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Flying Birds of India

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Introduction to the Video Interview by Joyce Yarrow

In September 2013, I dropped in on Aseem Asha and the Flying Birds of India in New Delhi. This program is run by the Aseem Asha Foundation and is dedicated to training young people from marginalized communities in media and visual arts skills, as well as coaching them to succeed in school.

I had seen some of Aseem’s films on the Web. When he heard I was coming to town, he graciously invited me to “meet the filmmakers and attend a screening.” I assumed this event would be held in a community center or small theatre. Instead, I found myself in a small room within the house in Okhla Village where Aseem lives.

School had let out and the kids started coming. They kept coming until the place was packed and then even more arrived. The students were a wonderful mix, ranging in age from five to eighteen: girls in hijabs or bareheaded, some in stylish salwar kameez, others in colorful sarees; boys in Western attire. They greeted me with a song and shy smiles. Although I could not understand their words, their faces spoke volumes about how involved and connected they felt – how much this program meant to them.

Aseem introduced to me the Tagore Team comprising several young ladies who proudly displayed paintings inspired by the great writer and Nobel Prize winner. He told me how Tagore’s philosophy of peace and multiculturalism has become an integral part of the Flying Birds ethos. The girls also showed me colorful portraits of several female Sufi saints. I learned that many of the girls came from families that want to marry them off at a young age. And how, gradually, many of these parents have been won over and now permit their daughters to attend the foundation’s programs and pursue their higher education.

After the art show, we rearranged our chairs to face a computer monitor that lit up with short films – all produced in Hindi with subtitles – in which these young people tackled tough topics such as malaria, child abuse, and gender inequality. Looking around the room, my respect for the courage of these young people grew stronger every moment. They were tackling controversial and challenging issues head on, mixing their passion for reform with the same light humor that pervades many a family interaction in India.

Many of the films made by the Flying Birds documented the lives of working artists or were made during field trips throughout the city or holiday celebrations. When, after the screening, a young man presented me with an embroidered portrait of Tagore, I made no attempt to hide my tears of gratitude. Being with the Flying Birds had changed me in ways I knew I had yet to acknowledge.

The next day my friend Rijula, who lives in a Delhi suburb, accompanied me – this time we went to the India Habitat Center, where the Flying Birds filmed a famous potter whose work was on exhibition. We watched as they asked her questions – using their interview skills to coax her into revealing artistic goals she had not articulated until that very moment. There is something irresistible about these Flying Birds, so intent on gleaning every ounce of experience and knowledge available. All I could think of was that we have so much to absorb and learn from them.

The following video interview was produced by Aseem Asha, Mushtaq Ali, and the Flying Birds of India. It will introduce you to many facets of their creative, educational, and adventurous activities. Enjoy!


Joyce Yarrow is a Pushcart nominee and the author of the Jo Epstein mystery series: Ask the Dead and Russian Reckoning (aka The Last Matryoshka). Her most recent book, co-authored with Arindam Roy, is a romantic thriller set in India and North America. Joyce has worked as a screenwriter, singer-songwriter, multimedia performance artist and most recently, a member of the world music vocal ensemble, Abráce. Follow her @joyceyarrow or visit her blog,

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Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.


Read the latest issues of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Inland Labor Migration in India” (Edited by Soma Chatterjee, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada) & “Debating the Disability Law in India” (Edited by Nandini Ghosh, IDSK, Kolkata & Shilpaa Anand, MANUU, Hyderabad).

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