Altogether your investment of yourself into the project is getting to be a magnificent obsession which is very commendable but deserves caution. So what is it I wonder that so relentlessly drives you. I am trying to understand were the words written by someone I dearly respect. He went on to say: The scope of Project Why is exponential. This is what is concerning me. Is there an indication for rationalising the endeavour. I wonder.If your father was alive what advise would he have proffered.
The words would have irked me had they come form anyone else. But the person who wrote them was someone I cherish dearly, someone I know cares deeply for me. And moreover it is someone who was very close to Ram, my father. So somehow a simple email metamorphosed into a message from the heavens, one that needed to be deciphered gently.
So let us begin by trying to find out what it is it that relentlessly drives me? The answer is not hard to find. For me it is inconceivable to sit doing nothing when faced with disturbing whys, be it a Manu begging on the street or a troubling statistic like the one that states that a child does of malnutrition every 8.7 minutes, be it the sight of a child made to beg on the streets when s/he should be in school or the plight of a woman used and abused, be it the pain of a parent running helter-skelter to garner the money to save its child or the sadness in the eyes of children of a lesser god that no one cares for. Can trying to seek answers to any of these whys be termed as a magnificent obsession or is it simply the only option. I tend to think it is the latter: simply the only road that one can travel. So what drives me is no magnificent obsession: I simply see, hear and care.
But there is more in the mail that needs answers. Yes the growth of pwhy is exponential but that is simply because whys keep coming our way, almost as if they were guided to by an invisible hand. This is what I have felt right from the outset. The feeling that this time, no matter what I may seem to others, I am not in charge. A first for me who has always liked being in the drivers seat. But not this time. From the day I first walked the tiny street where Manu was born and where the first stone of pwhy was subsequently laid, I intuitively felt a presence gently propelling me forward. And there was no looking back, with each why that was thrown my way, came an answer that miraculously worked. Pwhy had wings of its own on which I had scant control!
So what was the message. The words caution and rationalising perturbed me. Where we going or growing too fast? Was planet why too big a venture for me to handle? Did I have the required skills? And did rationalising mean slowing down, pruning the project, finding another sustainability plan that was less onerous? And yet as I have said time and again planet why seemed to have a life of its own, each time we have been close to giving it up, something has occurred to save it. 2011 is the last year we are giving to the project so if the God of Lesser Beings want to see it happen, then he needs to conjure a miracle fast. In spite of my best efforts I have been unable to dictate what happens at pwhy. Pwhy grows organically. One just tends to it with care and heed.
And last but not the least, what advise would my father have proffered. Knowing him he would have encouraged me to continue on the path I have chosen without doubt. True he would have, like any caring parent, been concerned about me, but would have always advised me to carry on hearing, seeing and caring.
The children of our Okhla centre proudly present: The wind goes travelling, an original play in English written and performed by the children and directed by their teacher Smita. These children are all primary students wo began learning English barely a year ago! The play was premiered one Republic Day.
It is Republic day and all across the country there are celebrations. The project why children celebrated R Day yesterday at Okhla and the women centre. At both places I had the privilege of being the one to hoist the flag. When I accepted I did not know how emotionally intense the moment would be.
It all began at 10 am at Okhla. I reached in time and found a rickety pole with a folded flag waiting to be hoisted and a motley band of children standing at attention waiting for the ceremony to begin. Some children where bare feet, some had sandals, some shoes. Some were in their Sunday best and others in everyday wear. Some clutched a withering rose which I discovered later was meant for me. The sight of these children of India, children of all shades and hues, of different faiths and origins standing in the cold morning waiting solemnly for the flag to be hoisted was moving and disturbing. They stood in a partially reclaimed garbage dump, their heads held high, their faces serious, their port dignified, waiting to sing the National Anthem and celebrate our Constitution in the bests way possible. I must confess I began to feel very small.
The flag was hoisted and the Anthem sung. Then the saluting party joined their friends in the classroom and the celebrations began. There were patriotic songs and dances, a wonderful play in English that warmed the cockles of my heart and then a tiny little boy came forward and declared that he would recite a poem in English. I was expecting him to render some silly english rhymes and almost fell off my chair when the tiny lad began reciting Tagore’s famous poem: Where the mind is without fear. I sat spell bound ecah word resonating in my mind and making me feel proud and ashamed at the same time.
Were the mind is without fear and the head is held high Where knowledge is free Where the world has not been broken up into fragments By narrow domestic walls Where words come out from the depth of truth Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit Where the mind is led forward by thee Into ever-widening thought and action Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
The rendering was perfect. Every word clear and well enunciated and as every word was voiced my heart swelled with pride. What a long journey it had been. Seven years of patient endurance, of battles with local mafias, of not giving up and today this little school in a garbage dump had come of age. But as each word echoed in my mind I also felt how we had let down these very children and how far we were from Tagore’s dream. Knowledge was not free, truth hijacked, and perfection a distant dream. Even the tenets of our Constitution were not respected so what were we celebrating. here were a bunch of kids who had been let down in every which way, all their rights usurped. Where was the justice, equality, liberty promised to them on this very day 61 years ago. Where had we gone wrong and why. My head hung in shame. The sight of these children innocent and trusting children was a gentle reminder that all was far from well. So much needed to be done.
The women centre children displayed the same faith and trust as they hoisted their flag, performed in English and sand their patriotic songs with fervour. True there was a sense of pride in seeing what we had achieved, but at the same time came the realisation that so much more needed to be done and above all the land needed to be awoken from the deep and senseless slumber it allowed itself to sink in.
So let me country finally awake is the message I would like to send today.
A recent mail from of our staunchest supporters suggested gently that one should consider 2011 as a watershed year for planet why. Give it our all but accept to let it go by the end of the year of nothing happens. A bit fatalistic I must admit. But then am I not the one who had always felt the presence a guiding hand since the day it all began, it being project why! The hand of the one I christened: the God of Lesser beings.
So when did it all begin, this planet why idea, at least in my mind. I guess here too there were two distinct ideas: the shelter for lost souls and the hope hotel as some call it or the guest house that was meant to churn the much needed resources. The former was seeded almost 11 years ago when I first lay eyes on Manu. The later was much latter, when all other options had failed: the cards and candles, the chocolates and jewels, the tshirts and bags, the one rupee a day venture, the soaps and oils, all meant to help us move from charity to sustainability.
It did not happen overnight. One was at one’s wits end to find the best solution and an innocuous remark introduced me to the ninos hotel in Cusco. The rest is history. With every passing day the idea of dovetailing hospitality with development became stronger. It was richer in possibilities the all previous ventures as it also allowed us to take a step further in our journey and take the kids beyond simple school education.
There were up and downs, times when we were ready to give up but like the proverbial bad penny planet why kept springing back with obsessive regularity. When we were let high and dry by a potential donor, other appeared and we managed to purchase our land. When the world markets plummeted we again thought that the planet why idea had crashed with it but then it bounced back. When a friend suggested that we get the plan vetted by professional consultants I was convinced that the outcome would be negative, but far from that, it was found to be very lucrative. When the final costing was worked out, I recoiled at the figures but others found it normal. When our innumerable mails seeking support and finance were answered with polite nays, out of the blue came people who were willing to ensure that planet why see the light of day. When Manu left us and I was shattered as in my mind Manu and planet why were synonymous, every one else felt that Planet Why was the only way we could honour his memory.
This where we stand today. And yet I tend to agree with the friend who has decreed that we consider 2011 as a watershed year for planet why. I guess it simply means that we once again leave it in the hands of the God of Lesser Beings!
The God of Lesser Beings operates in strange and mysterious ways. I must confess, a little sheepishly, that ever since Manu’s demise many of my beliefs have been shaken and I have been feeling somewhat dejected. The task ahead looks daunting and my steps feel a little wobbly. True, things have to continue to honour Manu but I must admit that the feeling to give it all up has crossed my mind more than once. Blissfully no one seemed aware of this as I have kept a brave face!
Yesterday we made an unscheduled trip to the boarding school as a funder was in town and wanted to see the child she sponsored. The morning was crisp and sunny and it was a pleasure to be out in the open. We reached the school later than planned and thus missed the refreshment break and all the the children were in their classrooms. We waited patiently for the children to be called and soon they trickled in one by one, the bigger ones coming in later. A always it was a pleasure to see their smiling faces and hug them. We were taken on a tour of the school and for some time Utpal seemed to have disappeared. He reappeared shortly clutching his red pencil box, the very one we had bought together the last time he was home. He insisted I take it home with me as according to him others were eying it. I was a little bewildered but did as I was told.
Soon it was time to leave and we did quite reluctantly as always. I held on to the little red pencil box a little tighter than required. I sat in the back seat of the SUV fiddling with the box and opened it inadvertently. Inside was a little piece of paper folded in four. I opened it. Scrawled in pencil were the words : I love you… Maam’ji! I was stunned. It was a message from Utpal. But I realised it was much more, it was a message from the God of Lesser Beings, the one had been unconsciously seeking, the one that meant that I had to go on no matter what. It was his way of reminding me that many depended on me, that I did not have the luxury of banging the door and losing the key, that I could not throw my hand up simply because things had not quite gone the way I would have wanted them to. And once again in had been this special child of God who had intervened in my life to call me to order.
The moment was precious and blessed and I was glad the others in the car were silent. I sat quietly taking in the meaning of the four little words scribbled in a child’s hand. It was awesome and wondrous and reminded me once again that I was but an instrument in the hands of one that had plans for me, plans I was not fully privy to but that I had to follow no matter what. I love you too Utpal and will never let you down.