The Art of Inspiring : Akanksha Foundation

It was this time, last year. My big 30th birthday. And I had got the best present ever, when I wrote this.

Akanksha, someone once told me the closest they can come to explaining that word in English is ambition. A quick search on the internet and you see words like ‘desire’ and ‘want’ explaining Akanksha. Desire and want, are about yourself, to me they sound selfish. Ambition, does have a slight negative tone, smelling of arrogance, lacking in soul. All of these perceptions, connotations, synonyms are lost though, the moment you see the amazing work that the Akanksha Foundation is doing in India.

If you have lived in India, and are remotely interested in NGOs working with children, chances are you’ve heard of them. I had too. And found it inspiring. And then I read about the founder, Shaheen Mistry’s journey in the Rashmi Bansal book, ‘I have a dream‘ and I was blown away! The determination, the belief and the simplicity in her thought “in today’s world, how can the idea of basic education be revolutionary?” was beyond inspiring!

IMG_1610 Art for Akanksha, is their initiative to provide the Akanksha kids an opportunity to get specialised education in arts. They design and produce a fantastic range of products and market them under the Akanksha brand. In my most precious birthday present until now, I got a chance to spend a day at one of their art workshops at their center in Worli, Mumbai.

Excited, my best friend in tow, I arrived earlier than most students and the teacher (their ‘didi’). Great start, I thought! I had some time and a few kids all to myself to chat with and get to know a little about the workshops, straight from the horse’s mouth! 🙂

So this was weekly class (saturday mornings), the bunch of kids came from different centres and age groups, depending their interest and inclination to art. They’d learnt a few art forms already (all traditional/folk art from India which they hurriedly ran me through… Madhubani, Ummm… Mehendi, Ummm… Warli, they went on!). The first class teaching any art form, is usually very basic and rudimentary, I was explained. They learn a bit of the history of the art form, where is comes from, how it is done, theoretically and once their impatience overtakes, they jump at the paper, color, scissor and dig deep into their minds for some innovative thinking! Class was now about to begin. It started with them running through the ‘rules’.

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The excited faces were soon told they’re going to be learning ‘block printing’. A little history and geography of block printing later, they were explained how it is done. Firstly, they needed a design. Jostling their memory (“can’t copy from anywhere”, one of them sheepishly told me), they started drawing on a piece of paper. Soon, there were flowers, leaves, cars, butterflies, bees, bugs, even spiders flying around in the room!

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Once the drawings (or ‘patterns’ as it was being referred to in class) was frozen, they drew it out on the reverse side of thermocole plates (‘not Eco-friendly’, their teacher quickly reminded them!). They would cut out the excess on the sides and ‘carve’ on their patterns with a blunt pencil. Precariously, with all their attention, not applying too much force on the pencil, to avoid make a hole into the plate, yet firmly enough for it to be ‘carved out’ well. Shouldn’t spoil it, shouldn’t need another one, not good for environment (or their pride! ;-)), seemed to be the thought. An hour later, they all had their carved stencils (the alternative to ‘blocks’) ready. An Akanksha alumni, assisting the teacher, started mixing the colors. They could pick the color they wanted. Single tone, or mix a few together. Wild imagination now at play, a few wicked smiles and naughty glints later, we had the red spider’s twin, the green spider next to it. There was the blue sky skyline and the purple cars. Multicoloured bees. A complete color blast!

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That was the end of class for the day. Quick wrap later, they were ‘graded’ on each of the ‘rules’ they had promised to follow. They scored best on the last one – ‘use your brain’.

‘Logic takes you from A to B. Imagination takes you places’ – Einstein said that, I have quoted it a few times, they made you really believe it! That was day one of block printing. They still had few more rounds of creativity and understanding the process, polishing the craft, before churning out a stunner that would go into the Akanksha store.

Mesmerised, enthralled and truly inspired, with a heavy heart, I said bye to them. ‘Ambition’, ‘desire’, ‘want’, I realized that day, can’t contain within them what Akanksha stands for. Akanksha, as I understood it that day, was creating an opportunity, working hard and making life worthwhile. I hope that I carry that Akanksha in me, always!

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