Outraged and dejected

Some of you may remember my post about the little house of horrors, and the plight of orphan girls locked up in pure hell. I had ended the post with the words: we need to act.

Some of you may have wondered why the ensuing silence and even thought that we had forgotten about the little girls. No way. From the time we knew about their plight we sprung into action. But we knew we had a formidable and dangerous adversary and we also knew about the state of things in our land. After much thought I asked a dear friend for help. She is with NDTV and I knew that only the media could help.

Young Anchal went undercover and brought back a chilling story but we had all decided that this would be aired only after the safety of the girls was assured. It is a sad reality that the Minister in question did not act or help, even after seeing the footage. Finally the NCW intervened and a raid was organised today as the story went on air.

You would all think that once the raid was done with the proper permissions the girls would finally be out of that hell hole, but as I write these words they are still there huddled in a corner while the state and central police fight it out, and the DM has gone missing. NDTV reporters are there, and NGOs workers are there but some administrative hassles and battles continue. The network has asked for public blankets and food as they envisage a long night..

I am outraged as I cannot understand why the girls cannot be taken out and brought to safety. The story has gone on air, the little voices shared their horrific experiences in barely audible and pathetic words. The lawyer interviewed cited a litany of sections of the law that the owner of the place has infringed, and yet the little victims are still in that netherworld. What is wrong with us, with our administration, with our politicians.. with each one of us

It will wil be a long night….

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In the name of a father


Yesterday was my father’s 14th death anniversary.. It almost slipped my mind. Strange as there was a time when I almost lived for that day.. planning all kind of commemorative mush: flowers, rituals etc..

Wonder why the change: simply because of project why!

Mourning and grieving are luxuries you can pursue when you have time on your hand. But when your days are filled with positive endeavours, pain and memories recede and lose their angst. Yet if pwhy exists today it is because of the very man I once mourned with destructive passion so I guess he deserves to be remembered.

So what do you tell a man whose dying words to his fried were: do not lose faith in India!

When I look back on the 7 years of pwhy’s existence I see a lot of change and the micro level but the larger reality stills looks absurdly the same and are tiny achievements pale in front of the larger issues that glare at us from every direction.

Two roads again gape at me from the corner; the first is to continue the way we have gone and the other to start addressing larger issues. It is true that we could not have envisaged the later without having experienced the When we began our work, we were convinced that anyone doing such laudable things as us would have everyone accept if not help us. How naive we were. We soon learnt that doing good is the one thing that is anathema to many. If you dare touch the existing social equations you go against the agendas of many.

We have learnt and are still learning this the hard way as at every step we take, there are obstacles we need to overcome. What seemed positive when we began – children not dropping out for instance – today looks a bit jaded as you wonder what good will it do them in this cut throat society of ours. We have come to realise that education mans more than text book knowledge.

A recent survey done by a leading magazine showed that what ailed the education system was that it failed to teach children how to apply their knowledge to every day reality. If we are to be agent of changes, then children need to be taught how their rights and duties. they need to be made good and responsible citizens. Easily said than done when even poor and illiterate parents jump down our throats each and every time we try to do something that does not look like studies to them: environment programmes or any creative activity.

Our society is plagued by so many problems that it would need many miracles to start addressing them, but it needs to be done and maybe that is the personal pledge I need to take today in lieu of all the rituals and flowers

So be it!

Wish I had a dream catcher


Good dreams slip through the hole, and bad dreams get caught in the web.. says an old Chippewa tradition… whereas the Lakota tribe believes that good thoughts get retains in the web while bad ones slip through the hole… which ever way I wish I had a dream catcher today..
One that would ensure that Nanhe continues to smile, .. one that would protect all the tiny tomorrows that we hold in our hands today..

My first blog about Nanhe was entitled when today is over, as I feared for his life from the very instant I saw him smile as his smile was one to die for.

True that Nanhe was a child without tomorrows but we still invested in his smile wanting to give him all we could and make his stay with us as happy as possible. And frankly many a time, he showed us the way as our problems paled in front of his. And soon we were all addicted to his huge smile that lit even the darkest moment. There were many a stay in hospital, many nights of excruciating pain, seizures and incontinence but he never stopped smiling. And last week I was thrilled to see that Nanhe had taken on the role of a mentor to little Himanshu.

That night I even dared dream about many tomorrows for Nanhe. But that was not to be. The next day I learnt that he was back in hospital and this time things were not quite right. His BP shot up, his seizures multiplied and the pain was agonising.

Nanhe is back home, still in pain and it seems that the men in white have given up. Today there was no smile..

At moments like these I feel helpless and hopeless. True that we knew that one day his frail body would give up and so would the smile. I do not know what to say to his brave mother who refuses to give up and looks at us with desperate eyes for some reassurance.

Yes I wish I had a dream catcher…

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how long does it take to become jaded

A few days back little Deepak went back home after his heart surgery and tomorrow little Anil goes for his. Statistically speaking they are no 8 and 9 in pwhy’s heart repair shop!

It was just over three years ago that we answered a desperate plea from a great father . Raju was operated upon and the matter could have ended there. But not with Sitaram who decided to help others. That is how from 1 heart surgery we have reached 9.

But this is not the reason for this post. What prompted me to write it is something quite different. As I sat writing an update on Deepak a few days back, I realised how easy it is to become inured to things, no matter how extraordinary they are. During operation no 1 I remember writing regular updates,almost giving a blow by blow account of the surgery and how numerous were the answers either seeking more information or just sending support.

Three years and 8 surgeries down the line, the situation is different: the updates were answered with an almost deafening silence. I sat and pondered for a long time about the possible reasons. Had the situation changed in anyway. Difficult to say as I am sure that the pain and anguish of Raju’s mother was in no way greater than that of Deepak’s or Anil’s. What could be different was the fact that to many this was something we had done earlier and almost become masters at . Once again we were in that space that frightens me: the comfort zone.

No matter how dramatic the event, it does not take log for it to become jaded. We are always on the look out for something new to admire, support, criticise and reach out to. Yet there are things that need our continuous support as no matter what way you look at them, they are still extraordinary.

remake the world


Too many people are suffering
Too many people are sad
Too little people got everything
While too many people got nothing

We wile remake the world
With love and happiness
Remake the world
People, put your conscience to the test

Jimmy Cliff

Is this what these two little lads are singing. Maybe. Yet there is something wrong in this picture. Abhishek and Utpal should not be sitting together. If we had played by the rules, then one of them should have been far away in a dingy slum with his alky mom.

Yet today they sit side by side dreaming huge dreams in a world where everything is possible as no labels have been stuck to their heads yet.

Yes Sir, we are in India, in the one we all know, the one torn by caste, creed and shady agendas that hijack children’s hopes and aspirations.

Wonder where: in a little school tucked away on the fringe of the city, where the sun shines, and winds blow, where buffalos roam, and fields are green. Here children of all origins come together and discover each other. They learn, eat, play and sleep together and dream of remaking this world, their way.

When time is ripe for learning about labels, and differences, it will too late, or so I dare hope.

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the art of learning


These little children sit on a wind swept terrace, on top of a tiny jhuggi overlooking a sea of slum dwellings in India’s capital city. A few days back they use to spend their times, roaming filthy lanes. Copy or slate in hand they wait for today’s lesson. A palpable energy pervades the little rooftop. A quick roll call proves that caste or creed is no bar here, the common denominator is learning!

Now what they will learn depends on the two teachers one a tribal the other a Muslim, an unlikely combination brought together by pwhy! They are willing to imbibe whatever they are taught.

A recent survey in a leading magazine proved that education in India, even if it is imparted in the best school, is way below international standards. What is excels in is learning by rote. Where it fails is in making connections. Hence though a child knows the composition of water, he/she is unable to give the composition of steam as he/she fails to make the link between the two. And the list is endless..

Today education is a number game with percentages rising to unbelievable heights and children cramming knowledge without often comprehending it let alone seeing its relevance in everyday life. I remember taking a class in the early days of pwhy where I asked class VII and VII children to identify one area where percentages played an important role. the lessons was about fractions. needless to say no one came with any answer and they were all surprised when I told them about sales whereby reduction were offered in percentages: 50% off, 20% saving etc.

I have always held that the Delors (UNESCO) four pillars of educations are essential to any sound education programme . They are:

Learning to know: Thinking abilities: such as problem-solving, critical thinking, decision-making, understanding consequences

Learning to be: Personal abilities: such as managing stress and feelings, self-awareness, self-confidence
Learning to live together: Social abilities: such as communication, negotiation, assertiveness, teamwork, empathy
Learning to do: Manual skills: practicing know-how required for work and tasks

Knowledge is useless unless the student has the ability to apply it to everyday situations. That is where our system fails us.

Unlike upmarket children, slum kids tend to start schooling at a much later stage. And unlike their rich counterparts, their living skills are tested at a very early stage. Tiny kids cross busy roads to shop for their mothers, or learn to fight for their rights when they are barely toddlers. I was surprised to see how a young five year old who had never learn arithmetic could account for the money given by his mother. I have seen little girls intuitively knowing what to do to soothe their howling sibling.

These children who by force majeure have to begin life using the 4 pillars we mention, quickly forget them as the enter the gates of a school. There the only thing they are judged is their ability to regurgitate the lesson.

Education is above all the ability to assimilate, analyze and then use the knowledge acquired and a self-respecting system should teach just that.

I will end this post by sharing a personal experience. When I sat for my French baccalaureate the history syllabus was the history from of the world from 1914 to present days. The final exam was summed up in one question: Had the allies lost the war, what in your opinion would have been the present economic scenario? (the year in question was 1967). Even if you had mugged up the entire book you would not have been able to answer the question if you did not have the ability to apply what you had learnt to a given reality. There was no right or wrong answer; you were judged by your ability to defend your opinion.

Therein lies the difference.

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pencil box to simply jometry


Where did I buy my last jometry quipped little Kiran.

For a few moments I was perplexed then it dawned on me: she was referring to a pencil box a.k.a. geometry box. I am sure many remember the rather ungainly tin box that we carried to school many years back and that included all geometry implements and pencils and rubbers.

Somewhere the word box got dropped and the tin box acquired many an avatar, but to school children from the other side of the divide the name jometry remained.

Jometry today for most slum kids is the word to define all shades and hues of the precious pencil box they carry to school.

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I sat on the edge of my bed and cried

Every morning before I set out for the day, I watch the news on TV. A old habit become more relevant since pwhy began as one has to be anchored in the reality that surrounds us.

One is prepared for news about violence and bombs. one is even resigned to the fact that a large chunk of the bulletin will be hogged by sports and bollywood. One even braces one’s self for some item on child abuse…

I switched on the idiot box expecting to see yesterday’s Baghdad blast and was in no way prepared for what was about to hit me. The lead news today was about three little girls age 6. 7 and 11 who were rescued from an upmarket home after 3 years of torture and abuse. They were domestic workers..

As one of the girls relived the belts and sticks, the chili in her eyes, and the camera zoomed on her scalded badly healed hands, I was unable to stop the tears that ran down my cheeks. Soon I found myself weeping uncontrollably: they were tears of anger, of rage, of extreme sadness, of helplessness, of shame..

The ordeal of the little girls did not stop there. Yes we have a child labour law, yes we have a juvenile justice act, we boast of child protection legalese, and are signatories to the UN convention for Children’s Rights but once rescued by an NGO the little girls spent 5 days in the cop station. The state of H does not have a juvenile home, the district magistrate – a woman – refused to comment, the law did not allow them to come to neighbouring Delhi. The perpetrators however were released on bail.

The disturbing image of the little girl with scalded hands refused to go away. 2 and half years of torment , that meant she was just 5 when the descent to hell began. And the tormentors,they lives in a city not a barren island, did no one see their plight or did everyone turn their face away as usual. And how could people treat children this way. Why did these tiny children have to work. Why are the laws made for children so full of gaping holes. How can we hope for redemption when we are not able to protect our children. Who gives us the right to shatter children’s dreams. The little scalded hands were not meant to scrub, and clean but to play with a doll, be held and caressed.

Questions that need answers but who will answer them..

God of Lesser beings are you listening

children will be children


I had to share this picture with you! This is a Kodak moment of the afternoon session of our bran new Govindpuri primary extension. the room we have is so tiny that it is only sufficient to lock up the meagre resources we have. Classes are held on the roof as the weather is clement these days.

Just two weeks back this centre did not exist, and most of these kids wandered on the streets. Today its is cracking at the seams and filled with laughter, joy and above all hope.

As soon as we were spotted by one of the kids, there was a scramble down the stairs to open the door and usher us into this new world. The children almost fell over each other as they ran down the tiny stairs and greeted us.

These children are just like yours and mine: eager, mischievous and eager to imbibe whatever we can teach them, still hungry for more. Their guileless trust makes us painfully aware of the responsibility that rests on our shoulders, as somehow we have become the ones who may just fulfil their wildest dreams.

But can we?

welcome back our world !


Deepak has a brand new heart or rather has got his broken heart fixed. A huge T shaped scars is ample proof of that.

We first met Deepak almost 5 months ago when he was 8 months old. He needed heart surgery but his family did not have the required money. We raised it with the help of some kind hearts and believed that in a matter of days or at most weeks all would be well.

But that was not to be. What should have a simple walk to the OT turned out to be an obstacle race in today’s India. Deepak first encountered the hydra headed monster called reservation. any a times we was turned away from the portals of the most prestigious hospital in our country.

His tired body gave up once and his heart even stopped beating but his will to live was formidable. He came back to life again but the battle was not over, a huge abdominal abscess delayed the procedure again.

Last week D day finally dawned and his surgery was performed with success and soon he will be back to his little home and ready to start a new life.

I wonder what life has in store for him? His family is poor and illiterate. His father barely earns enough to keep the family going and his mom and granny stay at home. The one huge asset they have is a bond of love and are a close knit family.

We will slowly tiptoe out of his life, and then Deepak will be on his own. For a long time I wondered about his future as I more than anyone else know how much we have let our children down, particularly those who live on the other side of the impregnable yet invisible fence.

Deepak will soon find out that life is not fair, that the images he will see on TV – the family has one of course – are not meant for him. As he grows and starts going to school – the municipal one for sure – and may not become a drop out statistic if he is still around and come to pwhy. On the way he will see many ugly realities: reservation, caste division, child labour, unemployment and more. The god who heard his mom’s prayer and gave him this new hart will have to work overtime to protect and guide him at every step of life.

When I watch the news I am horrified to see that with obsessive regularity every day, some news we are ‘treated’ to some news item that confirms that life is not alright for our children. Yesterday we heard about the young slum kid who won a national yoga competition but found no one to sponsor his trip to the international meet in Italy.

Laws that protect children are broken with rare impunity, tender bodies are raped, used and abused. And we just emit of few chuckles of sympathy and carry on with our lives.

But each image robs me a few minutes of my sleep each night and urges me to do something more. I feel ashamed at my inability to reach out and help.

How can I say welcome back to our world Deepak..