Friday, September 18, 2015

when the gratitude begins.

The struggle ends when the gratitude begins wrote Neale Donald Walsch. We tend to forget this indubitable truth. Come one even I whose email signature bye line is: I am busy being grateful, don't remember to be: grateful! Grateful to the one who gives unabashedly when you ask. I chose to illustrate my post with this picture as it has a story worth sharing. My little bloke would have been at best 5 when this incident occurred. I had the mother of all headaches and nothing was helping. Utpal was in the kitchen eating some wafers and asked me how I was. I told him my head was hurting. Without batting an eyelid he folded his pudgy little hands and shut his eyes tight and stayed like that murmuring to himself for quite some time. Then when he was ready, he quietly and solemnly took a chip and gave it to me: I have asked God to make your head stop hurting, you just eat this chip! I guess God hears the prayers of little souls and my headache vanished. I guess for us adults, it comes with a rider: first you thank me for all I have given, then I will give what you seek.

All this to say that a last week, our Finance Director whose words I often dread told me that finances were at an abysmal low - due to some sources drying and some delayed - and something needed to be done. Now this after a senior staff meeting where I had ascribed myself the role of mentor and handed over the reins in a matter of speak. As many know the biddy is unwell and prone to bouts of panic attacks for the asking. Hence the scary words had the required effect: a monster panic attack. This was followed by stress, restless night and the whole caboodle!

My mind was going all over the place and the the body reacting as expected. Hundreds of options were flooding my mind but none made sense and so the restlessness was at its peak. That is when I decided to call upon a friend and mentor whose simple words were: be grateful and God will show you the way.

This was like a bucket of cool water that brought me back to earth. I stopped. I prayed. I expressed my gratitude for everything that had come my way and above all for each and every time a miracle had come my way when I needed it most and Gosh I had forgotten how many miracles I had experienced. If I spent the rest of my living days on my knees, it would not be enough to express my gratitude.

The next day I sat down and wrote a few mails seeking help. I was not upset but strangely calm, as if I knew deep within me that things would fall in place. A few hours later an answer dropped in mailbox: it was another miracle, a most unexpected one.

All it had needed was for me to be grateful. The rest just happened.

Who says miracles do not happen?

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Looking Away

I have borrowed the title of this blog from Harsh Mander's hard hitting book: Looking Away. The author himself summarises his book with the following words: it is about the need for people to care for each other, in other words not look away! The cover is stark and disturbing and makes you want to look away before your eyes fall on the bye line: ‘Looking Away, Inequality, Prejudice and Indifference in New India.’ How easily we look away when faced with anything that disturbs our perfectly and carefully constructed life and what a sad reflection on our lives as we know subconsciously that it is as frail as a house of cards that would crumble if we dared open our hearts, so we keep it shut and as for the eyes, well we look away. We look away when we see a child begging at a street light; we look away when we see a child working in a shop or even in a 'friend's house, come on our house of cards stands on acceptance and conformity. We cannot say or do anything that would alter that. We look away when faced with a news item about anything abhorrent: women being trashed in public, kangaroo courts ordering rape as retribution; children being beaten to death. Gosh the list is endless. And this Looking Away Syndrome also translates in our refusal to part with a few pennies to help the other side of the fence: those who don't look away. And to ease our consciences we come up with axioms like: All NGOs are crooks! And having ingrained that thought in whatever has replaced the heart, we set on finding new ways to spend our money. Even Depression is better than Donating!

For the past almost two decades I have born the brunt of this attitude and have had to look for greener pastures across blue seas. In 1998, I began my journey with the naive belief that I would be able to achieve my dreams by simply asking a small amount of people to donate one rupee a day! Biggest joke of eternity that left me shame faced. I then set out to seek people one supposedly knew, all page 3 material thanks to the social circle of the husband to give 100 paltry rupees a month. Some gave just for ONE MONTH! Some even had the cheek to ask the husband to give it to me! Once at a small party where everyone knew everyone and when we were collecting money for a heart surgery, I was stupid enough to ask those present to empty their wallets, in a manner of speech. All looked away. At a fair in my old college when we had a table selling tombola tickets where the first price was meeting a superstar, we sold barely a dozen of 30 rupees tickets whereas our neighbour who was a tarot card reader made a hefty sum. Looking away is now in the DNA of the Indian Rich.

As you know, a few weeks ago the dreaded meltdown hit and this is what I looked like metaphorically of course! Many suggestions were made and I followed them all: rest (haha), yoga, barefoot walking, healthy eating, meditating and I did them all. I also thought that the message from above was to let go and hand over all responsibilities to the team so that they could find their feet. Deflate the armbands in a manner of speech! So a meeting was held to do just that. On my part I was to heal myself and then taken on the role of a mentor. What was left unsaid was that I had to find another cause to fight for. All this of course rested on the premise that we had sufficient funds to allow everyone to find their feet. But my friend the God of Lesser beings had other plans and it was a day or so later that my Financial Director let out that we were dry. This of course is due to the fact that many regular donors backed out or cut their  donations and one was not able to find a lasting solution so it had been a hand-to-mouth situation for a while. So all carefully made plans came crashing and I knew that at least for the time being I had to jump in the ring and provide sufficient oxygen. Maybe that was what the doctor ordered in my case and the face in the mirror looked a tad more normal, and the 'writer's' block seemed to vanished.

In the past, I have always tapped my international network as the Looking Away Syndrome was too much to deal with and created more harm than good as it infuriated and riled me to a point that I became unproductive. But this time is a little different thanks to my meeting two wonderful souls (and I hope you recognise yourselves if you read this) who have everything that the Looking Away kind have but have one thing they do not: the heart and courage not to look away. These two blessed souls help us with abundant generosity and with no strings attached. They trust us.

So this time, I decided to make another valiant attempt at reaching out to those who have money with a caveat: I would take the help of these two warriors.

Project why with its 1000+ kids and 45+ staff does not require much to run. It can be divided into 15 modules each costing less than a pair of shoes or a bag at a upmarket mall or a dinner for 4 at a restaurant. Even our most expensive centre is less than what a bunch of young rich paid for drinks according to the article. Imagine now the same amount spent on: providing a safe and secure and happy place to 20 children and young adults with disabilities who are rejected by their families; teaching them a skill that would 'buy' them some dignity within their own family; take them out to parks and open spaces a far cry from the holes they live in; provide them medical care and counselling and more for ONE WHOLE MONTH. Does the equation balance? One evening against one month.

So my next task is to make the Project Why Menu where each 'dish' will have its price of course and a description of all the ingredients that make it delectable.

I hope it will work because it is not only a matter of project why children but also a way to get people not too look away and see that what they experience in return in far more than the most expensive thing that money can buy: the smile and trust of a child.

So help me God and his 2 Angels!

Thursday, September 03, 2015

In the corner of my heart

For the past 10 days we have been flooded with the twist and turns of a high society crime , twists and turns which would beat the imagination the most prolific crime writer. And it is nowhere ended. Wonder what other skeletons will pop out of dark cupboards. It has even caught the eye of foreign newspapers! A master whodunit. In all the coming and goings, the hidden faces some under headgear that resemble the KKK, lies a sad story: that of an unwanted child murdered in the prime of her life for greed and ambition. Imagine being abandoned by your parents when just a toddler and then when you enter your youth being told not to reveal your relationship but pose as the sibling of your mother. And then when you become too much of an embarrassment or impediment, you are slain, hacked, burnt and buried and not missed for three long years. That is in short the story of the young girl who is making the headlines. What is tragic is that no one is truly mourning for her as one should for a life so brutally taken.

This morning we were told about a diary this young girl allegedly wrote when still a teenager. Diaries should remain private but in this case it becomes the young girl's voice, a voice otherwise unheard. In the diary she writes of loving and hating her parents, even the father who washed his hands off her. And what is most poignant is that tiny entry about her mother where she says: she is in the corner of my heart.

These words brought to mind the often unsaid words of a little boy I love and who too was abandoned by his mother and has no clue about who his biological father is. He has memories of his mom of the times when he was a toddler and she cared for him. But she too had other ambitions and pursuits that were fare more important than caring of a child. And she took off, coming back sporadically when she needed to use the child to fulfil her needs. In her case too it was money, money to feed her addiction. She too met many men and 'married' them; the latest being a few weeks ago. The child who is now a strapping teenager has not met her for years but still carries her in the corner of his heart. For her she is the caring mom who plied him with biscuits his still favourite treat as any biscuit he eats is tempered in maternal love. Children never forget.

An abandoned child will often state that it hates its mom as hate is also a form of love. The real opposite of love is indifference and no child is indifferent to its progenitors.

It is strange how the story of these two women are akin in spite of the fact that they belong to opposite part of the social spectrum. Both were born in small towns and humble homes, both had children at an early age, children they left with their parents to hit city lights. Both had needs that were way beyond their means and both used men to fulfil these.

For the past days as this sordid stories unfolds my heart goes out to my little Popples who God was kind enough to entrust to me before more hurt could come his way. Over the years I have seen how his mother has been present in his inner most thoughts be it when he buys biscuits, has to make a family tree for his home work or asks for pictures to put up in his hostel room. But the image he carries in the corner of his heart is a far cry from the reality.

I do not know if my love will be strong enough to help him find healing answers to all the disturbing questions that still lurk around the corner.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The 66 days bogey

As you know I have had the expected meltdown that I had been dreading for quite some time but I must admit I was on such a adrenalin high, that I did not expect it to happen to me. Come on am I not the control freak superwoman who battles it all! So I can control my meltdown as I do everything else. No No! That is not how it goes and a few silly triggers and the cookie crumbled. The body. mind, sou, spirit said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! And to make sure I heard LOUD AND CLEAR they took away my one and only panacea for all ills: my desire and thus ability to write. That was a real red flag and I knew I had to take matters in hand and take a break. So am on a break. My FB page is ample proof. No blog a day!

The doctors ordered rest, yoga, breathing, exercising, mineral broth, green juices and more. I am being good and after a few days of resisting - noblesse oblige - I realised I quite enjoyed this state of total farniente. La Dolce Vita. Let alone writing and even reading has taken a back seat and I find myself doing nothing for long spells. 

I do not know how many days it has been but it suddenly struck me this morning that if I let it happen for 66 days then it will become a habit. That was a wake up call. I could not and cannot let this happen. So panic attacks or not here I am writing a blog.

Mercifully being on forced rest I still find myself browsing the net, zapping TV channels and thumbing through magazines. This is how I stumbled on two articles that got my somewhat dried up creative juices trickling, and the 66 day bogey did the rest. One is about the plight of Delhi's Rich Kids. Reading it made me sad and also angry. Parents have no time for their children and give them everything they want except happiness so these kids surrounded by luxury in every form imaginable are lost and depressed. They buy expensive things they do not use or drink themselves silly paying a whopping 60K with alacrity. No one is there to spend time with them or inculcate values. The only mantra is money! Money the elusive coin the likes of me break their proverbial back trying to collect each day not to buy expensive items but to keep dreams alive.

What anguishes me most in my otherwise enthralling project why journey is my inability to reach out to these lost kids and young adults and open their hearts. Giving up just one bag, shoe or drinking binge could run a whole pwhy centre. How does one reach out to these poor rich kids and teach them compassion and sharing. I do not know. What is frightening is that the gap is going wider by the second as the rich shut themselves behind real and virtual gates.

The second article I read warmed my heart though it angered many. This article is about a High Court so disturbed by the plight of government schools that they directed t he chief secretary to ensure that children/wards of government officials/servants, those serving in the local bodies, representatives of people and judiciary, etc., send their wards to these schools. Sadly this will not happen as there are too many stakeholders that would rather 'die' - or I guess pack their kids to another planet - then have their children share a bench with what we call the 'poor'. And yet if this were to be true, India would change. I have always yearned for a common school for all where children from all walks of life would study, play and grow together in an enabling environment. Is this a miracle one can pray for?

So here it is. I have broken the 66 days bogey. Whether it is for good or just for today, only time will tell.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

It's much more than that.

You might wonder why I'm sending you a photograph of a tin is how the email from a very loved friend and die hard supporter began and then she added: it's much more than that! As I read on the mystery was unravelled. This beautiful box was given to them by two of their friends Yvonne and Geoff and was filled to the brim with coins meant for Project Why that they had collected. The sum may seem small to some but is huge for us. And that is not all: they want the box emptied and back so that they can collect more.

This wonderful news arrived on a day when I am/was feeling blue and heavy hearted. Grandma's Blues I guess, as my little grandson leaves tomorrow and we are both trying hard to be brave. But as is always the case when one is doleful and choked, then thoughts turn dark and all that worries you takes centre stage. Project Why's is undoubtedly Top of the Pops.

For almost a year now, I guess since we lost a large chunk of regular funding - a whopping 1000 Euros - I have not been able to make up the shortfall, let alone garner more support so its truly Bleak Street as far as I am concerned and though I put on a brave face, I look for messages from the Heavens to enable me to soldier on.

Now Messages from Up There are not miracles. They are subtle hints that need to be interpreted with the heart. So at a time when I was almost on the brink of saying Basta, to my missing 1000 come a tiny 40 but what a 40 when you look with your heart. What these coins mean is that someone is hearing my prayers and nudging me to carry on with a silent promise of being there should I fall. I cannot say that the blues lifted immediately, come on we still have 24 hours till a big plane takes my little chap away, but I know the task that lies ahead once the plane has flown away and the tears dried on my ageing face. I will need to put my heart and soul in securing project why's morrows.

Now in this strange equation where 40 > 1000 some explaining needs to be done. These coins have been collected by lovely people who see with their hearts and live thousands of miles away. They are friends of Irene and Andy who came to volunteer with us many years ago and fell in love with the children of project why. Though they were here for a short time, barely a week or so, they left a little bit of their hearts with us and took a large part of ours. Come on it does not take long to fall in love, does it! Since, they have been perfect Ambassadors for Project Why and over and above being never fail donors they have managed to get many friends involved.

The coins in the box are laced with so much love that I would be unable to know the number of zeroes to be added to the 40! I feel humbled. But more than that I feel honoured by the trust people who have never met me or seen Project Why have reposed in me.

How blessed am I that people in Sunny Spain spend time and energy to ensure that the dreams of a woman in the autumn of her life come true, dreams for children no one cares about.

So Thank you Irene and Andy. Thank you Yvonne and Geoff.

And how can I forget Valerie who spends her free time making lovely bags the proceeds of which have the ability to make dreams come true. It is because of people like them that one can carry on in a world where people seem to lose their ability to see with their hearts at the speed of light.

Thank you all. I love you.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

A question of safety

A few days back a young friend was sharing his dilemma about shifting homes. He lives in one of the what is known as 'posh' colonies of South Delhi and has a floor in one of the stand alone houses which are the hallmark of these colonies. I live in one too. His wife wants to move to a satellite town, in one of the self contained upmarket gated communities. My first reaction was instant horror! I would never give up my rambling and even crumbling home for the most luxurious apartment in a gated colony. Gosh it is like living in a gilded cage. But as the young man started stating his case I realised his wife's concerns and even understanding them. I still would not move a toe out of my home but then I am an ageing woman with grown up kids and a grandson that lives thousands of miles away. The young woman in question is a mom to young children, one about the age of our resident 'imp' at the Yamuna centre.

The young mother's concerns are many but can be resumed in a single word: safety. The present location of her home is 'unsafe' for her children. They have to breathe fumes of the constant traffic; cross busy roads to get to a park to play; drive miles to get to a pool or simply to school. In a gated community all the child needs to do is take a ride in the elevator. The world is literally at her feet.

I could not help but think of my little imp and of her 'house'. It looks like the one painted by one of her school mates in this picture. Thatched structure as the law does not allow the 'poor' a single brick on the flood plain - that is only the prerogative of the rich who can build temples and sky scrapers -! The agricultural labourers who tend to the vegetable fields in the flood plains can only have these flimsy structure where a spark can set a fire and snakes can lurk in the straw of the walls. And when the river is in spate and the fields are flooded the families move on higher grounds tucking whatever they can of their homes under their arm: often the precious blue plastic sheet and a few belongings. The rest has to be procured again when the water recede and the home can be erected till the next rain sweeps it away. I wonder if little Preeti's mom can have the luxury to worry about the safety of her child. I guess it is better she did not as the dangers that lurk are unimaginable: snakes and bees; contaminated water replete with bacteria of all shades and hues and heavy toxic  metals thrown in the river with alacrity and impunity by the likes of us. The poison seeps into the very ground these children run on. In the case of this mom ignorance is bliss. If she had an iota of knowledge she would take her children and run. But where to?

The family had to 'run' from their ancestral homes as not only did they not have any means of sustenance but they had the misfortune of 'belonging' to the wrong political party, and I use the verb 'belong' with utmost confidence.

Feudalism has not died in India. It has simply changed feathers! Gone are the feudal lords and enter the politician. Just as the erstwhile feudal lord who needed hands to work his land, they too need 'hands' to clap at their rallies and shout slogans. The feudal master fed and cared for his brood; the political master hands out a few coins and unlike his predecessor, leaves you in the lurch to fend for yourself and your loved one when the battle is lost. What no one realises is that predators lurk and target those who dared cheer for the opponent. So you run. Just as the families of our Yamuna centre did and you hope the hounds will lose your scent.

You build your life again having only Nature to contend with and you learn to survive again. But your scent never leaves. It is called 'poverty'. One day it will be picked up again by the new lords who will make you run again. I wonder when the land these brave people till will come into the eyes of the politician-builder duo duly blessed by the bureaucrat ready to do what is needed. So more than the river there is a larger danger looming.

Apologies for this digression. But it has to be said.

Let us get back to the topic: safety of children! How easily we identify the slightest element that may endanger our child but then why do we not have the same attitude to the multitude of children that come our way when we step out of our 'safe' homes. Have we ever bothered to give a thought to the dangers they encounter every minute of their tender life. I am talking of the child that knocks at your car window at every street light. Have we ever thought of how she weans her way in the dense traffic? And when she sleeps under a bridge what does she breathe: toxic fumes. I guess you get the idea. The child that works at a tea shop, a brick kiln or even in your neighbour's home have we ever bothered to look at her the same way as we do when we think of our own.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: the test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.

I do not think we fare well as a Nation.

Makes me hang my head in shame.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Respect to the gods

Kids speak out on religion is a video everyone must see with their heart and imbibe in case one still has an inner child. Kids of all hues were asked a series of questions like what is religion? What is means to you? What is you religion? Do you have friends from other religions and so on? I urge you to take a few minutes and listen to their jaw dropping answers filled with wisdom beyond their age. From "Respect to the Gods" to "To make us less scared" you have it all. And then you will smile at the religions proffered: tamil, marathi, Bhojpuri. They all agree it is man made and ultimately everyone is the same. If there are no religions they all agree that life would be better. Amen!

It is serendipity at work again as if you read my last post, you may recall that Utpal now in his raging teens is hell bent on getting the 1st prize the dorm decoration contest and to that end barring posters and wall clock he bought a small Ganesha and the name of Allah as the room has Hindu and Muslim boys. Yesterday I got a frantic call asking me to buy a cross too as we seem to have a Christian pal too. Needless to say it has been done and waits to be sent to school. This side of Utpal is heartwarming to me as I too was brought up the same way and even at age 63 my temple has deities and representations of all faith. That is the way my parents brought me up. I guess boarding schools are also a great place to learn to be truly secular.

I cannot resist but share a story that happened almost half a century ago. My husband who was in boarding school since age 6 told me that once when he was soccer captain, he discovered to his horror that his shoe laces were misplaced/lost/wet and that he needed something to go in the dared shows. He saw some kind of string hanging in the washroom and without a thought grabbed it and laced his shoes. He discovered later that the string was the sacred thread Parsis wear around their waist. But it was no issue. The string was removed form the shoe and washed and found its way back to the intended waist. Everyone has a good laugh and no one was offended. The two boys in question are still great friends!

Religion at best should be all encompassing and humane. Nothing short of that is worthy of any God we pray to. I was born a Hindu but brought us as a human being and though I prayed at our alter, I also fasted with my Muslim friends; went to Church with My Muslim ones; celebrated the Sabbath with my Jewish ones and argued in a bantering way with my atheist and agnostic ones. That is the way it should be.

This rabid talk of religion jars on the years and make me uncomfortable to say the least if not go ballistic. So when Utpal's asks for a cross it is music to my ears and balm to my heart. But one quickly wonders how long will it take these kids to be drawn into the vortex of religions that divide, teach to hate and even kill.

For the moment, let me simply enjoy this moment.

Listen to these real children of God