sing a song of sixpence

Sing a song of sixpence. For the past month I have been reminded of this nursery rhyme and feeling like its king: The King was in his counting house, Counting out his money and wondering whether the big black bird would come and snip away my nose! Like many nursery rhymes this one too has a gory double meaning and was a coded advertisement to recruit pirates at a time when piracy was outlawed.

My reference thank heavens is not gory but just adapted to the mind boggling situation I find myself in: counting money to meet the huge amount required to begin saving dreams and provide the suitable heir to project why aka planet why!

I am truly blessed as each time I feel a tad dejected, all I need is a walk through project why. This morning when I was greeted at the special section by the whoops of joy and peals of laughter as it was trampoline time. My eyes grew misty as I watched Preeti jump on the trampoline in spite of her useless legs. Actually I should have known she would do just this as is she not our very own incredible karate kid!

So the low spirits lifted and I felt imbued with a renewed determination to go on counting the money till the magic and still elusive figure was reached to enable us to secure the plot of land that would ensure that children like Preeti remain spirited and can life life with dignity and surrounded by love.

Many cannot even begin to imagine what life was a girl like Preeti can turn into once she loses the support of her mother. She could be used and abused or just be thrown out of her home by an unkind sister in law and forced to beg as was the case with Manu. She could also land in an institution where life is hell or is some ashram or the other where even hell has to be redefined. And yet Preeti just has useless legs. Otherwise she is just like any other 11 year old and deserves to live a full life.

And it is not just Preeti, but Champa, Ruchi and many others who are today at the threshold of a terrible morrow unless we do something. Planet why is our answer and we know that we have to make it happen.

next in line

Among the very serious questions fielded at me yesterday was the oft stated one about who would take over pwhy. Till date the question was asked by all and sundry buy yesterday it was raised by someone I hold in high esteem ans hence required an honest and well thought answer.

For a long time I have know that this is one issue that had to be addressed and resolved. The question of sustainability has kept me awake many a night and has troubled be many a times. It is very early that we realised that the crux of the matter lay in our ability to become sustainable and free of constantly having to sing for our supper each and every day. True that for project why to live on beyond my days on this planet two essential things were required: a committed team who would see with their heart to do the work on the field and an entity to provide the elusive supper!

The former was easily done. The later was easier said than done. The fund sustainability issue went through many trials and failures till slowly a nebulous idea emerged that of planet why and unlike others each time one thought of it the image became clearer and clearer. Today planet why is but a few hurdles away and it will come to be for all the right reasons.

So when once again the question about who would take over pwhy came my way again, I realised that it would simply be planet why. Strange? But do bear with me for a while. Unlike pwhy that needs to be fed every day, planet why has within it the ability to make its own supper and also provide many suppers to other pwhy activities thus becoming the lifeline of pwhy a task till now done by one single individual and thus making pwhy look extremely fragile and vulnerable.

But that is not all. Unlike other possible sustainability options, planet why is imbued with the spirit of pwhy. It is just not a commercial activity, but one that offers a haven to many lost souls, one that provides training and work possibilities to pwhy alumni, one that enables us to expand our activities and reach out to new children and empower new communities. But above all it is one that has immense potential of growth and thus becomes a constant challenge to those who will steer it and who will then hold their destiny in their won hands.

What better inheritor could I have found?

misty eyed musings

Yesterday was a very special day at pwhy. We were blessed to have the visit of Manmeet Bhai Sahib and Seema Bhabhi. I seek your indulgence for this rather personal post but I would failing the spirit of pwhy were I not to share this special moment.

Project Why would never seen the light of day if Ram had not been part of my life. And Bhai Sahib is someone Ram loved dearly and respected profoundly. His visit was akin to having Ram drop by. It was a rare privilege and a moving moment to have Bhai Sahib see the work we are doing and above all share his wisdom and give his advise and guidance. And for me it was a tender moment when I could for those few moments be once again a little girl hanging on to every word that was said and answering every question fielded by someone I held in awe. For the past 10 years or so I have been the one to have to answer questions, solve problems, defuse problems and it does get lonely up there. Yesterday I could revel in a few stolen moments of having someone tell me where I was wrong or what I was doing right.

Time flew by. And for many present nothing earth shattering happened or was said. But I could read between the lines, hear the words left unspoken, feel the immense love that filled my heart and above all feel that I was not alone, that all would be all right, every little hurt would go away and the sun would shine again.

Bhai Sahib’s visit was God sent or should I say Ram sent! For the past few months I had been battling impossible odds and yet I knew that that was the only road I could walk were I to be honest and true to all that I had been taught. And yet it had not been easy to go on. I needed a sign, a tiny pat on my back, a blessing whispered in my ear ans yesterday that is just what happened.

It was indeed a very special day.

is this the India we want

In my last post I had vented some of my thoughts in response to a question I had been asked about feeling helpless at the plight of poor children begging at red lights and other places and of course one had to refer to the ‘two Indias‘ and the widening gap between them.

Yesterday once again a story was aired on TV aptly named the Real Face of India. The story began thus: In the state of Andhra Pradesh, there is a swanky international airport, a controversial one, and on the other side, there are school students taking their board examinations in knee deep water. One would be justified in thinking it was a joke of some kind but sadly no! The pictures actually showed children giving their Board examinations with their feet in water! And if that was not enough in another school kids were made to write their examinations in a pitch dark room by candlelight! In a country where the marks you obtain decide your future I wonder what would happen to these children.

I also wonder if this is the India we hoped for. One where some are reaching the sky while others are being pushed into deeper holes. Talking of holes one cannot but think of the little Vandana who fell into a 45 feet pit and was rescued only 28 hours later. The question that one needs to ask is why was a bore well left gaping and who was responsible.

But it does not end there. Young Rinky brutally thrashed by her teacher for having chosen another tutor dies in hospital this morning after long months of agony. Wonder who will pay for this death.

Yesterday Roshni who works at our women centre, has seven children and barely survives, told us that the reason she had put her daughters into a private school – read teaching shop – because they did not have birth certificates – the poor woman did not know that an affidavit would have solve the situation – had also to send them for tuition to the class teacher. I wonder if they would have met the same fate had she refused to do so.

Is this the India we want for our children: one where corporal punishment is the order of the day one where an insensitive administration forgets to cover the holes they have dug, one where children have to write their destiny defining examination in the dark or in water!

Yesterday TV channels were all praise for the Army team that rescued little Vandana. We salute them too but is it not ironical that soldiers have to be called to cover up messes made by the so called administration? Who will hold the administration responsible.

Yesterday again TV channels vented their anger on Rinky’s death and demanded answers from the faceless, heartless and soulless administration. Many luminaries joined the show and every one agreed that education stinks, that children are innocent targets, that teaching is now a simple commercial activity – but does one beat one’s customer -. One anchor was honest enough to say that the nation will express its outrage and anger for a day or so till the next news comes to hog the limelight. Ominous words they were as while Rinky’s pyre still smoldered the same channel had to – TRP obliges – shift Rinky’s story from its lead to replace it by the very juicy interview of a cricket biggie caught in a net of corruption.

The children of India – oops I should say the children of one India – have been let down by each and every one. Whereas the constitution guarantees them free education, schools run by the government are in an abysmal state and children are brutally beaten each and every day in all schools.

Vulnerable children are beaten mercilessly as a nation watches and does nothing.

Where are we going…

Is this the India we want

Look into their eyes.

During a recent interview an eager young journo kept asking whether I did not get disturbed or feel helpless at the sight of all the children I saw at red lights or other places begging. He was quite bewildered when I told him that I did not, I simply felt outraged.

And that too for more reasons than one!

First and foremost this was the wost form of child labour but one that did not seem to be addressed at all by the powers that be. It was undoubtedly the easiest one to be identified as it happened not behind close doors or dingy sweat shops but out in the open for everyone to see! And yet no one seemed to care. Moreover it was one that we were all guilty of abetting as most of us did give that coin, perhaps to get rid of the pestering child or whining mother or perhaps simply to ease one’s conscience. And as long as the business was lucrative it would carry on.

My mind went back to an incident that occurred many years ago when I was accosted by a beggar woman. I did not have any change on me so I looked at her and simply told her that I was sorry I did not have anything to give her. She held on to my hand and told me that I had given her a great gift. I was needless to say bewildered. Seeing my confusion she smiled and told me: You looked into my eyes child, and acknowledged me as a fellow human . People normally throw some money at you but never dare look at you. This was probably one of the greatest lesson I got in my entire life.

Herein lies the problem that plagues our society. The divide between rich and poor is getting wider by the day and the rich have lost the ability to look into the eyes of the poor that are actually everywhere. Do we see the families working relentlessly in the biting cold or scorching heat on all the fancy new constructions that are mushrooming in our city; do we see the children at red lights peddling their ware and realise that they are children just like ours; do we look at the road side slums that have been in existence for decades as we drive pass and wonder at all the babies born amongst the fumes of cars revving at the red light and at the plight of people living under the constant fear of demolition?

In our nine long years of trying to make a difference, of striving at building better and brighter morrows for what we call underprivileged children we have faced and surmounted many obstacles. And it has been the most rewarding time in our life in spite of all. But if there is a sense of helplessness or frustration it foes not stem from inability to help each and every child. It does not require to be a rocket scientist to know that one person cannot solve all the problems that plague our society. What is infuriating is the fact that what disturbs us leaves others cold. What is enraging is that people around us have lost their ability to see, let alone act. What is bewildering is that hep is not forthcoming and that instead one is treated with a string of cynical lectures.

No I do not feel helpless, I feel actually feel terribly sad that most of us have lost the courage to look deep into the eyes of a poor child. Perhaps because we are terrified of getting lost in them.

new musings

Yesterday a ex-volunteer dropped by. He had spent a month a year back doing his internship with us. Since he has obtained his degree from a foreign university and secured a prized job in a high profile NGO. He is part of the fund raising team of that organisation.

The NGO is question is steered by a celebrity and hence has a fair amount of celebrities associated to it. It somehow seems politically correct in today’s day and age to be associated to a charity. Charities now are businesses or a bizMess, something I discovered many moons ago. It is not a matter of doing something for someone, but to be seen doing something for someone.

My one rupee a day programme failed because of a lack of understanding or was it simply because I did not find a celebrity to champion it? Anyway it was just a battle lost, the war is still on.

Coming back to the different funding options shared by our friend, I must confess that each one seemed inadequate and totally out of sync with the spirit of pwhy that I value and defend. Some were too onerous, others unprincipled. I was loathe to spend donor’s money on PR blitz or similar issues. And did they really ensure long term sustainability or were just once again short term options needing to be reinvented each year at abysmal cost.

That was not the pwhy way. We would continue our virtual and new tech begging till we found the right option: one that would dovetail into our work and enable it to grow and prosper. One that would include all those who are the heart and soul of pwhy.

I am now convinced more than ever that planet why has to happen. It is the only way to ensure that it is the pwhy team and beneficiaries themselves who steer their fund raising once the planet why is a reality. It thus becomes their fight their responsibility and their challenge and their achievement.

So help me God!

fun and laughter

Was it just yesterday that the plight of a disabled man locked for 14 years by his family shocked us all. One did not get time to recover from that news that another horrifying incident was brought to light by a TV channel. Little Manikanandan abused and mutilated body violated the space of each and every home, his bewildered eyes replete with questions begging for answers.

Manikanandan is 11. He is mentally challenged and his family too poor to care for him admitted the child in a government run institution. In the last one year the child was subjected to severe torture, his only fault being that he was hyperactive.

This incident makes you wonder whether the parents who chose to lock their child for 14 years in heir home were not actually exercising a better option.

The plight of mentally and physically challenged persons is abysmal to say the least. The government run institutions are hell holes, and families are often in the best case scenario at a total loss for a host of reasons: ignorance, poverty, lack of knowledge and paucity of valid options. This is a market where demands outweighs supply and moreover returns are nil.

fine day a lady landed at our doorstep holding on to 5 special kids. Thir As I have often said, notwithstanding social mores, special children are images of God and caring for them should be viewed not as an chore but as a rewarding experience. It has now been over 6 years since we launched our special section. Another case of force majeure as one school had been closed without notice and they had nowhere to go. For us it was not a question of debate or pondering we simply knew wee had to give these kids an option. Today there are more then 20 kids and young adults in our special section.

Each has his own challenge and yes some can be violent, others hyperactive, some are extremely slow others moody, some cannot hear, others cannot walk, yet others can barely comprehend what is said to them. And yet hey all form terrific team each one helping the other almost instinctively. They spend the whole day together and have a whale of a time. They sometimes fight and argue but is that not what every kid does.

They love going out together but their favourite activity is undoubtedly dancing which they are willing to do at the drop of a hat. We are never needed to ‘tie’ them up or restrict them in anyway. And we have never felt that anyone one is a impediment or a challenge. Each one of us oves going to their class, actually for me t is a sure way of getting over any feeling of gloom, the best anti-depressant possible.

So you understand why little Manikanandan’s plight made my blood boil. How can children be treated this way? How can any government have the audacity to run a home for special children and treat them in this manner? How come there are no ways of keeping a check on such things? Why did it take a year for this poor child to be rescued?

Valid questions indeed in any normal society but probably futile in a society like ours where collective conscience seems to have gone astray. How can one accept suck things to happen and continue happening as this is not the first incident of its kind and will not be he last. wonder how may Manikanandan’s there are across our land who are suffering the same plight. Yes there will be an enquiry and some one will be made the passing scapegoat. Politicians will get some mileage, there will some debate, even the parents may get blamed and then all will be forgotten till the next incident happens.

Sadly no one will address the situation and find long term solutions. Things will juts carry on. No one will accept the fact that special children are entitled to a life filled with fun and laughter.

Here are some pictures that show you that the project why special children have a ball all the time!

a small price to pay

Nine years may seem sufficient to inure you against all human and humane aberrations. But in a land like ours it is not so, as each time you seem to think you have seen it all or allow yourself to believe that things may have changed in the wake of all the talk you hear around you, something happens to rudely jolt you back to reality.

This is just what happened yesterday as I sat watching TV. A line on the ticker of a new channel said: man locks up mentally ill son in loo for 14 years! It was no gag or joke, it was stark truth and happened in a small town in Orissa. And what is even more disturbing is that the family finds it a better option than sending their child to a hospital. I guess in spite of all better sense, one can understand that as the plight of institutions for the mentally challenged is known to all. When one sees the state of such homes in Indias‘ capital city, one shudders to think about what happens in smaller cities. What is even more disturbing are the words of local social activists: “The parents are very poor and helpless. There is no point in blaming them when there is absolutely no facility from the government for such people.

This state of total helplessness and surrender is to say the very least demeaning. Not for the victim but for each one of us who pretend to be educated, humane, endowed with a conscience and values, overtly religious. If any one of us can see a human being locked in a cage for 14 years and walk by, then we seriously need to look at ourselves.

When we fist saw Manu we could just have walked by, shut our eyes and heart and mumbled words akin to those above. But we chose not to and in spite of all odds and difficulties we did not give up. Today Manu dances with friends and tomorrow he will have a bed of his own!

And one day, in the not too far future Many will have his home and a place where he will be able to live and work with dignity as long as he lived. That is what planet why is all about and when viewed this way what seems an astronomical amount seems paltry.

A special birthday

Yesterday was Uptal’s 6th birthday. He is at the women centre and his mom planned a special party. It was on this very day, five years ago that Utpal had his tryst with fire, one that undoubtedly changed his life in more ways than one. His tiny life has not been an easy one. It has been packed with many hurdle, but he has always come out a winner.

For the past two years, Utpal has been in boarding school and lived a normal life, the kind little boys do. No drunken brawls, no night visits to the cop station, no strange men, no hunger pangs. And like little boys he now has his tantrums and his moods, his likes and dislikes: you see he does not have to be the man of the house any more, he can just be a kid. And that is exactly what is it now and one cannot grudge him his new found zeal as he has lot of lost time to make up for.

So we too decided to give him a fun birthday party with presents, cake, his favourite food, and the people who had been with part of his life for the past 5 years: his best friend Kiran, Radhey his old pal, Rani didi and Shamika didi, Dharmendra bhaiya and his mum, one that he loves in his own special way and of course maam’ji! There were some new friends too and we had all a great time.

I am sure that each one of us did take a trip down memory lane, each remembering that one special moment that remains engraved in our mind. I found myself recollecting a plethora of touching times, each one imbued with its own sense of wonder but the one that will always remain engraved in mind is my first real meeting with this incredible kid, the moment he walked into my heart.

The past few years have been replete with Popples moments, each one endearing and touching and even if he may sometimes seem spoilt and even exasperating, just look deep into his eyes you may just see an Angel passing.

share some of the birthday mood here

Is it wrong to help those who are in need….

Is it wrong to help those who are in need of others assistance? was the heart wrenching question a little girl asked softly in a mail that dropped in my inbox.

Natasha and her little family had read the article about pwhy that had appeared in a Singapore paper almost two years ago. They wrote wonderful words of support and set out to collect books for us the children and sent them to us. Then, as it often happens, there was no contact.

Then came a mail from the little girl now 11. I reproduced it as it was written:

I’m Natasha, do u remember me? It’s been more than a year that I’ve not contacted you. I’m already 11 years old and my brother is 9 years old. During the past 1 year, my family has gone through a lot of difficulties. My mummy helped to take care of someone who is not related to us who is suffering from bone cancer. Because of that my daddy decided to divorce my mummy, reason is she has been too focused in volunteer work and as a result my brother and I follow her footsteps. Is it wrong to help those who are in need of others assistance?

My mummy went to Bangladesh last year to do some voluntary work, we will be going with her this June school holidays. Although the past 1 year we didn’t contact u but u and all the children are always in our heart n mind. We have collected many storybooks for your children and would like to mail over to u. Please give me your address so that my mummy can mail to u by courier service.

We have finally come out of our own gloomy days and would like to continue to contribute our assistance to u or other charity organisations. All the best to u and hope u will forgive us for not be able to offer our assistance for the past 1 year.

I read the mail many times. I felt very tiny and overwhelmed. This little child epitomized the essence of giving. Her approach was without fuss, without the jaded words that normally accompany acts of giving, sans the litanies that justify the grounds of abstaining to give. Notwithstanding the terrible ordeals she and her family went through, this little child of God never lost sight of what she instinctively felt was right.

Is it wrong to help those who are in need....remained the simple question that begged for an answer. And I, with all my years of supposed giving was left speechless. This little girl had quietly put my whole life in question, her simple interrogation was reason for deep soul searching on the very meaning of giving.

Natasha’s words are the quintessence of what giving or helping others should be. What we all do pales in front of this. It is easy to give when the time is right, when we are comfortable, when things look up. But not for this child and her little family. They simple give!

I salute the mother of this lovely child as she is the one who has instilled such generosity and love in her heart.

And to you little Natasha I want to say that it is not wrong to help those who are in need. Only very special people understand that, and you are one of them.