Thank you project why

I found your blog and Project Why site and it is amazing.! Your words are truly an inspiration and your projects! When i needed some insight, your beautiful face and children’s pictures popped up on my computer along, with your compelling, clear message. THANK YOU!! These words dropped in my mailbox this morning. The sender someone I had never met. Needless to say I felt elated.

Yet once the euphoria of the moment died down, I reread the message quietly and pondered over the words. It seemed that pwhy had once again cast its magic! And it also seemed that to many I was the magician. That was not quite true as in fact I was just like the sender of the mail: I too drew strength and insight from the children’s faces and smiles. It was time to talk a walk down memory lane and try and discover how and when pwhy took a life of itself and I became just a mere instrument.

In all honesty for me personally life changed when I first lay eyes on Manu. Till then charity – for want of a better word – was something that was important yes but not visceral. But the sight of Manu roaming the streets aimlessly, letting out heart wrenching cries was nothing short of unbearable and touched a chord I never knew existed. No self respecting society could allow such an aberration and though I knew that I could not change society, I also knew that from that day forth if would not be able to live with myself if I remained a mute spectator. The journey had begun, mine as much as pwhy’s. I guess at that time I still thought I held the reins in my hand. It would take another encounter before I realised that I was a mere cog in a much larger machine.

When Utpal landed on our planet many thought he would not survive. Yet somehow I knew he would. I am not professing to be a soothsayer or a seer, but as I gazed into his incredible eyes I only saw life, a life that needed to be saved and celebrated. And as the miracle enfolded in front of my bewildered eyes I knew that I was blessed and that pwhy was far larger than I could fathom.

The rest is history. Miracles happened every day and I just watched in awe, my heart filled with gratitude. Utpal left for boarding school, Manu moved into his home, scores of broken hearts got mended, umpteen children left project why with their school certificates in hand. The list is endless. Not a day passes without a miracle and not a day passes without my saying: thank you project why!

2011… time to push dreams to become reality

I sat wondering for a long time what my new year blog would be about. A new year is time for resolutions and resolves, many of which are never kept! For us 2011 is a watershed year as we are poised for the final straight line towards our sustainability. It is a do or die situation as if we are unable to meet our goals we may have to chart our journey again and set a new course. Yes 2011 is when we launch our donation drive for planet why and also the time we have given ourselves to fulfill it. It is a do or die year for planet why!

Deepak Chopra said:The greatest ideas are nothing more than daydreams until they are pushed to become reality and till now planet why has been a huge day dream. I must admit that it was one in technicolour where all details were vivid and radiant. It was a dream so close to reality that each sense was activated and one could hear, feel, see, smell and touch planet why! It has been a long time in the making – this dream! As Deepak Chopra aptly wrote the greatest ideas are nothing more than daydreams if they are not pushed to become reality. And this is what we need to do with our whole heart and soul in 2011. Planet why has to become reality.

Easier said than done as we know the road is a long and arduous one. And yet on this blessed day we need to renew our faith in our dream, to cast away all doubts and hesitation and to begin this New Year with hope and belief. This is and should be our resolution!

I will just allow myself a passing instant of vacillation where I dare to ask myself fleetingly what would happen should we fail. The thought is terrifying: Manu would roam the streets again, Champa and Anjali would be prey to predators that lurk at every corner, Munna, Radha and the others may have to fend for themselves on the streets, Utpal and his pals would have their dreams hijacked and crushed. But that is not all. If planet why does not happen than over 500 kids will not be able to get the support they so need to be able to prove their worth and fulfill their dreams. And above all the effort one has put in to craft a system that has proved its worth will just wither away. The thought is too scary and yet it could happen if we fall short of our convictions.

So on this brand new day of a brand new year we resolve to ensure that all dreams do become reality and wish yours do too!

Happy New Year!

Looking back at 2010

2010 is coming to a close. It is time to cast a last glance at the year gone by, to assess its highs and lows, to reflect upon achievements and failures and ponder about resolutions that need to be made.

When I look back at 2010 the one feeling that comes to mind is one of quiet achievements. The year went by with no fuss or flurry. All centres ran like clockwork. All challenges were met with poise, all problems solved calmly. It seemed we had come of age! And it almost seemed to good to be true.

We had to close two primary centres: Sanjay Colony and Govindpuri. The former because of a sudden proliferation of new NGOs that made us almost redundant and the later because of non availability of space. In their place we opened a new primary centre across our main centre in a rented space. The new centre is now running to full capacity.

2010 also saw the coming of age of our Okhla centre. From a ramshackle space with a handful of kids, it is now a thriving semi permanent structure that has 200 children and secondary as well as computer classes. It is a matter of pride for us to see children who had joined project why in early primary classes graduate to secondary school and do us proud. And to think that many of these kids could have gone astray gives me goose bumps.

Our senior secondary kids are slowly getting used to the new examination and test pattern under the guidance of their ace teacher. And our babies are happy learning new things each day. So as they aptly sing every morning: All is well…. at pwhy!

In April 2010, three little children packed up their bags and joined our gang of five at the boarding school. So now eight pwhy kids are busy changing their morrows and believe you me they are all top of their respective classes. Way to go!

At the women centre all is well too! The centre runs to perfection; the proof: I have heard no complaints! What more should one ask! Over 300 children and 60 women execute a well orchestrated ballet and partake in their set activities in spite of the shortage of space. Kudos to the team!

Our Focus on Quality programme took off with a bang in April 2010 in two centre: Okhla and the women centre. Daily spoken English classes and awareness programmes. The result is for all to see: the children now s-p-e-a-k English even if it is halting and we even performed on stage in English! Plastic bags have almost disappeared. Both centres even have small patches of greenery and the women centre a small kitchen garden. At the women centre composting is on in a big way and all water is recycled and Saturday is hand washing day!

An eventful year isn’t it? But there is more. Ruby a young girl who had joined pwhy in class IV is now a secondary teacher at our Okhla centre and a small survey of the whereabouts of our alumni revealed that many of them were now gainfully employed in good jobs and earning handsome salaries. Many had thus broken the cycle of poverty in which they were born. Were we justified in giving ourselves a pat on our backs. Maybe not as there was so much more to do.

In 2010 we got 100 children admitted to mainstream school in consonance with our initial mission: arrest drop out rates! This is always something that fills us with great joy and pride. So all in all on the academic front we did not fare too badly.

The special kids were also spot on! As always they filled the space with their laughter and abundant energy reminding us that life is worth living no matter what the challenge be. Manu, Champa and Anjali were impeccable roomies who are slowly mastering the art of living together and complementing each other and this winter they were joined by Radha whose brittle bones could not have withstood the cold and dampness of a slum tenement. This brought to light once again the need of seeding planet why that would give such children a safe and enabling home.

Yes Planet Why is still the big dream we seek, the one that will ensure that pwhy survives the test of time. 2010 was a year where plans were refined, costings reworked, feasibility studies undertaken and new proposals drafted. We are now ready to launch our donation drive and have set 2011 to do just that. We hope that the God of Lesser beings will be on our side.

Yes, we have come of age. Now it is imperative to think of the future and consolidate what we have achieved. That is the challenge that awaits us in 2011!

Any belief worth having must survive doubt

Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous.” wrote Voltaire. For the past week or more my pen has been silent, the words frozen in a tired mind. I guess this happened after the 3 D pictures of planet why landed way, bringing a strange inevitability to what had been a cherished dream for more than five years. Where I should have been jumping with joy I instead found myself ridden with doubt and apprehensions. Where I should have been furiously composing mails, blogs and proposals heralding to one and all that we were finally there, I found myself turning strangely uncommunicative and mute. Where I should have been passionately polishing and sprucing up my good old virtual begging bowl and seeking the much needed funds, I found myself reluctant and even unwilling to retrieve it from where it lay dusty and almost forgotten. Something was terribly wrong, this time not with the world but with me.

Was this not the moment I had waited for for ever so long. Was not planet why just a moment away? Had not everything finally fallen in place? Then why was I ridden with doubt. Was pwhy’s sustainability not the one and only thing I had wanted from the day the journey began? Then why was I suddenly voiceless. It was time to soul search. I must admit that I was at a complete loss and did not know what to do and where to start. It was time to call up on the Cartesian mind I always took pride in and analyze the situation.

Planet why was undoubtedly what I wanted then why was I running scared? Was it the sheer size of the images that had landed my way that filled me with fear. True I had never imagined it to be so. Was it that they did not quite fit with what pwhy stood for till now: reclaimed pig parks and garbage dumps, road sides and street corners, kerchief sized and windowless rooms. Was my dream tinged with a hubris I had not been aware of. Was a huge building needed to protect the spirit of pwhy? Or to put it another way was pwhy’s spirit large enough for such a structure. Was there a disconnect I had not been aware of whilst building my dream?It was time to find out and I did not quite know how.

That is when once again the God of Lesser beings came to my rescue, though I did not quite realise it at first. Not knowing what to do to deal with a restlessness I could not share with anyone as I would have seemed nothing short of foolish, I decided to download all my blogs and read them again chronologically. I looked for ways of doing it rapidly but not finding any – and thank heavens I did not – I set about the task of copy pasting each one individually, all one thousand one hundred and sixty six of them. And as I did, pwhy came alive in front of my bewildered eyes. I was spellbound as I read each one of them. It was a treat of all the senses.

The story began five years ago when my pen was still somewhat hesitant and naive. I found I had recorded every little moment of pwhy and though it may seem to some as extremely wide-eyed, it truly reflected the spirit of pwhy where nothing is too small or too inconsequential. Every lopsided smile was worth recording, every seemingly meaningless tear merited to be addressed. And I did with all my heart. There was anger too, at things that did not seem right but it was somewhat guileless. Every tiny achievement was recorded and celebrated and carefully logged.

As I read on I discovered how I slowly found my voice. It was strangely comforting as I had often been one to remain silent. But somehow pwhy has empowered me to start reacting and venting my feelings even though in a barely audible way. Laced in between everyday occurrences were hints of concern be it about the girl plight child, the state of education for the poor, or the precarious nature of slums. Even five years ago these had been felt and expressed. And today many were vindicated in more ways than one. Over time my voice had become louder and my words more and more mordant. Wonder why? A question I need to answer some day.

But the one thing that is woven like a leitmotiv in a Wagnerian opera right from the very first blog is my fear of the future, my angst about what would become of planet why after my exit and that is why ever so often there are references to the elusive sustainability of pwhy. But then I did not know at what price it would ultimately come and how alien it would be from what we stood for. Or was it? What where we really trying to sustain. Was it worth the tag? I needed to read more.

I spend the next few days reading he 1000 odd pages. I was pleasantly surprised at the fact that it was in no way tedious or boring. Neither was it the normally annoying drag of rereading what one has written. Far from that; at times I got so engrossed that I even forgot that I was its author! As I read page after page, the last five years of pwhy came alive in front of my curious eyes. So many things that had been forgotten along the way: the plethora of human and humane stories that brought a smile on the face; the indomitable spirit of blessed like souls like Manu or Nanhe who gave a total new meaning to life; the simple yet cogent answers to complex issues mouthed by innocent children when God simply becomes Boman (Bhagwan pronounced by a two year old) and makes you wonder whether he is not simply that a beau-Man! The list is endless, each instance confirming in its own special way that we must have been doing something right. Then interspersed in between are the concerns and disquiets be it about the plight of children in general or the girl child in particular, about education and habitat for the poor, about new feudal masters and so on and the often implied need to try and do something.

This post is not meant to be a synopsis of a thousand and more blogs. I it is simply an exercisein soul searching meant to validate a belief: the belief that pwhy is worth fighting for, that no tag is too large when it comes to giving special children the right to live and die with dignity; when it comes to helping a few hundred children build a better future, when it comes to empowering people everyone had given up on to take hold of their lives.

It is time for me to walk the talk; to jolt myself out of this false comfort zone I am sinking and to fight the last battle to the very end.

Any belief worth having must survive doubt”. I guess mine has. So help me God!

an apologia for a dream

The 3 D images of planet why truly gave substance to a long time dream and brought in a new set of apprehensions and nerves. What till now was a sedate yearning tucked away in the recesses of one’s mind suddenly sprung to life. Dreams were becoming reality and it was scary.

Many found the images amazing and wonderful and the kudos came pouring. In the midst of it all came a much needed dampener: would the idea work at all. I normally would have pooh poohed the note of caution as I often had in the past when planet why still lived in the realm of dreams but not now. I had to listen to all voices. Particularly today when we were a step away from realising a dream. It was perhaps the last chance one had to review things calmly and dispassionately before it was too late. So no matter how difficult and wearisome, it was time once again to write an apologia for planet why.

So what is planet why and why should it see the light of day? That is the question. Right from the outset planet why addressed two almost existential questions that had been plaguing us at pwhy. The first one was humane and concerned the plight of our very special children and young adults. These were the handful of lost souls that had been guided to the portals of pwhy by an unseen hand. We all knew that they needed to be cared till the end of their lives and thus was seeded the idea of a residential programme that had to outlive those who steered pwhy. Planet why was thus born. The second question was more materialistic in nature and addressed the issue of the autonomy of project why and its ability to raise its own resources. Planet why would also be a guest house that would generate funds and thus support not only the residential programme but the rest of pwhy’s initiatives.

It is easy to vindicate the first question as everyone would agree that our special children deserve but the best and keeping in mind the realities prevailing in India we know that they need life long care and the chance to live and die with dignity. Planet why would ensure just that. The second one, the sustainability of project why, is perhaps a little more difficult to defend. Some may contend that it borders on hubris. Many successful ventures close when time comes and why should it not be the case with pwhy. Others may profess that the price tag of planet why is too huge to be justified and that there may be other ways to ensure sustainability. The more cynical ones would argue that nothing needs to be perennial, and that wisdom lies in knowing that.

I will try and address each of these issues. There is no misplaced ego in wanting pwhy to live beyond me. I admit that the idea of seeing it all dwindle and fade away is difficult to accept but that in no way is the reason to seed planet why. I have often been asked what would happen to pwhy after I exit this world and the thought has kept me awake many nights. And not for any hubristic reason at all. My fears have been for those who depend on us in toto be it Manu and his friends who might find themselves on the street or the eight little souls who study in boarding school and still have a long way to go. What would happen to them? They need to be secured and planet why is for them. One could rebut this by saying that there may be other less expensive ways to do that. Touché! Yes there are. One could for instance create a corpus fund the interest of which would pay for the needs of these children. But somehow that defeats the very spirit of pwhy. Let me elucidate.

Pwhy was set up to create a model that could be replicated. One of its main mission was to empower local communities to not only steer the education of their children but also take hold of their lives and destinies. We did succeed in a certain manner as all pwhy staff is from the community. The one area however where we were left wanting was undoubtedly fund raising. All our attempts failed or at best fell very short of the targets be it our one rupee programme, our varied sales of products or our sole attempt at running a raffle. Till date fund raising remained in one hand and skills that could not be transferred. The real litmus test was to find a way that could be successfully handed over to the team. When the idea of planet why was first mooted it seemed to be one that could be steered by our team and that is why we decided to explore it further. Running a business is definitely something that can be taught.

But that is not all. Over the past years we have come to realise that imparting education, no matter how efficiently is not sufficient to change the morrows of slum children. While a small percentage of our kids move on to higher studies, the vast majority is unable to do so keeping in mind the present education scenario where either very high marks or large sums of money gives you access to higher education. A simple school leaving certificate with average marks does not get you anywhere. The need for going further was felt by one and all. Planet why could answer that need as it would provide a platform for training our kids in a host of vocational skills thus enabling them to access employment. Not only would be able to train our alumni in hospitality and related activities, but having our own space would allow us to run training workshops in many other fields. This was indeed very tempting.

So as you see planet why has been a well thought idea that aims to cover more than one issues. From providing a dignified life to those forsaken by all to ensuring that eight children complete their education and prove themselves; from ensuring that 500 children complete their schooling to allowing them to learn skills that would ensure their gainful employment, and above all giving to have to those who have steered pwhy till now the chance to show beyond doubt that they are able to run a business successfully.

Two points still need to be addressed to make this apologia honest. The doubt raised was: would it work? Or in other words does the idea make sound business sense. This was indeed our worry and we decided to take a professional approach to the question. With quivering hearts we handed over our busines proposal to world class consultants for a feasibility study. The conclusion is for all to see: In our opinion, the proposed development at Planet Why is a lucrative and financially feasible and one which would be able to generate much higher returns than are typically found in guest houses operating across Delhi.

The last slightly uncomfortable question that needs to be asked as it is one that is in every one’s mind is whether the project is worth the cost that will need to be incurred. May I simply state that the cost of planet why equals what is needed to run pwhy for 5 years and will allow the work to continue for times to come. Is that not reason enough.

now put the foundations under them

Yesterday evening, our architect delivered the first 3 D representation of planet why! I must admit that I was floored. Over the past 3 years I had conjured many images of planet why. At that time it had been a piece of barren land that held unimaginable promises. I would close my eyes and see it come to life. I must admit that what I saw were the smiles of my special children, what I heard was their laughter and what I experienced was pure joy. The building remained elusive. I am no builder. Yet when I gave my brief to our wonderful architect I tried to pour out my heart. But no matter how hard I tried I never saw planet why!

So imagine my excitement as I waited for the file to download yesterday and my delight when I finally saw planet why come to life, albeit yet on a screen. My eyes filled with tears of joy. I was watching the morrows of project why as if and when this building came to life, my children would be safe and I would be able to go in peace. My promise to Manu would have been fulfilled.

I was reminded of Henry Thoreau ‘s words: If you build castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. It was time to do just that.

no more in my hands

A phone call last week informed me that we had been shortlisted as possible beneficiaries of a page 3 charity do. This came as a surprise because our brush with page 3 soirees and bashes were things of the past. There was a time many moons ago when we did make almost regular appearances at such events but those days were long gone and somehow our tryst with the rich and famous had been short lived. So imagine my surprise when they came knocking again. I was informed that I had to go the next day and present our case to the members of the executive committee of the planned event. My first reaction was to refuse but beggars can never be choosers.

The meeting was fixed for the very next day. It seemed that all the short listed organisations were to be given 15 minutes to present their case and then the said committee would decide which one would benefit from the proceeds of the evening. It all seemed very cut and dry. I decided to give it my best shot and leave the rest to the God of Lesser beings.

I reached the appointed place with a few minutes to spare. Somehow I felt very alone and lost in a world I had said my farewells too long ago. Soon it was our turn and I was led to a room where 6 people sat around a conference table. An empty chair beckoned me. I sat down. A few brief presentations and greetings and then the stage was mine. The countdown had begun and I had just fifteen minutes to put forward 10 years of work, to share the hope and dreams of so many and to prove to all present that we were worthy of their help.

I did but somehow I felt no one was really listening. It seemed like a show put up for some unknown reasons, it seemed as if all decisions had been made well before the game began. The people around that table belonged to the other side of the fence and did not really want to know about Manu, Utpal or Radha. I wondered why I had been invited at all. When I had finished my presentation, the leader of the pack asked be bluntly what would happen after me. Normally that question would have shocked and angered me but it did not and I simply smiled and told him: planet why!

That is when I realised that something had changed and that I had taken a huge step without knowing. Gone was the angst of the past, in its place was a sense of acceptance and calm. I remembered the time when any mention of what would happen to pwhy once I had exited this world brought anger and wrath. Today it just brought a smile. True I was still worried about pwhy’s future, true I wanted above anything else to see planet why happen, but if it did not then I somehow knew something else would happen and take care of the problem. This new found attitude stemmed from the fact that I felt that matters were no more in my hand, but in the hand of the one who had placed the future of so many in my care. He and he alone would show the way. Today it seemed like it would be planet why but were that not to happen I am sure an alternative would come about and ensure the succession.

Who am I?

You are one of those few people I know who truly love what they are doing wrote a friend. Innocuous words at first but they got me thinking and setting of on an inward journey. For the past ten years I have been so caught up in keeping the ship afloat that I have rarely given myself time to take a back seat, catch my breath and savour moments the way I should have. But my friend’s remark made me stop in my tracks and realise that what she said was incredibly true. For the past ten years, in spite of all the problems and hardships I have truly loved what I have been doing. I guess it is sometimes a sense of perhaps misplaced decency that refrained me from letting out whoops of joy each time something special occurred. My friend’s question ultimately nudged me to ask myself the question: who am I today.

Who am I? I do not know how many of us ask ourselves this question over time. There can be simple answers. You are from a particular country, of a particular gender, have a particular profession, a particular religion, a certain age and so on. So I am Indian, an old woman, a social worker etc. Some of these markers can change with time, some stay with you for a life time. Some of not much consequence. The others are the ones you build yourself and have the liberty to alter and even change. And the question you need to ask yourself is Who am I, today!

Often you are portrayed through your relationships with another so you become a good or bad daughter, spouse, friend, sibling, citizen and so on. But here again the description is insufficient and inadequate leaving you still wondering who you truly are.

Another friend recently wrote about the importance of finding your voice. It was an innocuous remark pertaining to a very specific situation but somehow it struck a deep chord inside me. It seemed an answer to a deep search I had embarked on, the search of who I truly was. Over the past 10 years, when I began the pwhy journey I have felt more and more alienated by what was once comfortable and sufficient. As pwhy grew so did my loneliness. The situation was paradoxical as when I set up pwhy I was painfully alone but pwhy brought innumerable new souls into my life. Then why the loneliness? Perhaps because I suddenly felt alone in my world, perhaps because all reference points suddenly seemed pointless and empty. I realised that the time had come to redefine myself but that was no easy task.

With each step on the pwhy road I felt I moved away by quantum leaps from the world that I had known and found ample. Suddenly it felt painfully deficient. Once I had crossed the invisible line I had unwillingly abdicated the right to be one of my erstwhile peers. I had done the unthinkable in a land where you were conditioned to remain in your determined framework. If you did dare venture out of the box you had to be prepared to pay the price. Sounds cryptic. Let me try and elucidate.

Say you belong to a particular social class, then all your activities are defined by it. Your conversations, your likes and dislikes and so on on are almost predefined and that is the world you are meant to navigate in. Now say you have tasted other flavors and dare bring them into the closed doors of your predetermined orb, you are immediately considered persona non grata! I remember how quickly people moved away from me when I use to try talking about pwhy in up market parties. I felt like a pariah. But the other side of the coin was that the other world was not ready to accept you as one of them. There you were put on a pedestal and had to remain there and that is when the loneliness set in. You suddenly became no one’s child. And yet you so wanted to belong at least somewhere. It was a real predicament and there seemed to be no ready answer.

But slowly as time passed , people grew less in awe of you and more willing to accept you. True these people would never become your intellectual sparring partners, but they surrounded you with so much love that you once again felt content and wanted. Wonder who they are? Let me introduce you to some of them. It is Utpal and his endearing ways, Manu and his lopsided smile that greets me every morning, the band of special children and their cheerful Good Morning Ma’am, the tiny creche kids, the Okhla children, the Khader children and their incredible smiles. But that is not all: it is also the Lohar ladies who never failed to produce a syrupy cup of tea and a lovely hand slapped roti; the innumerable families who have always opened their homes and heart to me; the simple people who illuminate my day every single morning and make it worth living.

So today I am above all Anou Ma’am and I like what I see and truly feel that this is who I want to be till the end of my days.

a dream in the making….

I first dreamt of planet why more than a thousand nights ago! It was almost a magical moment where fact and fiction coalesced under the watchful eyes of a little prince. Like in all dreams everything was in the realm of the possible and I allowed the dream to seed first in my own mind and then in that of others. At that time planet why to me was: a happy place where those with no hope could seek not only refuge but find meaning, where no one’s children would study just like others, where skills would be taught, where days and would filled with laughter and happiness and childhoods would be reconquered with renewed assurance watched by my smiling little prince.

Please bear with me as I travel down memory lane and unravel this puzzle of dream and reality. The need for planet why stemmed from a complex web of emotions and feelings the biggest one being worry. As I watched project why grow and flourish I also started sensing its fragility as its existence was deeply entwined in mine. Many a times I imagined what would happen if I were to exit unexpectedly and what came to mind was indeed frightening. Would Manu have to roam the streets and rummage in dustbins for food? Would Utpal be compelled to leave school as no one would pay his fees? And where would would Champa, Anjali, Radha, Munna and their pals go? In those moments my blood would run cold and I would break in a cold sweat. I could not allow this to happen, pwhy had to live beyond me in some new avatar. The umbilical cord had to be severed. But how: that was the question. How would this dream become reality.

I did not know. I simply held on to my dream with both hands and all my heart. I could see the happy place and knew I had to make it happen. For a long time my dream lived in my mind. I use to conjure it at will and spend hours fine tuning it: I could see it live and thrive. And yet if dreams are to become reality you have to muster the courage to address the uncomfortable questions and the one that plagued me the most was how would my happy place sustain itself if I was not there to hold its hand. That is when my friend the God of lesser beings decided to enter my dream and lend a little help. It came in the form of a person telling me about how another dream had come true thousands of miles away. She told me about Cusco and the Ninos Hotel. Don’t ask me why but I knew that was the way to go. My happy place would not only be a home for my loved ones but also a guest house that would sustain it.

The dream became stronger. I would not only be able to help my lost souls but also ensure that pwhy lived on, albeit in a new manifestation. It was time to share the dream no matter how impossible it seemed. And I did and believe me it did not go down well initially. Many found it preposterous. But I persisted. Somehow I knew deep inside me that it was the right way to go. There were many false starts, times when we actually believed that dream would become reality but then it all came down like a house of cards leaving me hurting and bewildered but I held on to my dream even when it looked improbable to all and even if the hurt seemed too much to bear.

I guess the God of Lesser Beings must have taken pity on the old biddy as he sent one of his timely miracles and we were able to purchase a plot of land, making planet why shift from the realm of fantasy to that of reality. And the soon the rock pile ceased to be one as St Exupery’s words came back to me: A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral . The next step was to secure funding to build my cathedral. Naively as always I copied what was written on my heart to paper and credulously believed that others would embrace my way. It sounded so simple. But then the world shook as markets tumbled. There was nothing one could do but watch helplessly and tuck away the dream in the recesses of ones’ mind before someone broke it.

Time passed. The fears returned as the fragility of pwhy became even more apparent with each new grey hair or creaking knee. I could not keep watching, I had to act. I prayed for another miracle but none was forthcoming. I shared my angst with the few I trusted seeking help. Some one suggested a more business like approach; candid and passionate appeals had no place in today’s hard hitting world. The proposal needed to be vetted, but all that cost money and we had none. But when all doors seemed closed, God does open a window. An Angel appeared and agreed to do the much needed feasibility study of planet why. What followed were weeks of nail biting and furious pacing. But the God of Lesser Beings decided to be extra benevolent and the study was completed and ended with the words: In our opinion, the proposed development at Planet Why is a lucrative and financially feasible and one which would be able to generate much higher returns than are typically found in guest houses operating across Delhi. This was sheer music to my ageing years. But it also meant that the dream needed to be actualised and the search for funds begin all over again. This was nothing short of terrifying. Would I be able to achieve this? I knew I had no choice and I also knew that the God of Lesser Beings would be with me. And moreover planet why would take time as no cathedral is built in a day! That meant that funds would be needed to carry on our daily work.

As I write these words, many the world over have come forward to hold my hand and help me make my dream come true. What we need is a huge miracle, is the God of Lesser Beings listening?

Question time

Aren’t you too old to take up a new challenge like Planet Why? What difference does your work really make in a country with 1.3 billion? Why should the world care, everyone has got a lot of problems of his own? Do you think you will change the world? These are some of the questions I have been asked to answer for forthcoming interview. As I sat pondering over how I would answer these, I found myself taking stock of what I could best sum up as my life!

If I were to answers these questions with one liners they would go like this: I am old but I do not think I am too old; have you heard of the ripple effect; because we have been given the gift to care; not the world but maybe one life. Anyway I will find the right answers when needed but for the moment I need as I said to review the decade gone by.

Rewind to 2000 and the scorching day in May when I first lay eyes on Manu. Something happened on that day. It was as if I had been shaken out of a long slumber and made to come alive. At that instant it was not the about 1.3 billion people but just one lost soul whose dignity had been usurped and needed to be restored. And hence began the journey many of you know as pwhy! Why should I have cared. I do not know, I only knew that I had no choice. And funnily all my own problems paled and almost vanished. It was not a matter of changing the world but of changing one life, that of Manu. The ball was rolling..

And over the years it has been a saga of trying to make a difference, caring and changing lives and above all knowing that there was no other option. Manu’s morrows needed to be secured and to do that pwhy saw the light of day. From a small spoken English class of 40 to a family of over 700 it was all a matter of making a difference and changing lives.

Fast forward to 2010. Let me tell you what we look like today. Manu now lives in his own home, sleeps in a bed and not on the street, shares his meals around a dining table with his two roomies, and though is health is not as good as we would want it to be, he is happy and safe. His classmates too are a happy lot and spend the day in our day care centre where they are respected and loved. After countless moves often prompted by factors beyond our control we have settled in a tiny lane in Govindpuri. There about 80 pre-schoolers, most from extremely deprived homes attend our early education programme. 50 primary children get after school support and even computer classes. Thrice a week a bunch of hearing impaired children come in for extra tuition and on the remaining days of the week women from the vicinity come for sewing classes.

A few kilometers away tucked in the middle of a reclaimed garbage dump in the middle of an industrial area is our Okhla centre. I cannot forget the day when it was set up by two incredible women fighting all odds walls broken in the name of love or battling the local goons. But nothing deterred us and we soldiered on. Today the Okhla centre has over 200 children from class I to IX, yes we now have a secondary section there and that is not all, the centre boasts of a tiny computer centre too! And there is more: from January this year the children have spoken English classes as part of our what I would call ‘brave’ Focus on Quality Programme. I must admit all this makes me incredibly proud!

Across the railway line, just a short kilometer away, is our women centre. There over 300 children from class I to X come and learn. They too have a spoken English teacher and a computer centre and a library! But there is more: over 60 women attend the sewing and beauty classes held each day and a new adult education class for illiterate women was inaugurated last month. It is heartwarming to know that many of the women who have obtained their certificates are now gainfully employed. Way to go, is’nt it?

But that is not all. I forgot to tell you about our main computer centre that is open to the community and that has helped many get better jobs and our senior secondary section that has never known failure as every student has passed his or her school leaving examinations. And how can one overlook the pictures of the 16 children whose open heart surgeries we sponsored that adorn the wall of our tiny office.

Pwhy also has its library a real dream come true, and even a cine club! Wow is all I can say. Funny that it is only when I decide to write about pwhy that I am able to fathom its reach and needless to say I am filled with a sense of pride and deep gratitude.

But the feel good factor lasts but a moment as I realise the fragility of pwhy. I become painfully aware of my age and of the fact that time is running out. But the sense of helplessness is soon replaced by the determination to ensure that pwhy becomes sustainable and is able to fly on its own wings. In other words this means the setting up of planet why. As many of you know we have the land and now even have a feasibility study done by professionals that concludes that the project is viable and sound.

The sum we seek is astronomical to say the least though many feel it is no big deal. My mission now is to raise it come what may. Ten years of passion cannot go to waste. So help me God!