READ – RIGHT – RUN

A hurried call from grandson yesterday – yes he nows knows how to call; today’s kids are incredible – informed us that he was running a marathon and had his ‘number’. He put the phone down before we could ask anything further. I  thought that it was some race for children and left it at that. Imagine my surprise when I received a mail from his mom with a link to what this was all about. It is an initiative called READ – RIGHT – RUN. The informative website sums the idea in the following words:  The program’s goal is to develop reading-proficient, community-minded and physically fit children in grades K-5 by challenging them to READ 26 books, RIGHT the community with 26 good deeds, and RUN 26.2 miles over a six-month period. Putting my grandmom’s hat I am so proud of my little six year old running 26.2 miles albeit in 6 months. The 26 books will be a dream as his parents are no TV people and the child has been read to from day one on this planet. Good deeds also come naturally to him as he began his ‘education’ at project why when he was barely one. How can I forget the day when he came on Skype and told his grandpa that he had to talk business with Nani! When I came on screen he said: Nani, I am not getting any toys for my birthday this year, and am sending all the money to Project Why children. The money did come and metamorphosed into school bags and other things for the creche children. All he needs to work on is running and he is a great sportsman.

Now donning my project why founder’s hat I really think that this is a programme that we should launch in India in both state run and public schools. The reading propensity of our children is abysmal, their susceptibility to community work non-existent and the number of obese children one comes across proves that our kids are more proficient at screen games than field ones. So a programme of this kind is a win-win one.

Before I go any further, I do not think I would be who I am if not for my passion for reading and the fact that from a very early stage in my life, I was sensitised to the art of giving by my wonderful parent. One of the many lessons I learnt from them was that everyone deserved respect, irrespective of his or her social status. My parents walked the talk; after every Diwali prayer I was made to touch the feet of everyone older than me and that meant the staff too. I was also privileged to be in schools where community service was part of the curriculum and was no lip service as is often the case – remember the inane Taj Mahal pictures drawn with arch sticks and glued on black paper in the name of SUPW (socially useful productive work) by my elder daughter when she was in class I in an Indian school –  but hard core. In Vietnam in the sixties when I was barely a teenager, we visited an orphanage regularly and each one of us ‘adopted’ a child. Mine was a lovely 18 month old girl and all the pocket money I got was used in fulfilling her needs. Even today when I see a beggar child or an old person shivering in the cold I have a visceral reaction. The third R of this programme is one that I only adopted in my 30s!

Sadly today parents have little time for their children and schools have become businesses. The advent of easily accessible audio visual entertainment has relegated books to a dusty and cobweb infested corner and children are missing out on the most wonderful form of entertainment which is reading. Reading is considered a ‘bore’! But it is reading that opens up the world, fires your creativity and imagination and books are the most trustworthy and faithful friends you can have. I remember when I came back to India and joined college, my French took a beating as I was busy perfecting my English. An erudite friend of my father’s suggested I re-read the complete works of Balzac  as when not used, your vocabulary dips to 500 words. Today I make it appoint to read both English and French books. One of the tragedies of our times is the fact that books have taken a back seat and this is reflected in the writing ability and poor imagination of our children.

Teaching a child to give to others is by far the most precious gift. It is all about seeing with your heart and I do feel that reading the Little Prince at the right time was a boon in disguise. I am comforted by the fact that it is a lesson that is not lost as we have so many volunteers that come from across the world. Sadly it is a lesson we have forgotten in India and more so amongst the most endowed. Throwing a coin in the proffered hand without looking at the beggar is not giving. When I was 17 or so a beggar woman followed me asking for a coin; it was a day when my pocket was truly empty so I stopped looked at her and said: I am sorry, I do not have any money. Imagine my surprise when she caught my hand and said: Thank you, you have given me more than you can imagine, you looked at me! It is a lesson I have never forgotten. What she meant was that I had acknowledged her as a person. Jack London wrote: A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog. He was spot on. Giving is humbling and uplifting and in the ultimate analysis you always get more than you give.

As for the third R of this new equation namely running, it goes without saying that it is critical to introduce it in India. More so for children from poorer backgrounds who have nowhere to play or run.  As for the rich ones, running is no match to computer games, TV watching laced with bag of chips and can of coke!

So a programme like this one that reinterprets the 3 Rs in keeping with the realities of the day is a boon in disguise. I plan to introduce a tempered version of this initiative in project why thus summer. But my dream would be to find someone who would agree to sponsor a similar initiative in our city.

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