I started out watching toads, frogs and grasshoppers. I think when I was about two years old, the entire focus of my life was about spotting frogs, especially the tiny ones, and waiting for them to take a leap. If it wasn't frogs, then it was grasshoppers. And then butterflies, pursuit of fallen leaves, clouds, raindrops... I can't remember how many frog leaps and jumps I have counted. Today, it is scary to think, that in the city, after the rains, there are barely any frogs to watch for.
I like to think that most of my journey has been like the little frog's leap into the unknown. The grace of its hop, it's perplexed thought before choosing a direction and it's pursuit of exploring a new territory. I have always had a sense of adventure and play and these two traits continue to drive me to explore new ideas, experiences and places.
Some of my journey has been great, some messy, some rock bottom, some with the soaring sense of flight. It's been fun most of the way, but definitely not easy. When I am writing this and putting the website together, I say to myself ,"Wow! Srivi, that is quite an impressive lot of work you have done!" But trust me, while you are doing it, you only have a vision, a hope that it will build into a whole, and there are so many frustrating, grueling, confusing, silly, days with so many dead-ends before it starts making sense. And even though, the general idea of 'go with the flow' might make sense now and then, life is about building on opportunities, lack of opportunities, and planting seeds and nurturing them in barren lands. And the famous 'flow' could be a barely there trickle! Personally, I have been very fortunate and many good things, great things have come my way, many wonderful people have supported me and helped me grow. But financial struggles, disappointing experiences, and things which break our spirit all abound amidst the good things. The clue seems to be to hold on to our deepest most meaningful and compassionate dreams, work hard and let the universe conspire to make it happen!
Finding the artist, the environmentalist and the educator in me!
As fate would have it, I entered a painting contest when I was two and half years old, because my sister who was then around 6 was painting. The organizers were being nice to my parents and to this silly excited toddler, that even though I didn't even qualify for the age group, they let me join in and the theme was on wildlife! And so to speak historically, I managed to win a special consolation prize for my drawing and was given a huge huge poster of a tiger, a small book on birds, a series of cards on reptiles. As was my usual habit then, I decided to teach my dolls all about the birds, the reptiles, the tiger and drawing and painting skills! So that's how it all began....
Another toddler story! I started learning Bharatanatyam when I was three. At that time, I must say, I was a very serious kid. I really mean to get those hand gestures, footwork and graceful movement that I was observing in my wonderful young teacher. And I practised sincerely, providing hours of entertainment to my teacher and my mom! If you have a three year old around you, try teaching him/her to touch their ring finger with their thumb and hold it! This hand gesture called "Tripatakam" is used to denote a peacock among other things. My little three year old self was fascinated by how, if and when I held the posture right, I could become a thrilling dancing peacock! And the hours I spent practising becoming a peacock and then subsequently a parrot, a fish, a tree and the rest of the creatures in the wide universe have taught me to continue to be silly, happy and persevere really hard! Just imagine, you could, you just could become that elegant, graceful, unimaginably beautiful, colourful peacock!
My School years across Mount Carmel, Ahmedabad, MVM, Hosur, SBSM, Chennai and PSBB, Chennai were engaging experiences, where I experimented and learnt and formed core foundations to many of the ideas I explored later. As everyone laments, I have also often felt the claustrophobic nature of the schools and education systems we have propagated but I also see the rich possibilities of what these systems can offer. Thanks to the wonderful teachers I have had, and the amount of passion and hard work, they put into every single day of our lives, I believe, that if all of us care enough, we can make our schools into vibrant learning centres, where intelligence and compassion are nurtured. Where instead of being driven by the great economic fallacies of success of this century, we come together to solve the world's greatest ecological and human problems with thoughtfulness and gratitude together.
The Arts and Art Education
Five years at Stella Maris College in exploring Art History, Creative Painting, Design and Art philosophy (Both western and eastern) have grounded me deeply in the cultures of the arts. I had time to build my own creative experiences and growth, question being an artist, and reflect deeply on creative processes and the philosophical approaches to creativity.
After teaching Arts, social studies and dance at AVRS, a residential school in the beautiful Chikmaglur, I was driven by the need to understand Arts education more deeply. And fortunately, in the Arts in Education program at Harvard Graduate School of Education, I found all that aligned with my quest and my spirit. Through my interaction with peers, professors and in working on my own projects, I knew I had found most of the ingredients that I needed for building the dream, that had arisen in my mind as that toddler teaching her dolls. My intuitions now grounded in research through both my masters programs in India and the US, gave me the tools to build something concrete out of years of creative exploration.
Publishing Children's books and educational materials
While I cherish most the time I spend directly interacting with children, I also had a deep need to reach more children with my work. I had been gifted with so many wonderful children's books that had shaped and changed my life in so many ways and I wanted a way to give back. So writing, illustrating and designing children's books has become a big part of my work. With over 40 children's books, some that I have illustrated, some that I written, co-authored, designed or directed, I have great satisfaction in knowing my work reaches millions of children across India and the world. I have had the privilege and honor of working with wonderful publishers like Katha, Sesame Workshop India, Tulika, Ediciones Castillo Mexico, NCERT, Manoj Prakashan, Young Zubaan and others.
In working as the Creative Director of Sesame workshop India for two years and consulting with them for another three, I was able to work on exciting, fun and meaningful educational products for underprivileged children across India, from conceptualisation to finish, both evolving the books, games and other products, as well as working directly training teachers and interacting with children. This experience gave me the background to start my long-time dream Fooniferse.
Design and Media
Design, media and technology are other areas of interest as well as focus for me. Working on identity, concept, look and feel for brands is an exciting creative process. I also relish pure design, that is not driven by any client requirements, but to bring a concept into its rightful form, giving it energy and contemporary form. Designing books, websites, posters, folders, campaigns for a wide range of clients, organizations and social causes, I have been able to reflect using a medium that is very contemporary.
Since 2009, my energies have been focused on building up Fooniferse as a platform for social change through arts, design, media and education. With a core focus on using the Arts as a tool to transform consciousness, this foray into a entrepreneurial space has been engaging, exasperating and extremely satisfying. Even as there is a long way to travel yet, I am glad to be hear at this point in my life and look forward to the rest of the journey.
ArtIndea Project, SarasKalyan Project are at the moment, quieter explorations that I hope to build further in the years to come. Through ArtIndea Project, I hope to make the wonderful knowledge, experience and mysteries of Indian art, artistic philosophy and thought more accessible and friendly to young people. In Indian arts lie a wealth of rich thought and reflections for daily living that can transform how we think about the world. Having had the opportunity to research, explore and enjoy the myths, philosophies, sustainable ideas from many streams of Indian art and thought, I hope to make the expanse, beauty and paradoxes that they hold more visible in collaboration with other wonderful organizations working towards similar goals.
SarasKalyan project, is a tribute to my parents, that I hope will grow into a foundation for parents, supporting them in their quest, love and hard work in bringing up children. Parents, with a vision for deeply engaging their children's spirits, and nurturing them for the good of the greater earth and its beings are the need of the hour. For now, this is just a young evolving dream to add to many others that engage me and keep my spirit alive.
The philosopher, mystic, wandering spirit
Of all the remarkable gifts that life has bestowed upon me, I am truly grateful for the gifts and joy of mysticism that have cradled, protected, provoked and challenged me through my life to discover the depths of my individual consciousness as well as connect with the expanse of the greater consciousness. In the words of saints and poets from across the world, I have been nourished and guided over the years, by energies that I share through my art and writings.
Thanks much if you have managed to read through this long passage of my journey. There are those of you who may find companionship, and others questions. There may be many of you who disagree with some of it as well. Fortunately, I have friends of all kinds and I respect all your perspectives. To me truth, is the essence of all that I delve into, and I enjoy truth in subtlety, holistic expanse, paradox, purpose and in relationship. As Thoreau writes, I believe, "It takes two to speak the truth, — one to speak, and another to hear. [A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers]
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