of the terrorist, by the terrorist, for the terrorist

For the past few months many annoying things have occurred. First after years of placid relationship our bankers have suddenly jumped into mistrust mode. I now regularly get calls or mails asking inane questions, this in spite of due diligence having been undertaken more than once: do you have affiliations with any political parties, are any of your trustees politicians, are you purely a social service organisation etc. Come on, we have been in the business for a decade, have been vetted by the Home Ministry, the Police department, the Income Tax authorities and have all required certifications. So are we not legit! It does not end there. For the past months many donations from long term donors have been sent back as the word DONATION was not mentioned in the transfer document. Our word was of course not good enough. Explaining this to our donors is not always easy. In one case one poor donor from Italy had written DONAZIONE but even that was not accepted! The word is DONATION screamed the banker!

But that is not all, last week our on line payment facility was also stopped. This is indeed a killer as this facility enabled us to receive the small donations that form the backbone of project why. I wonder how we will overcome this one. I shudder at the paper work that will be asked for. Our volunteers too have also born the brunt of this new age order. Poor souls cannot access their on line banking facility from India, as it is considered a high risk country an are left high and dry.

Yes there is an insidious new world over that was surreptitiously hijacked the world and entered every nook and corner of our daily existence. Police checks at every corner, always at peak traffic time creating terrible snarls, need of ID proofs to purchase a SIM card or much else, security checks that will soon get very invasive once electronic body scans replace the already humiliating manual one, need to carry your personal belongings in a clear plastic bag for all to see etc. Last month a friend was refused a drink in a pub in London. The reason was that he had grown a beard and ‘looked’ like a terrorist though he is of sound European lineage.

The whole world is at war against ‘terrorism’ and yet the end is nowhere in sight. This leads us to try and define what is ‘terrorism’ or who is the ‘terrorist’ we need to watch for. And the answer is very nebulous. If you have time read this essay. I am not one to favour or support any form of terrorism, whatever the hue, but when you read the essay you wonder what makes young children, barely grown girls and boys, women, simple souls take up guns and follow a destructive path with utmost belief and faith. What dreams of theirs have we as society crushed, what invisible hurt have we inflicted upon them, how have they become prey to hidden and often incomprehensible agendas? I know these are uncomfortable questions that we would like to avoid but that need to be answered if we want a semblance of order to be restored in this world.

every 8.7804 minute

An invitation card for a upmarket promotional do, landed on my desk yesterday. I do not know why such cards come my way! And as always it made me wince. The card looked like a cigar box and was made of outrageously expensive paper. Open the box and in lieu of cigars, you find a card nestled at the bottom soliciting your presence to yet another extravaganza with not only imported food and wine, but imported entertainment.

L, a volunteer, was sitting there and after looking at the card simply said: wonder how many children could be fed with the price of this one card. Strange that she should have mentioned this, as the previous day a TV channel had aired a report about malnutrition in India. The figures was startling, shocking and made one hand one’s head hang in shame: in Madhya Pradesh alone 83 children die of malnutrition every day, and that is just one state of India. And this while surplus grain worth millions rots in what is known as the granary of India.

The amount of extravagantly priced cards that come my way is staggering. I have figured out why I, the proverbial recluse, am on their mailing lists: courtesy the husband’s upmarket club affiliations! PR agencies get hold of club directories and voila! Cards are printed by the zillions and couriered (no post please) and you find yourself invited to dos galore, opening of bedroom and bathroom furniture showrooms, jewellery exhibitions and more of the same. The cards often land unopened in the trashcan! I was tickled pink by a recent ad of a mobile phone company that urged everyone to save trees and use SMSses to communicate everything! Come to think of it it could be cheaper and one had the luxury of the DND (do not disturb) option. With the courier man you are subjected to the door bell ring at all hours of the day, and they have an uncanny habit of coming when you are taking forty winks or have just stepped into your bath. Blessed were the days of the postman: he only rang the bell twice a day!

But bantering apart, time has come for all of us to stop wearing blinkers and start looking at the harsh reality that surrounds us, and not just look but ask ourselves some disturbing questions. The first one is whether we can carry on the way we do without batting an eyelid as if all was well? If the answer is yes then sorry I disturbed you; if the answer is a no even a hesitant one, then comes the next question: how responsible we are and what can we do? My answer was pwhy. A tiny drop in the ocean but nevertheless a beginning.

There are many things around us that should upset if not abhor us. The little child who knocks at your car window every day without fail and who should actually be in school as says the Constitution. The obscene amount of food thrown on the street after religious feeding sprees or outrageous marriages, the mounds of plastic choking every part of the city, the unnecessary breaking and remaking of perfectly sound pavement and roads that remind us of children playing construction games but they do not waste tax payer’s money. And this is just what we see. Open the newspaper or turn on the box and the nightmare continues. Kangaroo courts that decide whether you should live or die, children sold and abused. Many of us express our shock or concern from the comfort of an armchair and then simply procrastinate. Many of us rant and rave a bit while getting ready for the next do one is invited to and then simply forget till the next aberration. Some simply feel it is not our problem as there if a government that is meant to solve all that is not right smug in the comfort that we did our civic duty by casting our vote.

It is time we took a step further and made our voices heard, not just for the page 3 cases needing justice, when we are quick to light candles and stand vigil, but for every single child dying of hunger every 8.7804 minute, one who has no voice and above all no vote.

Prince will never study at Princeton

Prince will never study at Princeton – excuse the pun! But Prince is actually a very real human being and one that does us proud. He came to us many years ago as a primary student. A seemingly shy and withdrawn boy, Prince was nevertheless always first in class and a very serious student. He passed all his Board exams and recently joined a B Com course. His dream: to be a teacher and that is why he came hesitantly last week asking us whether he could join pwhy! Undoubtedly we said! And today he is one of the team: a secondary teacher at the Okhla centre. Another dream come true.

You must be wondering why I mentioned Princeton at all. A new venture or should I say adventure is being crafted by our new Minister of Education. If all goes is way, then very soon foreign universities will soon set shop in India and the moot question is whether their will be a quota for economically and socially backward classes. According to our flamboyant Minister foreign universities are private and therefore free from any commitment to social inclusiveness when operating in India! All this spells danger and a further division of education. One had hoped that the new Minister would have walked the path leading to leveling education rather than creating more layers. Now you will have the super rich who can go to Princeton and the not so super rich who will enter the portals of Princeton India if that university decides that India is a lucrative business. A repeat performance of what happened with school education when the middle class opted for private schools leading to government schools becoming schools for only the poor.

The article presents a probable scenario which I cannot but agree to: the creamiest layer – using at word now politically correct I presume – will continue to go to the real thing for the ambiance, the ersatz will be for those just below them. And for all others it will be the local colleges reputed or not quite so. And then there is one more question lurking: if branded universities do land on our shores, will our best teachers leave their present jobs and join the more lucrative options? And thus quality higher education, just like quality primary education will only be for the privileged.

Where are we going Mr Minister! Education was the only hope for the teeming millions of Indian children to whom our Constitution has finally granted the right to free and equitable education, to break the cycle of poverty they are enslaved in. From 1983 to 1999 overall education expenditure has declined from 80 to 67 %. Is education for all a farce or a sad joke played on poor unsuspecting and voiceless children. And yet the children of India beat all odds. Prince always stood first even though he lives in a squalid hole. His father is illiterate and drives an auto rickshaw he does not even own. Things would be right if Prince one day could join Princeton, where this temple of knowledge even open its doors in India.

commonwealth.. and common woes revisited

OK Delhizens loosen your purse strings, your state needs you. You will have to pay your tithe for the honour of hosting the commonwealth games! So from now on everything will cost more: cooking gas, CNG, ghee, tea, coffee, utensils, mobile phones. VAT is being increased from 12 to 20 %. The justification is simple: expenditure on Games projects had exceeded estimates while the “recession” had meant that revenues didn’t keep pace. Whatever that means! The bottom line is that each one of us, rich and poor are going to pay for this useless extravaganza!

The fear of what the CWG would mean to the common Delhizen has been looming large on our heads for some time now. We were fist told of relocation of slums and we feared for our own, mercifully till now we have been spared. Perhaps it is because we are not on the routes the players will take to go around the city. And as we all know, the clean up drive is just cosmetic. Then came the ban on street vendors and that affected us as many of our parents lost their sole mean of livelihood and many their sole source of sustenance. We winced a little but carried on. Last week Delhi’s school children were informed that they would have to go to school till the end of May. That was a shocker. With temperatures already soaring, wonder what the mercury will read come May! Yes the CWG were truly becoming an event to remember.

Finally came the last straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. As if the recent price rises were not enough, and just when one had finally mastered the art of balancing a budget by stretching a potato or watering a dal, came the final blow: everything would cost more and the reason was to fulfill some delusional fantasy. We wince at every price rise, it is but human, but then we process the matter and assuage our feelings by telling ourselves that the money is meant fr education, development, health of the poor and so on even if we know that the benefits never really reach their destination. But where are the mitigating factors. Will someone enlighten me?

when tables flew and roses appeared

Christopher James is a magician, but a magician with a huge heart. A chance encounter in a pub with one of our volunteers, few words exchanged and voila, Chris was all set to come and spread some magic in the lives of our kids.

He came this morning armed with his bag of tricks and enthralled the children at Okhla first.

Tables flew, roses appeared thanks to a sprinkle of magic powder, 50 rs notes turned to 500 rs one. And the children watched mesmerised and spell bound. Time stood still. For those precious moments the Okhla centre got transformed into a dreamland where everything looked possible.

Chris conjured Canadian coins out of nowhere and then asked his little assistant what her dream was before handing her over a coin. She said she wanted to buy a car. She clutched her coin and was found asking her friends whether she could walk into a shop with the coin and actually get a car! We all smiled but come to think of it it was a magic coin. The boys loved the card tricks and everyone was transfixed by the 50 rs that became 500! Some of the adults were actually seen looking into their pockets for a note to be transformed.

The show was over, too soon for some. Next stop was the women centre. As there was a little time left, Shamika gathered some courage and asked Chris whether he would come to the special section and do a few tricks for the special kids. He agreed and tables flew again for our very special souls. The children were fascinated and even if they could not express in words what they felt, all you had to do was look at their faces!

Chris cast his spell again for the children of our women centre. There again time stood still and everyone was transfixed, even the adults who completely forgot, much to my chagrin, to take pictures though the camera stood charged and ready waiting to be picked up!

Thank you Chris for having brought a ray of hope and joy to our children. God bless you!

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for all the wrong reasons

The case of Jennifer H is heart rendering. Imagine being adopted at the age of 8, abused by your adoptive father, moved to 50 foster homes and often abused in each of them and then when you finally have found a way out, had two kids and reclaimed your right to be happy and cared for, being simply deported because the adoption agency goofed up and never processed your papers. A TV channel is currently highlighting the plight adoption cases gone terribly wrong: children abandoned by adoptive parents who separate, children adopted to be used and abused, children stolen to be given in adoption to make a quick buck. The list is endless and each case more tragic than the other.

Adoption is a tricky option. True there are innumerable happy stories, where adopted children are surrounded with love and care. And thank God for that. The reason for this post is not a debate on the pros and cons of adoption per say. I write these words to one again highlight the fact that children are the weakest and most fragile of all beings and cannot be treated like a commodity and cast aside when you have had enough of them or used to fulfill some dark need as is often the case. Just google for ‘adoption gone wrong’ and you will find umpteen shocking tales. What is sad is that where natural parents cope with any situation, adoptive parents are quick to blame the child for any behaviour problem and in some cases even hurt it. In many instances adopted children move from foster homes to foster homes, each scarring the child forever. No one seems to accept the fact that adoption is a life long commitment no matter what!

When little Y was born, he seemed a ‘fit’ case for adoption as his was the most dysfunctional family I had ever come across, and though we do not delve in adoption, in his case we were tempted to do so. A family came forward, the legal procedure was undertaken and as per the law the adoptive family was given guardianship and the stage was set for the child to leave. Thank heavens that did not happen, as the adoptive family found another child and decided to simply walk away from this one. We were horrified at that moment and very angry but in hindsight this was perhaps the best thing that could have happened as had the child left, he might have landed in yet another foster home. In a few weeks little Y will pack his bags for another journey as he sets out to join his pals in boarding school. He will get what he needs most and what will set him truly free: a sound education. Believe me, we have struck the word adoption from our lives and replaced it forever with education!

Children are not commodities to be sold and abused to make a few bucks. They are not spare parts or temporary articles used to fulfill some need or the other and then locked or cast away, or easy prey to satisfy pervert desires. Children are the gift of God and need to treated as such with love, care and profound respect.

sweet dreams are made of this…

I remember the day when I first met Sanjay. It must have been 8 years or so ago and he must have been 14. We had just begun teaching a primary class at the Lohar Bati, gypsy camp, located next to our first centre. Sanjay and some of his pals, who had all dropped out of school, use to hang around our open air class, mesmerised by the foreign volunteers who sometimes taught classes. After some time we suggested they too come and join and some did, Sanjay was one of them. Little did I know that one day the somewhat rebellious good looking kid would break all ceilings and walk the ramp.

But let us not jump the gun! Let me tell you Sanjay’s story as I know it. Actually it begins well before I met Sanjay. Like many of you who live in Delhi, I too must have passed by the umpteen Lohar camps strewn across the city and never really looked at them, certainly not with my heart! It is only when we opened an outreach programme in what is called the Janata Jeevan camp, that I had to walk by the Lohar camp situated next to the Kalakaji bus depot. The sight and plight of the small bright eyed children running about and breathing if not choking on the fumes of cars revving up at the red light caught my attention and I decided to do something. The first thing that came to mind was to start a small creche and a primary section. Now Lohars, like all gypsies, are proud people, and not one to accept charity of any kind. We met Tau, the head of the camp and explained what we wanted to do. He immediately saw the wisdom of our request and accepted it. There was an open space behind the camp and that is where it all began.

As months passed, I found myself often heading towards the camp and spending time there, imbibing the rare wisdom and sagacity of these proud people. Somehow being with them was a way of stepping off the spinning world and recharging my batteries! They always had a cup of tea ready for me if not a hot hand slapped roti. I also discovered to my horror that they had been living on the pavement for 30 years though they had been promised rehabilitation by the government. I decided to do something and urged them to file a PIL in the High Court. Sadly nothing came of it and they continue to live with the Damocles sword of destruction hanging over their heads. Sadly again we had to discontinue our classes because of the authorities. We hope to be able top resume them again soon.

In the early days of our work there, I use to spend time with the children and often asked them about their dreams. They use to share them with me and they were often small and simple ones. I urged them to dream big, very big and to hold on the dream, because dreams had sometimes an uncanny way of coming true! I remember the older boys standing in the background and listening to what I had to say. I guess Sanjay was there too, but he never then shared his dream with me, though he joined classes and went on to complete his schooling. Geeta our creche teacher was Sanjay’s elder sister. When she got married she requested us to give her job to her brother as they needed the money. We did though I recall telling him that with his looks he should become a super model. I never knew my words would be prophetic.

Sanjay has been teaching primary children for the past 5 years. His gentle ways and his boundless patience have made him a great favourite with the children. And for me the simple fact that this almost drop out gypsy boy became a teacher was something to be terribly proud of. And that is why when Camille Ponsin, a reputed French documentary maker wanted a ‘story’, I thought the one of the pavement born gypsy boy turned teacher was one he should go for. I was far from knowing that it would become a fairy tale, where seemingly impossible dreams come true.

The filming began and all seemed on track. One day Camille called me and told me that Sanjay had shared his real dream on camera: that of making it to Bollywood. At first I just smiled. Was this not the dream of every kid in the land, the one that sustained you through your darkest hours? I must admit I let it pass. Then another call informing me that Camille had a possible entree into the hallowed land, someone that could perhaps make this crazy dream happen. He wanted to take Sanjay to Mumbai and simply take it from there. The rest is now history. Last Sunday Sanjay walked the ramp for a top designer and did it with flair and aplomb.

It is with immense pride that I read the next days papers. I was tickled pink by Sanjay’s answer to a journo who asked him if he was nervous: “Chalna hi toh hai. Do saal ki ummar se kar raha hoon (All I have to do is walk. I’ve been doing that since I was two). His words reflected the spirit he was born with, the one that is the heritage of one who belongs to a proud people who have roamed for centuries without fear. Reading those words I knew that no matter what lay ahead, Sanjay would take it in his stride, whether it was walking ramps or simply walking the road of life.

My thoughts went back to the day when I had jokingly told him he should become a super model. I wonder if the God of Lesser Beings was listening.

Little men…

Meet Agastya and Utpal the two little men of my life. Just like the Little Prince they landed into my existence when I least expected them and yet most needed them. One came when I was going dealing with personal demons and needed to rediscover myself and test my own limits and the other when I needed to be reassured that time was still on my side.

When I first set eyes on Utpal he must have been a little under a year. At first he was just another little toddler, one that I hoped would become one of the pwhy kids. Little did I know what was in store for both for us. A few days later Utpal had his tryst with fire and somehow our destinies changed forever. I next saw him, swathed in ugly bandages and moaning in pain. He looked at me with his huge eyes and I knew that life would never be the same. That is the moment he walked into my heart and tucked himself there forever. He taught me to smile in adversity. He taught me that nothing was hopeless, you just had to find the right door and walk through it. He became my source of strength and my little ray of sunshine, that shone the brightest on dark and cloudy days. Today we have both grown. The little child has become a young boy and his Maamji a little older and a tad wiser, or so she would like to believe!

Then entered Agastya, my little grandchild and it was love at first sight! Simply holding him was enough to want to live many morrows. Life seemed enticing again. One wanted to see his fist step, hear his first laugh and just see and help him grow. Somehow the bones creaked less, and the gait became lighter as time seemed to still be on my side. I was blessed with two wonderful little men having special places in my heart.

Last week they met and bonded. I guess they both knew they shared one common thing: the love of a dotty old woman! I watched in silence, my throat hurting and my eyes moist, and mouthed a silent thank you, to the God of small children.

a gift of knowledge

A few months ago I got a mail form a young friend.He wrote: I have recently started an ambitious project to create story books for children and more importantly to devise means to make them available to every child of the world. We are working on the first book right now. I will be dedicating this first book to the children of Project Why. I was really touched. It all started with a twitter campaign where the aim was to reach 100 000 followers following which we would receive a huge library courtesy Grolier! A very ambitious project, but we were all excited and a little candid!

Months went by and I must admit I got engrossed in other things so imagine my astonishment when I got a call from my young friend informing me that the campaign had been successful and that we were soon to receive the promised books worth a whopping 200 000 Rs. I was floored! What a wonderful surprise. I was also informed that we had to go to Grolier’s office to receive the gift. Before I carry on the story, I wish to thank Rohit who is an exceptional young man who sees with his heart and makes dreams come true without much ado, just the way it should be. God bless him.

So last Monday an appointment was fixed and we were to meet the country head for Grolier and receive our gift. I had thought it would be a short formal affair but it turned to be one an unforgettable experience. We were welcomed by Mr James Yeoh, the GM himself and offered a cup of tea. We started talking about one thing an another and soon were sharing thoughts and dreams. I told him how much I appreciated the generous donation of educational material as it would help me ensure that my children have access to better possibilities and morrows. That is when James told us how he had over the years given young people of a lesser God the chance to step out of their limited world and reach the sky. His company trained and employed young people from underprivileged backgrounds. He told us how he had given a young fishmonger he has been impressed by, the chance to come and work with him. Today the young man was a marketing executive. I sat mesmerised, hearing for the very first time words that I had dreamt, words that I wanted many to mouth, but never heard. How wonderful it would be if many more thought like James Yeoh! And that was not all, he even promised to give our kids a chance!

Then it was time to receive our gift. I still did not know what it was. I must confess that I had seen the large display of books at the entrance of the office and had been fascinated by them as they were all wonderful titles and just the kind we needed but I still did not know that ALL those books were for us. When I did find out, I was again stumped. It was a dream come true as just a day before I was thinking how to go about getting some learning material for our new focus on quality project. And here we had it all.

Our sincere and heartfelt thanks to James and Rohit who have given the children of project why the most precious and beautiful gift: knowledge!

one one leg

Imagine a cow standing on one leg. Quite impossible isn’t it. And yet that is what the cow that symbolises Dharma or, for want of a better word, righteousness, is meant to be doing in the Kaliyug, that is in our day and age.
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What it means is that Kaliyug is an age where all that can go wrong does! And one does not need to be a rocket scientist to see that. I have often thought of writing about this, but then somehow the moment was never quite right. Till yesterday when I fell off my bed as I heard the aberration to beat all aberrations: A senior police officer had been asked to probe a recent ‘bee’ attack on a political leader during a rally! Yes you read right: a Deputy Inspector General of Police will now spend tax payer’s money to find out why a swarm of bees decided to hover over the head of a politician. Wonder how the poor man will manage to do that! But that is not all: the same politician was felicitated with a garland made of one thousand rupee currency notes amounting to millions and that in a state where children sleep hungry, schools are non existent, drinking water scarce etc. That the same rally cost 2 billion rupees is too much to fathom. Imagine how much development could have been achieved with this amount! The poor cow must be shaking on its now frail and tired led.

The ludicrous bee probe and vulgar note garland are just manifestations of the abysmal state our society has sunk in. I guess it is the inanity of the bee issue that shook me out of my torpor and compelled me to write this post. To see that we had reached the stage where a poor human soul was being commandeered to find out why a swarm of bees had had the audacity to disturb a political rally was the pits! And we also know that the poor man will have to prove the bee conspiracy theory to be true. And yes, for all those who are not initiated to the reality of India, this is no joke. Poor tax payer’s money is going to be spent on this.

Kaliyug is when human civilisation degenerates spiritually and people are as far removed as possible from God, or should I say good. It is obvious that we are in the midst of it. Every day we hear of some aberration or the other be it a woman burnt for money, a girl child smothered to death simply because of her gender, children sold to slavery, people dying of hunger, children beaten to death by their teachers, Godmen caught for sexual perversion, caste courts passing ruling that defy the laws of the land. The list is endless and each time you think you have seen it all, something else springs us to call you to order and remind you that this is indeed the dark Age.

There is an erosion or rather quasi depletion of values like honesty, generosity, compassion, words that seem almost alien to today’s vocabulary which seems to revolve around a single word and its derivatives: money! Money is what makes you good, successful, praiseworthy etc. No wonder then that being garlanded by a ring of currency notes is the best way of showing to all that you have arrived. Believe it or not after the first garland that brought enough flack, the said politician and was again given a garland of notes and will henceforth only be felicitated this way. That she represents the poorest of the poor makes all this even more galling.

Oh darling this is India. A land where elected politicians flaunt their ill gained wealth, where perfectly good roads are broken to be built again so that local politicians can line their pockets again – this is happening in the street where we are located for the third time this year – where schools have no desks and children study on the floor, where the rich become richer and the poor poorer by the second. Sadly there seems to be no end to all this. I wonder how long it will take for the poor cow to finally collapse.