Many have been wondering why I do am not writing as regularly as I did before and I think that I owe all an answer. First and foremost let me let the proverbial cat out of the bag. For the past months I have been writing my next book which is the project why story and gave decided of late to hurry it up a little and hence have been neglecting the blog. Mea Culpa. In my defence I can only say that though the heart is still young the body has aged and thugs cannot perform as efficiently as earlier. I really think that the project why story is one that needs to be told as it is in many ways the story of India viewed through a unique prism and seen with ones heart. Much of the story lies in the recesses of my memory and need to be ferreted out before synapses snap.
But that is not the sole reason for my silence. As it is revealing time, I guess I need to share a rather covert tactic I have devised to ensure that my incredible team and support team take on the reporting role I have held till date. This tactic is borrowed from Randy Pausch head fake tactic, which is a way of getting people to move in another direction surreptitiously. I would urge you to read Pausch’s Last Lecture at Carnegie Mellon, delivered shortly before he passed away. It is most touching and ends with these words: So today’s talk was about my childhood dreams, enabling the dreams of others, and some lessonslearned. But did you figure out the head fake?It’s not about how to achieve yourdreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take careof itself. The dreams will come to you.Have you figured out the second head fake? The talk’s not for you, it’s for my kids. So maybe my silence is the head fake that will bring my team to begin writing about project why. I can feel that we are at take off point and wait with bated breath for the first salvo.
Even though I have been absent from project why and that too for a well thought of reason where my gamble has paid handsomely, I share each and every heart beat of the project and am privy to all its trials and tribulations. You see seeing with your heart is nothing short of magical.
I miss early days when I spent time at the project but I know that every parent has to accept that the child will fly the coop and cop me on which teenager likes to be watched by his/her parents and project why is 14! I will simply watch from the wings to make sure that I am there when needed.
Can one ever become inured to the preposterous so called diktat of self styled religious organisation targeting as always: women! What is infuriating is the ease with which they trivialise a horrific crime like rape. Version 2014 emanates yet again from Haryana states: “if women dress up skimpily, men will be attracted and mistakes may happen. It is better to look into the way you dress up. Rapes will not decrease if you wear such clothes. So, wear decent clothes.” May I remind you that 2 years ago the same kind of people said that eating chowmein increases the incidence of rape. We have just voted in a Government who promised to ensure safety to all women. This is not what one expected.
Women who form or should form 50% of the population enjoy the same constitutional and civil rights as the other 50% namely: men! These are enshrined in Article 19. All citizens have freedom of speech and expression and thus the right to chose what they wear. But it is not the right to dress in a certain way that is the moot question. The question is the linking of rape to a dress or lifestyle code. It would make us believe that all men are potential rapists and what stands between they becoming a rapist or not is the dress of the woman.
As if that was not enough, the UP police responding to an RTI query stated that western culture, mobile phones and lack of entertainment as reasons for rape. The article mentioned a bizarre medley of reasons for rape coming from all over the state.
This is nothing short of shocking and outrageous as it treats the horrific crime as a trivial reaction to external factors. That a small self styled religious outfit says so is bad enough, but when the police of a large state where rape is rampant takes the same road it is unacceptable, disturbing and reeks of patriarchy. If the ones that are meant to prevent crimes, in the occurrence rape, feel that these are due to a pair of jeans worn by a girl or to her having a mobile phone, then God help us all.
In both cases it is patriarchy at its worst. It is so easy to put the blame on the woman and white wash the man. From day one the girl is an unwanted burden. The boy is feted and spoilt and all his misdemeanours are covered up. One can understand a parent doing so but when institutions get in the act it is terrifying.
Rape is a terrible crime and cannot be forgiven or even watered down. It is the worst form of abuse imaginable and a power trip. The victim, should she survive, bears the scars forever and her entire life is ruined because of that one rape. She can never forget. A rapist is a criminal with a sick mind that needs to be attended to.
The new breed of moral guardians want to underplay the rape issue by linking it to lifestyle. But then what about the 2 year old and 3 years old and eighty years old who are raped. Where did they go wrong.
Things will not and cannot change unless mindsets are changed. How can a proper gender equation be arrived at when the girl child begins her race with a huge handicap. As long as girls are not wanted in the same manner as boys; unless men understand and accept that they determine the gender of a child and not their wives; unless healthy and age appropriate sex education is taught in schools and homes and the word sex is considered just as another word; unless Godmen and social institutions start preaching the right values and expose social ills like dowry and child marriage, NOTHING will change in this country.
Serendipity is the occurrence of event by chance and in a happy way and synchronicity is the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear related but have no real causal connection. So says the dictionary. Life is full of both, but we often fail to make the connections. I am in the midst of reading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande a book that has been heralded as life changing. That the subject matter is death should not deter you in any way; it is a moving and humane and urges you to aspire not for a good death but a good life lived to the very last in dignity and joy. As I read the pages, a host of memories long forgotten come back and took on a new meaning. I could now understand my mother’s obsessive and sometimes childlike desire to not live where she not able to walk to the bathroom and wash her own undergarments. It was her choice. Just as refusing treatment for her advanced cancer was her choice. I must admit rather sheepishly today that pa and I did resent it though our love for her was so strong that it transcended logic. Kamala knew that if she took one step in the direction of conventional medicine it would be a free fall and strip her of her dignity. For her pain was acceptable, loss of dignity was not and she died on her own terms with a smile on her face. So remember this if any loved one makes a choice that does not seem right to you; he or she has the right to make that choice. Atul Gawande puts in words what we all refuse to accept: the obsession medical fraternity has to prolong life at all costs is more for us then for the elder we subject to it. I do not think any one in our right state of mind would want life at all costs. I for one have stated in no uncertain terms that I do not wish to be put on life support.
When mama was detected with cancer, though the word C was never mentioned in our home, she told us in no uncertain terms that had I been younger she may have considered medical support but she felt she was ready to go on her terms as she had seen me married, played with her grandchildren and wanted her husband to send her off. That was her choice and we agreed to play along. There was no place for logic or reason. It was all a matter of seeing with ones heart.
I still do not know where I stand but Gawande’s book made me aware of how serendipitous Project Why was for me personally. He argues that the quality of life in our twilight years greatly depends on our sense of purpose and usefulness. He recounts how Dr Bill Thomas decided to bring ‘life’ into a nursing facility for sever lay disabled elderly residents: he simply brought in plants, animals and children and everything changed! The residents who earlier had no ‘reason’ to love for suddenly felt ‘responsible’ for the plant in their room or animal on their floor and played with the staff children when they visited. The results were for all to see: the number of prescriptions diminished and so did the cost. I was reminded of the Little Prince and his rose: he has to go back to his planet because he is responsible for his rose.
Project Why saw the life of day when I was touching half a century and somewhat lost. The children had grown, the parents had moved on and life seemed without purpose. Enter Manu and with him countless children that still colour my day and whose dreams are in my custody. And if God remains on board then this will remain true all the way till the end. This I realise today is the greatest gift of all and I am humbled and deeply grateful.
We all need a purpose in life and whereas once life expectancy was shorter and not prolonged by medicine with contented itself to a palliative role, today the spectre of death in a brightly lit ICU where the concept of time is warped and where machines taken the role of the body is very real. In the name of love we subject our helpless loved ones to a terrible ordeal.
Gawande recalls how death once happened in the comfort of the home, with some medical care, where one was surrounded by familiar objects and those one loved. Today there are scant famous last words or simple farewells, be it just holding hands. The whole art of dying has been rewritten in language that is sadly inhumane. No priest or chants but the whirring of a ventilator or the bleeping of a heart monitor. How lonely death has become.
I was blessed again to have bid farewell to my parents at home and on their won terms. I heard their last words and could say good bye in what was home, giving them their final sip of water and chanting the prayers that they had so lovingly taught me.
|Mama and I Algeria 1966
Tonight of all nights the heady smell of the jasmine papa planted for you is redolent of memories of you, and it should be so as tomorrow is your birthday. You would have been 97, but you left 24 years ago, at the age of 72, barely 10 years older than I am today. We were only blessed with 38 years of togetherness, but how magical and fulfilling they were, only you and I know. I cannot begin to fathom who was the winner in this incredible relationship: you who had accepted the life of an old maid rather than give birth to a slave child or I who was given the gift of a freedom you fought for in a silent but poignant way. All I can say is that my life is replete with memories of you, each laced with your special brand of love.
As every year I ferreted through boxes of pictures to find the ‘right’ picture and this year I chose one of the two of us in Algeria when I must have been 14 or so. The reason is that today I heard that a young girl who celebrates her birthday tomorrow and is very dear to my heart was slapped by her mother for a trivial reason, a typical example of mothers who take out their frustrations on their children. Sadly it happens far too often in slums in India where women are given a raw deal even after seven decades of freedom. This young girl celebrates her 14th birthday tomorrow. I held her in my arms when she was 2 days old.
I remember you telling me about the beatings you got from your young mother whose brand of parenthood was to beat the eldest child, you, and you would then take care of your siblings. I am not one to judge my Nani as I know how much you loved her and how you never seemed to hold any grudge against her. The only thing that you told me was that you had sworn never to raise your hand against your child and you never did. I do not even remember you scolding me, that was left to Papa! My earliest memory of you is that of a friend I could share any and everything with, and we did, didn’t we. You set the bar of motherhood incredibly high. I was never able to meet it, however hard I tried.
In all my years with you, I always felt that you placed my on a pedestal just like in the picture. For you motherhood was to place your child on your shoulders so that she could see further than you and aim at the stars. If you could, you would have plucked the moon and laid it on my lap.
But that is not all. Mama, you wove a fascinating web of lessons each wise and humane that I am still unravelling today. Your legacy is daunting and even though I try hard, I do not feel I have been able to come up to your expectations. I hope that you will guide me and steer me in the right direction so that I can fulfil your dreams.
I miss you Mama
Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yusufzai have won the Nobel Prize for Peace. It is a victory for all the children who are denied their very basic rights, children who have no voice, children who are used and abused, children whose rights are hijacked with impunity. It is truly celebration time for all those, who like us at Project Why believe that every child has the right to a childhood, a right to go to school, to play and laugh and a right to dream. We have strived for the past 3 decades to ensure that the children who walk into the doors of Project Why dare to dream.
The two laureates are crusaders who are fighting to end child labour and trafficking in any form and ensure that every girl goes to school. The reason we need to celebrate is that with the Nobel Prize, these issues have come out of the closet and are now centre stage. We cannot shy away from them even if we want to and that is cause to celebrate. The office of Bachpan Bachao Andolan is close to ours and I have been an admirer of what they stand for. Kailash Satyarthi is someone I hold in high esteem, and yes I am one of the few of have followed his crusade! I guess most of us Indians must have wondered who this Nobel Laureate was and Auntie Google must have been very busy indeed. It is a matter of shame that we Indians are not aware of those who fight for children and even our State who revels in handing out civilian honours to movie and sports stars, rarely does it for the quiet and committed workers who shun publicity. And tough Malala is known to one and all courtesy the media, Kailash Satyarthi remained unknown till the Nobel prize lights were directed to him.
We are nothing in comparison to BBA whose work is stellar, but we too work with children who may have been forced into child labour were we not there. Many of you know how tough it is for us at project why to keep our head above water, come to think of it seven as I write these words, I am facing the daunting challenge of having to make up for the loss in funding we are facing since last month: 100 000 whopping rupees. In times like these, I feel let down by my own people who have never felt the need of reaching out to us and helping our lovely kids. This is when Satyarthi’s words “If not now, then when? If not you, then who?” come to mind and one feels the need to scream them out loud and clear.
I have always held that children cannot wait for the right time, the right place, the right decision and its implementation, the right law and its promulgation and so on. By the time the rights whatever happens, millions of kids would have missed the boat. We need to help them NOW and if it is not we who do it, then WHO? I hope you get what I am trying to convey.
But then this elusive US has never really learnt to look with its heart, more so at children who remain invisible. Come on! How many times have you felt the urge to help a beggar child or at least asked yourself why this child is begging? How many times have you chided your friend, acquaintance, neighbour who employs a child as a house servant? How many times have you asked yourself why as child is working when he or she should be in school? I leave you to answer. Did you know that three quarters of domestic workers in India are believed to be between the ages of 12 and 16 and 90% of them are girls. The Indian government’s 2001 census says 12.6 million minors between the age of 5 and 14 are in the workforce.
Time and again a horror story about someone ill-treating a maid comes out and we make the appropriate noises but then we forget the whole matter, just as the press does. Do we need the press to realise that all is not well with the children of India.
We need to do some serious soul searching. I do hope the Nobel glare shakes our collective conscience from its inertia.
“If not now, then when? If not you, then who?” Kailash Satyarthi Nobel Peace Prize 2004