Some months back S walked into our office. S was someone I met on the net. After exchanging a few innocuous mails, S came visiting. Like is oft the case with virtual friends, one does quite know who to expect!
S arrived by bus from one of India’s satellite suburbs and was the image of simplicity as he walked into our office barefoot (having left his shoes downstairs) and no matter how hard I tried, I was not able to affix the labels one is usually able to by simple gaging a person for a few minutes. However what was obvious was S’s warmth.
Unlike many visitors, S spend the whole day at pwhy and even helped carting furniture!
S’s memory of the day was beautifully spelled out in a mail he sent to his friends:
Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony. Mahatma Gandhi. A day snapshot would be immature to conclude anything but is indicative of honesty, urge and the will of the modest project WHY. Albeit the project questions us in many ways and if one is honest, there are no real answers, only solutions awaiting us to overcome our numbness. A fresh air about this project is its operational modesty and the same is in its appeal for help and support. There are endless ways that one can help the project with our good wishes, goodwill, donations. Really anything. A Rupee a Day really is hard to overlook.
In Delhi, around a bus stop there is a large neem tree. A careful look and one discovers a few different and larger leave growing on the neem tree till you realise that a banyan tree is growing out a branch joint of the neem tree. Nature’s beautiful illustration of life supporting life. Makes us wonder.
For those of us who lack time but have the willingness, projects like Why offers a great channel for us to give back to the society without having to worry about the money being spent on business class air tickets or air conditioned offices. For those who have the time along with the willingness, it would at least a few memorable hours spent with some people who are doing an incredible job.
I got busy with the inauguration of the women centre. Mails were sent inviting people. Only one person decided to make the long trip to Khader: S! Once again he spent time, and even talked to the children at length on environment and other issues. Before leaving he promised us CFL light bulbs and even talked of getting us solar lighting for the classes.
Today he kept his promise and our women centre will soon have solar lighting and we can in the words of the famous song in the musical hair soon sing: let the sun shine in!
Sunday October 28th 2007, saw the enfolding of a another tale of two Indias in the streets of its capital city: thousands of well shod and well clad beautiful people ran a well sponsored half marathon in one part of the city, while 25 000 landless and often barefoot protesters silently entered another part of the city to demand their usurped land rights. They had no sponsors. They had simply donated one fistful of food grain and one rupee a day for the last three years.
Their march had begun on October 2nd, 350 kilometers away a stunning reminder of Gandhian ways in a new age avatar. Dignified and silent and yet so vibrant. Most of them tribal and dalits displaced by big development projects and given no alternative source of livelihood.
Whereas the marathon ended with winners and prize money, their fight has just begun as they intend to stay on till they are heard. What disturbed me this morning as I opened the newspaper was a deafening silence: whereas the marathon was covered in large headlines and full pages, this silent and dignified march was strangely absent.
Is this not another instance of the reality of two Indias?
Read in order to live said Gustave Flaubert. That was almost two centuries ago and something almost ludicrous in our day and age.
You may wonder why I chose to right a post about books.
It all began when sometime back a dear friend and supporter sought our help and advice on a project whereby 50K books in English needed to find homes in India ( institutions, public libraries, schools, NGOs). For someone addicted to books this was fantastic. Or so it seemed at first.
After the initial excitement and as one sat down to think of the nitty-gritty it did not take long to see that the matter was not as simple as one would have liked. After all were we not a society where books had taken a back seat and lost its battle to the ever invading world of television. Today’s children had scant place for books, barring the school ones, and reading was synonymous to boring, dreary and irksome. The sad reality was that children of today did not read books for pleasure. And if we were to talk about slum kids, then many had never seen books other than those in their school bags. So where would these 50K books lands even if they reached institutions, NGOs etc.. And who in today’s day and age went to public libraries, Come to think about I do not think there is a public library in the vicinity of where I sit!
I belong to a generation where books were oft the only source of entertainment we had. They were our friends and counselors and a garden you carry in your pocket to quote a Chinese proverb. Even today, when I have practically no time, I devour books as I travel from one place to another in the pwhy three wheeler!
Reading is a habit that needs to be revived. And to do so it is necessary to place a book in the hand of a child as early as possible. And yet the reality stares at us large as even the poorest home in a Delhi slum has a TV and cable connection. The battle is unequal but needs to be fought. Was it not Groucho Marx who said: I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.
A recent investigation aired on national TV brought to light the horrific reality that prevails in a government home for challenged children in India’ capital city.
One wonders why these children of a lesser God are often treated in such a way and makes us question the validity of the so called welfare programmes run by the administration. It also highlights the plight of such children in a country like India, something we have been painfully aware of, and that led us to create our special section almost 7 years ago. It also validates our commitment towards setting up planet why, a place for such children as they grow into disturbing adults.
Why is it that time and again challenged children are treated in cruel and callous ways?
For us at pwhy the special section is by far the happiest and most rewarding experience. It is a motley crew of 20 children and adults who come from different worlds but become one as they enter their little world.
Manu who you see in the picture was once begging on the streets in spite of having a family. people use to deride him and kids pelted stones at him. Today he has friends and is slowly learning to be independent.
It did not take much to achieve this. What was needed was the will to do so. At the pwhy special section children learn to read and write, to dance and play; they learn cooking, basic stitching, and have a host of other activities but above all they learn to laugh and be happy and reclaim a hijacked childhood.
You can share some of these joyful moments by clicking on the pictures below.
Xabi and Marie are two simple village folk from a small village of the Basque country in France. They are not young and have homes and families. Marie is a dancer and Xabi a farmer . Some time back I got a very touching email from them which is simply said they were coming to India and wanted to spend some happy moments with our kids.
They arrived a few days back and found their way to us. It was their first visit to India and they felt that they wanted to give a little of their time, their talent and their love to less privileged children before embarking on their discovery of India.
For the past few days they have been teaching dance, and games to our special kids, and our creche children and then make the journey to Khader to spend some time at our women centre. There they play and dance with the kids and have even worked out a business deal in the spirit of fair trade: they would like to take the jewels we make as well as simple clothes that our ladies would stitch back to their village and hope to get us orders.
Xabi and Marie radiate warmth and all our children have taken to them. The reason is that in spite of language and other barriers they have opened their hearts and shared their love in abundance and in the true spirit of giving!