Category: Community

Shelter Amongst Trees

Time seems to have stopped here. This patch of green in the heart of the city is contiguous with Bel Bagh, which is like a sacred grove. There were several gardens in the old city … Hirabagh, Vishrambagh, Ramanbagh, Tulshibagh etc., which now have only shops and buildings. The old houses in Jogeshwari Lane are mostly gone, and tall buildings now surround Hematai’s patch of green, where she lives with her brother, Suhasji. She says, “I was born here and have been living in this house since 1940. With these new constructions around, my house is now a fortress!” Dr Hema Sane was the first woman lecturer of Botany in Pune, in 1962. She retired in 2000, as Head of Dept of Botany, Garware College. She is also an M Phil in Indology. She has authored several textbooks, monographs, scripts and popular articles on plants in and around Pune.  Talking about the changing biodiversity of Pune, Hematai says, “Dr Vartak would lead nature walks for studying and collecting plant specimens in the Mutha river bed. Even up to the 80s we would find a couple of species of orchids there. They are gone now.” About her own life and her house, she says, “My life is rich not with things, but with my experiences and my friends, these trees, Rangutai the cat, and the birds. Another thing I cannot live without is music which my radio brings me.”

Dr Sane’s place is here on wikimapia

These photographs were taken as part of the ‘Living in a Changing Environment‘ photography workshop conducted in Pune by Prof Stefan Koppelkamm and Mr Peeyush Sekhsaria, and organized by Max Mueller Bhavan, Pune and Maharashtra Cultural Centre.

Living in a Changing Environment

Photography Exhibition curated by the Maharashtra Cultural Center and the Max Mueller Bhavan

8 April to 8 May 2010 at Max Mueller Bhavan, Boat Club Road, Pune 411 001

The exhibition shows photographs of Bhagyashree Bhutada, Prasad Dabke,  Snehal Date, Sanket Deshpande, Rainer Hoerig, Arul Horizon, Pooja Joshi, Meghana Kulkarni, Shamin Kulkarni, Sanskriti Menon, Sujit Patwardhan, Vikrant Thakar

The exhibition unites twelve personal perspectives of the city of Pune. Some of the photographers take you on a discovery tour to places which contribute to the identity of their city threatened by the dynamics of urban development and neglect. Others take a critical look at the ubiquitous billboards which dominate the appearance of large parts of the city and at the new urban lifestyle symbolized by glass and concrete buildings which are neither adapted to the climate nor to the architectural and cultural context. The photographers hope that this exhibition will make a visual contribution to a discussion about the future of their city – a discussion they feel is necessary and urgent.


The photo-exhibition is the result of a week-long workshop conducted by Stefan Koppelkamm and architect and photographer Peeyush Sekhsaria. Stefan conducted the Places I Like photography workshop in Bangalore in August 2009, and through the facilitation of MMB Pune, we were able to have the workshop in Pune too.

For me, the photo workshop was a way of exploring the old city. We walked about Tulshibagh, Mandai, Kasba, Tambat Ali, Laxmi Road, Narayan Peth looking at paars, changing uses, buildings being pulled down, new buildings replacing old, mandirs subsumed within new buildings, deep stumbhs now standing neglected, little curving lanes, ferns on old crumbling slim red brick walls, shop signs in chalk … We also had thali lunches, nira, kairi panhe, Dharwad pedhe, hot pattice from New Poona Bakery.

Our photos capture some of this flavour and tell stories about Pune.

Pooja’s photos about the brick kilns outside Pune have a story deeper than what is immediately evident. The location of the kiln was probably a farm, now its just a piece of real estate, already sold for construction. The top soil was probably sold separately to another kiln. And so the city and the built environment expands and eats up the surrounding farm land.

Rainer captures the old and the new; physical structures of glass and chrome replace mud and straw huts though remnants of the village are still strewn about. You wonder what became of the people whose village it was. In another photo, the Bombay-Pune road is the setting for the crossing of the Wari that pre-dates the structures in the background – the British water tower and the modern glass-chrome mall. Some collective memories endure and are longer-lived than buildings.

Snehal’s photos of Taljai celebrate the green patches left in our city, though the skyline of the city just beyond tells you just how vulnerable these patches are. Sujit’s photos of shops and vendors in the old core city speak about a type of economy very much alive, vibrant and colourful – but does the key-maker or the Amrutulya know that Pune’s City Development Plan also speaks about a vibrant economy, but that it might mean a very different economy and a very different perception of ‘vibrant’. These little, ‘low-value’ economic activities have no place in the modern city which measures its success by the foot falls in the malls. Vikrant comments on the larger-than-life bill boards and their empty promises.

Arul and I have more personal yet generic stories to tell – of particular people, and the changes in the city seen through their lives. Prasad captures the dull red gleam of the Tambats’ lives. The Mandai that, with its dark, musty and mysterious light, could be a child’s ‘I Spy’ delight – Bhagyashree yearns to see it full of people and life again.

Other photos also show dilapidated structures, beautiful no doubt, but maybe unsafe? A change in land-use, and an increase in the FSI limit will decongest the old core, but de-congest it of what and for what? To replace it with more glass and chrome? Perhaps the photos can be the reason or the excuse or the backdrop for a wider dialogue on what is our city about, whose lives are at stake, and whose vision is shaping the structure of the city and the destiny of its people.

My photos.


Glimpses of the Workshop

Pooja, Peeyush, Stefan
Sujit, Bhagyashree and Snehal compare cameras
Sujit, Bhagyashree and Snehal compare cameras
Rainer and Stefan
Prasad, Stefan, Peeyush

Local Exchange and Trading Systems

Local Exchange and Trading Systems (LETS) are community-owned systems of localized transactions not dependent on the formal government backed currency/ money system. LETS are emerging as a means of stimulating or strengthening local economies and communities, for goods and services that people can easily produce and trade locally.

At first, local economies were barter-based, and in indigenous societies, embedded in culture. Different cultures at different times moved from barter to money-based transactions. The situation in the capitalism-oriented world today is that a lot of money, control of trade and governance are concentrated in the hands of relatively few people. Individuals or communities that have a lack or shortage of money may find themselves unable to trade upon their time, skills and other resources through the formal monetized economic transactions.

The difference between traditional barter and LETS is that exchanges are not limited to the two people involved in the exchange; instead an account is maintained of credits and debits. ‘Time banks’ are another localized economic system similar in their objective to LETS, but with goods and services equated to hours of work.

The origin of LETS understood in the ‘modern’ sense, appears to have been in Comox Valley, British Columbia. This town of about 50000 inhabitants was left without major employment when the local timber mill closed down in the 1980s due to recession, and the other employer, an airbase, was transferred. A LETS was initiated, which in 7 years, had an annual turn over of 500000 ‘green dollars’, and a membership of 600. The ability to trade upon labour provided by LETS helped the people pull themselves out of the economic shock caused by the departure of the major employers.

In Argentina, following strictures placed by the IMF in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a range of alternatives to the mainstream money economy arose: barter systems, LETS where labour was exchanged, community currencies as well as alternative currencies, which were backed by the provincial governments. These provided liquidity in a depressed economy and allowed people to access food, healthcare and other essentials which may have been difficult due to the depression of the national currency.

These two examples show that LETS can provide stability to a local economy. Since every transaction credits one party and debits equally another party, there is no need to predict the amount of ‘money’ needed in an economy, which is the case in conventional government-backed currencies. Unlike in the conventional economy, in LETS, money does not create more money by interest or usury. It is work, labour, time, skill and enterprise that create the economy. LETS values enterprise and encourages people to trade on their own skills and time.

DeMeulenaere (2000) describes the experience in Argentina, Community exchange networks, parallel/local/alternative currency systems, or whatever name they choose to go by, are a way of identifying and mobilizing the community’s assets. Rather than focusing on what a community is lacking, they identify what the community is possessing, and build on that foundation.

For many LETS participants, its main advantages appear to be the forging and strengthening of social networks. This is true of similar localized economy networks as well. As one of the members of Cornell’s Ithaca HOURS says on their website,

“Mary earned about 35 HOURS selling organic produce at the Farmer’s Market. She bought roofing and computer programming. She’d like us to develop toward a non-monetary society like that described in Sonia Johnson’s book Wildfire. “Money is a tool of patriarchy that dissociates us from one another and so contributes to the spiritual void.” She says HOURS are “a starting point. They are better than federal currency by being local, and therefore seem safe.”

Indeed, Madison Hours states that their primary mission is ‘to promote economic equity’; and that ‘cooperative philosophy and values are integral to the functioning of their enterprise’. For individuals excluded from the formal economy for various reasons, this conscious effort to build on local abilities maybe a very important contributor to economic and social well-being.

As a method of promoting sustainability, LETS would be expected to contribute to reducing the ‘ecological footprint’ of a community by supplying local goods and services. Some LETS have transactions on local food, local compost, trade in second-hand goods etc. But its not clear whether LETS have substantially enhanced local primary produce and manufacture and replaced imports. Consciously integrating LETS with local recycling and composting programmes may provide a way for enhancing this.

Some LETS appear to have been formed by individuals or groups with ‘green’ leanings. Possibly, these LETS have a greater trade in local produce, driven by local choice for such produce.

For communities interested in assessing their own direction of development, an objective look at membership profiles, types of transactions may help in determining the impact of their LETS. The volume and types of transactions in LETS may be used as an important and easily understandable indicator of sustainability of the region. Tools such as ‘Plugging the Leaks’ developed by The New Economics Foundation can help a community identify the economic resources in their local economy and determine ways to use them more effectively.

Some Constraints

Depending on how a LETS has been formed and members recruited, LETS may be inclusive or become exclusive. If members tend to adhere to a particular ideology, or if the LETS has built upon an existing strong social network, it may actually alienate other communities and individuals, negating one of the main benefits of the LETS concept.

Another issue is the ‘employability’ of individuals, or the marketability of their time, skills and services. Those whose skills are already marketable would tend to reserve these for the formal economy. Others, who can’t market these even in the informal and localized LETS would just run up a long list of ‘debits’. Different LETS have different ways of handling such situations, but too many debits would usually mean that the debtor would have to leave the system.

Many countries recognize LETS and community currencies as legal, and transactions are taxable. However in Thailand, a community currency scheme was stopped by the government within a month as it was perceived as a threat to the government backed currency.

Various researchers (Ingleby 1998 and Rowe and Robins, 2000) have reflected on possible mechanization of social/ community processes in LETS, especially when institutionalized. While LETS provides a framework for community development, just like mainstream economic systems, the decision-making in LETS remains centred on exchange activity. Member participation tends to be measured in terms of trading levels. The basic human values that underlay a cohesive community cannot be supplied by a LETS. Insofar as LETS provides a forum for enhanced local interaction and a feeling of dependence, such values may be strengthened.

Though some LETS have faced issues of structure, actual value to community processes and government acceptance, LETS are seen as important for sustainable development as they have the potential to:

  • strengthen local participation and sense of community
  • value goods and services produced by people who wouldn’t otherwise find place in a formal market economy thereby increasing their quality of life and real income
  • reduce the environmental impact of movement of goods (and perhaps even ‘globalized’ services with huge management overheads) delivered across large / global-scale distances

Anyone know of examples in Pune, or other cities in India?


Cato Molly Scott (2006) ‘Argentina in the Red: What can the UK’s Regional Economies Learn from the Argentinian Banking Crisis?’, International Journal of Community Currency Research. Vol 10, pp 43-55

DeMeulenaere Stephen (2000) ‘Reinventing the Market: Alternative Currencies and Community Development in Argentina’, International Journal of Community Currency Research, Volume 4

Hepworth Sarah ‘Local Exchange Trading Systems and Impact Assessment – Application Guidance Notes’ on . Accessed on 15 May 2007

Ingleby Julie (1998) ‘Local Economic Trading Systems: Potentials for New Communities of Meaning: a brief exploration of eight LETSystems, with a focus on decision making’ International Journal of Community Currency Research Vol 2

Gran Even (1998) ‘Green Domination in Norwegian Letsystems: Catalyst For Growth Or Constraint On Development?’ International Journal of Community Currency Research. Vol 2

Pacione M (1997) ‘Local Exchange Trading Systems as a response to the globalization of capitalism’, Urban Studies, 34,8, pp.1179-1199

Rowe J and Robbins C (2000) ‘Leading from below: the contribution of community-based initiatives’ in Barton H (ed) Sustainable Communities: the potential for eco-neighbourhoods, Earthscan, London.

Williams C C (1997) ‘Local Exchange and Trading Systems (LETS) In Australia: A New Tool For Community Development?’ International Journal of Community Currency Research Vol 1 Accessed on 15 May 2007 Accessed on 15 May 2007 Accessed on 15 May 2007 Accessed on 15 May 2007 Accessed on 15 May 2007

Sustainability, Participation and Education


Participation is one of the key principles of development of sustainability strategies. Dalal-Clayton and Bass[i] state that:

… people and institutions alike do not change because someone else tells them to – they have to be involved in the understanding and realizing the need for change, making decisions about change, and then going through the process themselves. 

Sustainability strategy development requires that different actors – government, private sector, civil society, research institutions etc – jointly consider issues and problems, seek out courses of action, review plans and implementation, in a cyclical manner. Additionally, since strategies have not usually been developed in this manner in the past, the traditional roles of the actors may need to be balanced out to provide space / voice for those hitherto not included.

So, participation processes should be such that help people participate effectively. Techniques may be required so that participants get adequate and accurate information about issues, have time and space to understand intricacies, are able to consider options and engage in fair negotiations when needed. The success of techniques to elicit effective participation can be an important factor in development of good strategies.

Five examples of participatory techniques, obtained from literature and web review are explored here, in this essay written several months ago. They may offer useful insights for CEE’s work in evolving participatory techniques in Pune.

Participatory Technique Design and Use

The following examples provide a small range of different techniques and applications:

  • Deliberative Polling in China, as an example of strategizing at the city level
  • Andhra Pradesh Urban Services to the Poor, as an example of laying the base for institutionalizing participatory strategy development
  • Leicester’s Local Agenda 21, that highlights the dilemma posed by choices that are made through participatory processes but are not environmentally sound and the need for long-term engagement
  • Prajateerpu, Andhra Pradesh, India as an example of facilitating the articulation of issues by marginalized groups themselves at the level of national and international policy
  • NBSAP India as an example of a participatory process of developing a national level strategy which ultimately became limited by not being inclusive of those who have ‘power’

Deliberative Polling

Deliberative Polling is a technique developed by Prof James Fishkin at University of Texas, Austin and currently at Stanford University, US[ii]. A random, representative sample is first polled on the issues to be discussed. After the baseline poll, members of the sample are invited to a briefing/ series of briefings in order to discuss the issues. Briefing materials and carefully balanced and are also made publicly available. The participants engage in dialogue with experts with the various view points and political leaders based on questions they develop in small group discussions with trained moderators. After deliberations, the sample is again asked the original questions. The resulting changes in opinion represent the conclusions the public would reach, if people had opportunity to become more informed and more engaged by the issues.  

This technique appears to have been used in several applications in developing public policy where trade-offs need to be understood and considered. As an example, the technique was used in Zeguo Township, Zhejiang Province, China in 2005[iii]. The Deliberative Poll brought together a representative sample to consider the choice of infrastructure projects affecting the future of the town including particular roads, parks and sewage treatment plants. From the results it appears that an ‘environmental’ project – development of sewage treatment plants – ranked higher, and development of prestige projects like certain roads and parks ranked lower in importance, after the poll.

Deliberative Polling appears to be useful when it is not possible to engage in a poll with the entire population when strategizing. However, good publicity and making available all briefing and discussion materials may be a very important component in providing to some extent, the elements of enhanced education / awareness that are desirable for – indeed an integral part of – sustainability strategies.

Andhra Pradesh Urban Services to the Poor

This second example is based on a paper by Dove (2004), describing findings from a participatory introspection of the Andhra Pradesh Urban Services to the Poor[iv]. This was a partnership between DFID and the government of Andhra Pradesh. This project evolved out of an analysis of DFID funded projects in the 1980s and 90s which revealed that the earlier projects had not had significant long term benefits as expected. Based on this, one of the components in the APUSP was provision of resources to strengthen civil society and enhance the range and quality of services and initiatives for the poor[v].

The participatory techniques used for deciding the nature and location of infrastructure provisioning included SWOT analysis of settlements, mapping and micro-planning, and poverty matrices. These techniques appear to have provided substantial transparency and logical reasoning to the infrastructure projects chosen for implementation.

Participants had a few suggestions to improve the processes: better and formal communications between the municipality and the citizens to enable ownership of processes; increasing the number of civil society representatives; and creating a pool of representatives for each locality so that the responsibility of attending meetings (and therefore time spent) is shared.

The application of participatory techniques in this instance was to provide a transparent way to arrive at locations chosen for implementation based on an analysis of status of infrastructure and poverty.

The techniques were not used for strategizing over the long-term. However, the use of these techniques may have laid the ground for developing abilities to strategize among the various local stakeholders and actors. Given the absence of any discussion with citizens in the earlier processes of budgeting infrastructure projects, this appears to have been a good way to start discussions on certain aspects of sustainability.

Leicester’s Local Agenda 21

In Leicester, UK participatory processes were used for evolving Local Agenda 21 action plans[vi]. Over a period of two years, a range of techniques were used including questionnaires, surveys, focus group discussions and efforts to involve under-represented groups.

A dilemma is highlighted by Roberts (2000)

To create dialogue between individuals, be they residents of a local housing estate or members of the business community or officers in local government, a facilitator is required. This role involves impartiality, ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard and that the principles of dialogue are adhered to; the facilitator cannot be simultaneously the champion of sustainable development. The moment the facilitator disagrees with a view or attempts to push an issue, he or she loses the role.

What is to be done when public participation yields a demand for choices that are clearly unsustainable? As Roberts (2000) asks, ‘Whilst participatory local democracy is the most sustainable form of government, there are questions as to whether it can, in these days of mass media and short-term political horizons, make difficult decisions for the sake of those in distant places and for future generations.’

While a range of participatory tools and processes are used in the development and implementation of the Local Agenda 21, the individual steps have to be woven together to make the whole effective. Roberts (2000) suggests a framework of action consisting of four components: focus on issues and aspirations; develop the capability and habit of responding to local needs; win hearts and minds and develop new and visible projects.

Innovations are needed in cyclical processes of gathering views, collating, providing information on the projections of impacts of choices, while retaining interest in participation.


Prajateerpu, which translates to ‘people’s verdict’, was a combination of citizens’ jury, scenario building and public hearing. It took place over six days in 2001. The objective was to facilitate the shaping of a vision for farming and food policy by people most affected by the ‘Vision 2020’ in Andhra Pradesh (AP, India). The aim of Prajateerpu was to identify the key areas of importance to the poor and marginalized groups. Members of the jury included women, landless poor, lower castes, and marginal farmers. Rather than being selected randomly from various groups, they were hand picked with the view that they are often over-looked or drowned in the usual government-led visioning or strategizing processes[vii].

The details of the scenarios are not being described here. The important innovation was the launch of the Prajateerpu report in a very visible way at the House of Commons, UK, the aim of which act was to link local voices on the future of food, farming, and rural development with national and international policy making. One request from the jury was that ‘aid from white people’ should reach and actually benefit them. The Prajateerpu organizers paid for one of the members of the citizens’ jury to travel from her village in AP in order to present the jury’s verdict to MPs, the media and others, in London. The attempt was ‘to go beyond the idea of advocating on behalf of the marginalized to the practice of enabling the marginalized to speak for themselves’[viii]

Reference is made to responses from researchers who participated in an e-forum following the publication of the Prajateerpu report. Stirling points to the importance of the use of selected jurors such as in Prajateerpu, when the objective is ‘opening up’ up of policy debate rather than ‘closing down’ or achieving consensus. Gaventa suggests that though important, concerns of scienticism, rigour or validity are ultimately less significant than the concern about whether or not such deliberative processes serve to provide voice and participation in development strategies.

One observation (perhaps by Robert Chambers) draws attention to the need for calling for an articulation and examination of differing values:

For a scenario exercise to be valid and useful the alternative scenarios should be equally appealing to participants, for example, in terms of the impact they would have on their lives. This is the way in which values and aspirations can be brought out into the light and made explicit, but without introducing biases that could invalidate the exercise.[ix]

The response from DFID on Prajateerpu was:

In parallel, more opportunities need to be created for poor people to earn income, and, as Vision 2020 notes, these are likely to be in services and manufacturing, leading to a reduction in the proportion of people gaining their livelihood primarily from agriculture. DFID does not find any references in Vision 2020 that suggest that this shift in employment will be coerced, as implied by some[x]

An articulation and examination of values and systems of beliefs that underlie different solutions or pathways of development are ultimately needed when choices have to be made.

Thus, two learnings from Prajateerpu are particularly pertinent: one, that participatory processes can be designed to articulate viewpoints that may not be otherwise heard, or heard at the level at which policy formulation happens, and that this type of objective is not necessarily unfair; and two, that an examination of values may also need to be done publicly and that negotiations may be between differing value systems.

The innovation by the organizers of Prajateerpu of connecting those involved in international policy formulation to those who are affected by the policies was an important contribution to the practice of participatory process.

Innovations that can help integrate these concerns in participatory processes, and make the trade-offs and choices more transparent would certainly be a step forward in making sustainability strategies be more informed and inclusive.


India set out to develop its National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), as required of all signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity. In a major departure from the usual method producing strategy documents, the Government of India commissioned the NGO Kalpavriksh to lead the process of preparation of India’s NBSAP. A range of participatory planning tools were used – workshops, village level meetings, as well as a biodiversity yatra, exhibitions, radio outreach etc. The process of putting the plan together was as important as the final product. A stated objective of the process was to increase awareness of biodiversity, empower people through participation, and inspire local initiatives to begin implementation of local plans. In this it was very successful – tens of thousands of people were involved in the three-year process. Finally, more than 70 state, sub-state, eco-regional and thematic plans were prepared, in addition to one national plan.

However, when the final draft NBSAP was submitted, the Ministry of Environment and Forests declined to approve and release the national plan.

The NBSAP India process was very successful in its stated objectives of enhancing awareness and encouraging local action. However, it did not have enough dialogue with the more powerful groups including the industry, landowners, politicians and trade unions. An important lesson from the Indian NBSAP experience is that it is essential to strike a balance between ideology and political reality. The voices of the marginalized must be heard, but the ones who have to listen also have to be part of the discussion process[xi].


Participatory processes seem to be successful in enhancing awareness levels, a sense of citizenship, and when thus designed, in articulating the voices of the disadvantaged, all of which are important in the evolution of sustainability strategies. Innovations are yet needed that help in examination of values and clear articulation of trade-offs between different solutions. Over the long-term, such praxis can help in strategies become more informed and inclusive. Participatory techniques are not easy, are time-consuming, and may yield results over the long-term for development of sustainability strategy. ‘Community development’ type of work is more easily done and visible, and may lay the ground for participation in strategizing kind of processes.

Ultimately, the framework of democracy under which participatory processes operate is important because there has to be a clear linkage between decisions made through participatory processes, the acceptance of these decisions, and finally, the ability to hold to account those responsible for implementing the decisions made thus.


[i] Dalal-Clayton, B. and Bass, S. (2002) Sustainable Development Strategies: A Resource Book. International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)

[ii] accessed June 2007

[iii] Jakes, Susan (2005) Dabbling in Democracy, Time April 16, 2005,,9171,1050191,00.html accessed June 2007

[iv] Dove, Lesley (2004) Providing environmental urban services to the poor in Andhra Pradesh: developing strategic decision-making, Environment and Urbanization 2004; 16; 95

[v] Department of Municipal Administration and Urban Development (DMAUD) and DFID (2000), “Andhra Pradesh urban services for the poor: project document”, unpublished, quoted in Dove (2004)

[vi]  Roberts, Ian (2000) Leicester environment city: learning how to make Local Agenda 21, partnerships and participation deliver, Environment and Urbanization 2000; 12; 9

[vii] Pimbert, Michel and Tom Wakeford (2003) An introduction to Prajateerpu: a citizens’ jury/scenario workshop on food and farming futures in Andhra Pradesh, India, PLA Notes, February 2003. IIED.

[viii] Ibid

[ix] Contributions on issues of evidence, legitimacy, and authenticity, PLA Notes, February 2003. IIED

[x] Reflections on the e-forum and Prajateerpu report by the UK Department for International Development, India. , PLA Notes, February 2003. IIED

[xi] Apte, T (2006) A People’s Plan for Biodiversity Conservation: Creative Strategies That Work (and Some That Don’t). Gatekeeper Series No 130, IIED, London quoted in Participation, Planning, Politics and Power: Lessons Learned from the Development of a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan for India. BioSoc: the Biodiversity and Society Bulletin. PCLG, IIED Issue 14: April 2007. Available at

Community Drum Circles

Varun leads a beat
Varun leads a beat

Varun Venkit has percussionitis, and he wants to infect others.

Varun is a drummer, plays with Agnee (among others, I think), and also teaches drums to a devoted bunch.  He is also a clinical psychologist.

The Community Drum Circles that Varun organizes provide – in varying degrees – stress therapy, community building and fun. The Drum Circle is just what it sounds like — people land up, sit in a circle and play the drums (or a shaker – a coke can filled with  pebbles or seeds). You don’t have to know how to play … Varun says percussionitis is in our blood, we all (or most anyway) just naturally respond to the rhythm.

We sit in a circle, Varun explains how to position the djembe slightly tilted away from your body, and how to strike the drum with your palms. Someone starts off a simple beat, and others join in. The tempo and the beat change – one of us might bring in a variation. Or Varun might direct us to slow down or speed up, to pause a few seconds and start up again, to divide up into two groups and play a jugalbandi of sorts, or sing along with him ki lay lay, ki lay lay, aabo aabo ki lay lay  …

ze joy of drumming
ze joy of drumming

I’ve attended three thus far (and complain complain, only rarely got a djembe, mostly only a shaker). The energy and the synergy the group generates for two hours is something amazing.

Drum Circles happen at the Urban Ashram near Swargate and at One Life Club, Panchvati, Pashan. If I can find a Facebook link, I’ll post it here.