We are the real dreamers

Project Why from Terrier Charlotte on Vimeo.

A few months back I got a mail from two globe trotters from France. They were passing through Delhi and wanted to spend two weeks at project why. To use Charlotte’s words: we want to bring our smiles and share our time and do something for your children. Charlotte and Matthieu landed at project why promised smiles in place and a host of ideas one of them being to make  a film where the pwhy kids will be the stars. The song they chose was Imagine, John Lennon’s moving Imagine. They also had plans to teach English and hold craft workshops with the small children. Ambitious? Read on.

They set to work in the most professional manner getting the words of the song photocopied. The idea was to teach one phrase of the song to different classes and put it all together. They had no idea what awaited them. It just took a day for them to realise that it would be a very uphill task keeping in mind the pronunciation of the kids, their poor singing ability and their self-consciousness in front of a camera and the shortage of time. It was soon decided that craft workshops and English classes would have to be abandoned. The film was a real handful. The first two days or so were spent in ‘auditioning’ and working of the ‘script’! But then disaster struck. Charlotte was diagnosed with dengue. We all thought Imagine would remain a dream. Not at all. Charlotte, a real trouper, proved a mettle. The show would go on! In between blood tests, visits to the doctor, bouts of fever, the bane of rashes and drops in energy, she directed the show from the wings – in this case a bedroom in my home-. Matthieu followed instructions to the T and thankfully dear old Jon’s  brilliant camera skills came to the rescue. After innumerable  takes and retakes – the maximum being mine – and so much footage as to saturate the computer’s hard disk, the film was completed in time.

I do not know if it was the magic of Lennon’s lyrics, the candid shots of the children, the terrible enunciation that actually became the film’s biggest asset or the love with which the film was made: the outcome was enchanting and moving. It brought tears to my eyes. The words of a song so deeply entrenched in our minds took a totally different hue. It was as if each word was written for these children of a Lesser God who have nothing to offer in abundance but their smiles. I am sure Lennon who have smiled had he seen this clip. But there is something else they have that we hanker for: the ability to dream. When they see a plane flying they dream of being the pilot that flies it; when they sit next to their teacher and learn they dream of one day becoming a true educator and when someone in their midst dies for want of a doctor, they dream of becoming that missing doctor. Their world is one of survival, but a survival laced with dignity and smothered with smiles. They have no possessions and yet they are always willing to share the little they have. They, more than anyone else, give a real meaning to the haunting and enchanting song. They live for today. 
I cried when I saw the film. I cry every time I see it. Tears of joy, tears of pride, tears of compassion, tears of pain. I joined them long ago… will you join them too?

Thank you Charlotte and Matthieu for this very special gift. We love you!


 Imagine there’s no heaven
 It’s easy if you try
 No hell below us
 Above us only sky
 Imagine all the people
 Living for today…

 Imagine there’s no countries
 It isn’t hard to do
 Nothing to kill or die for
 And no religion too
 Imagine all the people
 Living life in peace…

 You may say I’m a dreamer
 But I’m not the only one
 I hope someday you’ll join us
 And the world will be as one

 Imagine no possessions
 I wonder if you can
 No need for greed or hunger
 A brotherhood of man
 Imagine all the people
 Sharing all the world…

 You may say I’m a dreamer
 But I’m not the only one
 I hope someday you’ll join us
 And the world will live as one
Oh my God(dess)

Oh my God(dess)

I have not seen Oh My God, the recent movie about something that touches all of us: religion! I believe  it shows us how from God lover we have become God fearing and how religion has become a business. I think most of realise this or am I being too optimist?

For the past 2 days, thousands and thousands from all walk of life are fervently washing feet of nine  little girls to mark the end of Durga puja. This is done as a mark of respect of the Goddess the symbol of the purest creative force. There are many interpretations of this ritual but one thing is certain: young girls are meant to be the image of the Goddess. So  they worshipped, venerated, idolized just for the few minutes of a ritual whose meaning everyone had forgotten. Come the said morning and in every Hindu home pressure cookers whistle, potatoes are peeled and cooked into a spicy dish and sweet halwa is eagerly stirred in large woks, flat breads are rolled and deep fried. The food is then served in nine containers and money or gifts as is the fashion now – pencil cases, lunch boxes, hair clips – are added.The feast for the Goddess(es) is ready. Every family has ‘booked’ their goddesses of the day – children of neighbours in slums and shanties, children of those who work for you and so on. The little girls are sat in a row, their feet are washed by all members of the family, then they are given the food and the gifts. Often little girls are seen going from home to home collecting their bounty of the day. It is not every day that girls are feted in India! No wonder project why classes are quasi empty on these days.

The status of women has known many mutations in India. From having equal status to men in ancient India their history has been eventful. It sad to learn that according to a recent study by Reuters India is the “fourth most dangerous country” in the world for women today. And though the are supposed to enjoy equal right to men the reality is different. In a male dominated society women suffer immensely. So is not hypocritical to worship little girls and the next moment forget that they are the image of the Goddess you venerate with so much false piety.

I for one do not wash feet of little girls once a year. I would rather continue in silence the work I do where I worship them in my own way every day by giving them what they need to fight for the rights so many of us have usurped.

Don’t eat chowmein

Don’t eat chowmein

Eating chowmein contributes to the increase in rapes. No this is not a joke. This is the latest pearl of wisdom cast by the antediluvian kangaroo courts that ‘rule’ Haryana by force: the (ill)famed Khap Panchayats. To my understanding, consumption of fast food contributes to such incidents. Chowmein leads to hormonal imbalance evoking an urge to indulge in such acts, is what the leader of one such Khap recently stated. To end rapes one must eat light and nutritious food. Voila. Rape over. So if I understand well girls should be married at the age of 16 and we should not eat any spices or fast food and we will be rid of the heinous crime of rape. All hormonal issues will be solved. I guess all of us that each such foods are potential rapists.

To the idiosyncratic remark that stated that 90% of rapes are consensual, there was the added one that rapes are a conspiracy against the ruling party. I cannot begin to imagine where all this will end. But what is reality is that rapes are continuing unabashedly. Yesterday a 50 year old was gang raped by 4 men. For a person of the female sex is do not matter what age you are: 15 months or 50, you still run the risk of being raped. And that is not all, the 62 year old rapist of the 13 year old child is now being shielded by his community by offering the victim’s family money. 35K is the price of innocence.

There is seems to be no justice for the innocent victims. Instead of immediate and punitive actions against the perpetrators, one what sees is shielding the rapist, finding ludicrous explanations ( consensual rape, eating chowmein), blaming the victim (the way she dresses, she drinks, she goes out at night etc) and so on. Everyone is on a single mission: protect the perpetrator! It is time to stop this nonsense. But how? That is the question.

What all the above shows is that in the mind of the law makers, protectors and enforcers rape is a trivial crime where the victim is a much if not more to blame than the perp.

When a little girl is born she has the same rights as her male counterparts. She has the right to live, to laugh, to play, to grow, to study, to work. She has the right to be loved, respected, cared for and protected. She has the right to dream about her morrows and to see them become reality. Sadly in India all these rights are usurped in the name of false honour, false morality and social mores made by a male dominated society. Her life is controlled by a series of males: her father, her brother, her husband and even her sons. She has not much say in anything. Is she steps out of the line drawn by these male relatives she is reigned in and even branded. Her dreams remain dreams shared with no one.

When she hurts or is hurt by anyone, she is far too often held responsible and ordered to step back in line. The extreme instance is rape where the first accusation falls on her: why did she step out, why did she wear ‘revealing’ clothes, why did she stay out late etc. She seems to be the custodian not only of her family’s honour but of the honour of the entire world.

Trivialising rape is the highest insult to women. It is time this stopped!

Seeking Her protection

Seeking Her protection

Today is the first day of Navratri or the nine nights in which we will worship the Goddess Durga .We will worship her in each and every form from the young Kumari, to Parvati to Kali to Lakshmi to Saraswati and along the way we will beseech her to protect us, to give us wealth and prosperity and knowledge and wisdom. We will end our devotion by worshipping nine little girls whose feet we will wash and who will endow with gifts and blessings. The we I refer to here is all of us Hindus, men and women. It is also all those who normally deride and dismiss women, treat them like second class citizens, who rape them with impunity, who use and abuse them without mercy, who even kill them in the womb! The disparity between the way we revere our Goddesses and treat our women every day is glaring.  Is it not hypocritical?

True some of us do not feel or act that way but do we hot keep strangely mum and behave like ostriches when aberrations occur? What right do we have to worship Goddess Durga if we are unable to protect girls and women? Why should she bestow anything on us when we forget once the nine nights have passed that she resides in every woman?

For the next none nights Durga will be adored and worshiped in every way imaginable. On the eight or night day nine little girls will also be worshipped as many will wash their feet as a mark of respect to the Goddess, each one symbolising one of the Goddess. Yet once the festivities over these very little girls will go back to the reality of not being wanted and treated respect and love. Every little girl has the right to ask why she is being worshipped once a year and abused for the rest of time.

I guess I am a believer though I cannot accept to be part of a show that his to say the last hypocritical. I have in days gone by been guilty of falling prey to the lure of ritualism. I guess it had to be a rite of passage, mercifully a short one. I was blessed to have had the privilege of entering a world that may seem alien to many but that brought straight back to reality and showed me the way I sought.

Today I do not go seeking the elusive God I believe in, in temples and faraway pilgrimage sites. I see Her everyday in the eyes of the little children who have been forgotten by all, and yet who open their hearts to anyone fortunate enough to look into their eyes with their hearts.

For the next nine days I will worship all the little project why girls and seek protection, prosperity and wisdom. 

Hang your head in shame or speak out the choice is yours

Hang your head in shame or speak out the choice is yours

She was 13. An age when you are and should be a child, carefree and happy. Your life should be filled with laughter, friends and happy occurrences. You should be going to school, spending time with pals and coming back home. And above all you should be safe. But that is not what happened to a young 13 year old in a small town in Haryana, the state which is now (in)famous for a spate of rapes. For the past 3 months she has been raped by a 62 year old food street vendor  who lured with a plate of hot food. It took three months of being abused by a dirty old man who thought his plate of food who keep her quiet forever. I cannot begin to imagine the trauma that little child went through. The pain, the shame, the hurt, humiliation that little soul experienced as her barely nubile was being assaulted over and over again by a vile old man. How hungry she would have been to accept the first plate of food? Or maybe it was offered because the tithe was demanded and she has nowhere to run. She was caught in the wily trap laid by crafty old sod. Anyway it was too late.

The horror lasted for 3 months. Just trying to imagine what she must have gone through day after day makes my blood run cold. I also cannot fathom what was the tipping point that made her break her silence and tell her father. I must salute the father who believed his child and contacted the police. The rape was confirmed. But the outcome was not what one would expect from a civilised society. The victim was arrested but one wonders for how long but the school authorities and the local political entity decided to expel the child and her sisters!

Yes you read right, the victim, the girl who had been repeatedly raped was thrown out of school. This is justice India style. Hang your head in shame or speak out the choice is yours. But this is a reality and we cannot run away from it. A young rape victim has been denied her right to education because she was raped. How that works is impossible for me to comprehend. Even the warped and skewed logic of a politician who wants us to believe that 90% rapes are consensual cannot be applied here. The victim was 13, the rapist 62. In any law book it is a rape!

My mind travels back some 7 or 8 years when I was faced with a similar situation. In one of our primary classes a girl always sat alone, never next to the others. No one spoke to her. She came and went alone. She was about 12 or 13. When I enquired upon the reason of such behavior I was shocked to hear that she had been raped when she was 3 year old, the rapist was her neighbour. he had been caught and served a sentence and was freed. But the girl had been branded forever. We took matters in hand and ensured that she was accepted by her class mates. I even got her to learn karate and she was a star. Slowly she regained her lost confidence but sadly her mother died and the family moved away. I wonder where she is now. I just hope and pray she is safe.

How long will this terrible injustice last? When will we gather the strength to say enough is enough! I feel so helpless.