Jagruti Awakens Many Eyes to the Laudable Literacy Goals of RICE

Performers on stage after the play, from the narrative drama Jagruti.

Performers on stage after the play, from the narrative drama Jagruti.

By Jawahar Malhotra 

KATY: Thoughts of the Great Mahatma raced through the mind as the lines from his beloved poem Lead Kindly Light echoed through the cavernous auditorium, two whole, huge walls of which were splashed with projected slides; three more screens completing the semi-circular background that transposed the stage in front to a village setting in West Bengal. The scenes changed as the evening progressed and took the audience of a flight of fantasy.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, continued the female narrator as those of us who learnt the beautiful poem in high school recalled the words, long forgotten. And so began the lead in to the narrative drama Jagruti (Awakening), designed, produced and directed by Debleena Banerji of the Prana School of Music and Arts of Katy.

The play tells the story of the struggle of a 7 year-old orphaned girl Anandi who is adopted by a childless village couple Bijoya and Nikhil. She excels in studying and despite the objections of close-minded village leaders, goes off to college in the city and returns with her degree to teach the kids in the village. The cast – Achintya Ghosh, Jaya Ghosh, Praveen Srivastav, Sudip Bandyopadhya, Rupa Ghosh, Rittika Nandi, Aishani Saha, Anusha De and many more – were accentuated by the live background music provided by Biplab Samadder, Erich Avinger and Raja Banga.

The auditorium of the CrossPoint Community Church on South Westgreen, packed with nearly 600 people listened with rapt attention as the story unfolded and the message of learning and educating sunk in.

For this is the message that Rishabh Shah, a senior at Seven Lakes High School had understood when he visited the tiny village of Gayeshpur in West Bengal several months ago. He was motivated by the little kids he saw who were thirsting for knowledge in a crowded school supported by Ekal Vidyalaya, a non-profit organization that builds schools for marginalized children across rural and tribal India. He looked around for inspiration and found it in RICE – Removing Illiteracy through Collective Education – an organization started five years ago by Tarun Mathur in Orlando, Florida who had likewise visited an EV school. Mathur persuaded his own public high school to donate to EV and from there, the nucleus of RICE started, now with 5 chapters nationwide.

With his passion, Shah inspired others to start RICE at his high school and pull together this remarkable event to raise money for the EV cause with the help of their parents and gurus at Prana School. While the chapter is only a few months old, this past Saturday, April 20 at their first fund raiser they collected more than $13,500 in donations.

“RICE has formed with the commitment to its mission of eradicating illiteracy through collective education and by breaking the cycle of poverty by funding education for the underprivileged,” said Shah, President of the club. Through its affiliation with EV, RICE is able to avail of Ekal’s global reach and operations and support the 47,000 schools that EV runs in India. Over 20,000 graduates of the program have come back to teach at EV schools.

The rest of the evening was comprised of a number of unique performances: World Orchestra by the students and the siblings of Prana School, Lehra Ghongroo presentation by Kathak Nrityalay directed by Keka Kar with live tabla accompaniment by the students of the Prana School and its principal Raja Banga. The final performance was the Prana Concert, a Raga-Jazz fusion with 7 well known musicians from the Houston music world. Talented vocalist Balkar Singh and noted violin player Biplab Samdder drew the images of Indian ragas, while Erich Avinger and Aaron Hermes reciprocated with Jazz music using flute, acoustic guitar and bass guitar. Young drummer Ved Chitale and Salil Kulkarni on percussion added to the pleasure of audience engrossed in the fusion of various Indian ragas and jazz streaks intertwined.

Raja Banga contributed to this article