Don’t lose faith in India


Don’t lose faith in India were the dying words of my father who left me twenty three years ago. He died a few days before the destruction of the Babri Masjid. I am glad he did.

Over the years I have held on to the words of a father I adored in spite of all adversities and because I knew he was always right. Was he not the one who explained life’s bad times to a child with his big picture theory where bad moments were simply the dark blotches in a large and beautiful canvass. With are limited vision we only saw them. Happiness lay in your ability to imagine the full-blown image. So I held on to that image in spite of stark realities of children dying of malnutrition, of rapes and abuse, of hunger and cold. I held on to the invisible colours whilst trying to address what disturbed me to the best of my ability and finding my little patches of light and sticking them on the dark spots. These little sparks were in the shape of a child’s trusting smile, of a report card handed with pride, of a box of sweets in celebration of a new job. I must say I found them in ample measure and they helped me soldier on.

A day or so ago a furore took over the social and regular media. A celebrity shared his concern about tolerance and his fear of bringing up his kids in India. Frankly I feel that too much has come out of his remark and become fodder for political agendas as is always the case. Come on, even I have said in the privacy of my room that Delhi has become unlivable with its pollution and  but that does not mean I am packing my bags.

As luck would have it, I visited the Yamuna Project yesterday and spent some time with the kids. If there was any iota of a doubt about my faith in India, it was set to permanent rest as I laid my eyes on little Priya. She is the youngest of the brood and was the reason we started a class for tiny tots as she would come everyday with a copybook and claim her place in the sun. Take a moment and look at the picture. Her eyes reflect unending dreams that she may still not be aware of but that we can easily unravel. Her smile is infectious and her determination incomparable as she leads leads her class in English counting. She is confident and striking. But look at her hair. They seem streaked. But that is not because of some costly hair treatment but because of her severe lack of protein. Priya, like all her classmates is under nourished, something we are trying to counter on a war footing as past a certain age, the damage is irreversible.

That is not all. Priya and her friends do not exist as they do not have birth certificates or appear on any enumeration. They are invisible. And yet these kids are the brightest you can find, each displaying a insatiable hunger to learn and learn more, knowing intuitively that this could be the door for their dreams to be unleashed, dreams they carry in their eyes, dreams they have entrusted to us, dreams that give meaning to the my father’s words: don’t lose faith in India.

How can one faith lose faith in India as long as little Priya has dreams in her eyes.

I for one, can’t.

In God knows whose name? #paris#attacks

I am still stunned! It has been almost six hours since a phone call from my daughter informed me of the terrorist attacks on Paris. I am still trying to make sense of it all. Perhaps writing the thoughts that are choking me will help assuage the turmoil. As I hear the news, read the headlines and see the disturbing pictures my mind travels to and fro. Is it really Paris? The Paris I have loved from the time I mouthed my first logical babble. How can I forget the fact that one of the first songs I sang was Josephine Baker’s J’ai deux amours:


J’ai deux amours
Mon pays et Paris
Par eux toujours
Mon cœur est ravi

which would translate as:

I have two loves
My country and Paris.
By them always
Is my heart ravished.

Even before I had laid my eyes on her, I had fallen in live with Paris. The seduction would be complete when I first saw her in all her glory. For the little 4 year old it was the Eiffel Tower, the beloved school on the tree lined avenue Georges Mandel, the inimitable Guignol of the Champs Elysees, the hot chestnuts eaten from a newspaper cone, the dinner at Maxim’s as a four year old, the walks along the Seine. That is not where it ended. I lived in that city as a child, went for my honeymoon and lived as married woman. Each sojourn has its own sets of sweet memories. And life has a way of coming full circle as my younger daughter would study in my very own school and my grandson loves the Guignol just like I did six decades ago. That the ties are indestructible is borne by the fact that my little grandchild is a French national. Paris is now family.
So the dastardly attacks on this beloved city have seared my very soul. My heart not only beats for Paris but bleeds for it today.
I know the resilience of Paris and the fact that it will bounce back. But the scars will remain rooted in anger, rage and incomprehension, a feeling I share.
Why! Why is the question one asks ones self in the wake of attacks on innocent people. And in whose name? That is when it goes all awry. God it is said. God who is meant to be omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, immutable merciful. Every religion has its own sets of qualities, many common. No religion  I believe tells you to kill. And yet it is in His name that such barbaric acts are committed. Who gave us the right to say your God is better than mine. Not God. So is it man who in his megalomania has hijacked God to suits its wily agendas. As long as that is the case, there is no end in sight.
It is time we woke up and asked ourselves where have we gone wrong. And we have, as otherwise no human would pick up a gun and shoot another. Why are there so many young people who are willing to espouse such causes. What is it that draws them into such hateful pursuits. What is that void that we as a global society have not been able to fill with the right values. Who as gone wrong? Is it that some of us are so blinded by our hubris that we have forgotten to care for others who become easy prey for those who have understood that God is the best ploy to fulfil their wicked and cruel agendas. Wars in the mane of religion exist since time immemorial and no matter how much we have achieved, we have not been able to address this. As the rich grow richer and remote and the poor grow poorer and hopelessly desolate, we will breed hands that are ready to grab any straw that promises them hope and recognition however skewed.
It is time to wake up!
My heart beats and bleeds for Paris.
I am sure that God’s is too.

Will it be heard? #children, India

It is Diwali time. A time to rejoice and be merry. It is also that moment in the year when Hindus pray Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth beseeching her to grace their homes. This is a ritual taught to me by my mother and one have followed over the years diligently. But never has it held as much meaning as this Diwali when I stare at empty coffers wondering how I will be able to keep these kids smiling tomorrow and the day after.

In the past we at project why have been close to the brink but were always saved in the nick of time and once again I was hoping for just that. But it has not happened.

I have left no stone unturned in my quest for support. Many things are on the anvil but may take some time. Many promises were made but still not fulfilled. I of course will not give up. How can I?

But today I know that I need divine intervention and that is why this Diwali a very special prayer will be murmured to Goddess Lakshmi. It will be a prayer mouthed by an ageing woman chosen to craft the morrows of thousands of kids who needs help to fulfil her mission. Will it be heard?

Affects Eternity

Henry Brooks Adams wrote: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops“. This is something we seem to have forgotten. Yet this is so true!

I understand the third National Education Policy (NEP) is about to be drafted. It’s mandate is to: assess the status of the present education scenario, review the impact of the 1986 policy and the amended education policy of 1992, assimilate the feedback based on grassroot-level consultations and draft a new one keeping in mind the changed social, economic and technological context. Perfect on paper and in spirit but what frightens me is the news that the Draft will be ready by the end of the year – December -. The Committee is still being finalised. This post was not meant to be a ranting on yet another policy whose fate one can easily guess. India is replete of good intentions, perfects pieces of legislature, super sounding schemes and social programmes. The problem lies in their implementation. If I was ever given a chance to do something for the country I would first an foremost ensure that all existing projects run. Pipe dream of course!

For the last few days or more I have been meaning to write about the question du jour : tolerance; about crimes against children; about the rising graph of crime in general; about tens of thousands of people applying for a handful of jobs and so on. Perhaps I should write about all of them together as whichever way you look at the problems, there is only one true answer: education.

What the child learns will affect his life. As Jacques brazen wrote: “In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years“. The seed planted within the home and in school will take time to grow and bloom. It is time we looked at things in a proper perspective.

The new draft policy has a huge task before it: reviewing impacts of past policies, assimilating feed back from the grassroots and keeping in mind the changed social, economic and technological context. From that they need to distill what will be the seen that will be planted in future generations.

A daunting task to say the least.

I have been an insider in the matter for the past 15 years. I remember the day when a young class VIII student came to me with her English school book and asked to underline. It took some patient prompting to understand what it was all about: in the English class the teacher barely read the text (in the occurrence an extract from Wilde’s Happy Prince), proffered a short summary in Hindi and proceeded to tell the children to underline the relevant portion question wise. In the tests and exams the kids simply had to mug up the underlined portion and regurgitate it as best they could. No wonder the young girl was lost. No one had told her what to underline.

You may think that 15 years or so down the line things have changed. Yes they have but not for the better. Actually the scenario has worsened. In state run schools, classrooms designed for 50 kids have over 100 packed into them. Now even Wonder Teacher cannot do much when a period is just 35 minutes.

There are so many things that need to be addressed but if there is one thing children do not have is TIME. So whereas policies are welcome, I feel that the need of the hour is immediate remedial measures.

First and foremost we need to address the learning process and ensure that children understand what they are being taught. That of course touches upon the quality of the teacher issue and again that is another ball game.

Is there a magic formula that may help kids in school today as those are the ones I feel for the most. Let me tell you why. What most do not realise is that children today, rich or poor, have been invaded by an insidious source of information that is flooding them with data: IT. Every one possesses or has access to a smartphone. The problem is that there is no one to hold their hand through the assault and help them process the information. With hormones raging this is a true recipe for disaster: teenage pregnancies to eve teasing.

The one solution one could apply asap is access to mentors in schools of all hues. This does not need to wait for new policies to be executed. It does not require training of zillions of teachers either. What you need is identify people who could reach out to these kids. The ideal would be counsellors but to me a simple mom, a concerned soul or a gentle grandpa with the right approach could be just as good.

The children need to feel cared for and loved. That is one battle won. They need to be appreciated and valorised. Second battle. They need to feel that there is someone they can share everything with and not be chastised but guided. They need hear about positive things. These kids have no role models at all. We have to craft some for them.

The other need of the hour is the immediate introduction of sex education from an early age. There is no option and it is time we realised that. Beating around the bush will not help. There is no place for detractors.

Pipe dream again? I pray not.