Srinagar: On the terrace of Vishwa Bharti school located in the interiors of Rainawari, Shahnaz Bashir, novelist and professor, sits in the middle of about 30 kids, all below 15 years of age. He asks them, at different intervals, questions. “What is creativity, literature? What is the short story, fiction? Construct story on ‘Houn sund dil (heart of the dog).”
Outside the group stand Dr Arif, a psychiatrist, Iliyas Rizvi, a physician who has just completed his studies, Nitasha Rather, social activist and co-author of ‘Do You Remember Kunan-Poshpora, and Shuja, a management student. Among the kids who responded to Shahnaz’s questions, some stayed silent, other seemed absent-minded. Dr Arif notices these patterns.
Kashmir Youth Arts Initiative (KYAI), a group funded by an Australian national, had brought the kids and Shahnaz together in a workshop titled ‘mashki zamistan’ (writing in winter ) to promote its mission of working for underprivileged kids. In the summer of 2016, KYAI had decided to work in downtown because kids had to stay indoors due to the restrictions imposed by the state government.
Helana, an Australian national and the founder of KYAI, told Kashmir Reader through email that the downtown is always at the forefront of an uprising, so it requires a different approach to healing the hurt. The artistic outlet for the youth has been very well received, Helana said.
Since 2014, KYAI has been organising workshops of painting, theatre, photography, to help the kids. In downtown, four workshops have been organised at Islamiya school, the first Muslim-run modern school in the Valley.
“In all these workshops we have identified fifteen kids with distress problems. The worst cases were of an epileptic and a cancer patient whose parents did not know about them. Almost seven of them have fully recovered; six, and the cancer diagnosed patient, are recovering gradually. KYAI also paid the cancer patient half of the amount that costs for his payment,” said Dr Arif.
At the end of the workshop, Dr Arif circulated a questionnaire of 20 questions among the kids. He asked them about sadness, pessimism, loss of pleasure, punishment, etc.
“Once I get it, I will compare it with my observation of their responses to the questions of Shahnaz. Then one-by-one I will interact to understand them better. Whosoever will be diagnosed, KYAI will contact their parents and process of their treatment will start. We leave it to them whether they want us to treat them,” said Dr Arif.
According to Ilyas, KYAI aims to diagnose the kids through its programmes, which are rarely held in the historic but lesser known schools of old city (downtown), but Islamiya and Vishwa Bharti schools are exceptions. In one of the previous workshops, KYAI had invited Arshid Mushtaq, an established theatre artist, for training the kids.
“In a theatre workshop we identified distressed kids through their acts, in photography, too,” Ilyas said.
Besides enhancing their skills, Ilyas said, the workshops uncover the children’s hidden talents. Shuja who voluntarily functions as the coordinator of KYAI, was inspired to join KYAI at one of its workshops where she was a participant.
The KYAI volunteers, all of whom are students, have now planned a writing workshop on weekends for this entire month.