It has been exactly 17 years since you left and there has not been a single day that you have not been on my mind. Our journey began almost 58 years ago when I clutched your finger as I saw the first light of day and breathed my first whiff of air. It is your hand I held as I took my fist step and you I looked up to each time I needed to be reassured or praised. And even though you are gone I still feel your presence. Somehow I never let got of that finger. You taught me everything but above all Papa, you taught me to look with my heart, something I held on to and never let go. And that made the rest easy and possible.
If not for your my life would have remained barren and empty. You gave me the strength to walk the high road no matter how difficult the journey, you taught me not to give up on dreams how impossible they seemed and the belief that the morning always dawned no matter how long the night.
Yesterday I received an award recognising the work I had done for the last ten years. This one is for you as you are the one that made me worthy enough to get it. Today thanks to what you taught a little girl many little lives have changed and many children smile and believe in tomorrow. And I see you in each and everyone of them.
Today again I look up to you to be reassured. The journey is still long and I need your strength to ensure that my steps do not falter and that I reach the end of the road.
The award ceremony is over. The lights have dimmed and the next morn dawned. There was no glitter or glamour. An informal press conference in a sunny garden, the actual award giving in congenial surroundings and a day long conclave on corruption. It was all in all a simple yet memorable event. And what made it so was not pomp and show or sheer numbers but the kind of people present. It is probably the first time I had the privilege to be with so many souls who saw with their hearts.
There was the special band of organisers that were undeterred by the fact that no sponsors had come forward and determined to make the event memorable and follow their dream and honour those who shared it: the remarkable young man who withstood months of detention and then celebrated his freedom by helping others regain theirs, the slum dweller who broke the circle of poverty and decided to help other children form slums do the same, there was a group of young men passionately fighting for the dreams of millions of marginalised children and a princess from a faraway land giving hope to little girls. And these are just a few. They came from all walks of life and all parts of India and other lands. They had come together to right every wrong in whatever way they could. The mind of people not deterred by obstacles big or small, not swayed by cynics or doomsayers. They believed that tomorrow existed and was just a night away. And that had all come together to proclaim this loud and clear.
It was wonderful to be in a space where only positive energies had right of way. The mood was upbeat and buoyant. True people shared their problems but the solution was a sentence away. And if one did not work, one knew there were many others that would be tried till the problem was overcome. What a gathering it was. One that spelt hope and promise.
For me it was a privilege to be there though I felt very small and humbled. Yet I came out of the experience a changed person. I realised how much more there was to do but for the first time nothing seemed daunting or impossible, I just knew I would reach the end my journey.
In a few hours I will be awarded the karamveer puruskar. This award is meant to recognise individuals who have been pivotal for leading change beyond their business as usual by being committed on individual levels to work on social issues.
You may be wondering why this post this morning. One should have written it tonight or maybe tomorrow, when the glitter of the event would have dimmed and only memories and snapshots remained as testimony of the day. And yet I felt the need to share a few thoughts before the event, the lights, the glitter. Tonight people will speak of the achievements and make them sound extra-ordinary.
As I scan the past ten years of my life, the ones that brought me to this day, I feel no sense of great achievement. I just did what I had to. There was no choice. Manu had to be given back his dignity, Utpal has to be saved from his terrible ordeal, Meher had to be given a second chance, Babli could not be allowed to waste her brand new heart and Manu, Champa, Anjali had to have a home. And today little Sohil needs surgery or else he may lose the only chance he has in life.
As I said there was no choice, no option. One could not look away and walk on. One had to stop and do something. That was all I did: stopped! Nothing extra-ordinary in that. Today I pray that I have the strength and courage to continue doing so, each time a deafening why is heard.
The field was barren, rocky, uneven, patchy and strewn with empty plastic cups and bags. The players: a bunch of slum kids, an eager young German football fan and a business school student from France. The day was sunny and spirits soared high.
Welcome to the project why secondary kids first football match of the season: an initiative of young Lukas, a volunteer from Koln who is with us for a couple of months. And there are more to come.
Unfortunately I was not there but the pictures and the excitement of young Lukas as he recounted the event were sufficient to know that it had been a great game. I was thrilled to learn that the children played extremely well and that some were good enough to be in a team. And yet I knew that these kids would never make it, not because they lacked talent or motivation, but simply because once again we as adults had failed them. The state of the field – actually the sports ground of the two local secondary schools – said it all. Barren, rocky, dirty. Such is the state of sports in state run schools in spite of hefty budgets. And slowly with time the enthusiasm and talent dwindle and vanish and with them the dreams of simple children.
And yet all is takes to reignite them is a young boy from another land who dreams football and comes from miles away to share his dream with children from a Delhi slum.
Our Okhla centre has a brand new computer class! Well it is what only pwhy would call a class. It consists of one old laptop and a very motivated young teacher, a rickety table and a bunch of starry eyed kids.
Some time back, Dipankar the secondary teacher at Okhla hesitantly asked whether we could start a computer class. He told us that there was not a single computer learning facility in the vicinity and that the children were very keen on learning computers. What children ask, children get is that not the pwhy motto! But how would we conjure this one. Our main computer centre did not have a single computer to spare and the newly set up one at the women centre barely had enough resources to meet their requirements. But there is a god that listens to children and a little miracle came our way: someone donated us an old laptop. That was enough for us to launch our OkhlaCyberwhy!
So in the midst of a garbage dump, inside a rickety structure, on a shaky table sits a prize possession – a laptop – and around it sit a bevy of eager kids rearing to learn what they know might hold a key to a better future. It is a sight to see and savour and yet it also makes us wonder at how little is needed to transform lives and how little is actually done. These children who come from the poorest families also have dreams and aspirations and it is for us adults to fulfill them. But do we? That is the question.
The children of the special section went for a picnic yesterday. For a whole week everyone had been busy planning the event. Lists were made, plans discussed. Everyone agreed on the menu: samosas of course and frootis to drink. Shamika and Cat our volunteer from the UK decided to bake a batch of brownies and some banana cake. Then it was time to decide about what else to take: mats of course but also hoola hoops, Frisbees, balls and the badminton set. Everything was retrieved and dusted and made ready. Notes were sent to the parents and everyone was ready to go. The excitement was palpable.
The picnic morning finally dawned and everyone was there on time, even the ones who usually come late and everyone was dressed in their best clothes. The star of the show was undoubtedly little Radha whose brittle bones and distorted legs were forgotten for the day as she turned up in a flouncyskirt trimmed with fake fur! Wonder where she ever got it from. Two big cars had been hired for the day and it was time to go. The chosen spot: the Lodi Garden.
For the next few hours these wonderful children of a lesser god forgot all their woes: their dark and stifling homes, the abuse and slander, the sadness and hurt. For the next few hours they were just like other children running on the grass, basking in the sun, playing games and laughing as they never had. Never mind if some could not walk, hear or talk. For those few hours they reclaimed their usurped right: that of being children. It was touching and heartwarming to watch them: a truly blessed moment. I wonder if the god of lesser being was also smiling.
Looking at this picture warms the cockles of my heart. To the uninitiated it may look just like two little girls learning together. It is not quite that. Allow me to unravel the mystery of this special snapshot.
Kiran the little girl on the right of the picture is very special to project why. She was born the day we began our activities. Mature beyond her years she chose to make the special section her haven and spent her early years there. She now goes to an upmarket school though she still spends all her free time with her old pals of the special section. Pooja the little girl on the left has been a student of the specials ection for many years. She comes from a very poor family and is hearing impaired. Kiran and Pooja have been best friends and Kiran even learnt sign language to be able to communicate with her special pal. When she has time, Kiran often helps Pooja with her class work. Like all little girls their age they share many secrets and laugh and giggle together. It does not really matter if one of them is locked in silent world, the other broke the barrier long ago.
Kiran and Pooja are the perfect example of inclusive education. They prove beyond doubts that children from different worlds and with different abilities can learn and grow together if given a chance. It is we adults that never really give them that chance.
Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.Louis D. Brandeis
To many this picture is just a piece of barren land. And yet it hold many dreams in its custody. The dream of ensuring that a bunch of forsaken souls can live and die with dignity, the dream of safeguarding the work started a decade ago, the dream of securing the morrows of many children born without any. This land is hallowed ground as it this where planet why will one day see the light of day.
It has been eighteen months since this piece of land has being lying barren, braving heat and cold, and hoping for the first brick to be laid. It has been eighteen months since I have been trying to share this dream with one and all. Eighteen month since I have been attempting to make people believe that every child has the right to a great future and that every child is worth fighting for and investing in. Eighteen month since I have been hoping that Manu and his pals will be safe forever. It has been eighteen months since I have received a string of letters stating: your idea is a worthy one but unfortunately does not fit in our programmes, we wish you luck or the present economic situation makes it impossible for us to… It has been eighteen months since I have quietly filed these without showing my disappointment to any one, hoping against hope that the extra strand of white hair or the barely perceptible stoop is not seen by anyone.
Yes the past eighteen months have been hard. The dream I refuse to give up on seemed to be slipping away and yet I knew I could not give up on it though I found myself surreptitiously making impossible plan Bs and Cs. Everyone seemed to have something to say against my dream: too expensive, too large, in a word: impossible! And yet all I asked was the price of flowers or a bucket! Yet I held on to my impossible dream praying for a miracle.
And it came today. Not as a cheque with the required zeroes or a promising letter but in a mail from a young girl that simply said: I have some good news, I have been talking to several teachers at school, the head of charities and the sustainability group teacher. I know that Planet Why is going to be environmentally friendly so I approached Miss Browne (head of sustainability at my school) to see if we could do some fundraising for Planet Why as part of a sustainability group project (which I am part of.) She thought it would an excellent idea and has seen the information about planet why from the website. Hopefully this will help towards the building of planet why which i am determined to help happen!
I was no more alone. There was someone else who believed in my dream and was determined to make it happen and somehow I knew it would one day.
I was recently asked what may seem an innocuous question: what makes you joyous and what makes you blue. The answers should have been simple and yet the question turned out to be an existential one. And the reason it became so was that the enquirer was not one to be satisfied with a superfluous answer.
My mind went back to the famous song from the musical Sound of Music as I set out to seek what would be my brown paper packages tied up with strings. No favourite song or treat came to mind. No place I would like to travel to again. No particular person I would like to meet with again. I felt strangely at peace and content. What brings me joy today would be looking at the video above and seeing young Bittoo hug little Radha. Again an innocuous image and yet such a blessed one. You see Bittoo is locked in a silent world and Radha battles to survive in spite of her brittle bones. They should and would have never met but for pwhy. Today they are classmates and live from one day to another, stealing whatever happy moments they can lay their hands on, unaware of what tomorrow holds. As I look for more happy images, I find myself flooded with similar ones: a child proudly holding his report card, Manu sitting at a table, Sohil dancing… Simple images that fill me with joy and peace. and yet, as I look on, the same images fill me with fear and sorrow. Will I be able to ensure a morrow for all these little souls?
Just a few miles away from where I sit to write this post lies the village of Badarpur Khader. I would have never known it existed were it not for a small article tucked away in the inside pages of my morning paper. The article simply stated that this village which is in North East Delhi does not have any civic amenities: no electricity, no water, no dispensary, no school. Over 200o people live there. None of its children, particularly the girls have ever been to school. And this after 62 years of independence!
I decided to browse the net and find out more about this village. Over the years the people of Badarpur Khader had found ways to cope with the situation: all housework is completed before nightfall, mobiles are charged through adaptors connected to tractor batteries, and all weddings take place in daylight! There is more. Last year, the village decided to stand up and take action by setting up their own school.
Of course politicians do visit the village during elections, make empty promises and then vanish in the dark. Authorities give implausible reasons for the state of affairs and retreat into their comfortable shells. Life goes on in this forsaken village…
What is shocking and disturbing is the fact that this little village is within the very city that is busy preparing itself for a sports extravaganza and spending astronomical amounts of money, and yet it does not have the tiny amount needed to build a school promised to this village years ago. A PIL has been filed in court highlighting these issues. One wonders how long it will take to wake people out of their slumber!
There are many aberrations around us and this is just one more. The tale of two Indias is a never ending story. In the same city some children ride to school in smart AC buses while others need to walk 8 kilometers in inclement weather. Something is wrong somewhere and I wonder what it will take for us to wake up and begin setting things right!