a moment of fleeting glory

I had to share this picture. It is my fleeting moment of glory as Dear Popples still sits proudly amongst giants valiantly battling for an elusive yet coveted prize. I do not know whether Dear P will be a David but the fact that it got here is already praiseworthy. Pardon my audacity as I sing my own praise and allow me just for this short instant to blow my own bugle.

Dear P was written because I wanted to share the story of how a little boy could tranform so many lives. It was written because I wanted all to know that miracles happen and they happen without much ado. All you need is to look with your heart. Dear P was written to tell all who would hear that no life is too hopeless to be saved, and that it is within each one of us to reach out and help another.

I do hope this fleeting moment of glory results in many of you picking up Dear P and reading it and you will discover the magic of life in its purest form.

I would like to share with you the preface of the book:

There is a time in life when you feel a strange emptiness, as if all that you had done or experienced till then has come to a close. It may happen in an instant, often after a tragic event, or it may seep in slowly, in bits and pieces, each leaving you a little disoriented, a tad empty till you are faced with a huge vacuum that threatens to devour you.

When you come to realise that you have travelled as much as you possibly could, felt every emotion from pure rapture to abject misery, done more than one would have expected, lost many battles and won a few and lived your life to its fullest, setting impossible goals that you have met with a measure of success, played the diverse roles scripted for you with a fair amount of kudos and your share of catcalls, it is time to stop and set out on a new journey.

A yet unformulated and hence unanswered question springs in your mind: what is the true meaning of life and how best does one live it? It is time to seek life’s bare bones and to extract its essence. And what comes about is steeped in simple truths that transcend the barriers of space and time.

In my effort to share these, I struggled with many options but each fell short in some manner or the other till I stumbled upon the idea of addressing them to a little child who acted as a catalyst in my life.

We often shy from revealing our bare self when our interlocutor is someone who has the skills and ability to react and hence sit in judgment. At those times truth gets clouded; we find it necessary to add ‘meat’ so as to make ourselves more likeable, more erudite and in doing so the raw nature of what we need to say gets lost forever and what remains is a sated life philosophy, propounded by one too many.

When you take the decision to travel inwards, to lands yet unknown and unexplored, you are surprised to stumble on a world replete with simple elemental realities and, when you craft them together you are faced with a wondrous wisdom, the wisdom of twilight years when you are through with explaining, emulating, fighting, bending backwards, proving the exact opposite of what truly is. That is when you are ready to fall in love for the last time: with life itself.

Dear Popples, is the sum and substance of my life, the quest for twilight wisdom: a simple love story.

dreams in the making

Remember Nandini? The young girl with a hole in our heart, a hole that could not be fixed because she was too old. The one who wants to be a doctor? The brave little girl was in town for a check up and dropped by project why to see us. She is now in class VIII and doing well in spite of her heart condition.

Nandini is your matter of fact girl, one who can talk about her medical condition without fear or emotion. She told us that her blood pressure was low and that she was given some new medication that she had to take for a year till she came back for her next check up. She barely talked about her health as if it was of no consequence. She showed me all her school reports and once again I was impressed by her performance and by the quality of education imparted in a small town in much maligned Bihar. She had also brought her bills and receipts as we had promised to help her complete her schooling. I was again impressed her efficiency.

Nandini is the kind of child you want to help. Her quiet determination and will to succeed is touching. It is almost as if she felt that time is too short for useless banter and niceties. There is a task at hand: that of making adream come true, the dream of a child with a hole in her heart who wants to be doctor!

a suprise nomination

Dear Popples has been nominated for the Golden Quill awards were the words that greeted me yesterday morning when I woke up and found an SMS from my editor. I must be dreaming was my first reaction. But it was no dream. or was it just that: a dream come true, one that I needed to take time to savour. I must confess that I spent the day on cloud nine.

Dear Popples was written at a time when I was facing a dilemma and somewhat hurting. I needed to once again believe in all that was good and beautiful. And what better way to do it than to share the story of a little boy whose laugh made a half centenarian smile again, a little boy who whips up miracles in a trice and makes even ugly things look attractive. A real life story that makes you believe that life is worth living no matter how bad it may seem.

When Dear Popples was published I was frightened and shaky, but soon reactions and reviews started pouring in and I was touched and humbled. The book had touched others just as Popples had touched me. I had written it as an ode to hope and it had touched a chord in many. I was fulfilled. To see it today standing proudly among other books written by known authors is a matter of joy and pride. It proves that no matter how cynical our world looks, it still has place for simple stories that extol old fashion values.

For me it is little Popples and his friend Godji brewing yet another miracle.

Irene Andy and Mike

In Valencia a little town in Spain live three wonderful people: Andy, Irene and Mike. Andy and Irene are old friends. They came some time back and spent a few days at pwhy and helped us build a brand new floor for our Okhla project! I guess they got touched by what I call the magic of project why as form that day onwards they have always been there for us. Running a race or sending regular mails filled with words of support and hope, Irene and Andy have taken us to heir hearts. A few days back Irene wrote tehse simple words: I’ve just read your post on the web site – surviving on promises. Every time I visit the PWhy site, I wish I was rich and could help you more, but I’m not so I just continue to do what I can.

And they did just that: convinced their good friend Mike who runs the sale where Irene and Andy run the book stall to support project why! This morning when I opened my inbox there was a warm mail that simply said: We had a wonderful time spreading the Project Why message this morning. One of our neighbours has promised to circulate details to everybody in her email address book, and another has donated four boxes of books, CDs etc for our August stall, so as you can see, PWhy is reaching out into the Valencian community.

Whenever I am down and out and wonder how pwhy will survive, there always comes what I call a message from God. Irene’s mail was just that: a blessed missive reminding me that I cannot give up as pwhy is not just another organisation, it is one that has been woven with threads of love and hope by people who feel for it and want it to live. True the road may sometimes look difficult but it is the one less travelled, the one I have and will always walk as it is filled with exciting surprises and wonderful people like Irene, Andy and Mike.

God bless them all.

growing new wings

Rinky is one of our oldest students. This beautiful and extremely talented hearing impaired girl is one of a kind. She is a fully trained beautician and works part time in a local beauty parlour. While with us she also took sewing classes and tailoring classes.

For some time now she has been asking us to give her a sewing machine so that she can supplement her earnings by stitching clothes for others. Last week a dear friend presented her with a brand new machine and Rinky was on cloud nine. Her dream had come true!

In our land, sadly, hearing impaired children are treated as handicapped and often cannot accede to any formal education or training. Yet if given a chance they surpass themselves and even others. We saw the same spark in Saheeda who sadly left us for a better world and little Pooja will also follow the same path. With just a little help and oodles of love these children of a lesser God amaze everyone. You just have to believe in them and help them grow new wings.

just a fruit salad

Elise and Catherine, two of our summer volunteers, decided to make a fruit salad with the junior secondary girls in lieu of the normal English afternoon class.

The first step was to go and purchase the fruits from the local market. The idea was to buy at least one of each kind and thus to learn all the fruit names. For many girls it was the first time they saw a kiwi, a peach or a bunch of grapes. Once the fruit bought it was time to come back to class and get started. Each step was a new lesson: in colour, texture, aroma, a real treat for all the five senses. Then out came the knives and a new set of vocabulary as they peeled, pared, cored, sliced and diced. Each moment was filled with fun and laughter the biggest one being handling the pineapple. As juiced flowed and pits were cast away the excitement grew by the minute.

Soon the salad bowl was full and it was time to taste but not before another lesson this one in geography as the origin of each fruit was reviewed and maps were gleaned. A simple fun activity like making a fruit salad had become a real interactive lesson that every one enjoyed and loved.

to be a woman

The shocking, repulsive, abhorrent incident that happened in Patna recently has left me speechless and numb. I do not know whether to be angry, sad or bewildered. A woman is lured away from her home with the promise of a job. When she discovers that she has been duped and is going to be abused she tries to run away. However she is caught, molested in public, stripped and humiliated for over an hour while hundreds watch and even join in the game. The so called law enforcers a.k.a the police watch as mute spectators, one of them even joining the predators.

I cannot even begin to imagine what the poor woman felt as she bore the humiliation and outrage. Only one of her tormentors has been arrested, the others still run scot-free. No one stepped in to stop the ignominy. Everyone standing there simply watched the show with glee. The entire incident was caught on camera. Wonder why the camera men did not reach out to help her.

Nothing, simply nothing can condone this outrage. Even if the woman was the worst offender possible she did not deserve this treatment. We are supposed to live in a society where laws prevail but for that hour it seemed that all was simply forgotten as predators took the stage and played to the gallery that stood as silent spectators. I wonder why no one wondered how they would feel if they woman in question was one of their own: a sister, a daughter or a wife!

I could go on writing pages about how I feel today or simply limit my words and ask: Is it worth being born a woman in a land where women can be worshiped as an image but never respected in real life?

I’m explaining a few things

…it has not been considered as eligible due mainly to the fact it can be assimilated to a guest house were the words chosen by an MNC to convey their inability to fund our sustainability project a.k.a planet why. We had approached this particular organisation because they promote green and sustainable energy and planet why is first and foremost a green building with negligible carbon emissions.

It is time to explain a few things.

Planet why is certainly a guest house, but it is a guest house with a difference. The much maligned guest house forms only a part planet why which is above all a safe haven for lost forgotten souls like Manu and for those who like little Radha have become a burden to their families. It is a place where they can live and die with dignity, cared for and tended to with love and compassion. The guest house has a dual role: one is to enable us to earn the funds we need to carry on our work and the second is to give to our children of a lesser God a platform where they can be useful by taking on the plethora of small tasks any guest house entails: gardening, kitchen work, housekeeping etc. For how would they live with dignity if they did not feel useful.

It is after much thinking and many false starts that we zeroed on the idea of setting up a guest house as means to sustain ALL our activities. I know it may sound preposterous to many as the word guest house reeks of business and commercial enterprise a far cry from charity and CSR! But I urge you to once again look at the planet why guest house with your heart. I hope and pray it is a huge commercial success when it does come to be! Because every penny earned by it will go in securing the morrows of thousands of children and ensure that project why does not die a natural death, one that would be intrinsically linked to that of its founder.

The much maligned guest house is pwhy’s road to freedom: freedom from the fragile and tedious mode of financing it has known till now: the famous virtual begging bowl! True that the figures look daunting: planet why will need the equivalent of what is needed to run project why for 7 years and that is certainly huge but once it is in existence then pwhy can arry on its present activities and much more without any outside help.

Planet why is a sound proposal, a healthy social enterprise that CSR programmes should look at. Maybe we need to package it in a different way to make it palatable. Maybe we should find a new name for the guest house? I do not know. All I know is that we need another miracle to come our way.

handle with care

Remember little Radha, the elf with brittle bone disease, the one who even appeared on national TV and who twirls like a dervish? The one we love so much and fear for? Well thanks to a kind supporter and friend Radha was examined yesterday by a top orthopedic surgeon and a paediatric surgeon in one of the swankiest hospital of our city.

In the early evening Radha set out with her teacher Shamika and Tiphanie an occupational therapist from France. The little child was frightened and awestruck as she entered the portals of what would have looked to her like a fairy land. She held on to her teacher and did not utter a word. Soon they were in the examining room and the doctors got to work. The child was petrified but did not move or fuss. The examination was soon over and the doctors gave their verdict: Radha would need rodding surgery, a complex series of operations that would straighten her curved bones and perhaps reduce the frequency of her fractures and maybe get her to walk. The decision proclaimed the doctors would be the mother’s. We knew it would have to be ours.

Rodding surgery in any osteogenis imperfecta case is not a cure but simply stabilizes the bones and may improve the quality of life of the patient. A perusal of any article on OI shows that what the child needs is to be handled with care. I wonder how that is possible when you live in a hole in a slum! What goes by the name of home is a hornet’s nest where even the most basic task is fraught with dangers. It is no wonder that Radha has in her short life had more than 50 fractures! Were she to undergo a series of complex surgeries there is no way she could live in this home. She would need safer moorings.

Do we or don’t we. We are faced with an existential question. In her present situation little Radha’s leads as normal a life as possible: she eats, sleeps, plays with her siblings, even looks after the younger ones. She comes to pwhy where she learns, dances, plays and even fights with her classmates. She is handled with as much care as possible. Sometimes a false movement or a forgotten object results in a snapped bone, a trip to the government hospital and the ensuing cast, but Radha is a pro at that by now. In the present situation her bones are deteriorating. In the past month she has lost the use of one of her arms as her bones are slowly bending. In the present situation she may lose the use of the other and then become unable to feed herself or even write. Would the operation solve that. Not quite as the doctors are only talking of her leg bones. How many surgeries would one need to rectify all her problems.

Rodding surgery is complex and lengthy. Her post op care would above all need a clean and hygienic environment where she can heal her bones as the risk of infection is huge. Surgery would mean long absence from all that is familiar to little Radha: her home, her family, her school, her friends. It would entail pain and loneliness for yet unknown results. But one thing is sure: she would never be cured.

Do we or don’t we. Even with surgery Radha will never have a normal life, the kind a girl from a family like hers can aspire for: a marriage and a family of her own. She may be able to get some education, and learn some skill but in a society like ours where does it get her. She would always need to be handled with care and thus need someone to do so.

Doctors give their opinions without assessing the whole situation. They simply see the ailment and the best medical treatment available. But we have to have the courage and grit to view the situation as a whole and see how best to act. At this moment I am unable to decide what to do. I hope the God of lesser beings will once again guide my steps.

Education for all cont…

During the course of the debate on education that brought Hillary Clinton and actor Amir Khan on a platform a young volunteer stated that she had been trying to teach five children under a tree, but that the kids’ parents would rather they begged or sold trinkets on trains. This was a touching and yet very real question.

Some time back I had asked my staff to ensure that all pwhy children of school going age should be enrolled in school. Parents had to be convinced and in case they did not agree, the child was not to be accepted in our programme. I was soon to learn that it was yet another silly diktat issued without truly assessing the reality of the situation. There is a bunch of girls well in their pre teens who attend our classes and yet do not go to school. The reason is that their mothers work in the morning and need these girls to man the home and tend to their younger siblings. In the afternoon the moms are back at home and the children can come an attend classes at pwhy and thus educate themselves. Needless to say I immediately reversed the diktat and told the teachers not only to accept them in class but to give them special attention. Some of these girls are exceptionally bright and it occurred to me that if they could not been mainstreamed they could perhaps do their schooling through the open school. Something we need to look at.

There are many instances when children are kept away from school not to be put to work and earn money but to enable mothers to work and this is a reality that all law makers and educationists should keep in mind. And if we were to go a step further, parents who send their children to beg or sell trinkets as was the case with the young volunteer, here too it is a matter of survival. The few rupees brought by the child go a long way in keeping the fires burning. In a country as large as ours and where millions live in poverty any law has to be sensitive to the situation on the ground. In pwhy classes we allow girls to bring their baby siblings to class as if we did not, the child would not be allowed to come. The situation is critical in urban slums where often both parents need to work and the only way they can do so is if the elder child is left at home to tend to the smaller ones. And in our society it is the girl child who is sacrificed.