This is a man’s world

It is a a man’s world and even we women sometimes start believing this biased sexist view of life. Utpal’s mom is still in the psychiatric ward of a hospital and though she is better and fit to go home – read women’s centre – we have been dilly dallying about the date of her return. The reason: a medley of misconceptions, half baked truths, misguided rumblings that occurred after her departure. A typical reaction of male oriented society that revels in demeaning any woman who has slipped or just behaved in an atypical manner.

Utpal’s mom was deeply disturbed and ill. She needed compassion and understanding. But everyone decided otherwise walking what they thought was the high moral ground. And even I for an instant found myself nodding at what was being said.

Later that night, when I sat with myself as I normally do reviewing the day gone by,I realised what I had done and must confess that I was not proud of what I saw. How could I have sat silently and not reacted. But then it is a man’s world…

When I set out to create the women centre, it was to enable women who had a past to rebuild their lives. It was to reunite a mother and a child, it was to defend women who had been wronged. I knew that I had to fight tooth and nail and see that she returns home as I more than anyone else knew who she truly was.

The next morning my stand was vindicated when a mail from a volunteer – a male – vindicated what I felt. It said: The latter ( Jhunnu) is a petite lady who has never-ending energy, but who has to suppress her regular mood swings due to alcoholism in the past with medicine. It has always been my wish that Utpal returns to his mother’s side as soon as possible, and this desire simply grew when I witnessed the exemplification of life’s vigor in her. I knew truly that this was not sympathy, but exhilaration at the strength demonstrated against the heartlessness of fate. May we all live to experience the joyous celebration of reunion between mother and child.

How could I even for an instant forget that reunion. It all began almost 2 years ago when J was admitted into a rehab centre. it is true that the journey has not been a bed of roses, and that there have many ups and downs, many challenges, many dark moments but there have also been many glorious moments when for brief instants the Utpal found the arms of his mom and each one made us believe that we would reach our final destination.

Utpal has not broken a single rule and I more than anyone else owe it to him to meet every challenge that comes my way head on and with determination. I beat myself for having slipped for that tiny moment and wonder what made me do do. Was it the fear of social acceptance. Or was it the fright of seeing my work undone. Or was it old age catching up. Where was the woman who had written a passionate post entitled she stood alone in march 2004 and that read:

An incident occured today. Strange or prophetic that it should concern a woman. We had been wanting to shift Utpal’s family from the area they lived for a long time. Both parents drink and the surroundings were conducive to their weakness. I have never sat in judgement as I believe that each one of us has something we are not always proud of It is also true that circumstances play a large part in such matters. But anyway I felt that the family would have better chances close to us.

We found them a little room near my office and I thought that matters were settled.
However society is far more cruel than I could have imagined and when they reached the new place with their luggage, many women started abusing Jhunu saying that they did not want their neighborhood sullied. I was called and my heart went out to this poor woman, standing quietly next to her bags, in total silence. What is it that makes us act in such a manner?
I just stood by her, and held her and let my silence convey what I felt. Soon, someone came and told me they had found a new place in an adjacent slum we all helped them move and stayed with the little family for a long time. I remembered Mary Magdalene…

As I lay awake, late that night, I had just one thought in mind: to make Jhunu independent and have her learn a skill that would give her back a rightful place in society.

How could I have forgotten that the idea women centre actually took seed on that very day and that its very basis was to stand by any woman shunned by the rest of the world. I would rather think of this as being a sign that helps us chart our course of action for the future and makes us aware of the challenges that await us. So help me God!

This is a man’s world as the James Brown song says but how can we forget the next lines of the same song But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or …. a child.

Remembering Ram

Today is November 29th.

Exactly 15 years ago papa left this world leaving behind a huge hole that nothing could fill for many years.

Seven years ago project why began its first hesitant spoken English Class in a tiny shack with 20 eager eyed kids and I instinctively knew that the emptiness that had been gnawing at me for so many years was slowly going to be filled.

Ram taught me many things. From absolute surrender to a greater force, to unwavering faith in the destiny of India; from the delights of life king size to the undiluted joy of sharing a humble meal, from erudite books of diverse culture to the soothing lilt of a bhojpuri lullaby. But the greatest lesson I still think he gave me was a the answer to a simple question I had asked as a child: where do I find God. His answer was simply: in the eyes of the poorest, most deprived child.

When I look back at the last seven years I feel blessed and overwhelmed. To many pwhy may look like any other organisation that dot the planet in a world where charity has become a lucrative business. But that is not quite the case. Pwhy is and has been a deep seated journey that had to be undertaken to give meaning and substance to the greatest gift we are all endowed with: life! To many again it may seem haphazard and undefined albeit rudderless particularly in a world where everything has to have a mission, a goal, a structure and is then evaluated by statistics and returns. If one were to adopt this canon than pwhy would fail miserably one many accounts as it often defies all logic. I must confess that at times I too have had difficulties in explaining what and who we are.

But this morning, almost ominously a volunteer who had spent a month with us this summer shared some the entries of his journal. As I read an account of pwhy through other eyes I realised the essence of what it truly was:

A little boy started crying after his father left him at school. Seeing this, Komal (age one) went over and tried to wipe the boy’s tears with her hands. When that didn’t work, she began patting the boy’s head like a big sister. The comforting went on for 15minutes, but the boy didn’t stop. At last, Komal sat beside him and started crying with him. That did wonders – the boy stopped crying,and Komal dried her tears too. That brought a sense of warmth to my stale heart, and a smile that was truly radiated from within. Komal’s bright eyes filled with curiosity and innocence made me realize what I was missing out in these past 2 weeks.

I had come to India in the hope of finding spiritual inspiration and perhaps even enlightenment, yet all I experienced was a dead soul amidst the daily buzz and “cultural immersion”. In reality, God has been everywhere around, in the winds of the morning, the rustle of the leaves, the colourfulsarees, the buffalos on the streets, the crows and pigeons, the partying flies, the filth of the slums, the stares of the locals, and most importantly, the laughter and tears of all the children I have come across. In trying to do “something constructive” and paying too much focus on the language barrier, I’ve neglected the fact that baby angels are valued for their purity (even innocent evil), and teachers appreciate it when I push on with them everyday in the hot and stuffy room when the electricity gets cut, drowning in my own sweat without any complaints.

For a moment it felt like I was the protagonist in Tagore’s Gitanjali– the one who sought Him but couldn’t find him anywhere, and eventually found it in the workers and the stone cutters. India’s poetic appeal – and perhaps its spirituality- is that beauty in the ugliest or most trivial of reality, under the harshest circumstances.

These simple words coming from the heart of a young sensitive man showed me what pwhy really truly was and filled my heart with peace and joy as I knew that I could finally give up my half hearted attempts at trying to fit it in restrictive boxes and allow it to flow freely. Just like a river it would take the shape of the land it crossed till it reached its final destination and merged in a greater entity.

And I also knew that the huge hole that had crept into my heart when Ram left had been finally truly filled. A wonderful gift Ram gave me before he left this world.

a wake up call

It was a wake up call in the true sense of the word!

This morning at 4.43 am the earth shook and though the magnitude was small (4.3 on the Richter scale) the epicentre was just a few kilometres from Delhi. I had just lit my prayer lamp and was about to start my morning prayers when grit from a crack in the ceiling fell on my head, windows shook and a loud rumble was heard.

It was a mild quake and the met department felt no damage would occur and Delhi would wake up to another day. Nevertheless it was a wake up call in more ways than one though it may once again go unheard.

Laws will be broken with impunity and alacrity and man will resume his hubristic roller coaster ride not heeding the gentle warning nature sent our way. Buildings will be built on river banks, trees will be chopped down to make way for more roads and more cars, concrete jungles will expand. more plastic will choke drains, carbon foot prints will become gargantuan in size and global warming increase by quantum leaps till Nature sends her next warning which may not be gentle.

It was also a wake up call of another kind. One that highlights the frailty of human nature and precarious nature of our lives, dreams, plans and morrows. A wake up call that compels us to stop and think in more ways than one. About all the things that remain to be done, all the words that need to be said, all that we often put off because we feel there is so much time left.

But more than anything else I felt it was time to express one’s gratitude for everything life had brought one’s way. To express appreciation for the obvious we take for granted, for the little things we fail to see. To give meaning to the two words we use in far too trivial a manner: thank you.

And I realised there were so many thank yous I had failed to convey. Not that one did not want to, but because one felt one had enough time. The list is endless but maybe it can be summed up by simply murmuring a gentle thank you for every moment I have lived.

uniforms and geometry boxes: a recipe for good education

Designers uniforms for Government school children screamed the news headline. There must be something wrong was the thought that sprung in my mind. But no, I had read it right government school children in Delhi would soon have designer uniforms and geometry boxes which in the words of the man in charge of education in our city would ensure that they should not lag behind: they being the poor students!

Something must or should be wrong. The idea was puerile and hare brained more akin to a chapter in Alice in Wonderland or a Groucho Marx movie. A deluge of thoughts crossed my mind. Wow a new way to line pockets had been found and that on a day where a leading news channel was busy highlighting the abysmal failure of the (ill)famed midday meal. What about drinking water, toilets, proper classrooms or at least teachers who teach Mr Minister.

And talking of uniforms themselves, the reality today is that kids rarely get their uniforms in toto and in time, or their school books and all else that is promised. maybe one should first ensure that was is meant to be functions properly before launching new schemes.

But is this the tale of all development programmes in India. They look good only on paper or in speeches but never truly see the light of day. It is time that we as civil society and tax payers ask some hard hitting questions.

what is essential is invisible to the eye

I have often quoted the lines the fox told the little prince in St Exupery’s memorable work: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. Never were these words more relevant than yesterday when a group of children with disabilities came all the way from France to visit project why.

It all began when a group of students from a special school in Paris decided to do a project on India. As they set about discovering India, one of their teachers decided to ask someone to talk about India and it was our very own xavier who was the chosen one. Not only did he talk about India but also about pwhy.

What happened next was nothing sort of incredible. Someone suggested a visit to India and project L’Inde en roues libres – freewheeling India – was born. It did not matter if all seemed impossible, life is made of dreams and dreams need to become reality.

That is how 8 young French students with various disabilities spent a stupendous morning and shared an awesome meal with 18 Indian kids with disabilities. It was a huge moment where nothing could come in the way of the perfect bonding that happened between these two groups. there were no barriers neither language nor country. Only one thing prevailed: love and understanding. There was dancing and music, laughter and moist eyes, hugging and embracing. the excitement was palpable, the mood upbeat. All disabilities were forgotten and impossible dreams crafted: a visit to France next year. Why not! One has to hold on to dreams, and hold on to them tight. Who cared about passports and visas or the mind boggling costs.

The most touching moment for me was when Champa, who is our most simple minded kid beamed at her new french friends and said: come to my home. Who cared at that instant that her home was a tiny black hovel, it was by far the most generous and heartfelt invitation.

For all these children who though from divergent worlds suffer the same rejection and contempt it was a special moment: one lot suddenly found they could reach out and help, the other realised they could have friends from another world. And for that tiny moment the world seemed perfect! The rest of the world could think whatever they wanted, these kids had claimed their right to live life at his best and even dream.

Of all the special moments that we have lived at pwhy, this was by far the most monumental as it vindicated much of what we beleive in and have fought for. And as we waved bye bye to our new friends, we all knew that we would meet again, and perhaps in paris, who knows. Only time will tell.

You can share some of these very special moments here.

Can i dance with you

It was dancing time in the special section and as usual every one was dancing. Did not matter if you could not stand or walk, you had to dance!

Preeti cannot stand and walks with the help of her hands, but she too loves dancing. Komal decided to join the party. She is 15 months old and is our youngest creche student. As no one was quite her size she walked to Preeti and started dancing with her. To Komal it did not matter if Preeti was different, she looked at her with the wisdom of the young and found her ideal partner.

the extraordinary in the ordinary

Sometimes it is necessary to get off the spinning world, catch our breath and take a pause. Sadly this is something we rarely do as we are, or seem to be always on the run. Recently two mails dropped in my inbox and both had a similar message. They both highlighted the importance of gratitude. I guess it was because this week is thanksgiving!

We often mutter or mumble the words thank you in the course of a day and we often do it for innocuous reasons. But how often do we sit and think about all the things we should be grateful for and never acknowledge?

So today I decided to get off that spinning wheel, shed off the usual constraints that we live with and simply list all the things I should be grateful for. As I set upon this task I realised that that list was endless as when I looked at my life every single moment was one that I needed to be grateful for and somehow even the most ordinary occurrence looked extraordinary.

requiem for two lost souls

Two lost souls left this world yesterday. They had nothing in common bar the fact that they were in some way linked to pwhy.

Anil came to us almost exactly a year ago. He was 8 months old and suffered from a complex congenital heart problem. He needed multiple heart surgeries. We sponsored the first one and he was operated upon in March. His recovery was slow and he was in constant pain. It seemed that his chest bones had not been joined back properly something the doctors dismissed in a cursory way and said would be fixed at the next surgery. Anil barely ate and in spite of the love and care of his wonderful parents, Anil did not keep his appointment with the surgeons. He left this planet on his own freewill yesterday. A brave little fellow who will be remembered for his huge eyes and quiet manner.

Another lost soul left this earth yesterday crushed under the wheels of a speeding car. He was the husband of M, one of our ex staff members. M had come to me almost 6 years ago asking for help. Her husband was a drunk who earned his livelihood recycling junk but often brought nothing home. That day in a fit of temper he had thrown the food in the drain and she had nothing to feed her 5 kids. I gave her a job and for the next 2 or 3 years all was well. But sadly M a mercurial illiterate women got taken in by our detractors and lost her job.

M was always a difficult person and one who gave us many a sleepless night but today my heart goes out to her as she one again typifies the plight of women in India. Married off when they are still children without education of skill, their lives and social acceptability is totally dependent on the man they have been hitched to. As long as he is alive and no matter how wretched he is they are safe. Once he is gone they are reduced to nothing.

M had five children. Her daughter is of marriageable age, her youngest one still in primary school, her elder son a rogue. I wonder what she will do and how she will live on.

A sad day for all of us.

surrender – a response to a troubling thought

As I walked away from the hospital ward where Utpal’s mom lay sleeping unaware of the terrible ordeal that brought her there, many whys crowded my mind. I guess we humans sometimes forget that we are mere humans as we get swayed by illusions of grandeur and hubristic ways. And when our carefully crafted plans crumble like a house of cards in front of our eyes we are lost forgetting that what is, is always the best.

As I sat and tried to come to terms with what had happened, I decided to share my angst with those who knew little Utpal. Many responded with supportive words but what truly set my mind at rest and gave immense strength was a beautiful poem that simply said:


i have surrendered.

i don’t make plans anymore.
and no sudden change disturbs.
i act out of my deepest desire
the petty ones’ve disappeared.
i don’t count how much i have
it is strange how much’s there.
i spend what i find in my wallet.
oddly, just enough in my purse.

feeding on meagre alms
what was once scarce
transforms to abundance
when i give imagination a chance
a particle is enough
to build the universe.

what if you did this too?

from soul search engine by al raines

supply and demand revisited

I have never been a businesswoman and have always found economic theories as puzzling as double dutch. The only concept I could somewhat fathom was probably the supply and demand theory.

An old friend reconnected with us recently and asked whether we still needed help. He was one of those I regularly pounded with appeals for help till we somehow lost touch. He must have thought that perhaps by now we had become self sufficient! That is when the supply and demand theory sprung back into my mind after long time. In our work the demand always exceeded the supply, and how!

When we launched our new women centre barely a month ago we thought we would have a small creche, a small primary centre and a small vocational centre for women. In the span of four weeks or so the attribute small can only be ascribed to the space we have or te budget we initially made as we are flooded with children and women wanting to register and begin learning.

In our kind of work the demand will always be larger than the supply as sadly it is not easy to convince people to dip into their pockets and reach out to help others. As I said I am not an economist and maybe the rules of economics do not apply here, but I do feel that not reaching out to help others is being short sighted. A better educated and more aware population can only benefit each and everyone of us. On the other hand if the gap between the rich and poor, the have and have-nots, the privileged and underprivileged continues to widen at the rate we are seeing then all of us may have to pay a bitter price.