“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” – Rosa Parks
Sometimes you meet someone and you know your life is changed for the better just by the fact of knowing that they are in the world. To say that I am inspired by Gitanjali Govindrajan doesn’t nearly do it justice. I am awestruck by what she has managed to achieve in the last ten years, and her unremitting dedication to Inclusion. She is generous, dynamic and authentic to the core.
She has invited us to visit the Snehadhara Foundation's Direct Care Space to play.
‘The Direct Care space of Snehadhara is our realm of caring, advocacy and inclusion practice. Respecting every child’s unique needs, our programmes are carefully designed to enhance their abilities and meet their therapeutic goals. Our aim is to address the social and independent goals of the children to meet their aspirations for life, vocation and livelihood along with nurturing a sense of social inclusion with arts’
Compared to the endless levels of bureaucracy and patriarchy that we have been faced with when talking to hospitals, this is a balm.
We arrive for breakfast with the young people and staff, join them for assembly, and then have half an hour or so to explore the space and get ready. The gentle rustle of palm leaves and the fact that this is all I can hear is so soothing. My mind begins to empty into presence.
The space we are to play in is a circle, with a thigh-high wall around it. Everyone is sitting inside, except for one teenage boy with severe autism who is curled up enjoying the warmth of a sun trap. Occasionally staff encourage him to join but he evades them like a cat.
We march around the circle's perimeter with a joyful harmonica, giving time for everyone to see us from a distance and for us to feel their response. When the time comes to enter, we are stuck. The wall is too high. Impossible task. Straight away, a boy, age 14 or so takes Igor’s hand and pulls him over the threshold, a huge smile bursting across his face. For a brief moment, I am on the outside, looking in, and I see this boy and Igor looking into one another’s eyes. I realise I have never seen Igor’s face look so open, so simple, so sweetly radiant as in this moment. A totally reciprocal exchange. No giver, no receiver. Pure, joyful connection.
I yelp ‘HELP!’ And grab the limelight.
Our play oscillates between finding individual connections with staff and young people and creating games or music that hold the whole space together. One girl giggles gleefully when Igor mimes going down in a lift. A boy is fascinated and giggles at his squeaking hand. The staff are delighted by Igor's ridiculous game of hide and seek. Our original saviour takes on his role with gusto, coming to our rescue over and over again with humour, grace and playfulness.
On our way out of the circle, we pause in the sun spot where the boy is rhythmically shifting from his heels to his toes in a squat position. Side by side, we begin to mirror these rhythmic movements. With each rock to and fro it is as if we gently drift into his universe and the voices and laughter around us slip away. A few moments later, our arrival is greeted with a glimpse of a smile. Permission to stay. Now he takes a tiny pebble between his fingers. Igor finds another pebble and passes it to me. I take it and swap it for the tiny one and the pebbles begin to weave silent complicity and connection between the three of us. I feel the thrilled, as if I've discovered a secret code.
Later, once we had changed and were eating our lunch at the table, this boy, who until our sun trap moment had avoided us all morning, came and sat with us. And there we were, eating parathas, three friends together.
In the car on the way back into the city I chatted with Gintajli about our visit, reflecting on the space she has created, on inclusion in general. I was saying how much fun we had with this boy who had saved our skin so many times and she told me how he had come to be at the centre. He comes from a socio-economically deprived family who couldn’t cope with his size and his autism, so they tied him to the window frame by his wrist.
Then she told me that a couple of months ago she had taken a group from the centre to a local train station for a field trip and officials and staff had refused them access.
‘What do you mean, refused entry? It’s a public space!’ I blurt
‘They said it would ruin the sanctity of the space' she replied calmly, 'I made a big noise about it - a video that went viral. You know, in our last space, in the city, local people would throw stones through our windows, so we moved here, to the outskirts where we have space and peace’
I look out of the car window and my heart and mind do what is becoming a familiar wrestle. My supervisor said it would be this way, ‘you are going to love it. And you are going to hate it’. My mind is furious and despairing at the ignorance and injustice and fear that drives humans to act in such abjectly cruel ways. My heart: Bursting with gratitude for Gitanjali and her vision and tenacity. I look over and see her quiet radiance and feel at its core a boundless love - radical, powerful and unstoppable.
I am a therapeutic clown and performer. Writing here is part of my wider practice and maybe some of my thoughts will trigger some thoughts of your own and I hope that helps.