Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Don't lose faith in India

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

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

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

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

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

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

I for one, can't.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

In God knows whose name? #paris#attacks

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

J'ai deux amours
Mon pays et Paris
Par eux toujours
Mon cœur est ravi
which would translate as:

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

Even before I had laid my eyes on her, I had fallen in live with Paris. The seduction would be complete when I first saw her in all her glory. For the little 4 year old it was the Eiffel Tower, the beloved school on the tree lined avenue Georges Mandel, the inimitable Guignol of the Champs Elysees, the hot chestnuts eaten from a newspaper cone, the dinner at Maxim's as a four year old, the walks along the Seine. That is not where it ended. I lived in that city as a child, went for my honeymoon and lived as married woman. Each sojourn has its own sets of sweet memories. And life has a way of coming full circle as my younger daughter would study in my very own school and my grandson loves the Guignol just like I did six decades ago. That the ties are indestructible is borne by the fact that my little grandchild is a French national. Paris is now family.

So the dastardly attacks on this beloved city have seared my very soul. My heart not only beats for Paris but bleeds for it today.

I know the resilience of Paris and the fact that it will bounce back. But the scars will remain rooted in anger, rage and incomprehension, a feeling I share.

Why! Why is the question one asks ones self in the wake of attacks on innocent people. And in whose name? That is when it goes all awry. God it is said. God who is meant to be omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, immutable merciful. Every religion has its own sets of qualities, many common. No religion  I believe tells you to kill. And yet it is in His name that such barbaric acts are committed. Who gave us the right to say your God is better than mine. Not God. So is it man who in his megalomania has hijacked God to suits its wily agendas. As long as that is the case, there is no end in sight.

It is time we woke up and asked ourselves where have we gone wrong. And we have, as otherwise no human would pick up a gun and shoot another. Why are there so many young people who are willing to espouse such causes. What is it that draws them into such hateful pursuits. What is that void that we as a global society have not been able to fill with the right values. Who as gone wrong? Is it that some of us are so blinded by our hubris that we have forgotten to care for others who become easy prey for those who have understood that God is the best ploy to fulfil their wicked and cruel agendas. Wars in the mane of religion exist since time immemorial and no matter how much we have achieved, we have not been able to address this. As the rich grow richer and remote and the poor grow poorer and hopelessly desolate, we will breed hands that are ready to grab any straw that promises them hope and recognition however skewed.

It is time to wake up!

My heart beats and bleeds for Paris.

I am sure that God's is too.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Will it be heard? #children, India

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 02, 2015

Affects Eternity

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

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

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

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

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

A daunting task to say the least.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pipe dream again? I pray not.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Don't lose faith in India

'Don't lose faith in India' were the dying words of my father when he breathed his last almost a quarter century ago. He was 80+. He was the descendant of an indentured labourer who had left his home land in the late XIX century. The reasons for his departure are as picturesque as your imagination would let you believe. Whatever they be, they compelled a man to leave everything and accept being enslaved and bear a number. His was 354495. He managed to secure his freedom and build life once again with determination and success. I am proof of that. Forgive this aside but it needed to be said.

Papa died a few days before the demolition of the Babri Masjid. I am grateful for that small mercy as it would  have broken his heart and maybe who knows shaken his faith, the very faith that I consider a legacy. Had I remained ensconced in my comfortable, ordinary and insipid life, it perhaps would have been easier to hold on to that faith, but I chose to walk the untrodden path that questioned that faith far too many times and needed me to hold on to it drawing on shreds of logic and passion.  But hold on I did as I could not forget the sacrifices my parents made for the country they loved unquestionably. My mom was even willing to sacrifice motherhood to the alter of freedom. She chose to give me life in a free India thus making its freedom sine qua non to my very essence.

I grew up on foreign shores but the love for India was lovingly woven into the fabric of my heart and soul by my two love stricken parents. The image of India that is seared in my heart is one of a land of tolerance, understanding and humanity. My parents never failed to teach me to respect the culture and values of the countries I grew up in and to me Indianness meant all embracing. I was proud of my heritage.

For the past years I have slowly had my faith put to the test. I  held on to it. When the going was too tough I shut my eyes and remembered my parents or looked deep into the eyes of a very deprived kid and knew I had to carry on just for that child.

We humans are strange bods! We have the capability of getting inured to things and even stop seeing them. I guess that happened to me too as I saw a beggar child, read about a rape or a killing and turned to my fragile coping strategies. But recent events have shook me to the core, as all the values that made India what she is, seem to have been hijacked and are being mercilessly destroyed.

Where is my tolerant land?

Today you are killed because someone suspects you of eating something that 'their' faith finds offensive. Today a baby can be burnt alive because someone in her family did not do something another asked him to do before she was even born. You can have your face blackened for reading the wrong book, seeing the wrong film; you can be harassed for the clothes you wear, the drink you consume, the game you watch and so on. Intolerance is the flavour of the day and you better get used to it. Your life has been hijacked.

So where to you go to keep the wavering flame of your faith alive? The usual coping strategies seem to be floundering. New ones need to be sought if you do not want to live your life in fear. One option is to be fatalist and we Indians are privileged as we have karma to explain what cannot be. But what is the karma of a two year old that is brutally gang raped? Another option is to hope that someone among those who steer the country will intervene and say: ENOUGH but sadly that too seems to be a chimera.

You look helpless and almost hopeless for some ray of hope as you surreptitiously find yourself reading what you wrote twice over lest it upsets someone, something you never did before in a land where freedom was your right. Alas today freedom takes on a whole new meaning with far too many caveats. You want to scream, to rant, to rave, to shout: STOP.

We are tired of the intolerance we see. We are fed up of the political games that surround every occurrence and never address the situation. After seven decades of Independence there are still 5000 children who die every day for want of clean water and adequate food, child labour and abuse flourishes, women are still second class citizens and millions are deprived of basic dignity.

But what I would want to say to those who hold us to ransom today is that you cannot kill the spirit of India. What your aberrations are doing is waking up the deadened consciences of far too many who cannot keep mute anymore. There is an anger slowly brewing, an anger that is breaking the seemingly impregnable walls of comfort and finding its voice.

India is a blessed land. Let us not for get that, and yes Papa, I for one will not lose faith in India till my last breath.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The very first part in healing is shattering the silence,

The horrific rape of two toddlers, one age 4 and the other a tiny 2 has once again brought to the fore the disturbing issue of child abuse. I do not know how many posts I have written about this monstrous reality. One time is too many. Each time I sit down to pen my words I feel hopeless, helpless, sad, angry and terribly guilt ridden and tormented by my inability to do something to stop this horror. Erin Merryn wrote: The very first part in healing is shattering the silence. Her words ring so true as in India today we need to shatter the deafening silence; not only the silence that too often surrounds the victim in the name of some brand of misplaced honour, but the ear piercing silence of society as a whole. In the past week 3 toddlers have been raped! One is just 2 years old. She was raped by two juveniles age 17. They have been arrested and so have the perpetrators of the rape of a 4 year old. All lived in the neighbourhood of their tiny victims. Children are normally abused by friends and family. That is a reality we have to accept and own.

I watch with a sick feeling the usual drama that follows such abhorrent crimes. The pain of the family, the short lived anger of the neighbourhood, activities and society at large crying for blood, the rabid talk shows, the blame game where all that matters is who gains the maximum brownie points and photo ops, the slewof articles trying to find some logical explanation, the aberrations expressed by the guardians of patriarchal morality who are quick to lay responsibility on the victim and so on. Then the din stops. Some other occurrence gains the attention of one and all. All that remains if the silent pain of the mother and the quiet anger of the family.

The slow and inadequate legal system crawls in the emptied space and takes over. We are all aware of the dismal number of rape cases that see any trial let alone conviction at all. This happens again and again and again. I wonder why we have stopped asking the disturbing WHY.

I do not have awards to return or any such flamboyant action to register my intense distress. I just have this space and I use it again and again and again. Not doing is not an option.

The question I ask myself is why are the number of rapes and abuse against women increasing. And please do not talk to me about social profiling. The malaise is across the social spectrum. A friend recently told me about a game being played by three six year olds in one of the most upmarket school where two boys pinned down a girl (all classmates) and parted her legs and then declared she would have a baby. These kids were from wealthy and educated homes. One often quotes promiscuity in the cases of slum children who live in one room spaces and thus see more than they should. I guess the kids in richer homes access inappropriate information in multiple ways too.

The bottom line for me is that the sex education, if there is any, has not kept pace with the day-to-day reality children of today live in. If at one end of the spectrum it is lack of time of the parents to guide their child through life, at the other it is lack of knowledge. In both cases parents are not fulfilling this aspect of child rearing.

And please do not come up with the No Sex Please; We are Indians quip, I am sick and tired of hearing about the hydra headed monster called morality! In today's world sex education should begin at a very early age and accompany the child through her/his adolescence at least. A wishy washy lesson on human reproduction is not sex education.

The crux of the matter is age appropriate. This should be instilled in children as soon as possible. The morality preachers cannot put a stop to the hormonal upheaval that plays in every body, male or female. This is natural. What one can do is explain these and give the required and age appropriate skills to our young ones.

One also needs to explain to them the consequences of deviant behaviour and warn them' but one also needs to absolutely stop condoning any inappropriate behaviour as was so well exemplified by one of our political stalwarts in his Boys will be Boys comment.

Our society is going through a difficult phase with the advent of information at the speed of light. Everyone has access to the net, to social networks, to You Tube and so on. What we do not realise is that what is seen as a tender age and not processed in the right manner can lead to disaster.

These boys were caught and will get what they deserve. Will the punishment serve as a deterrent. The answer is no. That is because the punishment will take time, and with children time is something we do not have. You cannot begin to imagine how many little girls will be molested by raging young hormones and never tell the story.

We need act now.

Today's children do not read books that are inspiring; they do not have role models in their parents or teachers; moral studies is off the school menu; sex education is taboo. No one has time for them.
We have to as a society, as a political dispensation, as an education institution and as a family find quality time for our children. That would be the first step to breaking the silence and healing society.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Imagine she was yours.

A four year was most brutally raped and left to die a few kilometres from where I sit to write this post. I need to be graphic today in the hope that the horrific details may awaken our benumbed consciences and deadened souls that too often remain mute when faced with child abuse, a crime that has not place in any civilised society. The problem is that this child was poor, and anything qualified as poor leave us indifferent. Yet I will tell her story. This little girl was raped, sodomised, bitten, hit with stones and left to die. All it took to lure her was a packet of noodles and a paltry ten rupees. Then man had planned to throttle her but had to run away as he hear voices. The child managed to crawl back home to tell her story. Imagine her pain. She is alive but barely as every single part of her tiny body has been mutilated: she has several genital injuries a torn rectum necessitating a colostomy and has cuts and bite marks on her face, abdomen and chest. Doctors say she will need six months before she recovers. But the scars on her soul will never heal. In the words of Herbert Ward: "Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime."

The statistics of child abuse and child sexual abuse in India are staggering and having reached epidemic proportions. 48,000 child rape cases were recorded from 2001 to 2011 and  India saw an increase of 336% of child rape cases from 2001 (2,113 cases) to 2011 (7,112 cases). (Asian Centre for Human Rights report 2013). One child gets raped every 76 minutes. Do you understand what that means! I do not think so as if we truly did we would be up in arms. The reason that we, who have the power to change things do not budge is that most of these tiny victims are POOR so faraway from our reality.

My thoughts take me to the closing scene of the moving movie A Time to Kill, where the defence attorney describes to a all white jury in slow and painful detail the brutal rape of a little black girl and then in the final words of his summation simply says: and now imagine she is white!

I ask you to do the same thing. Imagine this little girl lying alone and mutilated on a hospital bed was yours.

We seem to be reacting at everything these days. Eminent personalities are returning their prestigious awards to mark their protest against intolerance. Everyone is talking tolerance and freedom of speech and thought.

Can a society be called tolerant, free and even sane when it allows children to be raped and mutilated and abused in all ways and perpetrators to go free.

I just ask you to imagine she was yours.