where is my mommy

Where is my mummy is the question a hurting child is too scared to ask. Yet it is written all over his face, in each of his seemingly incomprehensible actions, in his unexpected bouts of violence, in his baffling and sullen ways. Where is my mommy is the question this child wants to ask but is too scared to. You see Mommy has disappeared since last year without leaving an address or contact.

True this Mommy never played by the rule, was often violent and sometimes even uncaring but she was Mommy and she was there. Today she is gone and the young child is in pain. True he has a life on his own, goes to boarding school, has friends, has his Maam’ji who spoils him silly, has toys and cookies but something is missing. Till last year Mummy was around and even if she was not there all the time, the child knew where she was. Today he knows that there are no answers and hence does not dare ask the question he so wants to.

You see Moms are important. All his pals in school have one and they come to all PTMs and other events. They bring goodies and give hugs. True he has his motley family and his Maam’ji who never fails to turn up. But Mommy is different. When she was around he was the little man who admonished her when she hit the bottle too often, or was unkind. He bore her anger stoically even when he was tiny because he knew there would be hugs later. He was so proud of her when she checked into rehab and he prayed for her return. But that was not to be and things got so bad that he was the one who opted not to live with her. But he always thought she would be around, somewhere where he could see her from time to time to reassure himself that all was well. Today he is distressed because she is nowhere around.

When we rewrite a script gone awry we sometimes forget the essential. In this case the little boy’s new script had everything: a great school with huge playgrounds and fresh air, a home he could comeback to filled with everything a little boy would want and all the adults that scripted this new life felt that they had done a great job. But they forgot one thing: Mommy! All the child wants is to know where she is, and maybe to see her once in a while but we have no answers for him. Perhaps she will reappear one day. We are all hoping she does.

Mommies are important to a child and nothing and no one can truly replace them. Till the little boy’s mommy does appear all we can do is ease the hurt and love him as much as we possibly can. You guessed right the child is our very own Utpal aka Popples!

so that my children can be fed….

I read about Sindutai Sapakal many years ago when I had just begun the pwhy journey. Her story was God sent and somehow helped me getting over my initial reluctance of asking for money for my cause. She became the unacknowledged mentor I silently prayed to each time I needed to beg for funds. Her words and her story were an inspiration. When I was thrown out of my house I used to beg for a living. Even today I move around with a begging bowl. The only difference is that in those days I begged for myself but today I beg so that my children can be fed and clothed she says candidly. The children she refers to are the 1000 orphans she cares for. Many of them are today qualified professionals. Sindutai is truly an exceptional woman who changed the course of her destiny and came out a winner.

Why write about her today. I guess it is all a matter of synchronicity. Her story appeared in a leading magazine last week, as she has been the subject of a recent well received biopic, and reminded me of the importance of remaining humble at all times. But that is not all, somehow shortly after reading the article I found myself sharing with a dear friend the fears and worries I have about pwhy and its future. And as I voiced my apprehensions I realised that I too had a handful of souls that needed me long time. I was referring to the eight kids in boarding schools and to my band of special kids. No matter what happened, these souls had to be secured even if it meant having to move around with a begging bowl. And what Sindutai reminded one was that no matter what came your way in terms of accolades and kudos, you had to remain humble if you wanted to succeed in your mission.

Sindutai’s story also proves that you do not need to be rich and affluent to help others. What you need is the will to do so and hers is an indomitable one. Nothing deters this formidable soul as she carries on her mission. What an example she sets! I am glad that her story came back to mind particularly as I have felt my steps faltering in recent times.

I do not know if planet why will happen or not. As I have written earlier 2011 is the year I have reserved for seeing planet why happen. If nothing happens by 31/12/11 then we lay the idea to rest and look for alternatives. But whatever the alternative it has to ensure that the 8 kids and the 20 odd special souls are tended and cared for till they need us. It means that the begging bowl has to be kept polished and ready, it means that one has to remain on one’s toes till the very end. So help me God!

so many smiles….

I have been so entangled and bogged down in trying to save the women centre that I have had little or no time to spend at pwhy. Some time back a volunteer gifted me a CD with pictures of Okhla. The CD lay unwatched for a few days, you see I was busy trying to save…

Yesterday I decided to have a look, mainly to see if there were any pictures I could use. I inserted the CD and clicked the open icon and clicked on the first image. It was a picture of a bunch of girls laughing and smiling and I must confess I too started smiling. It was infectious. How happy they looked. I started clicking on other pictures and all I found were smiles and more smiles.

Whatever the age, be it girls or boys they were all beaming. Needless to say, for that instant at least, my blues lifted and I felt elated. Soo many smiles as my grandson would say. I spent a long time looking at the pictures, allowing myself to enjoy the moment to the hilt. Then slowly as my thoughts wandered a little I felt an immense sense of pride: was this not something I had created. It was indeed time to allow myself one of those rare pats on the back. Were this not all kids who had been saved in the nick of time from a terrible fate. How could I forget how boys like these had been used by lurking predators to push drugs or steal from the waiting trains on the nearby tracks? The danger still existed as children who were not at school or at pwhy, were still found hanging around the tracks waiting to grab whatever they could. As for the girls, they simply turned into surrogate parent to the young siblings missing school at the drop of a hat.

True we do not teach every single child of the area. We do not have the resources to do so. But the 200 or so who come to pwhy are safe at least for the time being, and have reclaimed their right to be children: the proof being all the incredible smiles the wear all the time.

The Okhla kids are an incredible lot. They not only study well but also partake in a host of activities be it art work that is auctioned in far away lands, pen pals they write to regularly or theatre they are getting almost professional at! They are a pure delight to watch and they remind us that project why rocks.

Seeing these smiles made me realise how much I miss the days when I could spend more time with the children but also makes saving pwhy more vital than ever!

sepia musings

By the stroke of a pen the Railway Minister made me and other women my age senior citizens two years before time. Wow! So I am a senior citizen or should I say I have grown old overnight. But lets get serious. Over the past few weeks many incidents have happened and each points to the fact that my time is now short. Be it the visit to the dentist who decreed I may loose some teeth or reconnecting with people from the past making life come full circle.

I am not one to fear death. I know it is inevitable. Many ancient civilisations urge us to prepare for it, some even define the right time and it is always when all your duties on this earth are over. These often relate to your progeny and their well being. The twist in my case is that I have a rather unwieldy and large set of offspring’s: the pwhy kids!

I wrote a post in a lighter vein about a year ago. It was entitled what is on my bucket list and somehow addressed the same issue: what is left to be done before I am ready for my curtain call. I guess what I wrote then is still relevant. The only difference is that today it seems more urgent as I sit battling to save my women centre. The reality is that I should be battling to secure pwhy as a whole. I know I have been trying for years to get planet why off the ground as it seems to hold the answers to all my problems, but maybe the fact that it has not got off the ground is a pointer to the fact that I am barking up the wrong tree.

Maybe it is time to reset course and head in the right direction. Maybe it is time to ask oneself whether planet why will be the happy home I want it to be or would metamorphose into a lifeless but safe bank deposit that would pay its monthly dividends with regularity to allow the show to go on. The show having of course would have to be rewritten to fit the size of the monthly return. Maybe time has come to rewrite the script. Some of the script has alas be rewritten by the God of Lesser beings when Manu left us. Perhaps that too was a pointer one did not comprehend. You see since its inception as a mere thought, Planet why was always to be Manu’s home.

On my bucket list is the future of Manu’s friends, the morrows of Utpal and his pals and of the hundreds of children who count on us to help them change their destinies. Somehow I cannot exit the stage without having secured at least the first two. And being human there also remains some personal wishes: seeing my daughter settled and happy, watching my grandson grow a little more, taking a long due holiday with my life partner and writing at least one more book the one that tells the pwhy story. Is the God of Lesser beings listening!

the half way mark

Subsequent to our appeal to save the women centre we have reached the half way mark. This is wonderful indeed but not quite enough as we cannot save half a centre. How could we possibly do that! You cannot ask half the children to go, or pay half the rent. Come to think about it you cannot ever save half of any living thing and the women centre is just that: a living and throbbing place. So we need to go all the way failing which we would need to shut it forever.

I should be elated as normally any fund raising appeal yield 10% and we have got 50! It would be so easy and fulfilling to say mission accomplished and bask in the feeling that the centre is saved. A peek at our account would tempt us to do so. But we have to beware! You see some of you have paid for a month, but others have done for six or even a whole year thus creating the illusion of abundance. We have to keep on remembering that we are only half way there. And that if we do not pursue our efforts diligently we are just delaying the inevitable.

What we still need is 200 people to give the needed amount every month. So the search is on for the missing 100. The question is how will we get there? I was at a loss when a mail dropped in my inbox asking me to share a story, the story of two wonderful people who help us every month: here it is in their own words:

Three years ago we visited Delhi and spent four days working for Project Why. Like many before and since we were struck by the magic that is Project Why. When we arrived home we decided that we had to do something to help. The visit albeit short changed the way we thought and lived our lives. We realised that material possessions were not that important. We realised the difference between need and want so now we ask ourselves do we need something or want it. Very often if the answer is want then we don´t need it or buy it.

We started by making a donation each month but quickly decided this was too easy and we should do more. We had a large collection of books, DVD´s and CD´s many of which we didn´t read, watch or listen to. We took these to our local Rastro (car boot). Inside we inserted a label explaining that the proceeds would be sent to Project Why and requesting that when they finished reading the book that they return it so we could sell it again.

It started slowly but people did bring back books and they were sold for a second time. Gradually more people brought us books some of the people who arrived with books were once total strangers to us. We have also provided each month a small leaflet explaining the work of Project Why and including the web address. We have made and handed out small bookmarks. Many people have shown an interest and stop to talk. We have also received small donations. Only a couple of people have shown any animosity to the cause. Each month there is a raffle with the proceeds going to charities nominated by those who attend naturally we manage to arrange that Project Why benefits about three times a year and one woman refused to buy a ticket because of where the money was going. If you think she was stupid then she was even more stupid than you think because the charity that month was not Project Why which was the previous month. Another person refused because charity begins at home. We live in Spain as does the potential customer so when he was asked where home is he responded England. During the last two years we have managed to raise 1900 dollars through the Rastro.

We have benefitted too we now have a larger circle of friends than before and the last Sunday in the month is a very enjoyable social event for us. We always feel very humble when somebody arrives with a bag of books.

We mention this because it is a fairly easy way to raise money and is something that others could do . If you want to try something similar try looking at the feasability of a pitch at your local car boot sale it does not have to be just books anything that sells will do. We are currently investigating that subject to scrounging sufficient items would it be worth having a stall at a local carboot sale the next time we return to England. If you come across somebody selling items for Project Why in the Hull area then it could be us.

We write this only to encourage other supporters to try something to help Project Why and also to see if we can exchange ideas. We feel that we can do more and would like to do so therefore if anybody has any good ideas out there let us share them. We need to save the Womens Centre having seen the recent pictures on Facebook how can we let them down.
Andy and Irene

These words warmed my heart and made me believe that though the road seemed long, we would make it.

the road less travelled

Being good is fraught with dangers in our day and age. I recently blogged about the danger of being good not realising that I was about to have to walk the talk and try and defend the right of being good.

Yesterday a young friend dropped by. He is a young man after my heart, one who decided to take the road less travelled and make a difference. A series of recent setbacks and mishaps were however making him question his decision. The general contempt that someone like me who walks a different path faces in our society, really made me question what all I have been up to and if it was worth anything at all. My heart went out to him and I knew that I had to muster all I could to renew his faith in being good. Not an easy task as much of what he wrote was true: people are not kind to those who take the road less travelled. And as we all know by now being good can land you up shit creek without a paddle. And yet some of us refuse to give up being good!

As I said this was no easy task because the young man in question has responsibilities and needs to build his morrows. He gave up a lucrative position in another land to come back home and make a difference. And he did try as hard as he could investing all he had and more. The end result was failure and even having your work appropriated by deceitful means. This young man was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He had to struggle hard to get where he did and somehow it is this very struggle that made him want to be different. So here I am having to defend the right of being good one again. And though I know deep inside that it is the only honourable way to go, I find myself at a loss as there are not many examples to proffer or successful role models to hold out.

Words fail me. I know the young man is contemplating packing his bags and leaving for greener and better pastures where hard work and honesty are still virtues to be extolled. I truly do not know what to tell him to defer his decision and give this land one more chance. I wonder what will make him stay.

a peek over the fence

I got a phone call last week. It was from a local ladies’ club who wanted to honour me as part of their women’s day celebrations. I asked them quite candidly how they had heard of me and the answer was as candid: one of their friends had met me at the boarding school and got quite impressed by the fact that we sponsored children in the school. At first I was a little hesitant as I have always been weary of people who want to lionize you without even seeing your work, but then remembering the dire straits we were in, I decided to accept. I must admit I had no idea what I was getting into as this was a world I had always shunned. Maybe time had come to get over my disquiet and take a peek over the fence.

So yesterday afternoon I donned by best attire and set off to be honoured! The meeting was happening in the home of one of the ladies and when I reached the appointed place, I was greeted by a dozen of upmarket ladies in their best attire that made mine look somewhat paltry. The ladies were all smiles and very warm and we were given a cold drink as we still had to wait for some arrivals. Then it was time for the meeting to begin and it did with a bang: a lamp was lit, a bell rung and everyone stood up to hold hands and sing a bollywood song of the yesteryears that extolled the virtues of walking together. I was to say the least a little bemused but there was a feeling of bonhomie that prevailed and made it all acceptable.

Then it was speech time, a little pompous as everyone was greeted by their club titles. Then it was my time to speak and I did from the heart, telling them simply how pwhy had begun and what it meant to me. Everyone listened and some ladies wanted to know more. Then I was given a shawl and a gift. The President said they would come and visit us and help in whatever ways they could. A few more speeches and then the meeting closed with the singing of the National Anthem and the ringing of the bell. We were then invited to a cup of tea, which turned out to be nothing less than a feast! I took my leave, leaving the bunch of ladies to their festivities and returning to my side the fence.

My peek into this world had been a welcome experience and I was glad I had accepted the invitation. Though I did remain a little skeptic as my past exposure to the likes of these ladies had not been happy. How could I forget the umpteen times when subsequent to a phone call we were have been landed time and again with heaps of rubbish in the guise of donations, how can I forget the outrage of two such ladies when they heard about our boarding school programme, how can I forget the broken toys delivered with great fanfare. All said and done my forays across the fence had not been pretty. And yet these ladies seemed honest and genuine when they said they would help us and somehow I believed them. True we would have to wait for the right time, for their social calendars to have an appropriate window and so on. But wait we will.

75/200 …

The appeal to save our women centre has not gone unheard. Of the 200 commitments needed we have 75. This is great but still not quite enough. It may give us some breathing time but not save the centre! We do need to reach the 200 mark. My decade and more long experience of panhandling has shown me that all appeals get a spontaneous response and people do come forward, often with more than solicited. This is indeed heartwarming but often not quite sufficient.

Let me explain why.

The money we seek from you this time is what is needed to run our women centre. This money is needed every month to pay our staff – all of which depend on this salary to live – to pay our rent, to pay our utilities bills – none of which will wait – to pay the material and educational aids that are needed to teach and so on. So to save the women centre long term we need to reach the magic figure of 200. Anything short of that would simply delay the inevitable closure. What has seen us through 11 years is the regular commitments, however tiny, that reach us every month and allow us to meet our needs. And this is what we are asking from you.

The amount we seek is one that can easily be spared. One movie outing, one coffee at a coffee house. It is not much and I know that we will be able to raise it. We just have to keep trying.
I got some very touching mails from people willing to walk instead of taking cars! Bless them.

I would simply like to reiterate what this small sacrifice would ensure. It would allow 300 children to remain in school and what is most important is that some of these have painstakingly reached class X after having been failures for long. It will allow batches of 60 women to learn a vocational skill in our six month courses. Many today are able to supplement their home budgets, it will allow 20 people to retain their jobs, jobs that have allowed them to feed their families. So is it not worth your sacrifice!

Please help us save our women centre.

And to all of you who have already done so, a big thank you!

save our women centre

My appeal for help did not yield the expected results. At this moment I do not want to begin wondering why. The situation is too critical to allow me that luxury. I simply need to conjure a miracle or take the dreaded decision about which part of pwhy will face the axe. In case of the former I can only pray. For the later I guess I will have to apply some logic that works. It is not easy to decide which part of you to amputate. After much thought and deliberation I have come to the conclusion that if we have to close some part of pwhy, then it should be the part that was the last to see the day of light and by that logic it would be the women centre.

This centre came into being way back in August 2007 and was dedicated to the memory of Kamala, my mother. I feel terrible of even thinking to close it. It is almost as if I was letting this incredible woman down. And yet I do not see any other way.

The women centre today is a vibrant and spirited centre where over 300 children, most of them girls study; where over 60 women are taking their first steps on the road of economic independence by learning new skills; where 20 persons from deprived homes are earning their livelihood. Closing the centre would mean shutting the door on the morrows of all of them. Sounds terrible but unless that miracle comes through, it seems to be the only option we have.

This post is my last ditch effort to save our women centre.

What would it take to save the centre. Well barring a miracle that would conjure a sponsor or benefactor that would take the centre over, we would need about 200 persons willing to part with five hundred rupees or ten dollars a month! This is not even the price of an outing or a movie. Now that should not be difficult to find for one who has hundreds of friends on social networks and mailing lists of over a thousand. But past experience has proved otherwise. You see, past appeals have never worked. And yet one does not give up. All I need to do is to see the pictures below. How can I let all these wonderful and innocent souls down.

So today more than ever, I need a miracle, or need to find 200 persons who can look with their hearts.


how can they bloom

A leading TV channel and a mega multinational have launched a campaign called ‘support my school’. Do click on this link and you are greeted by titles such as girls dropping out of school because of lack of toilets or too many students all else to little. Click on the later. You will be told of a school in North Delhi, yes in our own capital city, where there are 1800 students, where roll calls are taken in the open and last for a whole hour, where teachers admit only being able to check the home work of 15 out of the 80 students in their class, where all students do not get a bench to sit own. It is nothing short of a nightmare and far from the enabling environment needed for children to bloom.

Yet all the children in this school and in hundreds like them have gained the right to education, albeit as late as 2010 when the said Act finally came into force. Children in free India had to wait sixty two years to gain this right. Speaks volumes, does it not! The state of schools is nothing short of abysmal. This is the enabling environment we give our children and hope they will bloom into great adults. But how can they, many will never finish school for no fault of theirs, and others will muddle through into mediocrity.

When will we realise that primary education is the cornerstone of any self respecting society?
Believe me, it does not take much to turn things around. We have done this at pwhy for the past 11 years. With unskilled staff and scant resources we have ensured that every child that walks into our premises remains in school and graduates with success. The magic potion if any was tons of love that would make every child believe in himself and oodles of patience to ensure that every child ultimately comes out a winner. No rocket science required. This translates into a sad reality: it seems he powers that be are not really interested in educating the poor.

Are the rich better off? Not quite if we are to go by the nightmare of recent nursery admissions. Toddlers are being rejected school after school for again not fault of theirs: no sibling in school, the wrong gender or address, no alumni parents and so on. So where is the right to education we so blatantly talk about. Every government school building carries a sign saying; no child can be denied admission. yet what is the point of stuffing schools till they strangulate and die. Classes of 80 plus is not an acceptable option. Is education is to be a constitutional right then it is time the State took matters in hand and loosened its purse strings. It is also time we all started accepting the idea of a neighborhood school for all. Government schools still have prime property often unused. Why not built spanking schools on them instead of the pitiful barracks in existence.

Private school fees are running berserk. A friend of mine recently told me that the school fees of her 5 year old amounted to 30 K a term! Primary education has become a lucrative business and the insidious privatisation of education will ring the death knell of education for the poor. True efforts like the one mentioned above are laudable, but that is not the answer. The real answer is a change in policy but we all know how high education ranks in the minds of those who rule us… our present education minister had been handed an added portfolio which seems to be taking all his time!

Millions of little children are waiting for a chance to excel, and many of them can do too! Look at our little boarding school stars who shine in their enabling school. When will all the children of India get a similar opportunity.