There is a new kid on the block! Kiran has joined the Project Why team as English teacher. Her first assignment: Okhla! I could not resist going to see her on the second day of her teaching and was amazed to see how comfortable she was. Was this the tiny baby I had held in my arms when she was 2 days old and Project Why was in its infancy? We did not have digital cameras then so I have no pictures of the early years. Just memories. The earliest picture I could ferret out of the two of us is the one below and next to it one that was clicked yesterday. We have come a long way Kiran and I.
Kiran just completed her class XII. Sadly she could not get the outrageous percentile needed for admission in Delhi University and none of us can afford the fees of a private university. So she decided to do her English Honours from the Open University and join Project Why as an English teacher as her English is impeccable. Kiran had volunteered at the Yamuna centre while waiting for her results and everyone has been impressed by her maturity and commitment.
Yesterday seeing her in class I knew we had all made the right decision. She is to the manor born. In spite of her young age she commanded respect from her students and had their undivided attention. I was really impressed. I know that this experience will go a long way in crafting her morrows.
I felt very emotional and even teared up. It was as if we had come full circle. Here was a girl born virtually when Project Why began, teaching secondary children English. I wonder what life would have been for her had Project Why not existed. It is in moments like these that I feel very proud and blessed. I remember telling a detractor when it all began that if I changed just one life it would all be worth it and here I was witnessing yet another changed life. I have stopped counting.
Kiran is a a real ray of sunshine and will shine wherever she goes. Wise beyond her years, she is someone I love and admire. That she is born on the same day as Kamala my mother makes our bond even deeper. God bless her.
We are the World Blogfest (WATWB) is about positive stories no matter where they come from. It is about remembering that there is good around you, all you need to do is look with your heart. Today I would like to invite you to a little beauty parlour located in the hustle and bustle and dusty lanes of Madanpur Khadar, where for a few hours a day a bunch of women from deprived homes come together in the hope of changing their lives.
For the past 10 years now in a tiny corner of the Project Why Khadar is a small room that houses a minuscule beauty parlour where scores of women come everyday to learn the art of becoming a beautician. Most of them come from very traditional homes in the hope that learning this skill will help them break barriers and gain financial independence. Every year over 120 women get their diplomas and go on to take their first step in a new world. Most become small entrepreneurs and work from their homes or from their client’s homes, some take a bolder step and open a small parlour of their own.
The tiny parlour is beautifully decorated in bright colours with pictures on the wall and in spite of the paucity of space it has its beautician chair, its massage table and even its hair spa steamer. Every day 4 batches of ladies come to this haven of beauty and learn the intricacies of beauty therapy. They are taught by Shanta, a feisty and brave woman who did not let a terrible tragedy alter the course of her life. Last year Shanta lost her husband in tragic circumstances but came back to teaching as soon as she could. She knew that her job was the only way to secure the future of her children. A befitting example for her students!
The ladies are taught all the skills required to become a full fledged beautician: from simple manicure and pedicures, to threading and waxing; from hair cutting to complex hair styling; from facials to bridal make up, from henna application to hair colouring, from head massage to hair spa, everything you can imagine is taught in that tiny space. What makes this unique parlour so special is the joyful atmosphere that prevails at all times. You can always hear laughter and giggles from behind the closed door as this is a women-only space.
For these women who often live lonely lives in their patriarchal homes, coming to class is also a social event as they can share their problems and stories with other women and be heard and even helped. It is undoubtedly the highlight of their day.
I feel so grateful and blessed when I see these women as they take charge of their lives. I feel immense pride in having been able to help them do so.
If you are in Delhi, please come and visit the ladies of the Project Why beauty parlour. It will warm the cockles of your heart.
The flood waters have receded. Luckily they did not enter the Yamuna centre. The incredible Yamuna team is now busy executing Plan B whereby they will open the centre and resume classes but with the minimum needed as rains can still come and bring floods with them. They have decided not to bring all that was removed to a safer place as yet. They will simply get the bare essentials that will allow them to teach the children and serve the daily lunch. Project Why’s Yamuna centre is back on track!
Last week the waters came to the very edge of the centre and we all feared that they would enter it. Mercifully that did not happen. But for a few days every one was on edge. Everyone had moved to the minuscule tents erected by the government on the embankment to shelter the displaced families. The teachers came every morning and braved all odds to stay with the children and occupy them as best they could. In one tent a teacher sat with the small children playing games, in another the older students studied so as not to loose a day. Lunch was given to the children every day and even to some of the families who were unable to cook. Not one day were the children left alone. Surendra, Anjali, Sabrun and Amit and of course Dharmendra stood by them in their hour of strife.
I feel so proud of my teachers who have always risen to the occasion whatever the challenge thrown at them. They have walked the extra mile and come up with ways to meet the challenges head on. Their dedication is laudable. They have proved time and again that they are worthy of the trust reposed in them.
When I look back at the years gone by I realise that it is the teachers who are the corner stone of Project Why and essential to its very existence. Without them we could not exist and with them we do not need much to exist. They have taught with barely any resource on roadsides and under trees, armed with their determination and love of teaching. I feel blessed to have such a dedicated team. They have braved the elements, faced the wrath of the politicians, the anger of the community and even bulldozers but have always emerged stronger. They have found solutions out of the box and given me the strength and courage to continue. Without them there would be no Project Why.
To each one of them Chapeau Bas!
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.