Project why presents…

Project Why proudly presents its first ever English play: let us save trees. The play has been written and performed by our children with a little help from their wonderful teacher Smita.

Wow what a proud moment for us all! I must confess that I sat through the play with moist eyes and a lump in my throat. I must also admit that whilst watching the play I did not hear the halting English or the hesitant delivery. For me it was nothing sort of perfect. And more than that it was a true vindication of our focus on quality programme launched barely a few months ago. It was a ah ha moment indeed. Just a few months back the young protagonists of the play could barely utter a few word of English. At best they could spout a few words by rote. When we began the programme many thought it too ambitious, others a pure waste of ressources. And yet we held on and launched it. Over and above the regular after school support, the primary kids spent a short hour learning spoken English. I somehow believed the experience would bear fruits sooner than later and I was proved right yesterday when a bunch of boys took the stage in a language they had always feared. This was the way to go and I knew deep in my heart that we had crossed a yet invisible barrier.

I know that the road ahead is still very long and filled with many hurdles, but somehow today as I watched the tiny play I knew we would cross them all.

no more in my hands

A phone call last week informed me that we had been shortlisted as possible beneficiaries of a page 3 charity do. This came as a surprise because our brush with page 3 soirees and bashes were things of the past. There was a time many moons ago when we did make almost regular appearances at such events but those days were long gone and somehow our tryst with the rich and famous had been short lived. So imagine my surprise when they came knocking again. I was informed that I had to go the next day and present our case to the members of the executive committee of the planned event. My first reaction was to refuse but beggars can never be choosers.

The meeting was fixed for the very next day. It seemed that all the short listed organisations were to be given 15 minutes to present their case and then the said committee would decide which one would benefit from the proceeds of the evening. It all seemed very cut and dry. I decided to give it my best shot and leave the rest to the God of Lesser beings.

I reached the appointed place with a few minutes to spare. Somehow I felt very alone and lost in a world I had said my farewells too long ago. Soon it was our turn and I was led to a room where 6 people sat around a conference table. An empty chair beckoned me. I sat down. A few brief presentations and greetings and then the stage was mine. The countdown had begun and I had just fifteen minutes to put forward 10 years of work, to share the hope and dreams of so many and to prove to all present that we were worthy of their help.

I did but somehow I felt no one was really listening. It seemed like a show put up for some unknown reasons, it seemed as if all decisions had been made well before the game began. The people around that table belonged to the other side of the fence and did not really want to know about Manu, Utpal or Radha. I wondered why I had been invited at all. When I had finished my presentation, the leader of the pack asked be bluntly what would happen after me. Normally that question would have shocked and angered me but it did not and I simply smiled and told him: planet why!

That is when I realised that something had changed and that I had taken a huge step without knowing. Gone was the angst of the past, in its place was a sense of acceptance and calm. I remembered the time when any mention of what would happen to pwhy once I had exited this world brought anger and wrath. Today it just brought a smile. True I was still worried about pwhy’s future, true I wanted above anything else to see planet why happen, but if it did not then I somehow knew something else would happen and take care of the problem. This new found attitude stemmed from the fact that I felt that matters were no more in my hand, but in the hand of the one who had placed the future of so many in my care. He and he alone would show the way. Today it seemed like it would be planet why but were that not to happen I am sure an alternative would come about and ensure the succession.

run a desert marathon or….

You have a soft corner for the under privileged, which is so good. People generally don’t have time to spare a thought for the children of a lesser God said the comment on my post Game Over! A few days later a surprise note on a social network urged people to reach out to project like ours. The note aptly entitled the inconvenience of charity was written by a dear friend.

Seemed like some Jungian synchronicity!

For the past weeks I have been wondering how I would address our everlasting and never ending funding issue for the coming year and find the missing numbers. I was running out of words and did not know where to begin. I too am aware of the strains of the purse strings even when the heart is big. But I am also aware of the hundreds of Children of a Lesser God who depend on my capacity to once again pa(e)nhandle with conviction. For the past 10 years I have tried to perfect the art of panhandling and the fact that I am still at it after a decade goes to show that I must have done so with a good measure of success. But each year there are missing numbers that require to be met. I guess this is again a trick of my friend the God of Lesser Beings who wants to ensure that I never sink into a comfort zone and thus forget what my true mission is.

Panhandling is very humbling particularly for one who had always found money matters to be infradig. That was before pwhy and before my encounter with children of a Lesser God. Once they came into my life, things changed at the speed of light and what was once hateful simple became par to the course. Thus began my years of soliciting help from one and all. To say it was easy would be an untruth. And yet it had to be done because each coin that was dropped my way transformed in a smile as if by magic.

In a way I am glad that things have not come easy. This has enabled me to appreciate the true value of what I hold in custody. As my friend aptly said it is nothing short of trying to climb Kilimanjaro or run a desert marathon. And yet I find myself doing it each and every day with joy. And though the God of Lesser Beings does play his tricks, he also creates the right backdrop each time I find myself in doubt. Just like this time when he gently reminded me of my soft corner for the underprivileged. I must admit that there are times when the bones ache and the pace slackens and I find myself wondering how much longer. But these moments are mercifully short and fleeting. All that is needed to call me back to order is a little hand that finds mine or a cheek quietly proffered for a kiss.

So here I am again seeking help and support or as a young friend once said here I am seeking permission to continue. And this is truly what it is. I am asking you to allow us to carry on what we are doing: ensuring that one more batch of students complete their studies or move into the next class, ensuring that a group of little souls are able to acquire the skills needed to enter the portals of a school, ensuring that a bunch of very special kids spend one more day of their lives in laughter and joy. Simple things that should ordinarily happen without much ado, but that often come at a price for children of a lesser God. Every penny we sought and continue to seek is to do just that. No more, no less.

chocorate

The scooter stopped at the red light. This was the light next to my house, the one where I had encountered my little beggar girl many months back, the one where I often found myself rummaging in my bag for some of the goodies I carry to give out to the little beggar children that crowd around my auto. For the past three weeks not a single child greeted me as courtesy the Commonwealth Games all beggars had been rounded up and hidden away. So for the past weeks I had sat quietly in my auto and continued reading my book. That was exactly what I was doing when I felt a tug at my pants and heard a little voice demanding: Chocorate, chocorate! I instantly looked up and there was one of my little beggar girls. They were back. By they I mean the beggars that live under the flyover next to my home and beg at the red light. And chocorate is the generic used by the children to demand the goodies I carry. It could be a biscuit, a banana, a toffee or a bar of chocolate. They all knew that I never gave money.

I looked at the child woefully as my bag was empty but promised her chocorate the next day. She looked at me first crossly but then gave me a huge smile and set off to knock at the next car window. The gang was back in business as the games were over. I must admit I felt a sense of relief in seeing them back. Maybe we were finally getting back our lost soul. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not offering an apology for begging, far from that as it is something I abhor and was the first why I wanted to address but sadly could not. Our nutritive biscuit programme failed miserably. We did not find any takers.I guess people were just not ready to accept their part of responsibility. We still had to learn the art of looking into people’s eyes.

As I said it was comforting to see that the beggars were back because I wondered where they had been banished to and feared for them. Their return proved that nothing had really changed. You see beggars are not a real problem for the satraps that rule us. They were simply and embarrassment, something you were sort of ashamed of and needed to hide while you supposedly put your best foot forward. So you hid them and now that the show is over you let them lose again. You are not ready to assume responsibility and address the problem. It makes me see red. We are talking of people and of children who should not be knocking at your car window but sitting on a school bench. They should not be asking for chocorate but learning to spell the word correctly!

Who am I?

You are one of those few people I know who truly love what they are doing wrote a friend. Innocuous words at first but they got me thinking and setting of on an inward journey. For the past ten years I have been so caught up in keeping the ship afloat that I have rarely given myself time to take a back seat, catch my breath and savour moments the way I should have. But my friend’s remark made me stop in my tracks and realise that what she said was incredibly true. For the past ten years, in spite of all the problems and hardships I have truly loved what I have been doing. I guess it is sometimes a sense of perhaps misplaced decency that refrained me from letting out whoops of joy each time something special occurred. My friend’s question ultimately nudged me to ask myself the question: who am I today.

Who am I? I do not know how many of us ask ourselves this question over time. There can be simple answers. You are from a particular country, of a particular gender, have a particular profession, a particular religion, a certain age and so on. So I am Indian, an old woman, a social worker etc. Some of these markers can change with time, some stay with you for a life time. Some of not much consequence. The others are the ones you build yourself and have the liberty to alter and even change. And the question you need to ask yourself is Who am I, today!

Often you are portrayed through your relationships with another so you become a good or bad daughter, spouse, friend, sibling, citizen and so on. But here again the description is insufficient and inadequate leaving you still wondering who you truly are.

Another friend recently wrote about the importance of finding your voice. It was an innocuous remark pertaining to a very specific situation but somehow it struck a deep chord inside me. It seemed an answer to a deep search I had embarked on, the search of who I truly was. Over the past 10 years, when I began the pwhy journey I have felt more and more alienated by what was once comfortable and sufficient. As pwhy grew so did my loneliness. The situation was paradoxical as when I set up pwhy I was painfully alone but pwhy brought innumerable new souls into my life. Then why the loneliness? Perhaps because I suddenly felt alone in my world, perhaps because all reference points suddenly seemed pointless and empty. I realised that the time had come to redefine myself but that was no easy task.

With each step on the pwhy road I felt I moved away by quantum leaps from the world that I had known and found ample. Suddenly it felt painfully deficient. Once I had crossed the invisible line I had unwillingly abdicated the right to be one of my erstwhile peers. I had done the unthinkable in a land where you were conditioned to remain in your determined framework. If you did dare venture out of the box you had to be prepared to pay the price. Sounds cryptic. Let me try and elucidate.

Say you belong to a particular social class, then all your activities are defined by it. Your conversations, your likes and dislikes and so on on are almost predefined and that is the world you are meant to navigate in. Now say you have tasted other flavors and dare bring them into the closed doors of your predetermined orb, you are immediately considered persona non grata! I remember how quickly people moved away from me when I use to try talking about pwhy in up market parties. I felt like a pariah. But the other side of the coin was that the other world was not ready to accept you as one of them. There you were put on a pedestal and had to remain there and that is when the loneliness set in. You suddenly became no one’s child. And yet you so wanted to belong at least somewhere. It was a real predicament and there seemed to be no ready answer.

But slowly as time passed , people grew less in awe of you and more willing to accept you. True these people would never become your intellectual sparring partners, but they surrounded you with so much love that you once again felt content and wanted. Wonder who they are? Let me introduce you to some of them. It is Utpal and his endearing ways, Manu and his lopsided smile that greets me every morning, the band of special children and their cheerful Good Morning Ma’am, the tiny creche kids, the Okhla children, the Khader children and their incredible smiles. But that is not all: it is also the Lohar ladies who never failed to produce a syrupy cup of tea and a lovely hand slapped roti; the innumerable families who have always opened their homes and heart to me; the simple people who illuminate my day every single morning and make it worth living.

So today I am above all Anou Ma’am and I like what I see and truly feel that this is who I want to be till the end of my days.

Game over…

It is finally over.. I mean the CWG and we can all get back to our lives.. or so I hope. Games over, let the audit begin scream headlines as everyone is on overdrive trying to exonerate themselves and pass the buck. Committees are being formed, agencies roped in to examine all charges. I do hope something does come out of it but why then am I feeling so despondent. I guess, without being a cynic, it is because of a sense of deja vu.

A few days back I urged everyone to spare a thought for the myriad of workers who had toiled to ensure that the show happened. Salute them we must. Today another touching set of pictures brought the same people to mind. A photo essay entitled the Other Games, depicts the plight of the CWG children. The worker’s kids who played their own set of games well before the Games began. It is extremely touching and speaks volumes. Again I gently urge you to spend some time looking at the pictures. I did and as I looked at the innocent faces I could not stop myself from asking the loud question that begged to be asked: where were they today? Most of these children’s families, like thousands of others were brought from other states. Wonder whether they are still in this city or have gone back home. Wonder whether their parents have found jobs. And if they are still here do they have a roof on their heads? Questions crowd the mind. Don’t these children have rights like all the other children of India. Right to education to begin with. Yet while their parents toiled they were left to their own devise in makeshift inhuman shelters or on the pavement, living their childhood as best they could. Who usurped their rights? I guess we all did and must bear the shame.

As the mud slinging continues and the enquiries get on their way my thoughts go to all those who lost their homes because of the Games, to those who lost their livelihood, to those who were compelled to leave the city for the hallowed fortnight as there was no work. To my Lohar friends whose life changed forever simply because they lived on a road guests would zip past. Will the enquiries, audits, probes give them back what they have lost. No way. They will need to rescript their lives and reinvent themselves. Wonder if they will be able to do so. Hope the God of Lesser Beings will once again conjure a miracle.

she does not stop smiling

There was a PTM at the boarding school yesterday and as always it was pure joy to see our exceptional eight! It was also Kiran‘s birthday and she had decided to celebrate it with her special pal Utpal and his friends. So we had chocolate cake and pizza and other goodies. It was a quaint birthday party held in the housemother’s room, with a band of very special children and lot of laughter and cheer.

But that was not the highlight of the day. You may wonder what it was then? Well it was little Manisha who just could not stop smiling. Her happiness was infectious and heartwarming. She just beamed all the time, her smile getting bigger if you asked her if she was happy at school! In two months she had put on weight and was looking for want of a better word: sparkling!

It was indeed a special moment to see this child who just a few months ago had been living in a hell hole and who by a twist of fate or should I say by the grace of my friends the God of lesser beings, saw her life touched by a miracle. The tears and anxiety for the past were gone for ever and in its place was this big huge smile that said it all. I tried to imagine what could have been going in her little head but stopped myself as it may just have taken away the pure magic of that blessed moment.

Once more I say Chapeau Bas to the God of lesser beings!

case of the small entrepreneur – an India story

An article entitled no sir slums are not eyesores (the article is at the end of the list) warmed the cockles of my heart! This article written by an eminent economist is an apologia for slums. The author writes: cities must not be elite in a sea of rural despond. They must provide income and social ladders for the poor and unskilled to climb up…. we must have more slums. These are entry points for the poor into urban havens of opportunity…. some see slums as hubs of sub human existence …but you will find an astonishingly wide range of economic activities….if cities are to fulfill their critical function of social mobility we need more slums... Wow an article after my own heart!

And before you start talking of reverse migration by making rural areas prosperous listen to what the author has to say: India has 160 millions hectare of cultivable land for 1250 million people or 1/8 of a hectare per person and even if the urban share of population doubles from todays 30 % to 60 % it will just be 1/3 of a hectare per person! It is not without reason that rural folks migrate to cities. How wretched rural India must be if people see more hope in urban shanties!

Welcome to the world of what I have always called small entrepreneurs, the ones our satraps are so keen on destroying and obliterating and yet the only ones which can ensure that India prospers. Who are they you ask. Just look around and you will find them: it is you corner samosa seller, your food cart owner, your vegetable vendor, your fruit vendor. It is the young man who walks the streets to repair broken zips, the street corner cobbler or the street tailor always ready to mend your shoes and clothes. It is the enterprising lad who sets up an array of guides and help books in front of an exam centre, or the one who sells all you need for a particular festival. It is the family that makes soft toys in their hovel before selling them at fairs and melas. It is all your pavement vendors who sell the trinkets you need. It is also the plumber, painter, mason, carpenter who sit at road corners hoping to get work for the day. They are the real heart and soul of our land and we need to ensure that they thrive.

Each one feeds a family, educates children and enables them to dream of better morrows. Most of the pwhy children’s parents are just that: small entrepreneurs and it is their blood and sweat that ensures that their children prosper. We have many such kids: the son of our three wheeler driver who today teaches secondary classes at pwhy’s Okhla centre, the vegetable vendor’s daughter who today works in a call centre, the gypsy brothers who after a stint as teachers at pwhy have now got better jobs one at the airport and the other in a bank – the list ins endless and each is an India story. There are so many of them, each endearing and moving.

Life in the city, even in a hovel opens new vistas often thanks to the ever present TV set. I have seen enfold in from of my eyes many times over the last decade. I have seen how a tiny business opportunity brings change into the darkest hovel. This is the social mobility the article highlights, a throbbing and pulsating exercise in hope and belief. There is no other way out, at least for the time being.
Link

a bit of cheer

A news item brought a bit of cheer. The headline was NGO brings in kids to fill stadia. Yippee! So the poor do come useful in the common wealth games, good that you did not banish or hide them all Madam CEO! Apparently this great idea came after a lot of brainstorming. And it is a double whammy as for the children, watching Indian and international athletes live in action is something that they will cherish throughout their lives but for the OC, giving them these complementary tickets has taken care of their biggest worry — filling up empty seats.

How nice if this had been something the Organising Committee had thought of before. A few seats for the poor children would have been well appreciated. Anyway better late than never. I am sure the children will cherish this moment forever.

And there is more. Seeing all the athletes from small town India winning Gold Medals is heart warming as we all know the odds they have to face. And what about Geeta whose father fought will all village elders to ensure that his daughters follow their dream of wrestling! A real India story!

The Games are on… and one has not forgotten the terrible things that have preceded then. The Games are on … with its share of blunders that happen every day and make our heckles rise. But our athletes do deserve our kudos as they are doing their very best. When then Games are finally over then it will time to ask all the questions that now lie in abeyance. Let us not forget that.

Salute them we must

The opening ceremony of the XIX Commonwealth Games was a resounding success. Indi’s pride was restored or so many think. On the same day an investigative weekly ran an article entitled: We who built your games. It is a poignant photo essay of the trails and tribulations of the hundreds of thousands of workers who built the said Games brick by brick. I think that today when the lights are shining and the world is lauding us, they above all need to be saluted or at lest remembered. Please do spend a few minutes and read the article and look at the pictures.

I have often talked of the faceless and voiceless Indian who I have held is the real backbone of our country but few of us are willing to recognise this. So today as a mark of honour to all those who toiled day and night to make the Games are success, to all those who died while doing so I urge you again to spend a few minutes and look at the faces which thanks to this article have a name and listen to what they have to say. They were almost 200 000 labourers who made the Game possible and each was paid a paltry 100 Rs, half the minimum wage and less than what some were paid in the Asian games way back in 1982! They lived in squalor and filth but never complained. They suffered fever and pain but all they got was an innocuous pill doled out by some government doctor. If they did not recover in 5 days they lost their job!

There were no safety belts even if you hung at dizzy heights and no helmets. Over 1000 died though the official figure stands frozen at 42. No laws protected them as most were not registered. You see by not registering them contractors saved 360 crores a year. Once their work finished they have simply been pushed out of the city, back to where they were brought from.

Spend some time on the slide show of the article meet Rajdeb who slept in the open, see how they lived and what they ate. Meet Raj (slide 9) born in a tin box, or Pramod and his family (slide 12) who fled drought and landed in a tin box. This is the real face of the Games but sadly one no one will see or bother about. Today we have a chance to salute them and salute them we must.

Do you have a minute to spare for them.