• Tulika Publishers

The Goshtarang project: Q and A with Geethanjali Kulkarni

When we read about The Goshtarang project spreading awareness on reading using Tulika's books in very unusual ways, we wanted to know all about it!

This ‘reading writing enhancement programme’, as a part of the Quality Education Support Trust (QUEST), introduces books and authors to the tribal children using theatrical performances based on story books. So far, the project has covered over 25,000 children in 115 schools across 12,000 kilometres. We spoke to Geethanjali Kulkarni, the Project Coordinator of Goshtarang, about theatre, multilingualism and of course, our books.

1. How did Goshtarang come into being? We’d like to know.

Five years ago in the Wada Taluka in Maharashtra, young Balmitras from the QUEST, teamed up with some local artists from the nearby villages to perform children’s stories. One of them was Itku-Pitku, the story of two mice, performed using puppets. The group performed wherever they could, in schools, open spaces and on streets.

During one such performance, a little girl realised that the puppets were being manipulated from behind a screen. Intrigued by this, she watched the remaining performance from the side of the screen. Her curiosity overwhelmed us. That’s when we decided that we’d perform for the children in these villages every year. This was how Goshtarang was born. It is the brainchild of Nilesh Nimkar, the Director of the QUEST, and now I’m taking it forward.

2. We know children enjoy performances. Tell us about some of the positive and encouraging responses that you’ve had.

When I see the joy on the faces of the little children in these remote schools while watching our performances, I realise all over again why this is worth every bit of effort. The kids are transported to the world of stories! I remember, during the first year of the project, after a performance of Kaan-Kaan Kumari (The Why-Why Girl), children surrounded our actors and asked them to read it aloud once again. This was very encouraging for us! After a performance of My Mother's Sari, we conduct an activity, where actors drape saris on the children. Initially the boys feet shy, but when a male actor requests to drape, they are ready to do it!

3. You mentioned that these children do not speak Marathi. How do you overcome this problem and in what languages are the performances?

Many studies in the field of education have shown that in many States in India, including Maharashtra, children cannot read and write properly even when they are in the seventh or eighth standard. The situation is even worse in the tribal belts because many of these children speak a different language at home.They have no connection with standard Marathi used in their text books. So, they fall behind in both reading and writing. This affects learning and eventually, they drop out. So, as performers we use all kinds of dialects, to make Marathi accessible to the children. In the play ‘Kaan-Kaan Kumari’, we used local folk and Katakari, a language spoken by the local people.

4. You have adapted our books When Ali became Bajrangbali, My Mother's Sari, A Silly Story of Bondapalli and Our incredible Cow. How did you come to choose these books and do tell us about your experiences adapting them.

In Goshtarang, we perform stories for children from grades 1 to 7. So, we curate age-appropriate stories for the children. For the early groups, we use the text as it is in the book. Since the children in our areas are not regulars at such performances, their attention span is less. So we keep it simple, and read aloud the stories to them later.

For example, we use Sandhya Rao’s My Mother’s Sari translated by Snehalata Datar and Madhuri Purandare’s Father’s Moustache, as they do not include heavy reading content.

With slightly more textual content, the stories chosen for the older age groups are normally thought-provoking. Mahashweta Devi’s The Why Why Girl, Amchi Bhannat Gaay (Our Incredible Cow) or Jujja and Thomas Wieslander’s Mama Moo on Swing are some of the selected stories. Sometimes, we also adapt these stories. For example, we made 'Amchi Bhannat Gaay' a musical. It was quite challenging, but also the best experience! Shantanu, our music director and our fellows (actors) made it happen! Thanks to Tulika for doing amazing work, and for providing these books in so many languages.

5. Do you think theatre can overcome language barriers?

Yes, it can. Theatre is a live experience. It has the power to connect with the audience. The use of sound, movement and choreography together can give a sensory experience to the spectator.

6. Tell us about the format you use for your plays. Any special theatrical devices?

My colleagues Chinmay Kelkar, Prasad Vanarse and I, who have directed performances for Goshtarang, don't use sets lights or too much of recorded music. So, the actors' skill to tell the story becomes very important.

7. What are some of the other books/stories you have used that got a great reception?

A story like Don Kutryanchi Goshta makes them laugh, as they have a blast watching the actor play the role of a dog. They also want to jump around like the mice in Itku Pitku. The children get completely engrossed in the tricks of the monkey named Ali from When Ali Became Bajrangbali. Their eyes show sympathy for the blind Kanna in Kanna Panna and they always want to ask questions like Moyna in The Why Why Girl!

Our success is that a programme developed for reading and writing development, gives so much joy to the children. If we continue to receive this kind of response, Goshtarang will certainly make a name for itself in the field of education and children’s theatre in the coming years.

May 30, 2019