Songs of a Caravan
Hu pankhi banine udu ,aa mukt gaganma.
Ho.. uddan che aaj tanmanma, aasha mane aaj antrma
Aasha mane che antarma, hooo asha mane che antarma
Aasha mane che antarma,antarma,antarma
Excerpt from the song 40 year old, Ankura(Bharat) Patil, a transwoman who has written and sung about her journey from darkness to the light, of her awareness about her heterosexuality and the consequent desire for liberation. When Ankura hums the song, her lovely voice takes us to her world. The words loosely translate to:
I want to be with the liberated birds
For I am coloured in the colour of liberation
I wish to fly like a liberated bird in the open sky
Every single particle in the body strives to attain freedom/ liberation
Ankura resides in Vadodara and has a Diploma in Hindustani Classical music from Maharaja Sayajirao University. Ankura’s song is a part of the album called ’Songs of a Caravan’. Ankura talks about her experience while recording the song for the album ’It’s happening for the first time in India. We’re also people like everyone else and we have a voice too. Music has no gender. I felt confident of my skills for the first time.”
Songs of a Caravan is a feat on its own. Anubhav Gupta is the man behind the organisation, Jeevan Trust, which came up with the idea. 9 transwomen from India have sung 13 songs from 9 different states in 9 different languages in 5 different genres. The project has 6 different composers and it took 17 months to complete and 24 months to find the funds to release the album. The project is jointly supported by UNDP India and Planet Romeo Foundation, Netherlands.
Anubhav tells us how and why he thought of this album.
I would often listen to groups of transgenders who would come to our family functions. I wondered if these songs were actually passed on from one generation to another and if we could record them and preserve some of them. Some of the members of these troupes had really good voices and wanted to pursue a singing career as well. And that’s how the album came into being.
The idea of the album was to create India’s first music album by transgender participants showcasing their musical and singing talent and to preserve art and culture that they take immense pride in. Ankush tells us of another aspect of the album, “We also wanted to break the notion that transgenders cannot sing well or sing in a particular style that is often portrayed by our movies as well. 6 out of the 13 participants have degrees in music!”
Back to the beginning
32 year old Ankush Gupta had a flourishing career in media, and he switched to the social sector and worked with PVR NEST, the CSR arm of PVR cinemas where he helped develop programmes for schools on environment and another project that worked on HIV advocacy.
He enjoyed both the projects immensely and decided to bring all his social and media experience under one roof and that’s how Jeevan Trust was founded in 2010. The idea behind Jeevan is to fill the gap between mainstream media and the social issues by getting involved over a long time with one issue. They not only aim to cover it comprehensively but also raise enough funds and awareness around it and bring it to the mainstream.
Songs of Caravan was the second project by Jeevan Trust. The first project is around raising awareness about Albinism.
Albinism not Leucoderma!
There is barely any knowledge in India about Albinism. Most often, people refer to it as Leucoderma. Albinism is a rare genetic condition leading to loss of pigment in the eyes and body. Albinos also have low vision. Ankush adds, “There have been widespread discrimination at work place and in the system for such people. Some people think albinism is contagious and the albinos have lesser IQ than others.”As a part of the awareness programmes, the Jeevan team has carried out workshops in schools, to sensitize students and teachers about albinism to let go of their misconceptions around it, thereby enabling a better environment for an albino child. Workshops have also been conducted in media institutes, to help media understand better about the condition and thus be empowered to cover the issue holistically. Jeevan Trust carries out get-togethers, meetups and awareness around skin care, low vision, government schemes, counselling to new parents with a child born with albinism and help poor people with albinism as well.
They have been able to create awareness and support group within the albino community as well. Bhakti Talati, an albino herself, works in the media industry. She is a sports enthusiast and writes columns as well. Bhakti says, “When I’m travelling, not just kids, even adults will just stare. It doesn’t bother me anymore because I’m used to it. The problem is that people don’t have an idea about albinism. Jeevan Trust has been able to help people with albinism deal with situations that they might come across. I didn’t have to face any difficulty in my life but after I started knowing more people who do face problems just because they are albinos. It’s opened my eyes.”
Jeevan Trust today works with 300 people with albinism. Anubhav adds, “We are now actively in touch with UN as well since UN has declared for the first time that June 13 is world albinism awareness day. We plan to come out with a detailed handbook on albinism for the masses.”
Challenges and the next project
Funding is their foremost challenge and has been one since the beginning. The ‘Songs of Caravan’ project also took longer since there were no funds to produce it. Everyone Anubhav met appreciated the idea but did not extend help monetarily. They ultimately did get 5000 Euros from Planet Romeo, an organization from Netherlands that works for the LGBT community. Help from UNDP India also poured in. In addition they collected Rs. 26,000 from crowd-funding. Anubhav says that Jeevan Trust’s work would have been impossible had he not received help from his father. “I think if our funding is in place we can really enhance the scale and scope of our work as well. Our operating costs are minimum as all of us are into full time main stream jobs.”
Anubhav says that his strength is his team. Jeevan’s Vice President, Sameer Garg, is a person with albinism himself. Anubhav adds, “I met Sameer in a mall and caught hold of him; It is because of him all our work on albinism has seen the light of the day. He is my right and left hand! He is extremely hardworking and passionate about the cause and we are a great team together!” Sameer works as a teacher in a government school.
In the years to come, Anubhav plans on raising awareness about other rare genetic conditions like Muscular Dystrophy, Asperges, etc. His mission is to create enough material in India so that people need not look elsewhere. He hopes that his work will bring about a change in the mindset of society and the government.
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