after ‘why’, ‘what’ ?

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After why, what – that is the question.. almost a Shakespearian one..

Six years down the line we have successfully proved that with a little effort and local resources, drop out rates can be contained and children can pass their Boards. True that we have some students who cross the 70 and even 80 % line, but they are the exception; most of them hover around 50 and some even dip lower..

This is the time of the year when the famed or ill famed cut off marks are out. One stares with despair at the 92 and 93 % marks you need to enter a good college and wonders where does that leave children of lesser gods..

Evening colleges, correspondence courses, open universities… Most again leaving the students idle for part of the day, bearing the brunt of parental pressure urging them to work..

This has been disturbing us as school education in India is totally devoid of technical options. In many countries, weaker students are urged to take a technical stream that ensures that they leave school with a certificate and a skill. In France there is even a stream called bac en alternance where the student spends three days in school and the other three learning a trade: working as a sales person in a shop, training in a kitchen, working with a carpenter and so on…

After much thought we have decided to start evening and week end classes in plumbing, electrical works, air conditioning repair, computer repair, carpentry, tailoring, accupressure and naturopathy, beautician etc using local talent. If we are able to do so we would even think of launching – call pwhy – whereby we would offer these skills in a well organised way to friends and others.

Another option that we plan to start, and one where our special section can also play an important role is providing packed lunches and diners to offices and young people living alone. This would also provide work to handicapped people with tricycles as they would be able to deliver them and thereby earn a dignified living.

These are but a few options we have thought of, the mainstay being that children would acquire a skill that would come handy in their lives. We are looking for other ideas, but given our past errors, when we jumped and made things and did not find outlets, we only want to launch a new idea if there is a market to support it.

One must realise that a simple education is not enough; we are duty bound to give our children the required skills to be able to survive..

The myth of government jobs has to be destroyed, and children taught that nothing comes easy.. But if you have the will then the way is there as young Sanjiv has proved. He chose to learn yoga, accupressure, shiatsu and other massage and many alternative forms of healing while doing his studies (week end classes at Gandhi smriti) even if his peer group made fun of him and today earns a whopping 7 to 8 K and has a motorcycle. He is learning English with us and we hope to get him clients from the expat community.. Sanjiv did much more than survive just because he chose to walk an unknown path that a kind soul showed him with his head held high..

Can we convince others to do the same becomes the next existential question.

well done garima

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I cannot but remember the days in May 2000, when I use to sit at a door step in Giri Nagar, and hordes of parents use do come with a single plea:

English bolana sikhado” – teach them to speak in English-

How intuitive and right these poor illiterate parents were: last week spirited Garima, a class X topper was denied a place in a ‘prestigious’ English medium school because she could not speak English properly.. what properly means should be defined by the principal of that school..

Wonder if next time my French friends say: ze book is on ze taboul‘ I should cross them off my social list and what about the London friends who speak with a cockney lilt!

Almost 60 years after independence, one that was fought against the British, we still judge people by their ability to parrot the queens’ tongue!

Garima was lucky – NDTV picked up her story.. there are so many Garimas living under the stranglehold of their inability to converse in English, their self esteem eroded.. there are many whose mother tongue’s inflection is so strong that it permeates every language they speak and who can never quite get rid of it… the Japanese and Italians and our own Biharis or Bengalis are good examples of this

There is something terribly wrong in our land, now added to your social or religious background is added the ability to master the language of the erstwhile coloniser.
So now perhaps some smart alec will come up with a reservation for those who cannot speak English well..

Why can’t we accept the child who speaks English with her or his Indian accent, just as we accept the inversion of l’s and r’s by our friends from the Far East..

One of the most difficult tasks at pwhy has been to get our kids to shed their self-consciousness and put in active use the huge knowledge of English that lies hidden in their brain.. one understands why when one reads Garima’s story..

But there is another aspect to her story, one that I highlighted earlier with reference to the Mumbai old couple: the role of the media as an agent of change… a single story on the silver screen gets people to shed their cynicism and inaction and do something, be it redressing a tort or reaching out to another..

So maybe that is the road to tread..

PS: Kudos to Garima who has decided to remain in her old school, the one that helped her top and kudos to her parents who have stood by her.

he looked at the sky…

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When the aviator missed his Little Prince in St Exupery’s beautiful fable, he looked at the sky searching for a star… when he missed his laugh he thought of bells ringing..

Two weeks from now little mr p will walk out of my door to a new life in his new school.. and a new future just what I wanted, just what we all worked for so hard..

I must confess that though I have been making all the right noises and saying the right words, the ones everyone expects, written all the appropriate thank you’s and bless you’s, deep in my heart all is not quite well.. as is obvious by the fact that I have been hiding the list the school has given and that needs to be purchased as if delaying buying the little socks and hankies would make the two weeks seem longer, or by my erractic work pattern, or my tiptoeing in the dark room and watching popples sleep..

I must also confess that each time he says Maa’mji and comes struting into my office I have been far more indulgent in spite of the many raised eyebrows around me using my position as elder shamlessly.. silly behavior I know but when was love logical.

I have also spent long moments going back on the past three years since I first lay my eyes on this little chap and trying to understand the bond. It is so easy to find reasons to explain why you love someone and when it is little mr p, then they are there on a platter, but I think there are some hidden reasons that only you know and those are the real ones.

So you understand how a tiny fellow has shown you the way many a times when your steps faltered, has helped you find in yourself things you did not know you possessed, even if it is simply stopping your early wails each time you burnt your little finger..

Yes he has taught me many things: courage, uncondional love, stoical acceptance of humiliation and hurt, remarkable ability to adapt to new situations.. albeit adults ones.. but also brought into my life his warm hugs, his special maa’mji, his beautiful smile and above all his demanding love which beckons me and makes me the one he knows is there even if no one is.

But love means to know when your presence becomes hampering, when you need to tiptoe away as life waits with open arms and many dreams to follow.. So two weeks from now I will let mr p walk out of the door into the light..

in my Inbox

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This morning as I entered my office the light on my cellphone was flashing indicating a message in my inbox. I rarely use this facility and normally what awaits me on the screen is some promo or the other. I opened the message – not a promo this time – and read the beautiful words sent by a lovely young woman I recently met. It said:

If God answers your prayers he is increasing your faith
If He delays, he is testing your patience
If He does not, he knows you can handle…

I stared at the words for a long time letting their meaning sink in, and realising how true they were. The words written were in no way a message of resignation but one of hope. How many times have I not sat waiting for what many call miracles, till I realised that it was for me to make it happen, and then somheow things happened: the right words appeared on the screen as my fingers tapped the keys, the long forgotten name sprung back in one’s memory or the right option was sought..

One is but human and somehow one forgets that the greatest gift anyone can give you is the realisation that nothing comes by begging, but by believing in yourself and in your ability to get it, no matter how many hurdles you need to overcome.

remembering kamala

Girl’s education is accepted as a fait accompli in our day and age. However this was not so when my mother was young. Today on her 16th death anniversary I remember with fondness the way she told me about her early school days in Meerut in the early 1920s.

“When Raghunath Girl’s School opened there were no students. The teacher a Christian lady went around looking for students as her job was at stake! My father, after much persuasion by my mother and grandmother, two extremely modern women, accepted to let me go. Every morning the teacher used to come in a doli, carried by two men. The doli was placed in the inner veranda and the men left. I use to sit in it and the purdah (curtain) was then drawn. I was just 8 years old!

“When I sat for my class 6 examination I was very excited. I was made to wear a thick khadi sari over the long khadi shorts and shirt which used to be my usual attire. Belonging to a nationalist freedom fighter family, we all wore thick home spun khadi. While answering my paper the sari was in the way and I took it off. After the paper was over I ran home excited to show my answers to my father. I had forgotten all about the sari. Later the teacher brought it home.

“I managed to continue my studies with the support of my mother and grandmother. My father wanted me to stop but the two ladies would put up a great show. They would stand with long faces while papa had lunch and then would say “Kamala has not eaten, she is on hunger strike”. Needless to say papa would lose his appetite not knowing that I had been surreptitiously fed at night! A day or two later he would relent. I went on to do my matriculation, my BA and even my MA thanks to many well orchestrated hunger strikes!”

My mother, Kamala Goburdhun, nee Sinha [1917-1990] went from being a small town girl to an Ambassador’s wife. Along the way she even got her Doctorate. Much of what i am, is because of this special woman. You can read more about her life here.

excuse me saying this….

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Excuse me saying this, but why don’t you sell this house.. imagine how many heart surgeries it would sponsor..
This is what a project why supporter and now friend said when he dropped on a Sunday to finally put a face to something he had till date known through the words I write.. One again I was faced with what I now call my moments of truth..

The obvious answer was that this ‘house’ was not quite mine as it was in custody for my children.. but the question perturbed me for a while as it was almost existential in nature and pertained to the very spirit of project why…

Even if the hosue was mine to do away with, did this act fall within the ambit of what pwhy set out to be.. A tough question I must confess as the answer could easily be miconstrued as an easy way out of an essential dilemna..

After much thought and soul searching, I realised that the answer would still be ‘no’, and that for many reasons. No matter how many open heart surgeries it could sponsor, it would be still a limited number and once depleted one woudl still find one’s self where one is today. But there was a deeper rationale to my refusal and that was that such action would against the very essnce of pwhy which aims at levelling and easing out differences and placing everyone on a common platform on the one end, and working out modes of functioning that can be replicated by one and all..

The aim is not giving up or liquidating an asset however big, but heping create assets, albeit tiny, for all.. leave alone the false sense of megalomania such an action would entail.. and above all one must not forget that charity – for want of a better word – has to be coupled with humility to retain any meaning… so begging bowl it is for now and always

my very special begging bowl

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This morning I began the mail I sent to many friends and supporters with the words: here I am, begging bowl in hand.. and many answered with the words: please do not use phrases like begging bowl..

Most of the mails I write when I seek help are instinctive.. true that I have never used the word begging earlier … it was time for a bit of soul searching..

To beg means to ask for something earnestly and humbly says the dictionary.. quite true as gone are the days of anger and resentment when no help came.. now there is only gratitude for even the tiniest coin that drops by, as with it comes the love and care of a human heart, the precious moment spared to write a cheque or fill an on line form..

As I searched some more I remembered the Zen monk’s begging bowl: each day the monk would go out into the world with his empty bowl, and whatever was placed in his bowl by kind strangers would be his nourishment for the day. Nourishment can take more than one meaning and I realised that maybe I was like the Zen monk and my bowl got me so much: a heart fixed, a tear wiped, a child’s smile, a mother’s prayer answered, children remaining in school, a roof on someone’s head…

As I look with moist eyes at the picture above and see Manu in a classroom, intent in learning the new excercise and little Sapna looking up at him, my mind goes back to the Manu begging on the street and being fed like an animal and Sapna not able to hold her head, let alone stand on her own… and lok at them today… and all this has been made possible because so many of you dropped a bit of your heart in my begging bowl..

As long as I asked for a contribution in impersonal ways and resented the fact that it was not forthcoming nothing changed.. it is only when I was able to shed my misplaced arrogance and pride and humbly beg with my heart that my bowl filled slowly and miracles happened around me..

It is a very precious bowl I hold out as hidden in its depth is the key to a new heart, a new life, and many tomorrows filled with joy..

which one did he hear..

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Just when you sit back and think that you have done your bit, and maybe can take a break , someone decides otherwise and a tiny broken heart lands softly on your planet. One look at the trusting eyes and innocent face and your mind is already racing.

Deepak is 7 months old and requires open heart surgery. Though his face is plump his tiny body is proof of how difficult the simple task of breathing is for this child. The scribbled now familiar green card of the All India Institute lies in front of you..

70 000 rs with the added 4000 for the angiograpy.. how can little deepak’s daily wage labourer father ever put that money together.. and you ask yourself which one of the thousands of prayers his mom must have whispered, did he hear!

One has to stop and I think at the reality we often do not see. One the one hand India is shining and more and more of our countryPals are making it on the world’s richest men list.. Five start medical facilities now attract a new form of tourism. But no effort is being made towards medical care for the poor.

A TV network recently showed an old educated couple begging in the streets of Mumbay. The dignified old lady wore a placard around her neck saying she had lost her eyesight, breast and home to cancer and needs help.

Looking at those pictures I felt so small and inadequate and wondered where had we gone wrong in building our nation.. True that after the programme, help poured in and the couple is now comfortable. But many questions remained unanswered.. is it only after a story of human tragedy is aired on TV that people open their hearts and feel a sense of responsibility..? does our charitable side needs external prompts to awaken..?

In our 7 years of up market begging one has had to accept the sad reality that individual heart wrenching cases do get heeded, whereas long term and preventive projects are difficult to sell.. the person willing to come forward in individual cases, tiptoes away when asked for help in our every day work..

A flash of intuition or some hidden instinct pushed me to set up a community driven grass root project, and in our 7th year running and in spite of the innumerable setbacks and looming temptations, the tug is still very much there. No magical wand is going to create a perfect social system no matter how committed an administration we have. The magical wand lies in our ability to awaken the charitable side that lies dormant in each one of us, so that a network of support is created at the micro level and takes care of its own – the poor, the handicapped, the old, the sick – and ultimately this is the network that will create the bridge between national programmes and the end user.

How, is the question, and my answer remains the same: the one rupee a day model, where the one rupee could be translated as free space, time, skills and resources.. If each of our outreach programmes could be handled by the local community, we would see a quantum leap in the number of children helped..

I have always held that India’s solutions lie in addressing simultaneously the macro and the micro level till the day the meet and synergise.

Will that day dawn in our life span, I do not know, but in the spirit of what has been said, one has to continue with conviction in what one feels is right.

Deepak needs a new heart that is today’s challenge, tomorrow’s is to ensure that we are still around for all the other Jyotis and Deepaks in waiting!

no bananas for my mommy…

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I lived a rare moment today.. one that I cannot truly describe as it was a kaleidoscope of emotions and feelings..

A late call yesterday night asked me to come and meet utpal’s mom who was in hospital with multiple problems.. they also asked me to bring utpal along.. So this morning, he wore his favourite T-shirt and we made the long journey to the hospital.. On the way he spoke a little, asking time and again whether we were bringing her home.. I told him that it would not be this time as she was ill..

As we entered the hospital ward, he clung to me and when he lay eyes on his mom he just looked away.. In spite of her efforts he did not go into her arms but talked a lot and then took the camera and starting taking a lot of pictures.. for a 4 year old the result was quite stunning..he even turned the lens and took one of himself! I

Then he set off with the radhey his friend and our driver, to get bananas and curds for his mom.. While he was away the counsellor came and told me about the fact that utpal’s mom was being difficult and needed to be talked to as her health was poor and that she had to make efforts and get rid of her tantrums.. that is when utpal came back and he must have heard some of the conversation, or at least sensed the mood..

He said nothing and sat on a chair waiting for us to finish… When it was time to leave he just picked up the bag of bananas saying that he was taking them back and after a quick forced hug he just walked away…

We dropped by the rehab centre where I had a few matters to settle, and utpal bonded with all the young counsellors happily sharing his precious bananas and walking quietly into many more hearts..

On the drive back he fell asleep, his little head on my lap and I sat wondering, trying to make sense of what had happened. Perhaps it was simply his way of telling his mom that he had kept his part of the deal while she had let him down..

Utpal’s mom has always been a difficult woman with too much attitude.. I just hope she is able to understand what her son tried to tell her as best he could!