It has been 5 years since I was last in Varanasi, on the first Performers Without Borders tour. On returning, it feels like I have been away all those years and yet no time at all has passed – the same buffalo, cows and goats meander along the same dusty streets, the familiar greetings of “ Hello, boat?” as one strolls along the ghats. Some things I don’t recall so well– the 6 a.m bell ringing that marks prayer time in the small temple right beneath the guesthouse for example…surely I would remember something like that?
Yet life has gone on and the children we taught back then are now young adults. After the show at Asha Deep I was greeted by one familiar face, with a big smile “Imly, I am your oldest student, do you remember me? My name is Manish”. I remember a grinning 10 year-old trying stilt-walking, learning how to juggle and spin poi. Many of the faces I remember, the names I have had to re-learn though – as well as plenty of new younger faces, brimming with energy and eager to learn new things.
Our first week passed in a blur of props and games, learning names and recognizing faces. The older students wanting new things to do with the props that have become their favorites over the last 5 years, the younger ones completely over-excited at the sheer variety and amount of fun to be had with circus and theatre. I am continually impressed and amazed at how quickly skills are picked up, and how much the children want to practice. We are bombarded with requests to take props home so they can practice more – one girl spent 3 hours practicing the night she took a hula-hoop home. In the time
we’ve been here, one boy (aged 11) has learnt not only how to juggle 3 clubs, but also how to pass 6 juggling clubs between 2 people, and the day he achieved it without dropping any he told me with a big smile “ Today I feel very happy (that) I can do this”.
For me, these are the things that make doing projects like this worthwhile – happy children learning things that they are excited and inspired by. It is great to see them come out of their shells as the days go by. The girls, who would not even join in theatre games at first, are now (albeit rather shyly) volunteering to become the centre of attention for some games. The hugest grins on the smallest faces – usually accompanied by shouts of “Didi, didi, (sister, sister) look me, look me!” and a hula hoop whizzing round at lightning speed, or a juggling ball thrown high into the air (sometimes caught)– right up to requests for “Didi, you show me one new thing now please?” accompanied by a well practiced demonstration of what was taught yesterday.
Having just watched the first rehearsal of the schools annual performance (there’s dances, a play, jokes and of course, circus skills), I couldn’t be more proud that PWB has been part of helping the children at Asha Deep to become confident, creative and artistic young people, as well as talented performers.