let the sun shine in

Some months back S walked into our office. S was someone I met on the net. After exchanging a few innocuous mails, S came visiting. Like is oft the case with virtual friends, one does quite know who to expect!

S arrived by bus from one of India’s satellite suburbs and was the image of simplicity as he walked into our office barefoot (having left his shoes downstairs) and no matter how hard I tried, I was not able to affix the labels one is usually able to by simple gaging a person for a few minutes. However what was obvious was S’s warmth.

Unlike many visitors, S spend the whole day at pwhy and even helped carting furniture!

S’s memory of the day was beautifully spelled out in a mail he sent to his friends:

Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony. Mahatma Gandhi. A day snapshot would be immature to conclude anything but is indicative of honesty, urge and the will of the modest project WHY. Albeit the project questions us in many ways and if one is honest, there are no real answers, only solutions awaiting us to overcome our numbness. A fresh air about this project is its operational modesty and the same is in its appeal for help and support. There are endless ways that one can help the project with our good wishes, goodwill, donations. Really anything. A Rupee a Day really is hard to overlook.

In Delhi, around a bus stop there is a large neem tree. A careful look and one discovers a few different and larger leave growing on the neem tree till you realise that a banyan tree is growing out a branch joint of the neem tree. Nature’s beautiful illustration of life supporting life. Makes us wonder.

For those of us who lack time but have the willingness, projects like Why offers a great channel for us to give back to the society without having to worry about the money being spent on business class air tickets or air conditioned offices. For those who have the time along with the willingness, it would at least a few memorable hours spent with some people who are doing an incredible job.

Days passed…

I got busy with the inauguration of the women centre. Mails were sent inviting people. Only one person decided to make the long trip to Khader: S! Once again he spent time, and even talked to the children at length on environment and other issues. Before leaving he promised us CFL light bulbs and even talked of getting us solar lighting for the classes.

Today he kept his promise and our women centre will soon have solar lighting and we can in the words of the famous song in the musical hair soon sing: let the sun shine in!

yet another tale of two Indias…

Sunday October 28th 2007, saw the enfolding of a another tale of two Indias in the streets of its capital city: thousands of well shod and well clad beautiful people ran a well sponsored half marathon in one part of the city, while 25 000 landless and often barefoot protesters silently entered another part of the city to demand their usurped land rights. They had no sponsors. They had simply donated one fistful of food grain and one rupee a day for the last three years.

Their march had begun on October 2nd, 350 kilometers away a stunning reminder of Gandhian ways in a new age avatar. Dignified and silent and yet so vibrant. Most of them tribal and dalits displaced by big development projects and given no alternative source of livelihood.

Whereas the marathon ended with winners and prize money, their fight has just begun as they intend to stay on till they are heard. What disturbed me this morning as I opened the newspaper was a deafening silence: whereas the marathon was covered in large headlines and full pages, this silent and dignified march was strangely absent.

Is this not another instance of the reality of two Indias?

in order to live

Read in order to live said Gustave Flaubert. That was almost two centuries ago and something almost ludicrous in our day and age.

You may wonder why I chose to right a post about books.

It all began when sometime back a dear friend and supporter sought our help and advice on a project whereby 50K books in English needed to find homes in India ( institutions, public libraries, schools, NGOs). For someone addicted to books this was fantastic. Or so it seemed at first.

After the initial excitement and as one sat down to think of the nitty-gritty it did not take long to see that the matter was not as simple as one would have liked. After all were we not a society where books had taken a back seat and lost its battle to the ever invading world of television. Today’s children had scant place for books, barring the school ones, and reading was synonymous to boring, dreary and irksome. The sad reality was that children of today did not read books for pleasure. And if we were to talk about slum kids, then many had never seen books other than those in their school bags. So where would these 50K books lands even if they reached institutions, NGOs etc.. And who in today’s day and age went to public libraries, Come to think about I do not think there is a public library in the vicinity of where I sit!

I belong to a generation where books were oft the only source of entertainment we had. They were our friends and counselors and a garden you carry in your pocket to quote a Chinese proverb. Even today, when I have practically no time, I devour books as I travel from one place to another in the pwhy three wheeler!

Reading is a habit that needs to be revived. And to do so it is necessary to place a book in the hand of a child as early as possible. And yet the reality stares at us large as even the poorest home in a Delhi slum has a TV and cable connection. The battle is unequal but needs to be fought. Was it not Groucho Marx who said: I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.

a happy place

A recent investigation aired on national TV brought to light the horrific reality that prevails in a government home for challenged children in India’ capital city.

One wonders why these children of a lesser God are often treated in such a way and makes us question the validity of the so called welfare programmes run by the administration. It also highlights the plight of such children in a country like India, something we have been painfully aware of, and that led us to create our special section almost 7 years ago. It also validates our commitment towards setting up planet why, a place for such children as they grow into disturbing adults.

Why is it that time and again challenged children are treated in cruel and callous ways?

For us at pwhy the special section is by far the happiest and most rewarding experience. It is a motley crew of 20 children and adults who come from different worlds but become one as they enter their little world.

Manu who you see in the picture was once begging on the streets in spite of having a family. people use to deride him and kids pelted stones at him. Today he has friends and is slowly learning to be independent.

It did not take much to achieve this. What was needed was the will to do so. At the pwhy special section children learn to read and write, to dance and play; they learn cooking, basic stitching, and have a host of other activities but above all they learn to laugh and be happy and reclaim a hijacked childhood.

You can share some of these joyful moments by clicking on the pictures below.


the art of giving

Xabi and Marie are two simple village folk from a small village of the Basque country in France. They are not young and have homes and families. Marie is a dancer and Xabi a farmer . Some time back I got a very touching email from them which is simply said they were coming to India and wanted to spend some happy moments with our kids.

They arrived a few days back and found their way to us. It was their first visit to India and they felt that they wanted to give a little of their time, their talent and their love to less privileged children before embarking on their discovery of India.

For the past few days they have been teaching dance, and games to our special kids, and our creche children and then make the journey to Khader to spend some time at our women centre. There they play and dance with the kids and have even worked out a business deal in the spirit of fair trade: they would like to take the jewels we make as well as simple clothes that our ladies would stitch back to their village and hope to get us orders.

Xabi and Marie radiate warmth and all our children have taken to them. The reason is that in spite of language and other barriers they have opened their hearts and shared their love in abundance and in the true spirit of giving!

I am in UKG

We have been busy getting admissions for the new centre and of course children are a plenty. After asking the names and age of each kid we ask whether they are in school, and the class they are in.

We were astonished at the number of children who said: I am in UKG. Many of them are seven and even older. Now UKG is not a class in municipal and government schools. These children are in small private schools which still have up to 3 years of pre-primary classes even though the education department has reduced them to one!

To many of us an extra school year does not matter as the children get sound foundations but for little girls like the ones in the picture it is a matter of great concern. Normally these girls are withdrawn out of school by 16 as that is when they are often married. If thew were in class I or II they would have a better chance of finishing their schooling and obtaining a certificate.

A quick perusal of their books showed that what they were learning was akin to what is taught in class I or even II in municipal primary schools. The reason why private schools have more classes is evident: extra fees and the reason why poor parents send their wards to such schools is also obvious: better teaching.

Yet we feel that these bright children should get a better chance at finishing their studies so we plan to convene a parents meeting and convince them to get their children admitted to the government school in class II next March. We hope they understand.

I know what it is…

Children never cease to amaze me as they always come up with the most unexpected statements.

On the day of the opening of the women centre, the children perused the whole place and even the toilets. One of the toilet has a western toilet seat something they had never seen. This led to much excitement as more children were called to examine the strange object.

There were giggles and much cogitation as they peered at the unknown thingamajig. After some time came the Eureka moment: I know what it is said one of the older boys: a small well!

After the initial amused reaction, I realised that it was the best analogy he could have made!

impromptu inauguration

Monday 15th October dawned as a crisp bright day. One that was to be very special. We were opening the Kamala Centre for women and children. It did not quite turn out the way we had planned as painters and plumbers had not finished their work and hence no guests were called.

But we did have our very special inauguration with the children and a friend. There were flowers, brightly painted doors and even a sign board. There were biscuits and toffees and the traditional coconut not to forget the welcome cups of tea.

Many children wore their idis, the new clothes they had got the previous day for Eid. Some even donned jewellery borrowed from their moms. Everyone looked special: Nico and jhunnu in their lovelysarees and the kids in their sparkling outfits. A big picture of Kamala was set out and a lamp lit by her grandchild Shamika. The moment was perfect.

The children then settled on the brand new mats and every one’s name was registered. Then it was performance time as each child, even the tiniest stood up and sang a song, or recited a rhyme. There were film songs, patriotic songs and even religious ones. It was a joy to see the little faces eager and happy, coming together as one notwithstanding their creed or caste or state of origin.

Then it was lesson time as our dear friend Shankar who had come all the way from remote Gurgaon spoke about trees and nature gently guiding his rapt audience to the need to save and protect the environment. The children sat in silence, drinking in his words and asking questions that he lovingly answered.

It was soon time to go as much stilt needed to be done, but the children did not want to leave. They lingered on till one gently told them that school time was over.

Do click on the images below to share some Kodak moments of a perfect day.


women centre – sneak preview

I do not know whether we will meet the October 15th deadline. Nevertheless there is a palpable sense of excitement in the air. Painters, plumbers, electricians and masons fight for space and are trying to finish their work.

The ladies are running helter skelter ensuring that nothing gets lost or broken with all the moving. Tempers are sometimes frayed and D our coordinator and lone man remains cool and always finds the right word to soothe the sulks and huffs.

In the midst of this frenzy are the children who have adopted us and the space they consider theirs. They come without fail and are loathe to leave. I guess their deadline passed long ago as for them we should have already been operational!

Women drop by too; by curiosity or just to share a moment. They are thrilled that soon the children will stop hanging around and be occupied. Some want a job, other want to learn a skill. But all are happy to have us there.

A single mother came by. Her husband left five years back for greener pastures in Bombay leaving her pregnant and alone. For us it was a great moment as she vindicated the spirit of the women’s centre.

Somehow it seemed that even before the centre actually opened its gates, it had taken off on its own driven by an ethereal energy emanating from the heavens above.

when are you opening the school

When are you opening the school is the question I am asked by eager children every time I visit our about to open women centre.
It is amazing and touching how children break all barriers and adopt you without any misgivings and with complete trust.

In a week from now I hope we will be able to open our centre and start the first activities that have been spelt out for us: a creche for small children and various activities for the older ones.

There is another question, albeit a more hesitant ones, that is asked often obliquely by adults. It is normally the women who come by and ask for a job for their husbands or some work for themselves. The reason that permeates these queries is always the same: lack of money to survive in a ruthless and heartless city. The men often have temporary jobs a formula perfected by employers to beat the wage laws. The women who may have worked in fields in their villages, are not geared to work in urban realities where the work they could get would not be socially acceptable. So they eek out a living as best they can.

This then becomes the moot point for our work at the women’s centre: empower the women to take on a larger role in their lives and break out of the stifling time warp in which they are locked. It is a challenge and one that will not be easy as once again we will have to face the wall of traditions and mores. Underprivileged urban women have to reinvent themselves and move beyond the stranglehold of what I have often called the government job syndrome. Something each migrant to India’s capital city seems to suffer from.