Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Does #India want its children to be branded by birth ? #GivingTuesday

The past days have seen many Indian dreams smothered before time.

Three young girls ended their lives by jumping in a well. A young Dalit scholar ended his life in the hope of rekindling his battle. These lives were sacrificed at the altar of our indifference to the plight of those who live on the other side of the fence we  call the 'poor.’ These include the economically, socially and otherwise challenged or those who we feel are different from us. You simply do not see, hear or speak about them.

To be merely acknowledged they have to scream themselves hoarse till the day they realise that nothing falls on deaf ears and they need to take the ultimate step to tell us they exist.

Rohith the young scholar and Saranya (18), Priyanka (18) and Monisha (19) did just that. They had enough of screaming. They hoped their deaths would talk in their place. They left suicide letters to convey what they could not in their lifetime.

What were they asking for: teachers to teach them, humane living conditions and to be treated as students and not slaves. Rohith in his last heart-rending letter simply states: my birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness, the unappreciated child from my past.

Nothing can help shed the cloak of poverty that sticks to you by virtue of your birth. The young girls paid a humongous fee to fulfill their dreams in the hope that money could buy them the freedom to aspire to better morrows, but that was not enough.

Rohith was born in the wrong caste. Does a child ask to be born in a particular family? Aren’t all children conceived and born the same way? So why these labels that stick to you before you utter your first cry, labels that never leave you no matter how hard you try to escape them?

To know of the plight young students of the wrong caste suffer and  read this  article. Students from Dalit and other backward communities have a raw deal. They have to survive in an environment where they are always considered inferior. Anything they do is viewed with suspicion by the elite class and the administration. They live with a Damocles sword hanging on their heads. One research student complained about the fact that she doesn’t even have a chair and is often locked out of the lab. And that is not all, should these students raise their voices or complain, they could even be labelled terrorists! On a daily basis they suffer barbs and snide remarks. Never ending. Relentless.

A young Dalit student says it all when she recounts an incident when a fellow student told her: “But you don’t look like an SC, you don’t dress like an SC!” On that day she was wearing a Nike T shirt. Brands are the prerogative of the upper lot; reserved categories are branded at birth for life.

When I look back at my early years I realise that never did my parents make me feel that I was in anyway different from those who lived with us be they family or staff. They were like me; individual human beings.

The most significant lesson my parents could conjure to ensure that this was seared on my soul was a yearly ritual I performed after Diwali prayer. Once the prayer over my father would ask me to go and touch the feet of everyone elder than me in the house. When you are five or six or even ten that literally means everyone: my parents of course, any guests present and the entire staff. In my case it often also meant people of different faiths and nationalities.

With this masterstroke they had shattered all barriers!

The way some people treat those who work for them sometimes defies comprehension.  What is sad is that this sets the tone for children forever. Children follow their role models.

Education can be the answer provided it remains on a level playing ground. Schools should remove all barriers, make all labels irrelevant except for those you earn by your deeds in school.

But today we have schools for the rich and schools for the poor and if that is not enough the Government's Education Policy compels the schools for the rich to 'reserve' 25% seats for the poor. The new policy still on the anvil furthers this by decreeing that schools for the rich should take schools for the poor under their wings. Far from an even playing field. What is sad is that it seems that it seems that the Government seems to have chosen this way.

Should education be privatized at all? If we were to follow the true spirit of the Constitutional Right to Quality Education then the best approach would be good quality neighbourhood schools where children from diverse social backgrounds could learn together to learn, be, do and live with others, in the words of Jacques Delors.. This would allow children to break all barriers and bond with children of all caste, creed, and social profile.

But that is not the case as we have seen, and children from so called lower classes and castes - have to run the race of life with a label stuck to their foreheads that grows larger as the forehead grows. What is frightening is that the labels have insidiously taken on many hues: clothing, language, demeanour and so on, hence the remark: you don't look like a ..! We have let the schism percolate to every walk of life.

It need not be so.

I talk from experience as more than 5 years ago I sent a bunch of deprived children of diverge castes and creeds to an upmarket boarding school. These kids have not only done exceedingly well in all fields, many topping their classes, but have managed to shed the labels they were born with and create their own. Imagine what India would be if we could do that for all kids.

My staff has a large number of people from 'these' castes and from top to bottom. I employed them for their ability and skills. I did not know what caste they belonged to and did not care.

One my senior staff members shared the plight of his community : his village is a few kilometres from India's capital but till date no person from his community can ride a bicycle in front of the house of a higher caste person, or smoke in front of them. And that is not all.

At weddings, all music and bands have to be played outside the village. When the marriage party enters the village it has to do so silently. Even their right to celebrate has been taken away.

But on the other hand it does not take much to change things.

When we began Project Why, I was insistent on the staff eating lunch together, a lunch that would be cooked in-house and served by teachers according to a schedule. I must admit that in the beginning when 'certain' teachers served 'others' did not eat. I watched in silence, not reacting. I simply ensured that I ate everyday notwithstanding 'who' served. I cannot tell you how long it took but the day came when everyone was eating no matter who served and not only that but everyone even began inviting each other to their homes!

Being an example is the best way to teach. This is the role parents and teacher should play but unfortunately do not any more. It is imperative to fill in this space and education alone can do that. There must have been a reason for Jacques Delors to expand the definition of education and include 'learning to be' and more so 'learning to live with others'.

It is time we taught our children the Art of Living with Others.

Do we want our children to be branded by birth? Shouldn’t every child have the right to create her of his own label and wear it with pride? Have you seen examples of such inequity around you? Share your stories in the comments!

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Homeless in Delhi's Winter #GivingTuesday #India

In the biting cold of the city is is funeral pyres that have come to the rescue of the homeless in the city. A heart wrenching news item aired today showed how many homeless persons huddled around the funeral pyres burning at different cremation sites. I wonder at the level of desperation that makes you seek warmth in the realm of the dead.

In another corner of the same city others are busy piling on layer after layer and complaining about the weather while sipping hot coffee or downing a shot of spirit. It should be said here that the hot tea and wood once given by the State Government to night shelters has been stopped. Perplexing as is it not the same Government who had promised to provide shelter to all homeless persons when it first came into power? Barely two years ago they had come up almost overnight with makeshift shelters across the city and had even talked of converting buses into night shelters. I had been quick to express my support urging one and all to do so. I was naive. I had forgotten that power corrupts in more ways than one. It demands you to give up the ability to see with your heart.

It took exactly two years to forget all promises. Even the cup of tea was taken away.

Some statistics now. In the 69th year of our Independence 8 people die of cold every day in the capital city. 164 have died this winter and with the cold wave raging there will be many more. The city has only 180 shelters some tents or portacabins. All together they can at best accommodate 10000 persons. There are at least 300 000 homeless in Delhi. You do the maths.

Many have to face the 'sleep mafia' that controls where and for how long you sleep,  at a hefty cost of course. In a land where the State has abdicated its duty to provide the basic survival amenities to its poor, mafias walk in to fill the gap where needed and sleep is one such area. So quilts and space are up for takes to the best bidder. And as this new business grows, the state seems to withdraw further and further. Is poverty becoming the latest entrant in the business world. Who knows.

I wonder whether anyone of us has tried to imagine what life for a homeless looks like. We look forward to returning home and almost take it for granted. Home means a warm meal, a warm bed, warm water at the flick of a switch, smiles and stories shared around a hot cuppa. The homeless, after toiling the whole day, has to figure out where he will sleep. He may need to count his money and decide between a hot meal and a warm quilt. It is easier when he is alone, but what about families who are homeless, small babies, aged parents. I cannot begin to imagine what they go through night after night.

Seems like we have lost our ability to feel the pain of the other as these people are not invisible. Peer out of your car window when you drive back from your next party, you will see them on the road, near over bridges or at construction sites.

That the homeless should be compelled to warm themselves at funeral pyres is a shocking but real reflection of who we have become as a society. Need I say more.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Learning to ..... #GivingTuesday#India#Education

The new education policy(NEP) is on the anvil.  A fancy website invites citizens to participate in its formulation. Consultations and meetings are being held from village to State level. Every one and anyone is invited to the show i.e the drafting of the education policy that will steer the lives of our children for the years to come. Wonder why I feel a tad discomfited. This is the future of our children and hence of our country we are talking about.

Last week a prominent TV channel aired a kind of curtain raiser to the draft that is one is told to be unveiled soon. The Drafting Committee is headed by a retired and respected bureaucrat. He candidly shared some of the salient features of the NEP. I must say there was nothing earth shattering. Actually much of it felt sated an jaded. As a man becoming his age the Chairman of the Drafting Committee talked with a certain nostalgia of values and stories heard at Grandma's knee but even Super Granny is no match to You Tube and its pals. We all agree we need to reinstate values and teach ethics and so on but all this has to be version Century 21! And therein lies the trick.

What truly saddened and shocked me was the suggestion that Public (private + rich) Schools should take on the task of 'helping' Government (poor) schools. To me this sole statement was enough to realise that once again we had headed the wrong way.

Seems like we as a nation and a society thrive on division. Division creates barriers. Barriers are never good. More so in education as to my mind education is the sole path to transformation. Education has to offer a level playing field. The moment you advocate one kind of  school helping another the battle is lost. We have enough division lines be they religion, caste, social background and so on. School could and should be the space where all these are obliterated. Looks like this education policy has not had the courage to do so. Our children have lost the battle. They will have again have to wait long years. I wait for the day when India will have a common neighbourhood school for everyone to walk to. Am I waiting for Godot?

During the show what transpired was a sense of confusion mostly due in my opinion to the overload of suggestions and submissions that the Committee had received and that they probably felt needed to be looked at. Now you will agree that there are many stakeholders in Education and each will view the problem from their perspective. To give you a small example we at pwhy have to battle with parents who ask us to 'beat' their children if they do not do what is asked of them. It is an extreme example but I guess you get the point.

For the policy makers it looks good to have mass participation and probably is also a sound election ploy. Everyone from village to state is involved. The question that needs to be asked is whether each of them have the interests of children at heart and the ability to view the problem in its entirety. I would tend to say no.

The question is not as overwhelming as it seems. Sometimes one simply needs to look at already existing policies and tweak them according to the needs to the day.

I have always been terribly impressed by the FOUR PILLARS OF LEARNING enunciated in 1996 by Jacques Delors namely : Learning to Know, Learning to Do, Learning to Live Together, and Learning to Be. A sound education policy would be one that adapts these Pillars to the reality of the day and gives them equal space at all levels of education from pre school to higher education. This comprehensive education does not stop at imparting knowledge and skills but goes a step further to integrating them within the society in which the child has to live and not forgetting to development of the child itself.

Education today cannot be viewed in isolation. More so when families are losing the role they once played. Today school plays an important role in forming the child as a person and a citizen. Moreover education today has to keep up with the other sources wherein the child accesses knowledge - the Internet for example - and be in a position to steer the child in the right direction. Today it is no more EITHER OR but how to combine the two in the best manner possible. It is a huge challenge but one we must take had on for the sake of our children.

I agree that values learnt and Nana's knee were invaluable but today these are passé. Simply reintroducing moral studies with the stories we learnt from would be laughable. What is needed is a huge makeover and coming up with stories that would talk to today's children. 

When I look at the books the children study from, and believe you me I have done so umpteen times when I wear the Maam'ji cap and help with Popples's homework, I wonder how they can hold the interest of the net savvy kids of today. Books need to be rewritten but by people who understand children and accept who they have become. Someone needs have the courage of spring cleaning all lessons. Do our kids really need to learn tables till 20 now that we have the decimal system? A good way would be to assess what we actually remember and use and what we have forgotten. In some countries calculators are now accepted in examinations, maybe we should do that. An error in calculation is no reflection of a child's intelligence.

When I sat for my IAS examination,  I had a job and was a young mom. I was willing to study subjects and comprehend them but was aghast to know that I was expected to learn a plethora of statistics for the viva voce. These were annual production stats that lost their relevance when they year ended. There was no way I would do this. Needless to say many told me that I would never make it. The day dawned and after a few niceties the Chairman of the Interview Board, without looking up asked me what the steel production of India was and I simply answered that I did not know. He asked a few more questions and got the same answer. He finally looked up and asked in an irritated tone what did I know. I looked straight into his eyes and answered him that I knew the names of all the yearly publications that carried this information and would as a responsible officer ensure that these were available in my office. A huge laughter across the room told me that I had succeeded.

Education is meant to build confidence in every child. That confidence is what will make her walk the right path even if she has to walk it alone. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Light up a Child's Smile

Light up a Child's Smile is a new campaign launched by the Mamagoto restaurants across India. This wonderful venture is the result of  serendipitous synchronicity. Yesterday when I received the long anticipated call tell me that WE WERE LIVE, my thoughts travelled back to where it all began almost a year and a half ago.

A dear friend and mentor told me recently that the universe always conspires to fulfil your dreams even if we mere mortals give up on them too easily. What you ask with your heart is always granted, even if you may have forgotten your prayer.

From the very outset my dream was to create a large and varied donor base who would give tiny amounts to make our work possible be it the one-rupee-a-day campaign that we launched long ago or  the various attempts at getting restaurants owners to add a tiny rupee to their bill. In the later case I remember being gobsmacked when the owner of a chain of restaurants asked me in all seriousness what he would do if five years down the line someone objected to the rupee parted with and pressed charges. Needless to say I was speechless. Come one ONE RUPEE or 0.015 cents. There are better ways to refuse Dear Sir! I can look at it with humour today but it was not the case on that fateful day. Were you to take out a rupee from a beggar's bowl it would not make a difference. But my marketing skills were poor I guess.

In the same line we decided to hold a raffle where the prizes were: a meeting with a top star, a colour TV and so on and I managed to get an entry to my Alma Mater's fair hoping to sell tickets by the dozen. We did not even sell one dozen. We were no match to the Tarot card reader at the next table.

We did have our share of silver linings; they came from over the seas!

We managed to secure some regular donors and even sunk into a comfort zone till we were rudely jolted out of it and run helter skelter.

The Universe on the other hand does not move post haste and also does not forget the messages it receives. It also operates in its inimitable manner we humble humans call synchronicity. A little before we received the news of a large regular donor backing out, the Heavens had begun setting the stage. Mid last year I came to know about the raw food diet and wanted to learn more. An email, a phone call and a meeting was all it took to establish a bond with a wonderful human being who felt like a soul sister. A few months later she even managed to get the recluse into a party outfit and come to dinner. Serendipity found me seated next to a young man who I learnt owned chain of restaurants. I almost fell of my chair when he told me that a good fund raising way was to add a fixed amount to bills! And his idea was TEN not ONE Rupee! Time stood still for a instant. I was hearing myself in an earlier avatar.

I had forgotten about this option but the Universe had not!

It took a few months to set it all up. But we are in business now.

A new world has opened up to Project Why.

For me meeting this wonderful young man who has a heart as big as the Universe is precious. It validates my belief in human kind. Everyone has a good heart; they have simply forgotten how to use it. It is time we helped them do so.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Hunt for empathy

I recently read the review of a children's book titled The Avrah Stories by Abu Abraham. What caught my eye and I guess my heart was the closing line of the review: and he teaches his little readers a lesson that you are never too young to learn: the importance of empathy. I have been trying to get my hands on a copy of the book but with no success till now. What truly grabbled me was the word 'empathy' one that is sadly missing from the lexicon of too many of us, young and not so young.

Of all the definitions of the word EMPATHY the one I like best is this one: to ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions, not to be confused  with pity or kindness. Empathy has to be nurtured throughout life, more so when we find ourselves in the face of adversity. But the seeds have to be sown in tender minds something that sadly does not happen anymore.

When I look back at my own life I am surprised at the fact that I cannot remember my first lesson in empathy though I remember feeling empathy when I was tiny, maybe 3 or so. Even today I feel tugs at my heart when I remember hazily the man and his dancing bear that my nana had called to entertain me. It was not the bear and his antics that I saw, but the thin man in a threadbare shirt in the freezing cold. I had surreptitiously walked into his shoes. The show ended when my tears compelled my grandparents to find the man and give him an coat. I on the other hand carried that 'ability' and fine tuned it over the years.

So where do these lessons come from and why have we lost them?

It has now been scientifically proved that we are not only homo sapiens but also homo empaticus who have the ability for cooperation and mutual aid. Roman Krznaric feels that empathy can be cultivated throughout our lives and use it to transform society, something I totally agree with. Highly empathetic  people have habits that they cultivate like: curiosity about strangers, challenging prejudices and discovering commonalities, trying on someone else's life, listening hard and opening up, developing imagination and inspiring social change. I am humbled to see that these are pretty much habits I follow.

But to get to this point in life I have to thank many masters: my parents who led by example, the stories I heard at their knees, the innumerable amount of books I read and still read, the true life inspiring accounts I was told, the movies that made me cry, the undying belief that one could learn till one's last breath and from any one no matter how humble, the gentle and correct admonishing by elders and teachers and so much more. From the look of it these are simple pursuits and occurrences and should be part of any child's life.

Sadly that is not the case. Today children have parents who do not have time to tell stories, the box does that! Books mean school books and thus boring and a chore. Adults do not seem to care. Movies are violent and devoid of meaning, songs have no poetry, moral studies is passé and off the school curriculum and so on. There is no one to hold your hand when you stumble, no words to assuage your hurt, no one to set you back on course. You are at the mercy of a world where screens tell stories and search engines are your mentors. And this comes at a huge price one being  abdicating your right to imagine and hence your curiosity.

The palette on offer is limited, the people that can help non existent, lessons to be learnt AWOL, how can empathy be fuelled. At best is lies dormant waiting for the miracle that could rekindle it.  In the meantime the world has turned into a terrifying place where aberrations are no more exceptions but the rule.

As I write these words what stares at me is the frightening reality that we have no resources to carry on for long. Shut the door would be what most would suggest, and they do I tell you, some adding in good measure you have done enough! How do I tell them that it is in these times of strife that all the little and bigger faces of my project why family come to the fore and urge me to carry on. I can feel the hopes and see the dreams they dared to hold on to because we were there.

The problem is that most of those I approach I have shut their empathy and lost the key. True it appears at times propelled by a horrifying incident but soon slinks back into some tiny recess of the mind.

I have often asked myself what would get people to get out of their comfort zone and scream. It does not seem the be the rape of baby, the brutalising of a woman, the burning of a human being because you do not like what you think he ate, the killing of another because he read something you did not approve and so on. Each should rekindle our empathy but it does not. That is what we have become. I guess we are not even home sapiens: wise person. No wise person would allow any such aberrations in the society he called his own. And yet we live in one quite comfortably.

I am on a hunt, a hunt for EMPATHY.

The extraordinary will take care of itself

“Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives.

Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness.

Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life.

Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears.

Show them how to cry when pets and people die.

Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand.

And make the ordinary come alive for them.

The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

 William Martin, The Parent's Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


2015 will go down in the annals of Project Why as a challenging yet comforting year. All ran perfectly on stage! Backstage it was a year of wake up calls and critical quests but also of new beginnings. Seems perplexing but please bear with me. 

If all is not well in the wings, then how can the performance even begin one would believe? Not quite so at Project Why; 2015 was a stellar show in  spite of greenrooms in disarray. Let us take it from the top.

About a year or so ago we were deprived of a large chunk of our regular donation by force majeure. The immediate effect was not blatant as there were some reserves but over the months these got depleted and in mid 2015 we faced a crisis. The coffers were empty or almost. Shutting the door was not an option. 

Never before did I feel so lost and so terrified. Time took seemed to go in frenzy mode as barely had we met one month's dues, the next was around the corner. I shot out mails and SMSs. I made calls. I knocked at every door I could. Someone did hear us each time and bailed us out. Nothing short of a miracle!

This went on month after month and we are still not out of the woods  but are beginning to see the light of day.

The wake up calls were numerous and varied but two stood out: the firs being the stark realisation that coffers were really empty - we had had too many cry wolf situations in the past - and the second the complete meltdown I had this summer, the result of too many months being in survival mode because of the health of my husband. Come July and I was knocked out. The real fright was my total inability to write! Writing was my only saviour and once bereft of it I was unable to carry on. It was time to pick the pieces. I did, slowly one piece  at a time. For one who lives at the speed of light this was no easy task but somehow being compelled to slow down was what the doctor ordered as it allowed me to bring a new perspective in my life. This newfound wisdom was a lifeline for project why and brought some order into the backroom activities.

 One of the main decisions taken in 2015 was to shift part of our funding base to India. To achieve this we adopted a multi pronged plan. A chance encounter in late 2014 revived an old dream. In the days when I was still convinced that the future of funding for causes lay in creating a large donor base that gave small amounts, I had attempted to contact people in the hospitality business in the hope that a rupee added to bills would be a sound funding option. This idea was laid to a quick rest when I was faced with the cynicism of a restaurant owner who wanted to know what would happen if someone raised an objection ten years down the line. I had no answer and beat a quick retreat. 

When I met another restaurant owner who proposed to add 10 Rs per bill, I felt vindicated. This wonderful soul was someone who saw with his heart. A new world had opened for us.

Yet nothing comes easy and in spite of all the good will possible the project has not taken off. It should in the first week of 2016. That would be a real blast off for Project Why!

We also requested our few friends in the Corporate world to try and find us people or organisations that would sponsor one of our projects, hoping that if we found a bare handful,we would be home, but they drew a total blank. The flip side of this though was the fact that this was an eye opener for them and again validated my reflection that Delhi is a city that had lost its heart. Maybe the time was not ripe. 

I have alway held that instinct is never wrong. Often in our rush we do not give it a chance. When Project Why began way back in 1998 with our nutritious cookie project, I was convinced that the best sustainable funding approach would be what I called the one-rupee-a-day one. The idea was to find large donor bases who would give us that one rupee. We tried hard but the results were not forthcoming and I guess we lost patience and set out on new avenues. But today we find ourselves were we were over a decade ago, once again looking for large and new donor bases. Be it the 10 rs to 
a lunch or coffee bill or why not a rupee to a grocery bill: the options are mind boggling. The need of the hour is to proceed slowly and surely. 

Another option that came our way was also akin to the initial instinct.

To get more visibility we decided to revamp our social networks and were able to do so thanks to a very committed young volunteer. She also looked for other funding options and we were introduced to the world of crowdfunding. We are still neophytes in the matter but hope to find our feet soon.
Thanks again to a friend we were able to tiptoe into the  hallowed grounds of page 3 people and are planning a yearly event. This would be a fashion show celebrating difference. Here again we come full circe as it is our very own Sanjay the student-cum-pwhy teacher-cum-international ramp model who will help us get the show on the road! 

So though 2015 was a hand to mouth year, it was also a year when we laid many foundations. 2016 will be when we get off the ground! 

While we were busy backstage, the show went on flawlessly act after act. 

2015 began on even keel and we thought that it would remain so till the end. But we had forgotten than Project Why functions in heart mode. In March we were told about the existence of a bunch of kids who had never been to school. They were the children of agricultural labour that tends to the vegetables fields that run along the river. These kids live with their families in bare thatched homes and help their parents in the fields. It did not take us long to reach to these children and start a centre for them. In this case there is no school in the vicinity where we could mainstream them. We also discovered that these children had no birth certificates and did not appear in any enumeration. They were simply invisible.

Today we run a 'school' from 9 am  to 3 pm for around 70 kids, and thanks to a very generous friend, the children are given a hot lunch six days a week. Thanks to many friends and well wishers we were able to build a small facility for these children and provide them books, school bags and warm clothes. The Yamuna kids are incredibly bright and a real pleasure to be with.

One often tends to forget the day-to-day activities because they run perfectly. This is because of the incredible team that steers the project. One again all exams were passed, all Boards cleared, outings organised, workshops conducted and volunteers well integrated. Kudos to all! 

A little reshuffling had to be resorted to to meet the needs of the moment. Our main computer centre was shifted to Okhla as we all felt that that was where it was truly needed. There are no NGOs or computer schools in this area and many wanted to learn computers. This had been on the anvil for long but could not be realised because of shortage of space. However a kind supporter gave us funds to put up a roof and thus we shifted the secondary classes on the roof and converted the secondary space into a computer centre. 

2014 was not an easy year. Like the proverbial Phoenix, we had to rise out the ashes and begin to reinvent ourselves. We are still in the process of doing so and hope that 2016 we will be when 
we learn to fly again.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Miracles happen everyday

It has been a long time since I wrote this time not for want of thoughts to be shared but rather because of an onslaught of emotions that needed to be processed to make any sense at all. All this was further compounded by the blues that sets in each time a year ends, more when you are well entrenched in the last mile of your existence when time is no more your friend and seems to run at a new found speed. Probably it is that very thought that propelled me to pic up my virtual pen again.

Today let us talk miracles. Yes about these 'occurrences' that happen everyday should you allow yourself to look with your heart. The reason I feel the need to do so is because lately I seem to have been the one who relied too much on my eyes. It seems a human failure to rush to the dark side when faced with adversity. All lessons seems forgotten even the one learnt at a father's knee when things were bad and the loving parent told you about the big picture that one could never see in its totality. It is sad that all it takes is a small hiccough to wipe away wisdom.

As I browsed project why pictures yesterday - something I often do when I need a lift - I stumbled upon this picture of Manu and Father Xmas. It took me back several years to the time when a young passionate German volunteer decided to be Santa for our kids. Seeing Manu and Santa together was nothing short of an epiphany as I suddenly realised that Manu was my very own Santa who had come into my life one fine morning with an invisible bag of miracles he handed out when the moment was ripe, and this year after year till the day when five years ago he left us quietly. His time had come. But had mine? True I knew that the only way to repay the debt I owed him was to carry on, but here again I relied on my eyes forgetting the heart.

The last year has been a merciless one. Few know how difficult it has been to keep our doors open but closing was no option and we soldiered on as every time we reached the brink, someone threw us a plank! How did I not realise that it was yet another miracle from Manu's invisible bag. All it took was to open the eyes of my heart.

The past few months have been filled with Angels and Miracles. True they did not having wings and did not descend from the heavens above, but came in different shapes and sizes and from across continents. I thank them all from the depth of my now wide open heart. I feel humbled and blessed.

Yes miracles happen everyday. They are the hands that reach out to you when the need arises, the mark sheet held with pride, the hug you never asked for and the selfie taken with someone now as tall as you but that once was a little scalded bundle swathed in bandages his eyes filled with pain. Who says miracles do not exist; look with your heart and you will be amazed.

Merry Xmas