Aseem Asha Usman, known for his educational activities among children of economically disadvantaged sections of Delhi, is preparing for his annual Tagore Utsav to be held on May 7, 8 and 9 at Jamia Millia Islamia. RabindranathTagore is an inspiration for artists of many hues. But inspiration often needs a catalyst in the form of funds, and Usman is on the lookout for help to tide over expenses.
Showcased by his organisation, the non-profit Aseem Asha Foundation, the festival, says Usman, was born out of his own fascination with the multifaceted poet.
A documentary filmmaker, Usman had a chance to study Tagore deeply while collecting films on the poet during his stint assisting painter Jatin Das in the latter’s National Documentary Film Festival in Bhubaneswar.
“At the same time I was running my non-profit organisation in Delhi. After returning from Odisha I discussed it with my students. They liked the idea and started doing embroidery, reproduction of his mask and animal paintings. They also made short films based on his poems.” Covering the spectrum of Tagore’s interests, they also tried his recipes, he adds, besides creating works of pictorial calligraphy based on the women characters from his short stories.
Advised to exhibit this work, he organised the first Tagore Utsav in Delhi’s Okhla Gaon in 2011. While initially, youngsters from his foundation shared their art skills with children of the Jamia area, he later introduced master trainers.
The current Utsav, says Usman, is “specially designed for college students.” Besides, “Many sessions are open for common art and culture lovers of Delhi too.” A range of art forms will be featured, including sculpture, “storytelling through yoga”, bird feeder and nest making, T-shirt painting with Santiniketan patterns, embroidery, garland making among others.
Students of the university’s Department of Fine Arts and well known professionals in various fields, such as classical vocalist Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar, calligrapher Qamar Dagar and art historian Geeti Sen, will participate in talks and presentations. A “Shanti Deep March” is also scheduled.
Among the highlights will be screenings of films on Tagore made by members of Flying Birds of India, an initiative through which Usman teaches children of marginalised communities documentary filmmaking skills. The effort is to empower them and also help them raise awareness of issues vital to their communities. The films are available on YouTube and have been screened at international festivals, says Usman.
While Usman’s foundation, which began in 2007, also offers more conventional vocational courses, its emphasis on filmmaking has drawn attention, as part of his new media interventions for the marginalised. “The filmmaking process is to make them observe the world which has smallest details that can be caught through the camera easily,” he says.
The arts remain his vehicle to move towards peace in the harsh social realities of India.
“Yes, the atmosphere of the country is disturbed. I try to promote peace from micro to macro level,” says Usman. “I start it from community children’s education through involving them in various art forms. We celebrate all faith festivals and visit all faiths’ places of worship with the kids. I also faced protests, but slowly people do start liking my idea and come with me. That is what I have earned till date.”
With the festival taking place without a hitch for the past five years, what has changed in terms of availability of funding? “Earlier the scale of the Utsav was not that high. This time it is really bigger,” explains Usman. “Earlier my personal funds, Facebook friends’ contribution helped me a lot. Often famous trainers never charged, Jamia gave the place free of cost, so it was easier.”
This time, apart from design and printing costs, he says, the main expenditure will be on hospitality, local transport, mementoes and competition prizes. “No speaker is charging even a single rupee from the organisation but I have to look after their local travelling and refreshments. Fifty volunteers should be given at least tea and snacks for three days,” says Usman.
Come to think of it, the foundation doesn’t seem to be asking much, that too from a city dotted with five star hotels and designer malls that stand sturdily next to slum colonies.