Anou’s blog Miracles are waiting to happen

Anou’s blog
Miracles are waiting to happen

In April 2022 I turn 70. A milestone in any life. A time when you feel the need to pause and look back at the years gone by. A time to look at your life with utmost honesty: the ups and downs, the successes and failures, the joy and sadness. Seven decades is a long time and I do not intend to subject you to life long reminiscences. Today I just intend to look back at the last two decades.

2000 is a watershed moment in my life as that is when Project Why began its work on the field. Project Why is undoubtedly the sum of my existence as I poured into it all that I had learnt and experienced over half a century as well as my hope and dreams: be it the lessons learnt at my parents’ knee, the joy of becoming a parent, the challenges faced at the workplace, the anger felt at all injustice, the desire to change things and so much more.

Project Why became the new challenge I embraced in my 50thyear. As my thoughts travel back  I remember the little street and tiny mud house where it all began. I remember how Manu’s plight seared my soul and compelled me to find the first answer to that very resounding why. That was the beginning of an exhilarating journey where the sky was the limit. From a mere 20 we became 40 then 100 and reached 1000 in no time.  We opened new centres in different locations, each to answer yet another why. Our enthusiasm was almost hubristic but somehow the Universe helped us in extraordinary ways bringing us support from the world over.

I look back at the wonderful family we became: the children, the teachers but also a plethora of people from many lands who came and volunteered with us and left an indelible mark in our hearts. Some even came back many times!  Very precious legacy.

But it was not just a fairy tale. Project Why brought to the fore the many social inequities, the injustices and the ever growing gap between the privileged and underprivileged. This compelled me to raise my voice. This is how I began to blog. The attitude of the powers that be was nothing short of incomprehensible leading to ugly spats. But we overcame all.

This walk down memory lane is meant to be honest and I would be failing if I did not look at the failures, the biggest one being our inability to seed a proper sustainability option. It is not that we did not try. Our biggest attempt was Planet Why. Alas we were unable to raise the funds needed. If I look back with brutal honesty one would have to admit that the ‘success’ of our hand to mouth existence clouded our ability to see the writing one the wall. What we resorted to was crisis management. Not the best way to go.

Once again we face a crisis. True we will need to go into crisis management mode, but it is time we looked beyond. It is time to build our sustainability model. That is what I pledge to do as Project Why deserves to live beyond me.

So much for reminiscences. Time to look at the year gone by. In a nutshell 2021 was the year we seeded Project Why 2.0. It took a while as the situation on the ground kept changing. Schools barely opened and online teaching was here to stay. However the past year had taken its toll on the education of children from underprivileged homes and it became imperative for us to work a hybrid model that would address the situation. Project Why 2.0 aimed at bringing back children to school. That is what we are in the process of doing.

It was not an easy year. I end it with abundant gratitude to my team, the Board, and our supporters and funders who stayed with us in these harrowing times. Without them Project Why would not be.

I do not know what 2022 will bring us. I just know miracles are waiting to happen.

With love








Mataji – 7-11-2021 – The end of an era

Mataji – 7-11-2021 – The end of an era

Mataji breathed her last yesterday evening.

I met her for the first time in May 2000 when I had gone to her in the throes of the deep grief I had sunk in after the untimely death of both my parents. For years I had just lpcked myself up and lost the key. No doctor, or soothsayer had been able to help me get out of the hole I had sunk in. It was the young woman who came to do my nails that hesitantly told me about her as she feared I would not accept to go to a slum as that is where Mataji reigned. But my grief was so raw that I was willing to go every and anywhere I could find solace.

She lived in a temple, where Gods and humans lived side by side in perfect harmony. The tiny abode was a cornucopia of eclectic things that the senses took time to get used to, but notwithstanding the initial shock, it was the feeling of peace and love that embraced you as you stepped in the tiny door. I found myself going day after day to that haven of peace. Slowly I shared my grief and the loss I felt and she gently just kept telling me that it would all be OK. All I needed to do was to transform the negative energies I had let myself sink in to something that would make my parents proud.

I did not know how but as I spent time with her, the answer came. To all of you who have followed my journey the answer was Project Why!

It is Mataji who found us the first tiny slum tenement that we would buy and begin our work in. It is in a corner of her home that we set up our first office and it is with her blessings that became who we are today. She helped us weather every storm and fought with the community when detractors raised their ugly heads.

For almost two decades my day would begin with a stop at her temple and a lovely cup of tea shared with her. It was the highlight of my day. But with the pandemic and then my being diagnosed with multiple myeloma that lovely ritual stopped.

For the last year or so I hardly met her. With my immunity being at its nadir I gad to remain locked up in my home and got news of her ailing health from Shamika or Rani. Even today I will not be able to pay my respects. But Mataji and I have her heart connect and I know she knew that she was always in my heart.

For Project Why its is the end of an era. The only way we can honour Mataji is by continuing our work with renewed commitment with the hope that she continues showering our blessings on us.

I have lost a mentor, a guide, a friend….

May she rest in heavenly peace.


Anou’s blog Bye bye chemo brain

Anou’s blog
Bye bye chemo brain

I has been months since I have not written a word. It is not that I did not want to write. I just could not. Each time I sat at my computer hoping to write something, my brain would go mushy. Thoughts would vanish or become incomprehensible and the ensuing frustration would make me shut my computer in anger. I had heard of ‘chemo brain’ but never knew that it would be so debilitating. My chemotherapy stopped way way back in October 2020,  but the side effects are still here with me the biggest one being this d**** chemo brain!

But today, the head seemed lighter and the urge to write was strong. So here I am trying to string one word after the other in the hope that I come up with something coherent. I will just let my thoughts flow and try and remember the past few months.

The biggest joy that came into my life was little Inaya. She landed in my lap on a cold January morn looking at the me with big eyes filled with trust and hope. She was 7 months old. Inaya is my granddaughter, Shamika’s adopted child. A real gift from God! And as I looked into her eyes I too was filled with hope: hope that all will be well, that the clouds would lift, that I would heal from my terrible ailment, that Project Why would be safe for years to come. In short that all my dreams would come true.

Inaya brought with her the strong belief that nothing is impossible. You just have to hold on like she did for 7 long months in an orphanage waiting for someone to rescue her. What I learnt from that is that no matter how bleak things get, there is light at the end of all tunnels.

Inaya is 15 months now and has set the mood for our household. She is a feisty little person who has each one of us dancing to her tune. There is no room for sadness; only laughter and joy.

Since she has come my health has improved and I am now feeling well. I am out of the stranglehold of conventional treatments – chemo etc..- and into alternative therapies. My blood counts are holding and the myeloma seems to be in check. I hope I can sail this course steadily.

Project Why took a set back and is in the process of reinventing itself. Our teachers have met all challenges head on and fine-tuned their online teaching approach. Due to the pandemic we have lost some children but have now open our doors to new entrants as the present online teaching enables us to do so. But online teaching is not sufficient for underprivileged children and hence we have decided to call students in tiny groups – maximum of 4 at a time – to clear their doubts and help them in this critical situation.

The sad reality is that the pandemic has hit education at all levels, but more so education for the less privileged. We need to come up with a flexible approach with on line and face to face teaching. We are in the process of doing just that.

Our staunch supporters have stood by us and hence we were able to remunerate all our staff even during the pandemic but our secure funding meets about 60% of our needs so we still need to find new avenues to raise the shortfall. We are trying to approach institutions and corporates. Fingers crossed!

At this juncture we do not know what the future holds. Are we going to see more lockdowns and new deadly waves? Are schools going to reopen soon? Will life ever go back to what it was? To the last question the answer seems to be no! We are going to have to come up with a new normal where masks and social distancing will be par to the course. We just need to accept the new normal and carry on.

The fact that I could write this blog is yet another miracle. Has the time come to say Bye Bye chemo brain! I certainly hope so. But I will take it one day at a time and let Inaya lead the dance.



Anou’s blog  Hope in our hearts

Anou’s blog
Hope in our hearts

Once again it is the time of the year when I sit and look back at the months gone by and share with you plans for the future. Last year when I penned my dreams for 2020 nothing could have prepared me for what we would encounter. I thought the Project Why ship would cruise on as usual and that our main concern would once again be our search for sustainability. We had some plans in our head. Our Adopt a Teacher initiative had been well received and we were looking at fine tuning and strengthening it. We were also hoping to widen our donor base and looking for new ways to do so. Little did we know that a small invisible virus would turn the planet on its head. Come March and we were all taken hostage by Covid 19! As India went into complete lockdown, Project Why shut all its doors. An eerie silence took over our lives, and the end of the dark tunnel was nowhere in sight.

We watched silently things unfold. The plight of the migrant labour was terrifying as they lost their livelihood and homes and many began a long walk to their homes of origin. For those who stayed back, hunger loomed large. We could not remain mute. We had to do something.

The need of the hour was ‘food’! The district administration was urging people to join the effort of feeding those in need. We reached out to our donors and were overwhelmed by the positive response we got. The Savitri Foundation UK accepted to sponsor 1000 meals a day for almost two moths. The 7 trustees of Project Why UK took on the ‘I will walk 500 miles’ challenge and raised a substantial amount that helped distribute dry rations to families in need. Many individual donors reached out to support this effort.

From April 2020 to end May 2020 we were engaged in food distribution. I am deeply grateful and proud of the Project Why staff who did not think twice before accepting to lead this programme. PPE kits were provided to them, and they braved the scorching heat day after day to fulfil the mission we had set for ourselves. Kudos to all of them!

Nobody would have expected what would befall on us in June. A nagging back pain that refused to go away would lead to my being diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I must admit that upon receiving the news I was devastated. The excruciating pain and the stigma attached to multiple myeloma left me rudderless and at a complete loss. It would take weeks for me to fathom and accept what had happened. It was the overwhelming support from my family, from my project why family and from friends the world over that would enable me to regain control of my life.

The first thing that was on my mind was the future of Project Why. I convened a virtual meeting of the Board and was again deeply touched by how everyone extended their support and pledged to ensure the safety of Project Why. I stepped back from the chair, and Meenal Madhukar accepted to steer Project Why while I regained my health.

I began treatment. Chemotherapy and a host of alternative options saw me regain health and enter remission.Today I am pain free but still need to heal.

Project Why entered its Cover 19 avatar. We soon realised that schools would not reopen and that we needed to find new ways of reaching out to the children. The creche and special needs class were temporarily closed. The teachers began online classes for the older children with limited means. Many chidden did not have access to smart phones and net connections so the teachers prepared work sheets and created WhatsApp groups. They tailored classes to the needs of the students. Some teachers even took late evening classes as some children could only have access to phones after the parents came home from work. Once again the Project Why team proved its mettle and rose to the occasion. Our aim was to ensure that we reach every child possible. Teachers went to children’s home and took classes for them. Sadly some families left Delhi in the May exodus to never return. Older children were put to work by their parents. It was our endeavour to try and have them join classes again.

By the end of the year a steady pattern of online classes had emerged. We also decided to call the weaker children to the centre in small groups and take classes whilst respecting all Covid SOPs. It looks like this will be the model for the coming year too. Project Why has to reinvent itself. That is what awaits us for 2021!

We had to suspend all vocational and skilling activities. However the ladies of the vocational unit got busy making masks which were sold on the market. We even sent masks to France ad the UK.

Funding was erratic. Some of our sponsors continued to help us as usual but some scaled down their donations. We ran 4 online campaigns and they were very successful.

The end of the year brought some cheer as we got some new contacts we hope will bear fruit. On December 20th 2020 we organised a Facebook Live fund raiser. Ranjan, my better half, played a medley of Beatles song and many supporters joined from different parts fo the world. This concert opened new funding avenues. We enter the new year with hopes in our heart.

I end this difficult year with abundant gratitude. Gratitude to the team, the Board, the sponsors and supporters who stayed by us in these difficult times. I do not know what awaits us in 2021. I just know that miracles are waiting to happen.

Anou’s blog  From Delhi with love

Anou’s blog
From Delhi with love

Many of you maybe wondering where my blog and I have disappeared for the past few weeks. Yes, we did go AWOL but this is because I got diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. Suddenly the world as I knew it changed forever. It was a double whammy with Covid having taken centerstage. I shared the news on Facebook and I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love that came my way from the four corners of the world. It gave me the will to fight and beat the beast. My life partner of more than four decades and my family took matters in their hand and soon we had a roadmap to follow.

Today I have had two chemos and have 12 more to go. Then the situation will be assessed. It is a long run.

The pain at times is excruciating. At times my brain feels muddled and mushy. I have been away from my computer for all these days. It is only today that I mustered the courage to come and sit at the computer and write a few words to all of you from Delhi with love.


Anou’s blog  Time to review the way we were

Anou’s blog
Time to review the way we were

For the past weeks we have been trying to ‘imagine’ what Project Why would look like post Covid 19. If and when schools ‘reopen’ it is likely to be without children or at a later stage with children sitting six feet apart, their faces masked and their eyes brimming with questions that may remain unanswered. A dystopian morrow awaits us all. Children from privileged homes will ‘return’ to school virtual or real. But this might not be the case of children from poorer homes. A large number of migrants have taken the long road home and they may or may not return. Many had children attending government schools. From past experience we know that often girls above a certain age are left in the village as they are likely to be wedded. I wonder how many girls will see their eduction come to a halt.

At present schools are resorting to ‘online’ teaching. Not an ideal situation. Eyes glued to a screen for long hours cannot be good for any child and the absence of your classmates and the energies that emanate from a regular classroom will ultimately take its toll on the mental well being of all children. School is not just about the subject taught but it is also about all the life lessons you learn along the way. Let us not forget that one of the four pillars of education according to Jacques Delors was: learning to live together. This will be scarified at the alter of Covid 19.

But let us get back to Project Why post Covid 19. I am confident that our teachers will be able to adapt to online teaching but I also know that most of our children do not have access to smartphones and Internet and have hardly any space in their overcrowded tenements. Squinting over a tiny poor quality screen will do more harm than good. Moreover parents will not be willing to pay for Internet access. And if there are more than one school going child in a family, it will be impossible for all of them to learn.

At present our 5 boarding school children are following online classes but with innumerable problems: from poor connectivity to the father needing the phone, to the smaller sibling wanting to see her favourite cartoon, it is nothing short of a nightmare. My heart goes out to them as 4 of them have Board exams in 2021.

If and when we are allowed to open Project Why we will have to find a way of supporting our children. If children are not allowed to come then it will have to be online and perhaps it is time to start exploring ways of acquiring tablets or phones for those who do not have any and also raising funds to pay for internet access. Time to review the way we were. All suggestions are welcome.

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