The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kids win in space ’n’ streets toss-up

Ariel Rubanenko is, actually, a rocket scientist. But space can wait. He chooses instead to juggle career and passion, science and art, to pursue his calling — juggling.

But the aerospace engineer from Israel chooses, again, not to perform. His preferred arena is the classroom. He has zoomed in on three schools to groom Calcutta’s streetchildren as the stars of the show.

On the grounds of the Watgunge police station, around 15 kids try their hand at juggling. This doubles as their school ground, with a small classroom on campus. They are students of Nabadisha, the education project conceived and run by the Calcutta Police and Child Relief and You (CRY) at 15 thanas across the city. The older children from Watgunge and Bowbazar are the pupils of the juggling classes.

It is not just an amusing pastime for these children, feels Ariel. Juggling is, in the kind of skills it hones, akin to meditation. “It is great for concentration, and gives them physical exercise as well,” says the 33-year-old. “I enjoy watching them have so much fun, but it also a lot of hard work,” he adds, having trained them for over a month already. The children are practising for a performance at the inter-Nabadisha sports meet.

Though Ariel will only be with the kids for a couple more months, he has made sure that the kids can carry on their art even when he leaves. Juggling equipment is traditionally very expensive, so he has taught the kids how to make their own. Instead of dishing out money for tennis balls, he has taught them how to stuff balloons with rice as a more cost effective, equally safe alternative. Flower sticks — like batons — are made from sticks and rubber tyres. And they practice their balancing act using a wooden board on PVC pipes.

Ariel himself has had no formal training. He chanced upon juggling during his annual three weeks of military service. “I was sitting in the camp one day and I had nothing to do. There was a crate of mandarins in front of me, and I just started tossing them around. I had the whole crate on the ground before I was any good,” he laughs. But from that accidental beginning, he went on to shelve engineering plans for his newfound love. “Engineering will always be there… But teaching kids to juggle is something I really enjoy.”

For the boys and girls, this is a delightful addition to the “joyful learning” modules employed by the teachers at Nabadisha, who are all from Vikramshila, an NGO working in the field of education. Though they aren’t always confident they will be able to do what Ariel ‘sir’ asks of them. “But unless we fall down, how will we ever learn anything'” asks an earnest Bishal Sengupta, all of 12 years old, balancing a few straw hats on his own head.

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