What do we truly want

I am quite baffled by these elections as I do not think most of us know what we truly want. Early this year the capital of our country took a bold step and decided to vote for a new political party in spite of its being in its infancy. What was remarkable is that the support cut across caste, religion and social strata. I guess the reason was that they positioned themselves as a part that would fight corruption at all levels. Hence the overwhelming support they got form the poorer sections of society was understandable. But I was surprised at the kind of people who told we they were voting AAP: the  owner of a upmarket store, my doctor, my old friend known to be a long time supporter of a political party and so on. It seemed that everyone was fed up with the existing political system and wanted change. People believed in them and gave them their trust. The mood was euphoric. Everyone truly felt that the humble broom would transform into a magic wand at the stroke of midnight and solve all problems. One can understand the elation of the poor who saw dreamt of free water and cheap electricity and the hope of the perennially extended hand of the policemen vanish, but what about us who voted with alacrity, did we stop to ponder before believing?

What happened next is for all to see. Sleeping with the enemy to acquire power. Was it hubris or falling into a well honed trap? Perhaps a bit of both as power is the most potent drug on earth and when it comes so close, few if any can resist it and though they did not expect it, how could they resist. I guess we who casted our vote in favour of this new party, never felt they would come to power. It was a surprise for all. The wise thing would have been to desist from power and have another election that would have given a more definitive result.

The 49 days saw change that unfortunately was forgotten when the party demitted office. Few remember the audit of state run schools and hospitals of the simple fact that corruption at the lower end was contained. But we cannot cry over spilled milk. The reality is that an error of judgement at that time had brought a loss of faith in this party.

What we all forget is that this was a young party pitched against well oiled machines. We also forget that it was a movement that became a political party by force majeure and was perhaps not ready. An excellent article analyses the future of AAP and is worth reading. The author asks: The most important question facing the party is an existential one. It must define again, for its own self as to what role it seeks for itself in politics. Is it a third force challenging the Congress and the BJP or is it the second front challenging all politics? Does it seek power as an instrument of change or does it act as a political conscience keeper for the system as a whole? I believe most of us wanted it to be a political conscience keeper for the system in the first place. Once it had the structure, cadre and experience, then it could have pitched for power. Today it is at the verge of self destruction. The author feels it is important that the AAP experiment continue for it injects a vital element that has been missing in Indian politics. The AAP is attempting to redefine the very idea of democracy by making it a more participative practice. And just for that we must not write it off as such opportunities come once in a lifetime. One should not let it die.

The results are a mere two weeks or so away. Once the campaigning frenzy has died and the numbers are out, the party must do a sincere and honest evaluation of its journey and reinvent itself. Should they fail to do so, then they might just become a line in future history books.

Its India

The din of the elections is getting unbearable! More so because every day we are assaulted with speeches that sound more life a verbal warfare between individuals that often reach levels that are unacceptable. One would have hoped to hear about visions and plans for the future; about education and health as these are the foundations of any society; about employment and price rise; in a sod about how would things be better for us were to vote for one or the other candidate on the list. But what we are coerced into hearing/reading is personal and below the belt jibes about individuals or abhorrent remarks about communities. I do not care whether a man is married or not. That is his personal life and should remain so. You may remember that the world came to know about the existence of the love child of a President at his funeral and no one cared. Quite the opposite people were touched that all his loved ones were there.

Elections should be about what matters. It should not turn into a free for all where decency and basic courtesy are cast to the wind. I wonder if people really believe that these kind of shenanigans cut ice with anyone. Washing dirty laundry in public, slandering one another, bringing in family and personal relationships is in poor taste.

I am a little concerned about the hubris that seems to have permeated one and all. The nomination filing roadshow of one of then star candidates was quite something. It seemed worthy of Bollywood with a heart wrenching script, pomp and colour, and all the needed props. There was a dangerous frenzy in the whole show that reminded me of some of the worst event of past history where individuals were glorified and deified. It seems that one man has the magic wand that will solve all problems. This is what many think and to me this may just be this person Achille’s heel. If he wins, imagine the victory parade!

What is done is done and cannot be undone. We want to know about the future. How will each one address the matters that concern us as individuals and as a country. How long will we have to hang our heads in shame when we hear about children dying by the minute, rapes occurring each day or when we are asked the question is India safe!

I am also sick and tired hearing about models: the Gujarat model, the toffee model, the son-in-law model and God know what else may still come our way. Some want us to believe that Gujarat is a Shangri La within India and were its model to be projected on the whole country all our problems will vanish. Others want us to believe that this is not the case at all and the reality is quite the opposite and has the worst social indices. I as a normal being am uncomfortable with both views.

I was comforted when I read an article entitled Gujarat- Its Smelly, Its Dusty , Its Poor. Its India. It is worth a read. It shows you that  if  you keep your eyes, ears (and nose) open, Gujarat is just another   smelly, congested, dusty, inept  Indian state stuck firmly to India’s side to its West.

What we need is a model for India. Wonder who will give us that.

A big smile on my face

Sometimes all it takes to put a big smile on my face is browsing through my almost ten thousands pictures of project why spanning the fourteen past years of my life and finding the one that will lift the cloud of the moment. It can just be a happy face, a tender memory, a funny incident or simply be reason enough for a good pat on my back!

These pictures were taken by a young photographer who posted them on FB – God bless FB – and were snapshots I have never seen. I just could not help smiling and grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat. It is true that I see these kids, but not as often as I would like in recent times, put I always prompt a hurried and harried: say good morning to Ma’am by the teachers and dutifully the children rise and chorus a rehearsed and droning Good Morning Maaaa’m. Some smiles, but their smiles seem contrived, others – the new ones- look frankly scared. As I am always short of time I beat a hasty retreat.

I sometimes wish I could be a fly on the wall to share real moments with my 1000 kids. As things stand today this seems a pipe dream. But maybe, if I can conjure the miracle of ensuring sufficient funds for pwhy and am still not too old and creaky, I will spend my last days on earth with these kids.

When I ask my staff to get photographs because I need them, they dutifully do so. But not being professionals, again the pictures seem stage managed.

So it is pure delight when a kind photographers offers to offer his/her time and gifts me these precious snapshots and the smiles that go with them.

Thank you Aditya.

An open letter to the Prime Minister to be

Respected Prime Minister,

I chose to write to you today as we still do not know who you will be, though the guesses are few, but somehow writing to a yet anonymous person is easier for me. Let me too remain anonymous though I can tell you that I am a child, who remain anonymous and voiceless. I was born in this city and live in a small shanty house with my family of 6. Our room is so tiny that after fitting one bed there is no place to move but my mother does everything to make it feel like home. Like many others from our village, my parents came to the big city to look for a better life, if not for themselves, at least for their children. They thought that in the big city their children could be educated and have a better chance in life. My parents are illiterate. My father is a daily wager and my mother looks after me and my siblings. 

My home has a tin roof and one small fan but at night we barely fight in it. There are mosquitoes as our slum is tucked away in between factories and a dirty drain goes by it, and we spent many sleepless nights. Last year my brother got malaria and as there is only one quack in our area, he did not treat him right and by the time we rushed to the hospital which is faraway, it was too late for him.
The house is lower than the road so when it rains the room gets flooded. My mother had to fight every day to get enough water and we have to go to the toilet in the open. But at least I can walk and run not like my friend Radha who has a bone disease and walks on her hand. Her house too is very small and when her little brother walks over her, he limbs get broken. In the 12 years of her life she has had more than 50 fractures. Were her house big, this would not have happened. So I guess I am lucky. On my way to school, I see little children begging and looking at them, I feel I should stop complaining. But Sir, do you see them too, and if you do, why don’y you do anything for them?

I do go to school but Sir, how can you study in a class of 80 children and learn anything. My parents cannot afford private tuition and the teachers do not teach us anything. I am lucky because I go to a project before school and they teach me, but my friends move from class to class without learning. I know a boy who is in class VII and cannot even read. I am told that every child has a right to free and quality education so Sir how come I do not get my right. But then at least I go to school. What about the child that begs at the street light. Do you ever look at her when you stop at a light but I forgot big people like you do not stop at lights, you just whizz through. Maybe you should stop at lights and see these children.

I know there have been many schemes to help the poor as we are called, though I do not consider myself as poor as I am better than the beggar child, but they do not reach us. We do not have the papers needed and my parents do not know how to get all that is required to get some cheaper food. You see you need to know people or pay money and we have neither. There are days when my father does not get work and we go to sleep hungry. My mother makes us drink some chilli water and then we have to drink more water and somehow our stomach gets filled. And this goes for every programme that is made for the ‘poor’. The ones who really deserve it remain invisible and anonymous. The reservation you made in good schools for 25% of ‘poor’ children will never reach us.  Wily people become ‘poor’ as they know how to get papers and their children study in these good schools. I see all the nice buses that pass by as I walk to my school which is very far from my slum.

When we sing patriotic songs at school and salute the flag, I do feel proud of being Indian even though my life looks miserable. But what if I told you that my mother always smiles and tells us that there will be better times and I Sir, am determined to beat the odds whatever they may be. I will make my dreams come true.

But Sir, when you come to power, will you give a thought to us invisible people who are part of this society and give it our best, even if we remain unseen. 

I hope you do. Maybe you could just start by stopping at a red light and looking deep into the eyes of the little girl who will knock at your window. And if you, open the eyes of your heart.

A child of India

Toffee model

These elections have been a reality show in the true sense of the word, unscripted and immensely entertaining. One of the surprises it sprung was the toffee model, where one of the contestant alluded to his opponent having sold land for one rupee, the price of a toffee. All this is jest and bantering but I  would like to share a real fact which would make anyone cry ion despair.

I have recently written about the sports programme the husband would like to initiate for the 2500 children of the nearby Government school. I do not know if he will succeed or not this is one mean obstacle race that may even need at the doors of Justice! I just hope it works

I simply want to share a thought that come to my mind this morning. The school has an annual sports budget of eight thousand rupees for 2500 kids: that is 3.20 rupees per kid per year or 0.26 rupee or 26 paise per child per month. Not even the price of a toffee. Wonder who makes these absurd budgets.

Oh darling yeh hai India!

I have recently sent a link to a series of incredible pictures about incredible India! I posted them on my Facebook page, but if you have not seen them please do take a few minutes and treat yourself to something unique. These pictures exemplify all that is great about our wonderful country: its ability to beat all odds, no matter how challenging they may be. Who would have ever thought of perching an iron on two books and boiling your milk. This happens only in India. You may smirk or snigger and say that it was all done for the camera. Maybe so. But I would like to differ as I have been privy over the past 14 years of how the other India, the one forgotten by politicians and crony capitalists, the one mentioned in speeches and made promises to, promises that are never kept but that make good fodder for lining pockets, the one that has learnt to survive in spite of everything and survive with a smile. That is the real India shining, the one that we have all conveniently forgotten.

I am no economist, politician, administrator, decision maker and anything of this kind. I marvel at having been able to create and sustain project why in spite of my total lack of skills. Come on I cannot even manage my house budget. I guess in the case of pwhy someone up there holds the strings and makes me move in the right direction. But even I can see that all the empty speeches and models that one has been/is hearing will never solve all the problems of India.

Over the years I have despaired at the slow death of all the street vendors and hawkers. Once upon a time their cries were part of your day-to-day life. You did not have to step out of your home to mend a shoe, get your silver chain repaired, give your clothes for ironing, buy your bread and eggs, your vegetables and fruits and so on not to forget ice creams, chaat, and more. And then slowly they became rarer, their cries slowly disappearing just like the call of the birds. The rich suddenly decided that letting all these hawkers in their colonies posed a ‘danger’ to their safety. And gates were erected, and certain hawkers given access while others were rejected. Don’t ask me why. I have no answer. I thought we lived in a free country where every citizen could roam wherever he wished. I watch with sadness and anger the rising of swanky gated communities where even lifts are segregated. I wonder which lift a maid takes when she is with the child she cares for. I guess the one for the haves! I must stop as all this makes me mad.

We all know that one of the big problem the country is facing is undoubtedly that of employment. And in my humble opinion unless small enterprises is not given its rightful place, we will never be able to solve the employment issue of over a billion people. I wonder what our young Prime Ministerial aspirant means when he states over and over again: The poor need a launch pad to progress. A poor man cannot eat roads and We want more people involved in the process of nation-building.

One agrees in principle but then a few kilos of grain doled out or a few days a work under some maladministered schemes are not the answer. On the other hand new industries, new malls, big retail outlets etc will only give jobs to those with the right skills. Remember how irritated we get when we have a poor girl or boy answering our call to some call centre or the other and not understanding our English. Next time be a little indulgent. But even with these new promised avenues, there will be still millions who will fall between the cracks: the ones who are not educated, who are to old, who do not have the skills required. But what they have is priceless: a will to survive, sound common sense and an ability to create employment for themselves. No I am not joking. I have seen these kind of people day in and day out and have marvelled at their ingenuity. They are spot on and respond to the market forces far better than you and I, without the need of market studies and the likes of them. I will give you a few examples: when a recruitment examination is on you will have one or two bright larks spreading a sheet outside the venue and selling guide books! If the number of people from a particular community or region settle in sufficient numbers in a place you have people who set up road eateries catering to their local preferences and when their festivals come you have hawkers selling all that is needed. That is what I call enterprise!

But these entrepreneurs are hounded by the police and the administration and have to pay hefty bribes  simply to earn their living. I do not know what I would do were my road side tailor – the successor of the erstwhile veranda tailors of our grandmothers – or my ironing lady who has been ironing our clothes since before I got married and whose hair has greys along with mine, removed. I would feel orphaned!

Everyone wants to empower people but they want to do it their way. Please do build your roads and industries but leave space for people to find their solutions and facilitate these enterprises by giving them space and recognition. They create jobs and care for their families. This is true empowerment and true inventiveness.

An India Story cont

In my previous post, I had written about the state of sports in the Government school next to our home and the quasi impossibility of doing ‘anything’ to make things better because of the absurd red tape that exists in our country. In short should you want to improve things and offer free help you will be shown the door and even run the risk of getting sued for trespass!

The state of the school grounds is abysmal and no child can play anything without the risk of being hurt. Teams exist on paper and the authorities wait endlessly for the file too move and for the right department to be finally, if ever, chosen to do the simple task of levelling the ground.

Sports are part of the curriculum. There is a sports teacher and a weekly period assigned to the subject.

You cannot imagine in your wildest dream the annual  budget allocation for sports for 2500 children. Hold your breath! It is 8000 Rupees per year, and no I have not missed out a zero, EIGHT THOUSAND RUPEES or 132 US$ or 95 Euros! That is 3.3 rupees per year per child. Need I say more.

I would love to know what our aspiring politicians intend to do about this. Oops I forgot, children are not vote banks!

An India Story

Today I write an India Story. The reason why I entitle this blog so is that this little story reflects how things work in our beloved land. In an earlier blog I had mentioned how the husband was all excited about starting a sports project in the neighbourhood and how thrilled I was at his finding a project that I truly felt/feel will give him a new lease of life. His first visit to the school went on well as I was told by him. According to him, the Principal was amenable to Ranjan’s ideas and Ranjan who is quite a greenhorn at dealing with the likes of the Principal thought all was hunky dory. Any reasonable person would feel that way. Why should anyone in their right mind refuse free help for their children. Ranjan was ready to make a state of the art facility for the 2500 kids of the school and that too for free. But darling, this is India, and things do not quite work like that. Before he ventured too far in the wrong direction, I knew I had to intervene. You see he had gone to see the Principal of the school with one of my coordinators and must have spoken in an English the poor man could barely comprehend and as things go in India, the man must have nodded along and been lost. For Ranjan it was all spot on and he was busy calling people who would help in his project.

It took me two days to convince Ranjan to make one more trip to the school, this time with me. The ploy I used was that people like the Principal needed a bit of PR or else they would think that one had forgotten them. The real reason was that I wanted to make the Principal talk and state the real picture. The man was all smiles and very welcoming and called his PT teacher to join the talk. It did not take me a minute to have them say that they could do nothing without written permission from the top, whatever the top was. This was still quite incomprehensible to Ranjan as, like any sane person, he could not accept the fact that a Principal could not allow someone to do good for his children for FREE. Ultimately we had to cross the Ts ad dot the Is. The problem was that should the Principal give his permission the powers that be would come down on him and ask him what he got out of the deal and how much money he made. This was a shock to Ranjan but as I said this is India.

The PT teacher then told us that a well wisher had tried to do the same and the then Principal had agreed but sometime later when the activities were well under way they had to be stopped and not only was the Principal called to task and transferred, a case was instituted against the poor man for trespassing on Government land!  Ranjan was shocked and I was relieved. And there is more: the school has been trying to get the grounds levelled for months now but the file is stuck somewhere as no one seems to know which agency will do that: the PWD says it is the Horticultural Department who says they only plant grass and so on and so forth. In the mean time, and this is heart wrenching and infuriating, the children cannot partake in any sorting activity though we were told the school has a cricket team, a hockey team, a kabbadi team, a football team and so on. This is what we do to our children.

Ranjan is determined to beat the system and I know is anyone can it is my man! I want him to because I know that this project will do him immense good. I just hope and pray it happens. I know how hard it is and how you have to dig your heels and not give up.

Sports is an integral part of a sound education system. We have our own India story to tell. The picture you see was taken circa 2004 when we organised our own Sports Day. As you see most of the kids do not have shoes! The ground is uneven and only determined and motivated kids would accept to run in such conditions. The ground is part of a building complex that once housed the Labour Court and then lay unused and empty. Sometimes it became a wedding venue. We even had two of our Annual Days in the hall of the building which must have been the court room. Still naive and credulous I had made a project report to transform the place into a community centre with all kind of activities sports being one of them. Of course the file is still lost in transit but what happened was something else. One fine day the place was spruced up and we were told some swanky NGO was moving in. A board was erected that stated that the NGO did everything under the sun that could get UN and other funding. For a few days it housed destitute women that were poorly treated but even that stopped and the building does again once all funds had been collected. Needless to say the NGO belonged to the progeny of a very important person. Today the building lies unused and children have nowhere to play.

of toffees, balloons and tea parties

These elections look more and more like the Mad hatter’s Tea Party with toffees and balloons. This is what elections have come too. Toffees and Balloons and a tea party! This is what it has come down to: slandering and more slandering. And let us not forget the sprinkling’s of ‘off with their heads’!  We are really in wonderland or rather its very antonym: dread sea! The whole show is absurd. They are now even borrowing catchy lines from popular TV ads to make their point! I wonder what we can expect next.

Though I agree with one of the star campaigners that these elections are or should be for the heart of India, my take is somewhat different.

In the past decade or so I have seen, felt, fallen in love and embraced the heart of India. The heart of India is the slum kid who smiles, the little child who begs at a red light, the millions who survive despite every politician and do so with rare dignity and courage. Th heart of India is the desperate mother who ferrets rat holes to ensure that she does not have to once again lull a her hungry child to sleep, it is the mother who sprinkles large amount of chillies on the family’s only meal to ensure that they drink so much water that next meal can be skipped. The heart of India is the young boy whose eyes glinted with joy when I told him this morning that maybe we would be starting sports activities in on the neglected grounds of his school, the heart of India lies in the vegetable vendor calls out in my street in the sweltering heat or the bone chilling cold. The heart of India lies in the millions who find ingenious ways to earn a living even if it means being hounded by cops and officials who claim their right on part of his meagre earnings. The heart of India lies in the woman who sits at her door step late in the evening waiting for her man to come back with the day’s earnings and hoping he will not stop by the watering hole; the heart of India lies in my little Radha who sleeps in a hole with her brittle bones hoping that she will survive one more day without a fracture. I could go on but I guess you get the picture.

Why should I not be enraged when one of the aspiring PM candidate whose party has been in power for the best part of Independent India, states in a speech after more than 6 decades: Our top three priorities after the elections are “free medicines and free hospitalisation by law, a roof for everyone, and pension to all senior citizens. Does it take 60+ years to realise that everyone needs a roof on their heads and access to basic health care not to forget schools. What the hell were you doing till now.

 I have being watching  a TV programme called Election Yatra, were reporters visit remote areas and interview ordinary people and politicians and ask them to share their views. Yesterday they visited Uttar Pradesh. Should you wish to watch it here is the link. I was shocked to find out about a village that in its late found wisdom has decided not to vote this time. The reason is that every aspiring candidate from any and every party promised them a road and never fulfilled their promise. They actually never came back. This time NO ONE has visited this remote and lost village. You may wonder why a simple road is so crucial. Let me enlighten you. During the rains, the mud road – if one may call it so – gets flooded and the village turns into an island. Children cannot go to school and in an emergency you cannot reach the hospital in time. Two people from the same family died last year as they could not reach help in time. So this time first ROAD then VOTE. Maybe the real meaning of democracy is finally filtering down. The village is called Nada and the district is Etawah. The story is some 8 minutes into the programme. I forgot too mention that the village has a hand water pump that never functioned.

To me it is shocking that the constituencies of the top politicians look the most neglected. One would have expected the opposite and thought they would be models of development. I am at a total loss to find out the reason for the neglect. I am talking of constituencies who have diligently voted one family back for years. I hope they too get the message this time.

The probable winning candidate for the top post of the country has till now scared me. I know the country needs a kind of a  dictator but a benign one and I am a little weary of how power may alter all good intentions. I was however comforted to hear in his latest interview that he will not be vindictive. On cleaning politics this is what he said: What is the solution? That political parties do not give tickets to such people? But frankly, such a situation is not feasible just now. I am determined that candidates, MPs from whichever party, including the BJP, against who cases are already lodged, I will request the Supreme Court to dispose of their cases within a year’s time. So that if they are guilty, they go to jail and vacate the seat for a non-criminal. Makes sense and I hope that he will stand by his words and do just that.

I would like to know though what he will do to ensure that every child has access to quality education we as a country would not have to bear the shame of watching 5000 children die everyday of malnutrition.

And hove all, what he will do for what I call the heart of India.

Up in the mountains he climbs…

I am one happy biddy today. Utpal alias Popples is up in the mountains on a school trip. It is a one week trip with rock climbing, rope climbing, trekking, sleeping in tents and even in a three star hotel! He told me about staying in a hotel when he called one day asking for new inner wear and socks and felt the old ones would blot do. he is becoming quite a little man.

I am over the moon. Of course like the old worrying and dotty Maam’ji enquired about the details over and over but yesterday night he called me all excited and told me about his day and his sitting around a campfire and having snacks! And then he would be sleeping in a tent. He had rope climbed, just like in movies he told me, and also climbed rocks. I hope someone is taking pictures.

This is the first time Utpal has been in a big bus, seen mountains, slept in a tent, sat around a bonfire and had fun. God bless him always.