thus flows project why

S wanted a Blackberry Playbook for his birthday. Now S is not a young teenager but a well established person with a great job. D his wife decided to grant him his wish and buy the said object. But then S changed his mind and decided to donate that money to educate 4 kids at pwhy! Wow! S and D always manage to take my breath away. So the Playbook mutated into something intangible and yet so precious. I am humbled!

The curious and the cynic often want to know how pwhy is funded. This makes me smile as the answers I have are not the ones expected. Pwhy is not funded by the state of by hefty funding organisations. It is funded by spurned Playbooks, people walking rather than taking a car, garage sales and bake sales, someone crafting jewelery that is then sold, auction of children’s paintings, couples giving up their wedding gifts or children their birthday ones, people running marathons. The list is endless and each penny laced with love and compassion. And thus each penny becomes precious and sacred and translates into ace report cards, successful exams, life saving surgery and above all reclaimed smiles. And thus flows project why….

utpal’s computer

For the past few days the house has been strangely silent. What I mean is that one does not hear the screeching sound of cartoons on TV, something that was till date a constant when Utpal was home. He spent all his waking hours glued to the idiot box, lost in his own world.

As I had written earlier, I had been very worried about his behaviour and even sought medical help. Two weeks back he was put on medication and I waited with bated breath for the dreaded side effects and the expected results. The side effects were few – a little sleepiness and slight tremors – but the results have been so say the least stupendous. Not only has our little fellow calmed down and gone back to his old endearing ways, but the child that was once riveted to the television now spends most of his time creating things. His best till now is his computer. It is made out of a sweet box, cardboard, paper, paint, and even has a mouse that blinks light: a small remote controlled plane! This computer has changed my life and brought back a smile that had been mislaid. Utpal who had locked himself in a dark world has come into the sunshine and no one is happier than I.

kal mandir!

Kal Mandir is Utpal’s name for the Kalkaji temple. It is a name he came up with when he was 3 and somehow it never changed. He loves going there and would go everyday if he could. His companion for these sorties is Radhey our three wheeler driver, someone he has known all his life! Radhey is the one who drove him to the hospital on the fateful night he fell into a boiling cauldron. KalMandir is undoubtedly his favourite place.

Sometimes he does go all the way to the temple itself and visits the Deity but what Kal Mandi means to Utpal is the fun rides that he loves. Till last week Kal Mandir was simply a name to me. Popples had often asked me to come with him but to my silly mind the Kalkaji Temple was an overcrowded place that I simply shunned. However the little boy’s entreaties finally bore results and last week I too went to Kal Mandir and loved it. I wish I had taken the trip earlier.

 The experience is difficult to describe as it is a medley of sensations but I will give it a go. It was about 11am, a hot and humid day and I was dreading the experience but had to keep my promise to little Utpal. We drove in our three wheeler and entered the parking made for cars but to my utter surprised we were greeted with smiles and hellos. I thought we would be stopped as is always the case when you venture in a poor man’s vehicle into parkings but here Utpal and his conveyance seemed to be VIPs! I was a little lost but a little hand firmly took mine and pulled me along. We walked through an alley with shops on either sides: eateries, shops that sold prayer ware, toy stalls, even a photographer’s den where you could take your pictures with zany backdrops. The place was filled with incredible energy and fervour. On the way we walked past devotees walking towards the sancto sanctorum some on foot, others crawling or rolling, others even somersaulting. Strangely none of this seemed out of place or crazy. It just seemed normal as everything was tinted with an overpowering spirituality that made it acceptable.

We soon reached what can at best be called rides but is a far cry from anything you can imagine. Six or even rides fight for space in a tiny enclosure. The floor is mud and dust. A few plastic sheets cover the area protecting you as best they can from the heat or rain. Every ride has a wooden pole where the switches are placed and a maze of electric wires criss crosses the area at a little over head hight. A few bulbs light the place giving it a festive air. An elderly lady sits at rickety table at the entrance under the lone fan. She owns the place and that is where you purchase tickets @ 10 Rs a ride. But as I said Utpal is a VIP there and he headed straight for the first ride under the benevolent smile of the owner lady. I could see how much he loved the place. It could confidently compete with the best amusement park in the world. As it was still early and the staff was scarce, Radhey our driver and Utpal’s long time pal manned the switches. When Utpal had enough of one he simply said Bas and the ride was stopped. I too was VIP of the day as the kind lady left her chair under the fan for me. It was wonderful watching Utpal have the time of his life.

I must admit that I did recoil in horror at the sight of things at first but then somehow not only got reconciled to what I saw but I must admit quite taken in. It was a happy place in more ways then one. The amusement park, let us call it that, is strategically located on the way to the Temple Deity and thus children accompanying their parents manage to convince the later to stop on the way out after all religious obligations are fulfilled and parents often do as the rides cost very little. At any time of the day your hear whoops of joy and laughter as children and even adults spin and rock to their heart’s content while the kind lady owner tries as best she can to keep track of the number of rides everyone enjoys. The place defies every safety rule, even the most lenient, but I can vouch for the safety as Utpal has been an ardent visitor for years now. This little space is where children from the other side of then fence can reclaim for a few moments their right to be children. All in all a visit to this temple is far more than a religious outing. And Kalkaji temple being one of the preferred religious pilgrimage sees people from all walks of life and from all parts of the land. It is somewhat a family outing for all to enjoy with everything on offer: varied food, drinks and even rides.

For Utpal too it is a pilgrimage of sorts. Something he has known all through his disturbed life, a place that has never changed even if all else has. It is his security blanket and comfort place an no matter what a visit there is always welcome and is guaranteed to bring a smile on his face. I was so glad I did finally get over my silly reluctance and accompany him. I must confess I have been there more than once in the past few days.

A visit to Kal Mandir is like being in a time warp. For a few moments you are a tad disoriented as nothing reminds you of the world outside the parking. With my short hair and city gear I looked like an alien but barring a few beggars who sought my attention, no one gave a second look. You were just accepted as you were. A pleasant change from reality. And as you walked the road leading to the Temple you passed rickety structures replete with sounds and smells that reminded you of a village fair. It was exhilarating to say the least. The drums and chants that greeted you transported you into another plane. The fervour was infectious and for an instant you forgot all your woes. What brought people to this place was their faith and you were touched by the atmosphere. This was real India at its best.

one hundred per cent

This morning I was handed out the detailed results of our class XII and X students. In the right hand column the teacher had put in remarks. Some students were school toppers, other class toppers, yet others maths topper. Marks ranged in the 90s and 80s. There were some who had just passed but the teacher had written that these were very weak students who had managed to clear their examination: a feat in its own way. Vivek had secured 99% in maths and Shilpa, Jatin, Anita and Rohit were all toppers. The same story was repeated in class X with a good number of As with as many as 5 toppers again. It was a ah ha moment for pwhy. But was it really.

A news item last week had dampened my joy in more ways than one. You now needed an aggregate of 100% to get admission in B (Com) Hons in one of Delhi University’s prime institution. Absurd and inane! Yet the Principal of the same institution defended this decision: We get the best students from across the country and getting 100% in the aggregate of your best performance in four subjects is no longer impossible in Board examinations. Never mind if in some States toppers secure marks in the nineties. In a nutshell this means that if a child has secured a respectable 80 or 85%, (s)he may not get admission in a good college. Let me also add that Delhi University colleges are affordable and thus an option for all students, irrespective of their social background. All doors had been banged in their faces.

Of course, for the past few years there has been a proliferation of private institutions with fees in 6 figures! Not an option for the slum kid, son of vegetable vendor or ironing man who has managed to clear his Boards with what was once called a first division. They will have to either get admitted in an evening course, a correspondence course or apply through the Open University. It almost seems as if higher education has been sectioned into classes: one for the uber smart, another for the uber rich and yet another for the poor. I was told just yesterday by a young upmarket kid that some of the private universities will take a weak student for a higher fee aptly dubbed donation. The other option of course for the affluent is to go abroad, another door that is closed to our children.

When we hear of 100% as a cut off mark for a favoured course, even we the almost incurable optimists are left dumbfounded. Even with our best efforts we know that our children cannot make the cut and that because they run the race with a heavy handicap: poverty. Many of our kids cannot afford books and thus rely on badly drafted guides. Many cannot afford extra tuitions. All do not have savvy parents or resources at home. They often do not even have place to study at home. How can you when you live in a tin box that you share with many, when a younger sibling may tear your book or a drunk father simply destroy it in a fit of rage. And yet children like Vivek or Shilpa beat all odds and come out winners. But their victory is not good enough to open the door of a first class education. They will always be second best.

Now second best is available all the way. You can secure a degree or even an MBA or other professional course. Two of our staff have taken that road. You register with an institute and are given course material. A look at it is enough to make you either roar with laughter or scream in horror. Booklets badly printed on cheap paper boast of titles like globalisation, education, and give pathetic ready made answers to possible questions. These are then mugged and regurgitated at the examination. And you manage to secure enough marks to pass as remember you can pass with a mere 33%! When you have duly sat for all the examinations you are given a degree and become a graduate. Sadly there are many such graduates. I do not need to spell out their worth.

There is something terribly wrong in our system of education and it is time the powers that be addressed the problem and took corrective measures, or else the so called Right to Education will become a poor joke played on innocent children.

Can we enter your world

His name is Yuvi. He is the latest kid on the block. He joined our special section last month. Yuvi is a 4 year old who looks 8! He is locked in his own world, a world for which we have no key. No one quite knows yet what his condition is as it is difficult if not impossible to begin an assessment.

Yuvi is a big child with an endearing face and easy ways. He ambles around in class, often heading for the exit door but not quite stepping out. He sometime moans and often laughs but no one knows why. He is truly locked in his world and seems like not wanting anyone entering it.

Yuvi is a strong child yet a placid one. Though he does not as yet participate in any activities, you can sit him down and make him do morning exercises. In a manner of speech as he just sits limp and you are the one who is meant to push and tug at his limbs and follow the class. He likes putting everything in his mouth, even your toes if you are not watchful! He responds to his name but will not follow any instruction. He can lie for hours on his stomach and do nothing, or so it seems to us aliens to his world. At break time he may chew on some wafers or biscuits. He then resumes his ambling and wandering till it is time to go home.

Slowly we will have to learn his ways, to gently knock at his locked door and hope he allows us entry. We will have to learn his ways before attempting to teach him ours, to unravel the puzzle gently, one piece at a time. So Yuvi can we enter your world.

man proposes…

Man proposes, God disposes goes the saying. Never have these words been as true as today and I am so say the least totally lost. I can only pray as hard as possible that God disposes kindly!

Many of you know Popples. Some have met him and others have heard about him or read about him. Popples landed in our lives in 2003. He was at death’s door having suffered terrible burns and though many gave up on him, we did not and nursed him back to health. Man proposed and God agreed as he was soon back on his chubby feet and a little bundle of pure joy. He walked into many hearts and people the world over reached out to him. Some time later we discovered that his mom was an alkie and decided to help her by checking her into rehab. Man proposed again and God nodded in agreement. What to do with the child though. A boarding school was the answer and man proposed again and God agreed enthusiastically. All was well. We sat back and watched our performance smugly. Lost in our hubris we started making lofty plans: Popples would go to school and then university. The world was at his feet and mom would be given a job and a place to stay. We were on cloud nine.
Man had proposed.. we simply forgot God.

Popples was doing well in school. His grades were good, his reports better. Everyone loved him at school and we thought that the next 11 years were well on course. Mom on the other hand was not doing well and refused our road map altogether. She was diagnosed as bipolar and treated but to no avail. She soon went back to her old ways. The bottle was too big an adversary and the only child she cared for. We went into damage control, knocked at the doors of justice and got Popple’s legal guardianship. Mom just disappeared. The child started hurting as he was missing mom and soon his grades fell a little and his mood got sombre. We were not unduly worried and tried to assuage his pain as best we could. Man proposed as best he could, God was watching. Things went worse and Popples became aggressive and sometimes difficult. The question no one wanted to mouth had to be asked: could he have inherited his mom’s ailment? Could he be bipolar… Man did not dare propose, God needed to be petitioned.

Visits to the psychologist followed but did not bring much result and then the inevitable: a visit to the child psychiatrist. This was done last week and the news was both good and bad. The good news: it did not look like the child was bipolar. The bad: he seemed to have SMD ( Severe Mood Dysregulation) and that would require long term medication. My world stopped for an instant. All the plans and dreams seemed to fall apart and the new ones were too scary to fathom. Would he be alright was the only question in one’s mind. Man did not want to propose anymore. God had to intervene and set things right. Popples had to come out of this as his whole life depended on his well being. Why did this child have to suffer so much. Third degree burns, a severely dysfunctional family, an AWOL mom and now SMD.

We were geared for the normal mishaps that happen to a child: a scarped knee, an open chin, a dog bite, a broken bone, even falling grades but this was way out of our league. Man did not dare propose any more. Now it was left to God and God alone.

Ina few hours from now Popples will meet the doctor and his treatment will be chalked out. I urge all of you to pray for this child. His life is at stake and mine too.

Breaking News

I stop all to write this blog. We have our own Breaking News! Believe it or not our very own Sanjay is walking the ramp for the Paris Fashion Week. The designer is…. you will have to wait for June 26th to know that! I am so proud of him and moved to tears.

I remember Sanjay as a young boy barely fourteen or so, almost a decade ago. In those days we held classes for the Lohar camp in an open park and Sanjay and his pals you use to hand around, at the periphery, not quite decided to join the class, and yet drawn by the sight of the young volunteers that use to teach. I of course use to try and get the young boys’ attention and urge them to join classes. Many did not but Sanjay did and I must confess today that I was attracted by his incredible looks even at a very young age. I guess I must have been the first to suggest that he become a model in Europe were dark looks are in and as I use to say to him in jest: you can then earn a lot of money for pwhy!

Even I who normally believes in big dreams did not ever think that a decade later Sanjay would walk the ramp in Paris. Yet he is and it is huge day for all of us at pwhy. And even though I am sort of inured to miracles after 10 years of project why, this one is humongous even by my standards. A boy born on the road side, destined to beat the iron, first becomes a teacher and the an international model. Wow! I am speechless.

June 26 2011 will be a very special day for all of us at pwhy, one that proves beyond any doubt that anything is possible if the Gods are on your side.

an incredible team

One always tends to highlight the achievements of the pwhy kids. One talks of their school results, their Board results, the jobs they get, their successes and so on. This has almost become a norm as every year and in all our centres children do us proud in more ways than one. What we tend to forget is the fact that none of this would be possible without our incredible band of teachers! It is they, and they alone who make all the small and big miracles happen.

It is time I paid tribute where it is truly due: the terrific staff that holds the fort and holds it so well.

Let us begin at the top: the two souls who run the two arms of project why with utmost efficiency and like a clock work orange have been with us for almost a decade. One of them was barely sixteen when she joined our wagon as an unpaid volunteer who use to come and run a small medical post that we opened for two half hours a day. She then graduated to distributing nutrition and that is when I discovered her inborn managerial talent. She learned at the speed of light and slowly but surely carved her place in project why. Today she runs her part of the show single handedly. Over the years she carefully selected her team, hired and fired with the needed aplomb. I have never seen her buckle under any circumstance, she always conjures a better solution. When she joined she was what you call a school drop out, not because of lack of aptitude but because she was beaten mercilessly and her mom decided that she should not go back. But she is not one who gives up. While working with us she completed her class X, XII and is now sitting for her BA final exams. What is amazing is that she never took a day off. You may have guessed, I am talking of Rani.

Rani is aptly seconded by a vibrant team of teachers. Some have been with us for many years, others have joined more recently. Each and everyone of them is committed and diligent. Come to think of it most of them were not destined to be teachers. Many were simple housewives whose education had been truncated by an early arranged marriage. Others were young people who had finished their studies in some remote place and come to the city to seek greener pastures. They learned on the job and boy they learned well. I can only say Chapeau bas to all of them.

The other arm of project why, namely the women centre was created from scratch by a young man who joined us a a teacher but soon emerged as social activist at heart, someone who strangely echoed my way of thinking: almost a kindred spirit. He soon graduated from his role as a humanities teacher to being the one I turned to in moment of crises. When we decided to set up the women centre as a case of force majeure, it was he I turned to. The result is there for all to see: a vibrant centre catering to more than 300 souls. And here again there is a superb team that runs the show. Well done Dharmendra.

The true measure of the success of team project why is my redundancy. Quite frankly project why does not need me to run. And though my team will vouch for the contrary, I can recognise the writing on the wall: I am really de trop! My only utility is as a fund raiser. That is the only thing my team has not mastered in spite of my best efforts. In hindsight I should be happy as otherwise I would have been completely superfluous. That is not quite the truth as I am aware of my shortcomings and of the fact that I am not eternal and for project why to run beyond me, my team will have to master the art of fund gathering. Maybe that is what needs to be done.

If planet why does see the light of day, and that would be my fund raising master stroke, my real swansong. I know my team will be able to run the show and carry on the work. If that does not happen then they will have to explore new ways. Deep in my heart, I know that many of them will not let project die wither and die.

manaste, thanda machine and fini!

My little grandson left last week after spending nine months with us. An eerie silence pervades the house making it uncanny. It is almost as if its soul had suddenly gone missing.

For the last eight months the house had been commandeered by a little bundle of energy and joy. Everything moved around him and was tuned to his needs and demands. Even the old biddy had adjusted her ways to his schedule and my work day for the past months looked a little strange. The house itself had lost its erstwhile pristine look. Toys lay strewn in every nook and corner, the drive and garden were requisitioned by brightly coloured cars and cycles of all sizes. We had to learn to live around all these alien articles. But I am not complaining far from that! We all loved the new arrangements.

For the last eight months a new vocabulary became ours as we followed a little boy’s forays into mastering a new language. The air conditioner was christened as thanda machine or cold machine, and Namaste became Manaste and stayed so. When any task was completed be it a meal or a painting session a loud fini was heard and no force on earth could challenge that. We simply adopted the new lexicon, adding new words as they were mouthed by a little lad. The months flew at an incredible speed and the day of parting dawned. Never were Lamartine the french romantic poet’s words more true: one person missing and all life goes away. Even if the missing one is knee high to a grasshopper.

We are slowly learning to live without little Agastya. It means filling up time that hangs heavy, adjusting our ears to eerie silence, getting used once again to an immaculate house. Somehow when he was around one had learnt to complete all our work in the time slots when he slept or was away at pwhy. I must admit that we all managed pretty well. True some things were never quite done but it did not matter. Today we have to learn once again to fill our time with what once was ample but seems so deficient. Time to revive what was put on hold, easier said than done as one seems to have forgotten what filled the days before Agastya.

I miss my little man!