Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The 66 days bogey

As you know I have had the expected meltdown that I had been dreading for quite some time but I must admit I was on such a adrenalin high, that I did not expect it to happen to me. Come on am I not the control freak superwoman who battles it all! So I can control my meltdown as I do everything else. No No! That is not how it goes and a few silly triggers and the cookie crumbled. The body. mind, sou, spirit said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! And to make sure I heard LOUD AND CLEAR they took away my one and only panacea for all ills: my desire and thus ability to write. That was a real red flag and I knew I had to take matters in hand and take a break. So am on a break. My FB page is ample proof. No blog a day!

The doctors ordered rest, yoga, breathing, exercising, mineral broth, green juices and more. I am being good and after a few days of resisting - noblesse oblige - I realised I quite enjoyed this state of total farniente. La Dolce Vita. Let alone writing and even reading has taken a back seat and I find myself doing nothing for long spells. 

I do not know how many days it has been but it suddenly struck me this morning that if I let it happen for 66 days then it will become a habit. That was a wake up call. I could not and cannot let this happen. So panic attacks or not here I am writing a blog.

Mercifully being on forced rest I still find myself browsing the net, zapping TV channels and thumbing through magazines. This is how I stumbled on two articles that got my somewhat dried up creative juices trickling, and the 66 day bogey did the rest. One is about the plight of Delhi's Rich Kids. Reading it made me sad and also angry. Parents have no time for their children and give them everything they want except happiness so these kids surrounded by luxury in every form imaginable are lost and depressed. They buy expensive things they do not use or drink themselves silly paying a whopping 60K with alacrity. No one is there to spend time with them or inculcate values. The only mantra is money! Money the elusive coin the likes of me break their proverbial back trying to collect each day not to buy expensive items but to keep dreams alive.

What anguishes me most in my otherwise enthralling project why journey is my inability to reach out to these lost kids and young adults and open their hearts. Giving up just one bag, shoe or drinking binge could run a whole pwhy centre. How does one reach out to these poor rich kids and teach them compassion and sharing. I do not know. What is frightening is that the gap is going wider by the second as the rich shut themselves behind real and virtual gates.

The second article I read warmed my heart though it angered many. This article is about a High Court so disturbed by the plight of government schools that they directed t he chief secretary to ensure that children/wards of government officials/servants, those serving in the local bodies, representatives of people and judiciary, etc., send their wards to these schools. Sadly this will not happen as there are too many stakeholders that would rather 'die' - or I guess pack their kids to another planet - then have their children share a bench with what we call the 'poor'. And yet if this were to be true, India would change. I have always yearned for a common school for all where children from all walks of life would study, play and grow together in an enabling environment. Is this a miracle one can pray for?

So here it is. I have broken the 66 days bogey. Whether it is for good or just for today, only time will tell.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

It's much more than that.

You might wonder why I'm sending you a photograph of a tin is how the email from a very loved friend and die hard supporter began and then she added: it's much more than that! As I read on the mystery was unravelled. This beautiful box was given to them by two of their friends Yvonne and Geoff and was filled to the brim with coins meant for Project Why that they had collected. The sum may seem small to some but is huge for us. And that is not all: they want the box emptied and back so that they can collect more.

This wonderful news arrived on a day when I am/was feeling blue and heavy hearted. Grandma's Blues I guess, as my little grandson leaves tomorrow and we are both trying hard to be brave. But as is always the case when one is doleful and choked, then thoughts turn dark and all that worries you takes centre stage. Project Why's is undoubtedly Top of the Pops.

For almost a year now, I guess since we lost a large chunk of regular funding - a whopping 1000 Euros - I have not been able to make up the shortfall, let alone garner more support so its truly Bleak Street as far as I am concerned and though I put on a brave face, I look for messages from the Heavens to enable me to soldier on.

Now Messages from Up There are not miracles. They are subtle hints that need to be interpreted with the heart. So at a time when I was almost on the brink of saying Basta, to my missing 1000 come a tiny 40 but what a 40 when you look with your heart. What these coins mean is that someone is hearing my prayers and nudging me to carry on with a silent promise of being there should I fall. I cannot say that the blues lifted immediately, come on we still have 24 hours till a big plane takes my little chap away, but I know the task that lies ahead once the plane has flown away and the tears dried on my ageing face. I will need to put my heart and soul in securing project why's morrows.

Now in this strange equation where 40 > 1000 some explaining needs to be done. These coins have been collected by lovely people who see with their hearts and live thousands of miles away. They are friends of Irene and Andy who came to volunteer with us many years ago and fell in love with the children of project why. Though they were here for a short time, barely a week or so, they left a little bit of their hearts with us and took a large part of ours. Come on it does not take long to fall in love, does it! Since, they have been perfect Ambassadors for Project Why and over and above being never fail donors they have managed to get many friends involved.

The coins in the box are laced with so much love that I would be unable to know the number of zeroes to be added to the 40! I feel humbled. But more than that I feel honoured by the trust people who have never met me or seen Project Why have reposed in me.

How blessed am I that people in Sunny Spain spend time and energy to ensure that the dreams of a woman in the autumn of her life come true, dreams for children no one cares about.

So Thank you Irene and Andy. Thank you Yvonne and Geoff.

And how can I forget Valerie who spends her free time making lovely bags the proceeds of which have the ability to make dreams come true. It is because of people like them that one can carry on in a world where people seem to lose their ability to see with their hearts at the speed of light.

Thank you all. I love you.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

A question of safety

A few days back a young friend was sharing his dilemma about shifting homes. He lives in one of the what is known as 'posh' colonies of South Delhi and has a floor in one of the stand alone houses which are the hallmark of these colonies. I live in one too. His wife wants to move to a satellite town, in one of the self contained upmarket gated communities. My first reaction was instant horror! I would never give up my rambling and even crumbling home for the most luxurious apartment in a gated colony. Gosh it is like living in a gilded cage. But as the young man started stating his case I realised his wife's concerns and even understanding them. I still would not move a toe out of my home but then I am an ageing woman with grown up kids and a grandson that lives thousands of miles away. The young woman in question is a mom to young children, one about the age of our resident 'imp' at the Yamuna centre.

The young mother's concerns are many but can be resumed in a single word: safety. The present location of her home is 'unsafe' for her children. They have to breathe fumes of the constant traffic; cross busy roads to get to a park to play; drive miles to get to a pool or simply to school. In a gated community all the child needs to do is take a ride in the elevator. The world is literally at her feet.

I could not help but think of my little imp and of her 'house'. It looks like the one painted by one of her school mates in this picture. Thatched structure as the law does not allow the 'poor' a single brick on the flood plain - that is only the prerogative of the rich who can build temples and sky scrapers -! The agricultural labourers who tend to the vegetable fields in the flood plains can only have these flimsy structure where a spark can set a fire and snakes can lurk in the straw of the walls. And when the river is in spate and the fields are flooded the families move on higher grounds tucking whatever they can of their homes under their arm: often the precious blue plastic sheet and a few belongings. The rest has to be procured again when the water recede and the home can be erected till the next rain sweeps it away. I wonder if little Preeti's mom can have the luxury to worry about the safety of her child. I guess it is better she did not as the dangers that lurk are unimaginable: snakes and bees; contaminated water replete with bacteria of all shades and hues and heavy toxic  metals thrown in the river with alacrity and impunity by the likes of us. The poison seeps into the very ground these children run on. In the case of this mom ignorance is bliss. If she had an iota of knowledge she would take her children and run. But where to?

The family had to 'run' from their ancestral homes as not only did they not have any means of sustenance but they had the misfortune of 'belonging' to the wrong political party, and I use the verb 'belong' with utmost confidence.

Feudalism has not died in India. It has simply changed feathers! Gone are the feudal lords and enter the politician. Just as the erstwhile feudal lord who needed hands to work his land, they too need 'hands' to clap at their rallies and shout slogans. The feudal master fed and cared for his brood; the political master hands out a few coins and unlike his predecessor, leaves you in the lurch to fend for yourself and your loved one when the battle is lost. What no one realises is that predators lurk and target those who dared cheer for the opponent. So you run. Just as the families of our Yamuna centre did and you hope the hounds will lose your scent.

You build your life again having only Nature to contend with and you learn to survive again. But your scent never leaves. It is called 'poverty'. One day it will be picked up again by the new lords who will make you run again. I wonder when the land these brave people till will come into the eyes of the politician-builder duo duly blessed by the bureaucrat ready to do what is needed. So more than the river there is a larger danger looming.

Apologies for this digression. But it has to be said.

Let us get back to the topic: safety of children! How easily we identify the slightest element that may endanger our child but then why do we not have the same attitude to the multitude of children that come our way when we step out of our 'safe' homes. Have we ever bothered to give a thought to the dangers they encounter every minute of their tender life. I am talking of the child that knocks at your car window at every street light. Have we ever thought of how she weans her way in the dense traffic? And when she sleeps under a bridge what does she breathe: toxic fumes. I guess you get the idea. The child that works at a tea shop, a brick kiln or even in your neighbour's home have we ever bothered to look at her the same way as we do when we think of our own.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: the test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.

I do not think we fare well as a Nation.

Makes me hang my head in shame.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Respect to the gods

Kids speak out on religion is a video everyone must see with their heart and imbibe in case one still has an inner child. Kids of all hues were asked a series of questions like what is religion? What is means to you? What is you religion? Do you have friends from other religions and so on? I urge you to take a few minutes and listen to their jaw dropping answers filled with wisdom beyond their age. From "Respect to the Gods" to "To make us less scared" you have it all. And then you will smile at the religions proffered: tamil, marathi, Bhojpuri. They all agree it is man made and ultimately everyone is the same. If there are no religions they all agree that life would be better. Amen!

It is serendipity at work again as if you read my last post, you may recall that Utpal now in his raging teens is hell bent on getting the 1st prize the dorm decoration contest and to that end barring posters and wall clock he bought a small Ganesha and the name of Allah as the room has Hindu and Muslim boys. Yesterday I got a frantic call asking me to buy a cross too as we seem to have a Christian pal too. Needless to say it has been done and waits to be sent to school. This side of Utpal is heartwarming to me as I too was brought up the same way and even at age 63 my temple has deities and representations of all faith. That is the way my parents brought me up. I guess boarding schools are also a great place to learn to be truly secular.

I cannot resist but share a story that happened almost half a century ago. My husband who was in boarding school since age 6 told me that once when he was soccer captain, he discovered to his horror that his shoe laces were misplaced/lost/wet and that he needed something to go in the dared shows. He saw some kind of string hanging in the washroom and without a thought grabbed it and laced his shoes. He discovered later that the string was the sacred thread Parsis wear around their waist. But it was no issue. The string was removed form the shoe and washed and found its way back to the intended waist. Everyone has a good laugh and no one was offended. The two boys in question are still great friends!

Religion at best should be all encompassing and humane. Nothing short of that is worthy of any God we pray to. I was born a Hindu but brought us as a human being and though I prayed at our alter, I also fasted with my Muslim friends; went to Church with My Muslim ones; celebrated the Sabbath with my Jewish ones and argued in a bantering way with my atheist and agnostic ones. That is the way it should be.

This rabid talk of religion jars on the years and make me uncomfortable to say the least if not go ballistic. So when Utpal's asks for a cross it is music to my ears and balm to my heart. But one quickly wonders how long will it take these kids to be drawn into the vortex of religions that divide, teach to hate and even kill.

For the moment, let me simply enjoy this moment.

Listen to these real children of God

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

No time for disputing His plans

Doing the will of God leaves me no time for disputing about His plans wrote George MacDonald, and many a times I find myself doing just so. It has been some time now since I have shred my hubris and tried playing God, as we far too often do. I have now reached the point where I accept everything that comes my way as part of His plan and hence no dispute.

It was not always the case, and to reach this point in time that I like calling wisdom, I had to take many blows. You see hubris is a lot like an onion; it comes off layer after layer each one making you shed a few tears.

To illustrate this, let me share a story: Popples (a.k.a Utpal)'s story.

He entered my life one fine morning when his family moved into the tenement adjoining the one that was our office. The place was so tiny that his mother bathed him out in the open just in front of our entrance. Was it serendipity or Act I of God's plan that his bathing time coincided with my arrival time. He was just about one. A bonny baby with beautiful eyes and a smile to die for. So every morning I was greeted by that smile and entered my office smiling, my spirits lifted. He was my morning feel good shot. I would pat his head and asked the mom when she would send him to our creche and she would always tell me that she would after his first birthday which was days away. One fine morning it is not a smile that greeted me but a big lock on the tiny door of his house. I felt uneasy and hurried to try and find out what has happened. What I was told made my blood run cold: the little boy had sustained severe burns after 'falling' into a boiling wok and was dead. My heart missed a beat. I tried to assuage it by telling myself that a child with third degree burns did not have a great future in a slum and maybe his leaving us was better. The next days were muted. The lock on the door was enough to dampen the mood. I did not realise how much that little smile had meant to me.

Days passed slowly as I learnt to live without my daily smile. One day, it must have been a week or so after the terrible accident, I had barely alighted from my vehicle when a posse of screaming children ran to me each one trying to tell me something. It took me some time but I figured that the smile had not been extinguished and Utpal was home. I rushed to his house and was greeted by a weeping mother, a bundle swathed in bandages, some quite blood, and incoherent words as a paper was thrust towards me. It was a discharge slip that stated that the child was being sent home but the chances of survival were extremely poor. I looked up and was greeted by two trusting eyes that were filled with pain but also though it sounds incredible, hope. I found myself saying: you are going to live baby! I was high on hubris and thought I had all the answers. Foolish me did not realise that the stage had been set by Him.

Was it serendipity again that one of the volunteers working with us was not only a nurse but had worked in a children burns unit in one of the best hospitals in Paris and that Rani my trusted assistant was a nurse's aid. Utpal never went back to the hospital as we set up one right there in my office. And in no time a huge support network appeared as by magic and the little boy was well on the road to recovery. A friend had suggested animal protein as essential (remember this was 13 years ago) and from that day on fresh chicken soup was made everyday in my home and poured into a black flask that the little fellow learnt to recognise. A cot was set up in my office and that is where he spent the day. Though his milestones were delayed, each time I worried about one, it was crossed in the days to come. In hindsight I should have realised that someone was holding the strings. But then when one is prey to hubris, one is hopelessly blind.

When we discovered that the mother had a drinking problem, one again played God and made plans. First it was to give her a job, then a home and so on. When that did not work we were at it again: rehab for the mom, boarding school for the kid. One even had the audacity to think ahead: after rehab ( of course she would recover) a residential job in the (then mythical) women centre that we would have conjured. And we did. It was a perfect fit: mom had a job and a safe place to stay, child would have a place to spend his holidays. But that was not His plan at all. Mom had a meltdown you see it was not only the bottle as she was diagnosed as being bipolar. So what we had the answer again. A longer rehab and life time medication that of course we would control. But mom ran away and thus began a terrible time when the child began to be used by the parents to access money. But we had a solution to everything we would help the father start business as a carpenter all he needed was tools, some space and a little wood to start et voila! Tools and wood were sold for liquor and we were back to square one, or minus one as the mom started drinking again and did not take her medication. The whole plan to get the family back on track was blown away. I guess that was the time when the layers of hubris began to come off, albeit slowly.

The situation with the parents became untenable and we looked for ways to protect the child from the abuse he was subjected to. It became imperative to get some legal support and a series of events brought us to the Children's Court where I was ultimately  declared 'person fit' to look after Utpal. I again thought that things had fallen in place. But the mom decided to vanish and the trauma was too much for the child. So it was the child psychiatrist, counselling and so on. I slowly began to see what God's plan was. I had a huge role to play in this child's destiny, a bigger one that I had anticipated, one that was not in my control. I just had to follow His plans.

Today I realise that this child of God has been sent to test me and divest me of any remnant of hubris that could be still lurking around. Ours is a 'till death do us part' deal with challenges thrown to test my mettle. I have to do the will of God. There is no time to dispute anything.

The bonny one year old is now a teenager. He is no more the little happy bundle that one carried on one's hip and who did those endearing things that every one swooned over. He is a 13 year old with is moods and wants. His voice is cracking and a fuzz has appeared on his lips. He is into football and tennis and loves his screen. Now at 63 it is hard to be a mom. You have earned the right to be a granny and granny are meant to spoil silly. But then with him you are also mentor and friend and need to apply brakes when needed. I must say I am terrible at that.

You would not believe what my week end assignment was. Utpal was home for the weekend and declared that he needed things to decorate his dorm as there was a competition for the best dorm. After much deliberation it was decided that we would get a nice clock for the room and posters as that is what he wanted. Posters of Bruce Lee, Ronaldo and Messi! I told you he is a teenager. Anyway I though easy peasy we would go to Archies and find everything. Imagine my dismay when I was told that they did not have posters and that to get posters. We could try the pavements of some popular markets in the evening. Come on there had to be some place where one could find posters. So stubbornly I went to other shops but with no success. I was flummoxed. Did teenagers not stick posters on their walls anymore. Come on old biddy they do but you buy them online. You guessed right: they have been ordered.

This was a taste of what is yet to come. I guess we will have to deal with clothes - already begun - and girls, and love and career choices. Gosh I guess I was done with that. Did I not begin this journey flushed with hubris believing I would write the script. Wrong! It was His script and the day I reached out my hand there was no looking back. I was His will. Now it is to me to be worthy of it.

I feel blessed.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Mother India 2015

She is 48. She hails from Bihar, a state that sadly connotes poverty and true to that conception she belongs to an extremely poor family. Her husband is a poor Brahmin who survived by being the local priest. His flock belongs to the poorest of the poor. I presume she was married when her sisters on the other side of the fence are still playing with dolls or learning the art of being a teenager in a world replete with gadgets and gizmos. And when they are about to experience their first love, she is already a mother. She soons learns the art of going to sleep hungry or worse lulling her hungry baby to sleep. By the time her rich sister steps out of school she is a master in the art of surviving.

It is not hard to imagine her life. Her village is one of those that get flooded over and over again, when bunds break, or water is released from higher regions, or when the river itself change courses. She would have had to rebuild her life each time to see it washed away again and again. She would have lived through droughts looking at the parched land and the unyielding sun. And yet every year she would have stood in cold water worshipping the same sun in the hope that her family would be provided for. From sunrise to sunset her life would have been dictated by the wants and the needs of her family. She also must have mastered the art of neglecting her health and hiding her pain as there was no place for her ailments in her hard life. A quick and hushed visit to the local shop for a pill prescribed by the shopkeeper to keep the nagging pain away. But for how long.

One day it all became unbearable and the secret had to be shared. There must have been umpteen visits to the local quack, the small town quack, the district hospital. Then the verdict: she had to be taken to Delhi, to the hallowed All India Institute where every needy Indian lands when all else fails.

That is where she lies today stunned and bewildered; unaware of the reality: she has advanced ovarian carcinoma that needs surgery. Her family has been handed an estimate: a whopping 1 lac 50 thousand (150000) Rupees, a sum they have never seen. I guess that even if they sold all their belongings they would not be able to garner the amount.

As she lies helpless on a hospital bed, her husband is running from pillar to post dazed and helpless. Where does he find the equivalent of 2500 US$ and the rest needed for the expensive cancer treatment that lurks unrevealed around the corner. I guess it is all in the hands of the Sun she worshipped for years.

My heart goes out to them in more ways than one as I am a cancer spouse survivor. I know the futility of the treatment propose but also know that to family like hers modern medicine is the panacea to all ills. Had I had the money, I would have given it to them, not so much for the cure but more so that the husband would not feel that he had failed her. I shudder to think what I would have felt had I not got the funds to buy all the cornucopia that I fed Ranjan. I would give it so that her children and grandchildren would not bear the guilt of not having been able to help her. I would have given it so that the family did not fall deeper into the debt trap. But I have no money. I can only add my prayers to hers.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015


He has four degrees but works as a garbage collector screamed the headline of a news item. This is the story of a man born on the wrong side of the fence who thought that education could free him of his shackles. So he set down to get educated and acquired a  B Com, BA in journalism, MA in Globalisation and Labour, Masters in Social Work and is currently pursuing M Phil at the reputed Tata Institute of Social Sciences. He holds on to Ambedkar's words: If you study you will grow but as he says people still do not accept him. The burning and frantic desire to learn was kindled when as he says: "I got down into a drain on my first day of work. For days after that, the smell didn't leave my mind. I walked through water with dead animals. That's when I decided I had to study and get out of this vicious cycle". Study he did but nine years later he does what his family has done for ages: scavenging. He got his father's job in the Municipal Corporation. All his degrees acquired at an incredible price remained futile and useless in his bid to break his birth cycle.

That manual scavenging still exists in our country with over 180 000 manual scavengers as per the sock-economic census is a blot on our society and should make us hang our heads in shame. This in spite of an Act passed in 2013. That it took us 66 years to promulgate an Act banning manual scavenging is a matter or further shame and leaves me speechless. That it does not disturb each one of us leaves me outraged. What kind of freedom have we crafted for ourselves where aberrations exist and society is inured and mute.

This person has more degrees than many of us and is still shackled by his origin. Our heartless society and insensitive rulers use social evils with impunity to further their agendas, but remain unmoved by the reality on the ground. They pass laws amidst much fanfare but never ensure that it is respected. We have laws on child labour, domestic violence, child abuse, rape etc but these often remain on paper, just laws that you can quote in your manifesto and election campaigns and wear on your lapel to look good. And it is not just laws. We have a plethora of programmes and schemes aimed at bettering the plight of the poor but these to only fulfil their covert agendas of lining wily pockets. Poverty makes good business sense when your conscience as gone AWOL.

The poor are peddled dreams one of them being education as a panacea to all evils. Educate your kids and all will be well. We too do just that and even give ourselves a pat in the pack when our kids pass their Boards and register for a degree. But reading the above news item saps the wind from our sails making us wonder whether we are on the right course.

The children in the picture above belong to our Yamuna Centre. Their parents are agricultural landless labourers and in the light of the story no degree can free them.

How can this be? And who is to blame?

Laws are toothless and useless. There seems to be no political will; the administration does not care and civil society remains mute and compassionless.

Where there should be outrage, there is just silence.

And yet I cannot give up. I know that education alone can help these children and others like them change their morrows.

We need to hear stories like these in the hope that someone will HEAR and do something, even if the something is simply to reach out to one underprivileged child and teach her.

We have our share of success stories, of pwhy kids who have broken the vicious cycle of their birth and are blossoming. True they are tiny drops in the ocean but change will happen one child at a time. If you change the life of one child, you have made a difference.