the other kind of blast

“I go to my friends place where we play cards and have a blast” says a young citizen of delhi in today’s morning paper.
I have lost about 10 000 rupees in three days but will make it up” adds another.
They are both between the age of 15 and 20.

I sometimes tell children around me, that in our day and times we have a two-caste system: one that has money and one hat does not have money.

This often said in a light vein.. sometimes tinged with cynicism..However the last year has brought to light many incidents that somehow seem to prove me right..

In search of the elusive 4000 people who would part with the even more elusive one rupee-a-day, we tried to establish contact with groups and institutions where we thought we could find what we sought. Colleges, well frequented coffee parlours and boof stores, large offices and much more. Everywhere we were saddened to see that no one was interested in parting with what does not even buy you a quarter cup of coffee, for a cause!

This post is not meant to be a sermon or discourse or a blame game.

But we must realise that masterminds of 29/10 need executors and these come from within us, often because young people living in the same city on the other side have dreams and aspirations but no one to fulfill them. They often suffer humiliation and need outlets to regain their misplaced dignity.

It is for us to decide whether we will give it back to them or leave them to the wolves waiting in the wings..

The answer is ‘education’ and that little rupee does just that!

all is well on planet Delhi


There is something about India…

It all began as a grim day, fuelled by the ability we human have of conjuring the worst when the door bell rang and f a tiny voice said ” maam kahan hai” – where is maam -. For an instant I wondered whetherI had lost it and was hearing voices!

Then in came mr popples holding his father’s hand. Nikhil – the dad- had some work to do at my home and mrp had come along. mr p’s dad , or rather the one who has given a name to this child conceived during a drunken brawl, is a carpenter, just like the father of a very special being we all know..

His constant babble, as he settled to share breakfast in the kitchen, suddently dispelled the gloom around and brought us all back to normalcy. So after a hearty breakfast drowned in dollops of tomato ketchup, or chutney as mr p calls it, I decided to go out and shop.

I must say one was apprehensive of finding empty markets, but this is India and people had decided not to give in to fear. Somehow they understood that this was the only way to defeat the purpose of terrorist attacks . Normalcy had to return and even in the affected parts, shops opened after the authorities cleaned up the debris in record time.

The citizens of Delhi took charge of their destiny and set aside the feeble sugestion of keeping markets closed. It was heartwarming to see that everyone held the same discourse: we have to carry on as if nothing had happened.. yes we do mourn those who lost their lives, but this is the only befitting way to tell them that their lives did not go waste..

Delhi today sprung back to normal, with determination and a spirit that needs to be saluted.. and maybe mr p. decided to come and show me the way!

morning has broken…

The morning after has broken, the sky is just lighting up and soon the sun will rise…

Nature does not wait for anyone or change its course with the flavour or mood of events gone by.. does not get influenced by the gore of the media or the empty words of sympathy of those who are maybe the ones in some way responsible for the situation. Nature carries on..

Many messages waited in my mailbox this morning expresing concern and anger and seeking answers to a multitude of questions, questions for which I too seek answers…

Women and children died in yesterday’s bombs, many are still fighting for their lives… The state machinery is runing helter skelter for answers as the opposition is sharpening its knives and waiting to pounce..

The media is playing and replaying the same gory unedited scenes in the hope of raising their TRPs, not realising that with each replay it is sending messages of hate to one community and fear to the other thus giving more fuel to divisive forces .. the rumour mills are afloat enjoying the sinister show with barely concealed glee..

The masterminds, safe in their anonymity, are enjoying the show, and the nameless and faceless backers are counting the profits of the renewed sales of their macabre ware…

The rich will shun markets and tell their kids to do the same for a while… the poor will have to overcome their fear and set out to earn the food for the day.. the foreign friends wil shun our land and though the big business will survive, the livelihood of many will come to naught…

Such dastardly acts can only be answered by not giving in to fear, by going on with one’s life with renewed determination… by refusing to listen to the half baked information .. by spurning with disdain nd contempt those who want to benefit by such acts..

Are we not in the habit of assigning to karma what we cannot explain, cannot or do not want to face.. often as an act of weakness.??

Why can we not for once use the karmic explanation in a positive way and get on with our lives.. continue to trust those we have till a few seconds before the lound bang.. can we not for once look with our own eyes and see that the picture that is appearing on the screen is the same one over and over again, can we not for once think with our own minds and understand who will benefit and who will suffer.. can we not for once be true and honest citizens of this land that has now for too long borne the burden of man-made division..

Can we not fall in love with India and do what is best for her?

blowin’ in the wind

Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
wrote Dylan in 1962..

I guess he never could have imagined that more than four decades and innumerable deaths later we are still counting.. even the wind must have got tired of blowing an answer no one heeds.

Delhi was rocked by three bloody bombs blasts… one exploded just a stone’s throw from project why.. and I ask who died: simple people doing their last minute shopping, just in time to meet the yearly tryst with ‘dhan teras’ the day on which even the poorest of the poor buys at least one ustensil for his home… women who waited for saturday evening to do their last minute shopping, buy their Lakshmi and Ganesh idols, and the lamps and crackers their children must have demanded..

People die every day… but what makes one angry is when they die as a result of extreme cowardice, used by fellow human beings to espouse their agendas – in the name of religion or man made divisions.

I guess the God in whose name such dastardly acts are committed has no option but to bow his head in shame..

We were all looking forward to next week when festivals of two religions were to be celebrated; do we realise that tomorrow one community may look at the other with mistrust, anger, if not hate..

New agendas of hate will be found, new ways to further divide what was beginning to heal.. What makes me shudder is that masterminds manage to fuel simple people to execute these heinous crime… and they are the ones who ultimately pay for them.

When I look around me I can almost sense the optential executor: the misunderstood adolescent who is beaten at home, the young slum kid humiliated by his school teacher, the young man spurned by his girl friend’s family.. and waiting in the sinsiter wings are those who will take over these weak minds and use them..

Are there lessons to be learnt?

The first one is not to give in to fear and to carry on living a normal life – that is the short term lesson. But there is another one – a long tern one – one that we are trying to fulfill in our little way.

apocalypse why….

Many a times I have wondered why funders are reluctant to fund running costs and staff honoraria.. I always felt it was because administation costs were heavy; to my mind project why did not fit the picture, as our salaries went to the slum people and above all we were creating new job opportunities..

I got my answer when a net friend visited pwhy recently and elucidated the matter. She heads a small employee funding group within a large organisation and has been engaged in helping out development work in many countries. She told me that at the outset they had funded running costs, and even though they had been assured that it was for a limited time, they had actually found themselves doing this year after year as there was always a valid reason and one does not leave children in the lurch. She added :” they just became dependant on us”.

For me it was like the dropping of the proverbial penny!

The glove fitted.. was this not what was happening to us, where many of the pwhy team were sinking into a false comfort zone, and some of us were seeking help over and over again saying that this would be the last time!

It would be untrue and unfair to say that we did not try ways to sustain our activities. Over the past years we have like many other NGOs made our share of candles, paper bags, jewels, jute bags, recycled paper copy books.. but in a saturated market we were not able to go beyond a few ‘pity’ sales!

We realised that unless a local market within the community was found, such efforts would not be suficient to sustain project why’s activities.

We were aware that the funding solution had to be found within and that is how the one-rupee idea took seed. A quick calculation of the number of dwellings that surround us – mostly middle class homes- showed us that a simple rupee a day frome each one of them would see us through.. but then someone had to walk up the stairs and knock at doors…

The problem lies elsewhere.. we can go on harping on the lack of concern and heart of the rich around us, but we cannot close our eyes to another factor which contributes to our lack of success: I will simply call it the government job syndrome and it ails most of the slum work force.

The same people who toiled in the fields and in their homes from dawn to dusk in their villages, feel that once they reach urban lights they have earned the right to get a salary without any effort or commitment..

One of the reasons I guess that has delayed the real take off of the 0ne-rupee-a-day campaign is this passive and non-productive attitude.. there are some people who have realised the futility of such an attitude and that is why the secondary section is almost self-sustainable.. but that is not the case with all..

So what does one do, carry on bringing doses of oxygen with the dangers of having sources – however friendly and supportive – die out, or take an extreme action, just like the one a sensible parent would take with a child who has set on a wrong course.

In our situation it would be to stop all activities unless all beneficiaries – staff and parents – do their bit.. Let us say bring 50% of the ressources in cash or kind..

It is not an easy thing to do– just as it is not easy to throw a child out in the cold to teach him how to deal with life.. but it seems more and more likely that this is the only way left..

What is left to be decided is when…

pandora’s box

with much fanfare we launched our ‘project why star raffle‘: what better place than an upmarket girls college’s diwali mela to do this!

the prizes were well adapted to the page 3 crowd: a tete a tete meal with a famous bollywood star, a make over at a star beauty parlour; we had even got some smaller prizes that we thought we would draw every hour..

the ticket was priced at 30rs!

At the end of the day a very crestfallen team counted the loot: 500rs . Needless to say they had decided not to draw any prize!

The table next to ours had a young rookie tarot card reader. She made over 10 K!

But all is not lost, let us not forget that hope still lies safely within Pandora’s box.

please keep planet why busy, but happy…

Got a lovely ecard from a dear friend of project why: Nauko

I always get energy and rest at the same time when I visit your Planet Why.
It’s one of rare occations when I can feel happy in Delhi.
Please keep the Planet busy, but happy.

Nauko is from Japan and has been a regular volunteer with project why for over a year.. and a faithful one.. she comes and goes and has her own little projects with different sections.. often we only realise she came much after she has gone; she has found her place.. and fills it gently, quetly and with lot of love..

Nauko says she feels happy on our little planet.. and I agree with her. As you land on planet why, you have no option but to leave your problems behind, actually they seem quite insignificant as a child grabs your hand and another wishes you.. the smiles you get are enough to wash away all that ails you, at least for a while..

You get engrossed in the day’s activity and hear about all the news: sapna has started walking, and babli will soon be operated upon and the twins are now talking and farzana got an 80% in english.. the excitement is palpable as everyone has something to share..

the tailoring unit is in place and there are great bags to sell.. and a raffle too.. you try to catch up with everything and by the time you are ready to leave you realise that you are feeling good and have reconnected with a part of yourself you had forgotten existed..

apocalypse when….?


ominous title I agree but do we all not have to face a day of reckoning, a day when all questions will have to be answered with utmost and painful honetsty

As I browsed through the thousands of photographs of life on our planet looking for one that could ‘illustrate’ this post, I realised that there is not a single sad snapshot, every picture is one of hope and happy thoughts…

So I decided to take a picture of our one and only mr popples and remove the colour..

If project why was simply a journey of self realisation then I could simply retire satsified with a job well done: five years of school success for tens of scores of kids, heart surgeries, lives saved.. more than enough brownie points for a life time..

But was this why it all began… is this how debts are paid back.. is this how children are treated: mere commodities for personal agendas..

The reason for all this soul searching is my stubborn refusal for a large sum of money which bears a tag: to be used to purchase a piece of property… it is of course given in good faith as a means to ‘save’ money but everything in me is pushing me away from this option..

It is hard to explain why.. but somehow it spells doom and the end of what project why stands for..

I have been at sixes and sevens trying to explain this to all concerned but my conviction is deep seated: in todays India we need options that can not only be multiplied, but that can stand alone irrespective of extraneous factors.. we need to make the journey from recipient to donor, from PL 480 to Katrina, in every field.. and that is only possible if all the parts of the whole respect that spirit..

If project why wants to be model that any community of socially and economically under-privilegd parents can truly emulate, then every every aspect has to be so crafted as not to need outside support.. and that is why a simple option as the 0ne-rupee-a-day has to be made a reality.. I agree that it may take time and several mutations (be it raffles or such things), but once it has been proved and tested then the final transition has to be made, when each community looks after its own..

The model we craft has to reflect the reality of the community it caters to and answer its hope and aspirations.. but above all it has to instill in each one the feeling that (s)he can be in charge

Yes there has to be an end some day: the optimist one would be when a community is fully empowered; the other extreme would be when we accept closure after having been truly convinced that we tried everything..

But let us not forget that even as I write these words, there is a whole bunch of people, the ones that steer project why today, who are sufficiently empowered to carry on their way!

a war renewed each day…


Life” says Oriana fallaci “is such an effort. It is a war renewed each day’ and she goes on to say :”To fight is much better than to win, to travel much better than to arrive; once you have won or arrived you feel great emptiness… and have to set out again, create new goals..”
Lettera a un bambino mai nato, Rizzoli, 1975, translation by Shepley published as Letter to a Child Never Born, Simon & Schuster (New York City), 1976.

Often when I am confused, perplexed or unable to explain certain things to myself. i have found grat solace and moorings in the writings of Fallaci and once again I find myself looking for answers..

Five years ago I decided to create project why.. 20 kids some english classes and a journey I could not begin to imagine.. five years down the line .. 600 kids, 100% results, 40 new jobs for people thought unemployable, social barriers overcome, dignity restored for special children, women empowered, three heart surgeries and one on the anvil, a child saved from third degree burns, women empowered.. not a bad track record

And all this at minimum cost, no frills, no unecessary expenses.. so where is the hitch

Simply to get the 130 000 x 12 x 5 Rs that were needed to reach there.. the innumerable refusals, the promises unkept, the empty words of admiration never followed by a simple gesture..

One has lost count of the number of mails sent, lost count of the number of times one had to explain why one did not take the usual road, lost count of the time spent explaining what seemed so obvious if anyone were to take the time to realise that education had to be perennial and endure, and be free of the moods, flavours and trend of the day and thus all resources had to follow suite..

Some did understand and a wonderful network of people from the world over have supported us and infused into project why, a magic that has allowed it to live on .. but these are small islands of hope, little bouts of oxygen and not the lungs needed..

More mails are written, more ideas mooted and then just when you think you have got it, the refusal, the impersonal decision makers who do not want to take a risk… or prefer the conventional options..

Why does project why not want to take the conventional and accepted funding ways.. many reasons but let me just say the following:

Which funding head allows one to educate, care for special kids, repair a heart, reach out when needed..

Were we to accept the conventional ways then all the ‘teachers’ would lose their jobs as they would not meet the stipulations and yet they are the ones who have got consistent 100% results from class I to XII for five long years..

Were we to accept the conventional way we would have to increase our administrative costs to fulfill the complex paperwork..

Were we to accept the conventional way, project why woud lose its soul and its spirit..

So one has to fight on… and maybe one day… but then if we are to believe Oriana Fallaci, a great emptiness would be waiting..

But we would create new goals…

Life on a planet is born of woman


Santosha she was named.. after the goddess who grants wishes

She is babli ‘s mom..

Somewhere the script went wrong as she lost both her parents and was left to to the mercy of (un)caring realtives for whom she was a burden..

Later she was married off to a man 35 years her senior, an asthma patient unable to work.. she is his third wife…

Santosha accepted her fate and bore three children to this ageing and ailing man, took on a poorly paid back breaking job in a factory and kept her family going..

It was not easy as they never found a permanent home, leading to the children not being able to go to school. Babli was the eldest child and she new intuitively that there was something wrong with her, she could see the little child struggling to breathe, her heart pounding so hard that she use to feel it would jump out of the frail chest.. The doctors told her babli would need surgery but she quietly filed that suggestion into the deep recess of her mind as she knew there was no way she could manage this..

She perhaps did send a silent prayer asking for a miracle, but with the burden of life weighing on her already tired shoulders, she soon forgot that prayer.. she had to just focus getting a meal for her family and medicine for her husband..

When she came into our office, we were suprised to see this tall dignified and smiling woman who quietly sat down. She told us about her life without any bitterness. She told us her husband was a good man, somehow it seemed as she was speaking of her ‘fourth’ child, one who needed as much care as the others.

Her demeanour was remarkable for one who had experienced so much sorrow and pain in her short life. She had come to thank us for babli..

There is a god for the lesser ones, a god that has strange ways but is not unkind.. Santosha had to wait nine years to see her barely worded prayer answered..

Babli has to live; a mother’s prayer has to be fulfilled..

It is a matter of the credibility of the god of the lesser ones..

Is he listening?