Walking through time with St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai

I’ve spent the last two (incredibly busy and fun) weeks leading seventeen undergraduate students of History, Tourism and Mass Media at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, through an intensive workshop titled ‘Walking through time’. The workshop was conceptualised in response to the college’s need to offer its students practical experience of some of the thought processes and skills that they will need as future professionals in the fields of heritage, history, tourism. The professor in charge asked that the focus of the workshop be the practice of leading heritage tours in Mumbai.

The aim of the workshop therefore was to encourage critical engagement with, and build rigorous understanding of, the theory and practice, the art and the science, of creating and leading successful tours in the city of Mumbai. The group of seventeen would be divided into teams of 2 and 3 to conceptualise, create and lead tours through any part of the city, focused on any theme whatsoever that interested them. All in the space of two weeks!

Through the course of interactive discussions in the first week, the group was introduced to the concept of interpretation, and its central place in any activity that aspires to public engagement with heritage. We successfully shifted our focus from the content of any such activity to the audience for said activity.

The group then worked together to suggest various themes and ideas that interested them. Based on their choice of theme and subject, students were taken out of their friends circles and comfort zones and mixed into teams with colleagues who were at the time strangers. Their ability to work together as teams would be a critical part of the entire exercise.

Group work begins!
Group work begins!

I then led the group on a heritage walk through the centre of Mumbai’s historic fort district, which for many of them was a first time visit! We discovered the story of the city’s origins and growth, but focused equally on practical lessons in leading walks; many previously new ideas would come to seem so obvious to them, once they experienced them as an audience would. I purposefully did a few things wrong, and part of their exercise was to critique me and call me out on what didn’t work and why.

Exploring the Fort area and Mumbai's beginnings
Exploring the Fort area and Mumbai’s beginnings

A point to note is that none of the teams could choose the same geographical area – Fort – or the ‘history of Mumbai’ as their theme. Their walks had to be based on original ideas; this also helped them get creative and expand what they thought came under the tag of ‘heritage’. Needless to say, they came up with some fantastic ideas and themes.

Busy schedule for week 2.
Busy schedule for week 2

Below are just a few glimpses of each session. At the end of each experience, the entire group was encouraged to give their feedback – it took a bit of work but I think I succeeded in convincing them that thoughtful critiques aren’t a bad thing, in fact they’re probably the most important part of the exercise. The result was that the entire group learned from each team’s work and mistakes, and we could see evidence of that as the week progressed.

photo 1
Mumbai and its myths at Babulnath temple and Haji Ali
Newcomers to Mumbai and the life skills they need
Newcomers to Mumbai and the life skills they need
Markets and food amidst the crowds and chaos
Markets and food amidst the crowds and chaos
Histories and food in Bandra
Histories and food in Bandra

The critical final session focused on feedback and evaluations. Whilst I have conducted similar workshops for colleges over the last four years, this was the first time that it was planned over two intensive weeks. I was worried that it might be too long for students during their holidays, so it was quite gratifying to hear from the group that they would have liked it even longer! We discussed the overall aim of the workshop, its defined objectives, the learnings each one took away and their biggest challenges. I am grateful for their openness and cautiously optimistic that the workshop met its objectives and provided the learning it was intended to.

Lots to share
Lots to share

Now to prepare a detailed report for the college!

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