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.

Monday, June 15, 2015

To the manor born

I do not know at what age I had my first party, the one where you incited boys too! Though I am a child of the sixties and a rebellious one for that, my rather older  and a tad traditional doting parents did not quite warm up to the idea and I must have been in my late teens when I was finally allowed to have a party at home. As far as I remember my girls had their first part when they entered their teens. Yesterday Utpal had his 'first' party and sleepover. Actually it turned out to be in two parts as the boys arrived late and the sole girl had to leave early. Believe it or not, the one who enjoyed the experience the most was yours truly! Organising parties for my girls was always trying as most of them happened when we were in Prague or Paris and with scant help at home  from the planning to executing via shopping and cleaning was on my to do list. Not so this time as I sat back and enjoyed it all.

For the past week, my house has been in party mode. When Utpal asked me some time back if we could invite few pals for lunch during his summer back, I not only agreed but was thrilled as in his earlier school he had made no friends. What I told him was that he was the one who had to plan and execute everything menu, shopping, picking up and activities. My little man took it all in his stride. First he needed to confirm it all so my phone was requested many time and rang many times for him. Then as a great organiser he got a diary and made a menu with Shamika's help then found out all that was needed to be bought and went on many shopping expeditions. Finally the day dawned and he was up early, all dressed up and his room was spick and span. Oops I forgot to share that during the week he had made many plans on paper on how he would set up his room. There were many discussion sessions with Shamika who was the ideal mentor for the occasion.

Utpa, is a perfect host and has always been so. I can never forget how I was invited to tea almost 10 years ago by him 10 years ago! So this time too Utpal behaved impeccably even pulling the dining room chair for his lady friend whom he seems to have a crush on, and making sure everyone ate and drank to their hearts' content. After dropping the young girl it was all boys but I was pleasantly surprised to see how well behaved everyone. There was not a sound as they all played and chatted in his room.

The lunch turned into a sleepover as 3 boys stayed back and once again they were a dream to have as guests.

Actually I always said: Utpal is to the manor born!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

To better manipulate you my child

Look at these kids. They are kids just like yours and mine born in the same country, protected by the same Constitution and having the same rights. But that is all on paper. These kids have no rights, are not protected by any laws and come to think of it do not even exist as they appear on no enumeration.These are our Yamuna project kids. Their parents are agricultural labourers who grow vegetables on the banks of the river and till recently had never held a pencil let alone see a school. Their days were spent helping their parents in the fields, tending to siblings or helping at home if you can call 'home' a thatched hut that has practically nothing inside. In between and whenever they could find a moment they did what every child does: play!

Today we run a small project for them and they are the most eager learners what can ever find. If you ask them what they like best pat comes the answer in unison: STUDY! If you prod a little more you may hear 'cricket' but that is all. As they do not go to school, we run a proper school like activity with a warm midday meal and subject classes including art. Were hope to add more extra curricular activities and sports! Given a little help I am sure that each one of them has to potential to become every and any thing.

But this may not happen as the powers that be in their extreme wisdom are on the verge of amending the child labour law to legitimise use of children under 14 years as labour in family enterprises and though they add after school and during vacation we all know which way these caveats will go. Anyway, what about kids like these who do not go to school. With one stroke of the pen they are condemned to the family enterprise: agricultural labourer! Voila. End of dreams. So who says the cast system  is dead. I has had just been  surreptitiously reinvented, repackaged and ready to be marketed. Father cobbler: son cobbler. Daughter married to cobbler. And so on.

I am sick and tired of the empty and supposedly politically correct ramblings that purport to end social ills; the pro poor discourses, the Messiah like pandering. No one is interested in the ending poverty. Why should they. It is such a great political platform with innumerable causes to espouse. Deprived of the  poor how would politic as we know it survive. Gosh where would they find an alternative were every child educated and empowered. I get reminded of the Little Riding Hood where the wolf would say to defend such an abhorring amendment: to better manipulate my child.

I would like to meet the individuals who actually came up with these amendments. How can any right minded human being can accept to see any child under 14 work and forget the family enterprise as in this case it is not a swanky one. The family businesses we are talking for can be just about anything from domestic work to begging with everything else along the way.

And yet these kids who are condemned to grow vegetables could be anything they want with just a little help from society. But therein lies the problem. Over the past decades I have witnessed the degradation of a society that once was caring with values and morals to one that has lost its heart totally. Come on let us look at ourselves. We drive past a beggar child without getting outraged. We see a child toiling in  a friend's home without batting an eyelid. We see statistics of children dying in thousands every day and do not get disturbed. I could go on and on. The reason is they are NOT our kids, they are someone else's kids. They belong to another planet. Now the government you get is a reflection of the society. So if we do not care, why should they.

I wonder what and whose interest this proposed amendment serves. I guess we all know.

It is time each one of us went looking for the heart we have conveniently lost or sacrificed to the alter of some supposed Good that we all should be ashamed of.

Friday, June 12, 2015


Mom! What a wondrous word and more than a word a fuzzy feeling no matter which language or abbreviation you use. Mom is the place real or virtual you seek when you are hurt or in need of comfort. It is the one you call when is despair or the one you remember in your happy moments. It is the lap you run to when your graze your knee and the arms you seek when life does not treat you kind. Mom is where you feel safe. I became a Mom at 23 and then again at 29. I thought that would be it. Two beautiful girls! What more could you wish. But I was in for a surprise or should I say many as when I decided to give life to another family, I never thought I would become Mom again. The family I am referring to is Project Why!

Over the years my Mom persona has acquired many children some quite grown up. I must say that I love them all unconditionally just as a Mom should. But there is one little chap who landed in my lap 12 years ago scalded and moribund and walked into my heart in a space I was totally at a loss to define. I was 50 when he was born. As he slowly healed from his terrible wounds and caught up with all his milestones he decided to call me Maam'ji when he learnt to talk and it worked as Mam'ji could be anything as it defied age-based  and non-conventional relationships. I forgot to mention that in my opinion, the heart of a Mom is expendable and fits anyone who needs love.

We carried on for 12 years through all the problems and challenges and met them head on and with success though there were some that were really scary. To the question: who is she to you? the answer always was Maam'ji.

But then a few days ago Maam'ji fell short as the child, now a teenager was faced with a difficult decision and choice and the need of a safe haven was critical. The young boy changed his answer to the question:who is she to you? Without batting an eyelid he said: Mom.

This happened in a rather austere environment where I could neither jump up and hug him, nor allow tears of joy to shed. I just held on to the moment in my heart.

So here I am, Mom again. With it comes the job description. Come to think of it there is none. You just have to conjure one as you go along. No second chances, just one and you better get it right. Children do not come with an instruction book.

Am off to making mine!