chottey lal.. the larger than life toy man

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When you think nothing can touch or move you, that your heart is safe and well guarded, beware: someone may have other plans for you. It happened to me this morning. This is how:

What made me decide to go fetch K and mr P, I do not know.. what made me say ‘yes’ to their desire to stop by a children’s park, I cannot say.. nevertheless I found myself in the GK II Park and that is when Chottey Lal came into my life..

Many of you have seen the khilona wallah, our very own toy vendor who ambulates in residential areas selling a medley of plastic toys.. or at least heard the strident whistle that often jars a lazy afternoon.. and most of our kids have, in spite of all the Mattels in the house, egged you on to buy the plastic wonders.. well as we got off our radheyMobile, a khilone wallah pased by and my bacchas wanted one.. I looked up and saw and old man and thought I would make his day by purchasing toys for 100 rs. As the kids were chosing want they wanted, I hear a rasping sound and discovered it was the old man who could barely breathe..

I helped him steady his toypole and would have fallen had Radhey not steadied me… the pole weighed a good 50 kilos far more than the frail man who lugged it.. what would make a man do this..

As Chottey Lal shared his story, I could not stop the tears from falling.. Chottey Lal was born in Lahore, his father was a kotwal. The family moved to Aligarh.. he reminisces coming delhi at 15 when the angrez left and worked for 15 years in Teen Murti House, in the times of Panditji.. I listen to him but my mind kept wondering what would make a man like him cart a 50 kilo burden walking miles to eek a few rupees..

My heart went out to him as I saw his wrinkle ridden face, emanciated body covered in layers of non-descript clothing, a whistle hanging on his chest.. we sat over a cup of tea as he shared his life: his son had job but not enough to feed the little family and he did what he felt he should.. for his grandchildren and others. He made 40 rupees on a good day, enough to meet the evening meal… I sensed his whole being straighten up when he rasped that he had never asked for help.. and I did believe him.. honesty oozed out of every pore.. I asked him how I could help, and his answer made my world stop: “just ask the gurdwara to allow me to stand there and sell my wares; a few days back they shunted me away and hit me”. He rolled up his trousers and showed me the barely healed wound.. I asked him if he has eaten and whether he carried any food. Chottey Lal proudly fished out a tiny packet of biscuits and a shrivelled orange.

We sat down to share a cup of tea and some bread.. By this time I knew that this morning my good friend the god of lesser beings had probably decided that Chottey lal’s days of carrying his burden were over. I had to find a way for him to retain his dignity and get his 40 rs a day!

We took Chottey lal home and met the family.. his son who earns 1500 rs a month as a courier boy – half the minimum wage – told us that his father would not listen to them. Everyone was extremely concerned but I smiled as I understood the stubborn little big man.. we agreed that he would sell his toys comfortably seated close to his home, and that he would get his 40rs a day for coming once a week and telling stories of the past to pwhy kids. Stories so precious and now so rare..

Chottey Lal is the best you can find in India, a man that should be an example to all those who want to live life the easy way..

I salute this larger than life toyMan

Note: I may start a new blog with chottey lal’s stories

heartfix hotel

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When Sitaram walked into our little office almost three years go, he had hobbled for six years on his good leg from the proverbial pillar to post seeking the funds required for his son Raju’s operation. His determination and courage compelled us to act… Arun had to wait 14 years before fate conjured the right moment and brought this dalit family to our doorsstep.. one look at Arun’s smile and we knew we had to do something..

It was Sitaram again who brought Babli and her broken heart to project why.. no one had done anything for her for 9 long years as she was just a girl…and it was the look in little Chetna’s mother’s eye as she held on to her imprefect child after having lost her first born that made us act… and two days from mow she will have her angiography!

Many may wonder why an organisation whose main activity is education is busy being a heartFix hotel.. one does not have a logical answer.. maybe it is the conviction that if something comes our way, it happens for a reason.. just as Manu’s heart wrenching howls led to setting up pwhy’s first classroom..

Maybe it is the belief that every child has a right to live or is it the unfair reality that the miracles of modern medecine are only for the chosen ones.. I would like to believe that it is my friend the god of lesser children’s way of redressing torts..

And in running our heartFix hotel one has come to realise that indubitable fact that people tend to be more generous when asked to help in such cases.. so somewhere the why ruse is at work too…

Or to quote the now famous rang de basanti, it is not being able to remain silent when something is terribly wrong!

another smile in custody…

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There is another smile that lit planet why for the past 6 months, a smile that conveyed warmth, compassion and befitted the spirit of pwhy!

Sophie came to us last summer and immediately became one of us.. so much so that we almost took her for granted.. not only did she reach out to the children and brought them wondrous experiences, but she was there whenever we needed her. Her numerous skills helped us in so many ways: she was our lenswoman, our chief decorator, our graphic artist and much more..

When Babli was to be operated, Sophie and her friend Gary were by her side and made a complex heart surgery seem easy and simple..

To me, she was the one I reached out to in moments of doubt and angst.. and she gently steered me back on course.. and gave my sometimes flinching courage the fillip it needed..

We got used to that smile and somehow made it ours, and when she flies out next week, that smile will be in our custody till she returns…

all of us at project why will miss Sopi Didi

the spunk of a smile

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For 28 days nanhe has kept his smile going.. through pain, humiliating investigations and now invasive surgery which has wreaked his exhausted body.. with tubes and drains hanging and the discomfort of bedsores, nanhe still smiles on..

True his smile is a little slower to light his pain ridden face, but it does each time anyone he cares for walks into the room.. telling us to hold on and not give.. as we are not home yet.. another major surgery to deal with his kidneys await and only then will he be able to come back to us..

It is amazing how much a smile can convey.. nanhe’ smile reveals the spirit of this brave child and holds many silent lessons.. it is for us to heed them..

Kim smiling valiant child, we need you more than you can imagine

parttime couples

Was flipping through a upmarket magazine and came across an article entitled: weekend couples, highlighting what was defined as ‘a new dynamisn in the intsitution of marriage with couples living in different cities’…

Once again we were faced with the now jaded reality of two Indias… Maybe for the urban midlle class, this is a new occurence but innumerable women in India have patiently endured the reality of living away from their husbands and carrying on their numerous activities, no less than any job… these are not week end couples but once a year couples…

Our cities are replete with men who have left their wifes in the villages and have come in search of jobs.. the wives may not have fancy careers, but they tend to the little land that is often the only identity they have, look after the children, care for the parents and face whatever comes by.. Once a year, their husband comes back for a short time, renewing the marital institution by often leaving the wife pregnant..

Give it a thought..

branded… in free India

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Yesterday on the eve of R day, segregation in schools on the basis of performance was banned in Maharashtra.. strange that in a country where all children are deemed equal, such a practice existed for over half a century..

A child was branded A or B or C… at an early age, when he or she had not even had a chance to develop fully… many children interviewed by a TV channel on this issue shared the pain and agony of such an unfair procedure… and let us not forget that children often perform better when stimulated by their peers..

More so because a child branded as ‘poor’ or ‘bad’ will never get the will to do better.. because they will be marginalised by the so called ‘good’ ones..

All the above was in reference to up market schools.. but have you ever thought of the fact our educational system itself segregates children? In a country where every child has a fundamental right to education, there are two kind of schools and it is sad but true that those run by the state are not up to the mark and yet they are the only options for million of children in India.. it is from these schools that a large number of children drop out and yet it takes a simple option like pwhy to reverse the process and make failures into toppers!

33% gets you a school leaving certificate, but does it get you a place in university or allow you to apply for a government job… disturbing is it not, and more disturbing when you are told by a government school teacher that there was no need to complete the syllabus, as what they were taught would be sufficient to ‘pass’

In the nation’s capital city there is talk of privatisation of education… something that makes my blood run cold… as in the best case scenario it would mean a parrallel option for the poor which would run into financial difficulties.. what it would lead to is many children just dropping out of the school system.

Many countries have a common school, where children from all walks of life meet and learn together and from each other.. it would be the right option for India one day, but are we ready to take that step..

Rang de Basanti realeased today and though one has not seen the film, a quote from its dialogue rings terriby true: there are two ways of looking at wrongs – accept them and carry on or take action and do something…

The children of India deserve better than to be assigned labels according to their performamce or social origin…

happy R day…

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All year long we celebrate innumerable festivals.. many are religious… some social… we wish each other diwali and xmas, eid and pongal amd freindship day and mother’s day… often not quite knowing what each of them signifies..

Today is R Day.. often viewed as a day of parades and traffic restrictions, of closed shops and extra security measures.. of jaded school functions where the essential is absent.. but let us take a moment and think about what we celebrate today.. the coming into force of our Constitution..

Most of us may not realise how important this is. But it is this text that guarantees each and every Indian freedom and the right to live with dignity…

We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign socialist secular democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens :
Justice, social, economic and political;
Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
Equality of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation

Every child of India has a right to know its constitutional rights and his duties.. and made aware of the responsibility he carries.. every child of India has to be made aware of his place in the democratic pattern, has to learn the fact all Indians have one vote, no matter who they are.. has to be made aware of the freedom he enjoys and the duties that ensue. Hence freedom of movement allows him to relocate – something a country like France does not permit – but he also has to understand that relocation means sharing already limited resources and therefore respecting them.. Freedom of religion also means accepting the other one’s beliefs.. Every child of India has to know that he has a right to education, one that the state must guarantee..

We all aspire for a better tomorrow individually and collectively, a better tomorrow for every Indian as only when that hapens, will our country truly wake up.. and if education is the way, then education needs to include making children aware of their true identity as citizens of India.. as only then will they be able to fulfill their dreams…

happy R day!

babli aur….

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here is the latest picture of our very own babli from bed no 6, ward no 2… quite a star she is as she puts on a million dollar smile in spite of pain and a swollen eye! so little babli has a brand new heart… it took some effort that began when mr never say die a.k.a sitaram brought her to pwhy and ended with the great supportBabli team – inumerable friends and well wishers from the world over – at work!

across the road in ward no 19 of another hopsital, Nanhe is rid of the terrible pain that lost the valiant battle against the now famous never say die smile, a smile that helped us through the long journey to get Nanhe his much needed operation..

and this was the smile we were treated to a few moments before he was taken to surgery..

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babli aur nanhe are today on the way to recovery, but they have also spearheaded a new mission for project why: that of helping children in need of life saving interventions.. and this could only have been possible without of one invisible hero… our very own sitaram.

when words fail

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This picture was taken minutes before scared little braveBabli’s angiography.

Take a moment to look at it:

You have Babli being tended to by Sophie with love and tenderness, while her father looks on probably wondering why all this fuss about a girl!

Watching is Sitaram eyes filled with love and concern, remembering his own angst when his Raju was in the same situation and probably praying for Babli’s well being

And in a corner is little Arzoo who is terribly perplexed as she senses something is not quite the same as usual. Remember Babli is Arzoo’s mother figure at home..

So much has been caught on camera in this picture.. from human relationships which know no frontiers, to the realities of India’s girl child.. to the invisible and touching synergies that make pwhy what it is..

investing in a tiny heart

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Little Chetna is Nanhe’s roomie.. she is two months old and has a hole in her heart that requires surgery.. the family is not rich and the mother bears the stigma of having lost her first daughter and produced another defective one.. everything seems to conspire against this little child.. almost as if the large sum required would be a bad investment..

As I looked into her huge black eyes, all I saw was a tiny little heart beating as best it could to infuse life into this beautiful child… the conclusion was foregone.. something had to be done, and in spite of the many questions that would be raised by detractors and friends, I knew almost intuitively that my friend, the god of lesser beings, was at work again.. and the slight hesitation that was about to cross my mind was set to rest there and then as the incredible Sitaram had taken the lead and was asking for referreal papers and contact numbers..

team pwhy on standby for Babli, had its next mission charted out.. and before I could say anything operation Chetna had begun imbued with a life of its own.. another miracle was in the offing…

Somehow this was a special moment in the life of pwhy, one that proved that we had come a long way as the lead to save Chetna was taken by he humblest son of India… one who was also repaying a debt!

For me it was a moment of quiet celebration…