I had just finished a story telling session with students of class 5 and 6 in a school in Delhi. I love these sessions, as they end up giving me some really beautiful moments. In one such sessions, when I ran out of smily stickers to give to students who were participating in the post story-telling discussion, I started giving out imaginary stars. I just had to say, ‘I’ve run out of the stars, but guess what, I have lots and lots of imaginary stars to give…’. With that I threw a little star at the kid who had just answered a question, he promptly grabbed it and pocketed it. After this everyone enthusiastically answered questions and I generously distributed the imaginary stars to all the deserving kids. But then there are times when a student gently drops a star in my lap. A star so rare that normally people miss it’s glow.
It happened in a slightly older age group. These were students of class 4 and 5 in a school in Delhi. I was reading from Alice In Wonderland and we were all quite invested in Alice’s safety and progress. We weaved our way through tiny doors, a sea of tears and a talking caterpillars and then I stopped… The idea is to encourage students to read, To draw them into the world of books, to tickle their imagination enough to think out of the box. Quite a few hands went up when I asked if they will get the book and find out what happens next. At this point we opened a discussion about what is imagination, ‘Imagination’, someone said, ‘is a place that is only mine and only those I want can enter it’. ‘My imaginary wonderland’, another student said, ‘would have a tree which will make whatever anyone wants in their heart.’ But trees take water and minerals from the soil, oxygen and sunlight from the atmosphere to produce nourishment, what will your tree use?’ I asked. Dreams, imagination, laughter and love… the answers popped out like little bubbles of joy from the group.
At the end of the session, as other students filed out of the hall, A girl hesitantly came up to me. She said she too wanted to share something. She asked for permission to share it in Hindi. I said, go ahead. She was shaky, nervous, shy and after saying, ‘in my imaginary world…’ she lost her thread of thought. She apologised awkwardly and said, ‘I forgot…’. I was suddenly transferred to my school days. The invisible blackouts that would swallow all the words the moment I would stand up to speak in front of the class. The laughter and impatience of the class. I held her eyes. I let her know that I can wait. I silenced everything in me, even the words of encouragement that were impatiently pushing to bubble out. She struggled, her cheeks burned with the effort, she finally accessed her words through the shyness which had clouded them and said, ‘In my wonderland no one would bully anyone.’
‘She is an early bloomer’, her teacher told me. She has attained puberty ahead of other girls and is visibly awkward about the changes. She hardly ever speaks up in the class and has never volunteered to say something on her own.
In the short time I had with her, I shared with her my excitement about books, I told her that I was as shy as she is when I was her age… that the world of books was my safe and happy place. And that her wonderland where no one will bully anyone, is the best wonderland I have ever heard about, so she must visit it and spend sometime there whenever she feels unsafe. ‘Ma’am make friends even with Pakistan!.’ My young student said, incredulous at the suggestion, more so because of who it was coming from.
It is moment’s like these which bring home the joy of being and ‘influencer’, with In-Fluent Learning’s work with young people in colleges and schools.