A reality check on so called social programmes

When the Government announced with great fanfare the passing of the Right to Education (RTE) Bill, I was among those who hoped against hope that the Government would adopt the neighbourhood school policy and upgrade all State run schools to Central school quality so that every child could walk to a good school. The RTE per se should provide quality education in their own schools to thus allow every child in India to access such education. The model elucidated in the Section 12 of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act  2009 states that the Act has made it compulsory for every private unaided school to admit at least 25% of its entry level class from children belonging to weaker and disadvantaged groups. The article cited above shows the many flaws of this proposal and is worth a read. One of the comments I agree with in toto is the following: This minor social engineering has produced some ridiculous protests from the elite. Yet, equally ridiculous is the claim that this will significantly help the poor. Of India’s hundreds of millions of schoolchildren, only a few thousand poor will enter the elite havens. The others will remain at the mercy of third-rate government schools that provide no worthwhile education. We seem to be a State that loves social engineering and reservations of all kinds. For the last six decades and more we have shown that we are masters at perpetrating divisive polices and thus create a new caste system.

I have also realised over the years mutating from a naive and ignorant person, who believed with credulity that every social programme initiated by the Government was done for the right reasons, to a cynical and disenchanted one, that these programmes are not meant for the stated beneficiaries but to fulfil wily political agendas and fill deep pockets. This is done with great finesse and a perfect play. people are led to believe that all such programmes are debated by activists and the people and thus carry   a stamp of approval. This is a sham as ultimately all the inconvenient parts are deleted and the Bill presented at the appropriate time like just before elections to show one’s self as the Messiah of the downtrodden. And we gullible idiots refuse to see through their game.

One of our most respected activist who has been the at the helm of many important proposals resigned yesterday from the  National Advisory Council that  that sets the social agenda for the government. In her statement she said: It is difficult to understand how a country like India can deny the payment of minimum wages and still makes claims of inclusive growth. The story is the same be it minimum wages, education, health and even food security. I do not understand how startling statistics such as more than 5000 children dying every day of malnutrition does not trouble our law makers and administrators. I guess it is perhaps it is not their children who die. It is only when we find it in ourselves to take ownership of all that is wrong and raise our voices that things may change. Why do I feel that that day is still a long time coming.

I started this post by expressing my reservation on the 25% reserved for poor children in all schools from the swankiest to the humblest. First of all the stark reality is that it is not the poor kids who are availing of this facility but  middle class kids with clever parents who are masters at getting fake documents. However let us presume that some truly deserving kid make it, there is no way the child can keep abreast with the remaining 75%.  Here is a small example.

I am in the process of helping Utpal finished his holiday homework. His school did give us hard copies of the said homework but in the case of Kiran, the homework had to be downloaded from the Internet. I wonder how a kid living in a slum could manage that. Then the homework itself required lots of searching on the Net and most of the questions could not be understood by the child himself and needed adult help. And last but not the least it cost me over 1500 rupees to get all the stationery and other material required to complete the homework. I would love to ask our Education Minister how he expects illiterate and poor parents to get their child’s homework done.

This is only one aspect of the situation. There many more. Just put yourself in the place of a slum kid in a swanky school. You will have all the answers.

We need to stop fooling ourselves. It is our money that runs all the social programmes in the country. It is time we demanded accounts. But to do that we must first accept that there exists a whole world on the other side of an invisible line, and they too are citizens of this country with same rights as us.

a clumsy winged voyager!

This is the picture that is sits on my computer and on my phone screens. It is my feel good shot and normally can bring a smile on my face under any circumstances. But for the past weeks or should I say months the magic has not worked. True the smile does appear but it is a tad jaded and laced with sadness. Recent events have brought to the fore the reality that you may make all the plans you want, and think you have the power to control your destiny, everything can change in a moment as you are a puppet and the strings are in unknown hands. My father tried to explain this to me in a spiritual way by saying that not a single leave moved without the will of God. Yet we mortals easily fall prey to hubris and defy those very Gods. When things go right, we become brazen and start making impossible dreams and with each dream or wish fulfilled we begin to believe that we are masters of our destiny. For the past decade or so my life, both personal and ‘professional’ – I guess that is what pwhy is – has been nothing short of wondrous, barring a few hiccups easily resolved. It was an obstacle race I managed to win with ease. From a tiny project with barely 3 persons and a small biscuit distribution programme, we morphed into one that reaches out to 1000 beneficiaries and at every stage we cleared every milestone almost effortlessly.

I discovered a whole new world and fell in love with it. My greatest gift and blessing was Popples landing in my life. True they were many lessons one had to learn and accept, some quite troubling and even distressing but that was part of the game. My own world kept pace and all those I love prospered and flourished. I became a grandmother when a little Angel landed in my heart. My life partner moved into retired life with a spring in his gait and opportunities galore. His strong shoulder was always there to lean on when things looked a little blue. Everything seemed on course and life could not have been better.

Then one day, almost a year ago, my carefully constructed and nurtured life fell apart. The one, who had always been the strongest fell, ill and this time nothing went as planned. I only could watch helplessly as he who was my strength began wasting away in front of helpless eyes. I knocked at every door from the white coat specialist to the preferred star gazer. Every test was inconclusive and every magic formula in vain. No one seemed to understand what was happening. And as days became weeks, and weeks turned into months a new lexicon stemmed out of the recesses of my mind. I started thinking almost surreptitiously about the expiry date of one’s life. Alas it is not printed on the soles of our feet when we wail our way into this world. Actually the only thing we are sure about when we are born is that we will die and what comes in between is anyone’s guess. So the maxim that urges us to live one day at time, and live it as if it was our last is true and believing that everything  will run the way we want because we are knowledgeable and have done all the right things is pure folly.

Everything could change in a instant. Gone was the hubris. The wise thing would be to start tying loose ends as quickly as possible. Time to stop dreaming. One actually had to live every day as if were the last one and complete tasks with a yesterday deadline.

When I look at my little boys today with a somewhat despondent smile, I realise that for one of them at least my task is far from over. When you extend your hand to someone and s/he holds it tight, it is a lifelong engagement. The child can be the one you gave life to and who clings to your finger instinctively or the one that everyone gave up on except you. I would like to see my grandson grow into a young man but that can only be wishful thinking. But the one I reached out to is another story. Maybe that is the biggest loose end that needs to be tied. I know there are many who love this little fellow, but his future can only be secured if I ensure that he has a Trust Fund that would look after his further studies, and give him what he needs to begin life. At least ensure his needs, if not his wants. So from today on, this picture will be a reminder of what I still have to do and do fast. I just hope and pray many will come forward and extend their hand. It is funny that I who till now was the one reaching out to others find myself on the other side of the fence. I guess this a lesson that has to be learnt. The sad but true reality is that in the world we have created and are so proud of there is scant place for compassion and empathy. The lexicon in use is that of money. I am sure many would be willing to look after this little man provided they do not have to dip into their pockets. I may be sounding cynical but this is something I have learnt over the years. The child protection law that has declared me person deemed ‘fit’ to look after this child and keeps an eye on him as we have to ‘produce’ him in court every time he comes on a school break, washes their hands of him the day he turns 18. He would barely be out of school. And then who cares for him? The law decrees he cares for himself. Who makes these laws I wonder. I only know that I have to make sure that he has money for further studies and also mentors to guide him and love him. Not an easy task but one that has to be done.

It is also time to sift what my mind demands from what my heart yearns for. Secure my pwhy family without chasing impossible dreams; tie up the few essentials of my personal life and ensure that my children can walk into my shoes without any pinches. So need to make a sensible bucket list and fulfil it!

For the very first time in my life, I am truly out of my depth and feel I am caught in a swirling vortex of emotions and events I cannot handle. It is a first for me as till date I had always felt I was in the driver’s seat. As an only child my wonderful parents always made sure that I felt that way and come to think of it, this game continued till the day they left me and even after. They had given me the skills needed to overcome obstacles and challenges without falling apart or if I did, then bouncing back before anyone knew.

After they left, my partner took over and never stood in my way and was always the wind beneath my wings and I a soaring free bird. Today I am grounded. There is no wind to propel me. I feel like Baudelaire’s Albatross: a clumsy winged voyager!

I never realised that in all my existence there was always someone to blow the wind needed to move the wings insisted on wearing. It is a reality check. Maybe God’s way of seeing whether I can be a soaring winged voyager without help or just a clumsy one!

The hunger games

A mother of five watched two of her children die of hunger! I wonder if you can even begin to imagine the pain and total helplessness of this woman. We are of those who run after our kids with plates of food, willing to conjure anything alternatives treats should our brat refuse the fare of the day. We are of those who move heaven and earth should our child get a minor scratch. We are of those who have never experienced hunger pangs or seen our child hungry. So how can we even begin to feel the agony of that mother. The authorities with their art of splitting hair  and their misplaced wisdom declared the children had died of diarrhea as they always do to keep their statistics clean. According to them few really die of starvation. For us it is just a news item, if we are one of those who switched on the TV at the opportune time.

Starvation is something we prefer ignoring as it shows us in a poor light and is not in sync with the image our rulers and many of us want to project. But starvation is real even it we want to look away. It is a terrible failure on our part and is partly if not mainly due to our inability to ensure that social programmes are implemented properly and not hijacked by the corrupt ways of some and the total indifference of others. Grains rot as we can’t put a distribution system in place and most of all the really poor slip out of the net of obtuse paper work. The equation is skewed to favour the administration not the beneficiary and thus the real poor get left out.

Starvation or near starvation exists in XXIst century India. It is not all about food but about systemic failure and the failures of all programmes that could have helped the poor regain ownership of their lives. The proposed Food Security Bill solution to starvation is that all those people who are identified would be guaranteed two free meals per day for six months. My question is: what happens after 6 months, provided of course that persons identified are true beneficiaries.

In Ash in the Belly the author recounts how mothers ferret rat holes for grain to feed their children! I do not think anyone of us can understand the pain and desperation of these mothers and yet they do the best they can even if to many it sounds degrading and unacceptable. These are true stories you can read if you have the heart.

A Food Security Bill, no matter the flaws, was introduced in Parliament in December 2011. One would have thought that the 500 odd representatives of the people would at least come together and pass this bill swiftly. But they did not. For them hunger is just a game to be played at the opportune moment, let us say before elections. No one really cares about those that are dying simply because we have not been able to implement programmes meant to alleviate hunger. For our lawmakers these are just gimmicks to make them look good, and once the law has been passed, then ways to enrich themselves.

The amount of food that is wasted is humongous from the grains that rot for want of space, to food thrown at parties, weddings, religious feeding etc. Our children throw food and we say nothing. Respect for food is not instilled in our young ones. I do not know if you have seen the ad for a food supplement for children, where a brat pushes away a plate of healthy food with distaste. I shudder each time I see this ad. Such representation should be banned! It is time we taught our children respect for food and told them about the starving children. It is not right to hide realities from kids. Compassion and concern should be taught to children at a young age.

But let is come back to the Food Security Bill. I do not know if it will really bring the change it meant to. It is likely to go the way all social legislation have. And that is often because of our indifference. A recent article published in a weekly traces the chronicle of the Integrated Child Development Services  ICDS, a scheme launched with great fanfare way back in 1975 to improve the nutritional and health status of pregnant and lactating mothers and children in the 0-6 years age group, to reduce infant mortality, morbidity, malnutrition and school drop-out rate and to lay the foundation for the proper psychological, physical and social development of the child. Had the scheme been well implemented India would have looked different. As we all know it is 9 months and 1000 days that are the most crucial to a child. The article aptly entitled Privatising the ICDS once again proves the way our rulers like to take each and every time be it education, health, midday meals or any other programme that benefits the poor. The well run pilots proved that the scheme were successful but the Government was extremely lethargic in moving to universalise the scheme, and provided only pathetic amounts to finance it and enable it to function properly and this even after a Supreme Court Judgement noted that the ICDS was very important in the overall development of children in India and ordered the Central government to universalise the scheme to cover all children in the country. The State did but a recent report shows that 61 per cent of the AWCs  (creches) did not have their own building, and that another 25 per cent were functioning out of kuccha/semi-pukka buildings or partially open structures. Between 40 and 65 per cent did not have separate spaces for cooking, storing food items or separate spaces for children’s activities. Fifty two per cent of the AWCs did not have their own toilets, and 32 per cent had no drinking water facility. Functioning weighing machines for children and adults were absent in 26 per cent and 58 per cent of AWCs respectively. The State promised to change things and now proposes to hand over the running of the creches to NGOs and private parties. You can imagine the consequences.

I said earlier that the change we would like to see, as I presume that even if we are cynical, the idea of children dying of malnutrition is preposterous and unacceptable, needs us to take a proactive role. I am sure many of you would be thinking I am mad. Our political duty does not stop at casting a vote but should also extend to asking questions and giving a voice to those who have none. We have a wonderful legislation in the Right to Information, and how many card games or kitty and other parties we would have to miss were we to take a sheet of paper and file an application under the RTI Act asking let us say for example how many Anganwadis there are in a locality, maybe the one where those who work in our homes live, where they are situated, what nutrition is give, does their weighing machine work. Or why could we not ask our maid to take us to an Anganwadi and see for ourselves the reality on the ground and then write to our MP or MLA. If we did, then believe you me things would be different.

This may sound like wishful thinking, but is is time we took ownership of things that shock us and lend our voices to straighten the tort.

Will we? That is the question!

A letter to those who gave me the gift of life

Dear Mama and Tatu,

Today would have been your 64th wedding anniversary. I do not know why after so many years I feel like writing to you. It has been more than 2 decades since you left me and there has not been a day when I have not missed you. It is strange how we miss those we loved more after they leave us. I guess as long as you were there one just lived by the day and never saw things in a larger perspective.

When I was a child Tatu you were the one who always stood in the way of my wanting to fly on my own wings bet it an invitation to spend the night at a friend’s house or go on a school trip, and when I was older to go out dancing or just hanging with friends. I must confess that I learnt to jump the walls and sneak out every night. Today I realise that it was because you loved me so much. You would have got the moon into my room if that were possible, but could not live a minute without knowing I was safe. Your safety rules were very restrictive and incomprehensible at that time and led to many banged doors and tears but then how can I forget the gentle knock on the same door that always followed and the super treat that you then cooked for me to the dismay of the kitchen staff, as they were not used to Ambassador Sahib whipping omelettes for his rebellious child. How could they ever imagine that all it took was a banged door and a fluffy omelette to set things right between an adoring father and his adored child. As I said, those were days when we lived one day at a time, and sorted our problems one at a time. And if your brand of safety did feel almost abusive at that time, today it seems it was the only way you knew to express your love. That is only one side of the story. There is another when you and I seemed more like partners in crime trying to hoodwink mama. How can I forget the innumerable dinners for two you and I shared as you instilled in me a love for gastronomy even before I could walk or talk properly. I remember dining with you at Maxim’s. I could go through a 4 course meal without a problem while having to be propped up on several cushions to reach the table. But that is not all you taught me. I think the biggest lesson you taught me was that of compassion and humility. Yes I was the spoilt Ambassador’s brat, but you sent me to neighbourhood schools where I rubbed shoulders and made friends with regular kids. You taught me respect for the other, no matter who the other was. I remember how on each and every Diwali celebrated in faraway lands, you ensured I touched the feet of everyone older than me, be it the cook or the housemaid. And I never resented it as you had instilled into me that it was the right thing to do. As we both grew we may have drifted apart but I can tell you today that there was only one place I felt safe and that was in your arms. 

If I am profoundly Indian it is because of you Mama. The very first word you spoke to me was in Hindi and you carried on doing so until the day you were sure that Hindi had become my mother tongue. I remember being shocked when I realised that you spoke other languages! It is at your knees that I learnt about my land and its beauty. You shared storied of your life that were imbibed with India’s fight for freedom and though you never believed in ritualism, you celebrated each and every festival in all its minutest details to allow me to make my own choice when time was ripe. Both of you never stopped me from participating in any religious festivities of friends and encouraged me when I wanted to fast with my Muslim friends or attend Mass with my christian ones. I guess this is why I accepted Hinduism as it felt like a religion that was all embracing. It breaks my heart to see what is happening today in the name of religion.

Mama you also gave me another lesson that I am deeply grateful for. I remember when during school holidays you would insist I learn to cook, sew, iron clothes, wash clothes, clean the house and help the staff. There were times when it did irk me, but today I realise that you were teaching me dignity of labour. It is something that is truly lacking in today’s India. 

I grew up in many countries but both of you ensured that I knew who I was and where I came from. My education was westernised but it never came in the way of my Indianess. Actually it enriched me in more ways than one and allowed me to be a better person or so I would like to believe. I could go and on as my memories are filled with exceptional moments I lived with both of you. Let me just say that if I am who I am today, it is because of the two of you.

But today is your wedding anniversary and I find myself writing about me! I guess this is part of the only child syndrome. Today I must talk about your incredible love story that few know. 

Mama you had resigned yourself to being an old maid as you had made a decision of not marrying before India gained its independence. You were quite a gal as you drove your own car, lived alone in Delhi under the watchful eye of one of your father’s client who had been accused of some horrible crime but has been acquitted thanks to your father’s pleading. He owed his life to him and thus protecting you was sacrosanct. He was a true Cerberus. 

Papa you too were living a lonely life in Mauritius though professionally you were at your zenith. You were a judge at a very young age and had even been  one of the youngest recipient of the MBE. I have your medal safely tucked away in a drawer and a yellowing picture commemorating the event. You told me you had once been engaged but the marriage never took place because of your mother’s demise. I guess you were both resigned to your lives. But someone had other plans.

Ma, I remember you telling me that when you had got your father to accept your decision not to marry in an enslaved India, you had also promised him that if you were still of marriageable age at India’s Independence you would marry anyone he chose. You must have been around 30 in 1947. It was an age when women were considered old maids. But your father remembered the promise and was on the look out for a suitable ‘boy’. Destiny took over and a common friend of both families suggested Tatu for you. I guess loneliness had got to you Tatu and your needed a wife on the new career you were embarking upon as you opted for Indian nationality and were to join the Indian Foreign Service. You were an odd couple: the highly educated Gandhian small town lass and the westernised bon vivant. It could not have been love at first sight for you Mama because as you told me once, when you first saw Tatu you thought he was the father for a prospective bride for your brother!

Tatu had been posted to Prague where he was meant to open the Indian mission and had a few days leave. He decided to woo you in the only way he knew: the western one. So there he was taking you on tonga – horse carriage – rides to the Lodhi Garden which was then almost on the outskirts of the city to buy you roses and then to Hamilton, the jewellers of the Brits, to buy you an engagement ring. You followed him wide eyed and totally in love. The only one who was not happy was your Cerberus!

I found a bundle of letters that you wrote to each other during you courting days. I must confess that I only gleaned through one and could gage how much in love your both were. I could not read those letters as I felt I would be prying in a space that was yours. Maybe my children will read them one day!

Your love story is not the kind you find in books and novels. It is borne out of your desire to reach out to the other in ways that were unique. Mama you had to get rid of your nationalist persona as you were  now the wife of a senior diplomat and embrace a world of luxury so alien from the one you knew as the child of a man more often in prison then at home. Papa you had to learn how to please a woman who tastes were so incompatible to yours. In communist Czechoslovakia you had to conjure green vegetables for the woman you loved as she was not one to share your taste for scoops of caviar or an orange duck. But mama you were to the manor born and all through your life you performed like a star.

When I came into this world and was old enough to understand things, both of you always seemed the perfect couple and incredible parents. It is only when I read one of your diaries after your death mama that I realised that there were problems and that you had handled them with such dignity. Tatu your jealousy and possessiveness was almost psychotic. You were unwilling to share the woman you loved with anyone, even her own family and siblings. You resented the time she spent with them in the most childish manner. Mama you were able to look beyond the petty attitude of your husband and realise that it was just his way of loving you and you accepted it without a sigh. I could never have done that. But this was your way of proving your love and I hope you understood it Tatu. You know that this incredible woman whose child I am so proud to be learnt French just for you, as French culture was engrained in your soul and she wanted to share what you loved best. 

But I think Mama that the best proof of how much Tatu loved you was in the last year of your life when you fell ill and lost part of your recent memory. You had cancer, but no one was supposed to utter the C word. You refused treatment and wanted to live life till the last breath. How difficult it was for you Tatu to see Mama wasting away and not accepting any medical help. But you did what she wanted and found ways of easing her pain. You had a hairdresser come almost every day and a beautician take care of her at home. You took her for lunches and to the theatre or concerts, even if you did not like Indian music. You had read somewhere that fish was good for her condition and Mama you ate that fish for him even if I know you threw up after each meal. Wow you guys were something.

In your last days you refused to sleep Mama and would only accept to do so if Tatu sat next to you holding your hand and waking you up every 45 minutes and he did that night after night without a word of murmur of protest. There are so many incidents of those days and I will not recall them all but there was one that particularly moved me. When you had completely lost your recent memory and could not remember what you had done the previous day, Tatu would make you write a daily diary and if someone came to visit you, you would quietly go into your room and read the relevant page and then act naturally. This was his way of protecting your dignity. 

I sit today remembering both of you and wondering whether I have been able live to your expectations and to the quasi impossible ideals you set as an example. I can feel your presence in the home you built with so much love.

Today I too have been thrown a challenge that will test my ability to rise to the heights you did and prove that I too can love in the exquisite way you showed me. 

I miss you Mama and Tatu.

Your child

Anou



My all new stress buster

For the past months I have been terribly stressed. The reasons are many, some personal and some professional. This cocktail has been a heady one and needs immediate first aid. The normal remedies do not work for me for several reasons. I find it hard to meditate though a friend recently told me a form of meditation called gibberish meditation that seems compatible with my personality. It is called gibberish meditation and goes from singing la la la to the sky to talking nonsense non stop and even jumping and rolling yourself on the floor. The trick is to go on for 20 minutes! I have not begun yet as I am still trying to find the appropriate time and space to ‘meditate’ without having my household think that I have had a meltdown and lost it! But I do intend starting this very soon.

Sometimes the Gods do decide to smile upon you and they did. With stress mounting by the minute, I knew I had to find some outlet I had to find some relief and it came in the most unexpected manner. You know how much I dread Utpal’s holiday homework as it is always a battle royal to get it finished. Most of it is quite inane and makes me wonder what the child learns. It has been, for the past years, a bane that spoils the holiday mood as most of the time one is hounding the child to write his daily page or do the annoying sums. But this time, when Utpal landed and showed me his homework he was all smiles and ready to take on the homework challenge. More so because he wants to finish it by the time Agastya my grandson and his pal land early next month. So we attacked the homework head on.

I took the printed sheets and worked out a plan. There was some research to do and I began in earnest and found myself enjoying every minute of it. So for the past days we have been collecting material, making posters, making charts and colouring them. Harvest festivals, malnutrition, antonyms and synonyms, proverbs, environment is what has kept me busy and stress free, at least for a couple of hours a day. I have been having a whale of a time doing things I did when I was young and loving every minute of it. Handling glue, colour pencils and crayons. Sharpening pencils and drawing straight lines with a ruler are things I had forgotten and like Proust’s madeleine brought back memories of happy yore years.

So till I find my space to scream and shout, holiday home work is my all new stress buster.

Not proud of what I saw in the mirror today

When I started Pwhy I did not know that my life would change surreptitiously in more ways than one. Till then I had been a rather private person. Perhaps this was because I had grown up as an only and lonely child with no moorings as mine was a nomadic life courtesy my father’s profession. Like all only children I had my set of imaginary friends, talked to myself and dealt with my good and bad moments alone. My adult years also were somewhat solitary. Friends and colleagues remained at a distance. After the passing of my parents I found myself slowly turning into a recluse. It became my comfort zone.   The children had grown up and found their wings. My imaginary friends mutated into books. But this was all about to change in a way I could never have imagines.

When I first thought of setting up a organisation, it was primarily to perpetuate my father’s memory and to pay back a debt. It was never meant to allow anyone into my private zone. But slowly things changed and I found that the gates and doors I had carefully placed around were soon to be blown away. You cannot set up an organisation teeming with children and people without opening your heart as wide as possible. It was the most rewarding and humbling experience and I felt blessed.

The life of a lone wolf is lacking in events that affect others. They mostly trouble you and it is up to you to sort them out or simply live with them. But once you open yourself to the world round you, particularly to those in need, then you become responsible for each and every action you do. Some can be quite devastating, but you have to take them on no matter what. A friend told me somewhere along the way that the best way to deal with your lapses and wrongdoings was to be candid and share them with one and all. I followed that directive as best I could, and have often found sharing in my blogs personal failures and gaffes. You always need to take responsibility for every action you do or word you utter.

Today is one of those moments.

For the past months now I have been walking a tight rope because of some personal issues and it has taken a huge toll on my nerves. I know I am at the end of my tether and have been very concerned about breaking down. I only did not when it would happen and who would be the target. Sadly it happened yesterday and the victim was none other than my most beloved Utpal. As every afternoon, I went to see him in his room to cajole into doing some homework. I found him in front of the TV munching biscuits. I must admit I was a little cross but still in control. As I sat down to straighten some of the mess around, I saw a huge plastic bag filled with cookies and biscuits. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I just lashed out, venting all I had been keeping inside for too long. The poor child was confused and then broke into tears. He could not understand why a few biscuits could unleash such reprimand.

His tears called me to order and I took him in my arms and told him how sorry I was. How could I explain to him that the words addressed to him were actually a meltdown. And how could I have forgotten that biscuits were his comfort zone as that is what he connected with his mother who always bought him biscuits! I was ashamed and not proud of what I had done.

I know he has forgiven me and moved on. But I cannot forgive myself and did not like what I saw in the mirror today.

Why is it that it is always children who are the target of our own frustrations!

a will and a trust

Life has its own uncanny way of calling to to order, particularly when you have sunk in a comfort zone and feel that everything is on course. Those are times that you feel your master of you destiny. You even become hubristic! You believe, however erroneously that nothing can get you down as you can take up every challenge thrown your way. For the past months I have been dealing with the health issues of a dear one and until yesterday thought that I would be able to find the right solution and set things back on course. Did I not have an array of options be they as zany as astrologers and their remedies or as logical as the medics who have healed you till now.

Yesterday my entire coping strategies turned out to be a house of cards. All the carefully laid plans, the painstakingly created network of all possible experts one may need in life and the fastidiously drawn out list of all that could possibly go wrong and probable solutions for every aspect of one’s life came to naught. I was suddenly faced with a situation for which I had no ready solution. The ones available were not up my street. I found myself lost on a road I did not know existed. Suddenly all beliefs that seemed so true faded in the face of a situation that concerned a loved one. Oh it is so easy to pontificate when the circumstances concern others or are hypothetical. But when reality hits you a blow in the guts then you realise how fragile you really are.

I have spent the whole day, aided by an army of well wishers to find two mere units of a certain blood group. It is unbelievable but true that you may have all the resources possible be it money, education, contacts et al and yet fail. We were only able to get one unit. How lost and vulnerable you feel. And there you were once thinking you could conquer the world.

But that is not all. The recent events I have experienced have once again brought the fact that our life is ephemeral and we are in no way masters of its duration. One has to keep this in mind and tie all the loose threads before it is too late. Never have I felt this as poignantly as today. So over and above doing my best and more for the one who needs me, there are two things I need to do before it is too late. One is to register my will, something I have been wanting to do for quite some time, and the other is to start a Trust Fund for   little Utpal who has no one but me in the whole world and who would be lost forever if his Maam’ji does not set things right today.

So help me God.

Note: I hope some of you will come forward and participate in Utpal’s Trust Fund that will help him get  a solid higher education and thus a  profession and help him settle in life without being at the mercy of others.

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I start blogging in April 2005. That makes it 8 years and almost 1500 blogs. It all started like this. It must have been circa 2003 when I realised that the proverbial ‘pockets’ I easily dug into whenever    extra funds were needed were emptying at the speed of light or even faster. All the people one knew had been tapped and thus it was time to seek new pastures. At that time I was slowly discovering the magical word of the world wide web and it must have been around then that the first pwhy website went on line. Actually 2003 was quite a fateful year. It was the year when Utpal fell into the boiling cauldron and entered our lives; when two of our creche children died in strange circumstances and we discovered the apathy of the police who never wanted to register a case; when we were successful in raising funds for Raju’s open heart surgery. It was also the year when we were at the top of our page 3 days and the darling of many who organised stunning evenings and balls to help us raise funds. It was also a time when we were at the height of our fairy tale existence. It was also at that time that someone suggested I join a social network called Ryze. I must confess that I had a tough time building my page and it looked very puerile. But I managed to get quite a few contacts and thus began the pwhy network that is so precious to us today. We had a website that was not quite what I would have liked and I realised to my horror what the cost of maintaining would be. I had 2 options: not to have a site at all – not really an option -, or learn how to maintain it myself. I cannot remember how many nights it took to learn a new language – HTML – but I did. The other things I began doing was sending individual emails to all the people I knew. I had not yet discovered mass mailing or just BCC option. That is when a kind person – God bless him – suggested I start a blog. It would change my life forever.

It was a hesitant beginning but I had a forum where I could share the life of pwhy, the stories of our kids, the little things that happened everyday. I thought of it like a sea captain’s logbook that would preserve the chronicles of pwhy. True it started being just that but somehow mutated almost insidiously into a record of happenings in India viewed through a different prism: that of someone passionately in love with her country and often at a loss in comprehending the stark inequalities between rich and poor, the hidden agendas and corrupt games of the powers that be, the dignified and touching survival modes of the poor. The project why stories took on a larger meaning and I found myself writing about issues I felt important. The tone became harsher, the criticism more acerbic and the mood somber.

Simply making a difference in the lives of the hundreds and more children who came to project why was not enough. True it was important as it was tangible and thus valorising but I felt the need to add my voice to those of others fighting for causes I empathised with. And slowly the fairy tale like stories of project why became far and few. There were more important issues to address.

For me this became a platform to share my thoughts, my anger, my distress, my anguish, my horror and my opinions to aberrations that seemed more the rule than the exception. I wanted to be heard.

In 2009 I began writing my second book. This one was about the project why story. Once I again I opted to write it in the form of letters to a child and entitled it Dear Popples II. The bye line was ‘then project why story’. I wrote about 100 pages without any problem in a very short time. And then one day I simply could not continue. The story stopped circa 2004. It was a strange writer’s block that refused to go. I tried many times to pick up the threads but to no avail. I decided to let it be till the time was right.

It is only a few weeks back that I found myself opening the abandoned file and reread what I had written and see if I could move on or if not at least figure out what had happened. It took me some time to realise that my pen had stopped at what I call the fairy tale years and that somehow the approach that seemed right for the first 100 pages did not and would not work for the remainder of the story. The bye line could not be ‘the project why story’ but had to become something like ‘India song 20??-2013. I had two choices either rewrite the whole book or make it in two parts. I opted for the later as only this way will the reader fully appreciate the dynamic and organic nature of project why but also share the changes such an experience has on a human soul. For I cannot shy from the fact that I am in no way the same person I was when it all began. Have I changed for the better? I do not know. I do miss the naive and trusting being I was then and something do not like the bitter and splenetic woman I sometimes seem to have become. Maybe the truth lies in between the two.

Even though I will have to sneak time to write the book, I will continue to blog, as blogging is an immense catharsis for me and I need to rant and rave or else I would blow a fuse, but I what I would really like is people to react to what I write. Sadly my 1500 blogs have only 800 comments!

We still are very raw in doing stuff!

It is not always easy to pass on the mantle and yet that is what I have been trying to do for some time. The reasons are many: creaking bons and dwindling eyesight reminding one that age is catching on; the one woman show syndrome which may look attractive and inspiring but makes the entire structure rather shaky and fragile, and above all the seemingly forgotten mission that set the ball rolling: empowering people to keep the show on the road. I have been making myself as scarce as possible even though I must admit I more than anyone else miss my earlier persona and role. However and no matter what anyone else says, the experience has been positive as the project had been running like a clock work orange. project why needs another face, and the one I would like to project is that of my A team: namely Rani, Dharmendra and Shamika. Somehow I feel that as a crew they encompass most the qualities I have. I know that there is still the fundraising issue but given time I know that they have the ability to overcome the challenge in their own way.

This morning the children had to perform in front of a large group of expat spouses in a very posh hotel and the performance had to be preceded by the much dreaded speech. I must say that Rani made a wow speech in front of the same group at their Annual meeting some weeks back. So I had decided to let them go without me and repeat the performance. Yesterday I could see that the girls wanted to say something but did quite get to it. I stood my ground and repeated that I was not planning to go as I had other things to do. Imagine my surprise when I switched on my computer this morning and found this message: The office does not feel the same without you in it! You are our support, our strength and our energy! We still are very raw in doing stuff! We get very inspired by you. You are a great mother and a wonderful boss! We are very nervous about the event tomorrow  and don’t want any thing to go wrong. I was touched and a tad  cross at the same time. There I was trying to make them stand on their feet and gain confidence.

I was funny that my daughter chose to send me an email from her room within the same house. I guess this is modern communication that I still have to get used to.

I read the message a few times and realised that I had to act in the right way, and the right way at this point was to accept to go with them and hold their hands. The game of passing the mantle has to go through many twists and turns, and you have to play by the rules or else everything may crumble like a house of cards. I also realised that though my A team was doing great, they still needed to be helped and I saw my role like the prompter on a theatre stage: remain invisible but be there when you are needed.

I will be there till I am needed to make sure that the show goes on but I know that the day will come when my team will have the ability to write their own lines and perform them with aplomb.

The storyteller

Story telling has been part of the lore of probably every civilisation that has existed in this world. Be it fairy tales, mythological narratives, myths or just stories, this tradition played a major role in forming minds and instilling values. I had forgotten how much I owed to this wonderful art. I guess much of who I am today is due to the myriad of stories I heard and read from the time I was a toddler. Why am I talking of storytelling today you may wonder? As you may be knowing Utpal has been going to a therapist for the past 2 years. The child was unable to deal with all that befell him starting with the disappearance of his mother one fine morning, to the sequels of all the violence he has witnessed from the time he was born. Suffering third degree burns when we was just a baby, dealing with the mood swings and dysfunctional life of his alcoholic parents, hearing the jeers of people around him about the identity of his father; sleeping hungry when the mom forgot to cook or was too drunk to do so. You name it, he experienced it.

When things went out of hand he was packed to a boarding school. He was just 4. We had no option, or so we thought. But today when I look at my 4+ grandson I feel a sense of guilt at not having realised that Utpal was still a bay when I packed him off. Hope he will forgive me when time comes. You understand why he needed therapy as no one, even less a child, can process all that happened to him without help.

Sorry for this aparte. It was just to put things in context.

During his last session, the therapist asked to see me. She suggested that I read him moral stories during the summer break as that would help him learn values. I pondered over this for a long time and realised that what she said what actually a far bigger issue than that of little Popples. In today’s day and age there are no more storytellers. When we were young our grandmothers or grandaunts use to take time to tell us stories. Our parents often read us bedtime stories. And when we started reading, we read stories. Schools had moral studies as a compulsory subject and we thus heard moral stories. Each story planted a seed in our minds. That seed many not have germinated on the day it was planted, but somehow sprouted at the right time, when a situation occurred when we needed to take a decision. It helped us take the right decision, even if it was not the preferred one.

Today children live in nuclear families with parents who are not storytellers. Television and Internet have replaced reading time and schools have done away with moral study altogether. This happens across the board, be it with rich or poor children with a slight difference: the rich child may see a programme he likes while the poor child has to see the inane TV serials his family likes. And even if you try and look with the largest loupe you can find, there are scant lessons to be learnt in the violent cartoons or silly serials. It is time we restored the art of storytelling if we want our children to become caring and honest humans. But that is no easy task.

The news is replete with scams, corruption, rape, violence and more. The lessons we are telling our kids is that it is fine to lie, you can get away with murder, money is the only goal you need have. I am horrified at the number of expensive gadgets rich children have. This is the preferred way of parents who are busy making money to get rid of the guilt they might feel for the scant time they spend with their kids. And somehow children equate reading to a boring pastime and hence are just fed what the visual media gives them.

True there are parents who walk the less travelled road but they are far and few and cannot make the difference we want. Everyone is complaining about the rise in crime graph but this is bound to happen with the completely valueless education we are giving to our children both within the homes and in schools. Moral study should be revived in schools as that is the best way to ensure that these lessons reach a large spectrum of children. But as always who will bell the cat!