Sonali Verma, visits the underprivileged resettlement colony in New Delhi and discovers thriving child authors and an organised community keen on making the best out of life
The room with the bright blue door in Savda Ghevra JJ Resettlement Colony subtly stands in a row of box-like, cramped houses. Inside, Gulshaba, who studies in Class 4, in the neighbourhood school, recites a story she has written over the past week. She flips her braided hair and sits down with her diary while the rest of the children surround her, listening attentively, so as to suggest and discuss changes.
None of them are more than seventeen years old. “Meri dadi pehle theek thi. Par jab 2014 mein Congress elections haar gayi, toh woh pagal ho gayi”, she starts. The group bursts into laughter.
The Jhuggi Jhopri (JJ) Resettlement Colony at Savda Ghevra in the north-west periphery of Delhi is one of the newer resettlement colonies of the city. The residents were evicted and relocated from their settlements on public land in 2006 to make way for the infrastructure projects for the Commonwealth Games held in the city in 2010. Gulshan Kumar, 14, was a small child when his family relocated here and doesn’t remember much, except that he was excited to start a new life in a place that had abundant land to play in, unlike the main city. Although he does admit that the process of relocating gave rise to many hardships for his family.
Gulshan is also present at Gulshaba’s recital.
He, like the many people in the room, is a regular visitor to the blue doored Kitab Ghar, which houses hundreds of Hindi novels. The room turns into a literary salon every day, bustling with people who come to read, discuss and increase their knowledge through conversation. They encourage each other to think, generate ideas and foster community development. Almost every child here is a published writer—Gulshan’s story ‘Lallu Sangrina’, which is the story of a groom who comes to get married in Savda Ghevra and gets lost trying to find his own marriage venue, was published in Hans, the Hindi monthly literary magazine, in May 2016. Rekha, a young girl, wrote a story titled ‘Bin Dor Patang’ reimagining the kite as a girl and its tail as the conforming society in which she lives. Their stories are also regularly featured in Chakmak, the children’s science magazine and in other Hindi literary publications. Even the children who haven’t written much till now, enthusiastically take part in discussions. They put it in simple words when they say, “a desire for learning is what binds us together.”
Next to the Kitab Ghar is the Savda Archive, a room full of memories of the residents of the colony. It houses the story of how Savda was built from nothing. Residents have contributed belongings like their first voter ID cards, utensils, pictures of their first shops and houses. On a noticeboard, in one of the corners, are cut-outs from newspapers featuring their colony and pictures of the barren land that Savda once was before they moved in. Elder residents often visit the room, reminiscing about their first monsoon here which created havoc and other such nostalgia. In another corner, is a board pinned with playing cards that has pictures of the names of the first shops that blossomed in the locality.
Then there is the Savda Talkies, a small space featuring a projector screen where movies are shown. It is also a performance centre where people get together to play music, sing and dance. All the three places—The Kitab Ghar, Savda Archives and Savda Talkies are an initiative of the Ankur Society for Alternatives in Education. Jaanu Nagar, a local youth, is in charge of the Savda Archives and Talkies and oversees its functioning. 20-year-old Saif Ali manages the Youtube channel—Sawda Archive, where he uploads videos of them singing and talking about their community. He also runs and manages a blog.
Apart from reading and writing, the children also write and perform street plays and are currently working on a film script. “We believe in setting no limits for ourselves”, says Jaanu Nagar. Amar has been working on a story titled ‘Dilli ki ladkiyan” and recites it to Jaanu bhaiya, who tells him to take flight in his thought process. “Likhna dabav se nahi, aazadi se aata hai”, he says.
Not only are the children of this colony talented writers, but have also won various sports and academic competitions in the city. “Savda is known for winners”, Gulshan proudly says.
It’s almost lunch time for them and everyone has brought food from their homes. Gulshan asks me over lunch, the process of becoming a Chartered Accountant. A little surprised, I ask him why he doesn’t want to be a writer. “If I become a writer, others will make me write. I want to keep writing for myself and for what I believe in”, he says.
Savda Ghevra had no roads or services before it was converted into a colony. The area was forested and ‘village-like’. For the first seven years, water was supplied by tankers and bore wells. Since 2013, Water ATMs have been installed in the colony. There is no proper sewerage system nor a fixed system of garbage collection. Often called a ‘planned slum’, it has negligible hygiene.
The doors of this place are always open for non-residents who are willing to teach and learn together. Though many families are uneducated, they want their children to learn. To encourage a bigger participation, children hold street reading events and are always met with a positive response from the elders who offer food and ‘Rooh Afza’ to beat the heat.
The children of this colony do not have much, but their zeal to bring about a change is commendable. Anybody who has any talent or skill to share should give these children a visit.
Just remember, when in this area, expect big opportunities in unexpected places.