Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Simply driving through Avinash!!!

Little Avinash is no more with us. The boy, who was injured in a hit and run accident in January, struggled for five long months, but finally succumbed on the 26th of June. Our prayers are with the family which has bravely put up a struggle for all this time and stood staunchly by him despite the various pressures amongst themselves.
DreamIndia tried its best to save the boy, but eventually, in vain. Considering the fact that the injuries were so bad there was no chance of a complete recovery and that the boy would have remained in a vegetative state for his life, at times we cant but help wonder if his death was not a good thing after all.

India's one billion strong population is said to be her strength. At times, I believe it is her weakness too. We are a nation that does not have civic sense at all. I am not going to write about all the spitting and the fighting on the roads, but only about the rash driving and the insanely apathetic traffic sense that we all seem to share, regardless of caste, creed, and even regardless of how much educated we are.

It is not nothing that instigated me to write this article...I am enraged, I am shocked, to hear about the death of Avinash Thapad. A victim of a hit and run accident, this 11 year old, who had been struggling for life following a skull fracture, passed away silently in the adivasi village of Khambhacha, on the night of the 26th June. Along with friends, I had been struggling for all these months to try and make him recover and so I feel the pain. Whose mistake was the accident, we will never know, as no one watched it happen. But clearly, considering the impact, the bike was moving at a very high speed. So Avinash's is one more in the long list of deaths due to negligent driving that India's financial capital seems to be hoarding, unashamedly so.

Why do all these accidents happen? Where does this rot stem from? It starts from the citizens, you and I. Every time we break the traffic signal causing that pedestrian utmost hardship in crossing the road even though it is his signal, every time we overtake on the left at high speeds, every time we cut lanes, every time we do something naughty on the roads knowing that no one is watching us, or that no one can question us, we are putting some innocent life in jeopardy. There was a Tamil movie called 'Anniyan', where the hero mows down anyone who does something that is completely wrong but that we all have come to accept without complain. For instance there was this contractor in charge of preparing food to train passengers, and who charges 50 paisa extra from every passenger. Every one pays up, but when Anniyan questions him, the contractor replies "What difference is 50 paisa going to make?" and subsequently fumbles when Anniyan tells him that charging 50 paisa extra is not a big mistake but doing that from a million people daily, is a very big crime indeed. Similarly, we all think that going through the red lights occasionally, is not a big mistake, but when we realize that like us, there are thousands across the nation doing the same thing, we will understand that the probabilities of an accident are that much more higher and we are also directly party to it.

Apart from the role of the citizens, the traffic police has to be pro active in policing such traffic crimes as those mentioned above. They should first be made to understand the importance of their roles in saving lives, and to appreciate the fact that there is no small offense and big offense. All offenses contribute equally to creating chaos. The minute they see someone crossing the stop line before the green light, they should pull up the motorist and fine him on the spot. Every jay walker should be brought to task. Every person who runs through a red light should be chased, caught, and jailed for a night at least. There is no shame in going to jail for a night - we deserve that for the offense that we commit.

But of course, these are all ideal solutions and there would have been a many articles published on the same lines. But these are solutions that our traffic police will never implement because we are spineless when it comes to taking a tough stance on motorists. Because all that the Indian psyche can do is keep giving excuses of excessive population and how the traffic department is overworked and understaffed and how we are constantly trying to upgrade technology to catch traffic offenders. Till the time a hard taskmaster is posted to the top role in the traffic department, such deaths as Avinash's will continue to be the norm and India will continue to remain a nation that simply does not care!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Off to school!!!

Finally the deed was done on the 18th of June. We managed to admit about eight kids to the BMC school at Samta Nagar, Kandivali East. The parents of the kids, also curious to know how the school admits children without taking a birth certificate, tagged along. The Principal called the kids one by one and asked them about themselves, some of them were shy though one or two spoke to her like they had known her for years.

Then she instructed one of ther staff members to enroll the kids and spoke to us about the kids. She was requesting us to make sure that the kids dont lose interest in studies and that they dont drop out. She also said that the school will give the kids everything from books to uniforms to schoool bags, to even a meal at midday.

So DreamIndia will continue to conduct weekend classes through its volunteers, Marshniel, Gajanan, and new volunteer Swati. In case you or any of your friends are willing to join in and make a difference in these children's lives, please let us know. Mail us at or call me at 9967968679.

The difficult part has been achieved, but we have to keep going so that the children dont lose interest.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Games Children Play - Going towards School....

Today was a landmark day, what with no play sessions and only one long study session. Except for the incident with a grumpy watchman who told us to vacate our study place (outside a beauty parlor – the lady does not open shop till 10 in the morning), and who was shown the way pretty soon by all of us, the day was good for many reasons.

To begin with, I decided to teach the kids some English phrases and hence taught them “Good Morning”, “How are you?”, and “I am fine.” Soon the lady from the parlor came along and after I urged one of the kids, he boldly wished her “Good Morning,” much to her surprise!

The most stubborn of the lot, Gaja, who could not even hold a pencil (and I am not exaggerating here) when we first began classes, took to writing the alphabets religiously. He had problems with making even a small straight line with the pencil, but put in his all to make sure that the letters that he wrote were similar to those I had written in his book. There was another boy who had landed in Mumbai a couple of days back and who had already started work in a garage learning the ropes. As he had been to school, he helped some of the kids write down the letters.

In between we took mini breaks when the kids had loads of updates. Ankush enthusiastically told me about how the last night the winds were so strong that they blew away the cloth ceilings of their road side shacks and how no one was able to sleep because they all got drenched in the rain and the babies kept bawling throughout the night. He said it with such energy that for a moment, I could not help smiling, forgetting the misery that the people would have suffered, but later on, had a silent prayer on my lips hoping that this lot doesnt suffer much during the rains.

The Search for a school

My friend and I started on a mini tour of municipal schools in Kandivali East. We went to a Marathi medium school and were completely taken aback by the reception we got there. The teachers who spoke to us were so polite and more importantly were very interested in knowing that we planned to admit children of construction workers in their school. When we were telling them that these children were 7-8 years but had never attended school, we were sure that they were going to tell us that in that case, they could not do anything. But they did not so much as bat an eyelid.

Oh in that case, first make sure that these kids are not going to leave Mumbai during the rainy season and that they spend at least one whole academic year in school. We would need a birth certificate for the admission and if they don’t have that, we can make do with an affidavit. That will cost, but I don’t think that should be a problem.” Pat came the reply from a staff member! “The government has this scheme called the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and we can put these kids under that scheme.”

(I later researched more about the scheme and found out that it has made a big impact in bringing education to areas hitherto untouched by schools and also by upgrading infrastructural and educational standards in existing schools. There has been such extensive effort that has gone into this, you can read all about it in

Thus began the procedures. She wrote down the names of the children that we were interested in admitting to the school and told us that if we came the next day, she would explain in detail all the procedures in this process.

This, with stars in our eyes and beautiful visions of these kids who now, don’t even have a decent pair of clothing, walking around in fresh school uniforms with school bags slung over their backs like we all did while we were young, we trotted back home.

On the way, we met the children again, spoke to their mothers (as fathers were away for work), and told them about this idea. They were happy to hear this. There was one lady who came forward and asked us to “do something for my daughter also.”

I want to educate her, but that man does not want to. And we don’t know when we might go back to our village. We stay in Mumbai for only eight months a year.” When we told her that she should somehow educate her daughter, she said that even the previous night when she was talking about this to her husband, he got so angry he screamed and caught her throat. Grinding our teeth in anger, we told her that we will try our best and do something for her daughter.

So we wait for the morrow, when we will know how easy the task of admitting these kids, is! God willing, it should not be very difficult, and when it happens eventually, even if the children stick to the school atmosphere for half a year, it will help mould their personalities to a great extent.

Keep watching this space, this is hot news… and getting hotter by the day! We will party….the day these fellas are in school!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Games Children Play - II

Day 2! "Uncle, where were you yesterday? We were waiting for you at the temple," said Ankush. I had to give a sheepish grin and come up with a silly excuse for not keeping my appointment the previous day. I swore to myself never to miss an appointment with these fellas, and even if I had to, I'll go and inform them of my inability to conduct that day's session.

It was night time and our usual place, the pavement, was unlit and dark. So we sat outside the temple itself. "The temple authorities will chase us away," the kids cried out, obviously used to being chased away by the many security guards -there are lots of them, temple watchmen, Society watchmen, Asha Nagar watchmen etc - "Let us see who chases us away," challenged I, quite blindly so.

And no! No one disturbed us. Thus we sat on the nice and shiny marble slab outside Sai Mandir, in full view of God, and started our session for the evening. And much to Gaja's surprise, I pulled out a pair of note books and pencils, and an eraser and a sharpener. "Today we begin with a 15 minute study session, after which we play." Gaja looked hither and thither, so wishing he could run away. And so they began their (probably)first ever tryst with the English alphabet! Gaja could not even hold a pencil in hand. While Ankush was more eager to learn, Gaja was quicker to grasp. His only problem was lack of confidence; he does not believe that he is meant to study or learn anything and hence avoids even looking at me when I ask him to recite something in English. But as and when we came to the point when I told him that only when he recited the A thru the E, will we restart play again, somehow he came up with the answers.

And so study we did, alternating with play and study sessions. At the end of the session we had Akash and Sharath also joining us, one who works in a Chinese hotel and the other who works in marriage parties. Their only reason for not going to school was lack of money at home. They happily agreed to attend the next day's morning session at the Mandir.

Luckily, while leaving, Akash's father met me and we discussed the possibilities of enrolling him in a school. The father had not put him in a school as he did not have a birth certificate. I was appalled at how trivial a reason that was, but within the week, I will take all efforts to enroll him in a municipal school nearby.

Already one friend of mine has agreed to join me during the weekends in these efforts. Will you too?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Games children play

Finally i managed to break the ice today! It is not easy, as i came to experience, to entice hardcore street kids to study. We have managed to make other children attend our weekly study classes, those who already attend school and have proper homes, no matter how small they are. But to tame the wild ones whose beds are the tarmacs, and whose pocket money is earned by gripping the legs of people who turn out at temples and who finally succumb to the innocent eyes pleading them for money and grub. These kids are characterised by their really dirty appearances - matted hair, a foul smell emanating from their thin bodies, and an I-don't-give-a-damn attitude. They leverage people's conscience and beg all the time for a living - for both themselves and their families.

There is one such group that we wanted to target, in front of the Sai Mandir at Kandivali East. After trying for a few days to catch their attention with the alphabets, I gave up. They were simply restless, no matter what pictures you showed them, no matter how interesting you made things for them, studies seemed to be a strict no-no. They simply could not concentrate for more than 10 minutes. These kids are born to make a living from a very early age and most of them have not even sniffed the scent of a classroom atmosphere. They resist all efforts to pull them into the mainstream 'study circle'.

So, following the advice of a friend, I went today armed with a memory game in hand. After convincing two kids that I was not about to ask them to monotonously recite the alphabets, I sat down with them and we all started to play. It was a simple game...a board which contained small boxes with pictures in them. All the boxes were covered with small coins. Every player had to pick two coins, one after the other, and if the pictures under both the coins matched, he could keep the coins, else he should place them back. At the end of the game, the one with the maximum number of coins, wins! So the challenge is to watch the co-players play and remember where each picture was, so that one could pick out its pair during one's own turn.

After ten mintues, two more boys joined in and very soon, the game became furiously addictive. Gaja was winning hands down and slowly, the tardy Ravi and Ankush started to wonder why they lost repeatedly, and by the end of the play session, though Gaja was still winning, the margins were a lot lesser.

In between play, I told them the English words for animals such as Cow and Goat, and also taught them to say "My name is", followed by their names. I could see that they lacked confidence. As and when I slowly opened them up and became more comfortable with them, the initial brashness was replaced by a shyness of not being able to talk, or even repeat what i said, in English. In fact the best player, Gaja, turned his face the other side, when i asked him to repeat the "My name is" sentence. Almost as if bride from the village coyly looks away when her hip husband asks her to try out the computer.

They dont have a sense of belonging, they feel as if English and in fact, even education, is for the rich masses. Given a chance and if made to understand that they also can study, they also can go to schools and have a classroom atmosphere and become 'big' like the people they beg in front of, 90% of the underprivileged children in India would do well. And who is to give them that chance? People like you and me... Think about it...

(I will keep posting updates on this frequently)