when will 5000 be page 3 – a requiem for Arti and too many others

Arti 2001-2004

8 children died in Gaza yesterday when a drone struck a refuge camp. Hundreds of children have died in this incomprehensible war between humans who once lived side by side till some wily politicians who search for causes to ‘espouse’ and ‘defend’ like predators hunt for prey, decided to make them enemies in the name of what else but religion with a big R. Today even killing a child simply because he bows to another God is kosher. To me this is abhorrent and despicable and is something we too have been subjected to by our erstwhile colonisers who handed us freedom at a price, a price that seems to be endless. Today the social network is replete with outraged comments and posts and looks like Gaza is more a part of India than let us Saharanpur as is so well said by one of my FB friends. Gaza is page 3! I was told by a dear friend that a lady was terribly rude to a poor boy in a shop and when the owner asked her why she was so upset she reported without batting an eyelid: Gaza. Btw she was Indian, page 3 I suppose.

Gaza is page 3; Gaza is fashionable; Gaza is the flavour of the moment. My sympathies go to all those dying in Gaza as the death of a child is unbearable but what saddens me is that some deaths of children go unnoticed, deaths that happen EVERY DAY in our own country, deaths that could be avoided if we simply cared.

The little girl in this picture is one of the 5000 children who die everyday of malnutrition in our country. They die because they do not have the immunity to fight the smallest disease and as they often live in squalor, death comes easy. Arti lost her mother when she was a baby and her father who drove a truck barely had the time to look after her and her two siblings. Her sister, barely a few years older was surrogate mom. Their house was so tiny that the father, a tall man, had to sleep diagonally with his fight outside the door. The smell in their hole of a home was unbearable and indefinable. We discovered the little family perchance and they began coming to pwhy. We tried to settle the older ones in a boarding school but the father was not agreeable. One hot summer morning, little Arti came to my office eating a candy floss and sat on my lap as she did every morning before going to the creche. Late morning she started vomiting and we took her to the doctor and got her medicine. We dropped her home as usual but she started vomiting again and by the time the father got his act together and took her to the hospital she was gone. Her tiny malnourished body had been unable to withstand a small infection, the kind our kids sail through unscathed.

FIVE THOUSAND kids like her, between the age of 0 and 5 die everyday in India. Born to malnourished and barely nubile anaemic mothers, they are tiny and sickly. They feed on their mothers poor quality milk as long as possible. sometimes 2 to 3 years, and then eat a diet low in nutrients that makes them prey to any infection, mostly water borne ones as they again often do not have access to clean drinking water. There are places where the families are so poor that the mothers cook the only meal of the day with many chillies so that the ensuing thirst feels the little tummies filled. I have read horror stories about women ferreting rat holes for grains.

I have so often written about these silent deafening deaths but no one has been even mildly outraged or disturbed; no losing temper with the shopkeeper on this one! 5000 children is no match to 8! You may be wondering his this kind of maths works. Wonder if these page 3 types are followers of Godel’s incompleteness theorems, and they may just become so as Godel is mentioned in the Rehman’s book ‘ In the light of what we know’  a wonderful book replete with little gems though I wonder how many page 3 birds will have the ability to read the 500+ odd pages!

We do not need to meet Godel. I will explain the logic that makes a human being go ballistic when 8 children die and remain unfazed when 5000 of their own die. It is simple. The 5000 are not us. They are them. What makes them different is not their religion or caste but their poverty and that is something we do not suffer from and hence I guess we cannot vibe with! They belong across the invisible line that divides poverty from affluence and it is an impregnable though invisible line. Of we see them but as we would a species that we cannot akin to ours. We keep our voice for the fashionable global perspectives that make good cocktail conversations local tragedies are ‘downmarket’. And then unlike the 8 children whose deaths are heralded loud and clear, the 5000 die quietly and are barely mourned as their families have to get on with surviving.

No one will write an epitaph or sing a requiem for the souls of the 5000 who die today, who died yesterday and the day before and the day before…

Hold your breath and your sanity

Did you know that we Indians should be credited for inventing stem cell technology. According to Dina Nath Batra – yes the one who compelled a publisher to pulp a book not to his taste – and I quote “…America wants to take the credit for invention of stem cell research, but the truth is that India’s Dr Balkrishna Ganpat Matapurkar has already got a patent for regenerating body parts…. You would be surprised to know that this research is not new and that Dr Matapurkar was inspired by the Mahabharata. Kunti had a bright son like the sun itself. When Gandhari, who had not been able to conceive for two years, learnt of this, she underwent an abortion. From her womb a huge mass of flesh came out. (Rishi) Dwaipayan Vyas was called. He observed this hard mass of flesh and then he preserved it in a cold tank with specific medicines. He then divided the mass of flesh into 100 parts and kept them separately in 100 tanks full of ghee for two years. After two years, 100 Kauravas were born of it. On reading this, he (Matapurkar) realised that stem cell was not his invention. This was found in India thousands of years ago.” — Page 92-93, Tejomay Bharat.

This is not a joke but an extract from Tejomay Bharat, a book which is now compulsory reading for school children in Gujarat. Imagine children having to learn such nonsense. The book’s content advisor, an eminent educationist informs us that Tejomay Bharat gives an insight to students about our rich culture, heritage, spiritualism and patriotism. The language has been kept simple, which is apt for students. These are to be given free of cost to all schools, while 5,000 copies priced at Rs 73 have been prepared for those other than students. How long will it take to cross the state borders is anyone’s guess. The idea sends chills down my spine.

But it does not stop there. The same gentleman – I mean the author not the advisor – is upset because NCERT hindi books use Urdu and English words and has a sent a letter to the new education minister to take appropriate action. Some of the words he objects to are: vice-chancellor’, ‘worker’, ‘business’, ‘backbone’, ‘plan’, ‘you get out’, ‘of course’, ‘frock’, ‘half-yearly’, ‘seminars’, ‘cultural’, ‘horticulture’, ‘canvas’, ‘organise’ and ‘thank you’! Good God what is the Hindi for these. As for the Urdu ones, they are part of our daily lexicon:  ‘mushkil’ (difficult), ‘dost’ (friend), ‘gussa’ (anger), ‘shararat’ (naughtiness), ‘khabardar’ (to warn), ‘gayab’ (vanish), ‘saal’ (year), ‘mohalla’ (colony), ‘mauka’ (occasion), ‘aksar’ (often), ‘mauj udana’ (to have fun), ‘farsh’ (floor), ‘himmat’ (courage) and so on. I am gobsmacked and wonder where we are heading.

I wish all this was just banter but if the gentleman in question was able to get a book pulped then who knows what else he can achieve. My hart goes out to the poor children!

That does not bite me….

I am about to finish reading Zia Haider Rahman’s In The Light of What We Know. It is intriguing as well as delectable and challenges the reader at every page. I am enjoying every line and even find echoes to my own life journey. Somewhere along the way of the narrative that throws out all canons of space and time, I found a comment that hit my very soul. One of the two main protagonists relates a seemingly innocuous event where a member of the aristocracy felt equally comfortable hosting a upmarket Xmas dinner on one day and working a soup kitchen the next. This leads the protagonist in question to state: That is the relation I want with poverty; something that does not bite me each time I see affluence or misery.(In the light of what we know page 380 Picador India).

The later part of the statement truly summarised the almost existential question that plagues me each and every day whenever I see as the author says affluence or misery. True I see more of the later as that is the world I work in and that makes my forays into the world of plenty that much more disturbing. Before I go on in my ramblings, I would just like to mention that the pictures I have chosen to illustrate this blog are pictures taken by the children of our Okhla centre during a workshop where they were asked to take snapshots of their world. I can understand the protagonist of the book saying he would like to be as comfortable in one situation as in the other but I guess that where he and for that matter I come from, that is not possible as we come from countries where misery is visible at every nook and corner of our space. And very time we come across it, we feel what I would describe, at least for myself, a sense of guilt, helplessness, anger, despair all coalesced in an emotion that has no name but hits you each time. So that when we do come across affluence then that unnamed emotion translates into something akin to rage.

My forays into the world of plenty are far and few: an occasional wedding, a visit to a husband’s rich friend’s home or a meal at a club or posh restaurant that one cannot avoid. But my encounter with misery is frequent and is not limited to my actual presence but being part of the path I chose to tread, haunts my waking hours and my dreams. And if that was not enough, then even when I step out of my hole to fulfil an innocuous task, my eyes are drawn to misery. I see it in the worn out face of the old man pushing is still laden fruit cart and start wondering whether he will sell enough to return home and not face the ire of his daughter-in-law to whom he has become a burden; I hear it in the late night call of the vegetable vendor in the dead of winter; I see it in the cobbler sitting on the road and the child begging at the red light in the scorching heat. Those are times when I wish I had the resources to do something more than I do.

What makes it even worse is the dignity and the smiles and the positive attitude of those we have let down with total impunity. No wonder then that I seethe with anger when I see food thrown on the streets following useless and self gratifying religious feeding frenzies or the plates still laden with food that are placed in the large vessels strewn all over marriage halls to make it easier for the affluent to discard what they did not finish. And when I enter homes  that are vulgar displays of affluence, I feel physically sick more so when I know that those who own these homes will never agree to spare a coin for lesser beings. I have been down that road and speak with full responsibility.

And when I see what goes as homes for those who are an intrinsic part of the city and who make our lives better, homes that are legitimised to suit vote bank politics, then I want to be able to have the very politicians who come grovelling at election time live in these homes for a given period of time and experience the challenge of doing so. How can one accept such aberrations without batting an eye lid, more so as those who live in these abysmal conditions have the same basic needs as those we want for ourselves.

And yet they dream and do not lose hope, like this child who chose to take the picture of an aeroplane. Maybe he dreams of becoming a pilot, and why shouldn’t he? He is a child born in India, who has the same rights as any other child born in India. The tragedy is that we have forgotten this indubitable truth. Over the years we have systematically closed all doors that could have helped children from humbler homes break the cycle of poverty in which they were born. We have privatised schools, made state education a farce thus making it impossible for the poorer children access to higher education while we have opened with alacrity more doors for our progeny, doors that can be accessed only if you have the means.

I am humbled and amazed as his the poor do not hold anything against us. The kid who took the picture of this gleaming red car parked in front of the factory where his father or the father of his friend works, took it because he likes cars and enjoys watching them. There is no jealously or bad feeling. There is simple acceptance of a reality. It simply ends there. Every time I see misery I hurt and hurt and maybe I want to be able to continue hurting. That is who I am and want to be.

Is this the only news we have?

Is this the only news we have, snapped the Karnataka Chief Minister when asked about the horrific assault on a six year old in Bangalore. No sir we have a lots more of you want to listen: today’s news and yesterday’s news too. In your very state Sir, a mentally challenged rape survivor had to wait hours in a semi nude state for the required medical tests that are essential if she is ever to get justice and that is a big if! How is that for starters.

In our country, according to a UN report, the girl child is still seen as a burden. So she runs the risks of being killed in the womb, being killed at birth, not being educated, no being given proper care, married at an early age and a mother far too early, killed for dowry, killed for falling in love by her own family and so on.

In India today hundreds and thousands of children die of encephalitis each year, and each year new fixes are promised and promises they remain. Encephalitis can be prevented if one does have the will to do so.

There is so much more news if you would care to hear: 5000 children die of malnutrition every day in your country; millions of children are out of school or drop out as the education is non existent on the ground; millions of children are trafficked, abused, work in sweatshops or beg on the streets. In your country millions go to sleep on an empty stomach; mothers feed chilly powder to their infants to quell their hunger and even ferret rat holes for a fistful of grain. We have a lot of news that should make you hang your head in shame or send chills down your spine.

But today we want you to hear about a little girl who could be your granddaughter. She was brutally assaulted by a man. The scars that have seared her soul can never heal. We want you to listen because this is a little girl who was born on the right side of the fence unlike her peers whose suffering we all chose to ignore. And under your watch it has taken protest after protest to get anything moving. Imagine is she was just a poor kid.

And what about the mentally challenged woman who was assaulter twice if not many more times. After suffering the trauma of rape she had to lie half nude as men passed by. Imagine of she were your child. What will you do to soothe her pain and heal her soul. Nothing I presume.

For the past 15 years I have been trying to do something that would enable me to look at myself and not turn away but everything comes to naught when I hear about the atrocities our children and women have to suffer and hear empty promises as nauseum.

I was one of the painted and dented women who raised my voice when a young girl was brutally assaulted in a bus in Delhi. But what was the point and what did we achieve. Nothing.

Crimes will continue and according to one of your kiln, only God can prevent them. But what if God too has given up on us.

We are losing it

When the Chief Minister of a State questioned by a reporter about the terrible assault on a 6 year old inside her school quips: Is this the only news we have? you know something is terribly wrong. It almost seems as if India is loosing it, insidiously, surreptitiously but losing to nevertheless. When 3 blind kids under the age of 10 are brutally caned by their blind teacher gleefully assisted by the Principal, something is terribly wrong. When a 29 year old is beaten to death in what is called a case of road rage in our capital city then you know things are not what they should be. And when the Governor of a state where rapes occur with impunity says: Even if the entire world’s police force is put on duty, rapes can probably be prevented only if the gods come down from heaven, then we have lost it. There is something terribly wrong in the state of India. We have become a nation that has to constantly hang its head in shame.

After the horrific Badaun rapes where two girls were found hanging from a mango tree, a rape that was reported the whole over, we as usual went into band aid damage control mode and a slew of measures were announced. One of them was the building of toilets in the village of the victims as the young girls met their horrendous end as they had to go to the field to relieve themselves. It was announced that 100 toilets would be built. Two months down the line they lie unfinished and unusable. I would not be surprised if they remain so. That is a snapshot of what we as a nation have become. We make promises, money is raised, work begins and ends. I guess some pockets have become richer at best.

Toilets were built for the Commonwealth Games at astronomical prices but remain shut and are falling apart. Wonder what happened there. DIMTS the ones who run the (in)famous BRT, built much needed toilets @ of 15 lacs rupees but they are locked and unused. A friend told me that some ‘dry’ toilets – for males only – had been made in an swanky market but clogged on day one. He was told in confidence by the contractor who built them that so much many had to be given to grease plans, that the toilets could not be properly completed and hence would get clogged and hence someone will make more money. There are millions of unfinished toilets across India, each with a story to tell. Maybe there is material for a book, and sadly, not a funny one. It is time we the tax payer should ask where all the money earmarked for loos went!

Just like the loos meant to prevent rapes have not taken off, if one is to go by precedent, then the man who assaulter the little six year old will walk the streets sooner than one can think as the man who raped a seven year old in a city school in the same city two years back is out on bail. The brutalised child however will carry her scars to the end.

As for the blind children who were brutally caned, the explanation the perpetrators give is that they were told to do so by the parents. Oh yes I believe it, as this is what parents tell schools in India where children are beaten in their homes with alacrity and impunity. Our parents too do but then we try and counsel the parents and explain to them how beating children is bad for the child and that they should not do so. In project why no child is beaten. Two teachers lost their jobs for having slapped a child. The rage that is visible in the video of the beating of the blind kids is not just giving a little rap on the fingers but is manic. It seems more like the child bearing the brunt of the lifetime frustration of the teacher.

In the last three decades I have witnessed how violence has become an almost acceptable norm of life. The rage we see in all incidents, even mundane ones, is unhealthy and dangerous. It is a seething anger that may grow into something momentous and apocalyptic if we do not check it. India is losing it slowly but surely. I do not anticipate a French or Russian Revolution kind of thing, but perhaps the emergence of a vigilante society or an increase in violence without appropriate reason.

Who or what  do you blame it on? Some politicians blamed it on migrants and maybe rightly so as ever willing to accept the extra and cheaper hands, this city never bothered to give them the respect and dignity they were and are entitled to. This picture is proof of that. What you see is the home of a second generation migrant family. This boy is 10 or so and he is as tall as his house. I assure at least 6 if not more people liven this house that is sunk in. Imagine what happens if it rains and I do not want to begin to tell you what flows by the drain outside: chemicals from the factories whose walls give support for these tenements. And of course all adult members have voting cards as everyone wants their votes. I am sure that some day in the near future these people will ask for their long due pound of flesh. I do not know whether the animal is night’s dinner? Not much meet on those bones. This little boy is at presently in school and comes to project why. His smile shows that he is a happy kid in the circumstances he lives in. One of the reason for our opening a centre in the midst of a garbage dump was that most children dropped out school and joined drug running and other mafias. But I fear for their future. It would take a minute incident for them to lose it.

What has shocked me over the past 30 years is how the rich are becoming richer and the poor poorer, both in the most visible way possible. How long do we expect a little boy like the one in the picture to keep on accepting living in a hole before his smouldering anger turns into rage and he too loses it. Who is to blame. Our hubris? Our lack of compassion? Our deafening silence? Our indifference? It is time we took stock of the situation before it is too late.

Eve of destruction

I do not know how many of you remember the protest song written by Barry McGuire entitled the eve of destruction. I am copying the lyrics at the end of this post and if you have 3 minutes and 42 seconds to spare do listen to the song. I guess way back in then I too was one of those who did not want to believe that we were on the eve of destruction. I was 13 when the song was written but 16 when I heard it along all the other protest songs by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and so many others. They touched my heart because I had lived in Vietnam in the early to mid sixties and seen with my young eyes the immolation of monks – one immolate himself just in front of our home – and gone to sleep lulled by the sounds of bombs that became so much a part of me that it took me a long time to get used to sleeping without the sound of that sinister lullaby. But it was the sixties and we did not want to think that we would be the ones destroying all that is good in the name of misplaced freedom, misguided religious zealots or simply hubris. Today aged 62, I am find myself believing that we are on the even of destruction, it is only a matter of time before that morning dawns. All it would take is the wrong finger on the right button and we will have no one to blame but ourselves as we crated buttons after buttons in a frenzy of megalomaniac hubris.

Yesterday a missile created by human intelligence was shot at a plane full of innocent passengers including infants whose right to live were usurped in our folly. I do not care who it was and I am sick of the usual blame games we love indulging in. A few years ago it was planes full of innocent beings that were rammed into buildings full of innocent people; then it was armed terrorist who went on a killing spree in Mumbai now it is a missile shot at a target that flying at 33000 feet. Yes we have such contraptions that can kill you in the air, across the sea and across continents. Gone are the days when wars were fought by the brave and when rulers and generals went to battle face to face. Our hubris is cowardly.

Military budgets are zillions times higher than education or health budgets. We fight over pieces of land whilst children die of hunger. We have enough arms to kill all humans many times over. We are incapable of learning any lessons because we do not want to.

Now every time a loved one takes a plane, I will spend anxious hours hoping they make the journey safely. Is this the way we want to live. Looks like it. As Barry McGuire says: This whole crazy world is just too frustrating!

lyrics: Barry Mc Guire

The eastern world it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war but whats that gun you’re totin’?
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’

But you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
There’ll be no one to save with the world in a grave
Take a look around you boy, it’s bound to scare you boy

And you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction

Yeah my blood’s so mad feels like coagulating
I’m sitting here just contemplatin’
I can’t twist the truth it knows no regulation
Handful of senators don’t pass legislation
And marches alone can’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin’
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’

And you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for four days in space
But when you return it’s the same old place
The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next door neighbor but don’t forget to say grace

And tell me
Over and over and over and over again my friend
You don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction
Mmm, no, no, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction

mistakes, routine and unavoidable

Want to know the latest on the women safety issue that all our political parties have been using to get themselves elected? I guess you do so here it is from the horse’s mouth: a chief minister of a state where the situation of women is abysmal and shameful has cut the Budget of the state women’s commission but has the money for two seven-seater Mercedes cars and two Land Cruisers! This is the state where rapes are called ‘mistakes’! And the closing lines of the article left me speechless: According to statistics, five rapes occurred every day in the state, but most officials prefer to call such heinous crimes “routine” and “unavoidable”. So we have a new lexicon: rapes are mistakes, routine and unavoidable. How can any woman feel safe in this country. This is just the latest episode.

We all remember the ‘dented and painted’ ladies that a senior politician called women protesting against rape; or how we incite rape because of what we do, wear, drink etc or the places we chose to go to. Enough of that nonsense. Anyway when you are a 2 year old or a 81 year old as was recently the case I do not think what you wear, eat, drink matters at all. If you have a vagina, you can be raped.

This morning I was shocked to read about a 6 year old being assaulted within her school in Bangalore. What really made me fall off my chair was when I read that Bangalore school says it not responsible for children’s safety. What the hell. Parents send their children to school because they feel that the children are safe within the school. The school is an up market franchise sort of thing, something I gall at, and the child was assaulted by the fitness instructor and another man in the school’s gym on TWO DIFFERENT DAYS. Another school Director states: that although the school has more than 60 CCTV cameras installed in its premises, such incidents are inevitably bound to occur on campus. And he goes on to add: Nobody knows the minds and the intentions of offenders who harm and assault the children. The school managements in most cases are not able to identify predators who are potential offenders. The government should draft stringent punishment against such offences and create a fear psychosis amongst offenders. Only harsh punishment can prevent such incidents to an extent in school premises. Wow. I am floored. So we as parents or guardians should accept the fact that our child could be molested, raped etc in the school to which we pay hefty bounties till the state creates a fear psychosis in potential rapists. How the hell does that work. And I left the best for the end the management spokesperson tells the agitated parents: if somebody is found guilty of raping, let him be hanged.  I would like to ask this man how he would feel if the little girl was his daughter or granddaughter.

There is something terrible wrong and it is time we addressed the problem and stopped circumventing the issues and procrastinating.

Today’s news: a nine year old was raped by her neighbour in Badaun, the same place where two cousins were allegedly raped and hung on a tree. It is in the state where Mercedes cars are more important than a woman’s safety. And in that very state a woman was tortured,  and murdered and her body found in a school building. These are the repass our politicians call routine, unavoidable and mistakes. What else can I say.

An empty armchair and a thousand words

Sometimes a simple picture can say more than a thousand words. This is a snapshot taken by one of our kids during a photography workshop. I presume it is the picture of his home, a home he is a proud of. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to see that this is a tiny space and I can tell you with certitude that it provides shelter to at least six souls. You do not need to have a super mansion to be house proud and I have been surprised and touched to see how much pain the lady of the house takes to make her seemingly hideous hole look like home, more than certain uber rich homes I have visited where you are scared of sitting on the outrageously priced white sofa and where you try and look for a personal touch and find one. I guess page 3 people might recognise the interior decorator.

But a slum tenement is personalised to the hilt. In this case you can see the minute ‘garden’ with a tree and small plants, the clothesline strung across what one could call the ‘courtyard’. I am certain that inside there would be shelves with sparklingly clean vessels and containers with food items; a bed cover on the sole bed, the multitude of nails on the mail each with its designated use: school bags, clothes of each one of the inhabitants and so on. The walls would have some pictures pasted on it, often of Gods and there would also be a tiny shelf with some decorations pieces picked up at the equivalent of the dollar store – the china bazaar – or the weekly mart. There would also be a TV with its own shelf.

In this picture what struck me was the empty armchair. It seems it has been left deliberately so as the lady of the house is seated on another one next to it. Probably the empty one belongs to the husband and is not be to be used. In all probability the man of the house is a drunk and like all of his kind resorts to violence at the drop of a hat or in this case were he to know that someone dared sit on his chair.

But to me the empty chair seems to have a far deeper and subtler message. It looks like the chair lies empty waiting for hope and unfulfilled dreams. It perhaps states, in an almost tragic and mournful manner, the aspirations this family must have had when they left their native village to seek a better future for their children and how they were dashed. But is also proves that they have not given up and that maybe someday someone will come and sit on this armchair and conjure all the miracles that none of them dare express.

At what cost

It has been a long time side I spent a sleepless night. Yesterday was one such night. Even at the nadir of R’s illness, I still slept, albeit restlessly but slept nevertheless. Last night I was haunted by the image of a lovely young child, though she is now a teenager standing outside her class for the whole day: her crime – her parents had not paid her fees. The reason: they were going through a financial crunch. Everyone seemed to have forgotten that for the last seven hers they had not failed to do so. This child, as child she will always be to me, is still under the ambit of the ill conceived, ridiculous and absurd right to education as she is not yet 14. Let us not forget that in India, come your 14th birthday, you no longer have the constitutional right to free education.

Now in the case of this child I agree that there had been an inordinate delay in clearing dues and that the school too has the ‘right’ to claim them.The question that arises is: at what cost? Let us also grant the school the fact that they did wait for ‘some’ time before taking out their big guns. But again the question arises: what are those darned big guns. One would accept reminders but humiliating the child is nothing short of abhorrent, unprofessional and unacceptable. Collecting school fees should not and cannot be akin to resorting to tactics employed by wily debt collectors and over and above all should be matter that remains within adults; in this case between the school authorities and the parents or guardian. At best the child could be called to the office of the counsellor or principal, no one else, and gently and humanely asked about her home situation. I know of a school where the same problem arose and the child shared the family situation. A deal was struck between the Principal and the student: should he get 80% in his next results, his fees would be waived for the rest of his school years. Needless to say the child kept his side of the deal.

In the case of this young girl the big guns were brought out and the arsenal was a slew of actions aiming at humiliating the child in the school amidst her peers and friends. She would be asked loudly when she would pay her dues, notes were handed to her in front of the class, and the ultimate weapon was to make her stand outside her class for the duration of the school hours. Imagine a sensitive, mature young girl standing alone for no fault of hers. This seems to me like something out of the Middle Ages. I cannot begin to imagine what went through her head. All I know is that it kept me awake and seething the whole night.

I also felt responsible as this beautiful child was born in front of me and till she went to big school, she was part of my daily life in all ways possible. It is also because of the importance I gave to good education that her brave and proud family tightened their belts till it hurt to send her to a good school.  For seven long years they did so. It was only because of a death in the family and health expenses of the elders that the boat rocked.

I have questions and the first one is whether any kind soul in the school, someone who understands children and their psychology ever ask her gently how things were at home? Whether they thought of a solution that would not hurt the chip? Whether they understand how humiliating a teenager can scar her forever in ways that can never be healed? That they can change the family equation and the equation between the child and her parents? No Sir! They simply what their pound of flesh as education is no more about teaching but about making money.

When I heard that this baby girl had to spend a day in the corridor of her school, watched and riled by one and all, I brought out my bug guns. A few phone calls, emails and SMSs later the deal was done. We would take over the remaining costs of her education. Was she not one of Pwhy’s first students!

I have asked her family to keep her at home till we sort things out. Apparently a late fee of FIFTY RUPEES a day is charged. Imagine how it translates if you are months late! Some Shylock! We will also have a chat with the authorities and tell them gently how we feel and more than that remind them of how deeply hurt a child can be in such circumstances. She will return to school when all is settled.

When I gave her the news late last night, I could feel in her simple Thank You, a range of emotions I cannot describe. They brought tears to my eyes and made me hate myself for not having acted earlier.

I am deeply thankful to all those who accepted to sponsor her education. God bless them all.

back to school

Project Why’s incredible 3 musketeers are back to school. This is what happens to you when you perform impeccably and have learnt whatever the old biddy could teach you. Over the past 14 years now I have tried to the best of my abilities to share and teach all the tricks of the trade to these incredible trio. The problem is that I failed miserably on one front: fund raising. In my defines I will say that it was because the fund raising model I adopted was entirely based on skills that are impossible to share: personality and writing. I know the model was flawed but it was the only one that worked for me and gave good dividends. The one epiphany I thought I had conjured and that would work for everyone could not see the light of day. I am talking of Planet Why: a green guest house coupled with a vibrant children centre, the proceeds of which would have run the project. We bought the land, got the architectural designs and feasibility study but were unable to raise the funds to build. Along the way we tried many sustainability options that failed. I think that maybe they failed because I did not have the skills needed to push them through. Now with time not on my side, I must pass the baton and thus Rani and Dharmendra are attending a one week fund raising workshop and I hope it will give them the ideas we so need and that they are able to fulfil better than me.

Shamika is back to school today. This is much more the closing of a personal journey that began when I accepted that my daughter leave school and train as a special educator. Over the past 15 years or so she has been working with special children and interned in organisations in France but she could not get admission in any course as she did not have a school leaving certificate: experience is not counted in India. Last month though the Gods finally smiled at me and she got admission in a course on mental health opened to people with a Masters degree! I know she will shine.

I am one proud woman!