Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Is this the only news we have?

Is this the only news we have, snapped the Karnataka Chief Minister when asked about the horrific assault on a six year old in Bangalore. No sir we have a lots more of you want to listen: today's news and yesterday's news too. In your very state Sir, a mentally challenged rape survivor had to wait hours in a semi nude state for the required medical tests that are essential if she is ever to get justice and that is a big if! How is that for starters.

In our country, according to a UN report, the girl child is still seen as a burden. So she runs the risks of being killed in the womb, being killed at birth, not being educated, no being given proper care, married at an early age and a mother far too early, killed for dowry, killed for falling in love by her own family and so on.

In India today hundreds and thousands of children die of encephalitis each year, and each year new fixes are promised and promises they remain. Encephalitis can be prevented if one does have the will to do so.

There is so much more news if you would care to hear: 5000 children die of malnutrition every day in your country; millions of children are out of school or drop out as the education is non existent on the ground; millions of children are trafficked, abused, work in sweatshops or beg on the streets. In your country millions go to sleep on an empty stomach; mothers feed chilly powder to their infants to quell their hunger and even ferret rat holes for a fistful of grain. We have a lot of news that should make you hang your head in shame or send chills down your spine.

But today we want you to hear about a little girl who could be your granddaughter. She was brutally assaulted by a man. The scars that have seared her soul can never heal. We want you to listen because this is a little girl who was born on the right side of the fence unlike her peers whose suffering we all chose to ignore. And under your watch it has taken protest after protest to get anything moving. Imagine is she was just a poor kid.

And what about the mentally challenged woman who was assaulter twice if not many more times. After suffering the trauma of rape she had to lie half nude as men passed by. Imagine of she were your child. What will you do to soothe her pain and heal her soul. Nothing I presume.

For the past 15 years I have been trying to do something that would enable me to look at myself and not turn away but everything comes to naught when I hear about the atrocities our children and women have to suffer and hear empty promises as nauseum.

I was one of the painted and dented women who raised my voice when a young girl was brutally assaulted in a bus in Delhi. But what was the point and what did we achieve. Nothing.

Crimes will continue and according to one of your kiln, only God can prevent them. But what if God too has given up on us.

We are losing it

When the Chief Minister of a State questioned by a reporter about the terrible assault on a 6 year old inside her school quips: Is this the only news we have? you know something is terribly wrong. It almost seems as if India is loosing it, insidiously, surreptitiously but losing to nevertheless. When 3 blind kids under the age of 10 are brutally caned by their blind teacher gleefully assisted by the Principal, something is terribly wrong. When a 29 year old is beaten to death in what is called a case of road rage in our capital city then you know things are not what they should be. And when the Governor of a state where rapes occur with impunity says: Even if the entire world's police force is put on duty, rapes can probably be prevented only if the gods come down from heaven, then we have lost it. There is something terribly wrong in the state of India. We have become a nation that has to constantly hang its head in shame.

After the horrific Badaun rapes where two girls were found hanging from a mango tree, a rape that was reported the whole over, we as usual went into band aid damage control mode and a slew of measures were announced. One of them was the building of toilets in the village of the victims as the young girls met their horrendous end as they had to go to the field to relieve themselves. It was announced that 100 toilets would be built. Two months down the line they lie unfinished and unusable. I would not be surprised if they remain so. That is a snapshot of what we as a nation have become. We make promises, money is raised, work begins and ends. I guess some pockets have become richer at best.

Toilets were built for the Commonwealth Games at astronomical prices but remain shut and are falling apart. Wonder what happened there. DIMTS the ones who run the (in)famous BRT, built much needed toilets @ of 15 lacs rupees but they are locked and unused. A friend told me that some 'dry' toilets - for males only - had been made in an swanky market but clogged on day one. He was told in confidence by the contractor who built them that so much many had to be given to grease plans, that the toilets could not be properly completed and hence would get clogged and hence someone will make more money. There are millions of unfinished toilets across India, each with a story to tell. Maybe there is material for a book, and sadly, not a funny one. It is time we the tax payer should ask where all the money earmarked for loos went!

Just like the loos meant to prevent rapes have not taken off, if one is to go by precedent, then the man who assaulter the little six year old will walk the streets sooner than one can think as the man who raped a seven year old in a city school in the same city two years back is out on bail. The brutalised child however will carry her scars to the end.

As for the blind children who were brutally caned, the explanation the perpetrators give is that they were told to do so by the parents. Oh yes I believe it, as this is what parents tell schools in India where children are beaten in their homes with alacrity and impunity. Our parents too do but then we try and counsel the parents and explain to them how beating children is bad for the child and that they should not do so. In project why no child is beaten. Two teachers lost their jobs for having slapped a child. The rage that is visible in the video of the beating of the blind kids is not just giving a little rap on the fingers but is manic. It seems more like the child bearing the brunt of the lifetime frustration of the teacher.

In the last three decades I have witnessed how violence has become an almost acceptable norm of life. The rage we see in all incidents, even mundane ones, is unhealthy and dangerous. It is a seething anger that may grow into something momentous and apocalyptic if we do not check it. India is losing it slowly but surely. I do not anticipate a French or Russian Revolution kind of thing, but perhaps the emergence of a vigilante society or an increase in violence without appropriate reason.

Who or what  do you blame it on? Some politicians blamed it on migrants and maybe rightly so as ever willing to accept the extra and cheaper hands, this city never bothered to give them the respect and dignity they were and are entitled to. This picture is proof of that. What you see is the home of a second generation migrant family. This boy is 10 or so and he is as tall as his house. I assure at least 6 if not more people liven this house that is sunk in. Imagine what happens if it rains and I do not want to begin to tell you what flows by the drain outside: chemicals from the factories whose walls give support for these tenements. And of course all adult members have voting cards as everyone wants their votes. I am sure that some day in the near future these people will ask for their long due pound of flesh. I do not know whether the animal is night's dinner? Not much meet on those bones. This little boy is at presently in school and comes to project why. His smile shows that he is a happy kid in the circumstances he lives in. One of the reason for our opening a centre in the midst of a garbage dump was that most children dropped out school and joined drug running and other mafias. But I fear for their future. It would take a minute incident for them to lose it.

What has shocked me over the past 30 years is how the rich are becoming richer and the poor poorer, both in the most visible way possible. How long do we expect a little boy like the one in the picture to keep on accepting living in a hole before his smouldering anger turns into rage and he too loses it. Who is to blame. Our hubris? Our lack of compassion? Our deafening silence? Our indifference? It is time we took stock of the situation before it is too late.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Eve of destruction


I do not know how many of you remember the protest song written by Barry McGuire entitled the eve of destruction. I am copying the lyrics at the end of this post and if you have 3 minutes and 42 seconds to spare do listen to the song. I guess way back in then I too was one of those who did not want to believe that we were on the eve of destruction. I was 13 when the song was written but 16 when I heard it along all the other protest songs by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and so many others. They touched my heart because I had lived in Vietnam in the early to mid sixties and seen with my young eyes the immolation of monks - one immolate himself just in front of our home - and gone to sleep lulled by the sounds of bombs that became so much a part of me that it took me a long time to get used to sleeping without the sound of that sinister lullaby. But it was the sixties and we did not want to think that we would be the ones destroying all that is good in the name of misplaced freedom, misguided religious zealots or simply hubris. Today aged 62, I am find myself believing that we are on the even of destruction, it is only a matter of time before that morning dawns. All it would take is the wrong finger on the right button and we will have no one to blame but ourselves as we crated buttons after buttons in a frenzy of megalomaniac hubris.

Yesterday a missile created by human intelligence was shot at a plane full of innocent passengers including infants whose right to live were usurped in our folly. I do not care who it was and I am sick of the usual blame games we love indulging in. A few years ago it was planes full of innocent beings that were rammed into buildings full of innocent people; then it was armed terrorist who went on a killing spree in Mumbai now it is a missile shot at a target that flying at 33000 feet. Yes we have such contraptions that can kill you in the air, across the sea and across continents. Gone are the days when wars were fought by the brave and when rulers and generals went to battle face to face. Our hubris is cowardly.

Military budgets are zillions times higher than education or health budgets. We fight over pieces of land whilst children die of hunger. We have enough arms to kill all humans many times over. We are incapable of learning any lessons because we do not want to.

Now every time a loved one takes a plane, I will spend anxious hours hoping they make the journey safely. Is this the way we want to live. Looks like it. As Barry McGuire says: This whole crazy world is just too frustrating!


EVE OF DESTRUCTION
lyrics: Barry Mc Guire
1965


The eastern world it is exploding
Violence flarin', bullets loadin'
You're old enough to kill but not for votin'
You don't believe in war but whats that gun you're totin'?
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin'

But you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve of destruction

Don't you understand what I'm tryin' to say
Can't you feel the fears I'm feelin' today?
If the button is pushed, there's no runnin' away
There'll be no one to save with the world in a grave
Take a look around you boy, it's bound to scare you boy

And you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve of destruction

Yeah my blood's so mad feels like coagulating
I'm sitting here just contemplatin'
I can't twist the truth it knows no regulation
Handful of senators don't pass legislation
And marches alone can't bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin'
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'

And you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve of destruction

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for four days in space
But when you return it's the same old place
The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead but don't leave a trace
Hate your next door neighbor but don't forget to say grace

And tell me
Over and over and over and over again my friend
You don't believe
We're on the eve of destruction
Mmm, no, no, you don't believe
We're on the eve of destruction

mistakes, routine and unavoidable

Want to know the latest on the women safety issue that all our political parties have been using to get themselves elected? I guess you do so here it is from the horse's mouth: a chief minister of a state where the situation of women is abysmal and shameful has cut the Budget of the state women's commission but has the money for two seven-seater Mercedes cars and two Land Cruisers! This is the state where rapes are called 'mistakes'! And the closing lines of the article left me speechless: According to statistics, five rapes occurred every day in the state, but most officials prefer to call such heinous crimes "routine" and "unavoidable". So we have a new lexicon: rapes are mistakes, routine and unavoidable. How can any woman feel safe in this country. This is just the latest episode.

We all remember the 'dented and painted' ladies that a senior politician called women protesting against rape; or how we incite rape because of what we do, wear, drink etc or the places we chose to go to. Enough of that nonsense. Anyway when you are a 2 year old or a 81 year old as was recently the case I do not think what you wear, eat, drink matters at all. If you have a vagina, you can be raped.

This morning I was shocked to read about a 6 year old being assaulted within her school in Bangalore. What really made me fall off my chair was when I read that Bangalore school says it not responsible for children's safety. What the hell. Parents send their children to school because they feel that the children are safe within the school. The school is an up market franchise sort of thing, something I gall at, and the child was assaulted by the fitness instructor and another man in the school's gym on TWO DIFFERENT DAYS. Another school Director states: that although the school has more than 60 CCTV cameras installed in its premises, such incidents are inevitably bound to occur on campus. And he goes on to add: Nobody knows the minds and the intentions of offenders who harm and assault the children. The school managements in most cases are not able to identify predators who are potential offenders. The government should draft stringent punishment against such offences and create a fear psychosis amongst offenders. Only harsh punishment can prevent such incidents to an extent in school premises. Wow. I am floored. So we as parents or guardians should accept the fact that our child could be molested, raped etc in the school to which we pay hefty bounties till the state creates a fear psychosis in potential rapists. How the hell does that work. And I left the best for the end the management spokesperson tells the agitated parents: if somebody is found guilty of raping, let him be hanged.  I would like to ask this man how he would feel if the little girl was his daughter or granddaughter.

There is something terrible wrong and it is time we addressed the problem and stopped circumventing the issues and procrastinating.

Today's news: a nine year old was raped by her neighbour in Badaun, the same place where two cousins were allegedly raped and hung on a tree. It is in the state where Mercedes cars are more important than a woman's safety. And in that very state a woman was tortured,  and murdered and her body found in a school building. These are the repass our politicians call routine, unavoidable and mistakes. What else can I say.


An empty armchair and a thousand words



Sometimes a simple picture can say more than a thousand words. This is a snapshot taken by one of our kids during a photography workshop. I presume it is the picture of his home, a home he is a proud of. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to see that this is a tiny space and I can tell you with certitude that it provides shelter to at least six souls. You do not need to have a super mansion to be house proud and I have been surprised and touched to see how much pain the lady of the house takes to make her seemingly hideous hole look like home, more than certain uber rich homes I have visited where you are scared of sitting on the outrageously priced white sofa and where you try and look for a personal touch and find one. I guess page 3 people might recognise the interior decorator.

But a slum tenement is personalised to the hilt. In this case you can see the minute 'garden' with a tree and small plants, the clothesline strung across what one could call the 'courtyard'. I am certain that inside there would be shelves with sparklingly clean vessels and containers with food items; a bed cover on the sole bed, the multitude of nails on the mail each with its designated use: school bags, clothes of each one of the inhabitants and so on. The walls would have some pictures pasted on it, often of Gods and there would also be a tiny shelf with some decorations pieces picked up at the equivalent of the dollar store - the china bazaar - or the weekly mart. There would also be a TV with its own shelf.

In this picture what struck me was the empty armchair. It seems it has been left deliberately so as the lady of the house is seated on another one next to it. Probably the empty one belongs to the husband and is not be to be used. In all probability the man of the house is a drunk and like all of his kind resorts to violence at the drop of a hat or in this case were he to know that someone dared sit on his chair.

But to me the empty chair seems to have a far deeper and subtler message. It looks like the chair lies empty waiting for hope and unfulfilled dreams. It perhaps states, in an almost tragic and mournful manner, the aspirations this family must have had when they left their native village to seek a better future for their children and how they were dashed. But is also proves that they have not given up and that maybe someday someone will come and sit on this armchair and conjure all the miracles that none of them dare express.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

At what cost

It has been a long time side I spent a sleepless night. Yesterday was one such night. Even at the nadir of R's illness, I still slept, albeit restlessly but slept nevertheless. Last night I was haunted by the image of a lovely young child, though she is now a teenager standing outside her class for the whole day: her crime - her parents had not paid her fees. The reason: they were going through a financial crunch. Everyone seemed to have forgotten that for the last seven hers they had not failed to do so. This child, as child she will always be to me, is still under the ambit of the ill conceived, ridiculous and absurd right to education as she is not yet 14. Let us not forget that in India, come your 14th birthday, you no longer have the constitutional right to free education.

Now in the case of this child I agree that there had been an inordinate delay in clearing dues and that the school too has the 'right' to claim them.The question that arises is: at what cost? Let us also grant the school the fact that they did wait for 'some' time before taking out their big guns. But again the question arises: what are those darned big guns. One would accept reminders but humiliating the child is nothing short of abhorrent, unprofessional and unacceptable. Collecting school fees should not and cannot be akin to resorting to tactics employed by wily debt collectors and over and above all should be matter that remains within adults; in this case between the school authorities and the parents or guardian. At best the child could be called to the office of the counsellor or principal, no one else, and gently and humanely asked about her home situation. I know of a school where the same problem arose and the child shared the family situation. A deal was struck between the Principal and the student: should he get 80% in his next results, his fees would be waived for the rest of his school years. Needless to say the child kept his side of the deal.

In the case of this young girl the big guns were brought out and the arsenal was a slew of actions aiming at humiliating the child in the school amidst her peers and friends. She would be asked loudly when she would pay her dues, notes were handed to her in front of the class, and the ultimate weapon was to make her stand outside her class for the duration of the school hours. Imagine a sensitive, mature young girl standing alone for no fault of hers. This seems to me like something out of the Middle Ages. I cannot begin to imagine what went through her head. All I know is that it kept me awake and seething the whole night.

I also felt responsible as this beautiful child was born in front of me and till she went to big school, she was part of my daily life in all ways possible. It is also because of the importance I gave to good education that her brave and proud family tightened their belts till it hurt to send her to a good school.  For seven long years they did so. It was only because of a death in the family and health expenses of the elders that the boat rocked.

I have questions and the first one is whether any kind soul in the school, someone who understands children and their psychology ever ask her gently how things were at home? Whether they thought of a solution that would not hurt the chip? Whether they understand how humiliating a teenager can scar her forever in ways that can never be healed? That they can change the family equation and the equation between the child and her parents? No Sir! They simply what their pound of flesh as education is no more about teaching but about making money.

When I heard that this baby girl had to spend a day in the corridor of her school, watched and riled by one and all, I brought out my bug guns. A few phone calls, emails and SMSs later the deal was done. We would take over the remaining costs of her education. Was she not one of Pwhy's first students!

I have asked her family to keep her at home till we sort things out. Apparently a late fee of FIFTY RUPEES a day is charged. Imagine how it translates if you are months late! Some Shylock! We will also have a chat with the authorities and tell them gently how we feel and more than that remind them of how deeply hurt a child can be in such circumstances. She will return to school when all is settled.

When I gave her the news late last night, I could feel in her simple Thank You, a range of emotions I cannot describe. They brought tears to my eyes and made me hate myself for not having acted earlier.

I am deeply thankful to all those who accepted to sponsor her education. God bless them all.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

back to school

Project Why's incredible 3 musketeers are back to school. This is what happens to you when you perform impeccably and have learnt whatever the old biddy could teach you. Over the past 14 years now I have tried to the best of my abilities to share and teach all the tricks of the trade to these incredible trio. The problem is that I failed miserably on one front: fund raising. In my defines I will say that it was because the fund raising model I adopted was entirely based on skills that are impossible to share: personality and writing. I know the model was flawed but it was the only one that worked for me and gave good dividends. The one epiphany I thought I had conjured and that would work for everyone could not see the light of day. I am talking of Planet Why: a green guest house coupled with a vibrant children centre, the proceeds of which would have run the project. We bought the land, got the architectural designs and feasibility study but were unable to raise the funds to build. Along the way we tried many sustainability options that failed. I think that maybe they failed because I did not have the skills needed to push them through. Now with time not on my side, I must pass the baton and thus Rani and Dharmendra are attending a one week fund raising workshop and I hope it will give them the ideas we so need and that they are able to fulfil better than me.

Shamika is back to school today. This is much more the closing of a personal journey that began when I accepted that my daughter leave school and train as a special educator. Over the past 15 years or so she has been working with special children and interned in organisations in France but she could not get admission in any course as she did not have a school leaving certificate: experience is not counted in India. Last month though the Gods finally smiled at me and she got admission in a course on mental health opened to people with a Masters degree! I know she will shine.

I am one proud woman!


Saturday, July 12, 2014

'benefit of general public' and 'prohibited mode'

Ever since an NGO mutated into a political part, the acronym NGO, which had always make people look at you with suspicion and distrust, has come under the scanner of one and all. A recent Intelligence Bureau Report accused foreign funded NGOs of stalling development and now the 2014 Finance Bill has given sweeping powers to the Income Tax authorities to withdraw tax benefits of NGOs and even cancel their registration: in another word- kill them.

A slew of reasons that could lead to cancellation have been stipulated but on a somewhat vague manner open to all kind of interpretation and thus misuse. One the stipulations is if:  its “income does not enure for the benefit of general public”. Not being familiar with legal jargon I had to look up 'enure' and the definition is: to be applied (to the use or benefit of a person).  So what it means is that the income of an NGO should be applied for the benefit of the general public.

Now benefit of the general public can mean just about anything and can be easily misused to get back at someone. Or simply can be used by an official to cancel your registration should you have, let us say, crossed swords with her/him. The other stipulation that is dangerously open ended is: its funds are invested in prohibited modes. Without proper definition of what is prohibited modes, once again you have a Damocles sword hanging on your head, prohibited modes could mean just anything.

Ours is a tiny organisation but comes within the present purview as we get most of our funding from donors outside India. That these donors are simple individuals and can donate as little as $10, will not cut ice with authorities that have a huge grudge against NGOs. And how can I explain that in spite of my best efforts I have been unable to create an indigenous donor base though my first instinct was to launch a rupee-a-day campaign. This failed miserably. I do not know why but maybe it is time to dust the files of the mind and look at this option once again.

How do I explain to tax authorities that I do not have the skills that allow me access to the rich and famous; that I do not have a celebrity who would lend her/his smile to our cause; that I am not a will never be a page 3 gal!

How do I explain to tax authorities that I set up this project because I felt that I owed a debt for all the privileges I have enjoyed and for no other motive. I am just paying back!

How do I explain to the tax authorities that I am ashamed and guilt-ridden each time I see, hear or come to know of the innumerable aberrations that exist in our land after 66 years of Independence - be it children dying of malnutrition while the rich gorge themselves and their dustbins; a baby being raped;  a young girl raped by order of a kangaroo court; or children being abused -. Each time I hear of anything of the kind I feel I have let my mother and all those who fought for our freedom down. And that is why I try to do what I can to regain the lost trust before judgement day which is approaching faster than I can imagine

Now I will have to walk on egg shells wondering whether my every action does enure the for the benefit of the general public. Why should teaching slum children not be so, or helping women, or sponsoring a heart surgery?

We have no money to invest; we barely have enough to keep our heads out of water.  So investing in any mode, prohibited or not does not arise. Yet suddenly the feel good factor that had always been there seems to have been abducted. Uncertainty prevails are we have become at the mercy of people who have never experienced the joy of reaching out to another or the privilege of becoming the custodian of simple dreams.

Monday, July 07, 2014

This is India today

Today's Times of India is replete with all the subjects that concern me and that I think need answers, subjects I have often blogged about giving by two penny bit in the form of simple suggestions with of course no takers as they stem for common sense. From the lack of proper living conditions for the underprivileged who do not have basic amenities  to the UNESCO report that states that 1.4 million children between the age of 6 and 11 are out opt school. from the Crime Records Bureau report that highlights a 70% rise in the rape and abduction of minors to the new poverty line that states that were you to spend more than 47 rs a day in a city you are NOT POOR! And there is more: a new born baby girl was found in a garbage bin close to our women centre; a 77 year old raped his 12 year old domestic servant. This is India today! I have blogged about each and every subject mentioned above more times than I can count but it looks like we are stuck in the same place. Eerie!

These is one more item tucked away in one of the inside pages that caught my attention and made my blood run cold. The article entitled South Delhi Municipal Corporation to rope in private firms for better education revisits the nightmare of privatisation of Education, something that will ring the death knell of education for the poorest of the poor. This corporation proposed to take the help of private firms to provide basic infrastructure in the schools i.e.: toilets, drinking water etc. Once the infrastructure is in place they will then address the quality issue. First, we will upgrade the infrastructure and then stress on quality of education says the Chairman of the Education Committee of the said Corporation. And that is not all. This scheme will be implemented in 50 of if 588 schools, schools which have fewer kids. Hallelujah!

The questions that scream to he heard are numerous. How come the Corporation has not been able to provide infrastructure in spite of taxes and education cesses levied with alacrity and impunity? What happens to all that moolah? If equitable education is a Constitutional Right of every child born in India then why can't the Government provide that equitable education to all children? What is so difficult about building toilets or providing clean drinking water? And most of all what is the pound of flesh the private firms will demand as there are no free lunches. And while you are deciding to take help for private companies and negotiating your terms, and while the said infrastructure is being set up children are growing by the minute and cannot wait for the time when you decide to address the quality issue.

Just think of how many kids will miss the bus. When you have 1.4 million children out of school and the Lord only knows how many drop outs; when your no fail policy ensures that kids can sail through school without learning and again courtesy your abysmal 33% pass percentage even get a certificate, you cannot address the critical education issue in the laid-back manner that this article suggests. I agree that long term planning is needed but you also need quick fix options for those in school today.

If I had a say I would take some immediate measures that do not require exhaustive planning or inane Parliamentarian debates but just the ordinances so often used to cut corners when it suits the powers that are. The first thing to do is enhance the pass percentage to 50%, then abolish the no fail policy so that a child learns step by step as it should be; then make school co educational as that would sort a lot of gender issues. After that introduce skill training at class VIII level for those not academically inclined. That too is not rocket science. But this is only if you care for children and therein lies the question.

Th reason why all this makes me so mad is that I have for the past 15 years seen the so called underprivileged children and been a witness to their passion for learning and their will to learn. We do not have infrastructure to boast of; we do not have uber trained teachers; we do not have large spaces but we have an ardent desire to help as many kids as we can and they never fail to take our breath away. They are extraordinary children who study in impossible conditions and still bring impressive results. Stop letting them down.


Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Love is never easy

The car drove away just a few minutes ago taking Popples back to boarding school after his summer break. The house feels almost eerie. A strange weighty silence has engulfed us all. It will take time to fill it with the right 'noise'! Agastya will miss his pal and big bro and Maam'ji will miss her Popples. At this moment we both are feeling lost. Even the favourite cartoon Doraemon could not weave its magic. Agastya just entered my office looking lost. As for me I tried to get back to work but could not.

For the past month the house was filled with the laughter and babble of these two young souls who though a world apart are the best of buddies. True there have been some small skirmishes but when two boys 7 years apart are together, these are par to the course. I must however acknowledge Utpal's patience in handling Agy who can be quite a handful. From the time Utpal came home after his summer study camp, our lives evolved around these two boys. They went to a summer workshop in the morning, then there was skating in the afternoon and football and cricket in the evening in the neighbourhood park. In between there was an unending stream of games, both indoor and outdoor - in spite of the sizzling temperatures - and the house was abuzz with activity and wonderful energies. Lunches and dinner had to be planned according to the likes and dislikes of these two and playdates organised on weekends. All this was interspersed with some outings to malls and amusement parks. The one party pooper was of course as always the dreaded homework. I would have though that most of it would be finished in the summer study camp but to my utmost horror it was not the case.

Holiday homework is my bete noire, and Popples knows that this is where he can push me to the brink of despair. But as his counsellor said, I am the only one with whom he can take this liberty and this is also part of any relationship, particularly one as quaint and undefinable as ours. So I am the one who has be strong and understanding. Not easy when you see the amount of homework in front of you and your heart tells you to let it go. Yet, you have to listen to reason. We struggled through the innumerable tasks and did our best. I cannot say we finished it all as with a truncated summer holiday, I felt that Popples needed a break. I also wanted him to bond with Agy and the family as there is still a long and arduous way ahead for one who never lived within a real family. I just hope he will adjust, till then I will have to smooth over the edges!

Popples can be difficult at times and he has reason to be. I know I spoil him. I also appreciate those around me calling me to order as I understand that they have the best intentions. It is not easy. More so in a relationship that is so unique. I just hope I can live up to the expectations of one and all.

Agastya is going to miss his buddy. We will try and make as many visits to the school as possible, but when in school, Utpal has his own activities and rigid time table and it is hard to find the few crevices  when we can spend some quality time with him.

Love is never easy and yet so precious.