Thursday, May 14, 2015

Somethings are just WRONG!

You can't regulate child labour; you can't regulate slavery. Somethings are just wrong wrote Michael Moore. And yet our Government has 'tweaked' the child labour law and now children under 14 can 'work' in family enterprises and the entertainment industry! To give itself good conscience the said Government proffers some weak caveats: provided the work is not hazardous; provided it is after school etc. I wonder what made these amendment necessary. Child labour of any kind is wrong and exploitative and a law such as this one is open to all kind of misinterpretations. Actually it simply legalises what has been happening and will make interventions to stop child labour quasi impossible. A child working in a tea shop will be termed as 'family', more so in a land where the definition of family is boundless. The child who may have been 'sold' or brought from the village as cheap labour, will now become family.

What is nothing short of abhorrent is that this law applies only to the poor; to the very children who need to be freed of all shackles that hijack their childhood. But now, with he stroke of a pen, the morrows of millions of children have been shattered. The surreptitious message that is being sent is: the farmer's on will remain a farmer, the cobbler's son a cobbler and so on. An image such as this one will be 'legal' as evidently these children's parents must be construction worker which can now be termed 'family business'. Yes I know there is the 'hazardous' caveat but then who decides what is hazardous work. I remember once seeing a three year old left by her mother in front a stove where milk was boiling. I guess the mother had instructed the child to watch the milk. What would the child have done had the milk boiled before the mother came back. The chances of the child sustaining burns were real, all it would have taken is some cat to topple the stove. And yet according to the new amendment the child was helping the mother in her domestic chores.

It is already a herculean task to implement the Right to Education Act and ensure that children go to school and stay in school till they are 14. The fact that it was 'illegal' not to send children to school was some sort of deterrent that we could brandish to parents to compel them to send their children to school. Now it will be difficult to counter the 'family enterprise' clause. Let me ask you a question. What  do your children do on any given day. I guess a generic answer would be: they go to school, study, play, watch TV, play games etc. Then they also go on vacation, sometimes to exotic locales and attend birthday parties and so much more. Now if we are all protected by the same Constitution then why does this not apply to ALL children and if there is a disparity then why is not the duty of the state to ensure that all children enjoy the same rights. Why are poor children pushed to working after school and during vacations as is stipulated by the new amendment. Do poor kids not have the right to downtime?

It said the amendment seeks to strike a balance between the need for education for a child and the reality of the socio-economic conditions. Now to my mind a socio-economic scenario that finds it acceptable for tiny hands to break stone, make match sticks or bangles - and yes these are kosher family enterprises - is skewed and needs to be changes. Such an absurd law seeks to perpetuate outdated and inhuman mores that have no place in a self respecting society. Every child needs to be given an enabling environment where she or he can grow and acquire new skills and options. You cannot condemn her or him to the plight of its parents. This amendment bangs all doors shut in the face of poor children.

A politician asked to defend this amendment during a debate yesterday came up with an absurd comment. She said that it would help discover talent. She was alluding to the 'entertainment' clause of the amendment that now allows children to participate in talent shows. But should not creative subjects like music and dance be part of the school curriculum and talent discovered within the safety of a well run school? And we are not talking of song and dance here, we are talking of stone breaking and carpet weaving in dark airless spaces.

Another defence, this time by the labour minister, said that this was a good way for children to strike a balance between the need for education for a child and the reality of the socio-economic conditions. What the hell does that mean! That society has to remain frozen as it is, with the poor remaining poor and even poorer and the rich richer! I am flabbergasted so say the least. Here we are at project why celebrating when the child of a vegetable vendor completes her studies and gets a job in a bank and lurking around the corner is a law that would make it legal for her to sell vegetables when she finishes  school and in the scorching sun during her summer break. Which ever way I look at this amendment, I cannot find ONE tiny point to defend it, more so when all political parties want us to believe that they are the Messiahs of the poor and down trodden.

Till a few months ago these adorable kids had never seen a book or held a pencil. Their parents are agricultural labour who grow vegetables on the bank of the Yamuna on land that belongs to landlords of the nearby Khader village. Till a few months ago they were working in the family business. Then arrived a teacher who decided to educate these children and give them a better start. Last month Project Why 'adopted' these kids and our main mission was to see how to mainstream them, a tough call as these kids have no civic identity. They simply do not exist. Earlier the teacher only taught them for an hour or so in the middle of the day. We decided to create a school like environment and teach them from 9 am to 3 pm with a midday meal. We were aware of the fact that these little hands were part of the said socio-economic conditions and provided added and needed labour. We were confident that with the laws on our side - Right to Education and Minimum Age for child labour - we had enough to  convince the parents to send the children to the project from 9 to 3! Ah ha! Now with the new amendment should parliament pass sit - everything changes and we will be on shaky grounds.

The state does not have the resources to ensure that every child is in school. This is evident in the number of children we see working around us. And unlike my Yamuna kids who are invisible, the little kid who begs at the red light or the one who pushes a cart in the heat are VISIBLE. So before amending laws that would make these images legal provided they happen after school, would it not be better to first launch a campaign that pushes all kids into schools.

And I would like to ask the learned heads who conjured this inane amendment whether they would agree to their children working in their business after school giving up their homework time, play time, park time, siesta time, tennis classes, swim at the club and whatever else our kids under 14 do today! So a law that does not make sense and is highly unacceptable for YOUR kid cannot and should not be acceptable for any kid born in this country.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

A priceless painting

This may look like a very mediocre and even gauche piece of art. And yet for me it is priceless; more so because it landed in my life at the end of a tedious and annoying day.  Let me tell you why. True this piece or art, as art it is, looks like a banal copy of an illustration in a school book sone by a child and it is. But this is probably the first time this child was give crayons and a pice of paper to draw.

Yesterday the children of our Yamuna Centre had their first ART class and their teacher was none other than our own Aman, s student of our women centre who is an excellent artists and who was sent to Art classes by Project Why! As it is still early days, our resources are few but the heart is there. For  more than an hour these children who have never been to school and whose world fits in a fist took their first step on the creativity trail. They were enthralled and a tad bewildered. As children of agricultural labour, their life is limited to helping their parents as soon as they are able to do so. For some months now they have been studying a little but never have they been given the freedom to express themselves.

The child who  drew this picture lives in a thatched hut and has never seen a house like this one. Come to think of it many Indian kids have not seen a house like this one, with a chimney but you will find them draw them with alacrity as we still have illustrations that reek of colonial times. What is impressive is their ability to copy respecting proportions. The little lad who drew the boat ha need seen the sea; true he lives on the banks of the river, but a river that spews toxic foams and has grey waters. He may live his entire life without see in an ocean but he drew one with flair!

Every alternate day, the Yamuna Project children will have Art classes and I intend to ask Aman to let their imagination run, to give them the freedom to splash colours on paper as their heart desires. I will also ask him to let them draw what they see, the fields they grew up in, the vegetables they know from seed to fruit, something city kids do not.

 Let them draw the tree they sit under, the dwellings they live in, the lush fields they run in. Let their imagination grow will and let them enjoy simply being children.

Friday, May 08, 2015

rich and poor

The picture you see is one of our new 'classroom' in the Yamuna Project. Classroom is a misnomer even by our standards. Actually this space was a shed made for two jersey cows who have now gone to greener pastures. If you look carefully you will see that the walls are thatched and the floor terribly uneven and uncomfortable to sit on even with a mat. When we adopted this project, the first thing that came to mind was to try and level the floor by cementing it. It seemed reasonable. Ah Ha! But that is not the reality. We were quickly informed that getting even a brick in this place was illegal as this was hold your breath: the flood plain! You were only allowed to build with thatch and mud. Seems politically and ecologically correct and one would no have said anything if the 'law' applied to one and all. But that is not the case. The Akshardhama Temple and Commonwealth Games village are built on the flood plain of this very river, albeit on the there bank. So how does one circumvent laws. Simply by being rich and well connected. If you are poor it is thatch and thatch only.

All the children live in thatched structures where sizzling and freezing winds blow with alacrity. Only a plastic sheet protects from perpendicular rain, if the winds blow the thatched walls are no protection.

This is yet again another India Story where the laws are different for the rich and the poor. Actually one should say the laws are for the poor, the rich manage to circumvent it or pay their way through.

There is an amendment to an existing law on child labour which will, if passed, allow children to work in family enterprises to get an entrepreneurial spirit. These are not my words but those of a Minister in the Government. You need not be a rocket scientist to figure which children the law will affect. Not yours or mine but the million of children who are trafficked to provide cheap labour. What entrepreneurial spirit do you learn when you break bricks with your are parents who are bonded labour, fetch and carry with your construction labour parents or beg with your beggar parents. And then every industry that employs children can be tagged: family business be it carpet making, match stick making and eve housework! Maids do bring their daughters to 'help'! The children it will not affect are ours as I do not see anyone 'employing' ones kid in the family business.

No school for the rich runs in 2 shifts as it is well known and documented that children learn best in the morning hours yet boys from humbler homes go to school at 1pm in Government run schools. In spite of large tracts of land that could double or even triple the existing capacity, Government schools are still run in one storey tin roofed shacks. Who cares about poor kids. There is no need to give them an enabling environment to grow. They have no voice and nobody to take up the cudgels for them.  They will learn on uneven grounds and sizzling temperatures. That is the price to pay if you are poor.

The day may come where the not-one-brick rule will be broken with impunity and the vegetable fields will become a gated community for the rich and famous. Mark my words, it is only a matter of time.

And as none of the above affects us, except if you should chose to purchase a flat when they happen, we will keep shut. Our kids go to school in the morning, they sit in comfortable chairs and even an air conditioned classroom and they will learn the entrepreneurial spirit in some Ivy college in the US!

Thursday, May 07, 2015

A whole new meaning...

I was taken aback this morning when I opened my mailbox to see a mail with the subject being: child labour. Imagine my absolute horror when I opened it and saw a petition to ask the Government to drop a proposed amendment to the child labour laws that would allow children below 14 to work in what they call 'family enterprises'! It took me some time to process what I was seeing. I then searched the net to find out more and fell on an article very aptly titled: The Modi Government Is About to Make Child Labour Legal Again, And Has a Horrifying Reason To Justify It. I must confess that the rather toxic cocktail of heat+fever+work+IPL has impaired my access to news as news time is also cricket match time. I still do not know how I missed this one as I usually have a sound ear where children are concerned. Anyway before my rant and raves let me bring you to date with the intent of this horrific proposal. If the amendment is not shot down and I hope you will all join in helping doing so, then the hard work done in the field of child labour, work that has even been hailed by the Nobel Committee, is about to go down the drain as according to the amendment children under 14 till now protected by the existing law, will be allowed to work in 'family enterprises'! And before you say anything let me enlighten you to the fact that 'family enterprises' include carpet-weaving, beedi-rolling, gem-polishing, lock-making and matchbox-making. And if that was not all, family enterprises also apply to entertainment and sports. The existing law + the Right to Education Act had entailed a drop in child labour from 12.6 million in 2001 to 4.3 million in 2014. Now, if we do not SCREAM and stop this aberration the figure will take quantum leaps. The girl child who is already deprived as is evident in the 64 against 82% literacy, will be kept home for housework and denied her right to education.

I can barely hold my rants but the article quoted above has some more horrendous justifications to this retrograde and inhuman amendment. According to the skewed rationale of our honourable minister of labour this will give kids an entrepreneurial spirit. But as the article caustically remarks not every tea vendor goes on to become PM. And come on the term: family enterprise is opened to every interpretation under the sun. Wily entrepreneurs will walk the whole nine yards to traffic children as cheap labour. A child activist painted the grim picture of what awaits children were this amendment passed: "All our campaigns to end bonded child labour, starting from the 1980s, will go up in smoke. Schools will be emptied out and poor children in states such as Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh will be back to working in sheds and makeshift factories that will all go by the nomenclature of family enterprises. The worst-hit will be the children of Dalits, Muslims, tribal families and those belonging to marginalised communities."

I need to take a deep breath.

All the work we have done comes undone. True the laws were not implemented but for those of us who found our voice and indignation of a child working and reported the employer will now have no law to back us. This thoughtless amendment makes beggar children, dancing children, children working in tea shops and sweatshops legal as all these can be termed 'family enterprises".

The children in this picture also will be deemed legal as their families are construction labour. More pennies in the pockets of the contractor who can get them cheap. The list is endless, each more nightmarish than the other as by one stroke of the pen the state will legalise all forms of child labour. So hold on, are these not the children who also have a right to education till age 14? Then how does the equation work? It does not for me as  am one of those who believe that children should have a right to be educated all the way and even 14 is too young for them to work.

Children need to be nurtured, cared for, loved and educated. They have the rift to learn, to play, to laugh and even to do mischief. Any self respecting society should ensure that. Children working is a shameful blot on any society worth its salt. I cannot begin to fathom how such an amendment has even been thought of.

Made in India takes on a whole new meaning; this one is nothing short of unpalatable.

Let us for once raise our frozen and mute voices and ensure that this does not happen.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

that would suffice!

 If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice wrote the German Mystic Meister Eckhart. It is almost frightening to see how easily we 'rush' to pray when faced with adversity often not quite knowing what to pray for and ask for the first thing that comes to our mind  guided by our hearts and not our reason, and though I am the one who has always propounded the importance of looking with your heart, I have learnt the hard way that when 'seeking' you must let the heart take a back seat and bring out reason. I remember praying hard for my father to 'live' after his brutal and barbaric surgery till the day when I saw his pain and suffering and the emptiness of his life with mama gone and we on the verge of leaving for Paris. In the state he was, there was no way he would resume a normal life: the surgeons had ensured that. So why was I praying for him to live. I reworded my prayer making only one option possible. I asked for either restoration of his perfect health or his release. He passed away 20 minutes later, having asked for his glasses to look at the picture of his wife that hung on the opposite wall. A smile touched his lips before he  exhaled his least breath.

That day I had found the exact wording for my prayer but you often never do.

Normally one remembers God and prays in time of strife and trouble, when our pet hubris fails us and a rude shock brings us to earth. Then one hurriedly conjures a prayer and sends it out. Far too often it is not the right one. Last week a dear friend and my staunchest supporter was in town and talked about the elusive pot of gold that someone has 'promised' to give us next year to build our sustainability programme. Neither of us truly believe in it as the same person held out one such pot some years ago and never gave it. But what came out of our little chat was also the danger of having too many strings attached to the pot, strings that may go against the spirit of project why we so cherish. So do you pray for the pot? For the pot without strings? For sustainability? The list is endless and the prayer loses its value.

Prayer has to be humbling. I remember the days when Ranjan was fading away and I was totally lost, my hubris trampled upon and all my carefully nurtured cartesian options an abysmal failure. Along the way I did pray and even held religious ceremonies meant to ward off bad times. But it is only when I reached the point of accepting to crawl on a filthy path to the sanctum sanctorum of a Goddess were she to grant me his health, that doors opened one after the other. I guess sometimes God does test you in his or her own inimitable way. I of course kept my side of the deal!

I did not turn the picture on its head; this is the way Agastya posed!
But there is another way to pray and get what you want without asking. That is to turn the whole matter of praying on its head. Do not ask for anything, just be grateful for everything you have been given and leave the rest to the One upstairs who knows better. That is the true meaning of Eckhart's words: If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice. We so often forget and take for granted the things we have been given with such magnanimity! If we did find that minute minute to say Thank You, the rest would follow. And if ask you must, leave it to children, God listens to them. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Yamuna Project, the al fresco dining and a little about giving

The new project that was inaugurated last week has been christened! It's Godfather is none other than our staunchest supporter and the name he chose was: The Yamuna Project. I am so glad he did as I got a bit lost and over the top with options like: 'in the fields' or 'by the riverside'! Today was a special day as thanks to a wonderful soul who truly sees with his heart: the Yamuna Project children had their first lunch. This person  I must ask him whether I can use his name - has promised a hot lunch six days a week for these lovely kids. On the menu today was kidney beans curry, potato and cauliflower curry, rice and chapatis. The food was delicious as was duly reported to me by Xavier who had a bite, and he is a connoisseur of Indian food.

So this little project that landed in our arms thanks to our kind landlord is well on its way and I hope that many will support it. These children are undoubtedly from the end of spectrum. They do not even exist on paper. They world is limited to a 1 km radius.

 I can keep saying that I will not increase the size of pwhy; someone else decides its destiny. The location of this project is idyllic if you set aside the stark reality that surrounds it. You lunch under a tree, in the midst of green fields, with a breeze flowing from the river and the chirping of birds. It is the best al fresco dining experience. I hope I will be able to spend some time there.

But I had to give it a miss today as we had some visitors and potential donors coming to see Okhla. They were extremely kind and very appreciative of our work and wanted to help but there was a catch: they belonged to an organisation that has its set of rules and specific areas where they can help and sadly as always we were not a perfect match.

They very kindly offered to give a 'scholarship' to one child per class. This once again brought to the fore my reluctance and I must say that of my team too, to the idea of singling out one child. In my humble and responsible opinion sponsorships are not ideal for the beneficiary though rewarding to the donor. I let my team battle it out and decided to spend some time with the secondary kids. On the spur of the moment I asked them how they felt about one kid being singled out and the concerted reaction was a big NO! I told them that to me each one of them was excellent in his or her own way and thus deserved the best. If one was good in her or his studies, then the other was good in drawing, singing or sports, and what about the one who was always willing to help. It was the right time to talk about the danger of dividing, be it a class, a family or society. That was the first step to its destruction. The children agreed and many gave their opinion. It was a rewarding experience.

Donors often do not understand the finer points and even dangers of what to them is a gesture of kindness. Wanting to reward one child entails many possible scenarios. First of all in our case as pwhy is free it would be difficult to put a 'tag' on the cost of a child. At best a school bag, some clothes, books...a treat! But then ask yourself how the other children would feel. And ultimately the beneficiary may find herself isolated by her peer group. But that is not all. Should we accept the offer we would have a posse of angry mothers at our doorstep the next morning asking why their kid was not given the bag etc. And then in a jiffy all that ails India would spew out: caste, religion, state of origin, you name it.

Till date I have been blessed by donors who have trusted me implicitly and in some cases even convinced their Board of Directors to bend rules as they felt that the money given was always used with utmost honesty. They have never questioned my decisions but lauded them. And that is the way I want it to remain as that is the spirit of project why, one that I have kept alive with utmost love.

So instead of helping one child per class, it would be so much better and wiser to sponsor the salary of one teacher: that would mean helping 40 kids! But then in the lexicon of organised donor agencies, the word salary is anathema. Never mind if the teacher in question comes from the same social strata as the children she teaches and her salary keeps her kitchen fire going.

Giving has to be for the right reasons. There are many quotes on 'giving' but the one that has always touched me is Jack London's: 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.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Down by the riverside

Normally I have no problem in writing about any and everything that comes my way. But yesterday for the very first time I was overwhelmed by a surge of emotions that I was unable to process, let alone put down in writing. It is now time to share this unique experience and I hope that my words will do justice to story I am about to tell. When faced with a succession of intense feelings, it is sometimes wiser to take a deep breath and reign in the desire to follow your heart to let reason speak. So let me narrate things as they happened. A few days ago Dharmendra told me about a man who was teaching some children in the proximity of our women centre and needed some support. This had been told to him by our landlord who owns some tracts of agricultural land on the bank of the river and the children in question were the kids of the people who tended to his land on a contractual basis. This was all double Dutch to me as till date I was not aware of the existence of the rural side of the very city I lived in. My first reaction was to say the least not very enthusiastic as keeping pwhy on course was enough of a challenge and the thought of a new item in our budget was anathema. But Dharmendra is not one to give up and if anyone sees with his heart deeper than me, it is him. In his gentle voice he persisted adding that the landlord was willing to give us space and that the cost would be minimal. He requested me to at least come and meet the kids.

I guess he knows me better than I now myself.

I agreed to do so, and as we had three volunteers who had come for Rani's marriage, I thought it would be a great idea that they to came and 'met the kids!' We decided to do so yesterday morning. Before I go any further, I need to share a thought that has haunted me time and again. I have often asked myself the one 'why' that has been never shared with others but maybe time has come to do so. That why is simply: why me! Or in other words why was I destined to take the longer road. I know I have come up with a range of clich├ęd answers that range from the famous paying back a debt to answering the whys that came my way, but deep in my heart I have always felt that someone somewhere held all the strings. I was just an instrument. In recent times, when the weight of the morrows gets heavier to bear, I have also asked myself whether I had reached the end of the road. So I must confess yesterday's visit did have a tinge of misplaced duty and a slight lack of early days brio. The one surprise that did put a smile on my face was the fact that the husband accepted Dharmendra's invitation to be one of the party.

We drove from the women centre towards the riverbank, first on a reasonably good road and then turned onto a bumpy one that led us straight to the fields. After a short while all we saw were tracts of vegetable patches dotted by a few thatched dwellings. The buzz of the city had vanished though it was but a short distance away. We stopped near a cluster of such dwellings, and behind one of them, under a beautiful tree and next to a well sat a group of children between the ages of 4 and 14. They all had books and copy books in front of them. A middle aged gentleman nudged them to wish us and they did, albeit hesitantly. The gentleman was their teacher. For an instant time stopped and my heart missed a beat as I felt a huge sense of belonging. It felt like coming home. The teacher asked the children to introduce themselves and show us their work and we were all impressed by their well kept copy books, neat handwriting and shy pride as they showed us what they had achieved. Slowly the story unfolded, another story of India, one that could have remained untold.

These children had never been to school and the work we saw was the fruit of two years of unstinted effort by one man. This man was a government school teacher who left his job because of the uncaring attitude of his colleagues and their lack of desire to teach. He decided to do something meaningful. Belonging to the same district as the one these children belong to, he knew of their existence and the plight of the agricultural labour who had left their villages in search of a better life. They had finally settled in this area where they tended to the land of rich landlords to whom they paid a yearly sum. They grew vegetables, the very ones that reach our doorstep. The children helped in the fields and never went to school. Our caring teacher decided to change things and teach these kids. To ensure that their education was validated, he registered them in a school in a village in the adjoining state and worked out a system by which they would get their certificates. The system worked spot on. The teacher took some money from the parents and met his added needs by taking tuitions classes in the evening. In a span of two years he had 'mainstreamed' these kids.

I listened bewildered and humbled as he told his tale. My eyes smarted and my throat constricted but I held my tears. As I heard the man speak my father's dying words : Don't lose faith in India, came to my mind. The man telling his story in a soft voice spelt: HOPE. The children and their pristine copy  books filled with beautiful writing were a stark reminder of how we had failed them and how worthy they were of our care and attention.

As far as I know, these kids do not exist. Their parents have no papers, they are not registered in any school, they do not appear on any enumeration list, they are invisible. They read about the metro but have never seen one, let alone ride one though a metro station is being build a short distance away. They have read about India Gate but have never seen it. They read about wild animals but have never been to the zoo. Their world is limited to a radius of one kilometre. It ends at the shadowy figures of the tall buildings of Noida seen in the mist. Every year, when the rains come, their homes get flooded and they move to the top of the embankment waiting for the waters to recede. They spend their day playing or working in the fields where extra pairs of hands are welcome, even if they are tiny. They look at you bewildered when you ask them what they like doing. Come on! There is only one answer: studying! And when you prod a little and ask them what they like eating some may come up with the name of a sweet. So you wreck your brain and look for the question that would result in an answer that would make them seem better than you and the penny drops: what grows in your field? And pat come the answer: tomatoes, gourds, aubergines, beans.... So you tell them that you have never seen them in the field but only in shops and they laugh wholeheartedly like only children can. And for that tiny moment you forget that these are invisible children no one cares for. Then the anger, the rage, the feeling of helplessness! What can you do to change things. And your mind runs wild: a bus trip, a metro ride, a visit to the zoo! Perhaps. But what you need is to change their lives, to bring them into the light, to give them their usurped rights.

These are children of India, remember! The ones who are protected by rights, the ones for whom programmes are made ad nauseum and never truly implemented. But then how can you get rights when you do not exist. As their teacher told us with extreme wisdom, these children live the same life as children centuries ago, tilling the alluvial plain and moving to the banks when their homes are flooded to move back again and again and again. Nothing changes nor has changed.

We will do whatever we can. These are just a handful of children whose parents did agree to send them to school for two hours and even pay the small amount the teacher sought. But there are hundreds and hundreds of such children that dot the riverside. Some parents prefer spending the extra coins on hooch; others feel education is useless and a waste of valuable time.

The space we have been given is a cowshed that once housed two jersey cows owned by our landlord. They have found better pastures. The shed will now house the new project why outreach that I feel like calling 'project why in the fields'. It will house the dreams and aspirations of these very very special children, dreams that have been entrusted to us.  We will do our best but the questions remain and the anger too. Is this the India the likes of my mama fought for? Is being in power sine-qua-non to losing your values and the ability to see with your heart? When will India be truly free!

It all started with the question why me? Because there is no option. Because it is His will! Call it serendipity but two cameos gave credence to my thoughts. The first was that my husband was not only there with me but was moved enough to spend time listening to a little girl read him a lesson in English. Ranjan is not an expressive man and in all these years he has rarely, if ever connected with children even  on the rare occasions he visited project why. But here he was gently encouraging the little girl. Needless to say, I was floored. And if that was not the wink from the Gods I sought, I got another in the garb of a wonderful soul who is willing to provide these children with a healthy lunch and also give them all the resources they need!

Need I say more?

Just a small point that needs to be made as the country debates the land acquisition bill and the farmers' rights. The labour that till the land and have to pay a substantially large amount of money to the landlord, irrespective of what they make, irrespective of their loss due to the vagaries of weather are not the ones that receive the compensation given by the State. This goes to the one who 'owns' the land.