S wanted a Blackberry Playbook for his birthday. Now S is not a young teenager but a well established person with a great job. D his wife decided to grant him his wish and buy the said object. But then S changed his mind and decided to donate that money to educate 4 kids at pwhy! Wow! S and D always manage to take my breath away. So the Playbook mutated into something intangible and yet so precious. I am humbled!
The curious and the cynic often want to know how pwhy is funded. This makes me smile as the answers I have are not the ones expected. Pwhy is not funded by the state of by hefty funding organisations. It is funded by spurned Playbooks, people walking rather than taking a car, garage sales and bake sales, someone crafting jewelery that is then sold, auction of children’s paintings, couples giving up their wedding gifts or children their birthday ones, people running marathons. The list is endless and each penny laced with love and compassion. And thus each penny becomes precious and sacred and translates into ace report cards, successful exams, life saving surgery and above all reclaimed smiles. And thus flows project why….
For the past few days the house has been strangely silent. What I mean is that one does not hear the screeching sound of cartoons on TV, something that was till date a constant when Utpal was home. He spent all his waking hours glued to the idiot box, lost in his own world.
As I had written earlier, I had been very worried about his behaviour and even sought medical help. Two weeks back he was put on medication and I waited with bated breath for the dreaded side effects and the expected results. The side effects were few – a little sleepiness and slight tremors – but the results have been so say the least stupendous. Not only has our little fellow calmed down and gone back to his old endearing ways, but the child that was once riveted to the television now spends most of his time creating things. His best till now is his computer. It is made out of a sweet box, cardboard, paper, paint, and even has a mouse that blinks light: a small remote controlled plane! This computer has changed my life and brought back a smile that had been mislaid. Utpal who had locked himself in a dark world has come into the sunshine and no one is happier than I.
Kal Mandir is Utpal’s name for the Kalkaji temple. It is a name he came up with when he was 3 and somehow it never changed. He loves going there and would go everyday if he could. His companion for these sorties is Radhey our three wheeler driver, someone he has known all his life! Radhey is the one who drove him to the hospital on the fateful night he fell into a boiling cauldron. KalMandir is undoubtedly his favourite place.
Sometimes he does go all the way to the temple itself and visits the Deity but what Kal Mandi means to Utpal is the fun rides that he loves. Till last week Kal Mandir was simply a name to me. Popples had often asked me to come with him but to my silly mind the Kalkaji Temple was an overcrowded place that I simply shunned. However the little boy’s entreaties finally bore results and last week I too went to Kal Mandir and loved it. I wish I had taken the trip earlier.
The experience is difficult to describe as it is a medley of sensations but I will give it a go. It was about 11am, a hot and humid day and I was dreading the experience but had to keep my promise to little Utpal. We drove in our three wheeler and entered the parking made for cars but to my utter surprised we were greeted with smiles and hellos. I thought we would be stopped as is always the case when you venture in a poor man’s vehicle into parkings but here Utpal and his conveyance seemed to be VIPs! I was a little lost but a little hand firmly took mine and pulled me along. We walked through an alley with shops on either sides: eateries, shops that sold prayer ware, toy stalls, even a photographer’s den where you could take your pictures with zany backdrops. The place was filled with incredible energy and fervour. On the way we walked past devotees walking towards the sancto sanctorum some on foot, others crawling or rolling, others even somersaulting. Strangely none of this seemed out of place or crazy. It just seemed normal as everything was tinted with an overpowering spirituality that made it acceptable.
We soon reached what can at best be called rides but is a far cry from anything you can imagine. Six or even rides fight for space in a tiny enclosure. The floor is mud and dust. A few plastic sheets cover the area protecting you as best they can from the heat or rain. Every ride has a wooden pole where the switches are placed and a maze of electric wires criss crosses the area at a little over head hight. A few bulbs light the place giving it a festive air. An elderly lady sits at rickety table at the entrance under the lone fan. She owns the place and that is where you purchase tickets @ 10 Rs a ride. But as I said Utpal is a VIP there and he headed straight for the first ride under the benevolent smile of the owner lady. I could see how much he loved the place. It could confidently compete with the best amusement park in the world. As it was still early and the staff was scarce, Radhey our driver and Utpal’s long time pal manned the switches. When Utpal had enough of one he simply said Bas and the ride was stopped. I too was VIP of the day as the kind lady left her chair under the fan for me. It was wonderful watching Utpal have the time of his life.
I must admit that I did recoil in horror at the sight of things at first but then somehow not only got reconciled to what I saw but I must admit quite taken in. It was a happy place in more ways then one. The amusement park, let us call it that, is strategically located on the way to the Temple Deity and thus children accompanying their parents manage to convince the later to stop on the way out after all religious obligations are fulfilled and parents often do as the rides cost very little. At any time of the day your hear whoops of joy and laughter as children and even adults spin and rock to their heart’s content while the kind lady owner tries as best she can to keep track of the number of rides everyone enjoys. The place defies every safety rule, even the most lenient, but I can vouch for the safety as Utpal has been an ardent visitor for years now. This little space is where children from the other side of then fence can reclaim for a few moments their right to be children. All in all a visit to this temple is far more than a religious outing. And Kalkaji temple being one of the preferred religious pilgrimage sees people from all walks of life and from all parts of the land. It is somewhat a family outing for all to enjoy with everything on offer: varied food, drinks and even rides.
For Utpal too it is a pilgrimage of sorts. Something he has known all through his disturbed life, a place that has never changed even if all else has. It is his security blanket and comfort place an no matter what a visit there is always welcome and is guaranteed to bring a smile on his face. I was so glad I did finally get over my silly reluctance and accompany him. I must confess I have been there more than once in the past few days.
A visit to Kal Mandir is like being in a time warp. For a few moments you are a tad disoriented as nothing reminds you of the world outside the parking. With my short hair and city gear I looked like an alien but barring a few beggars who sought my attention, no one gave a second look. You were just accepted as you were. A pleasant change from reality. And as you walked the road leading to the Temple you passed rickety structures replete with sounds and smells that reminded you of a village fair. It was exhilarating to say the least. The drums and chants that greeted you transported you into another plane. The fervour was infectious and for an instant you forgot all your woes. What brought people to this place was their faith and you were touched by the atmosphere. This was real India at its best.
This morning I was handed out the detailed results of our class XII and X students. In the right hand column the teacher had put in remarks. Some students were school toppers, other class toppers, yet others maths topper. Marks ranged in the 90s and 80s. There were some who had just passed but the teacher had written that these were very weak students who had managed to clear their examination: a feat in its own way. Vivek had secured 99% in maths and Shilpa, Jatin, Anita and Rohit were all toppers. The same story was repeated in class X with a good number of As with as many as 5 toppers again. It was a ah ha moment for pwhy. But was it really.
A news item last week had dampened my joy in more ways than one. You now needed an aggregate of 100% to get admission in B (Com) Hons in one of Delhi University’s prime institution. Absurd and inane! Yet the Principal of the same institution defended this decision: We get the best students from across the country and getting 100% in the aggregate of your best performance in four subjects is no longer impossible in Board examinations. Never mind if in some States toppers secure marks in the nineties. In a nutshell this means that if a child has secured a respectable 80 or 85%, (s)he may not get admission in a good college. Let me also add that Delhi University colleges are affordable and thus an option for all students, irrespective of their social background. All doors had been banged in their faces.
Of course, for the past few years there has been a proliferation of private institutions with fees in 6 figures! Not an option for the slum kid, son of vegetable vendor or ironing man who has managed to clear his Boards with what was once called a first division. They will have to either get admitted in an evening course, a correspondence course or apply through the Open University. It almost seems as if higher education has been sectioned into classes: one for the uber smart, another for the uber rich and yet another for the poor. I was told just yesterday by a young upmarket kid that some of the private universities will take a weak student for a higher fee aptly dubbed donation. The other option of course for the affluent is to go abroad, another door that is closed to our children.
When we hear of 100% as a cut off mark for a favoured course, even we the almost incurable optimists are left dumbfounded. Even with our best efforts we know that our children cannot make the cut and that because they run the race with a heavy handicap: poverty. Many of our kids cannot afford books and thus rely on badly drafted guides. Many cannot afford extra tuitions. All do not have savvy parents or resources at home. They often do not even have place to study at home. How can you when you live in a tin box that you share with many, when a younger sibling may tear your book or a drunk father simply destroy it in a fit of rage. And yet children like Vivek or Shilpa beat all odds and come out winners. But their victory is not good enough to open the door of a first class education. They will always be second best.
Now second best is available all the way. You can secure a degree or even an MBA or other professional course. Two of our staff have taken that road. You register with an institute and are given course material. A look at it is enough to make you either roar with laughter or scream in horror. Booklets badly printed on cheap paper boast of titles like globalisation, education, and give pathetic ready made answers to possible questions. These are then mugged and regurgitated at the examination. And you manage to secure enough marks to pass as remember you can pass with a mere 33%! When you have duly sat for all the examinations you are given a degree and become a graduate. Sadly there are many such graduates. I do not need to spell out their worth.
There is something terribly wrong in our system of education and it is time the powers that be addressed the problem and took corrective measures, or else the so called Right to Education will become a poor joke played on innocent children.
His name is Yuvi. He is the latest kid on the block. He joined our special section last month. Yuvi is a 4 year old who looks 8! He is locked in his own world, a world for which we have no key. No one quite knows yet what his condition is as it is difficult if not impossible to begin an assessment.
Yuvi is a big child with an endearing face and easy ways. He ambles around in class, often heading for the exit door but not quite stepping out. He sometime moans and often laughs but no one knows why. He is truly locked in his world and seems like not wanting anyone entering it.
Yuvi is a strong child yet a placid one. Though he does not as yet participate in any activities, you can sit him down and make him do morning exercises. In a manner of speech as he just sits limp and you are the one who is meant to push and tug at his limbs and follow the class. He likes putting everything in his mouth, even your toes if you are not watchful! He responds to his name but will not follow any instruction. He can lie for hours on his stomach and do nothing, or so it seems to us aliens to his world. At break time he may chew on some wafers or biscuits. He then resumes his ambling and wandering till it is time to go home.
Slowly we will have to learn his ways, to gently knock at his locked door and hope he allows us entry. We will have to learn his ways before attempting to teach him ours, to unravel the puzzle gently, one piece at a time. So Yuvi can we enter your world.