a chilling wake up call

The tragic death of four tiny school children in Mumbai brings to fore once more the terrifying reality of the safety of our children and the alarming conditions prevailing in our cities. The illogical school system compels parents to send their wards to faraway schools. The absence of safe school transport forces then to take recourse to whatever is available and the greed of transporters on the look out for a quick buck makes the journey to school one fraught with danger. A vicious circle no one can truly break.

I have seen many children climb into potential death traps every morning as vans propelled y cooking gas cylinders abound in our city. Little Kiran is one of them. It is true that her family did try the school bus but the route was so long and the stop so far away from her home that they soon fell for the easier option: the school van! It fetched her from her door step and droped back home and was a tad cheaper too!

What alarms me is the way our education system is heading. A safe option is always a neighborhood school and that can only happen if and when the government school system is reinforced and becomes a viable option for a larger segment of society. But sadly it is quite the contrary that is happening as more and more parents are opting for the now mushrooming private schools. Somehow the fact that free education is a constitutional right seems to have been lost in translation.

How many more deaths will it take for us to finally wake up.

a big boy now

Seeing Utpal is always a celebration and I must confess that since he has gone to boarding school I do miss seeing his little face and incredible smile.

Yesterday was a special day as we had to give the first instalment of our land and we all knew that this had to be done by no one else but Utpal. And though it was not PTM day, we made the necessary phone calls and got the required permissions.

We reached the school and as we sat in the reception area we soon saw Utpal strutting down the corridor all bundled up and wearing his stunning smile. Soon it was hugging and cuddling time though I could sense his almost imperceptible unease – he was now a big boy – and stopped immediately.

He sat with us at first a little self conscious as we were surrounded by teachers and staff but to my absolute delight he soon reverted to his old endearing self and asked me what I had brought for him. He smiled with glee when I handed him over his bag of goodies filled with his favourite biscuits and cookies and set about examining his booty. He then opened one packet and after eating one biscuit set off to go and share it with his pals.

Soon it was time to leave and unlike past days when parting was always difficult he waved us a cheery goodbye and set off back to the game he had left to come and meet us. I guess this time I was the one to wipe the corner of my eye but was happy to see that Utpal had settled in his new life.

a ray of hope

Little Anisha came visiting. It is always a delight to see her sunshine smile even if it sometimes it takes some time coming. My thought went to just about a year back when we feared for her life that seemed to hold on by a breath.

But children have a way of making up for loss time and little Anisha was always a fighter. Today she looked just like any other little girl all set to start her school life and that is what she had come to do: get admitted in our creche!

It is moments like this that make everything we do worthwhile and give us the courage to carry on in spite of everything.

I wonder what the future hold for this lovely child. I simply know that beautiful morrows await her.

God bless her and walk with her.

the girl child

India may have its first woman president but it is going to be a long time before the girl child in India gets the same right as her male sibling. What is tragic is that it is often the mother, a girl child herself, who treats her that way.

No mother will ever accept that but one just has to look at things to see the difference. The three kids in the picture are siblings, whereas the boy was dressed warmly as the morning was chilly, the little girls were sent to school in summer frocks.

I wonder why mothers react this way. One would have thought that having suffered similar humiliations themselves they would not perpetrate them and yet it is the mothers who are the real culprits.

This is one of the reasons why the theme selected for the first meeting of the women’s group at the Kamala centre was the girl child and we decided to show Matrubhhomi as we felt that it was one every woman should see particularly in a land where one the one hand women are worshipped but on the other they are used and abused!

Over 15 women attended the meeting and the issue of the girl child was debated with passion and verve. Every one agreed that something had to be done and that the girl child needed to be protected but they also accepted the fact that it would not be an easy task. They all promised to give the matter some thought and come back for the next meeting with ideas for an awareness campaign.

We know it is no mean task as the laws themselves are far from being respected. This came to light the very next day in a glaring manner: a pregnant lady, mother of two girls came to our centre asking us to keep her daughters till late evening as she worked. She also told us that the child she was carrying was yet another girl as had been revealed by an ultrasound she had done recently. Were not sex determination tests banned in our city?

You can share some of the moments of our first women meeting here


new vistas- new dreams- new journeys

Once again we are ready to set sail on a new journey, one whose course is still uncharted but one we know will have safe and bountiful landings. As a rock pile slowly gets transformed into an island of hope, we too have decided not to wait but get going by setting up a trial foster care programme with a handful of children from both our proposed residential projects.

We feel this is necessary as it will enable us to validate what till now was a dream and also assess the problems in situ thus make the course corrections needed. This is crucial and will go a long way in helping us define the selection process for the foster care programme as its success depends on the total commitment of the parents. It will also help us determine the resources needed and test the dedication of the staff.

At present we are thinking of having 2 young adults from the special section and 4 boys for the foster care cum scholarship programme. I would also like to include our little Babli who still dreams of being a police woman but whose family is barely able to feed her!

A flat across our present office will soon be available and we hope to begin this exhilarating journey a month from now and we invite you to travel with us and share each and every moment of it with us through a blog we have simply entitled: let us begin!

It is a unique journey that we hope will enable these kids to break the circle of poverty they live in and would go an living in for long and open for them doors that till now were only for the selected few. One day these children may be doctors, engineers, honchos, artists, administrators and much else. The thought is thrilling and awe inspiring but we know this day will come!

the society of schools

I have been watching, with utter dismay and deep concern, the plight of parents running from pillar to post to get their children admitted to nursery in a schools across Delhi, India’s capital city. The nursery admission saga has been going on for quite some time in this city with a wide range of unlikely protagonists in the fray: school authorities, state government, parent’s associations, activists and even the judicial system. And if that is not enough parents now resort to every trick in the bag: pleas, threats and the now sated string pulling!

Education is a a constitutional right for each and every child and yet good educations seems elusive. Over the years a surreptitious and complex caste system has evolved within the society of schools. And sadly education which should be a level playing field has now transformed itself into yet another social status definer with the better one coming at a higher price. A peek into any of the high caste one is sufficient to prove this: some schools today look more like luxury resorts than places of learning. The lower ones a.k.a government schools on the other hand defy all description. In the middle lie a plethora of schools that have mushroomed over the years as education made a subtle shift from places of learning to commercial enterprises, where quality is often sacrificed.

I was horrified when a young nephew ,who is in one of the leading schools in Delhi came for help with is French classes,a subject offered by many leading schools. His copy book was full of mistakes and the pronunciation he had been taught seemed Spanish and not French! The child would have been better off learning Sanskrit or any other Indian language. I brought this fact to the attention of his parents in the hope that they would take it up with the school, but a the look of alarm on their faces reminded me of the long haul it had been for them to get this child admitted into this prestigious school. They were in no mood to rock the boat.

I have always been a strong proponent of the common school system. A school in the neighborhood a child could walk to, a school where children from all walks of life would learn together and celebrate difference, a school where the only admission criterion would be your place of residence. No child should be subjected to rejection at an early age which is what is happening today as parents run from one school to another dragging little 3 years old who are made to go through incomprehensible interviews and complex admission procedures. They may not be able to express themselves but imagine what they feel as they listen to their parents vent their feelings. To me this is just another form of child abuse.

A self respecting society should ensure that this does not happen.

The wonder that is India

Sunday 20 January will remained engraved in my memory for times to come. I normally shy away from TV appearances but when a leading Hindi channel called to say they wanted to do a programme on pwhy I accepted more for the sense of elation it gives my team. At that time I thought it would be a story on our activities and a little publicity could only help and would look good on our CV!

When the shooting was done I fell off my chair when the young reporter told me that I had to come to the studio the next day as the programme was a live call in one. That was out of my league but one look at the young reporter’s face and I knew there was no way I could back out.

I walked into the studio as nervous as someone going in for her first job interview but the kind anchor and then the pictures of pwhy kids as the story was played did manage to calm my thumping heart. But nothing could have prepared me for what was yet to come.

As the last image of the report faded away and the anchor began her introduction the first call came in from a remote part of India and then another and yet another and the beautiful words of love and encouragement from these simple people filled me with a range of emotions I cannot begin to unravel: I just know I felt tiny, humbled and undeserving of all the praise that was coming my way, but at the same time my heart filled with pride and elation as an India I always knew existed reached out to me.

The calls kept coming: someone who wanted to give a month’s salary, a bunch of college students who wanted to help, people asking how they could help children, people wanting to help us.. and a simple touching message that simply said: I have no money to donate but I want to work for the poor. I am a housewife…

People from all walks of life, from different states, from different faiths came forward with words of praise and encouragement and offers to help! It was moving and soul stirring and wondrous. Above all it was a vibrant proof of the reality that is India, of the land that we all need to fight for, a reminder of how we as a responsible civil society had to shed our cynicism and selfish ways and stop being armchair reformers and begin acting.

For me personally it was the vindication of much of what my parents had taught me and wanted me to believe. It endorsed my father’s last words: have faith in India! Nine years in a soulless city like Delhi had eroded this faith. The simple and candid words that came my way rekindled it and renewed my resolve to carry on my work till my last breath.

That is the wonder that is India!

A rock pile…

A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral wrote St Exupery. How right he was.

For me this piece of barren line ceased to be barren from the moment we decided that it was the one chosen to hold planet why. From that instant in time reason took leave of absence and the heart took over. Never mind if one did not know how or when; never mind how daunting the task at hand looked; never mind the obstacles that could come our way, planet why was a reality that just had to happen.

Another beautiful quote of the same author flashed in my mind: if you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea and I realised that this was what lay between today and the day when planet why would be a vibrant reality: my ability to get people to long for planet why as much as I did.

No mean task in a world where people have long forgotten the beauty of simple things and lost their ability to think beyond their own needs. And yet beautiful things live on and miracles happen. Just a few days back I would not have believed that I would be standing at the edge of a dusty road looking at a piece of barren land. Just a few days back I was simply trying to figure out how we would go through the next month and the next… the rock pile just remained a hope, a dream, a longing, a prayer… one that I had left to a higher being to fulfill.

The road to this dusty road has been a long one. For a long time I did try to get others to long for it just as I did, but at some point of time I surrendered the thought to the wind knowing within myself that it would ultimately land safely some day. It did, far sooner than I could have imagined and in the most unlikely way possible leaving us all speechless.

The journey is not over and much remains to be done. But it will all come together as long as we keep on longing for the essential, as long as we keep looking with our hearts and as long as we keep on taking one step after another in the right direction.

a bag of miracles

When Utpal fell into my lap almost 4 years ago he was scalded, swathed in bandages and quite frankly not a pretty site. And yet as I held his fragile body and looked into his incredibly beautiful eyes I knew this was no ordinary child but a very special emissary who had landed my way for a purpose.

As years went by his bag of miracles unfolded and each time something extraordinary happened one felt one had finally unraveled the reason of his appearance in our lives. But as time went by we realised that we would never be able to keep up with him and he would never cease to amaze us.

When we had conceived of planet why and dreamt about it we had never imagined what it would turn out to be when it actually happened. Frankly we were quite content with the image we had conjured and in fact felt it was larger than life. A place for our lost souls was more than we could hope for. But for our little miracle man it was not enough. He had done his bit by sending a set of angels our way but with them came a rider: over and above shelter for our lost souls, we would need to ensure that more kids like him would one day be able to wear smart school uniforms and attend schools that actually were not meant for them and have pals they could laugh and play with.

So be it. You cannot argue with orders that come from blessed souls;you just have to obey them and give them your best though you are more than a little perplexed about what and when the next diktat would come.

Today we set out on our new mission with a song in our heart, a prayer on our lips and renewed determination to see planet why become the hallowed ground we hope it will as what is at stake is far more than anyone can imagine!

just getting through the night

To many this may just look like a barren piece of land, and it is just that if you look with your eyes. But today I ask you to look with your heart just as a little prince did in a marvelous fable and said: What makes the desert beautiful is that it hides a well somewhere…

If you do agree to look with your heart then this ungainly piece of land will soon transform into a place where dreams come true. It all began almost 8 years ago with a disturbing encounter between a middle aged a woman and a young man abused hurting and forsaken by all and a preposterous dream: to give this man a real home. At that time the dream did seem absurd;just a meal or a set of clean clothes was what reason dictated but the woman was a dreamer and the dream refused to go away.

The meal was bought, the clothes too, but it did not seem enough and a journey began as somehow she felt that the dream would be fulfilled when day would break, it was just a matter of getting through the night!

It was a long night, and along it more dreams came each of them as impossible as the first one particularly if you allowed yourself to look with your eyes, one just had to keep the heart wide open. Many little hurting souls joined the bandwagon and midway remedies were found and applied but the dream refused to go, on the contrary it became larger and bigger: a home for all the hurting souls, a smile on all the faces that had forgotten to smile, a haven for all those forsaken by their own!

And as it became larger, the woman realised that it was now way beyond her league but she knew she had to just get through the night: day would break. And all through the night she kept praying as she knew that now the matter was not in her hands anymore. And then one fine day Angels appeared and decided that the time had come for the day to dawn.

So look the the picture again: this is where planet why will soon become a reality. This where Manu’s home will be, where Champa will roam freely, where Nanhe will smile away and where Sapna will jump to her heart’s content and many more lost souls will live a dignified and happy life. But the Angels did not want to stop at that, this where many little Utpal’s will don their smart school uniforms and leave for school and one day will stand shoulder to shoulder with those born on the other side of the fence.

So this is no barren piece of land, this is sacred ground, a place where dreams come true, where angels do not fear to tread, a place where the day finally breaks.

Dreams do come true; you just have to get through the night!