In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer
The recent rape of a 9 year old in Goa has once gain brought to fore the extreme vulnerability of children who are easy victims to lurking predators of all kind. The perpetrators of the heinous act have been arrested. Will they be convicted or with they one gain easily slip though the gaping holes of inadequate laws? One does not know. The sad truth is that in crimes against children, adults often go scot free. Rape is undoubtedly the extreme aberration. What we often do not see is the innumerable insidious crimes that are committed each day against innocent and hapless children. And what is even more dangerous is that children far too often accept the offense in total silence, each wound simply scarring their little souls forever. The perpetrators on the other hand, carry on the abuse with impunity, protected by written or unwritten laws that cover them with a cloak of false respectability.
Sadly again, the worst crimes on children are committed by people who the child trusts, looks up to and sometimes even loves. Is not the adult child equation one of trust and credence?
Last week a little girl came to one of our centres with a bruise on her cheek and a cut on her lips. When questioned she simply answered that the one on the cheek was a blow by her father and the other by her mother. There was no anger, no wrath, nothing.. the child simply accepted it.
My mind went back many years, to the day when I had seen a little girl in her school uniform crying copiously as she walked back from school. When i asked her what had happened she answered she had been beaten by her teacher. When asked why she simply added I must have done something wrong. The need to challenge a wrongful act was absent. The child seemed once gain conditioned to accept abuse when it came from an adult you trusted. And with each act of abuse that misplaced belief is alas strengthened. When things get too bad children take the unthinkable step and end their lives. Helplines are of no real help. An abused child has scant self esteem. She or he are incapable of seeking help. Abusive adults ensure that, and if that is not enough the family and social environment extol the code of silence.
How then does one get the child to break out of this vicious stranglehold? How does one get the child to break the unjust code of silence she or he are compelled to accept? It is not easy and that is where civil society, or at least those who have not abdicated their power to defend what is right, should stand up and shatter the oppressive silence. One of the most effective campaigns against domestic violence has been the Bell Bajao or Ring the Bell campaign. It urges each one of us to ring the doorbell when we come to face to face with an incident of domestic violence. The bottom line is do not keep quiet and walk away.
The same needs to be done when one sees child abuse in any form: bet it in homes, schools or on the street. Only then will innocent abused children begin seeing a glimmer of hope at the end of a dark tunnel and will slowly regain their lost innocence and take their first step on the long road to healing. Only then will they be able to pick up the pieces of their broken self worth and start believing that each one of them carries withing her or himself an invincible summer no one can rob them off.
So what are we waiting for…..
Yesterday was the Annual Day of the Shanti Gyan International School, the little boarding school where five of our kids study. The show was to begin at 11 am, and we were there on time! None of us were prepared for what was to enfold. More than just a school function, it turned out to be a taste of India in more ways than one.
Needless to say we were the first to arrive, guests I mean, the children were all there, dressed up and ready to put their best foot forward. And boy they did. The show was enthralling and that is what I first want to share with you. It started with a beautifully executed Saraswati Vandana by the senior girls, a delight for the eyes and the soul. Then the school orchestra took the stage and my heart swelled with pride when I saw Utpal come on stage tugging his little Casio. The piece was a foot tapping percussion and keyboard original composition and we were again spell bound. Next was the turn of the tiny ones whose action song got the audience clapping and cheering. We were then treated to a patriotic song, befitting the coming Republic Day. I was amazed at the perfect rendition and beautiful arrangements.
The moment we were all waiting for was finally there. A dance medley that included four of our pwhy stars: Babli, Vicky, Nikhil and Utpal. The children put the best of Bollywood to shame as they executed the intricate steps to perfection, swaying their hips with abandon and swinging their arms with the expertise of a professional. They were true stars and I was moved beyond words. What a journey it had been for these children of a lesser God. The next part of the show was a beautiful ballet entitled the Golden Rules. All religions were portrayed in an enchanting way: the Jewish wedding dance was perfect, the Gurudwara scene was touching, the Qawali got everyone clapping and the Bhumi dance was mystical. The finale was filled with energy and enthusiasm, a perfect ending to a perfect show. But there was more: the stage was slowly filled by the entire cast with faultless entries and all the children sang the National Anthem again impeccably.
As I watched the intense little faces singing, my eyes filled with tears and I quickly mouthed a silent prayer to the God of little beings beseeching him to always walk by the side of these five little kids who had braved all odds and done us proud.
Please spend a little time and see the pictures below. They are nothing short of small miracles. Enjoy the pictures before you read on!
The picture I conjured above should have been the one that played out in reality: an uninterrupted show by a bunch of lovely kids for all to enjoy and revel in. It would have been the case in any other land but ours. What if I told you that the show that was no longer than 2 hours at best, lasted almost 5! That the children who were dressed in their costumes at 11, appeared for their final tableau at 16.30! Never mind if some of them were tiny, never mind if some costumes were too flimsy to withstand the winter! Sadly that is what happened as concurrently to the children’s show we were unwilling spectators to another one, this one produced and staged by adults and whose main protagonists were Very Important People – or should is say Irritating -, the necessary component of any celebration in India. My heart went out to the management of the school and above all to the young and charming principal who stoically defied all odds and never lost his smile or composure.
Before I go on to describe to you the happenings of the day, I must stress on the fact that in India, the very existence and success of many business and other activities depend entirely on your ability to garner adequate support from the powers that be. No honest or hardworking soul can ever master the intricacies of the laws that govern us: they seem to be made in such a manner that help is always needed. The help comes at a price, one being the compulsion to include personalities in any celebration you organise. So the annual day of a school needs to have its plethora of VIPs!
As I said earlier the children were ready by 11.30 and so were we. But the clock ticked on and the front rows remained empty. An announcement was made requesting us to go and have a cup of tea. We did. The clock continued ticking. The children were seen peeping from behind the curtain. The head boy and head girl of the school stood patiently at the lectern, their big sashes gleaming. Another announcement informed us that the chief guest was on his way and should be with us in a few minutes. The clock struck one and still no one! You could see worried faces and people talking frantically on phones. The children waited in the wings. Then some activity as one of the guest had arrived. The show could begin. It did. It was 1. 45. The first three items were performed after the guest had been duly welcomed with flowers and speeches. We were to say the least relieved. But our relief was short lived. Around 2.20 the show was stopped. The chief guest had arrived. More speeches, more flowers.. and the children waiting.
After some speeches, prizes were distributed to a batch of kids. Great photo ops for the VIPs as I have forgotten to mention, there was a band of pressmen and photographers in attendance. The guests were plied with refreshments as is custom in our country, while we could amost hear our stomachs rumbling. This drama went on. One had to go through 4 VIPs each seeking their place in the sun. Finally it was over and the children could perform their final acts.
What got my goat and left me speechless was the fact that none of the so called VIPs had bothered to even remember the name of the school whose function they were attending and had to be prompted. The speeches were mutually or even in one case self adulatory. One wondered who their were being addressed to. The whole act was to say the least galling. A necessary evil one could well have done without. A total disregard for the hundreds of people who had waited patiently and for the little children whose day it was and who were the real VVIPs. But I guess we were all parents and thus vulnerable. Even I waited patiently. Had it been any other occasion I would have walked off!
As is often said: Oh darling this is India!
I have often been faced with dilemmas, some more challenging than others. And each time a message from what one may, for want of another word, call the heavens has come my way and dispelled all clouds. For the past few weeks now I have been pondering about how to bring about the qualitative change we seek and need at project why. The first option that came to mind was to try and bring about the change slowly, a class or two at a time, and add a class each year. The reason for doing it this way was dictated by our limited resources, both space and funds. It would have been unrealistic and unreasonable to do otherwise, or so it seemed.
I set out to write a small proposal for what I called a pilot project. Should have been easy but somehow it just did not get off the ground. I must admit that I was extremely frustrated and annoyed. I just did not realise that this was a gentle message from the heavens urging me to stop and review things. I left the unfinished proposal but found myself sharing my thoughts with friends and well wishers individually. Many warmed up to the idea. But my writer’s block refused to go away. Then a mail dropped from someone unknown till then. It was a person who had stumbled on our site and wanted to help us. I of course was prompt in sharing my new quality mantra! That is when another message from the so called heavens dropped my way, this one louder and clearer: why not quality for all. The writer reacting to my mutation idea simply asked: is it just an idealist’s expression of dissatisfaction at the natural gap between ideals and reality, is it a strategic internal brainstorming on improvements, perhaps both? Can quantity be maintained while striving for improved quality, even if it costs significantly more? Would it be possible to experiment with increasing to 2 hours instead of 3 on a trial basis, and grow gradually and in a more manageable fashion?
The words hit me like a bolt out of the blue. The whole idea that had seemed so right, was actually preposterous if you viewed it within the spirit of project why. Was I not the one who had always clamoured high and low about the unacceptable reality of having different schools and systems of education for different sets of children? Was I not the one who extolled the virtues of a common school? Then how could I have thought even for a moment that I could have within project why two parallel approaches? This was against the very grain of all we stood for. I can only say in my humble defense that I put forth this idea keeping in mind our limited resources. But were we not the ones who always managed some way or the other, who always rose up to any challenge and met it with a smile. And while I debated all these issues, another mail dropped by, this one from a dear friend and young mentor. My hope is that your “quality vs. quantity” debate need not be one or the other he gently chided. The writing was on the wall. Quality it had to be, and for all our primary kids! True we would have to sacrifice some small things like individual copy books for all or monthly outings for every kid, true we would have to crowd children in the limited space we have, but the small impediments would be amply assuaged by large dollops of enthusiasm and commitment.
The writing was on the wall, only I had been too blind to see it. It had to be quality for all right from the word go! Was that not what project why was all about.
I don many hats, some by choice, others by conviction and still others by compulsion but there is one that was bestowed upon me as a blessing and that is the one of a granny! Exactly a year ago, on this very day my life changed forever. A bundle of pure joy landed in my existence: it was Agastya Noor my grandson.
Today Agastya celebrates his first birthday and I once again beg your indulgence an allow me to share some personal thoughts. I wonder if becoming a grandmother has changed me in any ways. Outwardly life is very much the same and I continue donning all hats and giving each my very best. Yet I realise that I do it all with a song in my heart and a spring in my gait. You see Agastya brought hope into my life. He has given me the strength to laugh in adversity and to truly believe that tomorrow is another day. He has made me understand that every child is precious as each comes with dreams and unlimited possibilities and shown me how blessed I am to be able to fulfill a tiny part of those dreams. He has shown me that life is a wonderful gift that has to be lived to its fullest. God bless him always!
Martha lives in Mexico City. She came to see us for a day and got touched by what I have oft called the magic of project why. Back in her country she thought of us and wrote these words I want to share with all. Maybe she more than anyone else, intuitively understood the true spirit of project why.
Why feel pity when you can feel hope?
Why stand by as a spectator when you can jump in and be a participant?
Why feel indignation when you can feel commitment?
Why conform when you can transform?
Project why was born to answer these questions. It was born out of a powerful desire to say no. No, I will not accept this as the way it is, as the way it has always been. No. I will not accept dispair as an unescapable reality. No. I will not be handed my destiny. I will have a say in writing my story, and the story of those around me.
But why try to change the world if it seems such an impossible task?
Maybe you should ask little Utpal, who survived devastating burns against all odds thanks to the help summoned by Project Why.
Or Heera, a young lady who has the hope to heal her heart and maybe live beyond her 16Th birthday.
Or Himanchu, who is learning to read, and write, and speak a new language, and dream of posibilities rather than obstacles.
We CAN change the world. But we have to do it one child at a time. And we are already behind schedule.
Get your heart involved. Today.
Visit projectwhy and join this celebration of opportunity, life and future.
Why? The answer is simple. LOVE. Pure. Raw. Undying love.