chapeau bas


when utpal mondal was born on the ides of march in 2002, god had made a mistake.. somewhere down the line, just a year away he had to suffer the worst baptism of fire: he fell into a boiling pot!

I guess even the most forbidding God realises his mistake and sets out to make it right.. he must have worked overtime to set everything in place; he had to ensure that we shift our office and that utpal’s family shift next door, that radhey would be in a kind mood and agree to drive the scalded barely alive child and that the hospital have the rather absurd idea of sending home with a discharge slip stating snidely: chances of survival:nil!

He also had to make sure that the one volunteer working with us at that time was Sophie who was a nurse having worked in a paediatric burns department of a well known hospital in Paris. And above all he had to make sure that his beautiful face was spared.. making him endearing and beautiful..

I guess no matter how agnostic or skeptic one is,one has to admit that for once he did not do too badly.. 3 years down the line and Utpal is in school, happy and alive and even his alkie mother is on the mend!

So can we say chapeau bas or hats off!



Many moons ago, when we were in our early teens, one of our favourite pastime was to dial random numbers on the phone in the hope of catching some young man and enganging in silly conversations.. This was often done with your best friend in tow and one quickly slammed the reciever down the moment things went a bit out of hand..

Those were the days when phones were still archaic and no one could trace the number.. and often one did not even rememeber it to dial again…

That was in the early sixties

Today we have the situation revisited version 2006.. but much ihas changed. It is not young giggly adolescents who are engaging in this inane game, but women with grown children. This is the direct result of the proliferation of cheap cellphones that have invaded the slums of India, where women married often without their consent at a very young age and propelled into motherhood, are suddenly finding a way to express a seemingly harmless repressed sexuality by dialling numbers and engaging in flirtatious conversations.. but these get out of hand as numbers are recorded and then they come sheepishly seeking help as their being found out would spell disatesr in their conservative homes..

One comes to their rescue but one is aware of the time bomb that is ticking away as this is happening in a society which has no pity or mercy for women.

disquieting dilemma

this touching sepia picture of Utpal sleeping should be enough to vindicate any wrong that may have happened in the six years of pwhy’s existence on the field..

some of you may have seen the revolting sting operation of a TV channel that caught doctors mutilating healthy bodies to fulfil the greed of beggar mafias..

This little body that sleeps soundly did not even need the help of a Dr Jekyll.. at the age of one he had had his baptism by fire and was mutilated enough to tug at the most cynical heart strings.

But that did not happen… instead he is today in a boarding school where he will break all barriers and reach for what would have seemed preposterous.. I do not take any credit for this but simply say that some god somewhere decided to right some of the wrongs he may have done, and placed us at the right spot at the needed hour.

In the six years we have been around we have been able to make a difference in some lives, a drop in the ocean that is India, but nevertheless an important part of the family to which they belong.

It is true that we have had our share of enemies, unfair blows and outrageous slander, all hitting below the belt in a women dominated organisation. Over the years one has tried to ward them off as best we could in the hope that our work would speak for itself and exonerate us..

Wishful thinking as three days back out came the read paint again and this time took care of colouring each one of us scarlet! We have always believed that no one born bad, and hence everyone can be redeemed.. but today I find myself faced with the dilemma of having to take action against one of my team members as her irresponsible behaviour as put a blot on my reputation.. and though I know that the person in question is not without blemish, I also know that she is a victim of circumstances and dependant of the salary she draws..

Six years down the line, and a fair track record to vouch for us, we are still battling the age old charges reserved for the second sex. I must confess that there are times when I feel like putting a lock on the door and calling it quits but then the pictures of all the kids that may not even have been around if we had not been there flash through my mind and put an abrupt end to such thoughts..

It will take all my sagacity and experience to find the just solution one again, but I just hope that the end to this infernal spiral is in the offing as I find myself at the end of my tether.

plastic fantastic lover

we read about farmers committing suicide because of their inability to pay back their loans.. we read about children taking their tender lives because they cannot meet the required standards some insensitive system created..

i have been watching in silent horror another monster lurking and waiting patiently for its pound of flesh and to borrow the title of a jefferson airplane song, let us call it: plastic fantastic lover.

or simply the credit card…

The multinationals were quick to see the immense potential of the other India and thus we have pouches of every imaginable product: from shampoos, to detergent, to shaving foam, to tomato ketchup.. never mind the load on the environment..

Then came the credit card which till date is often used for purchases such as motorbikes, or other r items.. but the day is not far when the simple folk realise that they can purchase everything with the swipe of a card: food, clothes, and other consummables. Whreas bank can recover bikes and TVs, disaster will hit when people find themselves in a debt stranglehold… and the ensuing infernal spiral..

The local moneylender does charge the outrageous 10% a month, but often after 2 to 3 years, once he has recovered his principal and a fair amount of interest, he forgets about you and goes looking for other fish.. but the plastic fantastic lover is heartless, merciless and will chase you till the end..

One is helpless.. maybe that is the price to pay in the new economic scenario we have embraced, but what a price


eight years ago i decided to call our field work project why.. the reason was the innumerable questions that needed answers.. and slowly and painstakingly we set out to answer them and we did.. children remained in school and passed their examinations, jobs were given to people who never thought they would get jobs, lives were saved, even those everyone had given up on.. and all along the way there was criticism often stemming out of jealousy of some disgruntled person or the other . So we heard veiled remarks about funds being pocketed, or hidden agendas of sorts..

But as if that was not enough out came the secret weapon reserved for the fairer sex. Let me just say that for the last six years I have heard that so many times that I have started asking myself whether we as women have a right to do anything without being coloured red!

Being over half a century old, I can take the slander but my heart goes out to all the young women who work with me and who have taken a step towards changing their lives for the better.. I know that it will just take one word for their still archaic families to stop them from working and thus end their dreams…

Do I stop all work and end the dreams of 500 kids and all the ones still to come.. just because of this stigma.. If I go to the authorities, then again we will have the jaded: if there is smoke there must be fire syndrome..

We could carry on as we have , but yesterday the accusation was made in a bank in front of a large audience.. and in a few hours I will have to go and face the little puzzled faces of my colleagues whose only fault is to have been born a woman in India..

Am I not entitled to be outraged…

musings on moving on

as copy

For some time no I have been getting messages, some veiled, some quite direct, some even harsh about what would happen to pwhy where I to die.. let me set everyone ones mind at rest by saying that it is something i myself have been thinking of..

It is true that I have carried pwhy on my shoulders from that time the idea took seed in my mind. many reasons guided my decision and I will clarify some of them in later posts.

pwhy was is my child, one that I conceived, carried and gave birth to, and like any child it gave him moments of pure joy and deep despair. Today it has grown and I can feel the rebellion in the eyes and ways of many who are rearing to do it they way.. As every parent suffering from acute bouts of over protectiveness I have tried to hold on, but now time has come to let the nestling fly, though I can foresee many falls..

pwhy has a sound team capable of handling all administrative day-to-day activities and learning projects and even muster new teams and set up new field projects. they have enough acumen based on the maxim of rani – majboori ka naam mahatma gandhi – to find spaces no one would think of.

The enormous problem is of course the one of taking over the funding saga as till date it was entirely based on my ability to communicate on the net, something they have not yet learnt. So they now have to evolve their own ways of finding revenue sources and they have been brainstorming about it: they are excellent party and wedding planners, and the team has a rich pool of skills they can ‘sell’. I am not venturing into this operation as in the past all my ideas failed, because they were executed but not internalised.

Like a good parent, the kind I advise others to be and find difficult to go along with, I watch from the wings, turning my tongue seven times in my mouth before venturing a word, or I just make myself scarce.. Like every fledgling they will have to fall before they learn to fly.. but that is the only way..

On the flip side, we now do have a building so we are no more on the road and I will make sufficient provisions in my personal will to ensure that it is maintained and if nothing else, is run as shelter for the likes of manu and many others… that would be the worst case scenario..

But my impassioned appeal to all those who are wondering ‘what next’, is that pwhy belongs to everyone who has helped it till now and even if my mails and blogs are not there, the incredible team that made it all possible is there and all of you can take on the torch from my now tired hands….

the days after..

had little sandhya survived we would have been heroes. However with hindsight and even after mulling hours into the night death is the kindest gift my friend the God of lesser children could have done for this unloved child.

I do not know if in this sometimes absurd and incomprehensible land of hours rituals are performed for a child, or whether a child is mourned at all. True that a certain amount of visible wailing and chest beating was performed but now it seems it was more as a prelude to the drama that was to unfold..

I normally do not sit in judgement for anyone, that is not the role I was given, at best I watch from the wings. In Sandhya’s case it was clear that her hole in her hear, her cyanotic hue reminiscent of that of the lord of the Gopis, her lost eyes were all a means of exploitation, a father that was simple minded, a surrogate father that was comparable to the shrewd advisors of epics of yore-years.. a strange cast..

and what role did we have to play? were we to be the ones who would rescue lady S.. maybe .. what we did not contend for is the aftermath.. the phone calls trying to feed on the memory of the poor child, extract the last ounce.. and the absurdity of it all.. hold us responsible..

once again we can see our detractors at play, those who have never wanted us to be as we can help change things and hence disturb their carefully planned lootshop.

the story goes like this.. they went to AIIMS, could not muster 61K. we helped them with the money and paid it, the child was too far gone, she died after 3 attempts by the best doctors in India, and we are responsible..

strange India…

mother courage and her children


I do not why I am reminded of Brecht’s Mother Courage as I sit today my head filled with unanswered questions the day after the loss of a human life no one really mourned. Why does Brecht’s play written in nazi germany and set in the seventeenth century, ring so true today. I read it many years ago when I still belived that life was beautiful and hope existed and I could not quite feel one with Brecht’s cynical talk about the inconvenience of dignity, the efficacy of taking (as opposed to giving or, what’s more foolish, waiting for someone to give), and the worth and/or worthlessness of human life, and the faith you might still have in human nature is challenged at every turn.

Why is it then that six years down the pwhy line it all makes so much sense.. I am too headed the Mother Courage way, albeit for different reasons, and going to be left pulling an empty cart off an empty stage after having tried and lost all..

You may wonder why I feel this way.. and I guess all of you deserve answers before it is too late. Those who stood by me without faltering because you were too few, those who waited too long as they thought there were others, those who waited for me to prove my worthiness, those who could not shed their cynicism, and those who thrive on writing epitaphs and statistics.

Any process involving change is a long one set with many obstacles and though these are not unsurmountable, they often take time.. that is something many did not understand.. to succeed in getting people to shed old ways many roads have to be tried and only a few may work out, that too many could not accept… age old traditions are so deep seated that they have to be carried like dead wood no matter how galling, that too was not comprehended and the list is endless…

That the change has to come about in a world that tends to look more and more like the one out Brecht is known to portray seems absurd but is true: personal egos clash and children die unattended at the doorsteps of hospitals, children are duped away from the right path by promises of quick returns and those trying to make a difference are sneered upon and cast aside.

You carry on for a while because some still believe, because some still trust, because you see hope in the eyes of a child, because you see pride in the eyes of those you love.. and then those very people become more demanding, intransigent at times, unaware of the weight you carry and then the cruel blow as oblivious that you are almost there, they chose to abandon you… just like that.. saying words that do the one thing that is irreversible: kill your spirit..

It takes everything you have, what you have learnt from your experience, from your elders and peers, from your achievemements and failures, from every smile you gave and every tear you shed, to muster the courage to carry on pulling the cart till the end of the show..

sandhya – an evening star gone by

2000 – 2006

She tiptoed on to our planet quietly almost as if she wanted no one to notice her lest we let her walk into our hearts. She would slink softly behind her loud mother hiding her face lest you lost yourself in her huge melting eyes.. She would sit in a corner patiently waiting for us to finish whatever we were doing.. Sandhya knew she was a temporary guest.

Sandhya was what they call a blue or cyanotic baby, where the heart is malformed and the blood deprived of oxygen. Since 1944 a simple surgery called a BT Shunt can repair the damage. For sandhya’s family the cost was exorbitant, but friends pitched in and two days back she was operated upon. However she did not make it, and tiptoed back to her world this morning leaving us all bewildered and lost.

Sandhya is gone but leaves many questions that needs to be answered. I am not being cynical if I say that maybe God showed extreme kindness in taking little Sandhya away had also slight mental retardation making her future very bleak. In a country where a girl child is already a burden, one like Sandhya becomes a millstone. Moreover, Sandhya seemed to be unloved, even by her mother as was visible from the moment I set my eyes on them. Never did I see a maternal gesture, a caress, a tender word, something that wold bring hope and cheer to the forlorn child.. Sandhya was a lost case from day one..

Yet we tried, our little team who accompanied her every time she needed to go the hospital getting her a fruit juice or a biscuit and feeling rewarded by her tiny smile, and the doctors who never gave up till she decided to at 12 noon on July 14th.

So go little Sandhya, evening star, go and shine on a world where children like you are loved and cherished.. we did not deserve you