Monday, November 03, 2008

(Vote) to the Party or not to the Party...that is the question...

This is a reply to a blog that I had recently read here.

First of all, Meera is right about the tag line of LP - 'Party by the IITians' - being unnecessary. Though it took a long time for me to reconcile to the idea, I have adjusted to it now. It is a very dangerous thing, but in our country, educated does really not mean uncorrupt. But let us discuss the party and the need of needlessness of it.

For years now, we have been ruled by Congress and the BJP. Though we are a multi party system, the majority of our years have been taken over by people from these parties. But the results have hardly been like what the Democrats or the Republicans of the USA have produced. Corruption, and I may sound like millions of others in our country, is a way of life. Greedy, power hungry, insensitive politicians have twisted the various helplessnesses of people to their advantage and managed to stay in power and cut off the very hands that fed them, rather, voted for them. People dont hesitate to kill for votes and apart from the period where everyone was talking about some India that was shining, I did not feel good from inside ever. Especially in the last year or so, I feel pained EVERY damned day looking at events unfolding in our country. 

We are being torn apart by the people that rule over us. They are managing easily to pound us into submission and get away with what they want. Recent examples are
  • The TATA Nano fiasco
  • Raj Thackeray's atrocities and the Biharis' reaction to them
  • The various bomb blasts happpening around the country
  • Various parties (Left coalition, DMK etc) threatening the PM at the drop of a hat to pull out support if he did not abide by their desires
  • J&K threatening to go out of hand, without even Paki intervention
And on and on and on...

Now, the reason I'd seriously think about voting for a party like LP is really very simple. The alternatives have NOT delivered. They have proven that whichever party comes to power, national harmony or integrity would be the last thing in its mind. Politicians of today would go to any extent to protect their self interests. And no end seems in sight. 

And talking about LP, they are too young an organisation to be put under the scanner. We cannot really talk much about their way of working yet because we have really not yet seen how they work. It may be true that within two years, there are talks of a split and casteism, but three years is quite a long period of time to pick up fights. I am running an NGO with some friends for the past three years and there are a few people in our organisation who do not like the way I particuarly work or think. And here we are talking of a national level political party. Imagine the number of people who are working in it and the range of characteristics that they would all collectively possess! It is but natural that division occurs. It is the way Mr. Chandrashekar (Leader of LP) handles the issues and stays strong that needs to be monitored. (I recently read of news where the head of the party in Karnataka was kicked out as he seemed to be going the corrupt way)

I believe that the act of judging something is an art. I have been guilty many times in the past of acting in haste and stereotyping a person or a thing as good or bad or otherwise too soon.Especially when we are juding something like a party that wants to make a difference, I think we should wait and watch. Participate in their functioning if possible, but if not, all the more reason to wait longer. We should give them a chance..(after all we are a nation that give Ajit Agarkar a thousand chances to peform) and then decide for ourselves. 

About Meera's comment about keeping faith in the current crop of politicians for a while longer, well, I have kept the faith for the last ten years (its been that much time since I could legally vote), and I have only seen insipid cops, poor traffic management, complete disregard to nature and wildlife and many more. I think I will blindly vote for anyone else that comes along... And if it is something like LP, it makes the decision a no-brainer.

PS: I have no connection with the party and I do not in any direct or indirect way contribute to it. I am just one frustrated Indian who myself have plans of entering politics in order to make a change somewhere down the long road ahead of me, and hence was researching about similar new parties and chanced upon Meera's post that lead me to spend the last thirty minutes on this blog! 

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Citizens for Road Safety

Long ago, I had written about my conversation with a traffic policeman in this blog park of mine. Well, the following can be called an outcome of that write-up, not completey, but to an extent. Read on, the following mail was written by one of my very goood friends Natarajan to our DreamIndia group:

Dear Friends,
I hope all of you remember an article sent by Varun sometime back about the conversation he had with Chennai city cops. []

It is then, I along with my brother Hari, decided to join this CSR force as soon as I get back to motherland:-) More than anything, you require a lot of patience to join this. Let me tell you why:-)

First, one and half months ago, I called 103 to reach the control room and got the traffic police number. From there, I was directed to Adyar [ the place I live ] number. After talking to the cop in charge, we visited the Besant Nagar police station only to find the Inspector not at work. He asked us to come around 7 in the evening. Later, when we called, again we were asked to visit Adyar police station. It was really irritating, but we had more to come.

Now, as we reached the Adyar police station, we wrote a petition that we would like to join CSR force. The cop who got the petition told us that he would call us in one week within which he would collect the kit for us.:-) Now, this made me think the dream of standing on roads and helping cops manage the traffic would become a reality soon. But how can it happen here?:-)

Again, it took four to five calls over a period of three weeks to make them understand that we were really interested in being a part of this. Seeing that we would not relent, one day the cop who collected the petition called me and asked me to come and meet him in person. With complete sense of interest, I rushed the next day evening, only to find the cop handing me couple of application forms which they were supposed to give me the very first day :-))

The best part of it happened last weekend. On Saturday, I was surprised to hear that cops had called my brother and informed that they wanted to meet us. When my brother informed we would come in the evening to meet, they were like, "please give us your house address, we will come and meet you". Now, this was a real surprise for us.... Can u imagine cops coming to meet u for CSR??:-)

As soon as they reached our house, we got to know the reason for their "personal visit". They had an order from the ACP, that CSR's from all areas should be sent for the meeting at Commissioner office to be held in the evening failing which action would be taken against them. After getting the invitation from them [ I was forced to miss Srinivasan's class ], both of us we went to commissioner office and attended the meeting.

I made it clear to the ACP that "getting application forms" by itself is one such big task and none would be interested to join the CSR if this remains the case. He promised to make sure app forms would be made available soon at all local police stations. And one more thing, do not know the reason really, but almost all, say 95% people who had come for meeting were of age 60+. To be honest,most of them would need help themselves. The ACP has promised to revive CSR concept, let us hope for the best.

Now, read this article in "The Hindu" - This would make u feel u are a part of CSR already :-)
Dun worry, will keep you entertained with more stories on this soon...:-)


PS: Between, finally we got the Rs.103 kit from commissioner office :-)

Well, that mail was full of jest wasn't it? I assure you that Natarajan has masked his frustration quite well here. Having lived in Chennai for more than two decades, I know well the effects of the searing heat and how draining it is to run from pillar to post in that climate. These two (Nata and his brother, Hari) are guys with a never-say-give-up attitude when it comes to doing something for the society. We need more people to join them, there are about a 1000 of them in th city right now, but we need a bigger army if we are to see traffic discipline being followed. And the latter will definitely lead to lesser traffic accidents and safer roads.

So I urge you, my dear reader, to spread this message to people you know, and encourage them to participate in such drives. And of course, do not forget that you yourself can don the hat of a traffic policeman...It only takes the will to do so, and Rs 103!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lights... Camera.... Volunteer!!!

I remember my father advicing me everyday to drink coconut water and that it cooled the body. 'Don't drink junk like Coke and Pepsi. One glass of coconut water will keep your body chill in this searing heat,' he used to say. I lived in Madras, the heat capital of India where temperatures in peak winter touch forty degree Celsius.

But coconut water was a strict no-no for me. I just did not have the patience to stop by the roadside and wait for the vendor who usually sits behind a pyramidal stack of big, green, and shapeless coconuts. He would then take a sickle and slice the top of the coconut, and pierce it with the nose of the sickle to make a hole, insert a straw in it, and give it to me. Though I was not really averse to drinking it, I drank it only when my dad brought it home at times or when I went out with him when he would stop by to buy it.

Cut to ten years later when I grew up to be a software engineer, just like most in my generation. While at a supermarket, I saw a label in a bottle that read 'Voted the best bottled drink of the year'. Intrigued, I pick it up and see that is is bottled coconut water. 'Cools your body and refreshes like no other drink. 100% natural' . (Yes, that is how colourful the script looked to me)

Wow! Wasn't that something? I immediately bought it and in fact made it a habit to drink one daily. After all, it cooled the body and was 100% natural isnt it? Not realising what I was doing, I told my dad about it, completing forgetting what had happened a decade ago. He raised his eyebrows, shook his head, and muttered 'This younger generation,' and went about his chores.
Later on I understood why he said that and as as I went through life's motions, there was a lot more I understood about this ubiqitous phenomenon.

One lucky day in my life, I chanced upon a few great guys and one lucky moment, a bright idea struck us all, and together we started teaching children living in nearby slums and a year and a half later, we had turned into an NGO. It did not require any great quality like people usually believe, just the will to make a difference to a few kids who dont have it all, like many of us do. We managed to pull in a few of our friends when we started off. Slowly we began to realise the importance of what we were doing, and so we spread the word to everyone we knew and at times, did not know.

We came out with our own weekly newsletter and e-mailed it to a lot of friends with a request to join us in helping these children or children living near their own houses. We stood near the jogging track, the church, the local school, and many other such places and distributed these newsletters to the passers by, trying to spread the message, entreating people to join us in our weekend venture, so that together we could teach more children.

Our message was very simple. 'Two hours of your time a week would make a huge difference to these kids.' Very few would join, fewer still would continue. It took us a whole three years to gather a group of around 200 volunteers who stuck to the task and worked on the field tirelessly. And we are proud of the achievement. Though in the beginning I used to get worried about why not many joined us, in all these years, I have understood that it is not easy to convince people into spending their time in the field of social service.

It is at this juncture that the Times group recently started a venture called Teach India. Advertised extensively, it promises to alleviate poverty in India by making the public participate in the program and teach poor children all around the country. But more than anything, it was one of the opening sentences in their website, their mission, that stunned me! 'Just two hours from you can change a child's future.' It didnt take me long to realise that it was the same message that my friends and I have been trying to thrust into people's consciousness for years now!

I couldn't wait to see how the response to this campaign would be. The ads were on TV, in the newspapers, magazines, basically everywhere. It did not take me long to see the results. A friend mailed me an ad for the programme and also added that his friend had also joined 'signed up' for the campaign to teach kids. Soon his friend would be on a weekend mission to teach kids and be part of the nation building process, the same friend who knew for three years that we have been teaching kids during weekends and also asking people to join us in our efforts. I was speechless.

The next day, another guy I knew mailed me. 'Anna(brother), Did you see the ads for Teach India? They are doing an amazing job. I have 'signed up' for the programme.' ('Signing up' for something is fab isn't it? It is not quite like joining or attending. The phrase has a higher, classier sound and feel to it I suppose. How else do you explain so many people using the same phrase???) I almost laughed out loud in my office. This was the same guy who kept giving me excuses about having lots of work whenever I had asked him to volunteer in his spare time during the weekends. But when Teach India asks him to sign up, he does!

Do not get me wrong. I am not blaming anyone here. People have their own reasons for doing or not doing certain things and I would be very unfair to judge them for their actions. In fact I have no right to. But being the inquisitive type, I could not but help see a pattern here that was not very healthy. A trait that I saw in myself at the incident of coconut water. That of being attracted to a neatly packaged material but more importantly, that of rejecting something not neatly packaged.

We usually tend to ignore the values of a product or an idea or even an activity which is being professed or practiced at a micro level, and end up doing the same thing, when it has the backing of a more popular establishment. I would attribute this nature to the attractiveness of the latter, the way it is packaged. The former is usually raw, more like a roadside coconut seller, the latter
is a more refined product - a blood red, trendy can of Coke.

While it is in no way wrong to go for the Coke, we should understand that the people I have quoted as examples waited a long while to get the opportunity that they always had. There is value in everything and when there comes an opprtunity, one should weigh the pros and cons of it before deciding to go for or against it. And the best way of doing it is to be very objective and find out if the chance at hand would satisfy our need - be it a volunteering opportunity or a glass of coconut water.

Playing down the experiences that can be derived out of having a brush with the things that are local and micro can only be termed foolish. The only things that they dont posess are scale maybe and professionalism - whatever that word means. But when it comes to making an impact they are very efficient. The local vegetable vendor might not have an air conditioned showroom like Reliance Fresh, but he sure does offer fresh vegetables and a friendly service, maybe even give you goods on credit the day you forget your wallet at home. Your neighbourhood newspaper might not have the same appeal as the Hindustan Times, but it might just cover local news in more depth.

Teach India programme is a great idea. Lot of children will benefit out of this, and the creators of the idea do deserve a pat on the back. But people did not have to wait for a TI to happen. There were thousands of Teach India's in every nook and corner - College and school alumni groups, groups of working professionals, social welfare organisations started by the elderly - these were always present. (There are some long standing organisations that my friends and I are associated with - iVolunteer, SOSVA to name a few - who do the exact task that TI will do now - that of matching budding volunteers with local NGOs).

We just fail to recognise them, or turned a blind eye when they were before us. Once we begin to appreciate things for what they are worth, give people and ideas their due and then make decisions, a lot more people will get happier and the benefits that we personally derive wont be put off to another day and age. After all, I missed keeping myself cool by drinking a 100% natural drink all the years I disregarded the roadside coconut vendor!

PS: And as for us, we have also signed up for Teach India, requesting volunteers. We don't care how they come, whether it be through TI or by way of bugging people at the jogger's park down the lane...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bhopal continues...and reminds us of duties...

Read this article first. Reporters from Tehelka write some of the most powerful articles in India and on all the issues that affect our countrymen. This article is another shining example of it. It makes me wonder just how much work is left in the country, how many tasks we have to perform, revolutions we have to start, to clean up the mess that is India right now!

And how little time we have to do it. There are people who have dedicated their entire lives for social causes, but still there is a dearth of progress in many areas - Education, Poverty alleviation, cocrruption reduction and many more. So much work is left to be done and the hands that are toiling away are too few in number.

Year after year hundreds of people, both young and old, make an arduous journey to the corridors of power in New Delhi seeking justice very basic, in the Bhopal massacre (I prefer to call it that). These tired feet are not alone though. There are hundreds of yatras like this across India day after day, common people wanting what is rightfully theirs, but put in abeyance or denied because of the greed of people above them either in economic or political status, or at times, plainly by virtue of stronger muscles.

There are scores of Indians who are desperate to make a change but are thousands of miles away from their homeland, either working or studying. Dr Kalam, our reverend ex-President, recently commented in a speech on how versatile Indians are in adjusting to new cultures, and more importantly, stressed the need to give back to the community where we live in while at the same time not forget our countrymen back home and keep contributing in whatever way we can to our motherland. It is true that field work is impossible if one is not in the nation, but at the same time, one has to understand that it is not the driver in the F1 car alone, that is responsible for a team's victory. Right from the person who designs the vehicle, to the people who build the car arduously, to the mechanics who change the tyres and fill in fuel paving the way for a quick pit stop, everyone contributes their own unique talents towards victory.

Likewise everyone has to sense that people living away from India have a great role to play in this scheme of events. We wont be drivers of the car, but we will definitely keep the car in good shape to reach the chequered flag. As far as DreamIndia is concerned, we are proud to have strong teams in India where volunteers work for the betterment of the society in their free time. To make sure that we stand by them, there is a long list of tasks that people living in foreign nations can do to support the heroes on the field. Let me list down a few:

  • One basic activity can be to spread the word about DreamIndia and find out from people if their friends or relatives back in India would be willing to take part in our activities

  • On a technical level, people could help maintain the website

  • People interested in writing can write articles for the newsletter or even offer to write articles for the various sections present in the website. After all, it was some reporter who wrote the stoty for Tehelka. If we also can contribute our bit by writing on issues that we think are to be attended to, someone or the other back in India would be incensed enough to do something about it. Help might come from anywhere.

  • In case of a funds intensive project, one can try and collect funds from friends and relatives

And much more options like this.

There might be many of us who, after leaving the shores of the nation, feel that what we do sitting in foreign lands will not be effective, but we should understand that that is false. And that we definitely can play our bit from our positions, and that that will indeed create a coinsiderable impact to the parts that our friends are playing back home.

Let us show our solidarity to our modern day freedom fighters, let us unite, let us work hard! From where ever we are! To build a stronger, richer, and a more confident India!

Jai Bharat!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Alphabet song

The song in the link given below is very elementary. Many of us might have heard it, many mightn't have. It bought tears to my eyes momentarily. Silly isn't it? I'll give you the reason though.

This set of 26 letters denotes the beginning of education, education in a language that is considered necessary for people to live a comfortable life, in a language that is uniting the world today like no other.

We, at DreamIndia strive to teach these to kids who are unable to gain access to quality teaching in this language because of their poor economical conditions. We hope someday, our nation achieves complete literacy, and I dont mean in the English language alone, thereby unlocking the vast potential that is hidden behind this dam of illiteracy.
Listen to the song here. I hope you now agree that my tears were justified.
Jai Bharat.