Teaching the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi is the programme Spin a yarn – self and society, which acts as a learning tool in schools.

The dance gathered momentum as enthusiastic students, with handkerchiefs tied to their fingers, got carried away with the music. Dance master Kannan Kumar demonstrated the steps of Oyilattam. It was their weekly session of ‘Spin a Yarn', a programme integrated into the school curriculum.

“Spin a yarn —self and society”, an initiative of the Aseema Trust , aims to propagate the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi with respect to diversity and dignity of labour projects through the spinning of Charka. The programme, started in July 2008, looks at spinning as a meditative activity and a tool to discuss peaceful conflict resolutions and the need for cleanliness in public places.

So what's the connection between Gandhiji and Oyilattam? V. R. Devika, founder of the Aseema trust and the co-ordinator of the programme, explains, “Gandhi always emphasised the importance of villages. The folk art forms of the villages are a great way of expressing ourselves. These art forms can be effectively used to bridge the gap between the villages and urban areas,” she said. As their slogan says, the programme links art, education and Gandhiji; and uses performing arts as tools of empowerment.

Did you know that the mill workers in England, who lost their jobs when Gandhi called for the Swadeshi movement, welcomed him cheerfully when he visited them? Or that Charlie Chaplin made the movie ‘The great Dictator' after his meeting with Gandhi and has used in the movie, the exact words spoken by Gandhi during their conversation? Or that the UN and 60 world nations together lowered their flags only when one great leader died and that was Gandhi, who had never held any official position? In the first session of the programme, the students are shown an intriguing presentation with rare photographs and video clips that revealed these admirable facts about Gandhiji.

Gandhi is an important political subject too. There are a lot of misunderstandings about him and his ideas. For example, as many people might think, non-violence is not about being passive. It is an active way of conflict resolution which requires a great deal of courage.” Devika said.

Devika said that the Trust had approached 10 schools in the city who readily accepted to conduct the programme. A team of 10 members takes classes at the AMM Matriculation School, Avvai Home, Teachers training institute, Bala Vidya Mandir, Besant Arundale school, Besant Theosophical School, Kumararani Meena Muthiah School, Navbharath Matriculation School, Olcott Memorial School, ShriShankara Vidyashramam and Shri Shankara Senior Secondary School . The programme is designed for the students of Std. VII and VIII.

“Spin a yarn” is supported by Sir Dorabjee Tata Trust, and conducts twice a week sessions on Gandhiji, self reliance, courage, friendship; and other activities including music and dance forms like Oyilattam, Bharathanatyam and traditional koothu theatre.

“Today, knowledge is more easily accessible. Education has become skill oriented and Gandhi has always underlined this point. He was far ahead of his times,” opined Devika.

On hearing about the spinning wheel, people may doubt about the feasibility of such programmes today. “This programme is not about going back to Gandhiji's time, but about applying his techniques in today's world.”

M. Kalaiarasi, the Principal of the Besant Arundale Senior Secondary School said , “Every session of the programme is interesting. Students are really benefitted by this. We can clearly see the improvement in their attitude and general outlook.”

The Trust also conducts programmes for teachers which were also met with overwhelming response. Next year they are planning to extend the programme to 10 more schools.

For more details log on to www.aseema.org