My Journey features Smita Vats, Founder, Itihaas.

[ITIHAAS came in to being in the year 2004. It was born out of a concern that children were getting increasingly alienated from their Traditions and Heritage.

ITIHAAS re-introduces children to their heritage, which is tangible and intangible, by walking them through their past. ITIHAAS is about telling stories. Real stories, that take children to a land that is not far away, but right next door, sometimes buried in our backyard and on some occasions, ensconced in our living memories.

More than 100 schools in the NCR region participate regularly in ITIHAAS programme]

When started and what were the initial hurdles?

  • When I started what I am doing now, it had no name. It was a huge challenge -understanding tradition, heritage. We work with school children..
  • I was only the one, but the schools would ask where is the team?
  • Two kinds of people you meet initially –
    • One kind of people- just meets, realizes and acknowledges your work and potential
    • Another kind will always be suspicious about you
      • Are they really doing what they claim?
      • Are they only making money?

What do we do at ITIHAAS?

  • We take children, mostly school children, to heritage walks…
    • Children knew about Berlin, world trade centre, Big Ben etc, but they would not know about Lal Qila and chandni chowk, our own backyards
    • We work with 2.5 lakh students from October 2009
  • We ask schools how many you would want me to take. Schools may say 200
    • We have to cater to their demand
    • Should we take teachers for the walk..
      • Teachers did not work, neither historians worked, children got bored
      • We went to get theatre people and locals in the areas where we work..
      • How do we bring feelings and emotions to hook children..
      • Today we have a CAR mechanic, many student volunteers etc who take students around
  • Give experiences that make them explore more..
    • The traditional trades and professions of the yesteryears like kabootarbaaz (bird trainers), kalaiwala, dhunaiwala etc.
    • Orissa – Bone healers in Kalipuraghat in Orissa..
      • When children complained about headaches, we thought of how to introduce tribal medicine and knowledge
    • Sheila Bhatia – Punjabi, Opera theatre – only one of her kind

Why did you start with private schools rather than Government schools..

  • I have to have a viable endeavour to help those who cannot afford
  • I have to sustain to give others a career choice in Itihaas

Where did it all start? You judge a person by seeing what he does in the free time

  • When the school wanted me to have a File for bio, I did not have a file as I did not want to do things blindly…I think the seed was sown there and it was nurtured in many ways..
  • 1983, I fell from 6th floor to 4th floor, broke my back…. Was bed-ridden
  • I love to travel. Surabhi, the programme on Doordarshan with Siddharth, I used to enjoy. Turning Point by Girish Karnad / Naseeruddin Shah on DD was a revelation
  • I never want to get more than 60-70 percent, because I want to go to Debate, theatre, elocution… etc..

Were you different from childhood? How were you nurtured?

    • I was allowed to be different by parents…
    • Instead of “Jai ramji ki uncle”, I would say “Jai Sitaji ki” which annoyed him and mother did not scold me
    • Came from a family where Faiz Ahmed Faiz was a regular visitor…all freedom fighters used to troupe in for discussions
    • So many people keep pouring at home and discuss; they all left a great impression…
    • I always felt that what you really enjoy is what you should do
      • Social cause, fighting for the underdogs etc
    • Love for our country came through due to discussions, being part of culturally-rich childhood environment
  • In school directed and acted in: Riders of the Sea – by JS Singe.
    • Went to British Council Library to do research for it
    • One of the judges for the performance was Faizal Alkazi
      • He called me for a play ‘Manic Dipression’
    • Then Jan Natyamanch.. Habib Tanvir, Hashmi, Joy,… etc happened
    • Zhaadu, poncha (sweeping, wiping, washing socks also happens…)

It all led to media studies from Jamia and explorations in film making, that in turn led to life defining experiences

  • Sheila Bhatia film – Some times you have to camouflage (women in theatre.. UGC funded when we wanted it to make)
  • Life was about making films
    • Pre-scripted stories (Mullah nasruddin)
    • 100 documentaries…
  • Documenting issues and causes – Chittaranjan Shadangi, Medha Patkar, Narmada andholan etc
  • Then the accident of fall happened. Bed ridden.
    • Chittubhai called me to come to PURI for tribal cure. No objection from home
    • Kalugudaghat, stayed with a sister of 24 activists
    • Only eat green leaves
    • The healer uses heated rods…
    • In 3 months I came back cured…
  • Aaj Ki Naari on Aaj Tak…Scindia episode
  • Then one fine day theatre happened to me in a big way again ; Theatre offered biggest lessons for me..
    • Amal Allana, daughter of Ibrahim Alkazi chanced upon me
  • §         King Lear with Manohar singh… I was Lear..
  • §         Acting can be magic.. but film making can make one selfish..
  • §         A methodical actor like Manohar singh changed everything on the go…
  • §         Trust that develops between two people is unparalled
  • §         Trust in making a film is not as much
  • In all serials, the women has to look good..the home should look good..
    • It is regressive, Women are sitting and talking, Stories are being decided on Logistics.. Four episodes in a day…
    • Udaan, Asthitva are rare kinds
  • I was surround with news and issues that you really want to do…
    • What is that you really want to do?
      • Gandhiji – Fast on to death….putlibhai used to fast for a lot of things
        • He used to walk when in London during school days…
        • SO walking and fasting became greatest weapon.
        • Gandhi used charge autograph and put it in the Harijan fund
    • I am not sure whether there is more learning in giving facility or more learning in not having the facility..

So theatre/film making dealing with real issues and travel happened in a big way

  • Theatre has not touched our generation,
  • Theatre was a community affair, Now cities being spread out…..
    • NSD – Chamku.. raghuvir yadav carried as dead body. No body part was in control ..
  • Meeting people was my forte – Jaipur, Gujarat – Interviewing Narendar Modi
  • Learning while traveling…
    • Food, people, vibe, safe and not safe, respect the city…
    • Cloth on the head in the walled city

That has been the journey of life that has influenced me perhaps to explore, share and facilitate young children.

What were the initial challenges and how did you explore?

  • What do you do to help students to remember the heritage and history..
    • We could not have built Red Fort without science and arts, so integrate the walks with all relevant information interestingly
    • When a child observes things around, a beggar, in Nizamuddin ka Darga talk about the challenges and reality of the nation
  • Actor knows how to get attention, how silence impacts, who to connect etc. Actors speaks to the last person in the audience and not to the first one.. Actor connects to each one.
  • Theko from Meghalaya could not read English, so had to translate..
  • You need language skills…

What was the response from students…

  • Itihaas has been working with age 5 to age 18
    • There are many schools that are very regular
    • A child who has been part of Itihaas, is writing a book on Delhi..
  • 98% people like it on the first go, rest say rasta gandha tha, jaga gandhi thi
  • First year 40 came, today 300 coming
  • School from Gurgaon -123 children came
  • Now we walk over 18000 children every year from about 100+ schools

What do you call yourself?

  • Social Entrepreneur –
    • The funders ask us what is your impact

Learnings –

  • Think Big… you must be versatile
    • One must not be mortgaged to one thing
    • If it can bridge the gap between what you like and profession
    • Be the change that you want to see…
  • As long as you are versatile and innovate quickly…ability to be spontaneous it makes difference…

[My apologies: Though Smita visited IWSB over a year ago, I managed to give a shape to her My Journey talk only now. I apologize for the delay in tracing the documentation of that talk. There are a few more which I will locate.]


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