2011… time to push dreams to become reality

I sat wondering for a long time what my new year blog would be about. A new year is time for resolutions and resolves, many of which are never kept! For us 2011 is a watershed year as we are poised for the final straight line towards our sustainability. It is a do or die situation as if we are unable to meet our goals we may have to chart our journey again and set a new course. Yes 2011 is when we launch our donation drive for planet why and also the time we have given ourselves to fulfill it. It is a do or die year for planet why!

Deepak Chopra said:The greatest ideas are nothing more than daydreams until they are pushed to become reality and till now planet why has been a huge day dream. I must admit that it was one in technicolour where all details were vivid and radiant. It was a dream so close to reality that each sense was activated and one could hear, feel, see, smell and touch planet why! It has been a long time in the making – this dream! As Deepak Chopra aptly wrote the greatest ideas are nothing more than daydreams if they are not pushed to become reality. And this is what we need to do with our whole heart and soul in 2011. Planet why has to become reality.

Easier said than done as we know the road is a long and arduous one. And yet on this blessed day we need to renew our faith in our dream, to cast away all doubts and hesitation and to begin this New Year with hope and belief. This is and should be our resolution!

I will just allow myself a passing instant of vacillation where I dare to ask myself fleetingly what would happen should we fail. The thought is terrifying: Manu would roam the streets again, Champa and Anjali would be prey to predators that lurk at every corner, Munna, Radha and the others may have to fend for themselves on the streets, Utpal and his pals would have their dreams hijacked and crushed. But that is not all. If planet why does not happen than over 500 kids will not be able to get the support they so need to be able to prove their worth and fulfill their dreams. And above all the effort one has put in to craft a system that has proved its worth will just wither away. The thought is too scary and yet it could happen if we fall short of our convictions.

So on this brand new day of a brand new year we resolve to ensure that all dreams do become reality and wish yours do too!

Happy New Year!

Looking back at 2010

2010 is coming to a close. It is time to cast a last glance at the year gone by, to assess its highs and lows, to reflect upon achievements and failures and ponder about resolutions that need to be made.

When I look back at 2010 the one feeling that comes to mind is one of quiet achievements. The year went by with no fuss or flurry. All centres ran like clockwork. All challenges were met with poise, all problems solved calmly. It seemed we had come of age! And it almost seemed to good to be true.

We had to close two primary centres: Sanjay Colony and Govindpuri. The former because of a sudden proliferation of new NGOs that made us almost redundant and the later because of non availability of space. In their place we opened a new primary centre across our main centre in a rented space. The new centre is now running to full capacity.

2010 also saw the coming of age of our Okhla centre. From a ramshackle space with a handful of kids, it is now a thriving semi permanent structure that has 200 children and secondary as well as computer classes. It is a matter of pride for us to see children who had joined project why in early primary classes graduate to secondary school and do us proud. And to think that many of these kids could have gone astray gives me goose bumps.

Our senior secondary kids are slowly getting used to the new examination and test pattern under the guidance of their ace teacher. And our babies are happy learning new things each day. So as they aptly sing every morning: All is well…. at pwhy!

In April 2010, three little children packed up their bags and joined our gang of five at the boarding school. So now eight pwhy kids are busy changing their morrows and believe you me they are all top of their respective classes. Way to go!

At the women centre all is well too! The centre runs to perfection; the proof: I have heard no complaints! What more should one ask! Over 300 children and 60 women execute a well orchestrated ballet and partake in their set activities in spite of the shortage of space. Kudos to the team!

Our Focus on Quality programme took off with a bang in April 2010 in two centre: Okhla and the women centre. Daily spoken English classes and awareness programmes. The result is for all to see: the children now s-p-e-a-k English even if it is halting and we even performed on stage in English! Plastic bags have almost disappeared. Both centres even have small patches of greenery and the women centre a small kitchen garden. At the women centre composting is on in a big way and all water is recycled and Saturday is hand washing day!

An eventful year isn’t it? But there is more. Ruby a young girl who had joined pwhy in class IV is now a secondary teacher at our Okhla centre and a small survey of the whereabouts of our alumni revealed that many of them were now gainfully employed in good jobs and earning handsome salaries. Many had thus broken the cycle of poverty in which they were born. Were we justified in giving ourselves a pat on our backs. Maybe not as there was so much more to do.

In 2010 we got 100 children admitted to mainstream school in consonance with our initial mission: arrest drop out rates! This is always something that fills us with great joy and pride. So all in all on the academic front we did not fare too badly.

The special kids were also spot on! As always they filled the space with their laughter and abundant energy reminding us that life is worth living no matter what the challenge be. Manu, Champa and Anjali were impeccable roomies who are slowly mastering the art of living together and complementing each other and this winter they were joined by Radha whose brittle bones could not have withstood the cold and dampness of a slum tenement. This brought to light once again the need of seeding planet why that would give such children a safe and enabling home.

Yes Planet Why is still the big dream we seek, the one that will ensure that pwhy survives the test of time. 2010 was a year where plans were refined, costings reworked, feasibility studies undertaken and new proposals drafted. We are now ready to launch our donation drive and have set 2011 to do just that. We hope that the God of Lesser beings will be on our side.

Yes, we have come of age. Now it is imperative to think of the future and consolidate what we have achieved. That is the challenge that awaits us in 2011!

To yourself, respect

It is Xmas, a time for gifts and wishes. Once again I am reminded of the words of Oren Arnold who proffers a list of Christmas gift suggestions: “To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.” And once again this is exactly what I would like to offer to all on this hallowed day.

Gifts come in all shades and hues. They can be bought at stores or crafted painstakingly, yet the most precious ones are undoubtedly those that require you to part with a little of yourself, even if it is a tad uncomfortable. Arnold urges us to do just that. Forgiveness is not easy coming and yet it is so liberating. So is tolerance. They rid us of all the negative thoughts we carry as unnecessary baggage. Whilst giving your heart to a friend is easy, charity is a little more tricky as it loses all its meaning if you do not give a little of yourself too. As the proverb goes: is is the bone shared with the dog when you are as hungry as the dog! Over the past 10 years I have been privy to charity in all its avatars: from the most uplifting manifestation to the vilest. Fortunately the former prevailed and that is how we have been able to carry on our work without impediments. Bless are all those who understood the true meaning of the word. It is heartwarming to see that all around the world there are people who see with their hearts and make it possible for us to carry on.

To every child a good example is the next gift suggestion. Wish we could all understand this and act accordingly. The tragedy of all those growing up in our day and age is the total lack of role models to emulate. So it becomes even more crucial for each one of us to set good examples, but do we? The question begs to be answered. We at pwhy are trying to do just that and will continue to do so.

And last of all, Arnold suggests a gift given to one’s self: respect. This is by far the most precious gift we can proffer and yet we all fall short of it. I guess that if we did learn to respect ourselves the world would be a different place where tolerance, forgiveness, charity, and good example would come by naturally.

Merry Xmas to all

a hole for a home

Yesterday I was interviewed for a web journal. After the set of regular questions about work and self, the journo asked me what I felt the State should do to address the habitat for the poor issue. Build decent homes in every part of the city as slum dwellers were the backbone of the city was my impassioned plea. Habitat for the poor I has always been an issue close to my heart as over the past decade I have been privy to the plight of slum dwellers in our heartless city. Are we not the city that needs a Supreme Court order to instruct it not to demolish any homeless shelter in the dead of winter! Are we not also the city that allows people to live for THIRTY years in ramshackle tenements along a road side, issuing them all kinds of civic recognition to fatten vote banks, and then razed their dwellings one fine morning to pander to some harebrained whim? Yes we are and we should hang our heads in shame, but do we? We all know the answer to that uncomfortable question.

Winter has set in it is terribly cold. Heaters and warm clothes have come out of the closets of the rich but do we ever spare a thought of what happens to the poor?

Last week Radha’s mom came to see us. Radha is the little girl with brittle bone disease, the one who has borne the pain of over 50 fractures in her tiny life, the one whose home has been destroyed more than once and who has spent many nights on a footpath, Radha who should be handled with extreme care but who lives in cramped and damp holes that would not be considered fit for an animal in any self respecting society. Radha’s mom had a simple request: could we keep Radha in our foster care for the duration of winter as the cold was unbearable in their tiny hovel where she slept on the damp floor. I can well imagine that. Radha’s present home is a sunken hole and the child who is a just a bag of bones must have suffered excruciating pain lying on the damp and cold floor. Needless to say we agreed. She had already spent some time with us when she last broke a leg and it was a joy to have her. We would have kept her longer but she wanted to return to her home and family and we did not stop her. You see Radha is much the elder sister to her younger siblings and somehow she felt she had to be with them.

Radha moved in yesterday and she will spend the rest of winter warm and cared for. But what about the innumerable children in this soulless city who will have to bear the brunt of the cold because we have forgotten to care for our very own.

the death of an aunt

My aunt passed away yesterday. She was 90. I had lost touch with her for many years though she lived a stone’s throw away. A few days back I had been informed of her ailing health but somehow never found the time or inclination to make the short trip and see her, even if she was as I was told comatose. I wish I had.

When news of her passing reached me, I rushed to her side for a last glimpse of the old soul. I watched her frail and lifeless body and memories came rushing back, memories of me as a little girl, memories I had forgotten. And today as an aging woman myself I realised that she and I had a lot in common, even if did take one whole life to realise that.

My aunt was a very avant garde lady, one who was oft misunderstood and thus marginalised. It is perhaps this insensitive reaction of others in the family that made us shun her all these years. In times when women were at best appendixes of their husbands, she decided to live life on her own terms. She was a classical dancer and taught dance in a school of a small mufassil town. Unlike her peers who lived their lives in the shadows of their spouses, she lived hers in the bright sunlight. She lived in the outhouse of my grandfather’s home, and one of the high points of my holidays was to sneak to her home and spend time with her. My uncle was a lawyer and left home at 10 am. That was when I moved in. The next hours were spent with my aunt. Her life ran like a clockwork orange. She practised her dance and you can imagine what a thrill that was for a young child. Then she made her rotis, warmed her meal and laid it out on a small table in the veranda and sat with a magazine that she read for a while before partaking of her meal. I often asked her why she did that. Her answer was: This way, I feel I am being served, like a queen. Needless to say that this attitude of hers was made fun of by others, but today I understand what she meant. I often shared her meal. She ate at 12 sharp way before others, and then she would shoo me away, as it was her nap time, something she would never give up. At three her cycle rickshaw would come to fetch her for her classes. She was always impeccably dressed in bright sarees, a flower in her hair and she left home regally perched on her coach, come heat or rain.

She taught me a few steps of dance and sometimes even took me with her to her class. I watched goggled eyed imbibing a world I still did not know existed. This was undoubtedly the first free spirit I had met, and perhaps a secret role model I would emulate in my own way. Her last years on this planet were lonely and dark. A staunch believer in naturopathy – she never swallowed a pill in her life – she stubbornly refused to get her cataracts operated and thus turned slowly blind. But that did not stop her from living her way, the magazine was replaced by the TV serial.

I did tell you she was a avant-garde lady. In the sixties where women never traveled alone she decided to come and visit us in Algeria where we were posted. She made the trip with her young son and her dance paraphernalia and even performed for a TV show. Her spirit was finally broken by a fall and she spent the last months of her life bedridden and robbed of all that she had stood for.

As I watched the flames of her pyre rise high, I could see her spirit soar and flyaway. She had been finally released from a world that never truly understood her. May she rest in peace.

part time parents

This is a morning shift class of the primary boys at our Govindpuri Centre. Yet if you look carefully at the picture you will see a little girl sitting at the back. She is Neha, Amit’s little sister and Amit is her morning caretaker. You see both parents work and there is no one to look after the little girl. So the siblings take over. Amit in the morning and Mira in the afternoon.

It works like a clockwork orange. Amit brings the little girl to pwhy in the morning and then hands her over to Mira at the school gate at lunch time. Mira then takes over and little Neha is back at pwhy in the afternoon for the afternoon shift. She then returns home with her sister. I guess for once the two shift school system prevalent in our city is of some use! Not the best option for the little child but then at least she is safe.

This is the plight of many young children in a city where early education is still not free. Many families are too poor to pay for a creche or a preschool and thus older siblings have to become parents and caretakers. The sight of a small child carrying a younger one is common in slums and shanty towns. It is time the authorities looked at the plight of children and did something. Let us hope they do.

my feelgood shot

Yesterday was my feelgood shot day. Yes you guessed right, it was PTM day at the boarding school! And yesterday more than ever I need my shot of hope, optimism and faith. So imagine my stress when the car was delayed and we has a late start. But the traffic was merciful and we did make almost in time.

We reached the school and sprung out of the car. We hastily gathered all the goodies and packets we had brought: chocolate cake and patties were the day’s treat. We also had bought extra sweaters and shoes for some of the kids as instructed on the previous day by the hostel warden. So bags and baby in tow – yes my grandson was with us – we scurried to the respective classrooms to gather our brood. As usual huge smiles and cheery hello Mams greeted us. Of course every one wanted to know what we had in the bags. After a fe minutes spent with the respective class teachers that were needless to say all praise, it was time to settle down in the sunny lawns and spend some quality time with our band of eight, after of course having opened the goodies bag. Between mouthfuls of chocolate cake we were made privy to the ongoings of this hallowed ground. There were tiny complaints, and gentle chiding. There were requests for the next visit, Utpal often being the chosen spokesperson: bring us more biscuits and dry fruits, we are hungry in the evening; Vicky’s shoes are broken; and so on. Time just flew as we sat in the winter sun listening to the chatter of these lovely kids and imbibing the happy feeling that was all around.

And as I sat there lost to the world I knew, I realised that all doubts and apprehensions that had been plaguing me for the past days just vanished. Watching these children laugh and smile made me realise more than ever that my work was far from over, that they needed me for years to come, that I had to secure their morrows no matter what it took. These children more than anyone else epitomised the spirit of why, a spirit that screamed loud and clear that no life was hopeless, that every child deserved nothing but the best and above all that the best could be theirs if you just kept on looking with your heart.

I had had my feelgood shot. It was time to get back on the spinning wheel. There was work to be done.

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Any belief worth having must survive doubt

Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous.” wrote Voltaire. For the past week or more my pen has been silent, the words frozen in a tired mind. I guess this happened after the 3 D pictures of planet why landed way, bringing a strange inevitability to what had been a cherished dream for more than five years. Where I should have been jumping with joy I instead found myself ridden with doubt and apprehensions. Where I should have been furiously composing mails, blogs and proposals heralding to one and all that we were finally there, I found myself turning strangely uncommunicative and mute. Where I should have been passionately polishing and sprucing up my good old virtual begging bowl and seeking the much needed funds, I found myself reluctant and even unwilling to retrieve it from where it lay dusty and almost forgotten. Something was terribly wrong, this time not with the world but with me.

Was this not the moment I had waited for for ever so long. Was not planet why just a moment away? Had not everything finally fallen in place? Then why was I ridden with doubt. Was pwhy’s sustainability not the one and only thing I had wanted from the day the journey began? Then why was I suddenly voiceless. It was time to soul search. I must admit that I was at a complete loss and did not know what to do and where to start. It was time to call up on the Cartesian mind I always took pride in and analyze the situation.

Planet why was undoubtedly what I wanted then why was I running scared? Was it the sheer size of the images that had landed my way that filled me with fear. True I had never imagined it to be so. Was it that they did not quite fit with what pwhy stood for till now: reclaimed pig parks and garbage dumps, road sides and street corners, kerchief sized and windowless rooms. Was my dream tinged with a hubris I had not been aware of. Was a huge building needed to protect the spirit of pwhy? Or to put it another way was pwhy’s spirit large enough for such a structure. Was there a disconnect I had not been aware of whilst building my dream?It was time to find out and I did not quite know how.

That is when once again the God of Lesser beings came to my rescue, though I did not quite realise it at first. Not knowing what to do to deal with a restlessness I could not share with anyone as I would have seemed nothing short of foolish, I decided to download all my blogs and read them again chronologically. I looked for ways of doing it rapidly but not finding any – and thank heavens I did not – I set about the task of copy pasting each one individually, all one thousand one hundred and sixty six of them. And as I did, pwhy came alive in front of my bewildered eyes. I was spellbound as I read each one of them. It was a treat of all the senses.

The story began five years ago when my pen was still somewhat hesitant and naive. I found I had recorded every little moment of pwhy and though it may seem to some as extremely wide-eyed, it truly reflected the spirit of pwhy where nothing is too small or too inconsequential. Every lopsided smile was worth recording, every seemingly meaningless tear merited to be addressed. And I did with all my heart. There was anger too, at things that did not seem right but it was somewhat guileless. Every tiny achievement was recorded and celebrated and carefully logged.

As I read on I discovered how I slowly found my voice. It was strangely comforting as I had often been one to remain silent. But somehow pwhy has empowered me to start reacting and venting my feelings even though in a barely audible way. Laced in between everyday occurrences were hints of concern be it about the girl plight child, the state of education for the poor, or the precarious nature of slums. Even five years ago these had been felt and expressed. And today many were vindicated in more ways than one. Over time my voice had become louder and my words more and more mordant. Wonder why? A question I need to answer some day.

But the one thing that is woven like a leitmotiv in a Wagnerian opera right from the very first blog is my fear of the future, my angst about what would become of planet why after my exit and that is why ever so often there are references to the elusive sustainability of pwhy. But then I did not know at what price it would ultimately come and how alien it would be from what we stood for. Or was it? What where we really trying to sustain. Was it worth the tag? I needed to read more.

I spend the next few days reading he 1000 odd pages. I was pleasantly surprised at the fact that it was in no way tedious or boring. Neither was it the normally annoying drag of rereading what one has written. Far from that; at times I got so engrossed that I even forgot that I was its author! As I read page after page, the last five years of pwhy came alive in front of my curious eyes. So many things that had been forgotten along the way: the plethora of human and humane stories that brought a smile on the face; the indomitable spirit of blessed like souls like Manu or Nanhe who gave a total new meaning to life; the simple yet cogent answers to complex issues mouthed by innocent children when God simply becomes Boman (Bhagwan pronounced by a two year old) and makes you wonder whether he is not simply that a beau-Man! The list is endless, each instance confirming in its own special way that we must have been doing something right. Then interspersed in between are the concerns and disquiets be it about the plight of children in general or the girl child in particular, about education and habitat for the poor, about new feudal masters and so on and the often implied need to try and do something.

This post is not meant to be a synopsis of a thousand and more blogs. I it is simply an exercisein soul searching meant to validate a belief: the belief that pwhy is worth fighting for, that no tag is too large when it comes to giving special children the right to live and die with dignity; when it comes to helping a few hundred children build a better future, when it comes to empowering people everyone had given up on to take hold of their lives.

It is time for me to walk the talk; to jolt myself out of this false comfort zone I am sinking and to fight the last battle to the very end.

Any belief worth having must survive doubt”. I guess mine has. So help me God!