my dream catcher

I must have been quite young when I first heard about dream catchers. As a kid it was comforting to believe that there was something that ensured that only good dreams came your way while bad ones slipped out. Someone had given me a dream catcher and I felt comforted having it hanging above my bed.

I soon grew up and the delicate dream catcher got lost as we moved from continent to continent and I forgot about it. It was only yesterday when I heard that Dear Popples was published that I suddenly remembered the dream catcher of my childhood.

The lore of the dream catcher is beautiful.

Long ago when the word was sound, an old Lakota spiritual leader was on a high mountain and had a vision. In his vision, Iktomi, the great trickster and searcher of wisdom, appeared in the form of a spider. Iktomi spoke to him in a sacred language. As he spoke, Iktomi the spider
took the elder’s willow hoop which had feathers, horse hairs, beads and offerings on it and began to spin a web. He spoke of the cycles of life….how we begin as infants and move on to childhood, and then to adulthood. Finally, we go to old age where we must be taken care of once again as infants, thereby completing the life cycle.

Iktomi said, “In each time of life there are many forces and choices made that can affect the harmony of nature, and interfere with the Great Spirit and all of his wonderful teachings.” Iktomi gave the web to the Lakota elder and said, “See, the web is a perfect circle but there is a hole in the center of the circle. If you believe in the Great Spirit, the web will catch your good dreams and ideas – – and the bad ones will go through the hole.

When I look back at the past few years I am sure that an invisible dream catcher hung over my life helping me make the right choices or how else would all that has come my way happen? But dream catchers are not just about choices and ideas; they are also about dreams. And though I hardly have dreams about myself, one seems to have got caught in some remote corner of the web: that of dear popples being published!

The Great Spirit thought otherwise and set his own wheel in motion and knowing that I would never find the time, the way, the force, the motivation to keep this dream alive, entrusted my dream to someone else. That was Abhigyan a true dream maker!

You do not thank Great Spirits and dream makers. You simply feel blessed that they came your way.

Dear Popples

If two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. Matthew 18:19

Thus quotes the Bible and these words were sent to me by the one who made my dream come true. Dear Popples’s genesis began much before Popples himself came into this world. It actually began as a dream of a teenager growing in the sixties a time when everything seemed possible. It began in the head of a girl fed and overfed on books that were the sole form of escape of a lonely child growing up in different lands amidst too many adults. It began in the absurd dreams of a young girl sitting at cafe terraces in Paris imagining herself to be a writer.

Then life took over and decades went by but the dream did not. It sprung back on a summer day when the girl now an ageing woman came across a little child who was to redefine her life and stumble upon who she really was. The dream that had laid in waiting sprung up again and took the shape of a sheaf of haphazard paper where she poured out her heart and soul. But dreams as the Bible says need two people to make it come true as does creation. Where was the other half of the dream.

For many months the sheaf of papers lay in the recess of a drawer; it was sometimes taken out and shared with someone or the other but it quietly slid back into what seemed to have become its resting place. Then one day something impelled her to take it out, clean it up and begin the daunting task of finding the other half.

The rest is history. True that there were the needed string of rejections but those just made her more obstinate till the day someone miles away responded positively; the other half had been unearthed. Dear Popples had emerged from its dark abode into the light and the dream had come true.

I have never met Abhigyan Jha, my publisher, in person but somehow I feel I have known him for a stretch of time that transcends all spatial-temporal laws and defies logic and what I feel is not just gratitude but again something that cannot be expressed in words. I know he understands

Soon dear Popples will be for all to read and I must confess I am terrified.

borrow a person

I was recently sent a link by a friend about a new library fad: borrow not a book but a person and an interesting link to a comment on this new fad!

A lot of food for thought.

I sent this link to many friends and one of them said the following: we will soon begin to barter ideas and expertise on a peer to peer / person to person basis as that would be the only validation for being human and worthwhile.

you will not need a gardener to do the garden or mow the lawn – you will need him for his insight and creativity – the manual labor ill shift to robots and automatons.

which is all the more reason to educate our children about the conceptual reality if life. that we are nothing if we don’t create products of the mind. it can be values. it can be ideas, processes, products, advice, conscience, friendship, talk, coaching, teaching, storytelling, experience sharing – whatever but it has to come from the mind.

he goes on to add: we are human because we use our mind. period. the sooner we stop talking about the dignity of labor and start making it clear to everyone that there is no option to using our mind to create value which others might want to partake of – the better for everyone. otherwise we are going to see the kind of income inequality that we have never seen before.

Even in the parts of India where there is no food on the table – there is a mobile phone. and it’s almost free to use. Lifetime Free. and what do people do on the mobile phone – they talk. and why would the poorest need a mobile phone. because even for them talking, sharing, communicating is more important than just eating. the hunger of the mind is a bigger necessity than the hunger of the stomach.

His approach seem a little bewildering at first but of you stop a and think, what he says is true and what is alarming is that for once the two Indias’s hearts seem to be beating in unison. They are both spinning unconsciously towards a dystopic view of the world where the power of the mind is losing its importance.

When I was a young girl growing up in the mad sixties I saw Fahrenheit 451, a mind blowing movie by Francois Truffaut: a story about a society where books are banned and have to be burnt! A bunch of old men decide to memorise them so that they are not lost forever. The film end on a bitter sweet optimistic note: the said society is destroyed and a new one is about to be created: their first task is to build mirror factories, a literary allusion, to show people who they are, what they have become, and how they can change with time and knowledge.

Borrowing a person in a library seems akin to the Bradbury’s soft science fiction novella. And are we today slowly but surely moving towards the self destruction of our dystopic society.

On a more optimistic note I would love to borrow the idea and create a library where one could borrow people who still have in the recesses of their memories stories about the past, the traditions, the mores , the of forgotten and never documented anecdotes that threaten to be lost forever. A few years back DV Sridharan the creator of GoodnewsIndia began a series titled memory speaks. I remember having written a few pieces that had been told to me by my mother when I was still a child. Some were amusing others thought provoking and all in need to be preserved before memory failed. The series sadly stopped. Today’s new fad brought it back to me. I guess I too was a person that was once borrowed!

And motherhood dragging a doll by the foot

If we Indians could take off our minds, eyes and ears from silly slaps by overpaid cricketing heroes and ensuing debates about the quantum of retribution; or stop debating about the appropriateness of the dresses imported and highly paid cheer leaders should or or should not wear – wonder who would pay for the new ones – ; or the inconvenience created by a new transport system, we would be compelled to see the horror that has been and is enfolding around us in the past few days.

Two baby girls are found abandoned in our own city, one barely a few hours old. A 12 year old is raped by a cop, a 5 year old by a so called uncle, a 36 months old by a relative and his friends, a 7 year old by another neighbour. 5 rapes of children and no one bats an eye lid.

Yesterday the prime Minister of India addressed a meeting on “save the girl child”. Time someone did: the latest figures are alarming, the sex ratio is declining: 927 to 1000 is the all India figure, 782 to 1000 is South Delhi’s figure. According to Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, there 100 million missing girls!

The PM made one valid comment: But it is not government alone that can address this problem. Though Government must be active in mobilizing public opinion in this regard. We need active civil society involvement in the national campaign to save the girl child.

This should make us stop and think. The startling figures of South Delhi are ample proof of the fact that we cannot any more brush the problem under the carpet and say that this only affects rural areas or the ‘poor’ as we like calling a large part of our own land. Rest assured we many not be guilty of throwing our new born baby in a dump or leaving her on a doorstep. We have the resources to beat he law and kill her before she is born.

I have often written about the plight of he girl child based on what I have seen around me. I remember a letter written to a child that died in the womb of her mother, or the post written on one of the days when India worships little girls. One must not forget that we are the greatest worshipers of the female form and energy and yet we kill, rape and abuse little girls with impunity. Is it not time to look at ourselves in a mirror with honesty. We all pay lip service to the save the girl child appeals, even make it our cocktail banter of the day and yet we are the ones that surreptitiously ask the name of the local doctor willing to perform a sex determination test for our pregnant daughter in law, whatever the cost!

The poor have another recipe: they keep producing daughters till the male child arrives or the mother stops being able to bear children. I have known of families where there are 11 girls and one boy! I am not going to go into the plight of the girl child, I think we all are aware of it. This post is meant to try and address the problem that is now alarming.

What is it that makes us abandon baby girls? This trend is of course more prevalent with the poor. The question is simple: a girl means marriage that means money in vast quantities. Boys are an investment they can bring all the coveted things; girls a drain because you are the one to pay for the coveted things. All laws banning dowry have failed. The demands are getting larger by the day. Even in slums people talk of cars. One of our teachers who is not very pretty and a bit plum and now 26 remains unmarried as her family cannot afford the Honda Accord that was asked! In states like Bihar it is hard cash. Our rickshaw driver married his daughter to a much older man because the dowry was only 100 000 rupees plus the cost of the wedding where there were 500 guests! The girl is just 18. So the simplistic solution would be rather than give the girls child cash incentives for her marriage as many of the proposed government schemes do, give cash incentives to those who spend little and give no dowry!

But things run much deeper: we are dealing with customs and mores and age long religious diktats and decrees that no politician would want to touch. And let us not forget the law applies to all so who wants to be deprived the right of a lavish wedding for his or her own child. Some of the latest trends are galling: helicopters for the bridegroom, international starts to perform and food imported from the world over and then thrown away as the display itself gives visual indigestion. So I ask are we really serious about saving the girl child.

As for child rape it is something beyond my comprehension in spite of the fact that child abuse is rampant even in he best of homes. Does it come from our so called prudish attitudes a legacy as was aptly said by someone of Victorian England as are we not the land of the Kama Sutra. And the only thing that could protect children – though maybe not 2 years old – would be a healthy sex education programme, but that is rabidly opposed by our politicians! Child abuse, far too often perpetrated within homes is protected by the code of silence and honour, something that has to stop.

Maybe it is time we looked at ourselves with honesty and bluntness and answered some disturbing questions even if it makes each one of us look pathetic and ask ourselves what we can do to save the girl child that leaves every moment of her life amidst unknown yet terrifying fears.

I will end this post with the words of Alan Beck:

“A girl is innocence playing in mud,
Beauty standing on its head,
And motherhood dragging a doll by the foot.”

what have they done to the earth

The world celebrated earth day this week. Wonder why as nothing seems to shake us from the state of catatonic stupor that makes us oblivious to the reality that surrounds us in spite of all media reports, activists’ pleas and terrifying figures thrown at us each day.

In recent days everyone has been harping about escalating food prices and a lot of government bashing has been going on. No one seems to realise that things are going to get worse and that the main culprit in this real life whodunit is each one of us.

A recent news report stated the following

Steady fall in food supply across the world due to stagnation in farm output.Climate change threatens to worsen food insecurity in the world’s poorest regions.
Rising temperatures will affect crop yields in 40 developing countries.
Global warming will increase food prices by 40 per cent.

But we still remain unconcerned and unaware. What is alarming is the quantum of food wasted in our country not only by the rich, but by the poor itself. In villages leftover food is fed to the cattle but in urban slums it is simply thrown on the streets! One of the hallmarks of success or status symbol seem to have become food wastage. Every garbage pile in the poorest of slums is always replete with left over food fit for consumption. People tend to pile up their plates and unabashedly throw what they cannot finish.

When we chided one of the children at the foster care about not finishing his plate, pat came the answer: I never finish it at home! What no one seems to understand is that food shortage is going to hit us sooner than we think. And it is not the government but we ourselves who are to blame. Our total neglect of the environment and hidden economic agendas are the real baddies here.

car. Feeble attempts at promoting common transport seem to go unheeded as it is Land once uses for food is now used for land depleting but pocket filling cash crops. The escalating number of farmer’s suicide in India seems to leave us cold as we are busy increasing our carbon footsteps with misplaced alacrity. Families have not one, not two but cars in double digits. Motorbikes have replaced cycles and will soon be replaced by the much heralded nano believed that almost 1500 cars are added each day on the already choking roads of Delhi!

Trees are felled to make place for these cars, open spaces converted to make way for concrete jungles. The show just goes on. Huge malls that are avid gobblers of energy are replacing smaller shops. India is in the move and the yet inaudible cried of the earth are quietened by the roars of the progress.

Every decision we make affects climate change and this moving documentary urges us to make the right choice.

As I see things around me, I a reminded of the words of Jim Morisson writen in the sixties but that seems so true in our times:

What have they done to the earth?

What have they done to our fair sister?

Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her

Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn

And tied her with fences and dragged her down

When the Music is – Over The Doors

kids under a hot tin roof

Temperatures have almost touched 40 C this week. The heat is on. In many of our centres children sit in makeshift classes.

Okhla is one such centre. Normally the children sit in the outer place under a tent. But yesterday a bunch of drunks soiled the entire space and in spite of heavy cleaning a lots of phenol poured the smell was unbearable and the kids had to shift to the inside room under a hot tin roof. The fan blew hot air and the place was blistering. But this did not deter the kids for coming for class and studying.

I am always amazed at thirst for knowledge that the pwhy kids have. Nothing compels them to come to us and they already spent many hours in school. But come the appointed time and sometimes even before, they are at the door step, bag in hand rearing to go. Seems like they know that this is the only way they can accede to some education.

It is sad but nevertheless a reality that the present state run education is a total failure. The state of municipal and government schools is deplorable. In Delhi capital city many have no desks, no chairs, no fans, no teachers, no drinking water, no proper toilets! Wonder what they have?

Every Indian child has a right to free education till the age of 14 and yet again the government has failed them. Some like our Okhla kids know that the hot tin roof is at present their only option!

the tiger, the elephant and the giraffe

There is a mural being painted on the walls of project why. It is truly one of a kind as it is a collaboration between two worlds in more ways than one.

Joe is from Arizona. He is a well established artist with a huge heart and a bigger smile. He has his own website and his string of clients. Rinky is a young 18 year old hearing impaired girl from a Delhi slum, an artist at heart but also a true survivor and one whose thirst for knowledge is unquenchable. A trained beautician and hairdresser who can give you a mean haircut in the most unlikely location. Just a few days back she got a brand new hearing aid and is now in a frenzy to make up for lost time and join the big new world of those who can hear and speak!

When Joe came to project why it did not take time for the two artists to connect in a warm bond that did not need words. Joe somehow became the mentor Rinky was looking for.

The stairwell of project why has been looking forlorn fro some time in spite of our best attempts and we decided that we needed a mural there. The two artists have set to task however there is one proviso: mural work only on Tuesdays which are Rinky ‘s off days from her beauty parlour where she works in the afternoon.

The theme has been decided: animals walking up the stairs and I must say the artists have done a lot of work in just a day. Now the tiger, the elephant and the giraffe are patiently waiting for next Tuesday to dawn.

There is a whole new world waiting

Whenever I have had the slightest doubt about the judiciousness of having begun the foster care programme though as many know it was a case of force majeure something has occurred to validate that decision and blow way the once held doubts.

A simple meal was enough to prove that the children were happy and Manu’s joy is visible in more ways then one. But there is still a long way to go.

Many still feel that taking young children away from their homes to give them a better chance in life is not quite the right thing to do. This kind of reaction does often come from those who do not know the situation that prevails in India. The most startling and heinous example of thsi is the present baby swapping case where none of the set of parents wants the baby girl! A DNA test has been ordered by the Court but even though it will determine who the biological parent of the girl is, she will never be truly wanted and one wonders what her life will be like.

Aditya, Vicky, Babli and Nikhil did not have a great future in heir homes even if they did have parents who loved them as best they could. Next year of all goes well they will be in boarding school. Another decision that many think is not the best. But a recent incident did rest some of my doubts.

Last Sunday Xavier went to visit Utpal. The children were busy playing and quite thrilled to see Xavier as they all ran up to him and smothered him with hugs and words. All eyes were of course on the fancy biscuit packet he held and once it was handed over to Uptal they all surrounded him each professing to be his best pal or even his brother. Soon Xavier was forgotten and the little band busy planning the next move.

Utpal the survivor decreed that the box would be opened by Dolly Ma’am. The kids spent some time talking to Xavier but one could feel that they were raring to dash off to look for Dolly Ma’am.

Utpal is the same kid who once lived a lonely and abysmal life. He is the same child who was packed to an unknown place at the tender age of four and who cried his heart out each time we went to see him and had to leave. And today he barely has time for us so busy is he with his pals, his ma’ams and his school.

I know our little pioneers of the foster care will be just like him. So never mind the occasional doubts, there is a whole new world waiting!

Think about it

As we were travelling last week across Delhi to show our the planet why land to some friends our vehicle often stopped courtesy the mind boggling traffic jam that Delhi is experiencing these days with the construction frenzy that seems to have taken over our city.

At many of these stops the children of constructions workers waived at us with broad smiles and innocent faces. These kids live in the tiny tents pitched around the sites. They are often brought from far away states by exploitative contractors who find these new migrants easier to manipulate than the local ones. They live under abysmal conditions and barely get enough to eat. Their children never go to school. The average of children in these families is 4 and soon they join the ranks of child labour so rampant in our shining capital city.

Each of these kids will be left without education and will follow the pattern of their parents: early marriage and multiple children who will in turn remain illiterate and so on. It is not difficult to imagine the multiplier effect on the population of India.

According to the HRD Ministry’s own figures, almost 90 per cent of India’s children drop out of school and never even make it to higher education. In the light of this the situation starts looking apocalyptic and India will remain the country with the largest numbers of illiterate in the world.

All education policies have failed and the state of government run schools is deplorable. While political honchos are busy redefining creamy layers of so called backward communities, children are simply dropping out. One of the so called solutions often proffered is to privatise education. This is absurd in a land where the Constitution guarantees free education and compulsory education to all children between the age of 6 and 14. (86th amendment).

The plight of India’s children is lamentable. Here are some facts from the 7th All India Education Survey, 2002

  • Less than half of India’s children between the age 6 and 14 go to school.
  • A little over one-third of all children who enroll in grade one reach grade eight.
  • At least 35 million children aged 6 – 14 years do not attend school.
  1. 53% of girls in the age group of 5 to 9 years are illiterate.
  • In India, only 53% of habitation has a primary school.
  • In India, only 20% of habitation has a secondary school.
  • On an average an upper primary school is 3 km away in 22% of areas under habitations.
  • In nearly 60% of schools, there are less than two teachers to teach Classes I to V.
  • On an average, there are less than three teachers per primary school. They have to manage classes from I to V every day.
  • High cost of private education and need to work to support their families and little interest in studies are the reasons given by 3 in every four drop-outs as the reason they leave.
  • Dropout rates increase alarmingly in class III to V, its 50% for boys, 58% for girls.
  • 1 in 40, primary school in India is conducted in open spaces or tents.
  • More than 50 per cent of girls fail to enroll in school; those that do are likely to drop out by the age of 12. 50% of Indian children aged 6-18 do not go to school.

Think about it.

to the manor born

I had written a post a long time back when I had been touched by a simple unexpected gesture coming from a little boy. One does not expect such acts by children belonging to what is called poor homes! And yet one does need to be born in a manor to have impeccable manners.

Yesterday morning Xavier and I went to the foster care to share a cup of tea with the children. AS we arrived they has just finished breakfast and we pulled up two chairs and set with them. Soon the tea arrived. Manu who sat as usual at tho head of the table was a tad fidgety and one could not fathom why as he has been all smiles since he has moved into his own place!

Before I go on I must explain to you the lay out of the veranda of the foster care. In the center there is a dining table and in one corner are two easy chairs with a coffee table.

After a while Manu got up and walked to the easy chairs. He cleaned the table with his hand and then gestured to xavier to come and sit in one of them. As I was busy talking he loudly called out Ma’am yahan a (ma’am come here) pointing to the other chair. I did as told and carried my cup of tea with me. He then pulled up a dining chair and sat with us a huge smile on his face.

Manu has spent most of his 36 years roaming the streets. He was what one may call a beggar. His own family was rather uncouth and coarse and most of the people who crossed his path were the same. Yet the day he gets a home, Manu the mentally and physically challenged soul behaves like a perfect host!

I wonder what it takes to be to the manor born!