Last week, five fellows of Goshtarang, a ‘reading writing enhancement programme’, stopped at Madhavrao Kane Prathamik, Madhyamik, Uccha Madhyamik Ashram School in Palghar district’s Devgav to perform three theatrical pieces based on children’s stories. The students of Class 3 and Class 4 sat in a circle creating space in the middle of a classroom for the performance of Mool Saarya Gaavacha, which is the Marathi translation of It Takes a Village by Jane Cowen-Fletcher. The story set in an African village on a market day had a smattering of Swahili and gibberish. Once it was over, students were curious to know the meaning of Swahili terms, such as ‘asante’ (thank you) that the play had used. Another student, during their post-show activity, wrote about his experience of getting lost in a market once.
For actor Geetanjali Kulkarni, who had directed this piece, it was “very exciting” to see how the students responded to the story. “They could relate to it. The idea was to introduce the students to a different language, sounds and cultural background,” says Kulkarni, who had developed Goshtarang (which means colour of stories) with Nilesh Nimkar.
The two other stories performed by Goshtarang at the Devgav school were Malachey Chandichey Painjan (written by Annie Besant and translated by Snehlata Datar) and Korika Naavacha Patanga (written by Sharada Kolluru and translated into Marathi by Vasudha Ambiye) — both directed by Kulkarni. This was the first outing for the new Goshtarang fellows — Pratiksha Kachare, Ram Saidpure, Vardhan Deshpande Mahendra Walunj and Rugved Soman. They for a year will create shows based on children’s stories and perform them at primary schools in rural and tribal areas of the state.
The Goshtarang initiative was launched in 2016 by NGO Quality Education Support Trust (QUEST) to make students of primary schools familiar with reading materials other than their textbooks. The programme was launched with local actors of Palghar. “We paid them some remuneration per show. We had a meagre budget. That year, we could cover around 15 ashram schools in Palghar,” says Kulkarni. Soon, they started getting requests to perform in other parts of Maharashtra, such as Pune and Konkan. That’s when the idea of having Goshtarang fellows came up.
“The fellows… are treated not only as actors but as educators. They get a monthly stipend. For a year, they perform shows and work with children,” says Kulkarni, who is part of award-winning movies such as Court (2014) and Mukti Bhawan (2016).
During 2018-19, the Goshtarang team toured 25 districts of Maharashtra and performed in 115 schools. Stories performed during this period are Kumpanachya Aat Kombda Oradla by Wasim Maner; Ek Thipka (The Dot) by Peter Reynolds and translated by Sharvari Patankar; Amchi Bhannat Gaay by Mahashweta Devi and translated by Vasudha Ambiye; Nina ani Manjar by Fatima Sharafeddin and translated by Ajit Pendse; Prawas by Swati Raje; and Ka Ka Kumari. “Travelling across Maharashtra has been challenging. The fellows, at times, went by buses or hitchhiked. They had to carry their costume. They have done tremendous work,” Kulkarni says. The year-long experience of travelling and performing at schools in rural areas is an enriching experience for the fellows, many of whom later on became trainers and directors themselves. “Several Goshtarang fellows have been working for children in different parts of the state and creating new work,” says Kulkarni, a graduate of National School of Drama.
This year, the Goshtaranga fellows will perform in 50 schools in Nashik and Palghar. They will visit these schools during two semesters. Each time, they will perform three new stories. The fellows, in the coming weeks, are travelling to Wada, Nandani Gaaygotha, Ambiste, Parali, Sapane and Vikrmagad among others..