Looking Back: An Evaluation

Its been a couple of weeks since Bowbazaar's workshop's came to an end, and by the end of the month we are likely to begin a new series of neighbourhood journalism workshops in a new neighbourhood, with a new group of writers.

Before we move ahead into a new neighborhood for more story-telling and blogging, we'd like to reflect upon our experience in Bowbazaar — examining are shortcoming, challenges, strenghts, and achievements.

Para Diaires in Bowbazaar was  pilot project for Kalam.  At Kalam, while we have great experience and evolved skills in curriculum development and writing workshops, blogging is unchartered territory. And through our weeks in Bowbazaar, blogging remained as our greatest challenge.

Facilitators Bina and Urbi (creative writers and teaching artists), facilitated intriguing discussions, inquries, and texts on neighborhood among the vibrant and talented groups of writers/participant. (See previous entry for the depth of insightful discussion and writing.) This process also allowed us to create a substantive and comprehensive curriculum on Teaching Citizen Journalism to Young People in Urban India.  Although we feel great about our achievement in realm of working with young people as thinkers and writers on their neighborhood, the challenge of blogging has been difficult.

Integrating blogging as a practice among the participants of our workshop reamined a difficult tasks for many reasons. First, blogging was a new concept for faciliators Bina and Urbi.  Although we hoped to take participatory approach and create an atmosphere where faciliators and participants could learn, practice, and grow together, we soon realized that we needed Experts on board to sustain blogging into our curriculum and practice.  Further, along with minimal blogging experiences, Para Diaries Bowbazaar also was confronted by infrastructural obstacles. Although we were armed with one labtop, we struggled with glitches on Bangla software and wifi connections.  Also, most participant writers, had minimal experience with computers, making the leap to blogging all the more laborious.

Despite our weekly challenges with blogging, Bina and Urbi strived towards publishing curriculum content on the blog and sharing the stories, photographs, and narratives of the participants.  We also feel to realize our ambition of more frequent and sustained blogging, we need to work with either a group of participants who are have substantial computer experience, or we need to have a team of blogging experts who can mentor both Kalam's faciliators as well as the group fo writers/participants.

Regardless of our challenges — we feel good about our work in Bowbazaar. We mobilized a group of youth residents into the practice of critical observation, sensitive reserach, and dyanmic storytelling.  The voices are present, and the voices are Loud. Now, Kalam just needs to build its capacity to circualte these voices through more effective digital literacy not just among its writers, but among its facilitators.

And we're stretch our imagination and faciliate new ways of learing and growing.

The Journalists on Fashion



1. Hold a Discussion on:

– What do you understand by fashion?

– Is fashion innate or is it something in which we follow others?

– Is it to do only with models/film stars, or do you think every human being can have a sense of fashion?

– Community sense of fashion- bandwallah, coolie—this kind of fashion helps us understand who they are

– Rahul’s keeping long hair—was it anything to do with his life journeys at the moment? Eg. Playing in a band? Writing poetry?

  • Fashion as expressive of self, character
  • Fashion as it has evolved over the years eg In the movie Om shanti Om, the use of tight chooridars, men’s flared trousers, sideburns etc to evoke a bygone age.

Was fashion a movement?

Salman spoke about how fashion for him meant good clothes and walking on the ramp.


The participants spoke about torn pants, stylish clothes, black bangles and long hair, which were the stereotypes of fashion.


Tulu felt poor people “do” a lot of fashion these days (wear fancy clothes).


The difference between fashion and uniforms were discussed. Were the coolies of Sealdah and their dress code an uniform? Salman thought it was an identity.


Rahul’s long hair: was it a statement of some kind? Rahul said he was with a band and it was important that he had the look of a band member which meant long hair and black bangls and the other stereotypes. Got scolded by his family and led to a lot of flak from his peers. He finally cut it off and surprised everyone.


So who were the people who did this fashion or were fashionable?


The participants felt fashion was limited to models, media personalities, celebrities and dancers.


Was fashion only for some people?


We learn from fashion–this was the general opinion. When asked if we can create our own fashion, Rahul pointed out that our views of fashion come from watching celebrities and if we tried something on our own we would be laughed at. Only when we see the other celebs doing that do we accept it as fashion. Jyotsna on the other hand thought we create our own fashion.


Fashionable clothes make on feel good about oneself. Sometime we gauge a person’s character simply by seeing what he or she is wearing.


Fashion depends on trends, media, weather, geographical location and time.

The participants were next asked to write an assignment taking stereotypical images and people and writing about fashion as seen in their para.



NB: They said, they are only taking interviews. When would they be interviewed in turn?


What some of them came up with:




Fashion can mean a lot of things, like hair, clothes, shoes, accessories like watches and glasses. Fashion used to be the prerogative of the rich, nowadays I see the poor beggars also with a sense of fashion. Everyone likes fashion, it is part of the desire to look good. Some people dress up according to their own tastes, some copy others. I had heard that girls were more fashion-conscious, then I saw boys do the same, nowadays even the “chhakkas” (eunuchs) ‘do’ a lot of fashion.




Her name is Kajol Adhikary. Kajol is dark-skinned, plump and tall, 18 years old. Kajol is like herself, she doesn’t resemble anyone else in the family.

Kajol wears a red nighty every afternoon when she is at home. She likes to dress up others but doesn’t like dressing up herself. In the evening she wears a churidar, ties her hair into a bun and wears earrings. Otherwise when she goes out formally she likes putting on big earrings, a small bindi, a small locket, and keeps her hair open. When she goes out, she doesn’t like to have anything other than Rs.3 worth fuchkas, Rs.2 worth ghughni and walks home crunching peanuts worth Re.1/-. Kajol doesn’t like going to her native place in the villages; but she likes the soil there. There she gets to take baths in the pond, whereas here in the city she uses up four buckets of water every time. Here she has to set the alarm to wake up, there the cock crowing in the early morning wakes her up. She has studied upto class 6. She doesn’t want to study any more, nor can her parents afford to send her to school anymore since her father is blind and her mother is a domestic help.



Day 13: Fashion


26 May 2008

6-8 pm




1. Hold a Discussion on:


– What do you understand by fashion?

– Is fashion innate or is it something in which we follow others?

– Is it to do only with models/film stars, or do you think every human being can have a sense of fashion?

– Community sense of fashion- bandwallah, coolie—this kind of fashion helps us understand who they are

– Rahul’s keeping long hair—was it anything to do with his life journeys at the moment? Eg. Playing in a band? Writing poetry?


  • Fashion as expressive of self, character
  • Fashion as it has evolved over the years eg In the movie Om shanti Om, the use of tight chooridars, men’s flared trousers, sideburns etc to evoke a bygone age.


2. List the different kinds of people in bowbazaar—

Gold sellers

Sex workers



Medical persons (doctor, nurse, ayah)

College goers


Rickshaw wallahs

Street food sellers

Office goers



From the above, choose 3 categories—


– What are their stereotypical images?

– What are they in reality?


Research people whose dress sense you find is very much expressive of their selves, be it raditional or modern, but very distinctive/eye catching. It may be staid or very whacky or very aesthetically pleasing.



Street Food narratives

Street food




Robinda sells fries (telebhaja). He used to live in Bihar. He came to Kolkata with his father. He learnt to make telebhaja from his uncle. Two boys help him out; in his absence they make the brinjal fries and potato chops. When Robinda asks me how his food tastes, I opine that the brinjal fries are not that good, but the chops have come out very well. Robinda does not mind; he says that he has made the chops while the brinjal fries have probably been made by his helpers. He has two sons and one daughter who live in his native home in the village. His earnings are sufficient for him to run his household expenses. Robinda is willing to teach the ropes of his trade to a person who is starting out.



(Interviewee talks in the first person here)

My name is Paresh Shau. I hail from Bihar. I am running this stall for the last 4 years. Learnt how to manage this business from my dad. On coming to the city, dad had not found any other work, so he started a tea stall. After his passing away, I have inherited this. Through practice, I have gained expertise in the art of making tea. The “speciality” of the tea leaves that I use makes my tea special.

(When Tulu asked Paresh what advice he has for a person who is new in the business, Paresh probably did not get the question, since he replied with just a “thank you”).




The owner of the teashop during the interview recalled how the first time he made tea, the tea leaves were too much, making it bitter. Gradually he learnt to perfect the art. He also sells biscuits.




She interviewed Sanjoy Das who runs a chowmein shop. He has been in this business for 10 years. Started off as a cleaner in another place. After learning all that he had to, he opened his own little street food joint.




Interviewed Biswanath, a Kachori seller who sells kachoris near Sealdah station. Learnt it from his older brother. He left after marriage from when he had to do everything on his own. His speciality are kachoris made from cholar daal which have a reddish tinge and an unique flavour and customers like that.



Footpath stories

Footpath stories

So many people live on the margins of society.


Some leave their distant village huts and come to the cities to make their fortune. They land up as daily labourers, bringing in less than the bare minimum. Not being able to afford a sleeping berth, let alone a room in the city, they end up on footpaths. Children from extreme poverty-stricken backgrounds, often single-parent, run away from home. They start living a high-risk life on the streets and city footpaths, often doing heavy manual labour for one insuffiicient meal a day. Old people, abandoned by their family, also land up on the streets. Having no energy for work, they lie in street corners, huddled up in tattered clothes or a kantha, with their worldly possessions in a small bundle, and beg.

How do the lives of these different people look like? How do they really get by from day to day? What hope, if any, do they have, that motivates them each day to get up and live another day? What are the struggles of life on the footpaths? How do they cope with the extremes of different seasons? They live on the seamy side of life, certainly, with diseased bodies, sores, malnutrition, stinking, open drains, flies and garbage heaps all around, literally walked over by busy heels all day, lathi charged at by the police in their city-cleaning sprees. In the monsoons when the Ganga river rises and floods, the adjoining slums are submerged in dirty-germ-infested water. There is no end to these problems. But despite All these, is there any element of beauty in their lives also?

The journalists decided to find out the footpath stories in their own neighbourhoods. Coming from marginalized backgrounds themselves, yet not deprived to this extreme, they are both insiders and outsiders in the situation. What follows are their first-hand accounts and perceptions.

Rahul told us that writing about footpath dwellers was his idea, as he wanted to do something about the plight of these people. There is no future for these people. He interviewed someone called Kangalima who is 70 years old. She started as a maidservant and had a house to live in at one point of time. Her husband took to drinking and this led to loss of money and finally she had to give up home, come out and live in the streets. People keep asking her to die. Her son Bhola who drives a van sometimes bears her expenses, sometimes not.




Nobody wants to leave their homes and live on the footpaths. But some lack or deficiency pushes him/her to make the footpath a home. Debi Shau lives on the footpath, eats and sleeps there. She is about 50-60 years old, an oldish lady. She sells vegetables in Koley Market. Things like ginger, garlic, onion, chillies, greens. The money she gets from selling these is her only means of livelihood. The footpath is her home as of now.

She doesn’t have any relatives in the world. Even if some of them exist, nobody knows where they are. No one has looked for her whereabouts in all these years. She had a distant uncle but even he has passed away. There is no specific place which she occupies every day to sell her vegetables. She sits down wherever she manages to make space. To get a specific place everyday, she would need to pay, which she can’t afford from her meager earnings.

Everyday she worries about her sales. If sales doesn’t happen properly, what will a daily wage-earner like her eat? Often she cannot afford two meals a day, making do with one. Like this, she fights for a living every day. She knows she will have to go on facing the challenges of living out in the open in different seasons like summer, winter and the rains.

In the rains, the pavements are often swept away by water, causing her a lot of problems. Apart from this, people are always walking on the footpaths. She has to live with them walking all over her space. But she is compelled.


A woman called Bhabani lives on the footpath of Bowbazar’s Raja Rammohon Ray Sarani with her mother and her son. They have accepted their lot, living with the vagaries of nature. I think that footpath dwellers live a very painful life. In summer, esp. in the afternoons, the scalding sun heats up the footpath. The nights offer a little comfort. In winter the whole day and night are spent shivering with cold in the open streets. The rainy season is very difficult. You can neither sit, nor lie down, nor eat. Apart from this, footpath dwellers who are daily wage earners have to go out and work hard in storms and bad weather, exposing themselves to the harsh conditions of nature. There is no place to sleep. Some people who have trolley-like vans make these double up as beds in the night. They sleep on these after laying down a plastic sheet on top. There are many other insoluble problems. Often out of the blue, police cars come to dismantle them from their pavement homes. Then they try to hide their possessions as best as they can to prevent them from being confiscated by the police. If once they are taken away, you need to pay money to retrieve them. Some people living on the footpaths in cities often have dwellings in their villages. Those who don’t have these faraway village homes literally have no place to go to.

(Jyotsna spoke about how we see things only from a distance but when taking the interview she actually got to hear the truth and see it for herself)


My name is Simanto Das. Earlier I used to stay in Jongeepur. There I had a grocery store. I had an earthen two-storey house and the shop was in the ground floor. I did not lack anything.


One day a flood happened and swept away both my home and my shop in its wake. Myself, my wife and son survived somehow but lost our house and shop. We came to Kolkata then. I had thought of sending my son to a good school but that didn’t happen. I did not have money so I sent my son to work in a big hotel. When we first came to this city, they were asking for very steep rates for rooms, so we couldn’t get one, but had to take shelter in the footpaths. I run my household from my earnings, driving a van. I have been here for the last three years. My son married a year back and moved away. We had been three, now we are two.

I had never thought that life would take such a turn. We face so many problems living here, but still we are forced to. We have no place to stay except the footpaths.


Robi Mandal


Footpath dwellers live in a lot of problems since they have no other place to stay, no shelter, their lives are like the stray dogs on the streets. During storms, they look for shelter in different places just like the street dogs. Most of them live from hand to mouth. Some beg, some steal. They can die from accidents any day, since a lot of big vehicles run on the streets and if accidentally any of them sidesteps up on the pavements, they can run over the pavement-dwellers. If these people fall ill, they have no money for treatment, nor do they receive help from anyone. Their past, present and future – all are dark. They have never been able to stand on their own feet and get settled in life. Boys living on footpaths often do lot of addictions which are very harmful for their health.




People living on footpaths are truly in a lot of trouble. Little children die from starvation. They sit in the blazing heat on the footpaths day after day, getting kicked by pedestrians while begging or just due to careless walking. Some people die from overexposure to the sun. In this terrible heat, they beg on the pitch-covered roads. They don’t have shoes to protect their feet. Even if they have clothes, they are torn. Their life is like death. In the rainy season, they have to spend their time drenched. Under such circumstances, neither can the sit nor can they lie down. Due to some government schools coming up, some kids can now go to school. They come back to their footpath homes, drenched. Due to such reasons, they incur a lot of diseases, which often cause deaths. In the winter they lie under cloudy skies and cold gusts, on the open footpaths. Helpless children go to school barefeet, without warm clothes. Still in the face of many problems, they try to eke out livings by opening small stalls selling chowmein, fries or chapatti-tarka. How many people think about the challenges that these people face? We would know only if we had lived on the footpaths ourselves.





Accidental death of child in Bowbazaar

This week's Para Diaries had to be cancelled because of the accidental death of 9 year-old Sonu in Bowbazaar. Sonu used to be a regular at one of Sanlaap's centres in Bowbazaar. He lost his life when he fell down from a mango tree where he'd been picking fruit. He was accompanied by three boys of around his age. In the fall when he cracked his head and started losing a lot of blood, his young friends rushed him to the Medical College Hospital near Central metro station. The Emergency department refused to admit him, as by then, hopes of him surviving was already low. People from his home and from Sanlaap rushed him to a Khidderpore hospital, where he passed away in the middle of the night (Sunday).

I came to know this from Rahul, one of our para journalists. Rahul and Apurbo had been  among the ones accompanying the body to the cremation ground. 

Rahul had a personal relationship with the boy. Often, as he would come out of home and step onto the para lanes, Sonu would come jumping, asking the older dada to give him a Rupee or two, or hang on to him to buy him marbles…

Day 11: A series of unfortunate events

April 28th, 2008


Today was a bad day. The sweltering heat and humidity of a Calcutta evening saw Bina in a cyber cafe, guiding five journalists out of the ten who were present, on how to login into the Bowbazar Diaries blog. The more we are entering the process of imparting digital literacy, the more the challenges are becoming clear. It is a whole new world for these youth, as they hail from extremely marginalised communities, and everything starting from the interface in English, getting a feel of the keyboard, and the idea of having a “cyber address” (in the form of one's own email id or blog space) as compared to a “geographical address” is completely new. 

Within the first challenging half hour, however, the computers shut down, the cafe technician was away, there was no other cyber cafe in sight, the young people thought they'd had enough practice, and they wanted to be out of that stuffy room.

A series of unfortunate events.

We are really thinking of ways of bringing back the dynamism and involvement of the earlier Diaries sessions, and also how best to approach digital literacy with these youth. Instead of following through with the idea of doing Para Action Projects with them (which they had seemed to be keen at earlier, and later lost interest), we have decided to focus on Writing.  We are looking forward to reading what observations they bring back next week about the Bowbazaar footpaths, which they have themselves suggested as a good subject for their next assignment.

Week 8: The Session

Date: January 21

Time: 6:00 – 8:00pm
Venue: Bow Bazaar Highschool

Session Eight: Things in the Para that we want to change: Part 2

Share the Home Assignment from Previous Session

Have each of the two groups of journalists read their piece on the para problem chosen by them. It should contain

  • The problem in detail
  • Challenges they anticipate
  • People in the para who might help them; possibly approaching the para beneficiaries they talked to before thereby involving them in the growth of the para.
  • Possible solutions to either solve/lessen the problem
  • What methods they might use – eg. Poster exhibition, awareness meetings, writing letters to Newspapers/the Corporation.

Share and discuss.


Today’s assignment:Create an action plan about how each group plans to address the problem they have researched. Make a list of the ways in which Kalam might assist them in carrying out this plan, eg. Supporting with materials, use of camera/voice recorder etc. Make a list of the materials you will need. Share with larger group. 

Check Out

How was this session like? Good/bad/okay okay?