2019 has been the year of floods as many parts of India have received unprecedented rain. Delhi has been on flood alert since the past few days.
For many of us it does not matter as we are safe in our homes, but for the thousands who live close to the river it is devastating. We at Project Why are one of those as our Yamuna centre is located in the flood plain. It caters to the children of the agricultural labour who grow vegetables in the flood plains, and live there.
Our Yamuna centre is probably one of the most endearing of all our centres as it is located far from the maddening crowd and the hustle bustle of the city, amidst trees and fields, in almost idyllic settings. We opened the centre in 2015 and today we reach out to 85 children.
Unlike other centres the Yamuna centre runs all-day courses as these children do not go to any school, and a hot lunch is provided to the children every single day, something every child and parent looks forward to. The children are bright and free-spirited. Six of them are ready to sit for their class X Boards and have been admitted to the Open School.
Every year during monsoon time we fear the coming of floods but until last year, our school was spared and we heaved a sigh of relief. But this year is a red letter year.
Two days back we were told to vacate the premises as waters had been released into the Yamuna and would hit the city in a matter of hours. Everyone was shocked and heart broken.
The smaller children looked lost as we began to pack our ware. Older children were taken by their parents to pluck as many vegetables as possible before the waters arrived as everyone knew that this would be the last income for a long time.
The plain started filing as we removed our things one after the other. Most of it the things be taken to our Women’s centre at Madanpur Khader. Some of it would be put in the tents the government was installing on the embankment for the families to move into. Everyone has been running helter-skelter trying to salvage as much as possible. We all felt sad and helpless.
The waters rose slowly, today they have reached the centre itself and more water is expected. No one knows how much and for how long. Even after the waters recede it will take time for everything to dry up and for the school to be up and running again.
My heart goes out to the children who have lost their school and their right to be children, to laugh, learn and play. My heart goes out to my team who built this school from scratch and have to now witness its destruction. But I know deep in my heart that this is a temporary phase and that we will rise like the Phoenix and build it all up again.
Till then, the teachers plan to work with the smaller children in the tents the families are living in. They will teach the older ones on the roadside if need be.
They have also decided to continue feeding the children at lunch time as the families are not allowed to cook in the tents and the lunch provided by the state always reaches very late.
We are determined to see our work continue. Whether it is in the same spot or another. We cannot leave these wonderful children, for their tomorrows are in our custody.
If you’d like to help these children continue their education, and contribute to our efforts at rebuilding, please consider donating a small amount.
Hoisting the flag at the Giri Nagar centre last week was a walk down memory lane. This is where it all began way back in the winter of 2000. In those days we had just acquired a small mud jhuggi across the street where the flag was hoisted and had begun our spoken English classes with a handful of students and a few volunteers. Then sometime later we opened our first class for special needs children at the very spot we hoisted the flag.This happened because a special educator landed on our threshold a few special kids in tow stating that the school they went to had shut their doors and they had nowhere to go. To her question: did we have a special needs class the answer was an immediate yes. It was one of the first deafening whys to be answered. Thus began our special needs class and some of the kids that came to us that cold winter morning are still with us today. Next to it was the first senior secondary class with a handful of class X students preparing for their Boards, the result of a challenge thrown by their Principal who stated that these boys could never clear their Boards. They all did. That was the sum of Project Why in early 2001!
Unfurling that flag to the singing of the National Anthem by the students of Giri Nagar was a moving movement. Two decades later I was standing at the very spot where the journey began. I was choked with emotion. This was also the place where Manu’s blue plastic chair stood and where I shared many meals with him, sitting on a red stool and partaking of the morsels of flat bread dipped in dal that he so lovingly preferred. To me it was manna from the Gods.
We have come a long way from that winter in 2000. Today we have 6 centres spread across South Delhi, 1200 children in our after school programme, 160 women learning a skill to become financially independent and of course our very special children who have ‘graduated’ from the pavement to their own three room centre. It has been an eventful and rewarding journey, one I am terribly proud of. Quite frankly way back in 2000 I never would have imagined how far we would get. I cannot say it was an easy ride. There were many challenges along the way but somehow we met them all head on. What allowed us to grow and flourish was the network of people from across the world who reached out to us and believed in what we did. My heartfelt gratitude and unconditional love to each one of them.
Today we stand at crossroads again. We need to raise funds for two of our biggest centres as we lose their funding in March 2020. And though it looks like mission impossible at this moment, I know deep in my heart that a miracle is on its way. We simply need to hold on to our dreams tight and walk the road less travelled as we have always done.
Standing on that roadside unfurling the flag I could feel the presence of Manu and the pledge I made to him to honour his life by never giving up.
Today it is my privilege and honour to reveal the cover for my friend Damyanti Biswas‘s debut crime novel, You Beneath Your Skin to be published next September by Simon & Schuster, India. I’ve known Damyanti for many years now and what began as a mere exchange of emails has blossomed into a life long friendship based on mutual respect and unconditional love. I’ve been a part of the journey of this book, and now it is always going to remain a part of my blog.
So, without further ado, here’s the cover! The red and black immediately captures nuances of an atmospheric crime story, and the face visible under the title makes you wonder who she is, and what her story might be.
Here’s the back cover blurb to tell you a little bit more about the novel:
Lies. Ambition. Family.
It’s a dark, smog-choked New Delhi winter. Indian American single mother Anjali Morgan juggles her job as a psychiatrist with caring for her autistic teenage son. She is in a long-standing affair with ambitious Police Commissioner Jatin Bhatt – an irresistible attraction that could destroy both their lives.
Jatin’s home life is falling apart: his handsome and charming son is not all he appears to be, and his wife has too much on her plate to pay attention to either husband or son. But Jatin refuses to listen to anyone, not even the sister to whom he is deeply attached.
Across the city there is a crime spree: slum women found stuffed in trash bags, faces and bodies disfigured by acid. And as events spiral out of control Anjali is horrifyingly at the centre of it all.
In a sordid world of poverty, misogyny, and political corruption, Jatin must make some hard choices. But what he unearths is only the tip of the iceberg. Together with Anjali he must confront old wounds and uncover long-held secrets before it is too late.
My dearest friend Damyanti asked me to read her first novel and sent me an advance copy of you Beneath Your Skin.
It was a PDF file and being environmentally conscious I decided to read it on my computer and not print it! I thought it would take me a couple of days with a bad back and an uncomfortable chair!
I began to read and was immediately taken in by the story wanting to know more, not being able to stop. Soon I was drawn into the familiar world of slums in Delhi where I work, and all my senses were tickled as I relived the sounds and smells and mood of what has been my life for 20 years.
Being an ardent lover of suspense novels I was on edge wanting to know what happened next and the bottom line is that I finished the book in one long sitting from morning to evening, even eating in front of my screen. I just could not move away.
I loved the characters and the numerous twists in the story. I look forward to reading the final version in a book form comfortably . I recommend it to all those who love suspense novels.
Do you read crime novels? What do you think of the cover of You Beneath Your Skin? Would you like to read this book?
All proceeds to the author from You Beneath Your Skin would be divided between Project WHY, and another organisation that works for the welfare of acid attacks survivors, Chaanv Foundation. If you would like to support a good cause, while reading an absorbing book, please pre-order You Beneath Your Skin.
Tomorrow Ranjan, my significant other, celebrates his 70th birthday! We have been together for 45 years. That is more than a life time. He has stood by me like a rock and supported me in every way possible. He has given wings to all my dreams, even those that had the propensity to turn his life on its head. I could not have been who I am without his silent and loving support.
When I look back at our life together, I realise that I have made impossible demands on him and that he has always been there for me, Project Why being possibly the most challenging one. Imagine being told one day that life as you knew it is going to change drastically because your partner has decided to bring in a world that you barely knew existed within the confines of your home. Ranjan did not bat an eye lid when I told him I was setting up an organisation to help slum children and that its first office would be the guest room of our house. Now Ranjan loves the good things in life: good food and music, antic furniture and objets d’art, and an organised existence to say the least. And lo and behold one fine morning your sanctum sanctorum is suddenly invaded by people the kind you never met or even knew existed, by children running about, by strangers sharing your dining table, by cartons cramming the entrance door. Anyone would hit the roof. But not Ranjan. He simply accepted it all because he knew it made his partner happy. Unknowingly he had embraced seeing with his heart.
Twenty years is a longtime, and for twenty years Ranjan has had to live with the larger than life presence of Project Why. Even tough we eventually moved out of the house quite early, Project Why remained a permanent resident of my home. Ranjan became my sounding board in times of strife, the shoulder I could lean on when things got rough, the person I could share all my problems and angst with and he always listened patiently and gave the advise sought. His tender words of encouragement were the panacea for all ills and allowed me not to give up.
As time went by, Project Why worked its magic on him too. He came to appreciate the work we did, and enjoy the presence of the many volunteers who stayed with us, some becoming close to him too. When he was diagnosed with cancer, some even flew all the way to Delhi to be with him, some called regularly and others sent him feel good parcels. Ranjan had become part of the Project Why family.
I was deeply touched when I heard from friends that from the very early days of Project Why, Ranjan was very proud of what I did and though he did not tell me much, he shared his feelings with his friends and colleagues. I felt blessed.
I would not be wrong in saying that he has been my and Project Why’s staunchest albeit silent supporter.
Happy birthday dearest Ranjan.
Note: the picture above was taken at the Delhi Gymkhana Club, where thanks to Ranjan we could organise a lunch for all our staff members.
Remake the world
With love and happiness
Remake the world
Put your conscience in the test
Remake the world
North, south, east and west
Remake the world
Gotta prove that are the best, yeah
Looking at this picture I am reminded of Jimmy Cliff’s beautiful song Remake the World. Chanchal, Anamika and Khushi are students of our Khader centre. They are in class II and are best friends. Last week, after school the three sat on the steps of the centre lost in their own world. They were busy remaking the world! They stopped to smile and pose for a snapshot that would freeze this magical moment for eternity and then went back to business. I would give my anything to know what was going on in their little heads, what dreams they were crafting, what morrows were they conjuring. But I will never know.
Like most Project Why kids, these three come form humble homes, where life is a struggle, children’s dreams are rarely fulfilled, and girls are often low priority. Chanchal has three siblings. Her father irons clothes on the road side and her mother is a house maid. Anamika’s father is a security guard and her mother attended our sewing circle and now stitches clothes at home.She has three siblings. Khushi’s has two siblings, her father works in a private company and her mother is a housewife. Life is no bed of roses. The only space these little girls can call their own is Project Why.
As I watched this picture I realised how in a manner of speech we at Project Why were actually remaking the world for children like these. Not only were we giving them an education and making sure they finish their schooling even if it means battling with the parents as is sometimes the case with a girl child, we were also giving each child a space to dream. And that is not all, we also gave them a voice and the courage to stand for themselves if and when needed. And wherever we could, we were there to give wings to their dreams. With each dream fulfilled we would in Jimmy Cliff’s words be able to remake the world with love and happiness, one dream at a time!