There is a post waiting to be published but I have decided to hold on to it, maybe till just tomorrow, as I wanted today’s post to be one of celebration and joy and the post I refer to was to borrow the words of a friend the kind that drives one to utter despair. But today is Independence day and in spite of everything, it is a day we need to honour. I must admit that two days back I would have been at a complete loss to find something to share with you but the God of Lesser beings decided otherwise and gifted me another perfect day.
Normally Independence day and other such celebrations are closed door affairs in the children’s boarding school but this year the school decided to launch a Literacy Mission in the slums near the school and were graceful enough to ask us to associate ourselves with them. The mission was to be launched after the I day school festivities. We were on cloud nine as this is the very area where Planet Why was to be located. And I must admit to be privy to what happens in school on days where parents are not allowed was indeed a rare treat.
The day was cloudy and humid but we were hoping and against hope that the rains would not play spoil sport. We reached bright and early and were greeted by a walk of honour where children held little flags and wished us Happy I Day! Utpal was one of them and I was terribly proud to see him smile and wave his little flag. We were then escorted to the tent where the show would take place. I must admit that I was a little weary as I wondered how long we would have to wait for the proverbial chief guest. We were seated on the front row making us sort of VIPs! A short while later a young student came to ask us to come for the flag hoisting and we knew the real VVIPs had arrived. The flag was hoisted as the school band played the national anthem and then there was a march past.
Once we were again seated the show began. I must again admit that I was on the look out for our kids and wondered when they would appear on stage. We had seen some of them all dressed up and were eager to see them perform. There were a few items by the older children and then it was time for the little ones and there they were Aditya, Meher, Yash and little Manisha who had been in school for barely a month. They performed what is called an action song to perfection and my eyes misted – as they always seem to do in such occasions – as I watched them dance and sing. It was a touching petition to God and I think that the God of Lesser beings was moved too as the heavens opened and it started pouring. The tent came down and every one ran for cover. My heart stopped. What would happen now. What about all the kids who had not performed yet. I dared not ask, too scared of the answer I may receive. I just waited with bated breath for what would happen next.
We were soon asked to move to the Principal’s room where the customary ‘refreshment’ was hurriedly served. There was tea and cold drinks and an array of eats. Then some time later as we were still guessing what would happen next the good news: the show was to continue in the dining hall. I was truly impressed by the speed at which everything had been reorganised. The show as the young MC said must go on! Babli danced in a lively number on national integration and Vicky was part of an enthralling yoga display. A few more songs and a great performance by the school band closed the show. There were a few speeches and then it was time to go. But the day was not quite over as the school had planned to launch its literacy mission on that day.
It was still raining but we were all very excited. The school had identified a nearby slum cluster and children and parents were waiting in spite of the pelting rain. A distribution of pens and notebooks had been planned but soon we realised that there were far more children then notebooks! The number of children was overwhelming and each one wanted to be part of the programme. Parents were eager too as the only municipal school in the vicinity did not really seem to be working as there were more then 80 kids in each class and not much teaching, and many children just did not go to school.
The literacy programme envisaged by the school was to be held on week ends when students would come and teach their little underprivileged peers. It was undoubtedly a great idea but we knew from past experience that much more was required. What was needed was an outreach programme like the ones we ran and I knew what had to be done. We had to start one as soon a possible. My mind went on overdrive trying to work out the logistics: how to start, when to begin etc. And as innumerable thoughts crowded my mind the rain stopped and the sun came out and somehow I felt that the God of Lesser Beings smiling.
I had been given my very special I day gift, one that showed me that for me the show was no way near over.
Yesterday was PTM day. A day I have come to look forward to for more than reasons than one. First and foremost it is the one and almost only forced day off I find myself taking with regularity. Come what may, rain sunshine or biting cold,the monthly trip to the boarding school has to be made. It is also the only time when for a few hours I get off the spinning wheel for a few blessed moments. But above all it my special time with what I would like to call the real India, where no differences exist, where all children grow and learn together freed of all labels and tags. So you would have guessed by now it is a day I look forward to with glee and excitement.
The morning dawned and blissfully there was no rain. Had there been rain the journey would have been a nightmare given the present state of our city!. No it was a warm day but the breeze was cool and clouds were playing hide and seek with the sun. It was also a special day as my little grandson was coming with us making the day perfect. The previous day had been spent shopping for goodies – cookies, pizza and doughnuts – and some little knickknacks that good old Maam’ji is supposed to have in her bag. This time we were also accompanied by Steve our volunteer from Cambridge and Gary a photographer friend who also brought along his vintage camera with tripod and black sheet. By the time the clock struck 10, we were at the school gate.
Mamaji our trusted trustee had preceded us and we were greeted by all the 8 children almost at the gate. Seven beaming smiles and one tiny unsmiling face. That was Manisha who had just been in school for three weeks and was still a little lost. It was her first PTM after all. I remembered Utpal’s first PTM and his tearful face and murmured words: I want to go home with you. Today, three years later he was more interested in the boxes and bags we held and in sharing all the happenings of the last month. Boxes and bags were retrieved and it was soon time to make the customary rounds: each child’s class and then the hostel after which we would all sit down and break bread – oops I mean pizza together.
As usual walking from classroom to classroom was a pleasure as every child was given a glowing report by the respective teachers. By this time most of the children’s parents had joined us and little Manisha had broken down as she held tightly to her mommy’s hand and murmured the expected: I want to go home. At the hostel the children once again proudly showed off their little beds and cupboards and once again we expressed our wonder and admiration. It was all part of the act. We spent a few minutes with the warden and were given a list of missing items: Utpal had broken his sandals and Manisha needed some undergarments. After warm farewells and see you next month, it was time to let our hair down.
We found a place to sit under a tree and boxes were opened and goodies handed out. The pizza tasted like heaven because it was laced with so much joy and hope. The cookies fared well too. It was a blessed moment. A picture perfect glimpse of my real India. There was Mullaji, Meher’s Muslim cleric uncle and Yash’s christian dad. Then the rest of us from all walks of life and both sides of the usually impregnable walls. All labels and tags had been left outside the school gates. Here we were one, brought together by our children. You cannot imagine what a wonderful experience it was. I am getting goose bumps writing about it. It was the India of my dreams come to life for a fleeting spell. I could feel the presence of my friend the God of Lesser beings.
But all good things do and must come to an end or else we would turn complacent. After a fun photo session the antique way, one that even the Principal joined, it was time to go. The spell was broken and the world awaited us at the other side of the gates. The only thing we knew as that come September the magic would be recast.
Last week as I drove to the project down our little lane, I saw a small posse of men standing on the street in front of our centre’s door. There were about 3 or 4 of them, and one held a sheaf of papers in his hand. They looked harried and worried and I knew at once what was happening. It had to be another broken heart that needed to be fixed. I must confess that my initial reaction was one of mild exasperation: not again were the words that fleeted across my mind. We are just barely recovered from the tragic death of brave and beautiful Heera. I really did not feel we could quite face another ordeal. But of course I did not let any of my thoughts appear on my face: the show had to go on.
This time the little heart that needed to be repaired was that of Kajal all of six years old. Kajal is a tiny little girl who hails from Bairi Aghu a small village in the Beghusarai village of Bihar. She has one older brother age 8 who is in school in class I. Her father earns 2500 rs a month and her mother stays at home. This is their sole income. The family does not won any land or property. When she fell sick last month the family took her to the local dispensary, then the hospital who referred them to Delhi and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. They came to Delhi, and took a little room on rent @ of 1000 rs and set off to get the little girl checked. They wanted to do everything they could for their little girl. They were told she has a hole in her heart and would need surgery. The cost a whopping 70 000 Rs, almost 3 years of the father’s wage. They were stunned and did not know what to do. Someone told them about pwhy and that is why they stood in silence clutching their papers on that hot morning with hope and fear in their hearts.
My mind was working on overdrive as I alighted from the three wheeler and braced myself to meet them. At that moment I did not know whether we would be able to once again raise the needed funds. Our erstwhile heart fix supporters had long vanished and getting funds now was a long and tedious process. I could imagine myself composing the appeal, posting on the net an hoping for the best.
Not wanting the family to have too much hope. I told them quite frankly that we would do our best but that I promised nothing. I added that I needed a picture of the little girl and that I would get in touch with them as soon as I had some news but it would not be before a few days. I remember the early days when one spent time with the families, trying to talk to them and counsel them. This time there was nothing like that. I was taken surprised at my dismissive behaviour. Had I become inured at the pain of others. Not quite. In hindsight I realise that I was apprehensive and did not really know whether we would be able to live up to the family expectations.
Some time later we had the photograph of the little girl and I set the operation in motion. The first appeal was posted on the pwhy page of facebook. At that time I did not even know the little girl’s name. I wondered how long it would take to garner the needed funds.
I had forgotten that pwhy was a place where angel’s do not fear to tread. A short time later a response appeared on our page. It asked a simple question: how much would the surgery cost? I answered and a few instants later, thanks to the magic of the net, from thousands of miles across the globe I got another message: I will sponsor the surgery. I was stunned. It was all over. Kajal’s little heart would be fixed. It was only a matter of time. The God of Lesser Beings had hear, listened and acted. One of his angel’s had appeared.
This angel is a very special one as she has often appeared in our lives. I remember the first time many years ago when we were battling to survive, she came out of the blue and took charge of things and settled everything right. And since she has always been around, watching us form far. And yesterday she knew we needed her and there she was dispelling all clouds and making the sun shine again. God bless her.
Yes, pwhy, is truly a place where angels do not fear to tread!
Note: we have the funds for surgery but do need some more help to ensure that Kajal gets all her medication and proper nutrition to make sure that all goes well.
What’s on my bucket list? I must admit that till a few days I did not quite know what a bucket list was. Like everyone else I know what a bucket is – don’t we all:) -, had heard the song there is a hole in my bucket and the expression kick the bucket. I actually came across the expression bucket list on FB recently and deciding to do some digging. While doing so I stumbled upon a light hearted website that asks with impunity the bold questions: what is on your bucket list? And then goes on to add that if you have not yet begun one it is because of some serious reasons:
– you’ve probably never taken the time to figure out who you really are, let alone ponder why you’re here.
– you’ve even avoided doing what really matters to you because you didn’t want to admit to everyone that you’ve got a hole in your blessed bucket;
– maybe you’ve just convinced yourself that, by some miracle afforded by the fountain of youth, you’ll never have gray hair or lose it, or ever have to “kick the bucket“.
Or is it just because one has been to busy, to scared to find the list in a waste bucket. The website goes on on a lighter vein and you may enjoy reading it, but I stopped and decided to create that elusive bucket list even if the hair is getting grayer by the day and the years fewer, no matter how ridiculous I would look or how ludicrous the exercise.
As I sat pondering at what I would write on that my bucket list, I realised that I actually have already begun one surreptitiously and that it has one big item looming large and named: Planet Why whose bye line should be: ensure that my work of ten years does not go waste and secure the lives of those God in his wisdom dropped my way. Whether Planet Why will be the green haven that will house my wards, or a cold bank deposit that will pay its monthly deposits, or something still unknown I do not know. All I know is that this is the most important thing on my bucket list. I could expand it in many ways: see that Manu his pals live with dignity till their last breath, see Utpal and his pals graduate with honours and become worthy citizens, ensure that as long as God permits hundred of children are given the skills and education needed to break the circle of poverty they are locked in and so on. Ambitious maybe, but a matter of life and death for me.
I would also have a small personal and somewhat selfish list: see my daughter settled and happy, write at least another book, see my grandson grow, take that long due holiday with my life partner, heal all unnecessary hurts, be healthy and brimming with energy and exit with a smile.
Too much to ask? I leave it to the god of lesser beings to decide. I will just end by quoting a poem by George Bernard Shaw that sums up what I feel:
True Joy of Life
This is the true joy of life.
The being used for a purpose
Recognized by yourself as a mighty one.
The being a force of nature
Instead of a feverish, selfish
Little clod of ailments and grievances
Complaining that the world will not
Devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life
Belongs to the whole community
And as long as I live,
It is my privilege to do for it
Whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly
Used up when I die,
For the harder I work the more I live.
I rejoice in life for its own sake.
Life is no brief candle to me.
It is a sort of splendid torch
Which I’ve got hold of
For the moment
And I want to make it burn
As brightly as possible before
Handling it on to future generations.
They are true soul mates and they have proved it more than once. And they are soul mates in more ways than one! Last Monday they took the road to the boarding school, Utpal a now 5 year pro and Meher the rookie. I was a little concerned about Meher as she tends to get over emotional and melts into tears for nothing. But this was not to be. She took to the school like a fish to water. maybe, as all survivors, she knew this was her road to many beautiful morrows.
Utpal, intuitively knew, his little friend had to be protected and cared for. He knew how unkind kids can be when you look or behave different. He remembered how he had to fight the nasty barbs children threw at him because of his visible scars and he also knew that he would ensure, as best he could, that Mehar would not have to suffer them. The invisible scars they would have to deal with privately, in their own special ways and with a little help from the God of lesser beings.
Empowerment to ownership! I wrote the title of this blog some days back and then somehow writer’s block or was it the God of lesser beings at play? I do not know. When I did write the title I was feeling a little saddened as my dream of going from empowerment to ownership seemed to be a tad turning sour. The blog was supposed to be logical extension of my cri de coeur written a few days back.
I had ended that blog with the words I had said my bit. As usual the teacher has not uttered a word. I asked him to think about matters and get back to me. I know he will ultimately accept to move. The other option is still too scary. But a see has been sown and I hope it will bear fruits sooner than later. I had perhaps also sent a silent prayer to the God of lesser beings urging him to show the young teacher the way as all said and done I was quite fond of him. That was also the time when I must have decided to write a blog about ownership, at least to make my views and thoughts clear. I must confess that when I wrote the title E to O, it sounded grand and somehow outlined the initial mission of pwhy. However over the years as the project grew somewhat organically the O got lost en route. Any feeble attempt to bring back the concept of ownership was met with such resistance and furore that one quietly hid it under the carpet. Maybe it is was too early, too scary, too ambitious.
However all this changed and the clouds lifted when the very teacher who had first refused a posting for some flimsy and inane reason and then retreated into a state finally came to see me yesterday. I must admit that as once bitten and twice shy I feared the worst. Was it to be another trip to the dreaded courts? He sat silently as he always does and needed as usual to be prodded to talk. I asked him gently what he has decided. To go to my village in Bihar and start a branch of pwhy he said in a barely audible voice. I thought I was hearing things and asked him to repeat what he said. He did and I wanted to whoop with joy but noblesse oblige! He slowly explained how he wanted to go to his village for a few days and explore the possibilities of starting something there. Yes, yes, yes was my excited answer. This was my dream come true: to empower people and show them that their real future was in their place of origin. Th real success story was to teach people skills they could then take back. This was more than I has asked for. The excitement was palpable but it was also time to quickly regain composure and be Anou ma’am the wise one. And above all it was imperative to guide the young man and show him the way.
I told him that it was a wonderful idea but that he had to take it one step at a time. The pwhy model would not just be replicated in a Bihar village. It had to be modified to local needs. I suggested he went to his village for a few days to assess the situation and then came back with a short term plan that we would support. Then he would have the necessary time to work on the field and slowly craft the long term needs and make a proper plan. I reminded that we too started with spoken English classes for just 30 kids!
This was truly a ah ha moment for pwhy, the vindication of the seemingly absurd dreams one had held on to: to be able to empower people and have them go back to their villages and create better options there. I know the road is long and tortuous but I know we will overcome all and I know understand why the blog took so long to write.