The Muppet Movement
With great power, comes great responsibility.
I grew up reading and collecting comic books with my dad. This often quoted line first spoken by Peter Parker's uncle in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15 has a special meaning for me this week.
This week I spent an entire day with Chamki and her Muppeteer Ghazal. Chamki, a 5 year old girl who loves school and wants to be a detective when she is older, took over an amphitheater full of more than 2,500 children to talk about the work they had been doing all summer. In between announcing acts of a talent show, Chamki used stories and songs to make children laugh, sing, dance, and wonder.
In our time after the event, Ghazal and I sat and talked. We talked at length about the state of childhood and education in India. We talked about the role of the education in the lives of children and we talked about the power of Chamki in the creation of a smarter, stronger and kinder future for India.
Today, India is divided over and over again. Hindus and Muslims. Servants and CEOs. Wealthy and poor. Boys and Girls. Chamki was created with careful consideration of each of these coexisting and overlapping spheres - each of which holds influence over a child's development.
On the surface, Chamki's school girl uniform inspires young girls to go to school. Her detective outfit encourage children to lean in to their wonder. And her iconic giggle and innocence reminds children to be kind. However, this conversation with Ghazal took me much deeper than the surface. Ghazal explains that in her eyes, Chamki is the girl that lives. She wasn't dangerously aborted, she didn't die from diarrhea at an early age, she wasn't displaced or abandoned by the conflicts and disasters that are present on the subcontinent. She lived, and she continues to live her life as a smart strong and kind child. For Chamki, there is responsibility in this accomplishment to ensure that girls and boys all over India are able to feel what she feels.
Ghazal, a Muslim woman living in India, tells a story of a time that she went to The United Arab Emirates (UAE) to train the Muppetteers of two other coproductions. She arrived to the training and learned she would be training a religiously and culturally diverse group of incoming performers. In between conversations about conveying emotion through a semi-static object, the group sat and talked about the power that rests in their hands - literally. They embraced their similarities and their differences and the focused this conversation into learning the ways that they can help children in the world create a more harmonious future. One where children of diverse backgrounds have rights and opportunities. These five people, each more unique than the next, had a common belief in the power of their Muppets.
As I stood on my feet enthralled by the teenage dancers on the stage, I smiled and listened. To my left was a 2-foot tall Muppet that inspired an auditorium full of people. Behind me stood a diverse crowd of 2,500 children singing along to the patriotic soundtrack of the dancers. In front of me, on a stage covered in color, was a troop of passionate young people pouring their heart into something they truly believe in. The oldest dancer disappeared from the stage and returned waving the Indian flag behind his peers. The entire auditorium erupted in celebration. In one of the most powerful moments of my life, I felt the potential of a harmonious future for India.