Creative Masti - Sansaar is a radical invention

Dr. Atul K. Shah
Asian Voice
27 June 2009
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Whilst Britain is obsessed by the expenses scandal, the economic recession and general breakdown in social cohesion, a British born charity founded and led by first generation Gujarati immigrants is showing new light out of the darkness. Children represent innocence, integrity and creativity. Sansaar's latest show ‘Masti Maja' held at the beautiful Watersmeet theatre in Rickmansworth (on Sunday 7th June) demonstrated this with a mixture of humour, music, colour and dance very vividly. To say people were mesmerised would be an understatement.

Was the show Indian? Was it British? Was it just for children? Was it purely in Gujarati? And what about teenagers - were they excluded? No, No, No, and No. The show was Indian, British, Gujarati, English, and included teenagers ... I saw even grandparents in the audience. Sansaar's focus has been the preservation of Gujarati language in this country. Nursery Rhymes are their formula - if you can teach children to sing, they will pick up the words. Pantomime is their adaptation - borrowing from the great British tradition, using humour to educate and inform. They make language fun rather than rote learning or even something forced upon them by parents. Prof. Jagdish Dave, one of the founding pioneers of Gujarati teaching in this country was in the audience, and I saw him smiling all the way. The famous virtuoso vilolinist Yehudi Menuhin said singing is the greatest hope for peace in mankind, and if he was sitting in the audience, he would have been thrilled to see the abundance of joy and harmony.

The brainchild of young professional parents, Sansaar has over a short period of five years, changed the cultural landscape of Britain. The actors and dancers are people like Ajay Punatar, a consultant with IBM, but really known affectionately as Jambu and Sonal Mehta, a Dentist and affectionately known as Jalebi. Jambu and Jalebi acted as anchors for the show, getting the audience to move, clap and dance, whilst showing the step on the stage. They looked like Gujarati clowns. They are the new celebrities Britain should be watching out for. Mala Patel was Kakadi, Nehul Shah was Limbu, Jigna Gudka was Tametu and Rumit became Tarbooch. Songs and dances carried common themes like holiday, travel, bicycle, and heads, shoulders knees and toes. In one and a half hours, many of the basic words and phonetics of Gujarati language were covered.

Sansaar has produced three different albums of Nursery Rhymes to date and accompanying videos, DVD's and songbooks. Masti Maja is produced by the famous Dhiren Raichura with singing by Rajvee Punatar, Kaushik Khajuria and Tejal Pota. Sansaar is a very well run, focussed charity, whose aim is to get the language spoken in the home - and through it, the culture retained, revived, even invigorated. Watching the parents during the show, I saw many were quite surprised by the quality, professionalism and the whole experience of coming together as a community to see culture being passed on. In our rush to live, we do forget the beauty and creativity of Gujarati culture, and modern professional parents are now super-mortgaged, lacking in time and family support for the bold task of raising dynamic children. Sansaar's origins can be traced to organisations like Young Jains and Shishukunj, who have had a long record of innovation and playfulness in keeping culture alive and vibrant. They have a very informative website - from where you can get information about their products and shows.

I was also fascinated by the huge volunteering coordination and energy needed to produce such work. As a parent myself, I am concerned about the sea of selfishness that is sweeping modern society so I took my ten year old son Meerav to be a volunteer and experience the sacrifice of giving time. The Chairman of Sansaar, Shandip Shah is a businessman who has given buckets of his time and resources to start and sustain this charity, with the help of his excellent committee.
Throughout his tenure, he has been open and welcoming to new volunteers and so many people have been involved along the way. Britain forgets the huge importance of such slow steady work, whose ramifications go much further than a two hour show, going back into the homes, workplaces, schools and colleges. In our rush to calculate returns, volunteering and sacrifice performs very poorly and Sansaar is showing the way through lived example how joyous it is to give. In fact, it is the only gift we have. And we will then transcend Sansaar and liberate ourselves.

Dr. Atul K. Shah is a social inventor, writer, blogger and broadcaster and founder of