Cinema Paradiso is a touching film. It is about youth, friendship, hope and the magic of movies. Cinema Paradiso is also the name of our new cine club that was inaugurated yesterday with a special show for our very special children.
The idea of a cine club for slum kids was first mooted by our dear friend Xavier many years ago. I must confess that the idea seemed rather incongruous to me as I struggled to survive perfecting the art of a hand to mouth existence. But Xavier held on to his dream and he is one who makes dreams come true.
The dream did come true as a sparkling home theatre was bought and set up in our new library. After many discussions it was decided that the cinema club would be inaugurated with a screening for our very special kids. This was because most if not all of these children have never been to a movie hall and are never likely to. This was also because these children are never taken out of their homes or given any treat. So yesterday as the clock struck ten, the 20 odd kids were bundled up in our three wheelers and taken to the library located a short distance away. There was palpable excitement as they put on their shoes and set off for the short journey. There was even more excitement as they entered the the small room and saw the screen on the wall. They quickly sat down, eyes wide open staring at the images on the screen. After s small introduction where each word I said was greeted by warm applause and vehement nods of the head, it was show time: one the menu a 1915 Charlie Chaplin film.
The kids sat mesmerised, laughing at each slapstick moment. Everyone was having a ball, even those who could not hear. The giggles were infectious and we laughed with them, more moved by their enthusiasm and joy than by the on goings in screen. Everyone has a great time. It did not matter if you could not hear, speak, walk, talk: the show transcended all barriers. It was a runaway success.
Some may wonder why have a library filled with books in an alien language an a state of the art home theatre for a bunch of poor slum kids. I must admit that there are many who think this way, the kind of people for whom charity is a good way of getting rid of your rubbish and easing your conscience. In their parlance beautiful, enriching and elevating pursuits are the prerogative of the rich and not fit for consumption for the poor. But we at pwhy differ and believe that every child has a right to get the best of everything. So our little library and small cine club aims at just that: bringing to deprived children a little bit of the magic of books and the wonder of the silver screen.
Welcome to Cinema Paradiso!
In a country where the constitution guarantees that the State shall ensure provision of free education of equitable quality for all children (Artice 21A), the Government of Delhi has approved a fee hike in what is known as private schools.
Do not think that private schools are only for the privileged and well endowed. In today’s Delhi such schools cater to a wide cross section of society. The reason being that the so called free education to be guaranteed by the state is in a state of total despair and not fit for consumption. Parents today, even the humbler ones look for other options, and these come with a price tag. But parents are willing to walk that extra mile and give their children a better start in life. And as the demand grew, in keeping with markets forces, private schools grew at an exponential rate. It was the boom of teaching shops that mushroomed at each street corner and event though they flaunted all rules in the book they nevertheless catered to the needs of the day.
Private schools big or small became laws in themselves and helpless parents had no option but abide by all the rules they imposed. Regular fee increases, development and building funds and even donations had to be paid. And as the power of such schools grew, the option of the free school dwindled by the day as state run schools went from bad to worse. We at pwhy have first hand experience of the state of such schools as most of our kids frequent such schools. We watched with dismay the booming school business thrive.
What was truly infuriating was the fact that with a little help kids from government schools were able to perform well. The question that needed to be asked was why nothing was being done to improve the state of government run schools and make them a sound and viable option. The answer was written on the wall: the private school lobby was too strong. The common school system that India so needs and that would finally ensure free and equitable education to all of India’s children has had a very troubled history and is nowhere near becoming a reality. Quite the contrary is happening as the government seems to be turning into the best advocate for private schools. Even the 25% reservations of seats in private schools for economically weaker students was quietly dropped by the government. One would have thought that governments were meant to protect rights but the rapidity with which the latst increase in fees was accepted shows what the reality is.
In a recent debate on this very issue, a rather pompous private school manager brushed aside a question asked by a parent by declaring that if parents were not happy with the increase they could take their children out and send them to a state run school. Well Sir, I wish this was a viable option as many would just do that.
Parents will cut corners, tighten their belts and meet this increase and maybe the next one too, but there will be a day when this will not be possible. I wonder what will happen to the children then as nothing is being done to improve the institutions that are supposed to be providing the free education of equitable quality that is the Constitutional right of every single child born in this land.
The despicable, abhorrent and loathsome attack on young girls in a pub has outraged the entire nation. The incident defeats all reasoning and has left everyone in a state of shock. What is even more appalling is the fact that the reprehensible assault on young women was done in the name of religion by so called and self professed guardians of morality who had the audacity to state that they are acting to preserve Indian culture.
As expected there is widespread indignation among civil society. Sadly the whole issue has also become fodder for dubious agendas and political bashing. What is even more regrettable is that the perpetrators may be go scot-free or at best with minimum punishment.
That women were treated with such contempt by a bunch of hooligans while many watched is shameful and speaks volumes about the prevalent state of affairs. How far will we stoop in the name of religion.
I remember a December day sixteen years ago when I felt ashamed of my religion just as I am today. It was the day a house of God was destroyed in the name of another God, in the occurrence mine. On that fateful day I questioned my own faith just as I do today.
I am a Hindu by birth and by choice. I was born to profoundly Hindu parents but grew up in lands of diverse faiths. My parents never imposed their views or beliefs. At home Hindu festivals were celebrated with fervour and some ritualism and the many questions I asked at different moments of my life were answered candidly and without fuss. It is much later in life that I discovered that my mother was not really bent on ritualism but it was her way of introducing me to my faith. I grew up with my set of questions and doubts and each one got cleared with simple honesty.
When I asked one day whether I could go to church and partake of communion as all my school friends did ( I was in a convent school) my parents simply answered that I could if no one had any objection. I guess I had expected a vehement refusal and was a little perplexed by their reaction. I did go to church often and even found a humane priest who allowed me to taste the holy wafer. Some years later while in an Islamic country I wanted to fast in the holy month of Ramadan and once again I got the warm approval of my parents. I celebrated the Sabbath with my Jewish pals too and with every such occurrence my belief got strengthened as I was proud of belonging to a religion that did not close any door in my face but on the other hand allowed me to embrace all faiths. I was proud to be a Hindu.
The tales my parents told me only went to reinforce my faith. I was delighted by the pranks of Lord Krishna and by the touching tales of Ram when he ate the fruits proffered by Sabri or rode in Kevat’s boat. I never felt the need to question the sagacity and humanness of the religion I was born in. Till the fateful day in 2002.
Once again my faith is wavering. Which form of Hinduism is supposedly being defended by attacking women in public? What culture is being preserved? Are we not one of the only religions that worships Goddesses with misplaced fervour? So how can anyone stoop down to such acts. Where are our so called religious heads, and why are they silent. I have often asked myself why our so called god men, the ones you see on TV and that have huge following never speak out when such incidents take place. They simply chose to remain silent. Be it the killing of a girl child, the burning of a bride for dowry, or the raping of a Dalit girl, one has never heard a public condemnation by the innumerable religious men. They seem to be stubbornly silent on burning social issues. And yet they have the power to bring about the change we so badly need.
At a time when my faith is vacillating my thoughts go back to a day when i had a terrible head ache and a little boy folded is hands and shut his eyes tight after informing that he was going to ask his Bhagwan (God) to make my ache go away. The headache disappeared as the little boy’s prayer was heard a faceless and nameless God. That is the one I want to believe in today.
The slumdog euphoria is in full swing. Awards and kudos galore and the ensuing media blitz: slums have suddenly become the flavour of the day. Suits me as normally people are reluctant to hear the slum tales I often tell. I guess the hype will continue till Oscar night at least.
There have been a few detractors people who feel offended at the depiction of slum life, or others who want the word dog removed from the title, and yet others who feel that some scenes may whip up communal passion. But all in all slumdgog has been a a runaway success, even in the eyes of those who till now had never deigned to look at slums and its dwellers. Today slums are no longer invisible, they loom larger than life thanks to a story told.
In all interviews and talk shows the slumdog team has been pitching the film as a tale of hope and love. I am sure it is because slums are replete with tales of hope. And of the umpteen questions asked the ones that struck a chord with me was the ones pertaining to what one could simplify in one word: payback! Yes what did all those who won acclaims for the movie intend to do for the slums and their dwellers. And if I may be allowed to stretch the question further what do each one of us who are oohing and aahing about the film intend to do to reach out to them. I would like to believe that miracles would come by but experience compels me to think otherwise. It is true that the slumdog team has pledged substantial help to the Dharavi dwellers, the director even mentioned that children who acted in the film are now in school. Laudable indeed but a drop in the ocean. It needs much more than one film and its team to change things.
I would like to ask why it takes a film and images on a silver screen to shake us out of our deep slumber. Children like the ones you see running across the screen or on posters are everywhere if you are willing to look. But we have become inured to them and have stopped asking questions. I often wonder why the powers that be, the local authorities and civil society itself does not wonder why so many children hang around every red light when they should by law be in school? You do not even have to walk through a slum to see them. I wonder why we are not disturbed by the sight of people living in abysmal conditions like the lohars (gypsy iron smith) who live along roads we travel each day, or little Radha whose house is so tiny that you have to crawl into it. We simply pass by unfazed an unconcerned.
It is OK for us to sit in the audience of a talk show and ask what others are intending to do, but what about some soul searching. It is wonderful to applaud a story where a young slumdog becomes a millionaire but do we realise that it is within us to make this happen for someone in reality. What if I told you that it is within our reach to weave tales of hope and make dreams come true. At this very moment four little children are waiting patiently for someone to make it happen for them. Is anyone listening?
India celebrates its 6oth Republic Day! All day long there will be ceremonies and parades in different parts of the country. In a remote corner of its capital, on top of a reclaimed garbage dump a bunch of children celebrated Republic Day a day earlier. Two tiny flags on top of a battered speaker marked the occasion. If the props were few the spirit was high. Every child has prepared an item for the occasion.
Little Mithi danced with gay abandon. Her little feet tapping to the beat of the music, a huge smile on her face. There were songs, poems and skits all performed with utmost seriousness and concentration. Yes the little Okhla children celebrated republic day with aplomb! The same happened in other pwhy centres too! I could not be present at all centres and as is often the case lived the moments by proxy courtesy the innumerable photographs taken on the occasion. What was touching is that in each and everyone of them the children were beaming and happy.
These were children of India, protected by the very Constitution that was being commemorated today, the one that was meant to guarantee them a string of rights: justice, liberty, equality words that had scant meaning for these little children. Most of them belonged to extremely poor families, their parents having often fled a flood or a drought or some other calamity to seek greener pastures but sadly found themselves in situations often worse then the one they had left. The pot of gold that they sought remained a chimera.
The children sang and danced oblivious of what awaited them. They were still protected by the innocence of childhood when everything is possible. Tomorrow little Mithi will come to the centre her school bag in tow and will follow her lessons and painstakingly complete all tasks assigned to her. What no one knows is how long it will last: the arrival of a sibling may just put and end to her childhood and her school days. Is this not the plight of many a girl child?
Mithi’s rights are not protected by any Constitution. They simply depend on the vagaries of the reality of her life.
As we celebrate our Republic, my thoughts goes to the millions whose lives hang by a tenuous string in this country that is getting polarised by the minute. As one part of it grows by leaps and bounds to meet a glitzy destiny, the other seems to be sinking with the same rapidity to darker abysses. And yet this is the very one that infuses energy in our lives, the one when hope still lives in the tiny feet of a child dancing, the one where values still rule the day. The one that the world toasts today in a celebrated movie.
If one India is busy debating whether schools should be allowed to increase their already high fees, the other is wondering whether their overcrowded and only school will be sold to build a mall. That is the sad reality of how things as we celebrate yet another Republic Day. I wonder how many more will come and go before all the children in India will the rights enshrined in the very body being honoured today.