Written By: Faith D. Toran
MOHANAM COMMUNITY CENTER FOR CULTURE & EDUCATION
“[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”
In the Auroville village of Sanjeevi Nagar, I was in community with one who is a champion. I would like to introduce you to a champion, as Ramirez states in Communication in Another Development as one who has successfully created change from a participatory framework in the development field. Balu, co-director of the Mohanam Community Center for Culture and Education, is committed to cultural preservation through education and has created a space that is conducive to creativity, education, inclusivity, cultural appreciation and preservation. It was inspiring to be in the presence of such a change agent.
I took a few moments to try and observe the context, the culture and the breath of the moment. I was captured by a feeling of authenticity, one that I could not fully contextualize. I tried to understand through language and landscape, so I focused my eyes on the signs and architecture. Was it the signs and architecture that gave life to the culture or was it the traditional kolam, that spoke to the management of life through art and meditation? I asked myself, in a whisper, is cultural preservation a foundation to sustainability and improved livelihood? Was it possible for one to draw from the depths of indigenous knowledge systems, to counteract the systems that wreaked havoc on their lives?
I quieted my mind so that I could listen.
Mohanam – “comes from one of the most harmonious ragas of Classical Indian Music and evokes the power of fulfillment of our aspiration for beauty and harmony” a 85-90-year young building, filled with education, cultural preservation and little precious children, playing, running, smiling through the school yard was alive and well, in the sense that it was successfully addressing the issues of the village through cultural heritage preservation. Mohanam was birthed in 2001 as a Non-Profit Auroville service unit.
In addressing the problem of the lack of cultural preservation or the threat of extinction, Mohanam implemented a progressive Kindergarten for 60 village children from 6 different villages, performance art and summer camp programs with a central focus on cultural sharing and preservation.
Preserving culture in the work of Mohanam has transcended the original reach of children, through discursive community groups such as the local village women. The local village women have created and implemented a successful replicable model for access to clean drinking water, this project is both participatory and empowering for the development of the community. Amidst modernization, Mohanam seeks to preserve the Tamil Nadu culture as a means of development and improving the livelihood of their communities. It was inspiring to see the validation of culture as a resource to development rather than battle with the notions of lack of cultural relativism, that one has had to navigate while working in the field under the dominant modernization paradigm in development communications.
As we drew kolam in the earth, each line and dot I placed made me smile. I held not only culture in my hands, I held the power that is resourceful and working to address the disparities that these communities face. It was not my knowledge or ideas, it was as Paul Freire describes as “The greatest humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves..”