Sara: Writer, Dancer, Teacher….Soumi, how do you manage all your passions, and specially now staying locked inside?
Soumi: With so many avenues, accessibility to resources and connectivity, many of us are trying to pursue our passion with some purpose. Yes, I do keep spanning over writing, teaching writing and dancing. However, in the rapid-fire swing from one domain to another, I am left feeling being amid a chaos, most of the time. Yet, strangely enough, from that chaos evolves my creativity or the momentum for this mad rush. There’s a constant struggle to come out of one profile and step into another.
Nonetheless, I feel all these realms are interconnected. For example, for preschoolers, I include story telling through creative movement as a tool to imbibe the language. Similarly, for middle school, high school and adult writing programs, the art of language provides me a lot to choose from, to make a handy tool box for the writers. Teaching, writing and dancing are in the order of my priority now, although all three of them are equally close to my heart.
Well, the lock down has brought about an immense change in the medium. The virus has made us all virtual. Like all downsides are coupled with bright sides, the online platform has revolutionized the reach. I now have writing students from US to Aurangabad. As a dancer I performed virtually for a program hosted in Singapore along with artists across 8 countries. Nonetheless I miss the physical vibes of my students and my audiences.
Sara: Tell us about the concept you have created – The Chrysalis moment. What is it and can children apply it beyond learning to write?
Soumi: I truly believe art is magical. Just as dance and writing, teaching for me is also an expression of my core self. Every workshop that I design is like writing a creative piece or composing a dance piece. Be it the ‘Chrysalis Moment’, “Paint your Poetry’, ‘Art and science of writing’ et al. The underlying thought is to help the participants un-layer themselves and touch their core. I strongly believe creativity resides in our core, and if tapped rightly, it flows.
All my workshops are consciously designed to go beyond writing techniques. I feel these workshops are my means to make a difference. For example, one of my summer workshops for the middle school is designed on a book called ‘Wonder’ by R. J Palacio. This wonderful book redefines certain core values of life through the 10-year-old protagonist Auggie Pullman, who suffers form a rare genetical disorder of facial deformity. I picked up two prominent virtues from this story and now in the workshop I am deconstructing them with the children.
Just as a poetry or a painting would evolve for a poet or a painter, I eagerly await to see how my workshops evolve. The vibe of the children, the flow of their thoughts, their emotional journey with me add distinctive hues to my design. I love to keep my workshops free flowing. I do provide them with a grid but give the participants a space to flow freely within. It’s such a pleasure to see how unique each expression is. Picasso had rightly said, each child is an artist. I just provide them with a canvas. However, creativity too has an inner grammar. I try to help them structure their thoughts and make their words engaging and effective.
Sara: What do you feel about children writing stories? You have kids writing memoirs too. How do you make them keep it real?
Soumi: Every child has innumerable stories to tell. You just need to create a nonjudgmental space. And what pours out is distinctly different from one another. Due to digital distractions or reluctance to put in effort, some of them may not seem layered stories. However, if you facilitate and provide them with the right prompts, beautiful tales get scripted.
The memoir project is very close to my heart. Memories are the most important possession not only for adults but for children as well. Memoir
writing encourages children to comb the beaches of their past for their precious pebbles, with often brilliant results. And as a writer when they connect themselves to those small moments which made a difference, magic happens on paper. The excellent part is that they feel they are experts in the topic even before they start to write. Though some children have problems in
finding the right pebble but seldom in putting them together. The reason is they own the stories.
My experience as a facilitator has been immensely enriching as their experience range from the delight of an introvert stepping out of his shell and making his voice heard to the poignancy of death of a loved one. It’s amazing to see life through their lenses.
Sara: Do you think this lockdown has taught us something new about the younger generation and how they handle a crisis?
Soumi: No doubt, this overwhelming pandemic with social restrictions, online classes, indefinite hold on board exams, fear of the disease, have left them feeling isolated, anxious and uncertain. However, when I interact with my students, I feel this punctuated life has made them ponder on things which are deep and beyond their digital world. We saw this “ In the time of Corona” series of WORDPLAY, published under Sara’s ‘Gratitude during Covid’ series. It was heartwarming to see their discerning maturity and concern for the world around. It was also heartening to see how they have explored themselves and unearthed their creative selves, that many were unaware of.
Having said that, I feel the changed academic pathway may have life-long implications not only on their education but on their persona as well. As an educator, I am also deeply concerned about the children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. As always, they are worst affected. I also work with a small group of under privileged children. My heart sinks to say that in these three months learning has become a luxury for them and hunger, uncertainty and the dilemma of their parents whether to continue staying in the cities or return to their villages, have become their mainstay conversation. Of course, they do not have the infrastructure of remote learning as well. Still, I am hopeful that we can certainly find out ways to help these young minds fulfill the dreams.
About Soumi Duttagupta: Soumi is a communication specialist with 17 years of experience in writing and mentoring writers in Health Sciences companies. She has also co-authored a book on Clinical Research. Since last 5 years, she has diversified her writing career into the creative domain. She works as a Consulting Editor for a digital marketing agency, writes for a children’s newspaper and run her WORDPLAY programs. A dancer by passion, she practices and performs with the intent of bringing Odissi into a more inclusive space.
WORDPLAY is a collective of various writing programs that mentors writers across age groups to effectively express their thoughts in words.