Friday, October 8, 2010

Seven Khands

Anjali and Neelam run a school in Ranip for some of the local kids, which the kids themselves have named Patangyu ("Butterfly") School. The school is sort of like an after-school program where the kids (aged 9-12) are tutored but also do and learn holistically through activity, art, environment, and reflection. Yesterday both teachers were out of town so Nimesh and I filled in as substitutes. Nimo had a vision of doing a lesson about the world's geographic and cultural diversity. Expand the kids' thinking beyond their immediate surroundings to realize that there is a vast world beyond.

Every day at 5pm Patangiya school kicks off with a clean-up session. The kids sweep and organize their "classroom" which is basically a huge backyard and patio of a house which Anjali and the kids took over, located nextdoor to Jayeshbhai's house. After clean-up we gathered in a circle and said a prayer, and then introduced ourselves. There were about 8 kids. Nimo then kicked things off by asking everyone to describe where they were currently located. One by one the expected responses were thrown out: India, Ranip, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, Patangiya School. But no answer in terms of geography beyond India; it was as big as the world got. But then Nimo reminded about other places, like America. He pointed out that even bigger than countries there were continents. One of the kids said "Oh yeah, we are in Asia khand". Neither Nimo and I had heard the word for continent in Gujarati, but here was one of our students educating us. Yes, we are in Asia khand. Then there is Africa khand, Europe khand, North America khand, Australia khand, etc. There are seven khands across our earth. We showed them on a map and had the kids try and memorize them.

Then we had the kids grab paper and colors and draw a map of the world, anchored by the seven khands. They came up with some beautiful renditions. We had them carve out India from the blob they had drawn for Asia khand. Then within India, carve out Gujarat. Then, put a dot for where Ahmedabad is. Then, Ranip. A dot within a dot! Such a vast world, we are just a small speck of it.

After the drawings we brought the kids inside to show them some videos. Nimo began by flashing faces on the computer screen: black, white, asian. The kids had to guess which khand the person was from. It was funny hearing the kids yell out "Cheen" (China) for when a black face was shown. They loved guessing Cheen.

The point of showing the faces was to show how different people look from around the world. Then we tackled diversity from another angle, through a language they could easily understand: dance. Nimo had a bunch of videos of traditional/ethnic dances from around the world, and we showed them one by one. We asked the kids to reflect on the movements, even the clothing/costumes. Why were the people form Europe khand wearing so many heavy clothes, while the Africa khand people wore so little? It must be hot in Africa, and cold in Europe.

Finally Nimo ended with a video of Bob Marley's "One Love" performed by musicians from around the world. The lesson: unity in diversity, "Ek Prem". The world is so vast, there are seven khands, and we are just a blip on the map. And there are people of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and their dances are so different. And yet we are all part of the human race, we are all citizens of the globe.

I really enjoyed learning with the kids. I was most struck by their enthusiasm, their curiosity, their thirst for knowledge. I had an impression that kids in the Indian school system were sucked dry of those attributes through the emphasis on rote memorization, but it was alive and present with these kids. I also found the kids quite disciplined and well-behaved (as far as 10-year-olds go). And finally I was impressed by how they behaved and looked after each other as a family, brothers and sisters. All of the kids lived in a nearby slum. After class when they departed to walk home, the group waited for the last kid so they could walk together. Of course they had their inner fights and teasing and what not, but they also showed a lot of love and caring for each other.

I'm hoping to work with the kids more when I come back to India next time. One of the things some of us have discussed is teaching through sports, which I couldn't be more excited about. We are specifically thinking about soccer. It's a sport that doesn't require too many resources/space to play, is inclusive of girls, teaches teamwork and other skills, and is really really fun. Can't wait to kick it around with the kids some time soon.


  1. :) I love the "Khands".. Khands, i think, mean sections. I may be wrong.. but what a surprising way for the children to come up with that word. While reading, all i could do was smile :)

    And the idea of interacting with kids (including girls) via sports is a brilliant idea! India pulls you back finally :) :)

  2. The frequent Cheen guessing was hilarious. I can totally picture this happening, with some even doing it to make you laugh. Besides, its kind of just fun to say 'Cheen!'


  3. Hi Neil,
    My name is Cameron and I am a chef from Canada. I lived in Delhi for 4 years. I am very interested in your work with Jatan and organic farming. I am in the process of doing research on organic farming in India and food sovereignty, seed saving and people who are trying to preserve India's culinary heritage. I am planning my first trip to Gujarat and it would be great if we could begin a conversation about what you have encountered with your work etc in Gurjarat.
    My email is

    (not .com!!). I look forward to communicating with you.

  4. Thanks Neil for yet another beautiful story. Can't wait to see you on Wednesday. :-)

  5. I enjoyed reading this entry.. :)
    What a way to teach and learn.. and the "one love" ties it all so perfectly! (I love playing for change's version of 'stand by me'..).
    The school looks adorable from the picture :)

    -u.p. (as i sign on my blog :D )