they did it again

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It has almost become a habit and we blase about it..

The class X results were out and all the kids passed with a few compartments, mostly students who had joined us recently or were very weak when they came to us, some even failures..

At a time where reservation is spliting the country wide open, these children are a proof of the fact that with a little help and large doses of positive stroking, kids pass and with good marks. Of the 28 project why kids more than 8 have secured more than 65 marks with 2 having crossed 80. These are students who can stand on their own and compete with any peer and succeed.

I do not know what caste they are, to me they are simply children of India who deserve the best. If we can , with our limited means and resources, ensure such results, does it not prove that what we need is well run schools to erase social or other differences.. The question is do we really want them to succeed?

not to the manor born

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In my quest for a future for Utpal there have been many lessons that have come my way. The overwhelming support for this child, the kind words of people from far away lands have crated a network of friends till date unknown.

Many have also pledged their support to finance this child’s education and maybe he could stand as an example of how a good education from the word go can make any child compete in an open field.

The first step was to locate a residential school which was not too up-market and in or near Delhi. We did find one, an hour’s drive away and it looked very promising. The school authorities were willing to accept him provided Project Why be the local guardians. We got our legal friends to draft a small paper which stated that we would assume responsibility of this child. Everything seemed to be on course till a mail dropped in my mailbox with a new draft from the school.

While some parts of the document was acceptable – assurance of payment of fees, participation in PTAs etc – there were two provisos that were beyond comprehension. One that the school would not be responsible for any mishap that occurred in school or during picnics. The other that we would be responsible for any legal claim made by parents/relative/individual/ government etc.

Utpla may have had an initial setback when he sustained burns, but he is a healthy young boy. Now any child can either develop a problem or get hurt and a residential school has to assume that responsibility. As for the legal claim, Utpal has a mother who by the law of the land is the sole person to decide on his future.

The draft the school sent makes me uncomfortable as it subtly sets Utpal aside from the others. Will he then be treated fairly or is this one more case of preconceived notions based on the origins of a child? Here is a case of a baby who has been in our care from age one, and who has received the kind of attention, care and love that our kids get. Come to think of it, more than many as he has people the world over willing to help and ensure he gets the best in life. One would have hoped that the school would accept him as a challenge.

In the light of the reservation issue that is dividing our land, Utpal’s story stands out as an example or how difficult it has become to smooth differences and yet the only hope we have is that such preconceived ideas are done away with and a healthy acceptance of each other sees the light of day.

I have always held that many of the problems in India need to be addressed simultaneously from top and bottom so if the non-political committee to review the entire reservation policy that is being sought by students is the top, then maybe securing Utpal’s future is a step to be taken at the other end.

a potato chip and a prayer

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Wonder what a mundane potato chip and a prayer to God have in common..

Yesterday I had a fall as the old knee gave in resulting in a badly bruised ankle.. An ice pack and bandage later I hobbled to where Utpal was playing.. he stopped and looked at me with a quizzical face.. Upon hearing what had happened he got up and went to a fetch his pack of potato chips and with a serious face took one out and told me to eat it as it would take the hurt away.. then he declared that he would pray to bhagwan to make it all well and turned his little face up, shut his eyes and folding his hands he sent his simple petition to the heavens..

I cannot find the words to express the multitude of emotions that filled me as i watched this little fellow pray.. The room was for that moment in time filled with palpable much energy and divine light..

His prayer finished, little Utpal went back to his toys leaving us all overwhelmed by the power of what had happened..

Needless to say my pain was gone..

God listens to children.. maybe we should too

pass fail ka khel

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Once again the dreaded happened: two young children of india took their lives away in the land capital city because they failed their Boards examinations.

This has been happening with obsessive regularity and yet no one had don anything to put an end to this..

Wonder what goes into the head of a child that makes him take this extreme irreversible step
Is failing in a set of questions in a limited number of subjects – some so inane and useless to life – tantamount to failing in life itself.. is our society so perverse as to judge a human life in whether it knows how to add, or remembers some statistic or the other.. is it the parents who put undue pressure, the peer group or the inadequate opportunities our society gives its members that make a child who has barely taken a few step in life take this momentous decision..

Imagine the sense of despair that the child must feel at that moment..

It is not the child who has failed but we adults who have made the norms of success so narrow and bigoted that they cannot account for those who are otherwise endowed.. Who knows the child who took her life may have turned out to be a musician, an artist or maybe just a good human being, something so rare that we have forgotten its relevance..

I work with people who by our standards are failures as they have never passed an ‘examination’ in their entire lives and yet when one looks at them, one can see that they stand far above what we call successes, maybe not in material terms but in what makes a human being worthy of that name. Mothers who never give up, women who carry on their station in life in circumstances that would make us give up a thousand times, men who toil so that their children can have a better tomorrow, people who may have nothing but are generous to a fault..

What makes my blood run cold is that every year, as if on cue, one or more children take their lives after failing in a school examination and we do nothing barring a few chuckles of sympathy. One child dying for in this way should be enough to make us stand up and do something.. There is something terribly wrong in this numbers game which is foul in more ways than one..

I cannot begin to express the sense of immense let down I feel, when an illiterate parent comes beaming from ear to ear with his child’s school results wanting to share the joy of the child having passed. A glance at the report card where no number exceeds 33 and the words grace marks jump at you, are sufficient to prove the worthlessness of this piece of paper where the word PASS stares at you. You know the child will ultimately go the same way as his parents, as the certificate gathers dust and fritters with age..

What is this pass fail ka khel and can someone change the rules?

a mom of substance

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Ram Pyari, Nanhe’s mom had told us that she was off to the village for a few days with Nanhe. We thought nothing of it, though we wondered why she had chosen the hottest month to do so..

Yesterday we were taken aback when she came back and told us that actually she had taken nanhe to Narayan Seva Samsthan’s specialised hospital in Udaipur for his leg surgery.. I remembered her telling me a while back that she had registered at the polio camp held by the Sri Sumathinath Jain Navyuvak Mandal in Delhi last year. At that time we were worried about nanhe’s general condition and I had not given much heed to what she was saying..

Seeing Nanhe back with his smile and a cast on his leg led me to stop what I was doing and savour a very rare moment.. here was a mom saddled by destiny with 3 disabled children, a woman who had lost her husband and who fed her tiny family by selling cucumbers in the day and boiled eggs near the local watering hole at night, a mother who had never given up on her child, no matter how ill or debilitated he was.. one who had found the options possible by herself and left not stone unturned to see her last born walk, even for a short time..

Ram Pyari is a rare woman, one who takes on life with a smile not matter how bad it is, who never gives up and knows that miracles happen when you want them to, and above all that they happen when you have the courage to walk alone.. and a smile like nanhe’s to light the way..

When I come across women like Ram Pyrai, I feel tiny…

even if the road is a long one

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The children in this picture belong to our okhla primary centre.. and if one were to believe all the pro quota politicos, they are the supposed beneficiaries of the reservation policy. Most of them are dalits and OBCs.. what is noteworthy is that all their pwhy teachers are also dalits or OBCs..

I had gone to meet the parents and while waiting for them I decided to talk to the class V and VI children about the reservation issue.. Though many have TVs they were unaware of the reservation debate, as were their parents… I tried to explain to them that there were seats reserved for them in medical colleges, and other institutions.. and we talked for a long time.. Some looked bewildered and others were trying to understand.. their parents were also as lost..

We all know that these kids may get through their school as they have pwhy to support them.. but they are a drop in the ocean of such children who will slowly fall of the education net. Sometimes close to the next election, politicians will come and tell them how they have fought for their rights and the paid supporters will clap and cheer.. but no one will tell them the way to those elusive seats..

The solution mooted are again divisive or futile.. more seats will not help these children neither will a parallel school system that sticks a label from day one! We need schools that are not only run properly, but reflect the social reality, where children from all walks of life learn together and compete in a healthy manner irrespective of who their parents are, of the caste or creed they belong.. We need to do away with the abysmal 33% pass percentage whih gives a useless degree.. we must do away with the attitude of government schools where teachers only aim at getting their students to pass.. and where in some cases even the course is not completed because all they need is 40% so why teach them more..

The first step would be to make them aware of the reality and make them realise that they too can aspire for the best, even if the road is a long one.

summer of 06

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The summer of 2006 will go down as one of disturbed and angry students, greedy politicians, brutal policemen and bewildered citizens..

All is not well on planet India.. the hydra headed monster of reservation has resurrected for reasons that only God or a few know!

Reservation was instituted by our erstwhile policy makers as a short term relief measure aiming at unifying and not dividing, at making up for past mistakes and at healing wrongs. When was its spirit hijacked and usurped by greed, I do not know but today it looks like a hydra headed monster that grows new heads each time one is severed.. and far from uniting, divides with glee an already fragmented society..

A simple look at statistics would show how miserably this policy has failed: the reserved seats often lie vacant, the poor get poorer, the drop out rate increases in quantum leaps and no rocket scientist is needed to guess what segment of society those falling out of the net of learning belong to.. and the number of reservations grow and new castes are created. Even when tiny voices of reason are heard begging for better primary education, solutions suggested reek of division: classes for ‘them‘ after ‘ours‘, prep schools for ‘them‘ but not with ‘ours‘..

The dreaded privatisation of education lies waiting to pounce, a deat knell for many children, and making us think of the obvious hidden agenda: prime land!

Wait a minute, are we all not stating, albeit unknowingly, that in the ultimate analysis the contenders of reservation are getting a second grade education, admitting that the constitutional right of Indian children to recieve free education is being violated as they are getting an education that is not up to the mark: 33% pass percentage, schools without teachers and so on..

The question is who will have the courage to wring the neck of our hydra headed monster. Severing heads only serves vested interests in all strata of society, the neck lies elsewhere. where no one is willing to look, in two littke words that have proved their mettle: the common school..

Why is no one talking of the common school, something that countries we seek to emulate have always had: schools run by the state where the admission factor is the area you live in.. in Delhi there is a government or municipal school in every posh locality ( 3 are under 5 minutes away from where I sit): spruce it up, create a Indian Education Service on the model of the IAS and put an end to the proliferation of poor quality private schools that have emerged as clones to inaccessible public schools and cater to the desire of poor parents to give their kids the best they can!

I know it is a tall order, and sadly it is the upper end of society that will block it because of age old hang ups and social nonsense: How can my child sit on the same bench as my driver’s kid! Therein lies the real neck of our monster, in our own attitudes, our own fears, our own minds. I was in a common school way back in 1958 in Rabat, Morrocco. My best buddy was Omar, the local butcher’ son and what linked us amd name us bond was that we were both top of the class in studies and mischief! Omar went on to become a film maker..

We need a MK Gandhi or a Patel like politician to have the courage to do what is right for India. Children of India being hit by water canons and police sticks is not what many gave their lives for.. Reservation was instituted to make all children of India equal citizens, not to sear them with life long labels..

How many more reservations will it need to finally seek the neck… come to think of it after higher education, private jobs someone will think of 49% reservation of the India cricket team!

celebrating mothers

It will be mother’s day this month .. and everyone will celebrate it..

To me mother’s day has taken a new meaning this year, though I lost my mother almost 16 years ago.. Kamala was a beautiful woman and a woman of spirit.. she chose not to marry till India was independent, no slave child for her said she.. she married when she was 30!
She chose not to reveal she spoke English so that her only child growing so far away from her motherland could speak her mother tongue with ease.
She chose not take any medication and died of cancer in pain but as she said alive, as life for her was the most beautiful gift.
A small town girl who has to go on ‘repeated’ hunger strikes to get her father to accept that she studies she went on to get a PHD from Charles University in Prague.
The daughter of a nationalist whose childhood was spent applying ointment on her father’s band of freedom fighter’s bruised back, she went on the an ambassador’s wife.
A woman who loved her husband so much that she learnt French as a birthday gift for the man who so loved that language.
Yes she was a great woman and worthy of being celebrated..

But it is not this mother who taught me what a mother is.. the true meaning and importance of a mother was taught to me by a little boy who sleeps quietly in my home..
His mother has all the reasons not be loved: she drinks, she beats and hits him, she even entertains other men, lies, steals, forgets to cook, keeps a filthy home and even dropped him in a boiling cauldron… and yet this son never judged ner; he just loved her, forgave her and protected her in whatever way he could..
And when she finally agreed to get help, he let her go without a sigh.. and has had the utmost dignity never to mention her.. for the past three weeks he has been the perfect guest and made himself so small that one does not even know he is in our home, abiding by the ways of a life so different from his, as if we was to the manor born..
Utpal has taught me how important a mother is and how selfless and beautiful is the love a child has for the one that has given him life..
So on this mother’s day the only tribute I can give to motherhood is to secure this child’s future and to give him back a mother worthy of his love, one he can one day be proud of in front of the whole world, one that vindicates his love.. even if that means redefining my life
help me do so…

read more about utpal

where is the soap
as the snake waits in the wings
back to his hole
7 days on a planet
there is fish and rice
games adult play
boman, beauman, superman
rarely is love instant
there are no invitation card
gender bias
smile referred to
all gods angels
braveheart named utpal
when was love logical
games gods play
meri mummy

they simply wait

What do ritika, soni, champa and umesh have in common. They are all students of our special section; they are all slow learners and live in a world of their own where things are not quite the same as in ours. They take the same auto every morning under the benevolent care of our forbidding looking Radhey Shyam and spend their day at pwhy, away from their sometimes harsh world.

For a few hours they are in a world where they are treated as individuals and valorised. They spend happy moments till it is time for the return journey.

But ritika, champa, soni and umesh also have something else in common, something their simple minds cannot understand: they live under the dread of having their homes destroyed.. all four are residents of the famous ‘transit’ camps where their parents moved almost 20 years ago, a place given to them by the authorities and which they thought belonged to them, now they have been given demolition notices and told that the space is actually a green belt.. they cannot understand all this.. they simply wonder why they were not able to come to the centre yesterday and no one is willing to explain it to them.. they are unable to comprehend why their parents are angrier than usual, why they did not go to work, why everyone sat on the street and shouted.. why there world was suddenly turned upside down.. mom even forgot to cook…

The mayhem around them is incomprehensible, how are they to uncerstand that the voters ID and tax receipts and other such bits of papers that everyone is holding is of no value anymore, how can they realise that what has been home for as long as they remember might vanish.. how can they begin to imagine how difficult days ahead are going to be as irate and defeated parents will vent their frustration of them.. as always

They simply wait for radhey to come and take them away for a few hours

Note: these four children live in the transit camp that faces demolition by the DDA

ours is not to wonder…

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remember nandini, the spunky bright village girl.. the one whose heart could not be repaired and whose dreams are in our custody, the class V student who as an infectious smile and an admirable desire to learn.. well she amazed us once again..

nandini wants to be a doctor and wants it bad.. this young girl of 10 was already in class V and doing well when she had to leave school and come to Delhi to tend to her heart.. when the ordeal was over and she was given a go home signal, she came to me and asked me if I would help her study.. I told her that she should go back and send me a detailed break up with supporting documents and a bank account number..

I was delighted when I got a neat enveloppe with a beautifully written letter, bills and other receipts as well as a photocopy of a post office account in her name. The cost details are available at this page and we hope that we will be able to raise the funds needed.

At a time when one is always complaining about the conditions of education in india, it is important to place on record the fact that this little school in a small towm in much maligned Bihar, is imparting the kind of education one would like to see elsewhere in India.

We hope nandini becomes a doctor, we have no doubt she will be a caring one.