Torchbearers of change

Anukriti Sharma
Wednesday, 14 June 2017

To see how students and their experiences can bring about a transformation in society, watch Gerish Khemani and Harsh Desai’s play Ripples

We have our qualms about the education system of our country. And there’s good reason for that. Rote learning, lesser involvement in extra-curricular activities, the pressure to secure 99.99 per cent and so on do not lead to a healthy education system. Also, the teacher-student communication shouldn’t be a one-way traffic. Students too can have an impact on teachers and be the torchbearers of change.

Gerish Khemani and Harsh Desai have written a play Ripples, which emphasises this point. Taking inspiration for their play from a 1920s book Divasvapna written by pre-independence Indian educator Gijubhai Badheka, Khemani is now trying to send out a message that students and their experiences are legitimate sources of knowledge. And teachers are catalysts that tap into those reserves but don’t always know the answers.

Talking about the plot, Khemani shares, “It is essentially a journey of a teacher in Mumbai called Abhijeet who is going through an existential crisis. He is divorced and wants to leave behind urban life. This thought prompts him to move to a small village in Maharashtra where he teaches English to students. He walks into the class with this revolutionary wheel of engaging the students and using practical methods of teaching. In his class, he has two girls and three boys, each one with a unique personality. One is a class clown, another is the poetic kind, another kid belongs to the lower caste and has some sort of angst in him, one has a spiritual inclination and the last but not the least is the new girl Prajakta who is feisty, forthright and spontaneous. Keeping in mind their personalities, he brings texts like Kabuliwala or excerpts from Godfather to guide them.”

The play, which is a mix of two languages — Marathi and English, aims to ask relevant questions on teaching and learning methods and delves deeply into the imaginative consciousness of students and teachers. It also tries to portray students and teachers together on a journey of self-discovery, mutually shaping and re-shaping the lives of each other.

Khemani divulges, “You can experience the kind of impact these students too have on Abhijeet and how literature is not just about what you read in textbooks; it is also about the lessons you learn in life. In the play, you can see the teacher stepping into a completely different community and slowly and steadily trying to bring about a change.”

While Khemani works on a play that highlights the quirks in every individual, what does he think of our education system? He points out that the student-teacher ratio is really disproportionate and how we have a flawed  approach to consider students as a homogeneous entity.

He says, “Learning is supposed to be a very intimate affair. We have a lot of systematic flaws and lack engaging personal interactions. How many schools actually have these activity centres or are trying to teach kids through role-playing or art besides using the textbooks as a tool to impart education?”

Further discussing his love for theatre and how entrepreneurial skills are also required nowadays to reach out to the masses, Khemani says, “Of course, there must be a passion for telling a story live in front of people. Even the ambience makes a lot of difference since each performance can be different from the other. In fact, now with the rise of alternative theatre coming up, there is a leeway to create new kind of work and pushing boundaries. But along with creative outlet, a person  needs to know how to sell the show and must have a business acumen and entrepreneurial zeal as well.”

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