there is something about planet why

for many months I passed by potty nagar.. a name coined by shamikaa for a cluster of ramshackle jhuggis all five hundred of them, where almost 100 families live in rooms piled on each other with rickery ladders in lieu of staircases..

I have already witten about potty nagar in vankakam or namaste and ladder of hope .

yes I had passed this way many times and yet it is only last month that we decided to start an extension class there..

Two weeks ago, when Shipra took the first class there were a handful of kids, a few days later the little room became too small and another larger one was found.. In two days even this tiny room is full to the brim with scores of little hands handing over their note books, and intense and eager eyes pleading for more..

A palapable desire to learn fills the room.. never mind the heat, never mind the fact that one has barely enough place to sit, the class spills out through the open door and more eyes peer at you from down the road..

The experience is unique and overwhelming as you watch these little kids from many parts of India bonding on this little bit of planet why..where differences are forgotten and set aside..
what an incredible clas this is, a vision of a country rearing to go, impatient to meet its destiny..

What did it take to set this up, one teacher, one room and a bunch of true children of India…

makes you want for more…

Can I have more….

note: there is a flip side to potty nagar! Serious accidents take place on these unsafe ladders. A child of 5 died last year, and the mother of one of our class IX student fell last month on a rainy night and succombed to her wounds.

genX… wit a difference


look at them… they are something these three.. dark glasses and all.. our very own genX..

this morning I decided to take a class.. and as we sat I realised that all was not quite as it should be.. most of the bacchas slumped and it took me some time to get everyone to sit up, as I barked instructions the way my pilates instructor does…

After some time and oodles of effort everyone did sit up, though most of them looked terribly ill at ease.. then it was question time and again I was faced with lymphatic kids and barely audible voices..

I decided that we would liven up the class and asked everyone to stand up and tell me what they had done this morning.. from the time they woke up to the time they reached project why..

Himraj started telling his tale and I was horrified to hear that all he had eaten in the morning was a cup of tea.. he revealed that he had had roti and potatoes at dinner, was carrying no lunch and would eat the small amount of free lunch that the municipal corporation doled out at 1pm!

As the class progressed I realised that barring a few kids who had eaten a resonable meal before coming, most of the students, all growing class IV and V boys had had a cup of tea with a rusk or a ‘fan‘, a sliver of bad quality puff pastry…needless to say that those who had eaten well had stay-at-home moms!

In urban slums, when both parents work to earn the elusive rupees, this si what happens to children.. in the village food is plenty even if you are poor: some vegetables do grow in the yard, and mom makes healthy rotis with the cereal of the region, the goat gives a little milk and some local fruit does grow, the water is clean and you run in the open breathing fresh air… and above all there are no rusks or ‘fans‘ as often there are no shops close by…

I am appaled at the poor posture of children in urban India.. where babies cannot crawl as there is no space, where fresh air is non-existent in the little holes you call home..

Is this the eldorado people seek? Maybe time has come for a reverse migration.. teach the children that the future lies in carrying back their newly acquired skills to the village where they come from..

one-rupee-a-day and planet India revisited

one-rupee-a-day was an intuitive thought that had come to my mind way back in 1998 when project why was a tiny embryon… it seemed to be such a perfect solution.. was not India rich in mumbers.. and a rupee was something easily spared..

like all intuitive thoughts it got pushed back in the face of raised eyebrows, puzzled looks and amused smiles.. copious advise about the ways of goodBiz was proferred: donations, funding organisations, fund raising extravaganza, charity sales and much else.. and the greenhorn that iI was had no option than to take the well trodden path.. somewhat ill at ease I must admit.. to my mind this did not gel with what I had stood for and certainly not with India..

the one-rupee-day kept coming back with obsessive regularity… but I paid all the dues to the goodBiz world, and did the rounds of all that was suggested, and to be honest many options worked and pushed project why into a comfort zone bringing success, kuddos, praise and even recognition..

but the goodBiz had its own hidden rules, one of them being its fleeting nature.. come on ms.B no one does this forever, you must change with times and adapt to the flavour of the day.. now that was not acceptable.. education is life long and not transitory and one does not leave people midway, one empowers them to carry on… and the solutions offered did not work..

reality hit us as we were pushed out of our comfort zone, more than once and each time the one rupee leit motiv sprung back to life. It seemed to have all the answers to problems. If education was perennial then the funding option we sought had to be one that any Indian could participate in and any Indian could steer..

So if we stand by what we set out to do: establish a model that can reach every child and be steered by its own, then all resources have to come from within. Five years of goodBizMessing had finally taught us that we needed to go all out and make the one-rupee-option a success, beating all odds..

But nothing would have prepared us for what was to ensue: a new discovery of India which no one could have imagined.

We launched a multi-pronged appeal to a wide audience: netizens, people from all walks of life through brochures, personal meetings, telephone calls.. and with the replies and reactions a new map of India came alive.

Indians living away from their mother land, be it students or professionals, reacted with overwhelming spontaneity and unadulterated love for their motherland. Individual responses and collective efforts saw the light and bore fruit at breathtaking speed.. needless to say most of them had never seen project why… There was profuse support from unknwon people across India, more so from the southern and western states… the community and weaker sections of society did come forward with suggestions and contributions..

We started feeling elated… come on India numbered one billion hearts, now finding 4000 should be easy..

But it was not so as we were to realise once again.. the cynics appeared with their unbelievable tales.. India’s capital once again took the lead of this tragic Act of the play.. what amazed us the most was the fact that people who had seen project why did not find it in them to write a cheque for 360 rs.. let alone get us contributions from friends.. everything possible was said to deter us, the trophy going to an upmarket restaurant owner who felt that adding one rupee to a bill may lead him to a litigation ten years hence..

Does one give up… the answer is No.. the cynicism is so deep that it has to be set right… if the goodBiz is in such a mess then why should a child in need of help pay the price… it is for us to reinvent ourselves and wipe out misconceptions..

As I look at this new map of India, where the common denominator is its heart and ability to feel compassion for the other, I see boundaries extending way beyond its geographical entity… and if the little hearts are few within its own land then somewhere someone has gone wrong..

The one-rupee-a-day has to work… to set matters right and the last shred of doubt I had was wiped away this morning as I flipped through a magazine which had an article on the children dying of malnutrition in Maharashtra with a photograph of a baby whose ribs you could count but whose eyes still help hope..

No you do not give up on planet India..

31 days..04 hours..32 minutes and 10 seconds and counting

woke this morning , sat at my computer, browsed the usual sites..

as i opened this blog, my heart missed a beat as I saw something I had missed till date: on the right hand three little words – home sweet home -.. and a clock ticking backwards

I was overwhelmed as I imagined this child of India, one of its very best, longing for the day she will be home…

Sitting in the land of the plenty, the american dream that so many aspire to, she longs for the sounds and smells that filled her childhood, the warmth of the land that gave her life, the safety of the place she belongs to..

I imagined how long time must seem to her till the morning dawns when she sits on that plane that will bring her to home sweet home.. in 31 days.. 4 hours…. 32 minutes..

There is something about India.. pity some of us do not see it

two-to-tango… and a bag full of coins

scene one: somewhere in the US a bunch of young bright young indian students are busy preparing for the draw of two to tango.

Two to tango was the name they gave the raffle they set to garner funds for project why after reading about our work. Sonal, Vel, Sneha after much thought and debate decided on a 2 dollars raffle with a 100 dollars price with a target of 1000 dollars. Vel, the young man in a hurry decided to match everyone who gave 8 dollars or the equivalent of the yearly donation for our one-rupee-a-day programme. Enthusiastic and moving mails dropped in my mailbox informing me of the progress or seeking an immediate answer to some query. My heart filled with pride as I saw the names appearing one after the other bringing a glimpse of lovely Indians kids with a heart that beat for their motherland and its lesser kids… and somehow I felt vindicated

scene two: a phone call from a young university student from Delhi’s top college informs us to come and collect the receipt book we had given her as it was over.. wow 100 donors.. not bad..
later the same day: two crestfallen kids, rani and shamika, hand over the duly completed receipt book and a plastic bag with 50 one rupee coins.

An extreme sadness fills me… how come none of them thought that something was amiss: one rupee is less than the cost of the paper the receipt is printed on.. forget about thinking of what a rupee given this way can do.. even a beggar throws it back at you

Have our kids lost their heart or their capacity to feel for others so imbibed are they in their cynicism.. Does it take leaving one’s homeland to discover that her future is ours too…

Where have we gone wrong..

Note: I have never met vel, sneha or sonal; the other kid is a friend’s daughter!

invisible but impregnable

An incident occured today that set me on a strain of thoughts about matters that one often brushes away with great words…

It began with a call from an acquaintance who runs an upmarket nursery school with her mother a lucrative entreprise where fees rose from 300 rupees a couple of years ago to a mind boggling 1200 at present..

She wanted some help so I decided to drop by.. we chatted for a while.. and she told me how the numbers of students had dwindled with all big public schools having opened their own nursery section.. after the customary cup of sweet and weak coffee she asked me if I would do her a favour.. could I take the grandson of Saroj, the almost instututional ayah of the school, in project why… he is two and a half..

I said I would and got up to take leave… a worried Saroj walked with me to my waiting three wheeler and told me that the child had been in a creche till date, but had walked out of it and got lost.. she wanted a safe place… I told her to bring the child..

As I drove away , it suddenly struck me that the child could have easily been taken into the little school was it not for what I call the invisible but impregnable walls (IIV) that surround us, though many are blissfully unaware of their existence..

How could little Monu or Vijay or Abdul rub shoulders with the upmarket bacchas.. it would have cost the mother-daughter duo to have Saroj bring the little one.. knowing them, he would have sat quietly and imbibed everything around him.. but that would have meant crossing the IIV a line that could beat any LOCs…

Never mind if Monu or Abdul or Priya were born in free India and enjoy the same rights that their peers from across the border… never mind if their mummies would work extra hours making ‘pieces’ for the local exporter and pay the 1200 rs. Some do pay upto 600 to the english medium school aptly called Mother Kesari or Budding Flowers where no one speaks english..

And if a Monu or Abdul or Priya’s mummy did gather the courage of crossing the II wall clutching her purse with the fee amount, dressed in her party best: she would be shunted away by a clone of our erstwhile Saroj..

It is all a matter of invisible and impregnable walls…

I know for one that Saroj will henceforth not do it…

How do we get the mother daughter duo to change…

You guess right.. i have something in my mind…

a ladder of hope


Class is over.. the climb down the rickety ladder will take them back to their day-to-day existence .. but today has been different.. the children have stars in their eyes..
no metaphor here..

Today’s class was about the earth, and the plantets, and the milky away all brought alive by Sophie who ascended these very steps globe and laptop in hand to open a new world to these little kids.

Time stood still in this tiny, airless room where it is almost difficult to breathe, as twenty pairs of eager eyes crowded around the screen. The excitement was palpable.. the mood serious.. just as it should be in any place of learning…

So what if it is a tiny room up a rickety ladder.. a little effort makes it a ladder of hope

a very simple secret

a mail dropped by in mailbox this morning. it was from someone i did not know..

It began woth the words: “I’ve heard a lot about you from A. I’m skeptical, as always, about all good things. And yet, I wish I could meet you and be involved in what you are doing.”

Many questions came to my mind, but what disturbed me the most was the way in which mistrust had permeated our lives with consequences that one is even aware of…

Nutan had a debilitating cardiac problem. She needed medical care and in all likelihood complex surgery. The family was told to arrange for 110 000 rupees before investigation would start. Now Nutan hails from Bihar and is one of the poorest of the poor, but there was no other way: It seemed that earlier many patients had left without paying bills so no one was to be trusted! Today we were told that Nutan may not need surgery and will soon be reunited with her children… Just imagine what would have happened had the money not been found…

One of the main obstacles that lie in our efforts to garner funds for project why, is the mistrust people feel towards charitable organisations, and their unwillingness bordering refusal, to give us the now almost elusive one rupee and thus the chance to prove our worthiness. Now imagine if we had not shown trust when Nutan, or Arun or Raju or all those who came to us and turned them away..

It seems that a world in a hurry to accede to material things draws comfort from applying labels to everything, not finding time to view each case seperately, and making up its own mind.

I would like to share a simple secret with them, the one given to a mythical little prince by a simple fox: “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” The Little Prince, Antoine de St Exupery.

Maybe we should learn all over again to look with our hearts..

hit the bottle.. hit the child


Jeetu is not yet 5.. but he has experienced in his short life more than many would imagine.. He came to us two years ago.. a frail child with huge sad eyes who clung to a man that we thought was his grandfather..

We learnt that it was actually Jeetu’s dad and that his mom had died of TB a few months back.. We took Jeetu on, and helped his father set up a small vegetable cart.. all seemed well.. or so we thought..

Jeetu was a quiet, withdrawn child in desperate need of love and care. Slowly we saw the first smile, and the first friend and we felt relieved.. then slowly there were changes: a belligerent behavior, a new found hostility, then bruises and to our horror we discovered that the father had hit the bottle.. and was hitting the child!

We tried to intervene… threats, pleading.. nothing worked..everynight the man came back drunk and took out all his frustration on the poor motherless child..

A few days back we were told that the old man had got remarried.. our reaction went from dismay to alarm to relief as we thought that the presence of a woman would maybe help the situation.. we just hoped for the best.. maybe the old man’s violence towards his child was an unexpressed sexual need… we kept our fingers crossed…

But there was more to come…

Yesterday Jeetu did not come to the centre. The previous evening his father had been taken to the police station as it appeared that the woman had been bought for five thousand rupees and had made a complaint following a fight…

We hope that the matter is solved amicably, as otherwise Jeetu’s father may find himself in prison and Jeetu in a state run institution..

Another why… but where is the answer…

preeti’s lunchBox


Some of you know her, some of you have read about her.. she is real and she is Preeti.. the one whose granny wants us to give her rat poison, the childwoman the family wants to wish away.. she is also the one that eats insects because she is micro-nutrient deficient!

Her dream: to be a mother..

Like all special and blessed children, she has a lot of love to give, only no one to give it to…if you come by do not be syrprised if she hugs you tight…

Preeti was born in a land where a girl is rarely truly desired, and a disabled one finds her way at the end of the line.. be it food or medecines.. she never gets her share… yet children like her bear no malice at all…

As I sat wondering how project why would survive, and whether all this endless struggle was worth it , Shamikaa stomped in.. holding what looked like a crumbled piece of newspaper: almost incoherent in her speech she opened it and therein lay a few grains of rice held together by some brown gooey stuff… it took me some time to understand that this was what Preeti’s family had sent as her lunch…

I was speechless as one emotion after the other took hold of me… anger, sadness, shock .. hurt. And in that moment I realised that I had to continue to fight for project why’s survival if it was only to ensure that for a few hours a day Preeti was surrounded by love and care and was treated like a human being… with dignity and respect..

And if that was not enough, my heart missed a beat when I heard that Preeti had been very uspet when she was told to give the packet away.. remember it was the lunch her mother had given…

On more why had to be answered…

Note: project why gives lunch to the special children, but we feel that parents need to assume their reponsibilities and hence ask them to pack a meal.. neddless to say it is often far from ideal!