For the past few months many annoying things have occurred. First after years of placid relationship our bankers have suddenly jumped into mistrust mode. I now regularly get calls or mails asking inane questions, this in spite of due diligence having been undertaken more than once: do you have affiliations with any political parties, are any of your trustees politicians, are you purely a social service organisation etc. Come on, we have been in the business for a decade, have been vetted by the Home Ministry, the Police department, the Income Tax authorities and have all required certifications. So are we not legit! It does not end there. For the past months many donations from long term donors have been sent back as the word DONATION was not mentioned in the transfer document. Our word was of course not good enough. Explaining this to our donors is not always easy. In one case one poor donor from Italy had written DONAZIONE but even that was not accepted! The word is DONATION screamed the banker!
But that is not all, last week our on line payment facility was also stopped. This is indeed a killer as this facility enabled us to receive the small donations that form the backbone of project why. I wonder how we will overcome this one. I shudder at the paper work that will be asked for. Our volunteers too have also born the brunt of this new age order. Poor souls cannot access their on line banking facility from India, as it is considered a high risk country an are left high and dry.
Yes there is an insidious new world over that was surreptitiously hijacked the world and entered every nook and corner of our daily existence. Police checks at every corner, always at peak traffic time creating terrible snarls, need of ID proofs to purchase a SIM card or much else, security checks that will soon get very invasive once electronic body scans replace the already humiliating manual one, need to carry your personal belongings in a clear plastic bag for all to see etc. Last month a friend was refused a drink in a pub in London. The reason was that he had grown a beard and ‘looked’ like a terrorist though he is of sound European lineage.
The whole world is at war against ‘terrorism’ and yet the end is nowhere in sight. This leads us to try and define what is ‘terrorism’ or who is the ‘terrorist’ we need to watch for. And the answer is very nebulous. If you have time read this essay. I am not one to favour or support any form of terrorism, whatever the hue, but when you read the essay you wonder what makes young children, barely grown girls and boys, women, simple souls take up guns and follow a destructive path with utmost belief and faith. What dreams of theirs have we as society crushed, what invisible hurt have we inflicted upon them, how have they become prey to hidden and often incomprehensible agendas? I know these are uncomfortable questions that we would like to avoid but that need to be answered if we want a semblance of order to be restored in this world.
An invitation card for a upmarket promotional do, landed on my desk yesterday. I do not know why such cards come my way! And as always it made me wince. The card looked like a cigar box and was made of outrageously expensive paper. Open the box and in lieu of cigars, you find a card nestled at the bottom soliciting your presence to yet another extravaganza with not only imported food and wine, but imported entertainment.
L, a volunteer, was sitting there and after looking at the card simply said: wonder how many children could be fed with the price of this one card. Strange that she should have mentioned this, as the previous day a TV channel had aired a report about malnutrition in India. The figures was startling, shocking and made one hand one’s head hang in shame: in Madhya Pradesh alone 83 children die of malnutrition every day, and that is just one state of India. And this while surplus grain worth millions rots in what is known as the granary of India.
The amount of extravagantly priced cards that come my way is staggering. I have figured out why I, the proverbial recluse, am on their mailing lists: courtesy the husband’s upmarket club affiliations! PR agencies get hold of club directories and voila! Cards are printed by the zillions and couriered (no post please) and you find yourself invited to dos galore, opening of bedroom and bathroom furniture showrooms, jewellery exhibitions and more of the same. The cards often land unopened in the trashcan! I was tickled pink by a recent ad of a mobile phone company that urged everyone to save trees and use SMSses to communicate everything! Come to think of it it could be cheaper and one had the luxury of the DND (do not disturb) option. With the courier man you are subjected to the door bell ring at all hours of the day, and they have an uncanny habit of coming when you are taking forty winks or have just stepped into your bath. Blessed were the days of the postman: he only rang the bell twice a day!
But bantering apart, time has come for all of us to stop wearing blinkers and start looking at the harsh reality that surrounds us, and not just look but ask ourselves some disturbing questions. The first one is whether we can carry on the way we do without batting an eyelid as if all was well? If the answer is yes then sorry I disturbed you; if the answer is a no even a hesitant one, then comes the next question: how responsible we are and what can we do? My answer was pwhy. A tiny drop in the ocean but nevertheless a beginning.
There are many things around us that should upset if not abhor us. The little child who knocks at your car window every day without fail and who should actually be in school as says the Constitution. The obscene amount of food thrown on the street after religious feeding sprees or outrageous marriages, the mounds of plastic choking every part of the city, the unnecessary breaking and remaking of perfectly sound pavement and roads that remind us of children playing construction games but they do not waste tax payer’s money. And this is just what we see. Open the newspaper or turn on the box and the nightmare continues. Kangaroo courts that decide whether you should live or die, children sold and abused. Many of us express our shock or concern from the comfort of an armchair and then simply procrastinate. Many of us rant and rave a bit while getting ready for the next do one is invited to and then simply forget till the next aberration. Some simply feel it is not our problem as there if a government that is meant to solve all that is not right smug in the comfort that we did our civic duty by casting our vote.
It is time we took a step further and made our voices heard, not just for the page 3 cases needing justice, when we are quick to light candles and stand vigil, but for every single child dying of hunger every 8.7804 minute, one who has no voice and above all no vote.
Prince will never study at Princeton – excuse the pun! But Prince is actually a very real human being and one that does us proud. He came to us many years ago as a primary student. A seemingly shy and withdrawn boy, Prince was nevertheless always first in class and a very serious student. He passed all his Board exams and recently joined a B Com course. His dream: to be a teacher and that is why he came hesitantly last week asking us whether he could join pwhy! Undoubtedly we said! And today he is one of the team: a secondary teacher at the Okhla centre. Another dream come true.
You must be wondering why I mentioned Princeton at all. A new venture or should I say adventure is being crafted by our new Minister of Education. If all goes is way, then very soon foreign universities will soon set shop in India and the moot question is whether their will be a quota for economically and socially backward classes. According to our flamboyant Minister foreign universities are private and therefore free from any commitment to social inclusiveness when operating in India! All this spells danger and a further division of education. One had hoped that the new Minister would have walked the path leading to leveling education rather than creating more layers. Now you will have the super rich who can go to Princeton and the not so super rich who will enter the portals of Princeton India if that university decides that India is a lucrative business. A repeat performance of what happened with school education when the middle class opted for private schools leading to government schools becoming schools for only the poor.
The article presents a probable scenario which I cannot but agree to: the creamiest layer – using at word now politically correct I presume – will continue to go to the real thing for the ambiance, the ersatz will be for those just below them. And for all others it will be the local colleges reputed or not quite so. And then there is one more question lurking: if branded universities do land on our shores, will our best teachers leave their present jobs and join the more lucrative options? And thus quality higher education, just like quality primary education will only be for the privileged.
Where are we going Mr Minister! Education was the only hope for the teeming millions of Indian children to whom our Constitution has finally granted the right to free and equitable education, to break the cycle of poverty they are enslaved in. From 1983 to 1999 overall education expenditure has declined from 80 to 67 %. Is education for all a farce or a sad joke played on poor unsuspecting and voiceless children. And yet the children of India beat all odds. Prince always stood first even though he lives in a squalid hole. His father is illiterate and drives an auto rickshaw he does not even own. Things would be right if Prince one day could join Princeton, where this temple of knowledge even open its doors in India.
OK Delhizens loosen your purse strings, your state needs you. You will have to pay your tithe for the honour of hosting the commonwealth games! So from now on everything will cost more: cooking gas, CNG, ghee, tea, coffee, utensils, mobile phones. VAT is being increased from 12 to 20 %. The justification is simple: expenditure on Games projects had exceeded estimates while the “recession” had meant that revenues didn’t keep pace. Whatever that means! The bottom line is that each one of us, rich and poor are going to pay for this useless extravaganza!
The fear of what the CWG would mean to the common Delhizen has been looming large on our heads for some time now. We were fist told of relocation of slums and we feared for our own, mercifully till now we have been spared. Perhaps it is because we are not on the routes the players will take to go around the city. And as we all know, the clean up drive is just cosmetic. Then came the ban on street vendors and that affected us as many of our parents lost their sole mean of livelihood and many their sole source of sustenance. We winced a little but carried on. Last week Delhi’s school children were informed that they would have to go to school till the end of May. That was a shocker. With temperatures already soaring, wonder what the mercury will read come May! Yes the CWG were truly becoming an event to remember.
Finally came the last straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. As if the recent price rises were not enough, and just when one had finally mastered the art of balancing a budget by stretching a potato or watering a dal, came the final blow: everything would cost more and the reason was to fulfill some delusional fantasy. We wince at every price rise, it is but human, but then we process the matter and assuage our feelings by telling ourselves that the money is meant fr education, development, health of the poor and so on even if we know that the benefits never really reach their destination. But where are the mitigating factors. Will someone enlighten me?
Christopher James is a magician, but a magician with a huge heart. A chance encounter in a pub with one of our volunteers, few words exchanged and voila, Chris was all set to come and spread some magic in the lives of our kids.
He came this morning armed with his bag of tricks and enthralled the children at Okhla first.
Tables flew, roses appeared thanks to a sprinkle of magic powder, 50 rs notes turned to 500 rs one. And the children watched mesmerised and spell bound. Time stood still. For those precious moments the Okhla centre got transformed into a dreamland where everything looked possible.
Chris conjured Canadian coins out of nowhere and then asked his little assistant what her dream was before handing her over a coin. She said she wanted to buy a car. She clutched her coin and was found asking her friends whether she could walk into a shop with the coin and actually get a car! We all smiled but come to think of it it was a magic coin. The boys loved the card tricks and everyone was transfixed by the 50 rs that became 500! Some of the adults were actually seen looking into their pockets for a note to be transformed.
The show was over, too soon for some. Next stop was the women centre. As there was a little time left, Shamika gathered some courage and asked Chris whether he would come to the special section and do a few tricks for the special kids. He agreed and tables flew again for our very special souls. The children were fascinated and even if they could not express in words what they felt, all you had to do was look at their faces!
Chris cast his spell again for the children of our women centre. There again time stood still and everyone was transfixed, even the adults who completely forgot, much to my chagrin, to take pictures though the camera stood charged and ready waiting to be picked up!
Thank you Chris for having brought a ray of hope and joy to our children. God bless you!