a launch to remember part 1

a launch to remember part 1

Dear Popples was launched this week end. A series of events – three actually – had been carefully planned: two in malls and one in a hospital! I must confess that the past few days had been filled with excitement and apprehension. Dear Popples is the first book I have written and hence this was to be my first launch. I had been told that there was to be a book reading and signing and a quiz where people would play for a miracle. At the end of the day Basant and Rekha’s family would be saved. Over 100 people I was told, had entered the contest! This was great news. The event promised to be a whopping success. Innumerable calls were made, and mails were sent to ensure that may would attend.

Saturday morning dawned. I must admit the night had been short. A palpable sense of excitement permeated the house as we all got ready. There were many of us, almost the same gang that takes the monthly ride to Utpal’s PTM except that this time Utpal, was with us. Rekha and Basant had come early. Abhigyan, my wonderful publisher who I had finally met the previous day arrived and it was time to leave. The event was in a brand new mall in Gurgaon a long drive away. We reached the mall. It was the very one where we had come to a year back for a PTM. Ominous!

We reached the right gate and could see the sparkling book store an escalator ride away on the first floor. But Rekha being blind and having never in her life seen or heard about moving staircases, we set off in search of a lift or staircase. We found a lift but though we reached the said foor, we found to our utter dismay that there was no access to the store. There was no staircase either. How did one get Rekha to the store. Finally with much effort we managed to convince the operator to stop the escalator. Rekha was made to climb on it and then the machine was restarted. It was an ordeal and I cannot even begin to think what must have gone in the poor woman’s mind. At last every one reached the store.

The place had been beautifully laid out with chairs, and armchairs, tables ans flowers, large display of the books to be launched, larger than life sized posters, a screen, mikes et al. What was missing was people though the said time had past. Once again I was reminded of Kafka. Barring us there was no one. One could almost sense moods changing. Anger in some, bewilderment in others. A sense of amused deja vu filled me. Oh darling hey hai dilli was what I felt like screaming. People do not come out of their comfort zones at 11 am on a Saturday morning, people fill forms for quizzes ans events and hen simply do not turn up, people promise to be there and then forget to come or forget to inform that will not. Anyway the chairs lay empty for a long time. Slowly friends who had been solicited, entreated and bullied started trickling in and some chairs got filled. Even Mrinal and Anil, whose flight from Mumbai had been terribly delayed made it on time.

But the show must go on and it did. The show had to go on and it did. Rekha and Basant’s miracle had to happen and it did. There was a book reading, a book signing and a quiz even though many chairs were empty and contestants few. What was important was that all present had the ability to see with their heart and hence as the fox told the little Prince only the essential was visible.

You can share some pictures of the event here:


mellow musings

mellow musings

The last post was angry though I had promised to myself not to succumb to anger. But there are moments when resolves break. I am but human. But the anger passes and often a mellow mood follows, one when you try to reconnect with the simpler things and heal yourself.

Last week was so hectic – a book launch, an important visit and a bout of fever – that I almost forgot a very precious incident. Utpal spent some days at home. One evening he went to the market with Radhey his long time pal and came back with a small glass bowl filled with what looked like glass beads but turned out to be made of some gooey unidentifiable and quite yucky matter. He was all excited as he entered my tiny office clutching his precious ware. He stomped to my table and placed the bowl carefully: he then turned to me and said: this is a present for you, it shines at night so you will not be scared when it is dark!

Needless to say, I was terribly moved – throat tight and tears welling up – as I hugged the little fellow. Needless to say that the cheap glass bowl suddenly became very precious. For those of you who do not live in Delhi and hence do not spend time at red lights getting pestered to buy strange ware, this is the latest offering from China. A small packet filled with what looks like glitter till it is placed in water where t swells to 600 time its size and becomes gooey beads. A glass bowl comes with it, or you may just buy a bowl filled with already bloated beads. Wonder how many people do buy them, and why.

My bowl is unique, just like the Little Prince’s rose. For Utpal it was something that could adorn my sancto sanctorum, a place replete with memorabilia of all kind, each having a story to tell. It is not simply a glass bowl filed with cheap gooey beads. It is what little Utpal found good enough to have a place in my office. It is laced with the love and tenderness of a little boy. I know it will sit on my table for a long time and I also know that my eyes will often stray towards it as my heart fills with wonder and pride. And perhaps, it may just soothe any threatening bout of anger in days to come.

equal opportunities

equal opportunities

A comment on my latest post reads: A comprehensive solution that caters for reduced population growth, offers equal opportunities to all Indians, offers a fair and just judicial system, and a fair market where people can achieve their goals with no fear is what we need. Wow! Wish one knew how to conjure that, but sadly one does not have the magic wand required. The commentator feels that we cannot limit ourselves to education and perhaps he is right, but to me it seems to be the only logical starting point that may one day open many doors.

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to realise that in today’s day and age, the well educated have a head start in life and maybe the Education for All programme should be renamed as Good Education for All or Fair education for All!

While I was writing this post another comment dropped by. It said pardon me, but i fail to see the social evil of a prestigious educational institution raising its bar. the tougher the goal, the harder one works, the better the ones who qualify and the better the end result. Education is a right, but excellence is a prize one must earn. It is sad indeed that your students will now not be able to enter DU, but surely there are other places they can, and if they are not motivated/empowered to begin with, what magic is an admission in a university going to make? I am saying your students are to be blamed for bad performance, i have worked among high school dropouts and i know at least some of the difficulties and so i suggest you turn this in to an incentive for the rare motivated child, than turn it into an opportunity to complain.
I mean no ill will, this is not a rebuke, please do not take offense, i merely want you to think again.

I must admit that at first it raised my heckles. But with all due respect to the commentator who chose to remain anonymous I did think again as suggested and rather than go into a useless diatribe I chose to answer each point made.

There is certainly no social evil in any education raising its bar provided every bar down the line is also raised. I mean let us raise the pass percentage of school leaving examinations. When I was a student the highest marks veered around 65% with a low of 33. Today we see 99% at one end still 33 at the other. The tougher the goal the higher one strives is again an acceptable maxim but how does one reach that goal if one of the contestant has to run the race with his feet tied up. Let me explain in some government schools – and I have this from the horses’s mouth – the entire curriculum is not even taught as iIwas told by a school Principal: only 40% is needed to pass. And I am not even mentioning minor adavantages like educated parents, access to good books, computers etc.

No Sir, most my students will not access prestigious institutions but not because they do not have the ability to do so, but because they have run a lame race from the beginning. And true there is no magic in an admission to a university, but every child has a right to this access.

Of all that has been written in this comment, the one thing I cannot and will not accept is that my students are to blame for bad performance. How do you blame a kid who has never been taught properly in school. one that goes back to a violent and abusive home, one whose childhood has been hijacked by all. Every child has potential. It is our duty as a society to provide an enabling environment from him or her to grow to its full potential.

If schools did provide that enabling environment then there would be no reason to complain. Schools today simply reflect our society. They are schools for the rich that become richer and school for the poor that seem to become worse by the day. If one has air conditioned facilities the other does not even have toilets or drinking water. School has to be a level playing field, a learning experience, a place to discover that other realities exist, a space to rub shoulders with all and share knowledge. Only then will every child have the possibility to access higher portals and contribute to the change we all seek. And only then will I accept the accusation levelled against my kids.

Yes anonymous friend I have thought again, and it has made my resolve stronger. It is time we offered equal opportunities to all Indians.



The Delhi University cut off lists are out. A whole 1% higher than last year! You need 90% and more to secure a seat in a prestigious college, and at least 75% to find space in DU (Delhi University). Anything less than that leaves you with few choices: a correspondence course or if you family is endowed, a seat in the new kids on the block: the mushrooming private colleges and institutions that come at a hefty price.

Statistics show that over 100 000 kids passed their class XII Boards. However one wonders where most of them will go as the pass percentage marks remain frozen in time. 35% still gets you your exam and 60% still gives you the 1st division tag.

Something is not right. Or are we mute spectators to a system that pays lip service to education for all while ensuring that the spoils remain the prerogative of a few.

For almost a decade now we have been striving to ensure that children from underprivileged homes do not drop out of school and obtain the much coveted class XII Board. It has been a handicap ridden obstacle race. Practically no teaching in schools, illiterate homes, poor motivation of parents and more. And yet year after year we have ensured that all pwhy get the coveted pot of gold. I must admit that though we have had a handful of 1st divisions (above 60%) and a sprinkling of kids with 70% and above, the majority of pwhy children secure marks between 45 and 52%. This means that the doors of DU are closed to them. And as they all come form poor backgrounds, they cannot accede to private institutions. Somehow for them the journey ends there.

Boys may join some vocational course or the other and maybe a get a job; girls are condemned to stay home waiting to be married off and produce more children who will be destined to teh same fate.

The sad reality is that one cannot see the end of the tunnel. One may wonder where the solution lies or is it that we just accept that we are fighting a losing battle. We all seem to agree that education is the magic potion that would change India. But is it the kind of education that we see around us today?

a unique hour

a unique hour

How many of us do actually switch off lights when we leave a room, never leave our computers or TVs on stand by, segregate our house waste shut the tap off while we brush our teeth, carry a cloth bag during all our shopping sprees, or travel in a car pool. Not many I guess. But are we not also the many who lecture others on all of the above, nod our heads vigorously during any debate on saving the environment and are the first to sign any petition on the same.

Yesterday someone mentioned a recent article predicting that the North Pole would actually melt this summer. His words brought terrible images to mind, yet before this could truly sink in, the conversation that was threatening to become disturbing moved on, as is too often the case, to a lighter vein. Somehow we always tend to push away what has the potential to rock our boat.

Yet the writing is on the wall: global warming is no more a topic to be debated it lies at our doorstep as we have seen this summer in Delhi. True that there was practically no summer this year, no hot searing heat that sweetens the melons and kills the mosquitoes. True again that the rains came early and the temperature remained low. But this is no cause to rejoice as it is a portent of things to come. Nature has been disturbed and no one knows what lies ahead.

Awareness on environmental issues has been something that we at project why have tried to disseminate, and I say tried, as I must confess our attempts have not been successful or maybe not wholehearted enough. Most of our efforts failed as they clashed with mindsets – our children will never clean streets was the answer to our no plastic programme – or social attitudes.

And yet we know that something needs to be done. It is with this in mind that I approached a friend who walks the talk as far as environment issues go. What I sought was a scintillating project that would look good on the pwhy CV! What my friend suggested was quite the contrary. Have every one follow a zero carbon hour, was his quiet suggestion. I was a tad confused as it made no sense to me. He set out to explain his idea. What he meant was that each one of us, collectively or individually, should once a day or once a week spend one hour where we ensure that our carbon footprint is nil. Translated in other terms it means that for that one hour we use no cellphone, no computers, no iPod, no TV, no cars, no electricity, no fuel of any kind. And further translated in practical terms it means that for one hour you just take a walk or sit in a park or in a room weather permitting.

At first it seemed nothing short of preposterous and yet as I pondered over it, it was a overwhelming. A simple idea and yet one that had immense power as not only was it kind to the environment but also good for us individually. A forced meditation pause that would ensure we get off the spinning wheel and reconnect with ourselves. And there was no excuse as it cost nothing, needed no props or training and could be followed by all.

At this moment of time I do not know how this will be accepted by our team. I do foresee obstacles and hurdles but at the same time I know I am going to use all the power I have to see it happen: maybe not an hour to start with but 30 minutes; maybe not everyday to begin with but once a week but we at project why will adopt a zero carbon hour programme.

To be continued…