Six years ago a supporter and friend asked me the following question: Excuse me saying this, but why don’t you sell this house.. imagine how many heart surgeries it would sponsor. I answered the question then to the best of my ability stating that liquidating an asset, no matter now big was against the essence of pwhy. The question was disturbing to say the least and remained in my mind. Yesterday a very young volunteer asked me a similar question. His was perhaps less direct as he wanted to know whether I felt guilty staying in such a large house after seeing the conditions in which the children of pwhy lived.
Six years later I was on the rack again and though I gave him an answer I hope sounded sincere, I realised the need to address the question once again as I presume it is one that undoubtedly comes to many minds but often remains unsaid. Yes I live in a big house, this is an indubitable fact. The house was built by my parents and being their only child it came to me with a rider though. It was to be in my custody and then revert to my daughters after me. So legally it is not mine! But the question has a deeper meaning that needs to be addressed. I think what people want to know is whether I feel guilty living a privileged life or to put it in kinder words whether pwhy has changed my outlook and directions in life.
I have said loud and clear that for me pwhy is the repayment of a debt. I realised how privileged I was when I visited my ancestral village in 1983. The village my family hails from is one of the most backward you can imagine. When I visited it it had no proper road access and none of its girls had been to school. Had my ancestor not left this village I too would have been uneducated, married in my teens, grandmother in my thirties. Instead there I was a diplomat’s daughter, smothered in luxury, highly educated and so on. That is when I realised that there had to be a big payback time. What it would be, I did not know then, but that it would happen was certain.
The years went by, but the feeling never left. I carried on with my responsibilities waiting for the opportune time. It dawned in 1998. My parents were gone, my children grown and my wandering the world done for once for all! I was in my late forties and felt it was time to sink roots and redeem my pledge. Pwhy was born.
I did not know what shape it would take. Only time would tell. And somehow from the very moment it too seed, it seemed as if destiny had it all chalked out. Every step was taking me in the right direction. When friends and well wishers tried to put a spoke in the wheel proclaiming that the task at hand was too huge, I retorted that all I wanted to do was change life.
But I am not here to tell the pwhy story. We are talking of guilt. Honestly I do not feel guilty about having a big house. It has been part of the plan. It is something I cannot change so I humbly accept it. But things have changed for me. And the biggest change has been that for the first time in my life I feel complete.
What has changed for me is that I am humbled each and everyday. Humbled by the love and generosity that has come my way, humbled by the miracles I see unfold, humbled by the love I am given in ample measure.
Every morning my grandson Agastya comes with me to Project Why before setting off to his school. We land up at the gates of the Project roughly the same time as Radhey brings the special kids in his auto rickshaw. And almost every morning Radha is sitting in the rickshaw waiting for someone to pick her up and take her to class. Now Radha sits in the corner that is Agastya’s spot and normally when anyone sits in that corner, Agastya has a tantrum. You see no is meant to take Agastya’s spot be it in the rickshaw, the dining table or any space he has claimed. But strangely when he found Radha sitting in his spot, Agastya said nothing but simply went and sat beside her. He stared at her malformed legs for a long time, questions puzzling his tiny mind but said nothing. He simply gave her a huge smile. A teacher soon came and picked her up. She waved bye bye and Agatya waved back.
As we left the centre he asked me what had happened to her. Now what do you tell a 3 year old. How do you explain osteogenesis imperfecta to a toddler. How do you tell him that it is an incurable condition that will ultimately take the little girl away. So you do your best and simply say she is hurt, badly hurt. That is what I did. She was hurt and could not walk. He accepted my explanation but his face remained serious. I wonder what was going on in his head. After some time he simply said: but she will walk tomorrow.
Oh how I wish these innocent words coming from the mouth of a child could be true. What would we all not give up to see Radha walk. But the sad and bitter reality is that she will not, even the God of lesser beings cannot conjure this miracle.
Every morning as we set off for the centre my darling grandson asks me whether Radha will be there, in his spot. He looks forward to that brief encounter probably knowing without knowing that she special, truly special. And I take comfort in his words: but tomorrow she will walk knowing that that tomorrow will never come.
We will take a few blows, but do not throw us out of school are the chilling words many pwhy students told their teachers last week, a day after the High Court heard a petition on the abysmal plight of the schools they study in. The story goes like this.
For the past months or more children have been regularly complaining of the state of the schools they study in. From lack of basic facilities like toilets and drinking water to cramming of students in classes – in some cases 150 in a class meant for 50 -, from corporal punishment to teachers absenteeism, from broken ceilings to non functioning fans, the complaints were many each more shocking than the other. This was supposedly XXI st century India, the India our rulers would like to showcase as a glitzy and shining land, yet the accounts of these children seemed to be out of a Dickens’s novel. Moved by their concern I decided to get in touch with a lawyer friend known for his social activism. He asked me to bring the kids to his office in the High Court. The children shared their woes and were asked to write them down, get them signed by as many as possible and send them to the lawyer. Days passed and we kept waiting for the children’s letters but none came. Instead we got a litany of excuses. The penny dropped: the children were scared of writing their problems. It was time to act again and empower our kids
I rung the lawyer up and he told me he would come and talk to the children of their rights and organise a postcard campaign where children would be given postcards and would be urged to write their woes. The cards were to be addressed to the Chief Justice, Delhi High Court. So on a bright Sunday morning a post card campaign was organised in our women centre and heaps of children shared their concerns. It was touching to see them write what they had carried for so long in the hope that someone would hear. They has just one wish: to be able to study in the best conditions possible. The post cards were written and handed over and a few days later a petition was filed in court and heard by the Acting Chief Justice. The government was given 4 weeks to file their reply. The voice of voiceless children was finally heard.
But the feeling of achievement was short lived. The next day itself the furore of the school fell on these kids. A sample letter was written of the blackboard for all to copy. The letter said that an NGO – us I guess! – had plied them with toffees and biscuits and ‘forced’ them to write these letters. Some older kids were even beaten resulting in them saying: We will take a few blows, but do not throw us out of school ! The fear of being cut off the rolls loomed large.
We will take a few blows, but do not throw us out of school are words one must ponder on as they reveal how much these children want their education. In spite of the fact that corporal punishment is against the law, they are willing to take some blows as long as they remain in school. The scare of being thrown out of school is used and abused by their teachers. They know they hold a trump card however unjust. I cannot but remember the young girl I found many years ago crying on her home from school. When I asked her what happened she told me had been beaten by her teacher. When I asked her why she replied she did not know. And how can I forget the secondary boys’s answer to my question: what would you change in your school? I would have bet my last rupee that their answer would be: we would stop the beating. Imagine my schock when they said: we would tell the child the reason for which he was receiving a beating. Acceptance of beating without reason is nothing short of scary. And nothing has changed over the past 12 years. Kids are still being beaten in schools and have simply learnt to accept it. How would this translate in their adulthood is question begging to be asked.
The state of Government run schools has deteriorated over the years. This is sad but true. If one side of the spectrum has witnessed a proliferation of private schools of all shades and hue, the other has to live with degradation and decay. One wonders why as the State runs perfectly good schools like the Central Schools. Why then is not each and every school of the same as calibre as Central schools?
Today we are a city that prides itself of having an Ice Bar and Jimmy Choo and Louis Vuitton outlets. But in this very city an innumerable amount of bright and innocent children are being denied their right to a good education, the only way they could better their morrows. Is it no time to do something for them!
“Have the people stopped eating and drinking because of the drought?” is what an MLA on a junket said in his defence. Thirteen such MLAs are on a South American spree, many with their spouses and you and I are paying for it! Another MLA defended himself with these words: “There has been enough rain in my constituency and farmers are busy cultivating crops. Due to the recent rainfall, our canals are full and plantations are lush. So, I am rid of all guilt.” The cost per legislator is 600 000 Rs and on their way back they have a two day shopping stop in West Asia. These are the people WE elect to represent our needs and issues. I guess we bear some of the responsibility. The crassness of their remarks is nothing short of shocking. The study tour of course consists of Tango classes, a lesson in Mayan culture at Machu Pichu and discovering the Copacabana beach! All this whilst those who elected are busy surviving
This is one story.
There is another which is even more insensitive. At the London paralympics our athletes do not have coaches or escorts living with them in the village but officials and their wives/daughters are enjoying their stay in the games village! A wheelchair bound athlete needs an escort to help him gets dressed, go to the toilet and get ready for the event. But our officials do not understand that or should I say do not give two hoots. We all know how the disabled are treated in our country. I guess the paralympics are just one more option for regular junkets and not really an apportunity for brave athletes.
In a country where 5000 children die every day of malnutrition do we need to pay for junkets for our elected representatives and officials. A question that needs to be answered but who will?
Two years back project why was touched by a very special kind of magic. Two wonderful souls dropped by our planet and walked into our hearts forever. I am talking of Alan and Em
! Since they left we have been in touch and they have never forgotten us as we often get generous surprises from them.
Last week I saw on a FB update that these two were planning to be part of the Live below the Line project. The challenge is to live below Spend 5 days feeding yourself with $2.25 a day – the New Zealand equivalent of the extreme poverty line. The idea is to bring to life the direct experiences of the 1.4 billion people currently living in extreme poverty and help to make real change.
This programme is on going in many countries. The experience is an eye opener and makes one look at life differently. One of the lessons learnt is how much time you spend thinking about food when you do not have enough resources! Last year two young Indians decided to spend one month living on 28 Rs a day. Their experience should be read by one and all. One of them was that hunger can make you angry!
Quite frankly I think all politicians, planners who come up with zany numbers to define poverty lines, bureaucrats, industrialists etc in India should be part of such a challenge. Maybe then they will understand how hard it is to live in such conditions where all you can do is survive, let alone live or thrive.
I know Alan and Em will once again prove that they are exceptional human beings. God bless them.