in the air, he felt and expressed a strong sense of victory!

A few minutes later, almost the same story got replayed, with another participant. Only this time, when he finally reached the floor rappelling down the wall, he happened to say, ‘Hey, this was easy!’ – wondering, why was he so scared at all in the first place. Untitled-3While this was happening, one of the participants, who had mustard enough courage to climb those stairs after some initial hesitation, was standing there on the top for quite some time, looking at other participants doing the activity. She was the only one remaining.  I asked her, ‘Would you like to try?’ She said yes. And during that crucial moment when she had to lean back, she got highly scared and changed her mind. I told the technical expert to get her back inside. She almost rushed to go back down the stairs. I told her to wait, breathe and I accompanied her down the stairs. I tried telling her things like ‘It was quite brave of you to climb up those stairs and attempt the activity’. But I knew that nothing I would say would make her feel completely fine about the fact that she didn’t go ahead with it, while most others were able to do so. A few moments ago, when she was up there, on the outer side of the wall, I had a choice. I could force her down the wall (while ensuring her safety) and hope that it would help her overcome her fear and feel good about herself. But that would bring with it the risk of it becoming an experience that she would thereon associate with a state of ‘panic’, and may be, never ever attempt it at all. And this would not only defeat the entire purpose of the activity, but could also cause damage to her overall self-confidence.

The activity was over. I walked away from the wall with a lot of thoughts in my mind, but with an overall positive feeling in me, a feeling for which I haven’t yet found the exact word. A feeling that I would like to further explore in the years ahead. A feeling that may be the prime reason behind my current desire to be a part of more such experiences as a facilitator. A feeling that comes back to me every time I think of those moments – those ‘Lil’ moments of meaningfulness in which the power of ‘Challenge by choice’ came alive!

Nikhill (raahi)

* This experience was a part of the three-day camp for a school organized by ‘Kshitij – Redefining Fun’. At Kshitij, we try and add value to the lives of participants by using a methodology called ‘Experiential Education’. One of the key principles we follow is ‘Challenge by Choice’, wherein the participants themselves choose the way they want to participate in a particular activity and the level of challenge they would like to attempt. It has been observed that learning that happens in this way is more effective and ownable than in a situation where the participants are reluctantly made to do an activity on someone else’s terms.

 

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The First Step in Nature’s Bounty

Perhaps the happiest weather of all time is Monsoons, which is exactly why we feel happy, cheerful and colorful in this season. The nature is at its best, bestowing upon us its green bounty, hours of drizzles and chilling fog. Most of us, hang out with friends, visit new destinations, try new savories, and sinfully indulge in eating and shopping sprees in these months. Monsoons bring with them an eclectic freshness which is too contagious! It spreads happiness like fire. Inspite of being loaded with our busy schedules, we give in to those moments of laziness and enjoy a hot cup of lemongrass tea watching the rain droplets slide down the window. We want to sing, we want to dance, we want to experiment, we want to push our boundaries, we want to discover ourselves, there is so much we want to do all the time. As adults we can choose to do any of these anytime we wish. But have we ever thought of opening up the gates for our younger ones??? Imagine seeding the idea of self discovery and contentment in the raw, untamed brains??

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Kshitij World, a social organization from Mumbai attempted to do the same in July 2014, over three treks to Lohagad, Lonavala with almost 120 kids, as a part of their annual program called as the Kids Club. Kids aged seven to fourteen from all over Mumbai participated in the trek. The kids left Mumbai by 6:45 in the morning, on their official day of rest! Looking adorable in their brightly colored rainy wears, shoes and have-a-sacks, they looked ready for a mission. The banter never ceased all through the bus journey, but the kids were disappointed at the early morning traffic on the expressway. The weather favored them with loads of rain and scenic beauty all around, but the never ending expanse of cars seemed to go on forever. The mad race to reach Lonavala and Khandala for the weekend seems to have gripped the Mumbaikar’s pretty tight! Munching on their sandwiches and singing songs all along the way lightened the long hours it took to reach the base village.

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Lohagad, situated at a height of 3389 feet from the sea level, is known for its Strength and Sturdy appearance. Various dynasties have ruled the fort right from Satavahanas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Yadavas, Bahamanis, Nizams, Mughals and Marathas. Lohagad is one of the best trekking locations for first timers. Lohagad is quite near Mumbai and Pune both, thus causing a great deal of public attraction for families and youth.

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The kids reached base village and halted for some tea and coffee break. Plenty of small waterfalls invited people to have fun, thus leading to a lot of crowd at the base. Several cars and traveler vehicles made it difficult to progress further in the bus, so the kids had to start walking quite before the regular start point. What a pleasant sight it was to witness a huge troop of 40 kids at one go, stand in a queue and start footing the mighty mountains of the western ghats. Rains and red soil, slippery pathways, dense bushes guarding the tracks and rains blurring the view in the front added to the thrill and excitement. Organizers had divided the trek into 5 stages and the flag on the fort was the final accomplishment. The curiosity of the kids knew no bounds so as to what was up there on the fort, how many kilometers was the trek, why was the fort built , and the constant question – how long would it take to reach to the top etc??? It pained to see the younger generation, physically challenged! Not in the literal sense, but imagine an 8 year old boy complaining of leg pain after 10 minutes of hiking isn’t really, rather shouldn’t be acceptable! Girls squeaking at the sight of their branded shoes getting drenched in mud and requesting to wash them with the only drinking water they had !!! It was just astonishing to think, has easy access of every basic necessity pushed us away from basic life skills??? Certainly kids aren’t to be blamed, they are kids after all ! Nonetheless, the kids showed their true spirits and abided by their instructor’s constant motivation and encouragement. Inspite of the arduous walk uphill, the kids completed the climb in three hours, some falling , some getting dirty and some panting! The beauty of the hike was constant and ever increasing. Far away from the worries of their homework and tuition’s, the kids slowly began to loosen up and savour the pleasure of walking amidst nature.

For them, it was the first experience in wilderness. They never knew places like these existed. They never knew they could push themselves so hard to achieve a goal ! The rays of hope on their faces on seeing the fort nearing , was an expression to die for ! They learnt to share their space, water and food ! They learnt to help each other, they learnt to trust others! They cared for their partners. They learnt to let go! The kids fabulously marched through mossed stones and cold rivulets, dodged water falls and balanced on uneven rocks! Nature came to rescue and all the stored energy came to power. After reaching the highest point, a sense of victory overshadowed their tired bodies and hungry stomachs! Their faces glowed in the happiness of their first conquer! The chilly winds and razor blade rains couldn’t dampen their mighty spirits.

Shivering with cold, they posed lovingly for photographs, eager to tell the tales to their mothers! A pure moment of bliss, a walk through the rains, a walk through the wild, a walk to remember and memories to cherish for years to come! Does the journey end here??? No, absolutely not…. It’s the beginning of the Travel for them. It’s the beginning of self discovery and learning. No one teaches as better as Nature. These kids were lucky to get to put their first step forward at a very tender age. It’s never too late to begin to travel and take that quintessential walk in the rain.

Get up and get started. Monsoons will accompany you!

– Dr. Charmi Gada ( PT )

4th August, 2014.

A stranger in the Mirror

Stranger

Often we hear people saying “Walk into someone else’s shoes, and then check out, do you fit in??” This holds true aptly, when it comes to Theater! Thinking of the term ‘Theater’, what does it actually mean??? We see various characters around us each day, on screen as well as off screen! Many a times, an absurd display of behavior by a friend raises a question, is he alright?? Then simply imagine, what kind of an experience it would be, to play something that is externally fed to your brain to memorize, heart to feel and gestures to express!

Oh, it isn’t really that complicated. Theater is a bare, naked form of expression. Possibly a very strong one, if used efficiently. Theater gets you into a world of its own. It’s very similar to daydreaming, with a slight difference that in here, you have to express those dreams using your body language, gestures, expressions, voice, tonation etc. Theater is a form of art that ignites a struggle within yourself. There is an immense force of the character you perform which over powers your entire self. The force demands so much from you to be someone fictitious! It might seem paradoxical in nature, but after one goes through the entire churning process, you realize the learning has so much to do with your everyday life. There is this mountain of self confidence that you feel and the stage fear seems a blurred image of the past. Your perspectives widen towards each new bend as after hours of rehearsing the scenes from every possible angle, and finally zeroing down on the  one chosen by the director, is hard to follow because that’s where ‘the ME’  factor in you peeps in! This brings about an immense self control, as on stage, you are going to be held responsible even for others, and now comes into picture the Responsibility! Unknowingly, learning begins to develop- you become more observant. You begin to notice those slightest of the gestures, that flicker of expressions and that change in one’s tonation! Be it real or reel life, you realize how crucial a significance it carries in your routine!

Exploring this form of Expression, may not necessarily drive you for an actual performance on stage, but the fun you will experience in grooming yourself about tales, narration, history, lights, make up, nine rasa’s of expression, voice modulation, teaming up with others in the group, yearning for a better performance, indulging yourself in your character till the limits of bipolarism, and rehearsing till you can’t take it anymore!

KID’S CLUB – SECOND EVENT:- WATERFALL TREKK TO KONDANA CAVES

After the successful commencement of our latest venture- The Kids Club, Team Kshitij was all geared up for the event listed under the month of July. With the way, monsoons were progressing, we were sure, the much anticipated Waterfall Trek to Kondana Caves – built in the late 200 B.C, would be full of fun for all our kids in the club. The trek was announced and soon all the preparations started gaining momentum. Much to our surprise, we got an overwhelming response with 72 confirmations! The footage in Mumbai Mirror generated more inquiries, but certainly we were booked to our limits, so we tried to squeeze in as many as we could.Image

On 28th July, 2013 both the buses started on the dot as per the scheduled time, and we reached our destination- base village : Kondiwadi via Panvel , in about three and half hour’s time. Since the kids already knew each other, they had a gala time during the bus ride, playing games and munching on snacks together. The trek commenced after a breakfast on idli and sandwiches with hot beverages. It was amazing to see a huge line of 72 kids waiting to be with their friends and yet obeying the guides for the formation of groups. Approximately nine kids per group, and we had eight groups with us, each headed by a Kshitij volunteer.Image

Tiny, cute little kids as they appeared in colored raincoats and their sacks on their backs, worried about their shoes getting dirty in the mud, and remembering their mother’s instructions to not spoil their clothes!! What responsible behavior they sported… Amazing!!! Walking in pairs, the kids began their first expedition into the wild. Full of curiosity, with what lay ahead of them, they forgot all their tender worries about school, homework etc. They all had only one question on their minds- where are the waterfalls?? When are we reaching the caves?? Lush green forest, slippery muddy paths, rains all the way, crossing tiny rivulets, helping each other and saving themselves from falling, understanding the laws of nature, step by step the gang made it to the Buddhist caves which had Chaityas, Viharas and stupas to boast of. The falls were mighty and abundant, full of force with breathtaking icy cold water ready to relax everyone! What a pleasant sight it was to see the kids enjoying in their groups. Though tired with an hour’s hike and their stomachs now growling for food as the lunch time approached, none of the kids showed any signs of impatience and pleasantly trotted on the way back, eager to change into a fresh pair of clothes and fill their bellies! All the mommies would have been stunned to see their tiny tots dress up and pack up dirty stuff neatly into plastic bags! Some even learnt to tie their shoe laces on the way up to the caves! How happy they were to be appreciated for this new effort by  their guides. Hot food, yummy rasgullas and lemon juice satiated the young hearts as much they fueled their tummies.

The way back home took a little longer due to the constant traffic right from Karjat to Vashi – but the mighty spirited kids, unaffected by the tiring day and honking horns, continued to have fun and joke- entertaining even our team and feeling so happy about being acknowledged! Everyone reached home with content hearts! Team Kshitij got overwhelming appreciation texts and mails from parents about how their kids had a great time! That is when the team smiled – The task taken at hand had begun fulfilling…. The Kids Have Begun Exploring…. Experiencing…Exploring….Image

MONSOON FESTIVAL: DESTINATION : SAPUTARA

Warli PaintingSaputara is getting ready for a month-long ‘monsoon festival’ to attract tourists from across the state and neighboring Maharashtra starting from August 3.
For those wanting to experience the ultimate adrenaline rush in the surroundings of the exotic hill station, the adventure park spread over 20 acre land on Governor’s Hill, also known as Table Top point in Saputara, is the place.
Tourists can enjoy more than 13 adventure sport activities, including the 300 and 450 meters long Zip Line passing atop the Gira water fall, zorbing, ground obstacle and high rope obstacle, tree walk, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, ATV tours, tracking, etc.
MapOfficial sources said that the monsoon festival, being organised jointly by the Dang district administration and the state tourism department, will be inaugurated on August 3 amid the presence of tourism minister Saurabh Patel.
Rope WayA series of programmes, including sightseeing of some of the most picturesque locations such as Gira falls, Waghai botanical garden, Governor’s Hill, sunset and sunbath point, etc. and the cultural and rain dance programmes have been organised. Tourists will be taken on the monsoon walk on the serpentine roads to enjoy the mother nature in its full bloom.

A walk in the rain…

Finally the clouds have blessed the city, pouring down their showers on us. The cool breeze, freshness in the air, the sweet wet fragrance of the soil, children playing in the water filled potholes, paper boats, roasted corn and a cup of hot tea! What else can describe the season better???

Just the feel of it makes you want to go out in the wilderness, more close to nature, listen to those raindrops crackling on the dried leaves and see the forests changing color to a brighter shade of green! It indeed has a calming effect on your entire being. All the daily hassles are forgotten and replaced by a serene calmness. Does it really matter what age you are to be one with nature??? Guess, it doesn’t! Probably that is why when in woods, adults seem to become kids and kids seem to understand the philosophy of life! Such an irony and yet so true!!

At times we have no clue what nature has in store for us! We are blessed to see such bright, lively colors on flowers, insects, even the grasses!! Bond over again with your friends and family over a walk in the rain rather than a cup of coffee in a café and notice the difference it makes! Take that chance and walk! Talk to yourself, talk to each other, talk to nature!! You don’t need a holiday to plan this, a couple of hours on a random Sunday will be enough!! Kshitij is all set to take this walk in the rain! Are you???

In the laps of Himalayas…

 Almost a fortnight long camp was the highlight of this summer. As anxious as we were about the outcomes of the camp to Shama RamGanga, Uttarakhand with a group of 29 kids along with Maitri group (Borivali, Mumbai) ranging from 10-18 years, the success of it was well proven by the happy faces of all the participants throughout the journey. The journey in itself began with 36 long hours to reach the first destination: Corbett! Having retired in the cottages at night, the next morning started with a trek and bus journey to next venue: Ranikhet!


Aww gaped from every child’s mouth seeing the beautiful cottage of Ranikhet which were to be their quarters for next day. Refreshing juice of the Buraans (Rhododendron) flower quenched their thirsts every time they were tired! Local plantations, first long trek for 5kms, visit to the village temple and games at night kept the kids active all the while. And then began a bus ride to the next destination: Shama, a heavenly abode for the city-ites! The scenic beauty of the region was extremely pleasant with a lot of butterflies in the stomachs due to the ghats, but nevertheless, playing antakshari for 6hrs kept boredom away! 

Finally the baggage was dumped into a ramshackle garage, carrying stuff that would last for 3 days, the kids began climbing higher towards the Gyandhura Village located at a height of 8200 feet above the sea level! It was during this climb that they realized how vital the air is for sustaining! Tiny tracks lined by scary valleys at the edge were a marvelous sight. With all their might the kids trekked to their cottages… the pride of Shama! Once in the dining area, all the tiredness was washed off merely by looking the giant of Himalayas surrounding us. Seeing Nandadevi, Nandaghat, Trishul immediately brought geography textbooks in front of the eyes! No words would be enough to actually describe their might and beauty!

 

Shama stay was packed with never-done-before activities like Hay stack building, Earn-ur-meal, Egg Hunt, Present the location, entertain the locals and of course the campfire each night before the day ended! 29 aspiring enthusiasts with their heads high trekked for 15kms in the jungles of Shama without a single hurdle to stop their steps. The kids were amazingly supportive for each other and extremely careful! Guess it’s natural for all of us to get tamed in the demands of nature!

 

But as the itinerary would have its way, we had to move towards Nacchni for couple of days to enjoy water adventures! Resembling a base camp in every sense, passing through a metal bridge, staying in tents, the cold waters of the RamGanga river gushing by the side, swimming and body surfing in the mighty river and an inviting net in place for beach volley ball… what else would the kids have asked for??? The only lights at night were that of the moon and stars and that is when a kid came up to say “We waste so much of electricity each day”!! Nacchni was power-packed with the group divided in three teams for Mountain Bicycling, Kayaking and Slithering. The kids wouldn’t come out those cool waters inspite of such a strong current! None of them complained of their sim cards and earphones been taken away for almost a week now! Happy realization dawned: Life without screens is possible!!

 

The last of our destinations was Mukteshwar who welcomed us with chilly winds due to rains! The campsite couldn’t have been better than what we had. Apple plantations all around, with lovely flowers planted all along the tracks, the colors of nature surprising everyone with each step towards the massive tents well protected from the cold! Next day the kids did rappelling, rock climbing and flying fox. The adrenaline rush was felt right from the youngest to the eldest member in the group! Overcoming all their fears, may be for height, water or fall, the kids made sure that all their friends participate in each activity, boosting the ones who were hesitant! The sportsmanship spirit was indeed remarkable!

 

The camp came to an end but the journey continued… On the way to Kathgodam station, dinner was arranged at an South-Indian restaurant and to every one’s surprise the tiniest one in the group commented “We are eating with the lights and AC’s on after ages, it seems so out of the box after all these treats in Nature” . That is when Kshitij smiled, having served its purpose. 

 

Having a life full of amenities and hundreds of options even for basic necessities is freakingly awesome, but sticking to basics of simplicity is where all the fun lies in. The respect for resources, the willingness to preserve them and their proper utilization is all that nature would like in return for his extravagant gift to humans – Life!!

 

Thus the journey continues…from being in the laps of Himalayas… to the countless memories running in our minds, waiting eagerly for some more sun’s to shine…