Society

The journey of making 'ahimsa' toys

Following a middle path Subid at his workshops  

The slender man in a crumpled cotton shirt travels across our country carrying two bags with some straws, paper, and old CDs. These are Subid’s worldly belongings. The 41-year-old, who did his Masters in Design at IIT Delhi, gave up everything — the comforts of a full-time job, a permanent roof over his head, the routine of an average life with the promise of regular meals — to teach children around the country to make what he calls ‘ahimsa toys’.

Based in Kerala, Subid is constantly travelling, working with children. He’s holding a workshop in Coimbatore when we meet. “I train children to become free,” says Subid. At the workshop, over a dozen children are seated on the ground, sticking straws into plastic bottles, cutting up chart-paper, sketching, colouring, and making wheels out of old CDs.

“Today, children don’t have the freedom to play,” feels Subid. “Our education system trains them to become slaves.” At his workshops, Subid says he teaches children to just be. “I help them interact with each other, share, care, and thereby develop intellectually.” For this, his tools are trash. “Children don’t need toys,” he says. “For them, everything is a toy. You, me, this mat we’re sitting on…”

The journey of making 'ahimsa' toys

Subid’s way of thinking has always been at a constant battle with the world. He couldn’t come to terms with the mechanised way it functioned; industrialisation and everything that came with it; the way our education system snuffed out free-thinking in children… which is why he couldn’t hold on to a mainstream job, although he tried. “I’ve done various jobs,” he says. This includes working at the Panchayat-level in Kerala with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

But nothing felt right. “There was a lot of struggle,” says Subid. “I had suicidal thoughts; travelled like an avadoothan (man without direction).” One day, Subid realised that he was “left with nothing but trash in my hand.” But suddenly, it all fell in place. He happened to meet Science innovator and toy maker Arvind Gupta in Pune in 2011. “I worked in his office for three months, translating content for his website into Malayalam,” he recalls. The three months gave his life new direction.

The journey of making 'ahimsa' toys

From then on, Subid decided to make ‘ahimsa toys’ and teach the craft to children across India for a living. The term ‘ahimsa’ stems from Subid’s love for Gandhi. The models are based on Arvind Gupta’s Toys from Trash (arvindguptatoys.com). But Subid brings in his own teaching methods. He doesn’t stand in front of the audience, giving instructions at one go. At his workshops, Subid is like a shadow that flits between the children, saying a word or two, straightening a stick here or scraping off some extra glue there. “At first, I just offer kids the material and ask them to make whatever they wish to,” he explains. The actual teaching happens gradually, when Subid introduces the models.

Apart from helping him earn his bread, Subid’s toy workshops are his “constructive struggle”. He says, “This is my middle path,” one in which he needn’t go through the difficulties that come with choosing the extremes. Subid doesn’t know what he’ll do tomorrow; this is the way he functions. “For now, it’s these toys,” he smiles. He offers a simple solution to all of life’s problems: “Follow your children. They are here to lead.”

Lessons in empathy

  • Subid is involved in people’s struggles across India, such as the Kudankulam protests and Narmada Bachao Andolan.
  • He has held workshops at the Cuckoo Forest School, Singarapettai; at settlements for the disadvantaged in Delhi; for the third-generation survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy; and for the children’s wing of the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
  • He has a Facebook page titled Ahimsa Toys.


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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 2:03:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/toys-are-him/article26942909.ece

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