I happened to be standing at the gate when the cotton carder went by. Hearing the high pitched sound of his carding bow was a Proustian experience as it brought back a flood of long-forgotten memories.
There was a time when you could plan your day with almost clockwork precision just by listening to he sounds of the passing hawkers. There use to be many in our street: the vegetable and fruit vendors, the cobbler, the kabariwalahs the best recycling man ever. There was the man repairing jewels, the one who sharpened your knives and even one to clean your ears. Not to forget the toy vendor, the ice cream seller and so many more, each with their own calls that brought the street alive. Some were perennial, others seasonal, but to many like us they became familiar faces that were part and parcel of our lives.
Today there but a few, particularly in up market areas where forbidding gates with placards barring entry to hawkers have sounded their death knell. And with it the end of many small jobs that fed families and many trades that will soon be forgotten, trades that often use to be passed on from father to son.
I recently spent time with a shopkeeper friend whose shop came under the sealing hammer and who will move on the a mall miles away. His shop sold a medley of items; a great place to buy that gift one often remembered at the last moment. Over the years one had established a relationship with him and his family, seen the son get married and witness the birth of the grand child. Many recipes, and pieces of advise were shared, not forgetting the cups of tea! As I left the shop, my precious packet tucked under m arm, I realised that it would people of my generation who would feel the loss the most. The shopkeeper will find a new life in his squeaky clean mall, and will soon have a new clientele; for him it is a matter of survival. But we, the middle-aged middle-class middle everything individual will find ourselves disorientated.
I do not see myself trudging to an impersonal mall miles away for that gift. An appropriate amount of money in an envelope would have to do.
A was filled with sadness as I saw that one more chapter of our lives was ending. We had no option but to adapt as best we could and we would ultimately. But as I looked at the face of the brave cotton carder, now aged and tired, hoping that someone would stop him, I imagined the numerous evenings when he would have returned empty handed and his family would have slept hungry. At his age he had no other option and had had to fight the advent of polyfill quilts alone and bravely.
In our rush to embrace modern ways, do we realise the price that needs to be paid.
It has been along time since one has written a blog about pwhy children. Somehow the sombre mood and events of the past few weeks had hijacked much of these posts.
But while the city was being held to ransom by the sealing saga and numerous bhands, life did not stop for an instant on planet why. We have had some new admission and one of them was little Himanshu in the creche.
Himanshu and his younger sister are orphans being brought up by their aunt. Right from day one Himanshu seemed a little different and unlike his sister who took to her new friends like a fish to water, Himanshu remained withdrawn, locked in his world, banging his head occasionally or sitting in a corner.
Today we shifted him to the special section so that our very efficient team would assess him. As soon as he entered the room, Himanshu suddenly felt at home. He smiled, and settled down as if he belonged.
After some time, he decided to sit by Nanhe and soon rested his head on Nanhe’s lap a broad smile on his face. Nanhe of course rose to the occasion suddenly as this was the first time in his life that he felt responsible for someone.
We all watched in silence as this was a huge moment for us all.
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I asked my old acquaintance Mishraji why our local DDA market had so many cars parked in front. Mishraji and I go back a long time, when he worked at a provision store in M block market GK1 and I shopped there for my daily needs. That was about 25 years ago!
Today Mishraji works the local chemist in the DDA market the store he worked in then is now a lingerie boutique!
“behanji, did you know that there were 34 provisions stores in M block market in those days, now there is only one, so the many residents of diverse blocks in GK 1 come to the two provision shops here”, was Mishraji’s answer.
A zany thought crossed my mind: will they one day seal this tiny complex because of traffic snarls!
Thinking back I do remember many such stores; they all disappeared giving way to showrooms that sell jewellery, fancy shoes, fancy apparel, sports goods, crystal ware and more of the same. And shoppers comes from across the city and even across the country, in their cars and create those terrible traffic jams.
This blog is not about rules and the breaking of them. It is an epitaph to days gone by, days that remain forgotten memories in the now tired heads of the likes of Mishraji and I. With malls, and showrooms the bond that existed between the shopkeeper and the client is gone and in its place is a business like exchange. I guess one has to move with time but some of us still long for the days when things were different.
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Welcome to the land where small is not beautiful..
Wonder what I am getting at?
Two recent news items caught my eye. One pertains to sealing and its effect of small traders, and the other on the proposed amendment to regulate foreign donation to NGOs. In both cases the big fish will get away but the small will suffer and ultimately die.
Keeping an eye on nefarious activities is understandable but believing that those who engage in such activities will not find other ways of doing so is naive.
Those who are engaged in trying to make a difference by reaching out to the many who have been let down – children, women – know how difficult it is to get help from within the country. Somehow the word NGO is circumspect and viewed with extreme suspicion and disdain, making people like us wary of even using it to identify one’s self. True that it unfortunately conjures in the minds of people the image of huge organisations with large budgets and heavy administrative setups . It is also true that many are just that. Now with the added scare of NGOs being used to fund terror, mistrust will grow.
The flip side that there are some people who set up projects with an honest approach and are engaged in good work. The flip side is also is that funds normally come from across the seas, where even our kin become more charitable.
I spent the first years of pwhy trying to get support from friends, relatives, school buddies of spouse etc watching personal funds whither as very little was forthcoming. Everyone always had a good excuse, one more ludicrous than the other. Must add that what I sought was tiny, something people would flitter away in an evening. I even came up with my one rupee a day pitch, thinking that what I was asking was actually so tiny that it became invisible. But to no avail. Then our famous FCRA got cleared and the same story was sent out on the net reaching people I did not know.
Distance makes the heart larger I should say as I was overwhelmed by the support that came from young students and professionals over and above friends that I had known for long. The sums were not big, as many took the rupee-a-day option that translated into a tiny 8 dollars a year. But we survived month after month and year after year. We survived and hundreds of kids did not drop out, 20 different kids spent a few hours a day laughing and being loved, 30 people got employment and could feed their families, 7 hearts got repaired..
Now with the new law that will soon come to force, we may lose much of this support. Not because we are dishonest or dubious but because meeting the requirements will deprive us of the spontaneous support of small donors who often react to appeals from the heart. Moreover, the new law also states that a tab will be kept on whether or not the money is used for development. This will open the doors to witch hunting, settling of personal scores not to forget new avenues for under the table payments as who defines what development is!
For organisation like ours who do not believe in corpus funds and think that money given for a cause should be used as soon as possible, any blocking of funds to answer queries would mean no money for the next month. For organisation like ours which have very restricted small administrations, a point appreciated by our donors, it may mean increasing that budget to meet the new requirements. It alsomeans retructuring our donor base in a way that may jar with what we believe in.
But above all it will mean losing the warmth and spontaneity that characterised pwhy as its number of supporters grew across countries and lived the joy and angst of our little effort with us.
Small is not beautiful in our land!
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I watched the sealing drive yesterday. The targets were big fish be they showrooms, offices of even government institutions. The government suddenly took the rule of law very seriously.
Later in the day I read an article ringing the death knell of small NGOs located in areas identified as seal-able!
The logic presented by the author was simple: such NGOs had chosen those premises as hey were often cheaper. This enabled them to present their donors with small admin bills. Were they to move into commercial areas then the rent and other charges would often be higher than the amount spent of the development work they do.
NGOs normally do not break laws, however when those are poorly defined then they may inadvertently do so. It is a well known fact that donors are weary of inflated admin costs, so it stands to reason to think that were small NGOs asked to move out, they would have no option but to cease their activities. It is true that there are some NGOs who are not quite what they seem , but small NGOs like ours have a role to play in a city where the government has abdicated many of its duties. Not many alternatives are left for takes.
At present we are on safe grounds, but who knows one day laws may change or be suitably modified to meet numbers and the sealing gang may land on us. I have been thinking of this and have come and realised that pwhy is maybe not in such a bad situation as most of our activities are nomadic. The solution will be to turn every activity into a nomadic one and become a jhola – satchel – NGO. Each one packing the need of the day in a satchel and taking off for the garbage dump, road side, shanty assigned to us and ending the day in your own drawing room to take stock and plan the next day.
I remember many of my detractors criticising my stubborn resistance to enclosing pwhy in the confines of four walls, but somehow I held on and feel vindicated.
So jhola days may be round the corner…
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here we go again.. says the popular song.
I have been watching the tos and fro’s of the local authorities regarding the now existential question: to seal or not to seal!
To take the Shakespeare reference further we could easily say; all is not well in the State of D.. (substitute Delhi for Denmark). Is there a solution?
To understand the present situation one has to travel way back and ask a multitude of almost rhetorical questions: why the master plan which had a fair allocation for commercial buildings was not respected? Why did the local authorities happily give green signals to illegal activities? Why did the politicians promise regularisation of unlawful construction before each and every election? many questions and no answers as it is a chicken and egg situation.
For the past few days the government both local and national have been in their usual band-aid mode? One arm says yes to sealing and the other no. But what is disturbing is the pathetic excuses: a festival here, a law and order situation there. In the meantime a city is held to ransom, children cannot go to school and violence lurks at every corner.
Everybody has been caught unawares! Those who paid and retreated into comfort zones, those who received and promised, those who broke laws with impunity and those who turned their eyes away..
This crisis management situation has become endemic to our very nature with no one realising that it just delays the inevitable just a little bit longer.
The sealing situation threatens to become a hydra headed monster and no Hercules who would look for the neck and sever it. We just go on snipping the heads which grow again and again.
But one day the laws catch up and everyone stands helpless. There is a Hercules, but in this case not an individual but a complex entity covering all sides and willing to take on his or her share of responsibility and willing to lose some to set matters right.
Wishful thinking in this day and age where individual benefits are more important than collective ones, where rights are demanded but duties shunned!
Where do we go from here…
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