This was the beginning of the workshop. 29 decorous and well-behaved children from Latika Vihar, all gathered to see what this white haired fellow from New Delhi might have to say. Dunu is the Foundation’s oldest friend (his mother was Latika Roy) and a constant source of inspiration and provocation to us. We had asked him to come and do a session with the kids which would encourage curiosity, thought and creativity.

Shaila Brijnath (in lime green on the right) was the force behind the event, but having never met Dunu, she wasn’t sure what to expect. I just told her to be prepared to have most of her comfortable ideas about children and education and learning exploded.

Anyway, back to the kids. There they were, as you see them, all neatly lining the walls, quiet and decorous, like I said.

But the numbers kept growing. Usually when there are a lot of kids in one place, the atmosphere gets raucous and out-of-control.


Here, the numbers increased steadily (we ended the day with 65 kids in the room), but the interest and attention stayed steady too.

Dunu has this magic. He is 62, but kids behave with him as if he is their contemporary. He asks them to speak and then he listens to what they have to say.

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And as the workshop went on, the excitement grew and the boundaries got more and more blurred. The kids moved in closer, the answers tumbled out faster, the fun increased.


His method was fascinating. He had designed a series of posters with an overlay on top of each one, out of which he had cut windows. As he spoke, he would open a window, revealing an image which he then asked the children to describe.


In this one, for example, he first revealed a sign reading “JAIL”. So he asked the kids what a jail was, who went to one, why they went there and how they could get out. The kids gave all the usual answers about thugs and goondas and thieves and murderers.

Then he opened another window, showing who the “criminal” was – it was none other than Ravi! (The “jail” was a mock one we had set up at a Latika Vihar mela some years earlier, but for the purposes of the exercise, it was perfect.) So that led to a discussion about criminals and the police and who decides which is which.

Other pictures were simpler – a child who seemed to be standing alone, but when the window opened further, she was seen to be in a group of friends flying kites.  The final poster, which Dunu had drawn himself, was amazing. Each window opened on a different child: a baby sleeping in a basket, another baby crawling, a child sitting with a book, another one reaching out to someone and a last one playing with a hoop. With each opening, the children offered their theories about what the child in the picture was doing and why he was or wasn’t happy doing it.

But when the whole poster was displayed, the scene was entirely different! It turned out the whole thing was taking place on the second floor of an open building site. The baby in the basket was  all alone, the crawling child was about to plummet two stories down, (Mom was sitting some distance away cooking a meal)  the child reading was sitting right on the edge of thesite and the child reaching out was handing bricks to a woman taking head-loads up the ladder. The only child they got it right on was the one playing with the hoop. But in the face of the whole scene as now revealed, his fun didn’t seem so much fun after all.

Dunu’s point was simple: people need to be shaken out of their complacency. We all think we understand what we see in front of our eyes. What we need to remember is that what we see is just one tiny corner of what is really happening.  We need to wake up. We need to ask questions. We need to think.

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  • Nicola

    The thoughts within those amazing faces in the second photo could fill a book. Isn’t it absolutely wonderful – when one human being sparks all that in others! And to be able to elicit that in children is a precious gift indeed.

    And yes – to understand that what we see, what we think we know, is only the smallest part of the story: isn’t that a giant step in being truly human? The asking questions comes a little later. First: the recognition that there is something more, something hidden, something other, in the person that we see before us. And to respect that, and to value it. If we can discover all this with encouragement, in security, that carries its own delight. Then it is safe for curiosity to blossom, to begin to ask the questions. And, in a glorious tumbling together of all these parts, comes wider exploration, the fully human growth, the relationships …

  • Shaila Faleiro

    What a fantastic concept to talk about and what a fun way to approach it!
    Jo, if you scheduled programmes like this for kids during the summer holidays say, your fans could bring their kids (ok I could bring Raoul) and feel good about giving them a real education…

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