Reforms not Reservations… the right R

Reforms not Reservations… the right R

Listening to our new HRD Minister outlining his proposed educational reforms was music to the ears and balm to the heart. He said his mantra was “expansion, inclusion and excellence” and this was not possible “if you deny access to education to every single child in the country”echoing in his own way what I have been harping about for almost a decade now.

A grading formula instead of the inane mark systems, a common Board for all the children of India, making the Xth Boards optional it all sounds too good to be true. For once the right R word is being used Reforms and not Reservations. Unifying and not dividing.

The new Minister seems to have his heart in the right place when he proposes: for instance, a municipal school building has two floors vacant. A private player can set up his classes and charge fees, while he imparts the same quality of education free to those studying in the municipal school. Personally I would have liked to hear the word common school but perhaps that is still a long way coming. I still hope it will happen one day.

This is the first time one is hearing a Minister talk for the children and not trying to fulfill and pursue some hidden political agenda. This is the first time one feels that education is in safe hands. Emboldened by what I read and hear I would like to suggest going one step further and institution an Indian Education Service on the lines of the IAS. This would bring about quality and unity in the teachers and give primary and school education the much needed acceptance.

Education is the corner stone of our society and it is time that we have it the place it deserves. I just hope that our new Minister will continue to address the situation the way he has begun. It is high time someone thought of India’s children.

no more Kodak moments – a trip down memory lane

no more Kodak moments – a trip down memory lane

It is the end of an era. Kodak is taking Kodachrome away. For those of us that belong to the Paul Simon generation we cannot but remember the words immortalised by him: They give us those nice bright colors. They give us the greens of summers. Makes you think all the worlds a sunny day, I got a Nikon camera I love to take a photograph So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away!

At times like these which are almost like rites of passage one is tempted to take a walk down memory lane and reminisce about times gone by. Those of my generation will remember the camera as a prize possession. It required some handling and one of them was the art of placing the film roll correctly. I was never good at that and often had to seek help. Taking a snapshot in those days was no instant gratification. There was a fixed number of shots in each roll you bought and once you had clicked those you had to fulfill one more task: that of rewinding the film and getting it out of the camera, and then place it in the box you purchased it in and then take it to a photographer’s shop to get it developed, hoping against hope that your shots were in focus, and not overexposed. Then you had to wait for a day or more before you collected your pictures. These we given to you in a folder along with your negatives. Only then did you know whether you had your Kodak moments or not.

Today with digital cameras all this is long past. You click your image and can see it on the screen of your camera moments after you have shot it. If it is not to your liking you delete it and shoot another. The digital era has dawned and taken away the film reel. Many may not know it, but Kodachrome was a process invented by two musicians a violinist and a pianist know as God and Man (Leopold Godowsky Jr and Leopold Mannes) way back in 1935.

But what were the Kodak moments we so loved to capture. My mind travels back to the late sixties and early seventies: my college years. What did we do with our free time? Where did we go? What did we enjoy doing? Slowly images trickle from the recesses of my memory, images of parks and open spaces, of poetry books and strummed guitars, of syrupy cups of tea and oily omelets in between slices of white bread, of overstuffed jholas (cloth bags) and worn out chappals (sandals). Those seemed to be our Kodak moments, the ones we wanted to immortalise on paper as this is what we did in our free time. A free afternoon with friends was often translated into a walk in a park or in the zoo, a poetry reading session or a heated debate on some philosophical subject or the other. We made and remade the world and felt on top of it. You were appreciated and liked not by what you wore or possessed, but by your ability to share your knowledge and talent.

And if you wanted a lasting memory you had to select what you wished to consign on paper. Even today, after many decades I find myself looking at the innumerable yellowed photographs that tell the story of my life and lie not in a computer hard disk but in some old drawer, or stuck in the pages of well worn albums.

Today everyone wants instant gratification and all good moments are measured in the amount of money spent. I recall a newspaper article where a journalist decided to spend an evening with a bunch of high school kids. The night was spent zipping from one five star hotel to another and buying an expensive drink that was left untouched as the gang felt bored and needed to move. The evening cost over 10K a head and resulted in not a single Kodak moment.

It is with a sense of nostalgia that I read the about the demise of the good old photo reel, the one that had given people like me hordes of wonderful moments that now lie yellowed in some corner of my home.

reinvent the world for you

reinvent the world for you

Children reinvent the world for you said Susan Sarandon. Today I wonder how 800 children are going to help me reinvent our world, the project why world.

Much has happened in the last few months or should I say weeks. I guess we had again sunk into one of our comfort zones, when one thinks and believes that one has finally reached home and that nothing can come and disturb things. We had a respectable number of children, our teachers were doing a commendable work as not a single child failed, our funding pattern seemed to be on course as we had regular and seemingly sound partners and the problems encountered en route were all more than manageable. It was time to throw one’s self wholeheartedly into our long term sustainability programme and start seriously looking for funds to build planet why!

And then recession hit the planet! At first we did not take it too seriously. We, like many others thought or wanted to think that it would pass without creating too many ripples in our lives. But then a few weeks back, two of our partners, the ones we relied upon the most informed us that they would not be able to meet their commitments, at least for the months to come. We were taken aback and thrown out of gear for a brief moment. But then we realised that we could not close down shop, send kids back and sit in a remote corner to wait for things to change and improve. We had to carry on no matter what, recession or no recession.

I must admit that this not the first time we have been at such crossroads and I know it will not be the last. The last will be when planet why sees the light of day. But that is still some time coming till then we need to reinvent ourselves once again. And once again it will be the children who reinvent the world for us, or perhaps we who reinvent it for 800 of them!
Our new avatar is the sponsorship programme where we ask each one of our friends, and thus you, to spare a little money each day and use it to protect a child’s future. In an earlier post I had asked the simple question: does recession make us less compassionate? I would like to believe the contrary and urge you to prove me right. Sponsoring a child was never the way I wanted to go and yet it is the one I chose today as it seems to fit the prevailing situation. I have always believed that our redemption lay in expanding our donor base so as to be able to deal with the occasional drop outs without bleeding. What seemed ridiculous and laughable to many, seems to make sound sense today.

Our sponsorship programme is defined here. Please drop by that page and find it in your heart to help our children reinvent their endangered world.

You can write to us at:

numbing numbers

numbing numbers

It never rains, it pours goes the saying, and nothing could be truer for Radha’s little family. The day after the TV crew came and went, the authorities came and took away the family’s food cart and every single utensil they possessed. They did not even leave a plate, a spoon or a glass. The little family lost they sole mean of livelihood and also the basic utensils needed to cook their own meal.

True it was to happen as all street food is now illegal in Delhi but somehow one did not expect it all to happen so soon. It seems the few carts in the area were linked to the wrong political party and hence the haste in getting rid of them.

Now begins the numbers game. If Radha’s mom wants to retrieve her belongings she needs to come up with a whopping 2500 Rs plus Rs 100 per fay in demurrage. A herculean task for a family that barely earned 1500 rs a month. But then without their belongings the family cannot even cook a meal for themselves and the cart was bought for over 5000 Rs and could fetch them some money if sold as they know they will never be able to revive the business. The predatr family who had come out of the wood work after Radha’s father’s demise have simply packed their bags and left. The only one left is Radha’s younger aunt who toils in factory from 9am to 9 pm for a paltry 2500 Rs, way below the minimum wage. And in her case, like in the case of thousands of others, no worker’s union comes to the rescue. They are quietened by hefty amounts paid by the factory owners who find numerous ways to circumvent laws.

Radha’s mom is ridden with debts, the ones she occurred after the demise of her husband as she was made to do complex and expensive rituals. Our offer to come and stay at the women centre went unheeded as perhaps it was not an option for the extended family. Or perhaps was it that very extended family that saw Radha’s mom as a potential money spinner. We will never know what truly happened.

Today Radha’s mom has very few options. She cannot work in a factory like her younger sister as her soon is too small to be left alone and then her other children do come back from school and need to be tended to. We now have to rack our brains to find a workable option. We will probably ask her to come and work at the women centre as it is not located too far from her house and she can bring her little boy along. We need someone to clean the place and cook the staff lunch. And then she can after her work, join the sewing class which could be an added skill that would help her earn some extra money. She must earn enough to look after her family.

That is where we stand today. As I wrote in an earlier post, the story on TV did not translate into any form of support. We will have to find a way to help the family get back their belongings as some can be sold and others are much needed for the family to survive. The numbing numbers game will have be unravelled and won!



Jump, and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall” wrote Ray Bradbury. I was reminded of this quote when I saw this picture. It is our very own Popples aka Utpal bungee jumping during a recent outing. Amazingly, though he was the youngest in the queue, he was not afraid or nervous. He found the experience simply exhilarating! I could not resist putting this picture on the blog. The sight of this little fellow with his hair raised like a comic book character was too much to resist.

But a usual my mind wandered and I found myself thinking of the number of times I have found myself having to jump without quite knowing how and where I will land, praying each time that I will find the way to unfold my wings as I fall. My jumps are one of a kind. They occur at times when I have sworn to myself and to all others that I will not add anything to the existing structure of pwhy. And then something happens out of the blue, a child needing help, a woman in despair, a family rendered homeless and all promises are forgotten as I jump to their rescue not knowing where and how help will come from, having totally forgotten that we have barely enough to survive, hoping against hope that I will grow the much needed wings before it is to late. And miraculously each and every time it has happened.

Many may not understand as it defies logic and sane thinking, but many do not know that when I began pwhy I promised myself to try and answer all the whys that came my way, no matter what they were. So I guess just like little Utpal, there will be many more jumps and free falls and I hope that no one moves the ground from beneath my feet and that each jump is as exhilarating as the previous one.