Library on Air: The Making of the Buguri Podcast Series Season 1

There has been a lot going on behind the scenes of the popular children’s series on Radio Active. We have been doing a throwback series, based on popular demand  of Season 1 in from the first week of July. Season 2, premiered on the 21st July 2020 and we thought it would be interesting to look back on certain lesser known facts on the making of the Buguri Podcast Season 1.

Pinky Chandran & Beula Anthony speak to Lakshmi Karunkaran and Noor Sengupta on why the library moved on air, and the fascinating behind the scenes – co-creation process. Read on…

Lakshmi Karunakaran and Noor SenGupta

Radio Active: What is the the Hasiru Dala Buguri Children’s Program?

Lakshmi: Buguri Library, is a children’s community library program. It is an initiative of  Hasiru Dala, a social justice organisation working with waste pickers, and other informal waste workers in Karnataka.

There are over 1,00,000 waste-pickers and informal waste collectors in Karnataka, India. Most of them are based in the state capital Bengaluru. Smaller cities like Chamarajanagar, Tumkuru have 100-500 waste-pickers. A significant number of waste pickers are women who are economically disadvantaged and this is further compounded by their caste and class backgrounds.  Many of the waste pickers belong to socially marginalized populations, including scheduled caste, tribes and other backward classes. The children of these waste-pickers are one of the most marginalized populations often ‘at risk’ children.  Limited access to formal education, high dropout rate at different levels,  some even accompany their parents into waste picking. This in turn has serious ramifications for the children, their families and the society as a whole, as they are then unable to break the vicious cycle of poverty. While there are children, whose parents persist and help them complete their schooling, there is also a felt need to supplement the efforts to make sure children stay in school and complete their education.

Noor SenGupta: Hasiru’s Dala’s Buguri Children Programs which includes scholarships and loans, hostel enrollment, community libraries, creative arts expression programs, summer workshops and read aloud celebrations  aims to provide safe environments that help nurture children’s social, emotional and cognitive growth.

Radio Active: The Buguri Libraries are much more than mere physical space in the city. It is a de facto community center, aiding social interactions, allowing for divergent ideas, views and expressions. It also serves as a mediating space, allowing for reflection, reason, and respite. It’s something for every child that participates. In the lockdown, the physical space is shut, so how does one keep libraries during lockdown alive?What did you do? Why is it important to rethink and reconnect?

Lakshmi: As India announced lockdown from March 21st, 2020, I wondered what that would mean for the community libraries and for the children of the waste pickers. Dwindling income, lack of access to food, health care facilities, uncertainties in the recycling industry, threat of coming in contact with medical waste had a downward spiraling effect on the lives of the waste pickers and their families. Apart from cases of increased domestic violence, alcohol withdrawal, lack of space to maintain physical distance, their children felt marginalised and ostracised because of their parents’ profession. The pandemic laid bare inequalities in a number of ways – most important one being lack of digital access. There was a stronger need to enable access to libraries, engage with children, especially in times of uncertainty and the widening digital divide, for an alternative and informal safe learning space.

Noor: We knew that we had to reach out to children, as all onsite activities had ceased. The Buguri team got together to ideate ways to reach out to children. We evaluated what was on hand through informal surveys, and realised that while access to the internet was not uniform, mobile penetration was high. The question was how do we recreate the experience using resources available. And we need to use multiple mediums and platforms, including terrestrial broadcasting through community radio. We were on a mission to reach the last child, to bridge the divide.

Lakshmi: The team created mentor groups of older children and started to plan online programs. Using a conference call facility to reach out to at least a group of six-eight children at a time, schedules were drawn, parents and community leaders were made aware of the details and were expected to share information.  For children who had access to smartphones and internet, whatsapp groups were created, with the numbers of the parents.

Noor: Books were shared every day and children were asked to read and complete the activities- ranging from drawing , writing, making crafts, music, creating their own stories  through voice notes, pictures and videos. We received over 500 responses from children enrolled in this program. In some cases parents got involved to help children with the activities. COVID19 related information was simplified and our in house art therapist Pallavi Chander, was available for weekly calls to talk to children under stressful situations.

Radio Active: Here’s a transcript from the first episode “Hello, Hello, Hello, Namaskara, Sat Sri Akal, As-Salaam-Alaikum, welcome to the Buguri Podcast. A brand new show on Radio Active 90.4 MHz- Bangalore first community radio station. As many of you know, Buguri is Hasiru Dala’s  children’s community library program in Bangalore, Tumkur and Mysore. But you know we have an unique problem these days, due to the lockdown situation, we have not been able to run our libraries. Children are not able to come to our libraries. And we are not able to sing our songs. But we decided that should  not stop us from sharing our stories, singing our songs, creating fun activities, and sharing important information with you. So we have decided that  if you cannot come to us, we will come to you through this brand new series – The Buguri Podcast “- The Buguri Podcast- Episode 1  . Tell us about the conceptualisation of the Buguri Podcast

Noor:  The Buguri Podcast, on Radio Active 90.4 Mhz, became the outreach program. Aired three times a week, in multiple languages – English, Kannada, Tamil, bengali and Assamese – Season 1 had 15 episodes with  different segments. We had over 25 members- the library team and volunteers contributed to the first season.

In the first segment titled Story Kellona, we different storytellers narrate stories in different languages. To mention a few: Bangalore based storyteller Shylaja Sampath narrated a folktale from Africa and a story of a calf missing his mother.  Priyanka Chatterjee narrated a humorous tale about an elephant who catches a cold! Gajapati Kulapati by Tulika Publishers. Sangeeta Goel told  a tale of a hare who believes the world is going to end.  Pallavi Chander shared a story in Tamilwhose title translates to ‘How I Feel’ – taking the listeners through the myriad emotions that a child feels in their life – sadness, fear, happiness, curiosity, and more. Vikram Shridhar takes you through the fascinating story of Ottakaran Marumuttu. Satwik adapted the Pratham Book’s award winning story  Angry Akku written by Vinayak Varma. Anagha Keetri narrated a folktale about vegetables and the curious king. Shantheri Mallaya told the  story – The Seed Savers’ written by Bijal Vachharajani and published by Pratham Books about farmers and seed banks. Shrunga BV shared a superhero’s story based on the adaptation of Pratham Book’s Jadhav Peyang and the Tree Place written and illustrated by Vinayak Varma.

Lakshmi : Pallavi and the team designed and developed  a radio drama titled Maya and Thonga that helped children understand COVID19 in a child friendly way. The idea emerged, after engaging with children, prior to the radio series. The library team collected all questions and that helped with the conceptualising of the segment.  Maya is a young girl, frustrated by the lockdown as she is unable to fathom anything about the lockdown or the school closure or the restriction on playing outside, especially with a raintree outside her house, whom she names Thunga ( Thoongamoonji). One day, staring outside the window, she hears the tree whisper to her and she begins conversation, helping her understand the situation. Pallavi used this as a starting point to build content for the series. Each episode ended with an arts based activity that children could try at home- and this included puppet-making, drawings, collage etc, to help children communicate and engage with their emotional needs. Basically the structure of the podcast was the following: a) Giving out information b) Reaching out to children c) Making available child friendly COVID information

Noor: The library team had to move away from the old mode of working- we believed in the one-to-one interaction. We were very analog in our approach and we had to adapt and reskill –  learn to edit audio, conduct online classes, create activities  and reach out to networks.  We had over 90 stories read aloud from April- June 2020. This included online classes and podcast. We had 51 children’s groups across three locations and over 144 children who participated in the calls

Lakshmi: We had to constantly keep asking ourselves,how does one make it interactive? What kind of questions are we asking? What kind of pauses should we be taking? In our first episode we also had a volunteer who is on the autistic spectrum, convert his love for languages into a small segment. This made him the ‘Language Guru’ and simple words like Hello and Thank you were said in 20 different languages,  including  Dzongkha, Tulu, Konkani, Bhojpuri, and Kashmiri.

Noor: For the Bengali episode  I asked my mother to volunteer as an RJ. I have family members who are singers and asked them to record songs for the series. I have been amazed at the coordination- My mother is in Madhya Pradesh, my aunt in Kolkatta, Priyanka in Mumbai and I am in Bangalore and we made it happen. 

Lakshmi: For children who did not have basic stationery at home, through Hasiru Dala’s ration distribution program, we distributed stationery kits. Nothing could be more fulfilling than to see children reading out loud, creating content and urging people to follow the rules of the lockdown and wear masks.

Radio Active: So what do we look forward to in Season 2?

Lakshmi: In Season 2 we will largely keep the format the same, but bring more voices of people, volunteers and storytellers. However, in further seasons we will want to bring more voices of children and hopefully the show to be largely taken over by children who will be primary content creators.

Here’s a playlist for Season1

Stay tuned for Season 2

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