In one of my favourite films, Before Sunrise, the protagonist believes that we are all tiny fragments of a bigger soul. That may be why our similarities unite us and our differences, well, make us interesting. The optimist sees a glass half full, the pessimist sees a glass half empty, a realist sees water that he can drink, and a mysophobe sees a used water glass. Essentially, we are all looking at the same water glass, but how differently we react to it.
Surekha’s biggest strength is her ability to capture small stories in the big canvas of life. And that is exactly what she set the children to do in their sessions with her. What united all of them was the city that they lived in and how it had grown on them so much that they could now walk past it without being aware of its existence. And what made it fascinating was how each of them connected with the city so differently. Some liked its malls, while others its serene parks. Some liked the countless shopping stores, while others liked the people behind the counter. She set out to bring out these small quirks and remind us that we all carry stories within us, stories that are ours, no matter how inconsequential it may seem to others, stories that make us so interesting.
She set them on the task of making a list of places in Bangalore that they connected with, challenges of Bangalore that they felt strongly for, history of the city that made for interesting anecdotes, and of course, their own personal stories and observations in the city. She let them pick the best ones for their 1×1 canvas.
It was hardly surprising that they were quick in listing the challenges faced by the city. But while others were talking about pollution, overpopulation, bad roads, inconvenient bus services, Anmol, a quiet, reflective child began to toy around with something far less evident. “You know how you see someone every day and they become part of your life even though you don’t know them, and you realize it only when they are gone? I’m thinking of the flower sellers and the vegetable vendors. There are definitely fewer of them around probably because a supermarket is more convenient. The background to my picture will be dark and hazy, just like their future. I’m going to blur out their faces because it feels like they have lost their identities in this big city.”
While many were working on the challenges, few of them found interest in other themes. Remember how they say happy stories hardly make good movies? Yes, that’s probably why our history books are so bloody. But with passing time, it is hard to think of history without associating it with wars and freedom struggles. So it came as a complete shock to me when Gokul decided to pay tribute to the dying art of Yakshagana in his work as part of the history of Bangalore. “It’s one of the famous dance forms of Karnataka. At one time, it was very popular in Bangalore. But now, we see it only during Dusehra celebrations or Independence Day parade. I saw it two years ago in Rangashankara and it has stayed in my head ever since.”
With so many stories emerging all around us, we needed to find a thread that could weave them all to one tapestry. And that tapestry came in the form of a life size snake-and-ladder board game. Each of the canvases became a number, a part of the board, the challenges pulling us down, and the progress taking us forward. But in the end, all of it was required to complete the board.
We are all, indeed, tiny fragments of a bigger soul. And that is the soul of the place we live in, which makes us who we are.