Happiness thirst

People surrounded by money but unable to use it properly die of happiness thirst.” -Paramahansa Yogananda. This quote appeared on my FB page one morning. It made me smile and also wonder what the opposite of thirst would be as as I for one will die of happiness surfeit or overdose. For I for one will OD on happiness!

I have never been surrounded by money, alas, but there was a time when I had some and that is when I decided to begin pwhy. I never regretted the decision, even when things get tough and bleak, and they do more often than I would like. I guess I used my little windfall properly. But let us get serious and try and figure out what this quote truly means. To me the meaning is clear. It simply means that if you have then you must give and if you do give you get surrounded by happiness. The barter is more than fair.

There was a time when I sat on the other side of the fence and my ‘giving’ was more a kind of lip service, the politically correct thing to do. Every month I wrote my cheque dutifully and sent it to the chosen destination but in hindsight there was scant joy or happiness. It was more a kind of obligation that was steered by the head and not he heart. I truly discovered the joy of giving when pwhy begun or rather when I started dipping unabashedly into my pocket to meet the daily needs of the new baby I had brought into the world. And the more I dipped, the better I felt. Wonder why? Simply because every penny spent brought a smile on a little face. It was pure magic. And every smile warmed my heat and filled me with incredible happiness. I felt tiny and huge at the same time. And with every day my needs became smaller, my problems inconsequential, my pains and aches non-existent.

True there came a time when the pocket became too light to be dipped in and ways had to be found to replenish it so I embarked on a journey aimed at trying to get others to walk the same road. The results were mixed. Whereas on the one hand total strangers came forward, on the other people one hoped would help simply slimed away. I must admit that this is something I never understood and/or was comfortable with. It was as if I had failed to show them the worth of the equation. Maybe I should just once again share the quantum of happiness you get from giving.

We all at some time or the other feel empty in some way or the other and thus feel the need to fill this void. Some of us shop till we drop, others party, yet others opt for spiritual options and a few even get tempted by artificial paradises. The emptiness is given fancy names from depression to just the blues. Sometimes this happens after a painful loss as was my case and I too tried some of the above. But to no avail as the more you try the more empty you feel. The reason simply being that all these pursuits are self centred. My salvation came from a simple illiterate woman who told me to turn my grief to something positive. That was how pwhy came to be. The rest is history. As pwhy grew my emptiness vanished and in its place came an immense sense of well being. My world became filled with smiles and every challenge that came my way was just that: a challenge that had to be met.

This is how life has been for a decade now. No aches and pains, no blues or greys, just love and light and joy. I am ready to OD on happiness!

not a land of children



It was her birthday. Little Mahi was playing with her friends near her home. The little children were busy playing and laughing and no one saw the uncovered borewell and Mahi fell into it. Her little body hurled downwards and crashed 70 feet below. She was alive as her cries for help were heard by one and all. But her helpless parents and family could do nothing to help her as there was no way to reach down to her. They did the next best thing call the authorities. The police took 90 minutes to come and all the king’s men (army, metro, commandos, firemen etc) took 90 hours to bring little Mahi’s body out of the dark hole. Her soul had left for a better place much before her
broken body was recovered.

I hope death was quick to come and release her pain. I cannot begin to imagine what she must have gone through in the dark dark hole, with barely any place to breathe, let alone move, all alone and frightened. One must salute the men who braved all odds and fought night and day to bring her out. They did their best but everything conspired against them: the hard rocks that took days to break, the inhospitable terrain and lack of oxygen, the stifling heat… Yet they soldiered on. But sadly all they brought up was Mahi’s broken body.

The blame game is now on as always. The news was juicy and made good copy and TRP numbers yesterday. Today some other news will replace it and Mahi’s death will be forgotten to be remembered only when the next child falls in another uncovered borewell or drain and this will happen, there is no doubt on that. Six years ago Prince fell into a borewell and was rescued alive. Subsequent to that activists managed to secure a supreme court order that directed the administration to ensure that all such borewells and drains were suitably covered. But nothing happened. Wells were dug with impunity and alacrity and still are. It is all a catch 22 situation. The administration fails in providing water. People find their own ways. The authorities turn a blind eye and  extend greedy palms and the game goes on. You see everyone is happy: the ones who get the much needed water and the ones who can line their bottomless pockets. No one is the wiser till another child falls. How many children will have to die before someone takes action. No one knows.

In more ways than one, ours is not a land for children. No one cares for them. The proof: 5000 of them die every day. Their schools have no roof, they are used and abused. The list is endless. We remain mute at best or megalomaniac at worst. The proof: Aquaria Grande the new housing complex in our commercial capital that boasts of balcony swimming pools in a land where children die because of water borne diseases as they do not have access to safe drinking water or simply by falling in an uncovered borewell!

Has our conscience gone AWOL?

PS A friend pointed me to a wonderful idea to cover these deadly pits: plant trees! She mooted the thought way back in 2009 but found no takers. Maybe it is time to look at this again and find a way.

all grown up

You sometimes do not realise that your kids have grown, particularly when they are of the special kind. I must admit rather sheepishly, that ever since they special kids moved into their new space on the third floor of the building opposite ours I have been somewhat absent from their lives. The reason is I find myself citing is of course my creaking knees. A rather pitiful reason I must confess particularly when I think of our special kids who make the climb with a smile whether they are a tad wobbly (Umesh) or walk on their hands (Preeti)! The truth is I have just been lazy.

So a few days back when I did make the trip to the special class it was an eye opened in more ways than one. First and foremost I realised how much I missed seeing the lovely smiles and hearing the heartwarming greetings of these lovely souls and more than that how much it meant to me as I suddenly felt uplifted and revived. This has not happened for a long time. Seeing these special kids was a treat I had simply denied myself for too many days.

Another thing hit me that afternoon as I watched the children busy in their art and craft activities. I realised that many of them were all grown up. Yes more than a decade had passed and though some still looked small, they were now young adults. And time has come for us to accept them as such. My mind went on overdrive as I started making plans for them in my head, keeping every one’s likes and abilities in mind. These children were now adults and should be entering the working world, never mind their disability. The older girls could start marketing their weaving. Why not make table mats and bathroom mats out of waste cloth? And why not start a small in house catering service that could maybe one day mutate into a proper catering service.

It did not take any time to set things in motion. The very next day the older girls and Anurag who loves cooking set up the pwhy special cafe. The first task was to find clients! And that was easy as many of the staff were delighted by the idea of having hot home made food. The students with the help of their teacher made a menu and took orders. A shopping list was made and the needed ingredients bough and lo and behold the very next day 3 warm lunches were made and served on time. The clients were thrilled and orders placed for the next day. Things will get a little time to settle down but I am sure than in a month or so these fabulous young cooks will be able to cater to larger numbers. They have proved beyond doubt that they are ready to become business men and women.

But catering is not their only venture. The girls have been learning weaving for  quite some time now and can make stunning pieces from discarded cloth. We are now thinking of getting this activity organised and making table mats, floor mats and wall hangings and try and find markets for them. The weaved pieces are really bright and colourful and could make lovely gifts for one and all. I hope many of you will support this venture.

The older boys will be making newspaper mats for our creche children. Many of the boys have limited motor skills but with supervision and help they will be able to make these mats that are used by our tiny students at lunch time. We are also thinking of teaching them how to make paper bags.

For me this week has been very special. To see that our children have now grown into responsible adults in spite of their challenges is precious. I know they will make us proud. They never fail to!


what a land we live in

Would you believe me if I told you that food meant for starving children was siphoned by middlemen and sold to dairy and poultry farms as feed for livestock? I guess it is so outrageous that it is hard to believe, yet it is true. This shameful fact was revealed recently in a sting operation by a leading channel. One only wonders how long this had been going on and, without being cynical, how quickly it will start again. The food in question was packaged supplement meant for angawadis (creches) in Maharashtra. The state has almost 100 000 anganwadis and spends 1280 crores Rs (~10 billion) a year on such supplements! Mind boggling! And we are talking of one state! Let us not live under the illusion that this happens only in Maharashtra. Actually such programmes are a boon for wily middlemen. The beneficiaries are voiceless toddlers and could never complain, as for others I am sure there mouths are kept shut via their pockets!

Anganwadis were an intrinsic part of the ICDS programme launched in the seventies. The package on offer was targeted to the 0 to 6 age group and was aimed at arresting malnutrition and ensuring a holistic development of young children. Had it worked then the 5000 + children that still die every day of malnourishment should have been history long ago. That it did not is apparent. 2 million children still die every year. The huge budget allocations have been hijacked and have made many humans rich and if we are to go by today’s news, many pigs and cows fat!

This is just a small example of the ground reality we either chose to ignore or are simply not interested as it does not concern us. Every year grains rots for want of proper storage. We remain mute. Time and again disturbing statistics stare us in the face but again we look away. The walls we have erected around us are impregnable and opaque, or is it our vision that is skewed to perfection? Have we not worked out ways to handle such matters in a manner that eases our conscience: see a beggar child and either look away or roll down your car window and drop a coin in the proffered hand, but keep your eyes away as if you look into the innocent eyes you run the risk of seeing with your heart and that believe you me is dangerous. If you come across child labour, be it in a tea stall or even at an acquaintance or neighbour’s home you will at best discuss the aberration in the comfort of your drawing room. How many of us pick up our phone and call the authorities. No one I know! I have even heard people reacting vehemently at a news article on child labour and then ordering a tea from the young boy manning the stall without batting an eyelid.

On a lighter vein, many of you may have got an email that did the rounds some time ago about incredible India where a pizza arrives in 30 minutes, the ambulance doesn’t, where there are more mobile phones than  toilet where car loans are cheaper than  educational loans and where food grain rots as people die of hunger. The list was longer but all in the same spirit. I do not know how many of us read it before junking it and how many really pondered about what was written.

Today’s newspaper has another incredible headline: a young student who has just passed her XIIth Boards was eligible for Harvard but not for Delhi University. Now the said kid has presumably well to do parents who can afford to send their child beyond the seas. Now this student must have marks in the 90s and still cannot secure admission in a good and affordable institution. Then what about the kid from a poor home who gets brilliant marks. She has few options if any!

The state seems to have abdicated its duty towards its poor though every political party heralds loud and clear that it is the messiah of the poor. And to prove that moots innumerable pro poor programmes that look good on paper only and land up lining many pockets before paying some kind of lip service. Imagine if even 50% of the funds reached the real beneficiaries. The sad truth is that we are still quibbling about the definition of poverty is it 28 rs a day or 32! Would it not be saner and more efficient to identify beneficiaries of programmes and open an account in their name and put in the amount due to them. But there is a hitch: how will money be made? So this is a big no no.

Take another issue that is in the news: the creamy layer definition. Now we all know that reservations have been made for students from OBC categories in various institutions. Now the hitch is to define the creamy layer that is excluded from the reservation. One would believe that such reservations would benefit the poorest of the poor. Not quite as the quibbles now are about the definition of the (ill) famed creamy layer that needs to be excluded. Let it be known that it has gone from 250 000 to 450 000 rupees per annum and is likely to be increased to 600 000! That means that a salary of 49 000 per month would ensure your child a seat in the OBC quota! So these reservations are not for the poor, far from that. In my humble opinion someone earning that amount can give his child a sound education enabling her to compete at par with others. But who cares for the poor?

This is the land we live in.

I for one will never give up on this land!

Social responsability revisited

TV’s prodigal child is three episodes old. I am talking of SJ hosted by a leading film star. I must admit that I was taken in by episode 1 as it touched a raw nerve though I did have my reservations. It was a little too glitzy for my liking and sounded a tad false and failed to address the real issues. Post episode 1, I learnt that the anchor was charging a whopping 3.2 crores per episode. I must admit I was saddened and somehow the show lost its charm at least for me. Seemed that social responsibility was the new kid on the business block.

Call it synchronicity but some days later I came upon an article entitle: How My Conscience Was Abducted in Dantewada. In the garb of social responsibility, the Essar Group recently organised a storytelling festival for the ‘benefit’ of children in this Maoist-dense area. What emerged most starkly was the stench of corporate propaganda. The article is written by a story teller invited to tell stories to a bunch of tribal kids in a language they did not understand and who felt his conscience was abducted. The scenario goes something like this-  the protagonists: a corporate in desperate need of a new coat of veneer, an event management company desperate to conjure a sense of celebration in an alien place, hundreds of bewildered children gathered to hear stories in a language they do not understand and a bunch of bored officials present to give the stamp of officialdom; the stage: hurriedly white washed hall with buntings more appropriate to an upmarket literary festival than a story telling for tribal children. The children were made to listen to corporate  propaganda and incomprehensible stories, feat made harder by the pangs of hunger as the organisers has miscalculated the numbers. Pictures were taken to adorn the CSR pages of websites and publications, a huge budget was earmarked for those in power to spend. All in a all a success except for the children who still did not quite fathom what was happening. The question that begs to be asked is: is such a farce needed? My answer is a big NO! Such efforts are to my mind pathetic and revolting. Corporate Social Responsibility at best eases some consciences, makes good photo ops and lines pockets. The supposed beneficiary is left bewildered and empty handed.

How the receiving side feels was best portrayed by one such recipient. We too have had our own first hand experiences be it the lady from a prestigious club who brought a few sweaters on a hot September morning and her personal photographer in tow. She insisted that the special kids wear the sweaters in spite of the sweltering heat, so that she could have a photograph for the newsletter of her club! Or how can I forget the man who in response to our appeal for help for Raju’s open heart surgery wanted to know why we were spending so much money for just a poor child. Charity has become a lucrative business.

On the other hand, call it synchronicity again, I stumbled upon another TV show called the  Secret Millionaire. True it is what is now called a reality show – the flavour of our times – but it rings true. The blurb of the show states: Millionaire benefactors say goodbye to their luxury lifestyles and go undercover in deprived areas to find out who needs their help. I was impressed by the part of the show I saw, but still a bit cynical and weary of reality shows I decided to catch a few more. It was truly inspiring. A millionaire spends 9 days in a destitute area to look for causes he may fund. It is bye bye credit cards and fat wallets. The protagonist is meant to survive on the minimum wage, often in a decrepit flat a far cry from his luxurious abode. He has to cook – or buy street food -, wash, clean and above all  find organisations worthy of his help. To achieve this he talks to people in pubs and other places and once he has a list of organisations he goes on to volunteer in them. This enables him to assess the real situation. At the end of his 9 days he reveals his identity and makes his donations.To justify the presence of cameras, people are told that a documentary is being shot to highlight the issues of the community. The show looks real and touches the heart. The millionaire is often shown coming back to the area weeks later to reconnect with those he helped. I must admit I too had a lump in my throat. If it is all scripted then it was a darned good job!

I could not help remembering a reality show that professed to get rich young Indians brats to experience life in a slum. Now one would think that they would live in an actual slum. Far from that. In line with the Big Brother set, a ‘slum’ was created for them.I remember watching one episode where the kids were in a large room with beds (I presume harder than the ones they were used to) and fans (no ACs). This was a bizarre depiction of slums as I know them. Wonder if any of those kids could have survived in Radha’s home which is a hole in the ground, about 12 square feet, with an asbestos roof and mud floor. In that ‘hole’ live 4 adults and 4 children. One must not forget that little Radha suffers from brittle bone disease.

 I also wonder if any of our millionaires would agree to give up their comfortable lives and spend even one night if not in a slum, let us say in the likes of a DDA Jantadesi version of the Secret Millionaire. I guess production houses knew it was doomed to fail as they would find no millionaires willing to participate. I guess we have some more growing up to do. Our rich are more comfortable with the CRS version of charity that does not entail dirtying one’s hand and is a perfect way to ease consciences.

Time to get our very own red carpet

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! For the past weeks I have been writing about issues that irk me and in the bargain have completely obliterated the essential: the essential being project why! I guess I was stricken by a bout of the comfort zone syndrome: in this occurrence the fact that all is always well at project why. So April passed and I failed to mention the stunning results of our kids and then May came and went and with it the dreaded Board exam results. This was before Internet days, when pwhy teachers went to schools to check the lists and I waited cellphone in hand! The whoops of joy and oodles of sweets that followed were indeed ah ha moments. Then year after year all our students passed and slowly the dangerous comfort zone took over. I have no option but the proverbial kick myself in the butt!

So here I am with egg on my face trying to make amends. The kids have never let us down be they in class I or XII. It is their ageing Ma’am who is at fault. Time to redress the tort. So without more delay I am thrilled to share with all of you the achievements of the project why family.


Let us begin with our Okhla centre. All the children primary and secondary have passed their examinations. That means a whopping 260 kids! What is truly brilliant is that this year we had our first batch of class X and they ALL passed their Board exam. Akeel even topped his class. And Pooja and Brijesh topped class VI and little Sapna topped class1!. Now this may seem no great shakes to some. However if I were to tell you that our Okhla centre is located in a garbage dump, the closest primary schools is a kilometer away and the secondary school 5 km away (yes this is in Delhi and next to a new swanky five star hotels, that there are no NGOs in the area, that parents are often working long hours in factories and care very little if not at all for their children’s education. The children are left to their own devices.

That is why we had decided to start a centre in this godforsaken area way back in 2005 even if it meant clearing up space in a garbage dump. I remember having paid for 3 or 4 trucks earth from my own pocket as finances were short then and how could one explain to our donors the sudden need for tons of earth. We were meant to be an education organisation were we not! What had prompted me to do so was the fact that children in that god forsaken dump were being used by mafias and politicos to fulfil sinister agendas. Okhla was not easy to set up. Our ‘school’ then a shack with a bright blue plastic sheet held up by bamboos was regularly destroyed and doggedly rebuilt by our valiant staff. But slowly things settled and we could put up walls, then a tin roof, then an extra room and thus have a primary, secondary and even a computer section. We were in business and our best supporters where the children themselves as they soon took ownership of their school. They are the ones who demanded a secondary section when the first batch reached class VI and insisted on  computer having computer classes. When we meekly suggested that computers may not be safe in the centre they loudly retorted that they would make sure that nothing happened. And in spite of conditions that no insurance company would ever agree to – a rickety door, walls that would collapse were they pushed – they children kept their promise. Today the computer centre located in a tiny space is the only one in the entire area and a great success. What a way we have come. I had almost forgotten this.

Now on to our Govindpuri centre which began only 2 years ago after we had to close down Sanjay Colony and Nehru Camp. From a mere 30 students we now have 104 and from a primary outreach programme we almost surreptitiously mutated into a secondary one as we now have classes VI and VII. One of the biggest USP of this class is that Anita, one of our teachers is a project why alumni. She joined us in nursery way back in 2000! And now for the results: a whopping 17 kids stood first in their respective classes with Saifin even getting a scholarship. Kudos to all.

Now let us get to the famous Boards classes X and XII. All our students passed: 28 cleared their Xth and 12 their XIth. In class X Pooja secured 87.3% and in class XII Akansha topped with 95%! Wow! Well done girl!

At the women centre all children passed their examinations. That means 298 kids in all and we had nine toppers. Not bad at all. This year we will be having our first class X batch. Fingers crossed. But that is not all, our women have not done badly at all. The sewing and beautician classes are also bearing their fruits. 3 students have opened their own beauty parlours, 2 in their villages and one in the nearby slum. 9 women work door to door and 2 have secured jobs in beauty parlours. Most of our sewing ladies work from home but 9 of them have got jobs in boutiques and export houses.

So you see there are many stars at project why. Time to get our very own red carpet!