for many months I passed by potty nagar.. a name coined by shamikaa for a cluster of ramshackle jhuggis all five hundred of them, where almost 100 families live in rooms piled on each other with rickery ladders in lieu of staircases..
I have already witten about potty nagar in vankakam or namaste and ladder of hope .
yes I had passed this way many times and yet it is only last month that we decided to start an extension class there..
Two weeks ago, when Shipra took the first class there were a handful of kids, a few days later the little room became too small and another larger one was found.. In two days even this tiny room is full to the brim with scores of little hands handing over their note books, and intense and eager eyes pleading for more..
A palapable desire to learn fills the room.. never mind the heat, never mind the fact that one has barely enough place to sit, the class spills out through the open door and more eyes peer at you from down the road..
The experience is unique and overwhelming as you watch these little kids from many parts of India bonding on this little bit of planet why..where differences are forgotten and set aside..
what an incredible clas this is, a vision of a country rearing to go, impatient to meet its destiny..
What did it take to set this up, one teacher, one room and a bunch of true children of India…
makes you want for more…
Can I have more….
note: there is a flip side to potty nagar! Serious accidents take place on these unsafe ladders. A child of 5 died last year, and the mother of one of our class IX student fell last month on a rainy night and succombed to her wounds.
look at them… they are something these three.. dark glasses and all.. our very own genX..
this morning I decided to take a class.. and as we sat I realised that all was not quite as it should be.. most of the bacchas slumped and it took me some time to get everyone to sit up, as I barked instructions the way my pilates instructor does…
After some time and oodles of effort everyone did sit up, though most of them looked terribly ill at ease.. then it was question time and again I was faced with lymphatic kids and barely audible voices..
I decided that we would liven up the class and asked everyone to stand up and tell me what they had done this morning.. from the time they woke up to the time they reached project why..
Himraj started telling his tale and I was horrified to hear that all he had eaten in the morning was a cup of tea.. he revealed that he had had roti and potatoes at dinner, was carrying no lunch and would eat the small amount of free lunch that the municipal corporation doled out at 1pm!
As the class progressed I realised that barring a few kids who had eaten a resonable meal before coming, most of the students, all growing class IV and V boys had had a cup of tea with a rusk or a ‘fan‘, a sliver of bad quality puff pastry…needless to say that those who had eaten well had stay-at-home moms!
In urban slums, when both parents work to earn the elusive rupees, this si what happens to children.. in the village food is plenty even if you are poor: some vegetables do grow in the yard, and mom makes healthy rotis with the cereal of the region, the goat gives a little milk and some local fruit does grow, the water is clean and you run in the open breathing fresh air… and above all there are no rusks or ‘fans‘ as often there are no shops close by…
I am appaled at the poor posture of children in urban India.. where babies cannot crawl as there is no space, where fresh air is non-existent in the little holes you call home..
Is this the eldorado people seek? Maybe time has come for a reverse migration.. teach the children that the future lies in carrying back their newly acquired skills to the village where they come from..
one-rupee-a-day was an intuitive thought that had come to my mind way back in 1998 when project why was a tiny embryon… it seemed to be such a perfect solution.. was not India rich in mumbers.. and a rupee was something easily spared..
like all intuitive thoughts it got pushed back in the face of raised eyebrows, puzzled looks and amused smiles.. copious advise about the ways of goodBiz was proferred: donations, funding organisations, fund raising extravaganza, charity sales and much else.. and the greenhorn that iI was had no option than to take the well trodden path.. somewhat ill at ease I must admit.. to my mind this did not gel with what I had stood for and certainly not with India..
the one-rupee-day kept coming back with obsessive regularity… but I paid all the dues to the goodBiz world, and did the rounds of all that was suggested, and to be honest many options worked and pushed project why into a comfort zone bringing success, kuddos, praise and even recognition..
but the goodBiz had its own hidden rules, one of them being its fleeting nature.. come on ms.B no one does this forever, you must change with times and adapt to the flavour of the day.. now that was not acceptable.. education is life long and not transitory and one does not leave people midway, one empowers them to carry on… and the solutions offered did not work..
reality hit us as we were pushed out of our comfort zone, more than once and each time the one rupee leit motiv sprung back to life. It seemed to have all the answers to problems. If education was perennial then the funding option we sought had to be one that any Indian could participate in and any Indian could steer..
So if we stand by what we set out to do: establish a model that can reach every child and be steered by its own, then all resources have to come from within. Five years of goodBizMessing had finally taught us that we needed to go all out and make the one-rupee-option a success, beating all odds..
But nothing would have prepared us for what was to ensue: a new discovery of India which no one could have imagined.
We launched a multi-pronged appeal to a wide audience: netizens, people from all walks of life through brochures, personal meetings, telephone calls.. and with the replies and reactions a new map of India came alive.
Indians living away from their mother land, be it students or professionals, reacted with overwhelming spontaneity and unadulterated love for their motherland. Individual responses and collective efforts saw the light and bore fruit at breathtaking speed.. needless to say most of them had never seen project why… There was profuse support from unknwon people across India, more so from the southern and western states… the community and weaker sections of society did come forward with suggestions and contributions..
We started feeling elated… come on India numbered one billion hearts, now finding 4000 should be easy..
But it was not so as we were to realise once again.. the cynics appeared with their unbelievable tales.. India’s capital once again took the lead of this tragic Act of the play.. what amazed us the most was the fact that people who had seen project why did not find it in them to write a cheque for 360 rs.. let alone get us contributions from friends.. everything possible was said to deter us, the trophy going to an upmarket restaurant owner who felt that adding one rupee to a bill may lead him to a litigation ten years hence..
Does one give up… the answer is No.. the cynicism is so deep that it has to be set right… if the goodBiz is in such a mess then why should a child in need of help pay the price… it is for us to reinvent ourselves and wipe out misconceptions..
As I look at this new map of India, where the common denominator is its heart and ability to feel compassion for the other, I see boundaries extending way beyond its geographical entity… and if the little hearts are few within its own land then somewhere someone has gone wrong..
The one-rupee-a-day has to work… to set matters right and the last shred of doubt I had was wiped away this morning as I flipped through a magazine which had an article on the children dying of malnutrition in Maharashtra with a photograph of a baby whose ribs you could count but whose eyes still help hope..
No you do not give up on planet India..
woke this morning , sat at my computer, browsed the usual sites..
as i opened this blog, my heart missed a beat as I saw something I had missed till date: on the right hand three little words – home sweet home -.. and a clock ticking backwards
I was overwhelmed as I imagined this child of India, one of its very best, longing for the day she will be home…
Sitting in the land of the plenty, the american dream that so many aspire to, she longs for the sounds and smells that filled her childhood, the warmth of the land that gave her life, the safety of the place she belongs to..
I imagined how long time must seem to her till the morning dawns when she sits on that plane that will bring her to home sweet home.. in 31 days.. 4 hours…. 32 minutes..
There is something about India.. pity some of us do not see it
scene one: somewhere in the US a bunch of young bright young indian students are busy preparing for the draw of two to tango.
Two to tango was the name they gave the raffle they set to garner funds for project why after reading about our work. Sonal, Vel, Sneha after much thought and debate decided on a 2 dollars raffle with a 100 dollars price with a target of 1000 dollars. Vel, the young man in a hurry decided to match everyone who gave 8 dollars or the equivalent of the yearly donation for our one-rupee-a-day programme. Enthusiastic and moving mails dropped in my mailbox informing me of the progress or seeking an immediate answer to some query. My heart filled with pride as I saw the names appearing one after the other bringing a glimpse of lovely Indians kids with a heart that beat for their motherland and its lesser kids… and somehow I felt vindicated
scene two: a phone call from a young university student from Delhi’s top college informs us to come and collect the receipt book we had given her as it was over.. wow 100 donors.. not bad..
later the same day: two crestfallen kids, rani and shamika, hand over the duly completed receipt book and a plastic bag with 50 one rupee coins.
An extreme sadness fills me… how come none of them thought that something was amiss: one rupee is less than the cost of the paper the receipt is printed on.. forget about thinking of what a rupee given this way can do.. even a beggar throws it back at you
Have our kids lost their heart or their capacity to feel for others so imbibed are they in their cynicism.. Does it take leaving one’s homeland to discover that her future is ours too…
Where have we gone wrong..
Note: I have never met vel, sneha or sonal; the other kid is a friend’s daughter!