Conference of the Birds by Teach For India catches them young

Conference of the birds, a musical, aims to embed the ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity and justice, in children

Updated - August 11, 2023 06:12 pm IST

Published - August 11, 2023 06:07 pm IST

Conference of the Birds

Conference of the Birds | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

What does freedom mean to a child, especially one from an underprivileged background? For one it could mean the confidence to raise their hand in class, while for another it could be overcoming stage fright. The recently concluded Conference of the Birds saw participants from the Teach For India programme entrall audiences in Bengaluru.

Founded in 2008, Teach For India (TFI) is a not-for-profit with operations in eight cities in India, aiming to provide education to empower children with limited means.

According to Shaheen Mistri, founder and CEO of TFI, the idea for this year’s musical stemmed from the need to shine a spotlight on the four ideals enshrined in the Preamble — liberty, equality, fraternity and justice.

“All around us, we see many instances of the breakdown of these four ideals. There are too many Indians out there who do not seem free or have access to equal opportunities or are facing terrible injustices. As educators and as people working with children, we wanted to give them a chance understand what these ideals mean as well as give them a chance to live up to them and practice them,” says Shaheen.

Conference of the Birds

Conference of the Birds | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

There is a 12th century Sufi text titled The Conference of the Birds written by Attar of Nishapur, a poet. It is about a group of birds who come together in a conference to understand the meaning of the world and make it better.

“We used the basic story and the name of the book, to write a story about a group of children in India who form a secret club, become birds and go in search of the idea of India. They fly through four metaphorical valleys which stand for the values of liberty, equality, fraternity and justice, in a bid to understand what they mean.”

To make it a bit more fun, modern and engaging, the team at TFI wrote Conference as a Hamilton-style musical, ”with 90% of the show set to a hip hop, rhyme style of music,” says Shaheen, adding only original music and lyrics were used in the production.

One of the highlights of the musical was how it showcased the outcome of the TFI programme. “Ten years ago, Priyanka Arora,a student of mine participated in another musical that I worked on. Though she came from a low income community in Pune, she went on to study at the Franklin Marshall University in the United States. Now, she’s back to be a teacher with us.”

Conference of the Birds

Conference of the Birds | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Priyanka co-wrote the script and lyrics with Shaheen, co-directing the musical as well. Another former student, Khushi Chauhan, choreographed the musical.

“I was in class III when TFI came to my government school in Pune. They were producing a musical called Maya to explore the idea of compassion through singing, dancing and acting. I was among the selected students who went on an 18-month trip around India to collect ideas and learn different art forms,” says Khushi, adding, “I remember the different places we visited and the new people we met. The idea was to find your true potential and the play was written around those gathered experiences. The concept was called ‘Find your light’.”

After class X, Khushi joined a music business startup and is currently pursuing a Bachelors in Music Production. “I also work as a music instructor for the children at TFI classrooms and have been a facilitator with them for the past 19 months,” she says.

Life has certainly come full circle for Priyanka and Khushi — from participating as beneficiaries in musicals such as Maya to being part of the team conceptualising Conference of the Birds — who stand testament to the life-altering nature of the programme.

At a Teach For India classroom

At a Teach For India classroom | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The soundtrack for Conference of the Birds was written by musician Anuraj Bhagat and hip-hop artist Nimo Patel, while Shaheen wrote the bulk of the lyrics, “as the story unfolded.”

Conference of the Birds is a 75-minute musical in two acts, with an interval. The first act of the piece depicts the birds’ preparation for the journey, while the second half documents their flight.

“In life, any real journey begins with the preparation; overcoming excuses and hurdles before we actually set off. Likewise, in the musical too, the first half shows the birds confronting their fears and gaining the confidence needed to go on the journey and act towards the actual values as they fly through India,” says Shaeen.

Over the last two years, the team from TFI also created a curriculum titled ‘India and I Studies’ — a set of ready-to-implement lesson plans for teachers for students from classes II-VIII.

Shaheen Mistri

Shaheen Mistri | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“We got together 40 educators from all around the country as well as a few who were abroad, to engage in a discussion on how to build democracy in children. All of these educators had tried different methods in their classrooms, so we collated these tried and tested activities to craft 21st century mindsets and orientation, with the specific purpose of building citizenship in children.”

“‘India and I Studies’ is a curriculum of stories, social experiments. discussions and debates, to help children understand and practice these four values. Teach for India has made it a completely free, open source material available to use for any teacher anywhere in the country who wants to inculcate these values in the next generation,” says Shaheen.

The Teach For India programme is currently operational in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Kolkata. After their performance in Bengaluru, Conference of the Birds will open in Delhi this weekend.

For more details about India and I Studies, log on to https://www.kidseducationrevolution.org/conference-of-the-birds or https://www.teachforindia.org/

Conference of the Birds will show in Delhi on August 12 and 13. Tickets on Bookmyshow

Conference of the Birds

Conference of the Birds | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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