The panic button

How many of us who were outraged by the Delhi rape case a few months ago remember all the knee jerk promises ‘promised’ by a somewhat panicked  Government. There was of course the new law and fast track courts. Need I remind you that the said case is still in court and no judgement has been pronounced as yet. Then we have the high court, the supreme court and review petitions. I wonder when the perpetrators will get their due. However this post is not about fast track courts and their protracted hearings. No, it is about something most of us and certainly me had forgotten till a magazine remind us of it. I am talking about the Nirbhaya fund, 1000 crore Rs which has been lost in bureaucratic mazes and of course not spent! The Nirbhaya fund was meant in our Finance Minister words to support initiatives by the government and NGOs working towards protecting the dignity and ensuring safety of women in India. The number of rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated on women across the board since is proof of the fact that nothing has been done to ensure safety of women.

The article I refer to is aptly entitled: the still born Nirbhaya fund! The fund is just that: still born. It has gone in the multifarious loops of what the called the Government of India! The Finance Ministry asked for proposals from other ministries and till date have got just three: one about strengthening police stations, the other for repairing women’s hostels and the third one for creating a red panic button on all cell phones. All this if cleared accounts for a mere 150 crores. If my maths are correct there are still 850 in the kitty.

As a citizen, I have no qualms about paying an extra cess for the safety of women. But after reading this article I would not part with a penny if I was given the choice. One ministry is still planning what to do.This is the Women and Child Development Ministry and one would things they are the ones who should come up with a proper plan, yet the proposal they are yet to send is about prevention, by changing mindsets. Wow. Would love to know how that is to be done.

In short the fund lies unused and the few ‘ideas’ mooted make not much sense. The funds will soon be released. As the author of the article says: Released into what is a question that is still, terrifyingly, blowing in the wind.

There is a panic button that needs to be pressed, pressed by people like you and me! We all know that the (in)famous food security is almost through. Will its funds also wait for proposals and mechanisms to be worked out while the poor, just like the women will have to wait for Godot while we remain frozen in silence.

God Men

I have always despised self professed God Men who play on emotions of gullible people who then follow them blindly. The latest case against one such self styled God Man is a shocker in every which way possible. A young girl, a minor, has alleged that she was molested for 90 minutes by this old man. She gave a detailed account of the incident, something that is not easy for anyone, let alone a young girl and a case was registered as there was prima face evidence. Before anyone alleges that there was no rape, penetration, I would like to remind you that sexual assault in any form is reprehensible and has to be condemned in the harshest way. And if there is sufficient evidence, then the perpetrator, whoever it is, has to be apprehended and arrested. This is what the law of the land says. Many of us may not be aware of it but a law was promulgated last year with the acronym POSCO ( The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences). In this act, sexual assault does not mean penetration alone. That is the law. But in our country, many are above the law in particular these so called God Men as they attract large congregations of people that are easy vote banks.

This commercialisation of religion is probably one of the worst thing to have hit our society. It is a true example of Marx’s assertion on religion being the opium of the masses. We in India are gullible and superstitious to a fault and are willing to accept all aberrations that come our way. Are we not the ones who will drown deities with milk, believe that a God is drinking milk, perform absurd and costly rituals and fall for anything that a priest or a God Man says. I guess that in a religion that was meant to remain oral , the priest or sage had a great social role to play. One would admire these self professed God Men who such large real and virtual audiences to preach sensible things like gender equality, having fewer children, respecting the environment, giving up corrupt ways and so on. But that is not the case at all. These frauds, as that is what they are, are in the God business to enrich themselves, acquire unchallenged power and perform disgusting acts like molesting a child! The person in the news today came under the scanner many times for all the wrong reasons: murder of children, wasting water, advising rape victims to fall of the feet of their rapist and so on. Now if the law applied to him in the same manner as it applies to the ordinary citizen, then one would have no problem. But these God Men have political protection across the board as no one would want to be seen casting aspersions on them lest they loose a large vote bank.

So the case of a child being assaulted is being made into a political conspiracy. I cannot quite understand how a child being assaulted is a conspiracy. Was the poor girl made to say all those horrible things? Some would like us to believe so. What is terribly sad is that the assault of this child has turned into a political slug fest! The perpetrator in robes has still to be arrested. Why has he been given time? Maybe because he wants to threaten the victim and her family to withdraw their case. And by the way what is this absurd nonsense that a summons cannot be served on someone who is meditating?

The question that comes to mind is whether the young girl will get justice? I do not think so.

(to be continued)

Pro India

The food bill has been passed! Who could have stalled or voted against a bill for the poor! No political party that aspires to win the upcoming elections. So there was a sort of a debate and sort of assurances and then the bill was passed! I wish bills for women or children got the same treatment.

India is a POOR country and our leaders like to keep it that way! 75% of our village population and 50% of our urban population is officially POOR! Where do we fall I wonder. I guess we are the ones who will have to pay for this in some way or the other. I feel ashamed of the way such figures are brandished after 66 years of Independence. What every one is tom tomming about is that no one will sleep hungry now. 5 kilos of uncooked grain is enough to fill your stomach. The ruling party has fulfilled its promise of eradicating hunger and malnutrition. Why was this done just before elections is far too suspect. This party has been in power for a decade. Was it fair to leave poor hungry for so many years.

But I  feel a little lost in all this. I am no economist but simply a citizen of India and I cannot understand how we are sometimes told that to be classified as poor you have to be spending less then 32 rs in a city, which makes no one really poor and then you are told almost 70% of us are poor and need subsidised food grain. It all looks Orwellian to me. On the one hand we want to be a ‘super’ power, but on the other hand we are quite happy passing a bill that actually qualifies 3/4 of India as poor.

The question that arises is that keeping in mind our track record in implementing any of the pro poor programmes, one is justified in thinking and even believing that this Bill will go the same way. Many will profit from it, many will misuse it and the really poor will never get anything as they will fall out of the net of complex administrative procedures. If everything was kosher then the ICDS programme launched more than three decades ago should have ensured that every baby born post 1975 should have been healthy! Where the ICDS stopped that is at the age of 6, the midday meal was to take over. We all know the reality. So if we could not run those programmes why should we think that the new bill will eradicate malnutrition. What we need is running something like open soup kitchens for the destitute and providing employment and dignity to the ones we love calling POOR!

The same government passed the Right to Education Bill. What should have ensued is the upgrading of all state run schools to Central school level – also run by the state – and thus having children of all social profiles walk to their school.  Instead, the state decided to ‘reserve’ – how we love that verb – 25% seats in all public and private schools. I work with slum kids and let me tell you none of the kids we know have availed of this reservation as their parents are illiterate, do not have the wherewithal to fulfil all the paper work needed. It is the middle class who can afford to pay for their children who have usurped this reservation for their kids as they know how to make false income certificates, false rent agreement and false everything else that is needed. It would be interesting to do an audit of the social profile of the children who are registered under this category.

So be prepared for surprises when the food security bill is implemented! When will our politicians become pro India

What is wrong with us

What is wrong with us, as a nation, as individuals, as a society? Everything I think. Yesterday’s brutal gang rape in Mumbai has such a sad and pathetic sense of deja vu! Nine months or so ago a ‘nation’ was ‘enraged’ at another brutal rape, the Delhi one. And excuse my cynicism but nine months hence the ‘nation’ will again be enraged against another brutal rape in another city. If we as a ‘nation’ a really enraged at brutal rapes, then we should be in a state of perpetual rape as every day women, girls and even babies get raped somewhere in this vast land of ours. But that is not so. I guess we only get enraged when the victim resembles us. A physiotherapist, a photo journalist. Someone we are in sync with. Our ‘rage’ is short lived. Some of us take to the streets, others consigned it to words – me -, yet others go a step further and ask for new laws, new training programmes. The powers that be make empty promises that are never kept but no one is there to ask them why. For instance CCTV were promised, they are yet to be sourced. Fast track courts were set but who defines fast! An old repugnant self professed God man assaults a minor but he will never be caught.

We will write, make some noise and then go back into the safe little boxes we live in. As long as it is not my child, my daughter, my friend we are not willing to see what is happening around us to children, to women to co citizens. Our rulers get away with impunity. They can loot, rape, abuse, threaten and murder, they not only get away but we vote them back to power!

I forgot these rapes make good material for heated debates where we hear the ‘country wants to know’. Which country and above all why do they want to know if they are not going to leave the comfort of their box and dirty their hands.

After 66 years of Independence we are still trying to address and legislate food laws. I would feel embarrassed if I were in a position of power. That 5000 children die every day of malnutrition should be enough to make a whole government resign in shame. But no they are busy debating a law that will give a few kilo of cereals to the ‘poor’.

Schemes to help the door have been voted time and again and never properly implemented. Implement them for God’s sake. Do we really need new ones?

And let us talk of education. It has taken our legislators decades to address the situation. After 66 years we cannot even provide a bench to every school going child in the capital even by running 2 shifts. Can’t our leaders and politicians see this. No they are busy fighting on petty issues. Parliament does not function though its costs lakhs for it run every minute. Grains rot because you cannot store it. Quacks kill as we do not have a proper health programme for the poor.

What do we look like to others. I do not even want to think of it. Let me just share one image that I see regularly these days as I take my husband for treatment to one of the super speciality hospital. Just in front of the super speciality hospital that charges the earth and the moon to treat you is a huge open garbage dump that stinks. If I were administrating that hospital that mints money, I would have done something. But that is who we are: a nation that would keep its home clean and dump the filth in front. We have no civic sense. We are aware of our rights but forget our duties. We have erected walls between the haves and have nots and forget that the two are inter dependent.

We want to show case ourselves as a young nation with immense potential youth power and true in a couple of years we will have 760 million young people, but as was said in a recent article unless we provide this youth bulge with education, employment, health, safety and liberty, we will soon have 706 million extremely pissed-off, marginalised, restless young people on our hands. But unless we get off our back sides, forget petty politics to take brownie points and give these 760 million a good educations and sufficient employment, the frustration of these young souls will translate into crime of all kinds. And when those happen, we will again step out of our homes to join some vigils or the other and get our conversation subject for our next kitty party or page 3 do or a chance to appear on a TV show debate where India wants to know! But 760 million is a tinder box waiting to explode. It is time we did something.

Can’t read, Can’t write, Can’t count

Can’t read, Can’t write, Can’t count. The Empty promise of Primary Education in India is the topic selected by a leading weekly to mark the 66th Independence Day of India. Haven’t read all of it yet as I want to do so slowly and with responsibility but I am grateful to this weekly with a conscience to have chosen this not so TRP worthy subject to mark an important day! After 66 years we as nation have not understood that is education and EDUCATION alone that can change India. Just ask yourself what makes the real difference between you and the woman who cleans your house. The answer is simple: your ability to read and write and speak good English and count of course!  Your savoir faire, your manners, your behaviour are all bye products of your education. The first article poses the question that begs to be asked: in spite of ‘adequate’ funding, statistics are frightening. The Education imparted is state run schools is so bad that five years from now over half the children in rural India will be in private schools. Enrolling children is not enough it is what and how they are taught that matters. It is time posits the article to stop patting ourselves on the back for statistics that mean nothing, and admit that there are systemic failures that need to be addressed with honesty.

I remember telling a bunch of Lohar (gypsy blacksmith) kids  that they had to dream big, and if they did they would be able to fulfil their dream. In those days we taught them on an empty piece of land behind their roadside camp and amongst the kids was Sanjay (wearing a yellow shirt in the pic). I do not know what his dream was that day but let me tell you he made it big. After a stint as a project why teacher he found his wings (with a little help) and now walks the ramp for high fashion designers in India and Paris. What he got from us is education of course, but also the chance to meet people from other countries, to gain confidence, speak English and dream! This memory came back to me when I read a line of the article.  What do we tell a child who dreams of being a pilot and knows that school is the only way to achieve that dream but hates school because she is violently punished whenever she makes a mistake by her overworked, overstressed teacher? The answer is simply I do not know! And the author goes on to say, and I second him fully:  We are creating generations of children aching with aspiration but left unequipped by their schooling to realise that aspiration. Imagine the frustration. There is a time bomb ticking and God help us when it explodes! It is time we all woke up to the reality and did something. maybe the first thing would be to read the articles in this issue.

For the past 13 years we have been working in the field, trying to reach out to as many children as possible and ensuring that their years in school are not wasted. Let me tell you you do not need large amounts of money or super skills or even infrastructure to make a difference. In the past 13 years we have taught in a pig park, in a reclaimed garbage dump (we still do), between two houses as you can see in the picture and in every space possible. Our teachers do not have teaching degrees. Some are even drop outs not because they lacked capacity but often because of early marriages. Some of our teachers are pwhy alumni. What they lack in certificates they make up in large measure in motivation, understanding and passion for their work. All that needs to be said is that in the past 12 years no child has failed any examination and many pwhy children top their respective classes. What is sad is that my own peers do not reach out and help us with the funds we so need to carry on and if possible widen our outreach.

Let us be real. Children cannot wait for things to fall in place and be perfect. Children are growing by the minute and for them time is of the essence. The magazine is replete with articles about people doing a great job, but that is not the answer. I too could claim doing a great job but is a drop in the ocean. The response of the powers that me is wishy washy as usual. You can judge for yourself. You can also judge for yourself how behind our children are:  50 percent of kids between the age of 6 and 14 in government schools couldn’t read, write or do arithmetic at any reasonable level. Frightening isn’t it? One of the solutions proposed is to define small concrete goals and meet them. Others feel it is important to use the money sensibly and according to the needs. I laughed and cried at the same time when I read these lines: My favourite is a school without a building that was asked to buy fire safety equipment with grant money. But, of course, there was no building, so they bought the equipment and asked the shopkeeper to keep it until such time they were able to erect one. I am particularly in sync with this view as I have always asked my donors to trust me and leave it to us to decide how the money is best spent.

All the above sounds logical, but absurd when we realise that we are debating this after 66 years of Independence. The magazine has a series of articles on what philanthropists are doing, or what individuals are organisations are doing. Every one is worth a read. But the problem is huge and such voices and deeds are drops in the ocean. There are also articles highlighting the problems faced by one and all: children, parents and teachers. Each one of them are valid and show that our whole education system needs to be re-looked at.

There are some issues that I have often highlighted and that I would like to reiterate. One is that we must stop the farce of retaining 33% as a pass percentage for any examination. This sets the course of mediocrity and shuts many doors for children who would have spend or should I say wasted 12 years in school. The next one is to change the approach the State seems to have taken. Instead of privatising education and ‘reserving’ some seats for ‘poor’ child, seats often hijacked by the middle class as the poor do not have the knowledge and often documents required to secure a place for their children, the State should take on its constitutional responsibility and make every state run school a centre for excellence so that it attracts a mix of social profiles. And last but not the least, we should not only accept but encourage that our driver’s kid shares a bench with ours!

I Day with my kids

I almost did not go! The sky was laden with dark grey clouds threatening to rain and if I were to catch a sniffle it would spell disaster as Ranjan’s immune system is close to nought with the darned chemo. But then even though large drops started falling I decided to take a chance. It had been too long since I had seen my kids at the women centre and as they were celebrating Independence day with their usual fervour. I thought it would be a nice outing for my grandson too. So off we went and the rain Gods were on our side. They had played spoil sport earlier and that had compelled the women centre team to reorganise the sitting arrangement and the stage had to be in the open so that all kids could be seated under the tin roof.

The show was lovely. The flag hoisting, the National Anthem sung loud and with great zeal even if some were faster than the others, and some out of key. That is what made it that much more touching to me. It was not a well rehearsed performance but an anthem sung from the heart. Then the children presented a show with dances and songs and speeches. I was impressed by the quality of the performance. Some of the solo dances were I was told self taught, courtesy TV reality shows, and quite impressive. A robot dance was particularly well executed and loved by my grandson who delighted us all evening with his version it.

As I watched these little and not so little faces, I saw so much hope in the eyes of every child that my blood ran cold. I had just finished writing a blog on Independence day and what it meant to me and my parents and how disillusioned those who fought and lay down their lives for this day would be if they saw India as she is today. It was easy to rant and rave and write words that would remain just that: words – that may or not be read – soon to be forgotten. Looking at these children, all three hundred and more of them, I realised that they had set their hopes in what we could give them and do for them and thus the responsibility that someone – let us call him/her god with a small g – had given us was far larger than what we could imagine. It was OK to rant and rave about things that were not as they should be, but we had been ‘chosen’ to right a wrong for children born half a century after India became independent and still stuck in a rut of promised not fulfilled, deprived of all the rights that were theirs just because they were born in this land.

So though I am going through a bad patch, I cannot and will not give up the pledge I made to myself many moons ago. I have to make that little difference so that the hope in the little eyes I saw becomes the reality these kids deserve. A reality that became theirs on August 15th 1947 but never reached them.

Happy Independence Day

August 15th is Independence Day. It is also my Pa’s birthday. It is also the day my Mama was freed from the pledge she had taken of not getting married before India became independent. All said and done it was probably the day I became a possibility. My parents were insanely and passionately in love with India. My father gave up his Mauritian (British nationality) and elected to come back and serve his motherland. My mama’s sacrifices and harsh childhood, the nights when the hunger pangs were so severe that sleep would not come, but these were accepted with dignity as the sole bread earner spent more nights in jail than at home; the welts of the backs of her father and his freedom fighter friends that were tended by a young child, all that was forgotten as the Indian flag was hoisted on the ramparts of the red fort. To our little family August 15th was indeed a very blessed that, as it was the very foundation of my small but wonderful family.

Being an Ambassador’s child meant that the tricolour flew every day on our house; it also flew on papa’s car when he was in it. Independence Day and Republic Day were celebrated with a formal flag hoisting. As I grew from childhood to my teens, I learnt about the solemnity of these days and also about the price people like my grandfather had to pay to make India a free nation.

After Papa retired, we became simple citizens of a country I had been made to love. I was, and still am, proud to be Indian. How can I forget the dying words of my father: do not lose faith in India. I guess he needed to give me this legacy as he died a few days before the destruction of the Babri Masjid, when religious extremism was at its worse. The destruction of the Masjid would have broken his heart.

What picture can I paint of my country today that would be worth dying for. The only ray of hope I saw for a fleeting moment was is in the eyes of the children of project why who sang the national anthem and hoisted the flag this morning. I shudder to think when they too will lose faith in this land that does not care for them or for any one. After 66 years of Independence what have do we have to be proud of? Three children dying every minute of malnutrition? Children who have sat religiously on a school benches (or on the floor as we have still not been able to provide a school bench to every school going child even in the capital) and can barely read or write after years? Midday meals that are not fit for consumption but are forced out the throats of kids even if they die (I was told this morning after the I Day celebration at the women centre that teachers told the children to remove the worms from the slush they were served and eat it)? Children who work not only in eateries or mechanic shops but also in educated homes as servants in spite of laws against child labour? Statistics that should make any self respecting human being hang his/her head in shame but leaves us immobile and unconcerned.

How can I explain to those who laid down their lives and suffered humiliation to fight for freedom that in the past 66 years what we have excelled at is dividing the country in every which way possible. That those who were given the sacred task of building a Nation have destroyed it again again. Caste, religion, gender, language and how can I forget riches have all been instruments to create deeper and deeper schisms in our society. Where some live in mansions others live in holes. This again happens in our capital city. Some throw away food with impunity, others follow field rats to their burrows and are skilled in scrapping out the grains stolen and stored underground by the rodents to calm the hunger of their children. This after 66 years of Independence. And what makes it worse is that every year grains rot as we have not been able to come up with a sound way of keeping surplus grain safe.

Over the years the ones meant to rule us have failed us time and again. Over the years laws meant to deal with all that is stated above have been promulgated to gain votes and then never or poorly implemented. They are simply means to ‘look good’ at election times and carefully perused to see how they can become new ways of filling pockets. Yes we have mastered the art of corruption better than anyone else.  It has become a way of life for everyone from the humblest to the highest and mightiest. In a land where ingenuity and resourcefulness is our biggest asset, the poor that we have let down so badly and in all manner possible, find ways to survive: a tea shop on the street; a cart selling hot food; a tailor or shoemaker around the corner, the sky is the limit but to be able to earn they have to pay blood money. Would you call this corruption. I call it survival.

How would my mother feel, the one who was amongst the millions of free Indians to set the flag being hoisted on August 15th 1947 if I told her that two politicians in a town not far from where she lived, were caught on camera clinging to a flag pole as they push and heckle each other trying to claim the honour of hoisting the Indian Tricolour on Independence Day. I guess her heart would have simply shattered and all her life’s sacrifices brought to nought. My parents belonged to the generation who stood up when the National Anthem was played on the radio or at the end of the TV broadcast. We did it too, albeit grudgingly and perhaps because we had never felt the blows of the lathis of the British.

Mama who was so anti British did however accept to work for the colonisers as there was one cause that was dearer to her: equality and dignity for women. The feisty and diminutive woman who must have been in her late twenties accepted a job that entailed going to remote villages and ensuring that war widows (IInd World War) got their pensions and that these were not usurped by greedy male relatives. She also spent time with the women of the villages she visited and talked to them about hygiene, nutrition and above all their rights. Believe or not but she drove a 1 ton truck ad was accompanied by a peon.

How do I tell this woman that all her dreams of liberated and educated women in a free India have been usurped. That women and girls today are not respected and esteemed. That 2 month old babies are raped. That rapists get away as all the onus of the rape is shifted by a male led society on the victim: her dress, her habits, her whatever. That we as a society remain numbed and voiceless. That may be things were better off when she trudged from village to village to make a difference.

To a woman who fought to be the first girl in her town to go to school and went on to get a Doctorate, what do I tell about the education we are giving our children today. How do I tell her about classes were 100 children are cramped and teachers disinterested. How do I tell her about the fact that higher education has now become a privilege of the rich as poor children never get enough marks to enter the portals of state run universities and that their parents cannot afford private institutions. How do I tell her that our rulers have privatised and commercialised the only vehicle that could change the destiny of children born on the wrong side of the fence.

The India my parents love with such passion and fervour has lost its way. After 66 years of Independence India is still enslaved to the greed and rapacity of those who rule us and to the indifference of those who can raise their voices.

Happy Independence day!

We have come a long way you and I

About a decade stand between these two pictures. What is intact is the smile. Popples must have been 2 when we shot the first picture and I a half centurion. Popples has grown and I have a lot more white hair and my ugly mole! This was circa 2003. I wish this blog was a celebration of a miracle that came into my life one fine morning and stayed on. True we had many bumps and hiccups along the way, some ugly,some terrifying, some heart breaking but in hindsight these pale in front of the most beautiful relationship,a relationship that one cannot constrain in words as it needs to grow free. Today as my grandson puts it ‘ we are family!’ That goes for Utpal and Agastya but the bonds that link Maam’ji to Popples defy every definition apart from love!
I would have liked this blog to be a gentle stroll down memory lane, a stroll that would have brought tender memories and moist eyes. But that is not to be as Popples life journey has encountered yet another hurdle. I sometimes wonder how many more this child will have to go through. The last one was the vanishing act of his mother who just went off one day leaving a bewildered nine year old completely lost. His coping strategy was anger, aggression and hurt. We had to intervene and he was medicated (still is) and undergoes regular therapy session every fortnight. Slowly and gently we crafted a family for him and he too allowed us into his world. We were elated but also apprehensive as we did not want our house of cards to crumble before we could lay proper foundations. All was going well till last week when his therapist shared her concern about his being marginalised in school where he seemed to be bullied because of his scars. This had been going on for some time but his wonderful counsellor had tried to give him coping strategies but Utpal being a very fragile child was unable to handle the bullies. Being called a burnt KFC chicken to a burnt banana peel was too much for him to take. He went back to the only strategy he once knew, the one he had seen in his early childhood spent with 2 alcoholic parents and the violence it entailed. He hit back and of course was chided for his behaviour. 
What seems to be the issue is that no one understands that burn scars are a handicap in every which way possible. They make you different hence marginalised and the butt of hurtful words. More so, even the school authorities do not fully comprehend the magnitude of the problem. I guess it will be the same in any school as inclusive education is still not understood by the teaching community. At best it is brushed away. But often it is the victim who is made the culprit.
I am at a loss. Scarred children have very low self esteem and thus need mentors and friends to boost their self image. Therapy can and will help but it will take time. maybe we should look at more sessions. Changing schools becomes a case of the devil you know and it is almost certain that he will have a tough time finding his place in a new environment. It may just work the other way.
I have scheduled for the therapist to go to the school and talk with all concerned to find a way that will solve issues for this child who has suffered more than enough in his short life.
If you have any ideas or options please post a comment. As you know I am going through a hard time with my husband’s health issues and cannot think straight.
I hope the God that brought this Angel into my life will guide me. Amen!

The good, the bad, the ugly

There have been a few times when I have wanted to shut project why because of incidents that defeat the purpose of my entire life mission. Thank God these have been far and few but each time, they hurt and hurt and want to make you scream in despair. I really had hoped that we had seen the last of the machinations of wily politicians and shady trade unions. But alas that was not to be! In these moments my way of dealing with these issues in not concealing or hiding them but airing them for all to know.

Part of the support I have got emanates I think from my being honest in all ways possible, specially when things do not look good. Some time back an ugly incident occurred in our creche. It was a day when one staff was absent and the children particularly agitated and to crown it all, as it was summers, many kids had upset tummies. One little girl had dirtied herself over and over again and one of our teachers, who must have had a bad day at home, got exasperated and slapped the poor child. Though there was another teacher present the matter was not brought to the attention of the management. The child was sent home and needless to say the mother went ballistic. I would have to!

To make matters worse she lodged a police complaint and mercifully the matter was sorted amicably. Now beating a child is a no no at pwhy! So in spite of the fact that the teachers had been with us for a long time and were good teachers, it was decided to terminate their services. They did appeal but the management felt that this was a mistake that could not be forgiven and not only had a child been beaten but the proper way of handling the situation has not been taken and matters made worse by trying to conceal a grave misdemeanour.

One teacher accepted the decision and we found her another job. The other fell for the skewed advice of her relative who is a small union worker and decided to make an issue. A few days ago she threatened our computer to staff and told them she would break computers, throw stones and even hit herself and accuse us of having hurt her if they opened the centre the next day. The centre is located close to her home and thus she has the support of her family and relations. We opened the computer centre the next day and she was told to come to the office and meet me on a particular day. I do not go to pwhy these days so on Monday I went to office and waited for the teacher to come. She did not. The next day she came with some flimsy excuse and as I was not there, she simply told the coordinator that as she was not being taken back, she would now take action. It was nothing short of a threat! I was given to understand that she intended to play the caste card.

One of project why’s success has been to empower and train a whole team plucked from the very community and beneficiaries it reaches out to. Caste was never in our minds as I am rabidly against the caste card that his played and replayed ad nauseum by politicos and their acolytes. So threatening me with the caste card is nonsensical and makes me see red. If one was to peruse our caste profile, one would realise at once that it is the so called high castes that are in a minority. But sadly the caste card is one that is too often played to create problems.

So we are looking at either yet another labour court case. I wish the Government had made some laws for not for profit organisations that depend on donors and thus do not ‘make’ money! last time we were taken to the labour court, the case was filed under the Shops and Establishments Act! The other option is a complaint at the SC ST Commission.

The sad part is that a poor uneducated woman will be used as a pawn so that politicos get some brownie points in a pre-election year. I must admit that in spite of working for over a decade on the field we have not been able to expose such games in a convincing way. This would be one of our failures. But is is also proof of how much the caste and creed issue is kept alive by our politicians to meet their hidden agendas. It is this very approach of division and reservation that has not allowed our country to grow. We have mastered and perfected  the divide and rule policy of our colonisers. It will take more than another generation to free ourselves of these shackles.

We had thought of finding an alternative job for this lady. But now, after her real threats we will not be in a position to do anything for her. Anyone who threatens to throw stones and break computers cannot be trusted.

I feel sad and dejected. These are the times when I feel like locking everything up and moving on.

The way ahead

Ok its official: Planet Why as envisaged for over 5 years now has been finally laid to rest. This is after many false starts as I guess I was not ready to accept failure – for want of a better word. Many posts are witness to this. I wrote many requiems to Planet Why. I prayed to all the Gods imaginable, wished on every star and knocked at every door I could think of. But to no avail. The dream of a lovely green guesthouse built in the Indian style is now is that: just a dream. I guess it will linger in my head for as long as I live, a bitter sweet memory tinged with a feeling, however unwarranted, of failure. I have always been one to beat myself when faced with defeat, more so as my inability affected the hopes and dreams of so many. So before I move on to plan B, and reinvent a truncated Planet Why, I think I need to one last time delve into my ineptitude to see Planet Why through.

Let us take it from the top. I still believe that the idea was/is a sound one. Hospitality is a viable business in our day and times and with the increase in people wanting to ‘do’ something in the countries they visit, giving them an opportunity is spot on. This holds true for those who just want a safe and clean place to stay and those who would like to ‘volunteer’ for part of their stay. The adjacent children centre was the ideal place to do just that. So that is the business part. Let us not forget that the plan was vetted and approved by international consultants. As for the design it was in sync with the land and the building would have been as green as possible in the given circumstances. The location may not have looked ideal to some but one must not forget that land prices in Delhi are astronomical and hence anything in the heart of the city was beyond our pockets. However we chose what I think was the next best option: a location close to the International airport. Moreover one must not forget that we needed a site where we could find underprivileged children to continue our work. The place was close to several villages and adjacent slums. Last but not the least, the setting up of Planet Why would have also enabled us to take our mission one step further by providing vocational skills to our alumni.

But every thing I did was not enough to enable me to garner the large amount of funds needed. I guess a recluse can hardly get access to those who have deep pockets. I do not feel the need to recount all the promises that were made and not honoured. The fact is that planet why did not happen. No point crying over spilled milk.

I always wait for signs from the Heavens and this time I has been loud and clear. Not quite what I wanted but one that definitely takes care of any shred of hope I may have still stowed away in some deep recesses of my mind.

The blow of Ranjan’s cancer has brought to the fore the fact that life ephemeral and does not lie in our hands. The true meaning of the quote: Man proposes, God disposes. I had always thought – hubris at work again – that I would devote the rest of my life to pwhy and that all others things would remain the same and hence would not need my full time commitment. One word – lymphoma – changed everything. My house of cards crumbled and I am now trying to build another one that seems rather flimsy.

The time I thought I was master of, has mutated into unpredictable spans the reins of which are held by the whims and quirks of chemotherapy and its almost individually tailored side effects. And my life now, has to satisfy itself by the tiny moments that I can steal in between. In these tiny moments I have to cram all else and thus have to make a list of things to do in descending order of importance. I so would have liked to place pwhy on top, but it cannot be so. Let me explain why. At this moment of my life I need to keep my sanity and wits intact. Everything else depends on that. If I were to have a meltdown everything I have lived for, both personally and professionally would come to nought. I realise today and in hindsight that the cornerstone of my existence has been and is my husband. The road he and I are travelling today is scary and uncertain. Every day comes with its set of demands. It is really like running an obstacle race blindfolded.

In this race I try to sneak a few moments to connect with all those who are supporting me, including you who are taking the time to read this post. And then my sanity depends on my finding some time  to write, either about my battle with the new adversary that has forced itself on us and that takes care of the anger and the pain, or Dear Popples 2 which is the Project Why story and takes me into a kind of suspended animation where long forgotten memories bring a smile and even bewilderment at all we have gone through.

One Damocles sword still hangs on my head: the future of project why. I hope it will cruise safely on auto pilot and give the time to come up with a smaller but more meaningful alternative that will give this love child of mine the security it needs.