You’ve touched my life like an angel

If I ever saw an angel, it was in your eyes. You’ve touched my life like an angel… Thanks for being there for me!

Four years back a little angel dropped into my existence. True that he was scalded and scorched and did not look very pretty but his incredible eyes were truly seraphic and in spite of the searing pain they held a message of love, hope and faith. I somehow knew he was blessed.

That day Utpal walked into my existence and life was never the same again. Miracles started coming our way and problems seemed to vanish as fast as they came. Project why grew in leaps and bounds at an astounding pace that left us all puzzled and stunned. Angels appeared from nowhere and nothing seemed impossible.

As I sit in the very first hours of this New Year crafting seemingly impossible dreams I can feel his presence and know that these dreams will come true. What I seek today is a way to make all the little dreams that the God of Lesser being has left in my custody come true and even if what we seek has a staggering number of figures, they pale in the wake of what they would actually yield: smiles on faces that had forgotten to smile, hope in hearts where there was only despair, shelter to those who live in constant fear and above all a tomorrow for those whose today has died.

Planet why has to become a reality and I know that a little angel is at work to make it happen.

Utpal is also a little boy just like others and today as a special treat he goes to see Hanuman returns with his pal Kiran and his ageing Maam’ji before he returns to his boarding school.

of cakes, ladoos and sewaiyan

Xmas was celebrated in earnest at the women centre. There was a tree, streamers, stars and bells, pictures of Santa drawn by the kids and much merriment. There was home baked Xmas cake and presents for all.

Sophie who had planned the party made a little speech explaining what Xmas was and how it was celebrated y children in our country. I was designated to translate and began by asking the kids whether they knew what Xmas was. Most of the children at the women centre belong to poor Muslim families and rarely go beyond the streets of Madanpur Khader where shops are not decorated for Xmas and do not sell Xmas ware and hence the answer to my query was a barely audible no accompanied y a vigorous shaking of the head!

Links had to be made so I asked about Eid and then Diwali and everyone nodded and smiled and went on to say that Xmas was just like those days for people who went to church instead of temples and mosques, all homes of God. When I asked what kids ate on Eid and Diwali, pat came the answer: ladoos and sewaiyan, so cake it was for Xmas and the link was made. Xmas became something familiar and comprehensible: it was simply a matter of replacing cakes with ladoos or sewaiyan!

for everything…

In many schools across our city where English is taught children are often heard singing the following prayer:

Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat.
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.

Strangely this prayer transcends all religion and faith, all social and economic barriers. Schools in remote corners of the city which boast of a sign board stating English medium have their children reciting these verse often led by a teacher who can barely articulate the words. I must confess that in our creche it is also sung with great fervour even if it sometimes difficult to differentiate the words!

I have heard it over and over again as I walk up or down the stairs of our centre but it was only yesterday evening when I was looking at the pictures of our Xmas party that the familiar tunes came to my mind as I saw the snapshot of Manu eating his meal sitting at a table and using a spoon!

My mind flashed back to the summer of 2000 when I had first seen Manu and to the words I had first written about him: Manu, a young physically and mentally challenged young man lived on the street, neglected, dirty and soiled. People would feed him but like you feed an animal. Children threw stones at him. His family abused him in all conceivable ways. No one touched him, when things became too much he would let out the most heart wrenching cries.

In many ways those cries seeded what was to become project why as we all know it now. And as I looked at the photograph of Manu sitting at a table with his friends and teachers enjoying his meal I whispered the little prayer as it conveyed what I truly felt…

Yes God thank you for everything…

party time at pwhy

It was party time at project why and everyone was busy sprucing up their dancing shoes and rehearsing the latest moves. Even little Komal who has just learnt to stand did not want to be left out!

This year we were truly privileged as we had not one but two parties. One at the women centre organised by our wonderful volunteer Sophie, and the other a gift of our very special supporter young Dhaniya who has always given us this special moment.

For the women centre it was their first party ever and everyone was a little nervous, a tad tense as they spent a whole week in preparation: shopping, planning, more shopping, trimming the tree, wrapping gifts. Children were busy making decorations that were then hung all over the centre. Finally the 25th dawned and the excitement was palpable. Everyone turned up ahead of time, even the guests! The party was a huge success as the sound of carols filled the space infusing it with the true spirit of Xmas and it did not really matter if most of the kids had never heard of this festival, they all knew it was special and blessed. After tucking in cake and hot samosas the children left clutching their little packs with huge smiles on their faces and a song on their heart.

I urge you to look at these pictures so that you too can share the magic of this moment

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The next day we had our project why annual bash one that is now almost tradition thanks to a lovely little girl who lives in another land but who has always given this very special treat to her pwhy friends. When the first such party was planned we asked the children what they would like to have: pat came the answer a DJ and a coffee machine. So there was a DJ and a coffee machine and the children had a ball! Rinky and Saheeda who cannot hear danced with gay abandon and little Komal all of 18 months old put p a mean performance that could match any item girl! Kids enjoyed a nice meal and then it was time to leave.

My thoughts went to our host of the night, a little girl who lives in another land but who each year gives a bunch of children of a lesser God a moment of pure unadulterated joy. I hope that one day she too will be here with us sharing this incredible experience.

Share some moments with us

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nanhe is back

Nanhe is back. After a long break.. a few months actually. Nanhe is back after long negotiations with his mom as often the battles with moms are arduous and foregone as it is almost impossible to deal with the passion and lack of logic of a mom’s love for her child.

This time the adversary was some new therapy that has taken Delhi’s slums by storm: a electronic massage gadget that claims to cure all ailments from cancer to back pain or even toothache. It comes at a cost but that cannot deter a mom’s determination. She has each day managed the needed amount and taken her child convinced that he is better and can stand on his own. Desperate moms see things we cannot.

A deal was struck. Nanhe would come to pwhy in the morning and we would ensure that he is dropped back in time for his treatment. So Nanhe and his larger than life smile walked into the class to every one’s delight. And I watched in wonder this lovely boy who is in many ways a miracle child.

busy being grateful

Life in the past eight years has been an exhilarating roller coaster ride with a medley of wonderful experiences, sensations and events that hit us at such a staggering pace that one often did not quite have the time to savour them fully.
I guess it was because one was busy meeting every challenge forgetting to pause and enjoy the feeling of delight and thrill that came with each of them.

As I sat composing my yearly greetings mail I had by force majeure to take stock of all that had happened in the last twelve months and I was staggered at the number of miracles big and small that had come our way in this incredible journey of hope and joy. True that some or most of them did not fit the usual cannon of success but nevertheless for us they were truly wondrous.

I also realised that at some moment my life I had also stopped saying I believed in miracles as life itself was a miracle and I was busy being grateful. Somehow time seemed too short to express all the gratitude one felt, gratitude for the simplest things like the sun shining, the wind blowing; gratitude for the little smiles that greeted you every morning, for the report cards held out with pride, for the child whose heart was now fixed; for the other who spends his holidays with his healing mom; for the millions of hearts reaching out to make all this possible and above all for the privilege of being able to see witness and experience all this.

I have no time for anything else, I am simply busy being grateful.

an oath gone awry

Shubhum was operated upon for a congenital heart problem on Monday 17th December, the latest inmate of our heartFix hotel He is doing well and should be back home soon.

Shubhum came to us in May 2007 and should have been operated upon in September but for reasons that defy logic and the Hippocratic oath, the backlog of the All India Institute of Medical Science was such that the poor child’s operation kept being pushed away. Who cared that his family was poor, that each time he came from his native village his father, a humble tea stall owner, had to shut his tiny business and incur huge expenses.

Hubris had taken over a place of healing and a battle of egos was more important than the lives of poor people. Strange that the people involved in this tussle were bound by that sacred oath.

It was in September 2003 that Raju our first inmate was operated upon. Somehow at that time things were different and we had all been impressed by the quality of care and the spirit of the doctor. Then with each surgery things seemed to deteriorate albeit in an imperceptible manner at first, till the politicians stepped in and revived the reservation issue and all oaths went awry as the streets burned. And then as if one thing was not enough a clash of personalities nailed the coffin. Strikes and more strikes as simple hurting people suffered.

This is endemic insidious rot gnawing at our social fabric as we continue our frenetic race towards development and growth forgetting that no growth can sustain itself unless it reaches every nook and corner of our land.

To yourself, respect

As I sat writing my yearly greeting mail I came upon this Xmas gift suggestion from Oren Arnold: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.

At first it looked like yet another corny quote that abound on the web but as I read and reread it I realised how relevant it was to the world we live in.

I presume we would all agree to this simplistic list and find it obvious but if we just pondered for a while how many of us actually comply with it. When was the last time we actually truly forgave someone or for that matter practices tolerance? I wonder.

But what really rung true for me was the good example to every child. Just last week we saw the the senseless gunning down of a teenager by his classmate and once again one realised the total absence of role models that children could emulate?

But it is the last word of this quote that should set us thinking. Do we really respect ourselves for if we did the world would be a different place where tolerance, forgiveness, charity, good service and god example would come by naturally.

the sewing circle of Khader

Just two months ago it looked an impossible dream to some, an audacious step to others and an outrageous venture to yet others. But like everything else at pwhy it had to be: the women centre came into existence because two women needed our help desperately and a promise made to a little child had to be redeemed. Reasons that make scant business sense but nevertheless need to be acted. It is again all about seeing with your heart and not your eyes let alone your brain!

Come to think about it no task seems insurmountable then even though you do not quite know where help will come from when you are constantly struggling to make ends meet. And it is with impudence that you set out and nod to every need that comes your way.

Today, two months down the line the secret of the fox in the Little prince is once again vindicated. What began as a gesture of assuming responsibility has grown into a happy place filed with laughter and joy. We have had our tough moments even despairing ones but they are tiny compared to the ones filled with hope and fulfillment.

Almost 100 kids come to our pre-primary and primary classes; our beauty classes have begun in earnest and our ladies sewing circle is a proud moment where women from all caste and creed sit together sharing their lives and building dreams that somehow do not seem impossible.

You can share moments of life at the Kamala centre here

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Learning to live together

The gunning down of a young teenager by his peers last week has raised a host of questions in everyone’s mind, disturbing questions to say the least, but questions that need to be addressed as they concern the well being and future of our children.

One should not make the mistake of treating this as an isolated incident and try to find a convenient scapegoat: a careless parent or a careless school. And one should not compound the mistake by imputing this disturbing act to vague reasons such as violent Internet games or new money . This incident is endemic to what we have allowed ourselves to become and thus each one of us is responsible for the four bullets that were fired by tender hands on that fateful Tuesday. What happened that day is a reflection of what our society has mutated to in the recent past.

In our rush to acquire a new identity defined by malls and powerful cars, by overt luxury and opulence we have destroyed the very fabric of our society. In our haste to embrace alien ways, we simply sacrificed the values that held us together for thousands of years.

One of the many solutions proffered while discussing the Gurgaon killing was the importance of widening the scope of education ands making it more meaningful. A glance at today’s education pattern in Delhi, India’s capital city is sufficient to make us aware of the fact that something is terribly wrong. In the past few years one has seen on the one hand the degradation of the state run school system where children in class IV or V can barely recognise their alphabets, while at the other hand there has been a mushrooming of luxury schools that look more like five star resorts than places of learning. Even education that should be a level playing field today reflects a divided and fractured society.

My mind goes back to the very beginning of pwhy when we set out to define education in a broad sense and adopted the Four Pillars of Education of the UNESCO Delors Commission. Learning for Jacques Delors did not stop at knowledge but extended well beyond: learning to know, to do, to be and to live together. I must confess that somewhere down the way we too forgot the importance of this multi-pronged approach.

Learning to live together has to become an integral part of our education system where children are taught to respect each other and celebrate differences and learning to live with others can only happen when schools look like schools and not like dilapidated structures or luxurious edifices, almost as if they were replicating the lives of the children they teach. Children are far more resilient than we want to believe and can adapt to almost anything. Schools should be a place where children learn to cope with life in all its manifestations and hence reflect a middle path approach.

One has to take a serious and honest look at education as it stands today and take the needed measures to reform it drastically. Only then will true healing begin