Friday, October 20, 2006

Aarey evictions - Erasing the final green faces of the city

Aarey Dairy, started on March 3rd, 1951, in the Aarey Milk colony by the Maharashtra government, was once the biggest dairy in the whole of Asia. The area, known as the Aarey Milk colony consists of many tribals who have been living in the lands for centuries together - "much before there was a concept called Aarey", as a resident says. Spread over 3200 acres, the colony has 27 adivasi padas (settlements) and there are around 20,000 tribals living in these lush green lands. It is surprising how the city has been gradually upgrading around them, but these lands have been left virgin - untouched by the (in)famous builders of the city. A walk (or more appropraitely a jog) on the stretch between 'Chota Kashmir' and 'Picnic Point' in Goregaon East during the monsoons will leave one wondering how the state managed to maintain such a tract of beautiful forest land in the midst of so much concrete. Many a time have I, when comparing cities of India, mentioned that in no major city of the country will you find such a beautiful forest ensconced nicely where people could breathe fresh air, joggers could jog in natural surroundings, where tribals still maintained their identities and didnt have to flee the city because the place which they had dwelled in for centuries, suddenly decided to eject them and push them to some far off suburb.

But it seems I cannot put forth this point for very long. The Maharashtra government is wilting under the pressures of the builders and has decided to rehabilitate these tribals to free these lucrative lands. Plans are afoot to dereserve land in the region and this is being done under intense secrecy, sans public participation in looking for viable alternatives. Considering that the lives of so many people are firmly rooted in these soils, such a step is quite a major one and it ought to have been told to the peoples of the state, at least to the tribals themselves. How dreadful it would be if suddenly one day these people find ugly yellow bulldozers razing down their mud huts and the Chief minister telling them that its ok and that they would be given a concrete flat, where they can be pooped up like chickens?

I am personally involved in the education of children from 'Gaudevi pada' near the Picnic spot. I have considerable knowledge of the lifestyles of these people. The freedom with which they live is something which we city dwellers can only dream of. They live in mud huts built in vast tracts of land and though they dont have electricity (because the powers concerned are not willing to sanction substations), the peace and happiness in which they silently lead their day-to-day lives, is a sight to behold. It reminds one of all the nice virtues of a happy family, that we have been taught by our moral sciences textbooks when young.

From such a living to living in the small flats that the government promises to give them, is going to be a painful transition to these tribals. Their lives will never be the same again, their children will lose all their identity and live as normal 'city' zens, their culture would take a beating as they would not be able to follow the practices that they did while in their own lands. Shorn of all these - culture, freedom, and identity - they would be completely lost in concrete Mumbai, and no amount of wailing would then bring them back all this.

The 5000 sq-m piece of land that the government is planning to dereserve is for building a cemetery and for facilitating a SRA (Slum Rehabilitation Authority) project. So is it not obvious that the governent knew that it needed land for the project at the time of the slum evictions itself and that it had in its mind, snatching away land from the Aarey colony? Should this plan not have been revealed to all at the time of evictions itself? If the people had known that the slums are going to be evacuated and that the evictees will be rehabilitated in lands taken away from the Aarey colony, they would have raised a huge outcry. The evictions themselves might not have happened in the first place. But such are the systematic ways of the people that rule us that they are no different from the British that followed the policies of divide-and-rule. The babus split a huge plot into sub plots and reveal them to the people (us) one at a time (like is being done now) so that, we dont think that major changes are happening.

This 'freeing' of this 5000 sq-m should not be allowed as this will only be the start of the rot, the virus that will soon spread all over the colony and eventually erase all traces of it. Acceptance to this plan of the government will only embolden it further and serve as a precursor to more such evictions. Allowing the true sons of this soil, to be lead to strange places, and be stripped of all identity right in front of our pityless eyes, will only make us citizens, selfish souls, who are all happy, as long as we are happy, and who dont want to turn towards Aarey fearing to face the injustice that is being done there.

There are a lot of organisations that are working towards the cause of these tribals, but unfortunately they dont get much mileage as tribal development is not as glamorous a cause as say, child or women welfare. I am fortunate to have met Mr Vittal Laad who runs an organisation called JAAG which focuses on securing the rights of urban tribals. He says "These tribals never went to the city. The city grew and came into their home. They didn't know that a day would come when they would be asked to leave their homes because they did not have proof of residence." Such is the anguish in the man's eyes when he speaks of this issues that one cannot help wondering if there can be a better cause to work for.

What we can do, in the meantime as these NGOs fight directly on the battlefields, is do our little in preventing such injustice being committed. I read a book called "The Hungry Tide" written by Amitav Ghosh. It talks about how some Bangladeshi refugees settle down in a village called Morichjhanpi in the Sunderbans and how they build their own public systems and organise their lives beautifully. But there is talk of the government evicting them as they saw the refugees violate the Forest Act. The people of the village desperately want support and reach out to all they know, and just spread the word that such a thing is happening in their village and that they might be evicted soon. Though eventually they are brutally evicted, they do succeed in raising the hackles of many citizens of West Bengal, and the government does not have it easy. On the same lines, we can do our bit for the tribals of the Aarey Colony by spreading the word of the impending evictions. We can talk about the government plans to our friends, neighbours and anyone whom we know, we can hold discussions, speeches on the topic, those of us who can write can pen down our thoughts on the subject and publish them, if not in newspapers, at least in blogs and similar spaces on the web. We never know where and in what form help will come. But the more the number of people we reach, the better it is and the bigger the outcry against this policy.

The tide of the government sure is hungry now and if we dont build dams and other checkpoints soon, it is going to swamp these sacred lands in one big splash and that will be the last we ever see of them, and for all practical purposes, the people living in them too.

PS: To know more about the Morichjhanpi evictions, read

Friday, August 25, 2006

You and your fight against reservation

You are uncertain. Very uncertain! About your hard-earned job! You are one in a group of thousand-odd people agitating for a cause, against the government. You are slightly afraid too. No, the water cannons are not the source of your trepidation, nor are the lathi blows, but more than anything, it is the fear of what would happen to your job, your uncertain career. After all, you have spent a lot in completing a medical course, and burnt barrels of midnight oil in cramming up the portions for your medical exams, and the last thing you want to do is, to lose your job, that too because of a cause other than bad performance or lack of integrity.

But you have to do it. Because you are sensitive to the policies of the government, you are mindful of the fact that what is decided in the hallowed halls of the Parliament today, will have a bearing on your life, somehow, in the future. Because you know how tough it is to get a medical seat, and you have probably seen your close friend miss the grade by tenths of a mark. And you don't want good students to give way to anyone who might be ten marks behind and still make it to the top medical colleges in India... ahead of them.

Let me now introduce you. You are a medical student/practitioner in India and you are struggling in the battle against reservation in medical colleges in the largest democracy in the world. You know that the gavel is falling relentlessly on the table and that you have to act now to prevent it from hammering upon the vestiges of credibility that the medical institutions in India still have. You want to stop the powers that run the country from taking a populistic, vote-garnering decision, that is aimed at covering up its failures in structuring primary education in the country.

Your lot - the medical fraternity that is - is divided into three, the ones that agitate against the injustice, the ones that are content with their positions and remain passive, and the ones that dont like it, but like their job too much that they cant risk it to act against the decision. You sided with the first. Though you have a lot of people around you, you are under a lot of pressure to earn and finance your sister's marriage expenses, to repay the credit on the house so on.

But you are a man of the soil. You are selfless, fearless, and stand by your convictions. And you want to protect the future of the Indian medical system. You know that if you give an inch, the government will take a mile. You know that the more you cower, the more you silently witness whats happening around you, the deeper into the quagmire of bad Indian government policies you sink into and that one fine day, you wont even know what happened, but you will be grappling to stay afloat.

So you get up, ignoring your back ache from yesterday's agitation on the roads of the capital, brush aside your parents' hands that try to prevent you from going out again today, charge towards the Supreme court mindless of the barricades and the countless policemen waiting, licking their lips. You have anger in your face, you have disregard for everything that supports the government's decision, you utter a huge cry against the government, and are the first one to break the barricades that day. The blows rain on you, the water from the cannons pounds your face, and on the others' too. You fight, this is going to be one long struggle, but it has to be done, and you are the hero!

PS: The article was inspired by this news piece in the IE.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Independence Day - its sights and sounds

I bathed early for a change, and opened the windows of my room. Down below, school children were walking in their clean white uniforms, holding, not national flags, but saplings, in their hands and screaming "Grow more trees". The sights and sounds of our 60th Independence Day enthralled me. The tiranga coloured the streets and distant sounds of the anthem being played filled the air with the sweet melody of Rabindranath Tagore's immortal song. (I personally feel that Vande Mataram would be a more ideal song for us, as the original Jana Gana Mana was written honoring King George V and not for the Indian masses)

Dressed in a white kurta and a blue jean, I sped my bike towards the Sai temple and prayed there for some time. There was a more than usual crowd on occasion of I-Day - women in lovely sarees along with their families, students, the elderly, everyone was there. One would think that with so many people praying, we should not have half the problems that we have now.

As I came out of the temple, the real India hit me. Scantily clad children, with matted hair, imploring the public to give them something, literally tugging at their shirts, and figuratively tugging at their hearts, trying to cache in on the I-Day 'Iam-a-proud-Indian-and-I-will-help-my-fellow-citizens" feeling of the people. and it worked. People do donate more on I-Day than on normal days. In a strange way, the flag also helps in earning some money for these poor people. Old women clutching bunches of plastic flags (which i thought were banned long back in India), thrusting them in my face, asking me to be a good citizen and stick a flag to my bike, can be found in every street corner. Starting a few days before I-Day this sales is brisk, only to peter away from D-Day.

The amazing self-start of my Pulsar kicked the bike to life and I saw a man standing near his bike outside the temple and praying. The only time he turned his head away was when he had to spit, the nasty red paan, the element that has pervaded most in our lives and that which belittles any vestige of decency or civic sense that we might have. As the red droplets spattered the road inches in front of my bike, he turned to me and muttered a 'sorry!' and turned back to pray.
"Arrey! Be sorry for spitting in front of the temple, and that too while praying. Dont be sorry for spitting in front of my bike. Some guys dont even know what to be sorry for." (No! I didnt say that, though i wanted to)

I had to brake at the traffic signal and though the timer showed that there another minute to go before the lights turned green, motorists starting inching forward, way beyond the stop line, and by the time there were another 10 seconds left, everyone had zoomed ahead, and, pressurised by the constant honking of the car behind me, I too followed the crowd nervously looking left and right lest i be picked up by a cop. But such things are so normal that the cops almost dont consider this an offence.

While returning from the store, I saw some sights which, for a change, showed the brighter side of our country. There were blind men manning PCO booths given to them by the government, groups of school kids walking on the streets for some cause or the other, old women proudly adorning their duppattas with the colors of the flag, another guy refusing to be pressurised by the loud honking behind him when the lights had still not turned green (thus effectively putting me to shame), a girl in matted hair and tattered clothing rushing to the middle of the road to pick up a puppy which was lost in the medley of traffic, and many more. These gave me the faith that ours is a nation which will, if nurtured honestly and with sympathy, do immensely well, ours is a nation which can achieve the greatness which was assigned to it by our yesteryear freedom fighters, if only we the citizens could do simple things right - be it follow traffic rules, or refrain from spitting on the roads.

At first sight these suggestions might seem to trivial to be considered solutions for nation building, but once everyone begins to be conscious of their actions and the nuisance that they cause to the society, their visions will widen, they will see the bigger picture, and do greater things that will defintely lead to nation building.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Renu goes to school

In a world where four people living in a one-BHK (Bedroom-Hall-Kitchen) is considered living in a ‘congested’ manner, this family of nine lives in a single room, in Borivali, Mumbai. The head of the family does not work and the lady of the family, sells vegetables. Not heeding the various population control advertisements, the couple, after migrating to Mumbai from Gorakhpur, gave birth to eight children. The eldest girl got married recently and has gone to Gorakhpur to live with her husband and now three daughters and four sons remain. This article is about Renu, the eldest of the remaining lot.

She studied in an evening school till her eighth standard and then quit. When asked in front of her parents about why she did that, she gave a muted response. On further questioning, she replied, with head staring at the floor, “I’m not interested in studying.”

“She does not want to study. That’s her problem. How many times do we tell her to go to school?”, boomed her father and was aptly seconded by his wife. Renu was an above average student and managed to pass her eight standard exams with ease. It is not often that such a student would lose interest in studies, unless there is something else that the girl can spend her time on. And Renu had no such avenues to let out her energy. All she did the whole day was cook for the entire family, and keep the house clean. This is not the sort of childhood any girl would prefer over studying.

We had to literally take her out of the house and cajole her for an hour before she opened up. “You think my father really means what he said? Far from it! He thinks studying is a waste of time. I quit school because we are too poor to afford my education anymore. True, the fee is just Rs 170 per year, but it does not end with that. Along with the fee, comes the cost of the books, the uniforms, then the fee for the term papers. And all this is too much for my family to afford, considering I have two younger sisters and four younger brothers who are in school.” More sordid details followed. “My father comes home drunk every night. He doesn’t work and he beats up everyone if he is angry.” Where does he get the money from? “His friends take him along and occasionally he takes it from mom.”

Ah! There came the truth. The story so typical of many a poor young Indian girl, born into a big family and suffering silently so that her siblings could study further. In any case her life, figuratively speaking, would end once she got married. The rest of her life would be spent slaving in her husband’s house, giving birth to more babies.

But we were determined not to let her discontinue her studies. We spoke to her for long periods of time day after day and stressed the need for completing at least a tenth standard. Eventually she agreed to join school, but also wanted to work. Since her school was only in the evenings, she wanted to work in the morning so that she could at least pay off her school expenses and not listen to her mother grumbling everyday of how she was a liability to the family. We promised to find her some work.

The problem was that we could not go ahead and outrightly finance her education. This would lead to a clamour of requests from the other people in the basti and estrange them if we refused assistance. Not that spending money on their kids’ education was something tough for us, but that would create a situation wherein people would simply put in requests, take the money and forget about their children’s education.

But having seen the case of Renu, we could not be passive for long. We took her to her school, a bright, big municipal school in the vicinity, and spoke to her teacher. The elderly person said that her name had still not been struck off the rolls (The school had started two months back) and that she could still join, but would have to cover up for a lot of lost time. Second hand text books from her seniors would not be useful as the syllabus had changed and so she had to procure new textbooks. We thanked the teacher, spoke to him in private about Renu’s family situation, and asked him to help her cover up for the lost time.

On the way back, we got the girl her new textbooks and the smile on her face was the reward that we got for the work.

But the deed was not yet done. We spoke to her mom about this and she pointed a finger at her husband who was sitting across the road in a tea stall. He didn’t seem too excited, when we told him that he will have to pay the term fee of Rs 85 and that we have got her the textbooks. Though he said “Don’t worry. I’ll do anything to see my daughter get educated,” the pain in his face was evident.

As we left the house amidst “thank you teacher” and “Good night teacher”, we could not help musing on how much work lay ahead of us. With respect to this girl alone, we still have to make sure that she goes to school regularly, has a conducive atmosphere to study, and more importantly, does not quit again next year, and eventually goes to a decent job. With respect to the many other such girls in India, this cycle has to repeated and for that we need people working in the grassroot level, people who can spend time and not just in signing cheques, but in going physically to the bastis, the tribal lands, the villages, and convincing the people about the importance of education.

But as of now, as the Mumbai rain started to pour down on us, it didn’t matter much. A great poet said “Into everyone’s life some rain should fall”. DreamIndia is happy to have brought that rain into Renu’s life. And we hope her monsoon stays with her forever.

PS: Support us, not by signing checks, but by identifying Renus and helping them study. Education is the answer to most of India's evils and we at DreamIndia, are striving hard to educate underprivileged children. Visit for more details.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Dream India - CNBC coverage

This is our second venture in Bombay. And CNBC India has recognised our efforts here as well as as an organisation

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The case of little Ajay- Latest Update

Finally…after long hours of convincing, his parents agree! Ajay is now happily studying in Duttpada School and tells us cheerfully “Thank you teacher. Now mummy papa have put me in school.” Sounds fairy talish, but true.

This primary role of this column is to make people aware that it does not take much to make a difference. We just need to keep our eyes open and keep doing the small things. In Ajay’s case, one of our volunteers doggedly visited his parents, the schools nearby, and gave his parents a wealth of information. She also tried and gave them options as to where they could make him study as per his and their (parents’) convenience. This has reaped rewards, as now, DreamIndia2020 has yet another feather up its cap. And has helped continue the education of yet another child!

PS: Read the first part of this article here

Monday, July 17, 2006

India Shining?

Pune! The educational capital of India! How ironic it is that there are so many children in this city who are working for a living, and don’t go to school at all. When this reporter had visited the city to meet a friend, the sight in MG road was shocking. There were a lot of kids, all below 10 years of age, teeming around holding shoe brushes and small tins of polish, imploring people to get their shoes shined. When my friend, unable to refuse a kid, sat down to have his shoes done, I started off a casual conversation with the boy.

I found out that he was from Assam and was about 10 years old. He had a brother, also a shoe shine, and a small sister. His mom was a beggar and his father ‘daroo peeta hai’ (drank and did nothing else). The boy, Vikas, was soon joined by his slightly elder brother, Vishal, who stunned me by saying “Welcome to Pune, Sir. Nice meeting you” in absolutely perfect English. On asking how on earth he spoke such English, he said that some ‘uncle’ used to come to their houses daily and hold English classes for a rupee a day, but now, he had left to Assam, so the classes are no more.

The kids were all educated up to the 1st standard, beyond which, utter poverty drove them to Mumbai, the land of dreams, to eke out their living. I wandered around a little bit more and found more children with brushes in hand. All of them had the same story, mom begged for a living, father ‘daroo peeta hai’ and they all spoke very good English. It was indeed surprising to see all of them expressing a desire to work and earn so that they could educate their little sisters. Such a sense of responsibility at such a tender age saddened me.

We could not afford to neglect the plight of those kids. Hauling them in an auto, we visited their huts in Vaidhwadi. A filthy pathway strewn with faeces led to their settlements. On seeing us, more children spilled out of their homes and we invited the mothers to join us for a conversation.

“If we send them to school, where will we get the money to eat food? We simply cannot afford to make them study. They are a major source of income for us” said one parent.

“They are not interested in studying. They have to earn. Even if they could study, this nearby school (pointing to a large government school) has many admission forms that are to be filled, and we do not understand any of them,” said another.

All the ladies were around 50 years old, and looked more like 65-year olds. Their teeth (for those who had any) were completely blackened, their skin, wrinkled to very extremes, and their spirits, sagging.

“Earlier we were in an other part of Pune, then the government shifted us to another place, now we are here. We don’t know what will happen next,” lamented one old lady.

It took us an hour to convince them that they had to make their kids study, and that the children can work in the evenings. Though we, in DreamIndia2020, do not know how we are going to help them, we do know for sure that we will start off yet another project in Pune (where we already are working in Apale Ghar and Manavya) very soon and that these kids will be the beneficiaries.

While going back, one kid asked, “Sir, where do people go after they die? Do they return to land?” and while I was done giving him the story which my mom gave me when I was young and had asked her a similar question, another counters “Sir, know what? I heard this story that there are some objects that revolve around the sun, and that long time back, there was some kind of a bomb up in the sky, and that the world was created because of that. Do you believe that?” I could not believe it, and I am talking about the child’s knowledge and not the Big Bang theory. I would still understand if those children spoke English, but when that fellow spoke about the Big Bang theory itself, I found myself wondering, where he would go, what heights he would touch, if properly educated. I was so immersed in those thoughts that when an other boy questioned me about what lay beneath the earth’s surface, I could not even listen properly.

As the sun slipped behind the mountains in Pune, and brought upon the dull darkness, I dropped them back at MG Road, which is converted into a “walkers only zone” during weekends. The hip evening crowd was milling around and I stood looking blankly at the kids as they waved their goodbyes and dissolved into the crowd, looking for customers who would have their shoes shined.

Well, it would be wonderful, if they could have someone bring some shine into their lives. We, at DreamIndia2020, are striving to do exactly that. Will you join us?

Please mail us to let know how you can be of help. We mainly require volunteers from Pune, who can visit this place on a weekly basis, and hold study classes for them.

Mail or

Alternately, you can also call..

Varun: 9324060161
Rohit: 9422760672

Jai Hind!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Activity Room

Finally, after months of waiting and hard work, DI2020 inaugurated its first activity room at the pada, in Bombay. We just made it as the rains lashed the city days after the completion. The wonderful thing about this project was the participation of the locals. They understood the cause and shared the cost of building the room with us. We hope this room would give the children a real classroom like atmosphere, which usually brings out the creative juices in them.

We thank all the people who contributed, both in monetary terms, as well through their hard work, in making this a success!

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The case of Little Ajay

Ajay! Nine years old; he has such a cute face, and talks so innocently that you will not feel like letting him go once you speak to him for even five minutes. He is so fair his face would turn a bright crimson if you even stroke it; his cat eyes are full of mischief, and his toothy smile would make you want to hug him. He has one problem though…he does not attend school! And we, in DreamIndia2020, are trying to convince his parents to educate him. The following is an account of what the situation is…

Ajay lives with his parents in a small house in Bombay. He does not have siblings and his family hails from a village in Gorakhpur. A group of our volunteers conduct study classes to him and his friends living in the same locality and one day we came to know that he has stopped going to school.

On talking to his mom, we heard some pretty strange reasons for not sending the child to school. His mom said that the school was far away and that she was afraid to let him cross the road. “So why don’t you accompany him?”, we shot back. Even she was afraid to cross roads. For the sake of crossing roads, this boy’s education has been brought to a standstill.

All the while when we were talking to his mom, Ajay was going through a picture book English words and phrases with Hindi translations. ‘Teacher, what is this?’ he asked pointing out to ‘television.’ When Neha explained what it was, he continued writing the words in his small book, with a tiny pencil, all the while calling out loud what he was writing.

‘So if you could spare Rs 3000, we can put him in a privately run Hindi medium school,’ said his mom. (The day earlier she had said that it would cost Rs. 5000) Money is not an issue, but there were some difficulties in giving money. Firstly, that was a big community and favors done to one child would mean expectation from the other parents around. Secondly, we have to create a sustainable model. In the long run, just doling out money to the needy and asking them to educate their children wont work. There is an immediate need to make these people understand the importance of education and strive hard to get their children educated. When this family can afford to buy a flat screen Sansui television in installments, they could have done well to use that money on the education of Ajay.

‘Ajay, how was the school that you went to till now? Why don’t you want to study there?’

‘It is bad. The teacher comes, eats paan and goes out. All the other children keep playing in class whole day. No one teaches anything. Teachers hardly take lessons.’

‘So were you able to make friends there?’

‘No! The children speak Marathi there, whereas I know only Hindi, so I didn’t have friends from there. I do not want to go back there.’

It was quite shocking to hear all this from an eight-year old. Such is his want to study and our educational system has decimated that want so ruthlessly.

Finally, we decided to talk to his father in the evening. Its still afternoon and I am drafting this report from office. His face haunts me, does Ajay’s. There are many Ajay’s in the country, many who are intelligent, have a will to learn, but not the means. The reasons are many…Parents who are negligent, teachers who don’t care, the list goes on…

I hope something good comes out of the meeting with his father. It might not make a difference to the thousands of Ajay’s in the country, but it will to this little one! I pray to the Lord!

Continued here

Sunday, June 11, 2006


This was a golden moment in DI2020's short tenure - being recognised by Television. We were featured in a youth program called "YUVA" on DD NEWS.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Our First Activity Room

After months of hard work, which involved collecting money, roaming around places in Bombay to procure material, and talking to a lot of people about what kind of material to use, which place to buy the stuff from, and the like, DreamIndia2020's first ever Activity Room for child education, is complete. This imposing strucure will, in the coming months serve as a study center for the children of the twelve families living in this aloof tribal village, nestled unnoticed in the interior of Goregaon East, in Bombay.

Theres still a lot of work to be done...Sourcing teachers, setting up furniture and other basic infrastructure inside the room etc., but now that the main work - that of building the room - is over, we can breathe easy and finish off the remaining tasks.

As is usual, keep watching this space for updates.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Beach Fun!

Sunday, the 23rd of April is a day which these 12 kids from the pada will never forget in their lives. We, from DreamIndia, took them out for a visit to the beach at Juhu at 7 in the morning and the children could not get enough out of their first ever trip to a beach!!

The four hours that we spent there, were absolute fun and with actvities like building castles, bathing, playing cricket (and football and running races and kabaddi), trips on the merry-go-round, there was not much left to do on a beach.

With the hot dosas and the nimbu panis rounding off the trip, this was a trip that would last in all our memories for a long time to come...

Shunted into the boot!

Magnificent waves at the JUHU

Making a collective splash!

The little mermaids (and mermen)!
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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Painting a beautiful picture

This was the recent painting class conducted by one of our volunteers in Gaudevi pada (Bombay). The children were very excited seeing so much color as is evident from the grins on their faces. Beginning with using vegetables cut to resemble various flowers to create impressions on the paper, the kids moved on to spray painting and eventually made lots of greeting cards. This is the first of a lot of activities we plan to conduct for the kids during their summer holidays.

Eswar is all smiles!

The girl gang flashing its cards!

Washing at the water hole!

Teacher Teacher Burning bright!

Spot the tiniest of em all!

This ones for posterity

Watch this space for more updates!
For more info about DreamIndia2020, visit DreamIndia2020

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Lonely Wanderer

I first saw the boy when lunching at the hotel some days back. On enquiry, I found out that he was from South India and had come to Bombay for work. Curious to know more about such an itinerant, I fixed an appointment with Mr. Seth the hotel owner, to find out whether we (me and the social service organization that I volunteer for) could help him out in any way.

Claustrophobia engulfed me as soon as I sat in that dingy 4-table hotel in Andheri. Mr. Seth made me comfortable and I wasted little time in discussing the boy. “Chai,” Mr. Seth called out. Fourteen year old Ramu kept a glass of tea before me. As he turned to leave, I caught hold of his wrist and said ‘Wait.”

Though short in height, he had a surprisingly good physique for boy just into his teens. ‘These people are here to provide you education and they want to know more about you. Tell them about your past and why you came here,’ Mr. Seth explained my purpose. With a pleasant smile, Ramu started narrating his tale and I listened with rapt attention.

Ramu came to Bombay two years back when his parents decided to discontinue his studies for want of money. His father is a farmer and that fateful year the crops failed badly, thanks to the poor rains. This forced him to send his son to work. With three children, he had no other option but to send the eldest into the wilderness of Bombay to shield his other two children from illiteracy. Ramu lived with an uncle in Bombay.

Ramu was working in a hotel when another uncle of his, Singaram, approached him. Singaram is a contract engineer in Punjab and works in a big factory. Due to reasons of a slight build, Singaram declined Ramu the job. Since Ramu had come to know that the job in Punjab would involve a lot of physical effort, he started working out in the gym everyday and is still awaiting the day that he would attain sufficient build to work in the factory along with his uncle.

The most difficult part of his work in the hotel is the long working hours and the six-day week. The boy travels 30 minutes by foot to and fro between his home and the hotel and works between eight in the morning and nine in the night. Waking up early mornings and going to a gym in the nearby playground has become a norm for the little fellow. This leaves Ramu with only six hours of sleep.

He lives an uncertain life in the middle of well to do cell phones toting teen aged children racing about in cars. At an age when most of us would not even have ventured out of our cities, leave alone states (except maybe on excursions), the thought of leading such a nomadic life – Tamil Nadu to Maharashtra to Punjab – seems scary.

‘I’ll manage. Just as I managed to learn Hindi here,’ he says with a smile that spills forth his innocence. With a tough life ahead of him, he has learnt to live life the tough way. Luckily for him, he has not yet taken to smoking or drinking as have children of his age in similar situations.

‘I have passed sixth standard,’ was the proud answer when I asked him about his studies though one could see sorrow in his eyes. He exuberantly nodded his head when presented with the chance to start studying again.

‘Try!. Teach him something for a month and see if he is really interested. For some, formal education will never be their cup of tea. Maybe his interests lie somewhere else. We have to find out what interests him and make him pursue that, maybe a welding profession or one as a car mechanic,’ Mr. Seth voiced his opinions.

We started teaching him mathematics and despite knowing only addition, he is a quick learner. Thought just two days into our classes, he has already shown the will and interest to continue learning and sometime in the near future, we plan of putting him in a night school.

There are such Ramu’s everywhere around us. Child labour of any form is nothing but pure injustice. Not only does it amount to exploitation, it also prevents the child from getting qualified for higher paying jobs, which invariably require at least a tenth standard passing certificate. The least we could do as responsible citizens of India is to speak out against this ugly practice of child labour and also try and educate such children by spending some of our time on them every week.

*All names changed for sake of privacy
*Boy in the picture is not Ramu, but just a represetation of this evil called 'child labor'

The Study Circle

With the double distress of not having a regular job years after graduation and the possibility of a bleak future staring at their faces, many a youth is lost wanting an answer to such a situation. It is to such youngsters that Suresh Kumar acts as a guiding light!

Tall, with a thick beard, a thoughtful countenance, and simple talk –These characterize Suresh who works as an assistant director in the Employment Exchange in the district of Tiruchy.

‘The way to your bright future from the dark present that you are surrounded by now, is right in front of you. Come with me and I shall lead you to your future,’ speaking thus, Suresh manages to infuse the much needed confidence in the minds of the youth. But unlike most others, he converts his speech to action.

To help precisely such kind of people, he has started an organization called “Study Circle” and it has been approved by the government of Tamil Nadu itself. This forum is now successfully functioning throughout the district. Even during Sundays local businessmen come and lecture the youth about their own success stories and how one can realize one’s dreams. Inspired by such tales, some come forward with ideas for starting a business and Suresh takes it upon himself to arrange for bank loans for such people.

Suresh has even managed to turn the system upside down at the Employment Exchange where he works. Gone are the days when the exchange was used only to register oneself in its database and then make the occasional visit to renew the registration. Suresh has converted it into a place where youth come and discuss various career options and also get their numerous queries on various exams clarified. Till date, about ten students from the forum have made it into the Indian Administrative Services and more than thousands have got government jobs. In fact the Jechinda, this year’s IAS topper, is also a student of the Study Circle.

Suresh Kumar was born in a non-descript village called Kadampatti, in the district of Madurai. As soon as he graduated from a college in Madurai, he got a job and worked in that company for 19 long years. Resigning from that job, he wrote the Group I examinations and got a job in the Employment Exchange itself.

‘That was the tuning point in my life. I saw hundreds of youth walking around having lost all hope in life. I targeted this group precisely when I started Study Circle. The number of people taking up various examinations after joining the forum touched 600 in the initial stages. Then I shifted the classes to Virudhunagar and met with equal success.

One boy called Ramesh. Both his legs were paralysed. Perchance he heard about me somewhere and came to me. “Sir! Please get me some job. Any job! I will do well” Hearing that pleading voice I did not what to do. I was stunned at the self confidence that boy had. We got him a job and now he sells newspapers and adverts in front of our office itself,’ narrates Suresh enthusiastically.

P S : Translated from a Tamil weekly for a wider audience

Humane Hearts

Krishnan finished a course in Catering Technology four years back and was employed in a star hotel in Bangalore. He got an offer for a job in Switzerland one day. It was too glamorous to be turned down and he went back to his home town of Madurai to spend a week before leaving India. This journey was a turning point in his life and in fact, he was never the same Krishnan again!

“I did not want to sit alone at home after my parents left for work. So I decided to roam around the city. Cycling my way to the railway station, I was not ready for the shock I received there. Near the highway, on the road, an old man was shrivelled up like a rag. He was mentally retarded and was eating some unmentionable from the road. I could not bear the sight and quickly went and shook his hand free of whatever he was eating, cleaned him and made him sit up. Some hot idlis from a nearby hotel rejuvenated him a bit. Tears welled up in his eyes.

From then I could not erase the sight from my mind and cried thinking of all such injustices against humans in this world. I did not want Switzerland anymore. It seemed so distant, so superficial, and so irrelevant. Instead of serving people who buy a plate of rice for five hundred rupees and waste most of it, my time, I realised, was better spent in serving the hundreds of discarded people who dotted the landscape of the city. I cancelled my tickets, shut the Alps from my mind and stayed at home,” says Krishnan as if it were the most natural thing to do.

Currently this noble soul serves three meals a day for 120 such people who were earlier wasting away on the streets of Madurai. This lot includes people affected by various diseases and complications like AIDS and mental disorders- All of them are too senile to work for a living.

“Seeing me walk around with these thoughts all the time, my relatives decided that I have been taken over by the spirits of the land. This inflamed the fantasy of my parents who wanted to take me to a spirit doctor to chase away the bad influences. I said I’d go but asked my parents to come and have a look at the people that I was serving. They came and they saw. Back home my mom said ‘My dear child! We are so fortunate to have given birth to a person like you. Words cannot express my feelings now.’ I wiped away her tears with my fingers. From then on I did nothing else but serve these people day and night,” narrates Krishnan proudly.

Today it costs Rs 3000 per day to serve three meals to 120 people. Moved by the intense passion and humanity of Krishnan, 20 of his friends contribute Rs 3000 every month to sustain the daily food costs. Krishnan’s parents take care of two days’ food. “The remaining eight days are a struggle,” says he with a sigh. He requests people who conduct marriages and birthday celebrations to offer some food and tries adjusting for the remaining days.

Apart from the time spent on sourcing food supplies, he spends the rest on scrubbing and cleaning these people in nearby public baths and clothing them neatly giving them their much desired self-respect. He even trims the hair of those who have mini undergrowths on their heads.

Krishnan, 24 has completed a full course in Vedas and has offered his life-long services to charity. The sacrifices that he has done in life, at a time when going to a foreign nation is a craze among the youth, have raised him on to a pedestal where mere mortals can only dream to be. All this coming at such a young age makes it all the more marvellous.

P S : This is another piece which was originally in Tamil. I translated it for a wider audience.