"Collaboration across borders": comic and interview

by Pallavi Varma Patil and Melanie Bush

Melanie Bush and Pallavi Varma Patil, both members of PeDaGoG collaborated recently over setting up a “Time Bank” in a University classroom and exchanging other creative practices. The snippet below is taken from an interview by Urvi Shah about this collaboration. The process of this collaboration has been creatively expressed in a graphic comic strip by Magna, an 11-year-old artist from Argentina.

The interview

How did this initiative emerge?


I think the real reason for me to get out there on PeDaGoG has been this nagging feeling that I am not doing enough or what is necessary as an educator for a ‘transformation’–this ‘click’ to happen for my University students- from understanding issues to actual engaged and tangible action.

On April 1 , 2022, my colleague Sujit and I had offered a seminar (https://globaltapestryofalternatives.org/webinars:2022:learning:01) on our four year old initiative called, ‘Living Utopias’, to kickstart the series, ‘Learnings for Alternative Futures’. We had offered it in the spirit of a dialogue with similar educators to explore various aspects- nature of audience, creative pedagogies, challenges in current context etc.

Melanie Bush was listening in and shared with us similar highs and lows -dilemmas and challenges in her teaching and practice. I had heard Melanie speak before at a seminar titled – The Politics of Love and Rebellion https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8IgoCtoHKM –so I was a bit aware of her meaningful work. And so when at this seminar Melanie offered to reach out and chat more with us I wasted no time! We quickly set up an online meet where we learned a bit more about her and her teaching. What interested me specifically was her undergraduate course titled “Legacies, Realities, and Dreams of a better Tomorrow” that seemed similar to Living Utopias. Melanie, had redesigned it and now offers it as “Community, Love and Justice”. The titles of both courses were so on the spot! But what was fascinating was her student assignments! She was able to run a “Time Bank” in a classroom; and an activity around community dialogue. This sounded doable, and fun and something that students could experience first-hand!

I requested Melanie for her guidance and she was very forthcoming and willing to share. Here is what she wrote on an email to me:
“Here are a few assignment instruction sheets I use for the Community, Love and Justice class. I think I sent the syllabus already but in case not, I've also included that. Please just ask for anything… and reminders are fine. I will send other examples as time allows. Another activity we do in this class is a community dialogue - somewhat reshaped because of COVID but it is always powerful. Let me know how I can support your work!”

And that's it! That’s how I started!


Collaboration and using the academic space as a venue for engaging and heightening consciousness of coloniality and social dynamics of power has always been a space I’ve engaged in. I would say for me the journey of collaboration has been one from the day I entered the academic space.

I've been part of quite a number of networks and initiatives, both in the academy and out, seeking exactly what I found in working with Pallavi. I find it very rare. People are very like, “What presentation can we do?” So that's what I'll say. The spirit that Pallavi shared in that email made me go, “Oh, maybe I found someone to build with collectively!” There's a process of giving and receiving and there’s a mutuality to that which is reciprocal. That I am offering and getting as much from your receiving. And so, for me, this has been absolutely exhilarating.

However there are times when I've set up WhatsApp groups to establish a structure, and then things don’t work out. With those, I am optimistic that those things will just find their moment.

How do exercises such as this one affect the learning space and process?


Before I specifically answer that question, it so happened that I worked with a fantastic group of school educators in pre COVID times on a school garden project. The two years of that project drummed one thing in my head –that teaching is a collaborative activity. It is NOT an individual pursuit. And the more we collaborate, the more we will be able to change within ourselves and the community outside. I come from that space where if we teach we have to, must, necessarily, learn from each other. I have other fantastic people in India who are really grounded and who accept this and do not get into the politics of, you know, individual aspirations. I really enjoy working with those people and I also seek such folks out. I think email / PeDaGOG-enabled transactions gave me the same vibe with Melanie.

The Time Bank assignment that I set up had these instructions: “NO CASH TRANSACTIONS. Just what your skills are- offer and receive one hour worth of time.” When I teach the unit on Alternative economies and highlight examples, I often tell my students Time Banks are different from barter. Don't confuse it with barter. Because barter is: give and take, but Time Bank kind of give and take need not have a proportional matching. That is something I want to talk about because that came out as a strong reflection by some of the students.

I have several reflections on how it emerged but I want to talk about the context first. At my University, we had just resumed our in-person classroom teaching after two semesters online. This batch of students had limited interactions with their classmates. We had also moved into a new campus at the university so we were settling down. Many families and students themselves have been directly affected by COVID. The current political climate of the country has also exposed deep fault lines in our already fragmented society. There is in general climate change-induced doom. Then the timing– My course comes up as a last semester course of the MA Development Programme and this is the time when students look for jobs. Hence, anxiety about the future, certain fatigue of being a student in these pandemic times and navigating overwhelming news of distress. The most common reflection amongst the students, therefore, was that the ‘Time Bank’ activity allowed them to pause; and get to make some real connections!

In a way, I also did not know what was happening with young people today in my own University. Such an assignment allowed me to get a glimpse of their worlds- they gave me an opportunity to participate in their own thoughts and anxieties and I connected with them better.

So these assignments are very crucial for connections and do play a big role.We can come back to these foundations and build from there.


Universally, students are really resistant, irritated, questioning resistance, when this assignment is first posed. There's no other way to say it. I find that the core premise of their way of thinking about the social world, about themselves. about the power of learning gets challenged and they are overwhelmed by how something so simple could radically rupture things that they thought they knew.

I would say that the process of starting with where they are and getting them somewhere is part of why I am in this work. I believe in the transformational potential of what we do.

I can move them and get them within the context of the classroom, but I haven't figured out how to make that sustainable change in the course of one class. One might argue that the very experience imprints them. They come back ten years later and say, “You changed my life.” But that's not building the kind of power we need at this moment.

This is not a criticism of community-based projects that are creating something new. But we're in a moment. We need to build power. Engaging in these projects is great, but it's not necessarily helping people to realize that we have work to do right now, together.

I think part of the answer has to do with trying to reconnect the impact we have on long-term projects.

What do you plan on doing further with this initiative?


I think it's what we're doing. It's prioritizing these kinds of conversations and collaborations. I have the luxury of saying what I'm about to say. Though, at the same time, I think because of my life commitment it's not been a new thing for me. For those of us who are deeply committed to radical rupture and transformation, I think that we need courage and we need each other to creatively figure out how to use this space to do that. Robin Kelly, a brilliant scholar and lead radical black intellectual of our time wrote an article that's called “Black Study Black Struggle”. And in it was a very profound line for me about the Academy. He said, “Frankly when you look at most movements that have been successful in moving the needle, it has always involved study, discussion, collective thinking, etcetera. But that is not the same as the kind of study that occurs in the university.” I think he was quoting someone else, but he said that “Get in, get what you can and get out.” and not necessarily quit your job, but don't look at the academy for affirmation, support, resources and so forth. Recognize that's not where the radical change is going to happen.

People in university space have a commitment to a colonial structure and that's often about personal affirmation and elevation.

So the next big step is to have that clarity around what we're doing in the Academy. And once we have a palpable mass of people who are ready to ditch the stupidity of the academy I think then we'll be ready to be useful.


Things build on things, and in Living Utopias courses, we talk of several stories and inspirations around the theme of solidarity economics. We have examples from this fantastic Indian organization called SEWA, from the urban gardening movement of Detroit, from Community Supported Agriculture. We discuss Gandhian Economics. We have this lovely piece called Anubandh by Ela Bhatt. We have the poetry of Khalil Gibran, ‘Work is Love made visible’ These are pieces of writing, some academic, most not that allow my students to get a sense of this vibrant alternative economics landscape. I always thought we have a good comprehensive unit but nothing as dramatic as this Time Bank exercise! You see, it is I as an instructor who would switch off the fans in the classroom after our sessions. Students would just up and leave. But once they came back from the Time Bank classroom, I noticed many lingered on. They chatted. They even bothered to switch off the fans! Maybe I am reading too much into this but there was definitely a shift!

I'm very inspired by Gandhian education ideas, I am associated with groups that work on such themes and so we often say Education is all about 3 H: head, heart and hand. I've tried the head and the hand by doing these hands-on activities. But it was the heart that sort of struck a chord with this particular exercise.

I like how Melanie responded to my email when I excitedly told her that the Time Bank idea worked wonders. It was this: “To affirm the worth of all, the value of connection and that small efforts can have huge impact. May this evidence serve as inspiration and fuel in these troubled times.”

I would say Amen to that!

This experience came about as a result of interactions at the PeDAGoG network. PeDAGoG (Post-Development Academic-Activist Global Group) is a global network of academics and academic activists interested in post-development, radical alternatives, and related themes, initiated in early 2020. The main idea is to share existing course curricula, materials, methods/pedagogy, and approaches; propose new ones; coordinate programmes across different geographies and cultures; and be able to offer learning experiences to people in various parts of the world, especially the global south. And through all this, contribute to radical, systemic transformation movements. You can subscribe to this network and find more updates regarding the process here.

About Interviewees

Pallavi Varma Patil is a Faculty at the School of Development, Azim Premji University in Bangalore, India. She teaches courses that are about radical futuristic alternatives aligned with Gandhi-Tagore visions.

Melanie Bush is a Professor of Sociology at Adelphi University and a Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of South Africa. She is also a Senior Research Associate with the Department of Sociology Centre for Sociological Research and Practice, University of Johannesburg.