A little girl was born yesterday in a big hospital in Delhi. It should be a moment of celebration and joy but the news filled me with extreme sadness as I shuddered at what life held in store for this new child of the God of Lesser beings. Here is why.
She is the granddaughter of Ram Bacchan the security guard of our women centre. Ram Bacchan’s story is a must read. A few months ago an agitated staff member came to me imploring me to convince Ram Bacchan to call his elder daughter to Delhi as she would otherwise die in the village.
I tried to calm him down to get to the bottom of the story. It seemed Ram Bacchan had an elder daughter aged about 19 who lived in the village. She had been married at 16 and had a little girl of 2. She was now pregnant and ill and her in laws did not care about her and forced her to go into the fields and work even if she had high fever. The husband was in Mumbai and totally indifferent to the situation. Needless to say the girl and her little daughter were brought to Delhi. She was in a shocking state.
She was slowly nursed back to health. Every one pitched in to help and soon the emaciated child started looking better. The husband and in laws however were not happy with the situation. They had lost a hand in the fields and could not understand the fuss. But we put our foot down and insisted that the child be born in a hospital in Delhi. So the young mother to be and her child spent the next few months in the tiny hovel that is home to this brave family and was looked after.
The child saw the light of day yesterday. It was a little girl. You can imagine the reaction of all around. There was no celebration at all. You see the birth of a second daughter is never feted even in better homes. A girl child is always thought of as a burden. The little babe still lies in the hospital unaware of what lies in front of her. And I feel totally helpless knowing what awaits her. In six weeks, as is custom, she will be shipped back to her village, an unwanted burden who will be chided and riled at every step. Her mother will have to resume being the beast of burden for her family. Her quiet pleas to secure vaccinations and medical care for her new baby will go unheard. The child will have to survive on the milk the poorly fed mother will produce and will grow into a weak and undernourished child like millions of her sisters across the land. There will be no school for and she will learn to play along with her sister till the sister is considered old enough to partake in household or field chores, then she will play alone or turn surrogate mother to the next child born.
The mother will have to bear the snide remarks of her in laws as is the case of any woman giving birth to girls. I often wonder why family planning programmes worldwide do not insist on the fact that the gender of the child is solely determined by the father. If that were the case many women would not suffer the humiliation they have to when giving birth to little girls. No one will counsel her on family planning and she will give birth to more girls till a boy does come by or she is to used and worn out to give more births. And the girls will follow the pattern of the mother and be married at a young age and become mothers before they become adults thus perpetrating a vicious circle there is no escape from. Such is the plight of millions of women across our land.
I do not know whether the God of Lesser Beings has charted out a different story for her. I find it difficult to believe as in this case even we do not have a larger role to play. Had the family been living in Delhi maybe we could have intervened. But as I said earlier I am helpless and that is why I am filled with extreme sadness.
The birth of a child should be a moment to rejoice and yet I am feeling despondent and dispirited. There is so much I would want to do but my hands are tied by social mores, illogical traditions and societal conventions and above all lack of resources. If I had my way I would gather the little girl in my arms and give her all she truly deserves. At present I can only pray to the God of Lesser Beings asking him to conjure one of his miracles. But then why is it that I feel that this time I will not be heard.
It is Republic day and all across the country there are celebrations. The project why children celebrated R Day yesterday at Okhla and the women centre. At both places I had the privilege of being the one to hoist the flag. When I accepted I did not know how emotionally intense the moment would be.
It all began at 10 am at Okhla. I reached in time and found a rickety pole with a folded flag waiting to be hoisted and a motley band of children standing at attention waiting for the ceremony to begin. Some children where bare feet, some had sandals, some shoes. Some were in their Sunday best and others in everyday wear. Some clutched a withering rose which I discovered later was meant for me. The sight of these children of India, children of all shades and hues, of different faiths and origins standing in the cold morning waiting solemnly for the flag to be hoisted was moving and disturbing. They stood in a partially reclaimed garbage dump, their heads held high, their faces serious, their port dignified, waiting to sing the National Anthem and celebrate our Constitution in the bests way possible. I must confess I began to feel very small.
The flag was hoisted and the Anthem sung. Then the saluting party joined their friends in the classroom and the celebrations began. There were patriotic songs and dances, a wonderful play in English that warmed the cockles of my heart and then a tiny little boy came forward and declared that he would recite a poem in English. I was expecting him to render some silly english rhymes and almost fell off my chair when the tiny lad began reciting Tagore’s famous poem: Where the mind is without fear. I sat spell bound ecah word resonating in my mind and making me feel proud and ashamed at the same time.
Were the mind is without fear and the head is held high Where knowledge is free Where the world has not been broken up into fragments By narrow domestic walls Where words come out from the depth of truth Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit Where the mind is led forward by thee Into ever-widening thought and action Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
The rendering was perfect. Every word clear and well enunciated and as every word was voiced my heart swelled with pride. What a long journey it had been. Seven years of patient endurance, of battles with local mafias, of not giving up and today this little school in a garbage dump had come of age. But as each word echoed in my mind I also felt how we had let down these very children and how far we were from Tagore’s dream. Knowledge was not free, truth hijacked, and perfection a distant dream. Even the tenets of our Constitution were not respected so what were we celebrating. here were a bunch of kids who had been let down in every which way, all their rights usurped. Where was the justice, equality, liberty promised to them on this very day 61 years ago. Where had we gone wrong and why. My head hung in shame. The sight of these children innocent and trusting children was a gentle reminder that all was far from well. So much needed to be done.
The women centre children displayed the same faith and trust as they hoisted their flag, performed in English and sand their patriotic songs with fervour. True there was a sense of pride in seeing what we had achieved, but at the same time came the realisation that so much more needed to be done and above all the land needed to be awoken from the deep and senseless slumber it allowed itself to sink in.
So let me country finally awake is the message I would like to send today.
Popples is back home for his winter break. Home now is Maam’ji house as per the order of the officious looking children’s court. His mom has disappeared without leaving an address.
Yesterday Popples insisted he wanted to go to the women centre that had been another home to him for a long time as he wanted to collect some of his old toys. On reaching the centre he headed straight to what use to be his room and ferreted around in search of his old cars and other toys. We retrieved some. Then he wanted us to open the small cupboard that use to have his clothes and long before his mom’s things. He ferreted some more and then looked up with a question in his eyes. Where is the spiderman pencil box, the one Mom used to keep her change? I want Mom’s box. We were all stunned. We realised that the child was simply looking for something that belonged to his mom, something he could keep with him as a memento. The box has been taken by the mom when she left the centre.
I keep sitting in silence. The moment was pregnant with emotions too complex to define: a child’s intense love for his mom, his hurt and disappointment, his zillions of unsaid questions that no one had answers for and above all our inadequacy to make it all alright. We told him gently that the box has been taken by his mom as she had kept her money in it. The child simply answered: but it had my two rupees in it!
I cracked up and had to leave the room as tears filled my eyes and threatened to flow. No matter how much you try, you can never fill the space left empty by a mom. We did try to make things work and help the mother but failed. But the little boy never forgot and never stopped loving her. His search for the forgotten box proved that beyond doubt.
The moment passed and Popples was his ebullient self again, but I was now aware of the hint of sadness that lay hidden in his beautiful eyes and threatened to spill out at any moment. I was also conscious of how much more we needed to do to try and make things better for him.
Children get hurt by us adults. Often they are unable to deal with the situation and resort to what we easily call bad behaviour and that we are quick to reprimand. That is our mistake. Actually it is simply their way of telling is that all is not well. We have to be able to understand them and make things right. We will do it for Popples, come what may!
2010 is coming to a close. It is time to cast a last glance at the year gone by, to assess its highs and lows, to reflect upon achievements and failures and ponder about resolutions that need to be made.
When I look back at 2010 the one feeling that comes to mind is one of quiet achievements. The year went by with no fuss or flurry. All centres ran like clockwork. All challenges were met with poise, all problems solved calmly. It seemed we had come of age! And it almost seemed to good to be true.
We had to close two primary centres: Sanjay Colony and Govindpuri. The former because of a sudden proliferation of new NGOs that made us almost redundant and the later because of non availability of space. In their place we opened a new primary centre across our main centre in a rented space. The new centre is now running to full capacity.
2010 also saw the coming of age of our Okhla centre. From a ramshackle space with a handful of kids, it is now a thriving semi permanent structure that has 200 children and secondary as well as computer classes. It is a matter of pride for us to see children who had joined project why in early primary classes graduate to secondary school and do us proud. And to think that many of these kids could have gone astray gives me goose bumps.
Our senior secondary kids are slowly getting used to the new examination and test pattern under the guidance of their ace teacher. And our babies are happy learning new things each day. So as they aptly sing every morning: All is well…. at pwhy!
In April 2010, three little children packed up their bags and joined our gang of five at the boarding school. So now eight pwhy kids are busy changing their morrows and believe you me they are all top of their respective classes. Way to go!
At the women centre all is well too! The centre runs to perfection; the proof: I have heard no complaints! What more should one ask! Over 300 children and 60 women execute a well orchestrated ballet and partake in their set activities in spite of the shortage of space. Kudos to the team!
Our Focus on Quality programme took off with a bang in April 2010 in two centre: Okhla and the women centre. Daily spoken English classes and awareness programmes. The result is for all to see: the children now s-p-e-a-k English even if it is halting and we even performed on stage in English! Plastic bags have almost disappeared. Both centres even have small patches of greenery and the women centre a small kitchen garden. At the women centre composting is on in a big way and all water is recycled and Saturday is hand washing day!
An eventful year isn’t it? But there is more. Ruby a young girl who had joined pwhy in class IV is now a secondary teacher at our Okhla centre and a small survey of the whereabouts of our alumni revealed that many of them were now gainfully employed in good jobs and earning handsome salaries. Many had thus broken the cycle of poverty in which they were born. Were we justified in giving ourselves a pat on our backs. Maybe not as there was so much more to do.
In 2010 we got 100 children admitted to mainstream school in consonance with our initial mission: arrest drop out rates! This is always something that fills us with great joy and pride. So all in all on the academic front we did not fare too badly.
The special kids were also spot on! As always they filled the space with their laughter and abundant energy reminding us that life is worth living no matter what the challenge be. Manu, Champa and Anjali were impeccable roomies who are slowly mastering the art of living together and complementing each other and this winter they were joined by Radha whose brittle bones could not have withstood the cold and dampness of a slum tenement. This brought to light once again the need of seeding planet why that would give such children a safe and enabling home.
Yes Planet Why is still the big dream we seek, the one that will ensure that pwhy survives the test of time. 2010 was a year where plans were refined, costings reworked, feasibility studies undertaken and new proposals drafted. We are now ready to launch our donation drive and have set 2011 to do just that. We hope that the God of Lesser beings will be on our side.
Yes, we have come of age. Now it is imperative to think of the future and consolidate what we have achieved. That is the challenge that awaits us in 2011!
India First is the campaign launched by a leading TV channel in the wake of the judgement being pronounced later today on what is known as the oldest property dispute in Independent India. Political parries are urging all to remain calm and young India is exhorting us to look forward and at the real problems that plague our land. I guess all this because the memories of December 1992 are still fresh in many minds. No one is willing to take any chances: schools have been shut incertain states, demonstrations banned, leave of police personnel cancelled and the country is on tenterhooks.
So what is all this about.
There are many ways of looking at the Ram Janam Bhoomi/Babri Masjid issue. I will take the most candid one and borrow the title of an earlier blog I wrote: it is all about ladoos, cake and sewaiyans! In December 2009, when a volunteer decided to celebrate Xmas in our newly opened women centre where the children were predominantly Muslims and Hindus, I had to explain what Xmas was, I did so by telling them that it was a festival where you ate cake and not ladoos or sewaiyans and somehow the children understood. I could have also sung them the Usha Uthup song where she talks of all festivals as being days when you wear new clothes, visit friends and relatives and eat nice food be it Xmas, Eid or Diwali. That is how simple it actually is. You can either see temple or mosques, or if you do with your heart see a house of God.
But sadly religion has been used by power hungry people to justify the worst aberrations possible like the one that happened in December 1992 when a house of one God was brought down in the name of another. On that December day I was ashamed of my religion as I am each time an aberration is committed in the name of religion. I wrote an earlier blog on this and am reproducing some of it below.
I am a Hindu by birth and by choice. I was born to profoundly Hindu parents but grew up in lands of diverse faiths. My parents never imposed their views or beliefs. At home Hindu festivals were celebrated with fervour and some ritualism and the many questions I asked at different moments of my life were answered candidly and without fuss. It is much later in life that I discovered that my mother was not really bent on ritualism but it was her way of introducing me to my faith. I grew up with my set of questions and doubts and each one got cleared with simple honesty.
When I asked one day whether I could go to church and partake of communion as all my school friends did ( I was in a convent school) my parents simply answered that I could if no one had any objection. I guess I had expected a vehement refusal and was a little perplexed by their reaction. I did go to church often and even found a humane priest who allowed me to taste the holy wafer. Some years later while in an Islamic country I wanted to fast in the holy month of Ramadan and once again I got the warm approval of my parents. I celebrated the Sabbath with my Jewish pals too and with every such occurrence my belief got strengthened as I was proud of belonging to a religion that did not close any door in my face but on the other hand allowed me to embrace all faiths. I was proud to be a Hindu.The tales my parents told me only went to reinforce my faith. I was delighted by the pranks of Lord Krishna and by the touching tales of Ram when he ate the fruits proffered by Sabri or rode in Kevat’s boat. I never felt the need to question the sagacity and humanness of the religion I was born in. Till the fateful day in 2002.
Today as India’s stands waiting for a court decision that will decide which faith a particular piece of land belongs to and hoping against hope that no violence will ensue, my thoughts go back to that fateful day when my headache vanished thanks to the prayer of a little boy to a faceless and nameless God who listens to those who pray with their heart. He is the one I now pray to and hope that once again he will hear.
Brace your self.. it will be a rough ride. Life in Delhi till the ides of October will not quite be the same and we need to prepare for it. An article in today’s paper entitled Life will not be the same from Oct 3 spells out some of the trials and tribulations we the common citizens will face: if you plan to enter the city from one of the neighbouring states then be prepared to wait at the entry points and then if by any chance you need to travel on the hallowed routes where CWG guests will tread then be prepared for huge traffic snarls. You see you are only allowed to ply on half the road. In many cases there are only 2 lanes so you see what I mean. And should you dare venture on the reserved lane be prepared to pay a 2 K Rs fine! If you ride a bus then beware there will be 5000 less available to the likes of us. You can imagine what that means. The 3rd and 14th will be public holidays: they are the opening and closing day of the Games but don’t think you can spend them shopping: most shops will be closed. Schools and colleges will be closed so better think of ways to entertain your kids at home. Vegetable vendors, hawkers, tea stalls, cobblers, press wallahs et al will not be allowed to trade: do remember this!
This is what the article says but now let us elaborate a little. A friend dropped by this morning. She told me that a few of days back the couple who worked for her asked her for 400 rs. This was the money needed to get a Commonwealth permit, whatever that means, that would allow them to stay on during the Games. Two days later their basti – cluster of shanks- was raised to the ground and they were asked to return to their village. The 400 s bribe was of course lost. They had no option as they had nowhere to stay. My friend of course is busy washing clothes and dishes, and mopping her home notwithstanding her arthritic knees! Anyway I guess this plight will befall on many!
But that is not where it ends. I had decided long back that we would remain open during the Games! I did not see why our kids should be deprived of their time at the centre. Anyway with schools closed they would be running on the streets. Moreover we were not, or so I thought, on any of the hallowed roads. But to my horror I realised that one of the main roads we use to fetch the kids was a hallowed one. It was the road on which the Lohar camp was located and was the access to the shooting range. Anyway we were prepared for the worst and were working out alternatives. A few days back some parents from the women centre came to us and told us that they were moving back to the village for a month as with all the new stipulations they would not get any work and hence would not be able to earn and so would not be able to pay their rents. They did not even know if they would come back! I was speechless. That meant that some of our children would be denied education just because of the Games! This was worse than I had thought. But what could we do. Most of our parents are daily wage workers, or have tea stalls, vegetable carts etc. With no money how would they survive? The best option was to give up their rented homes and move back to the village. And if they did come back, there was no guarantee they would find a room to rent in the same location. That would mean that their kids would not come back to pwhy!
There was more. I just learnt that the vegetable wholesale market located close to us would be closed for the 15 days of the Games. This is where we buy our vegetables for home and for our foster care and different centres. Now that meant we would have to stock up and though it is tiresome, it is still possible. But this is only a tiny side of the problem. Read on. The wholesale market or subzimandias it is called, is where all the local vegetable vendors go every morning to buy what they then sell either on a cart or on the smaller markets.The closing of the mandi simply means that they will be unable to do so. This translates into the simple fact that there will be no vegetables available to those who cannot afford to hoard. This also means that the small vendors will be unable to earn anything. Moreover the mandi gives work to hordes of daily wagers who will go hungry or have to leave town. What a clever way to ensure that the poor leave the city, remember they are those who spoil the image!
Many of the poor, or those I call small entrepreneurs, be they the vegetable vendors, the tea stall owners, the corner samosa man etc will not be able to trade as either they would have been forcibly moved or they would not be able to access their raw material. I wonder what they will do. I guess go back to their villages or simply tighten their belt till it hurts and wait patiently and with the resilience only the poor have.
Many of the rich are also leaving the city for greener pastures. Others like us will simply try and survive till the ides of October. So help us God!