One of the greatest lessons I have learnt during the last two decades is that of survival with dignity and a smile. It has been not only a great eye opener but also taught me to review my own life in a whole new perspective. The art of survival with dignity lies in the ability to live in the now and feel abundant at all times. Over the years I have seen this many times in the generosity and kindness of those who have practically nothing but give with abandon and love. My respect for all hose I work with has grown in leaps and bounds.
The art of surviving with dignity and a smile rests in the ability to look for positives in the times of adversity. We were all privy to this last week when the Yamuna plains got flooded and all the people living on the banks of the river moved to higher grounds. This was the case with all the families of the children of our Yamuna centre. Though the water did not quite reach the centre, we closed it for a couple of days.
The floodplain was filled with water and all the vegetables growing on it were destroyed and hence the very livelihood of these families. But when you live hand to mouth, you cannot waste time on past ad future, you have to think in the now and so as soon as the water receded to waist height, children jumped in to catch fish! Some would be sold and the remaining would provide the next meal.
It is this spirit that I salute each and every time I encounter it, be it in the cup of tea and the flatbread shared offered by a gypsy family who does not know whether it will have a rood on its head the nest day orin the smile of the young boy looking to catch fish after the floods.
Three little girls aged 2, 4 and 8 died of hunger in India’s capital city! Their autopsies revealed that there was no trace of food in their bodies and that they had most probably not eaten anything for at least 8 days. The media is abuzz with the news. The political blame game is on. I wonder what will transpire. If one is to go by precedent then I guess nothing! Malnutrition deaths have been happening every day for years. The official figure is 5000. Yes you read right: 5000 children under the age of 5 die every day of malnutrition related diseases. 5000! That is 200 every hour; 3 every minute.
I have been writing about this terrifying statistic for years now, but somehow it has never seem to elicit the anger and outrage one would have expected. I presume it was because they were just remote numbers, far away from our reality. But Mansi, Shikha and Parul died in our very own city, a city where we throw food with impunity; a city where garbage cans are replete with perfectly edible fare; where food is thrown with alacrity at parties and religious festivals; a city where neighbours remain aloof; a city that seems to have lost its heart forever.
Will the deaths of these little girls go beyond the political slugfest and get us to open our eyes and maybe our hearts. There are some lone individuals and some organisations that feed the poor with love and compassion, but they are far and few.
No one should die of starvation in any self respecting society, let alone a child. Even one child is one too many!
Many countries run community soup kitchens. I guess we could do the same. It is not impossible. It just needs the will to do so. The local temple or community centre could provide the space and a handful of grocery from every home would be enough to get things on the road.
The little girls were migrants from Bengal whose father had to come to Delhi looking for work. There are many such families who come to the big city and live a hand to mouth existence. They earn daily wages, have no savings and no access to any social welfare programmes as they do not have the required papers. Losing a day’s wage can push them to the brink.
Delhi is ‘home’ to thousands of homeless people, many of them migrants. Many find work and manage to survive, some like the family of the little girls fall of the net.
It is time we a individuals, as citizens, as civil society became aware of this stark reality and opened our hearts and reached out with compassion and love.
Is this asking too much!
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A recent article on the quality of persons correcting CBSE class XII papers sent my blood running cold. One must remember that marks are of the essence and that careers depend on the marks you get. A high score guarantees you a place in Delhi University a place affordable to project why parents but it is quasi impossible for our kids to get the coveted 95+%! Not being able to afford private universities they are relegated to evening colleges, correspondence courses and open universities.
One would have hoped that the marks given are honest and deserved but a sentence in the aforesaid article is enough to make one shudder: Examiners are picked by the CBSE, from schools, but many, especially those who teach in government schools, seem to be unequipped to grade. Some students don’t end up getting the marks they deserve, while the rote learners do well. This explains how a humanities student can get a perfect store in subjects like english or psychology. Just learn the book by heart and voilà you top the batch.
My hear goes out to the child who spends time understanding the subject and writing the answer in her own words. She does not stand a chance and yet she is the one who deserves a place in the hallowed portals of a good affordable university.
The article has other aberrations. It just makes me angry and sad at the same time.
Will things ever change?
“While millions suffer from hunger and ignorance, I hold every person a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the slightest attention to them” Swami Vivekananda.
This quote was part of a play that Utpal’s school put up for the Republic Day Celebrations. It reiterated what I have alway held: that each one of us are responsible for the poverty and misery around us.
The same evening I was heading to an eatery when the car stopped at a red light. It was one of the coldest days of the season. A little child in a tattered shirt and shorts, barefoot was weaving in between the cars in the hope that someone would roll down his window and drop a coin in the proffered palm. When the light turned green the child would go and sit on the divider and wait for the light to turn red again
Traitor was the word that came to mind. The traitor of the quote I had heard in the morning. Each one of us that ‘did not pay the slightest attention’ to the child was indeed a traitor.
And the same goes for the collective silence that occurs each time we of someone dying of hunger, a child being raped and so on. We have become inured. Nothing moves us. At best we raise our brows in horror for the time it takes the read the news item. An 8 month baby was raped; will it outrage us as it should
Some of us do react and feel the collective shame. Some of us move out of our comfort zones to do something, brushing aside the many ‘how can you change anything and make a difference!’ I heard that too almost two decades ago when I decided to do something as the plight of the child that knocked at the window of my car actually managed to knock at my heart. Many of you may not know that the first programme of Project Why was to urge people to distribute biscuits and not money each time a child knocked at their car window. Sadly the programme did not take off. I had then believed naively that time was not right and things would change but twenty years down the line the number of children begging seems to have increased.
My promise to myself to one day do something for beggar children could only be redeemed last year when we opened our Kalka Mandir programme. The children in this picture are all ‘beggars’ or children of beggars. They come and study with the same eagerness as our other children and I hope that some of them will continue and maybe break away from the horror of begging. Makes me feel a little less of a ‘traitor’!
I have been screaming hoarse for the past 18 years that education needs to be reinvented in India if we aspire to become a leading nation in the future and if we want our youth to find employment. Sadly no political dispensation has made education reforms a part of their manifestos and so our children continue to follow a system where only marks are important and rote learning is the best tool to attain high grades.
Recently I have had many complaints about Utpal from his school. They mainly center upon his lack of seriousness in his studies. At the same time his teachers do not doubt his intelligence and even laud his problem solving and creative abilities. The child is just not interested in rote learning. He would rather be given a challenge to overcome.
This year ACER chose to survey secondary students in rural areas. The results are depressing to say the least. The article makes interesting reading. 50% of students interviewed could not solve a simple math problem. As for their general knowledge let me share the quote of one of the surveyors: “We were shocked when we spoke to some of the children. Asked to name the capital of India, one of them said Pakistan while another mentioned China. These were Class 12 students who could not even mark their states on a map of India,”
So what is this education we are doling out to children year after year and what is it meant to achieve. It is a relic of the education the British had conceived and aimed at making ‘babus’ or low rank officials that would obey and never ask any question. 70 years down the line this does not work!
I stumbled upon an article from the world economic forum entitled What are the 21st-century skills every student needs? Sixteen skills have been identifies.
I do not think any of these are desired let alone taught in our system. In 2020 the three most important skills are : complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity.
Our education system does not impart any of these. Children are busy learning by rote to regurgitate at the exam to get high marks and then forget. I cannot forget a young girl who has topped her class XII some years back saying proudly on national TV that she has mugged up every book by heart.
Kids like Utpal who love problem solving and are creative will not get high percentiles and yet they are best suited to the new demands of the employment market of tomorrow.
It is time to thrash the education system which is a legacy of colonial times and replace it by a new education policy in line with the future.
Is anyone listening?