Monday, April 20, 2015

To pull another hand into the light.

Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness, to pull another hand into the light wrote Norman Rice. Around the ides of March 2003, I did dare do so. It was not a little hand but two beautiful eyes that defied all the burns and bandages and met mine. It was love at first sight, a love that has withstood a decade and a half beating all odds.

The reason I remembered this quote today is because someone shared a story with me, one that may not have a happy ending as the odds are against it. It is the tale of two boys whose father was murdered and whose mother was found to be part of the conspiracy and jailed. Some family friend decided, for reasons better known to him, to sponsor a sound education for the boys. A gesture to be lauded if it had been taken to its logical end but for some reason the hand once held out has been withdrawn leaving the young boys in the lurch. It seems that the decision is final though I pray for a miracle.

I wonder what made that family friend commit to help the boys and 'dare' to reach out his hand into the darkness of the two little children? Was it the 'right' thing to do at that moment? Was it to get the kudos of the entourage? Was it momentary hubris that dwindled when realisation dawned? realisation that the commitment was long term and a tad expensive. Who knows. The reality is that the had that reached out that fateful day to pull these gentle souls into the light is now the hand that will push them back into darkness. It is not easy to walk the talk.

When Utpal walked into my heart, I knew it was till death do us part. At that moment it all seemed so simple. We would nurse the child back to health and ensure that his family was cared for. Another case of hubris! We humans like playing God never realising that it is He and not us who pens the script. The plan that I made went crashing in no time and I could hear the Gods laughing. They had other plans.

As time went by, the script unfolded and obstacles appeared at every corner, but then when you reach out your hand you have no option but to hold on to it and never let go. Utpal and I have weathered many storms and know that there are more to come. This middle age love is put to the test time and again in  unimaginable ways but is also incredibly rewarding.

The child is now a teenager and new challenges are in sight. We will meet them head on. At this moment the critical issue is how to style the hair so that the scars are concealed. This led us to the hair stylist yesterday and we found a solution. The lad went back to school with a smile and a bottle of hair gel that the kind school has allowed him to use. You see when the wind blows then his scars are for all to see, even the girls! I can see what awaits me.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A wedding to remember

Rani got married yesterday and before I go any further this is not a picture from her wedding! So as I was saying Rani got married yesterday and needless to say I was there. But as is the hallmark of all Indian weddings, I barely got to see her though we did manage a few stolen moments while she was made to wait in what at best would be called a store room, for her entry on stage. Indian weddings are really a play in many acts where scripts always go awry and time goes AWOL. If things had gone on schedule then I would have been part of at last some of the ceremonies though I knew I would not have lasted till the wee hours of the day. It was all meant to 'end' by 3 am though as I was informed this morning, it was far from over at 3am!

The venue was tastefully decorated and everything seemed on cue till the marriage party arrived and plans went out of control. When I left, Rani was in the middle of a never ending photo shoot when every one wants to be snapped with the new couple. I was not even able to spot her on the stage! But I had seen her in her bridal gear and she looked beautiful though not quite the young woman I know. I guess she will be back to normal in a few days. I look forward to that moment.

But this post is about something quite different. For me yesterday was truly a wedding to remember for a totally different reason. Under the bright lights of this unique play one could imbibe the essence of a decade and a half of Project Why in the most wondrous manner. Come to think about it, I first met Rani and seeded Project Why almost exactly 15 years ago in the summer of 2000. And yesterday I had a panoramic view of the years gone by as I sat and watched the show unfold. Wherever I looked I saw Project Why. All the children dancing to the blaring songs where born in front of me and many were project why students. Most of the staff was present and came to greet me with heartwarming smiles. They looked incredibly beautiful in their bright clothes. Some were Project Why alumni and I could not help the feeling of pride that engulfed me. They all came to greet my husband whom many did not know and I found myself telling their stories which were nothing short of remarkable. It was a unique moment as rarely does one get the occasion to be able to have everyone together in one place when one can truly realise what a journey it has been. It was a pure delight to spend some time with them and share some good moments. Of course I could not escape the many: Can I take a pic with you Ma'am! I was more than happy to oblige and amused at how everyone had a smart phone and was far more savvy than I. Were these really the same people that I had practically pulled out from oblivion?

But that was not all as the Project Why family crosses all barriers. It was such joy to see that two of our die hard and committed volunteers had flown across continents to come to the marriage. They made the event that much more special and gave substance to the spirit of Project Why. We were also privileged to have two of our very committed local expat supporters who found time in their busy schedule and shared this moment with us. I am deeply indebted to them and touched beyond words.

How does one explain the feeling of seeing someone you held in your arms as a new born stand in front of you as a feisty and spirited teenager? How do you find the words to express the emotion that fills you as you introduce one of your computer teachers who once came walking on his hands in the hope that someone would understand his fascination for computers? I could go on and on as everyone in that room has a story waiting to be told.

You just sit and look at all these lives you have changed, at all these women who would have remained housewives but are today in the business of changing lives. Has Project Why been in some way a dream weaver? Maybe we are, and maybe that is the measure of our success as was amply evident in yesterday's marriage celebration.

It was a celebration of belief and determination; a celebration of the power of seeing with your heart, a celebration of the indubitable reality that no life is futile, that no dream is impossible and that miracles happen everyday!

I feel so blessed!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sadie Sadie Married Lady

Sadie Sadie Married Lady is the song from Funny Girl that for some God forsaken reason  always comes to my mind when a girl gets wedded. The last girl I married was my first born and tomorrow someone I also consider as my child ties the proverbial knot. She is also is part and parcel of my fifteen year journey as Project Why's Anou Ma'am! This picture was taken years ago and God we have come a long way. Rani has blossomed into an incredible woman of substance and the Ma'am has acquired many more wrinkles and grey hair. But c'est la vie as they say! As Rani gets ready for her big day, I find myself wandering down memory lane and remembering the past 15 years.

I fist met Rani on a sizzling summer afternoon way back in 2000. It must have been the Fates who guided me to the quaint street in a part of the city I never knew existed. It was an odd place where slum dwellings were strewn along the wall of a University college, a true example of the two Indias that quietly live side by side divided by invisible and impregnable walls. I was about to cross the line and change my life forever.

There was indeed a reason for my expedition though: I was to meet a healer who had been hailed as having the cure to all panaceas, mine being a depression that refused to blow away no matter what I had tried. The healer in question lived in a temple lodged in one of the slum dwellings. I was anxious and excited at the same time. I knew something incredible was in store for me.

I entered the small door and stepped into the only room that to my surprise was both a temple and a home, something baffling at first but somewhat comforting. A lady of a certain age clad in bright red sat on the floor amidst deities, incense and lamps. I looked into her face and felt good after a very long time.

The lady known as Mataji lorded on her temple ably assisted by two younger women. One was a young married woman, her daughter in law; the other was her young daughter Rani. Both seemed very much under the thumb of the tad autocratic Mataji. Over the following days I would learn that young Rani, about 16 then had dropped out of school because she had been beaten for not paying her fees on time and was now completing a nursing aid course and probably like all girls of her background waiting to be married.

Over the next few weeks or so many new ideas were born and seeded and soon project why assumed its embryonic form: spoken English classes for children and women. Needless to say Rani was one of the first to register for the later.

I spend a lot of time in Mataji’s home, as this was our first office! I got to know the little family but more than that I was made aware of an entire new world, one that I would soon embrace. Rani was my first and best guide.

We decided to start a nutrition programme for the children and pregnant and lactating moms. I was a little hesitant but young Rani came to my immediate rescue and lo and behold within a day or so I had a list of potential beneficiaries. Rani offered to take charge of the programme dismissing my inability to offer her any remuneration with a big smile. Yes Rani has a smile to die for! In hindsight I realise she was actually taking charge of things to come.

We also decided to run small first aid centre twice a day and who else but Rani to head of it. Rani had come to stay though at that time I did not know how a big a role she would play in the success of project why.

As things grew better for us and funds started trickling in, Rani became my executive assistant. Her never say die attitude ensured that within a short year we were running a crèche, a centre for special children, and even began our now famed after school support programme. Wise beyond her years she helped me select a team and get going. But more important she ensured we did not make any errors on the very unknown turf we were treading. She taught us the intricacies of the social fabric and the need to maintain a fine balance if we were to succeed.

As I watched the feisty girl, I realised that she was extremely intelligent and a born manager. What impressed me most was the fire in her belly and her desire to not only succeed but excel. Imaginative and industrious she never took no for an answer and always found alternatives. Every challenge had to be met head on.

When our coordinator left us there was no question looking elsewhere: Rani was the obvious choice. Even the fact that she was younger than many of her colleagues and that some of them had seen her grow out of her pigtails was no deterrent. I knew she was the one to run the project. That she was barely out of her teens and had not finished school was never an issue.

As the project grew so did Rani, gaining confidence with every step she took.  Her burning desire to fulfil herself was breathtaking. She intuitively knew that she had been given a unique chance: that of breaking the cycle in which she was born and she was determined to do so.

When Shamika my daughter and a special educator joined project why, Rani found a friend that would enable her to cross the line and discover another world. Theirs was a meeting of souls and the validation of a long cherished dream. I have always held that India would be transformed if we could bring about a common school where children from all sections of society could learn and grow together. Rani and Shamika are a perfect example of this reality. If Rani shed her traditional wear and donned jeans, Shamika gained confidence and discovered the true meaning of social responsibility.

Rani’s is a story of true empowerment. Over the years this school drop out managed to pass her X and XII from the open school and her graduation from the Open University. What is remarkable is that she never took a day off. I only came to know about her achievements when she walked in with a box of sweets and a beaming smile. I wonder when she found the time to study. But then that is Rani.
And slowly I became blissfully redundant. Rani was truly in charge.

Tomorrow Rani will be taking a huge step in her life and I must admit I feel a little fearful as any mother does I guess. Though she looks strong and confident, I know how fragile and sensitive she really is. I can only stand in the wings and pray that her new life will be filled with joy and happiness and that the family she is about to make heirs will have the ability to see with their heart and give her what she truly deserves.

May God always walk by her side.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


A hurried call from grandson yesterday - yes he nows knows how to call; today's kids are incredible - informed us that he was running a marathon and had his 'number'. He put the phone down before we could ask anything further. I  thought that it was some race for children and left it at that. Imagine my surprise when I received a mail from his mom with a link to what this was all about. It is an initiative called READ - RIGHT - RUN. The informative website sums the idea in the following words:  The program’s goal is to develop reading-proficient, community-minded and physically fit children in grades K-5 by challenging them to READ 26 books, RIGHT the community with 26 good deeds, and RUN 26.2 miles over a six-month period. Putting my grandmom's hat I am so proud of my little six year old running 26.2 miles albeit in 6 months. The 26 books will be a dream as his parents are no TV people and the child has been read to from day one on this planet. Good deeds also come naturally to him as he began his 'education' at project why when he was barely one. How can I forget the day when he came on Skype and told his grandpa that he had to talk business with Nani! When I came on screen he said: Nani, I am not getting any toys for my birthday this year, and am sending all the money to Project Why children. The money did come and metamorphosed into school bags and other things for the creche children. All he needs to work on is running and he is a great sportsman.

Now donning my project why founder's hat I really think that this is a programme that we should launch in India in both state run and public schools. The reading propensity of our children is abysmal, their susceptibility to community work non-existent and the number of obese children one comes across proves that our kids are more proficient at screen games than field ones. So a programme of this kind is a win-win one.

Before I go any further, I do not think I would be who I am if not for my passion for reading and the fact that from a very early stage in my life, I was sensitised to the art of giving by my wonderful parent. One of the many lessons I learnt from them was that everyone deserved respect, irrespective of his or her social status. My parents walked the talk; after every Diwali prayer I was made to touch the feet of everyone older than me and that meant the staff too. I was also privileged to be in schools where community service was part of the curriculum and was no lip service as is often the case - remember the inane Taj Mahal pictures drawn with arch sticks and glued on black paper in the name of SUPW (socially useful productive work) by my elder daughter when she was in class I in an Indian school -  but hard core. In Vietnam in the sixties when I was barely a teenager, we visited an orphanage regularly and each one of us 'adopted' a child. Mine was a lovely 18 month old girl and all the pocket money I got was used in fulfilling her needs. Even today when I see a beggar child or an old person shivering in the cold I have a visceral reaction. The third R of this programme is one that I only adopted in my 30s!

Sadly today parents have little time for their children and schools have become businesses. The advent of easily accessible audio visual entertainment has relegated books to a dusty and cobweb infested corner and children are missing out on the most wonderful form of entertainment which is reading. Reading is considered a 'bore'! But it is reading that opens up the world, fires your creativity and imagination and books are the most trustworthy and faithful friends you can have. I remember when I came back to India and joined college, my French took a beating as I was busy perfecting my English. An erudite friend of my father's suggested I re-read the complete works of Balzac  as when not used, your vocabulary dips to 500 words. Today I make it appoint to read both English and French books. One of the tragedies of our times is the fact that books have taken a back seat and this is reflected in the writing ability and poor imagination of our children.

Teaching a child to give to others is by far the most precious gift. It is all about seeing with your heart and I do feel that reading the Little Prince at the right time was a boon in disguise. I am comforted by the fact that it is a lesson that is not lost as we have so many volunteers that come from across the world. Sadly it is a lesson we have forgotten in India and more so amongst the most endowed. Throwing a coin in the proffered hand without looking at the beggar is not giving. When I was 17 or so a beggar woman followed me asking for a coin; it was a day when my pocket was truly empty so I stopped looked at her and said: I am sorry, I do not have any money. Imagine my surprise when she caught my hand and said: Thank you, you have given me more than you can imagine, you looked at me! It is a lesson I have never forgotten. What she meant was that I had acknowledged her as a person. Jack London wrote: A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog. He was spot on. Giving is humbling and uplifting and in the ultimate analysis you always get more than you give.

As for the third R of this new equation namely running, it goes without saying that it is critical to introduce it in India. More so for children from poorer backgrounds who have nowhere to play or run.  As for the rich ones, running is no match to computer games, TV watching laced with bag of chips and can of coke!

So a programme like this one that reinterprets the 3 Rs in keeping with the realities of the day is a boon in disguise. I plan to introduce a tempered version of this initiative in project why thus summer. But my dream would be to find someone who would agree to sponsor a similar initiative in our city.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The only child with a thousand children

The only child celebrated her 63rd last week. You guessed right the only child is me! Being an only child is not easy. Being an only child to older parents is again not easy particularly when you come after a child who did not make it. The fear of losing you translates into an overload of protective love that isolates you even more. Add to that a nomadic life that takes you across the globe to strange lands with obsessive regularity shrinks your world even more as is apparent in the innumerable yellowed photographs that bear witness to my childhood: it is either me alone; me and one of my parents or the three us. True there were birthdays with beautifully crafted cakes and school friends, but somehow that was the exception and not the rule. I guess the seed of the recluse was planted in the early pages of my childhood. Loneliness was never an issue. Actually solitude has been my best friend. But God had other plans. I was gifted a family, one that grew by quantum leaps and across the universe. The only child would have a thousand children and innumerable friends.

When I talk of friends across the Universe, I say so with responsibility. I must have been around 13 or so when I was gifted my first copy of The Little Prince in Algiers by my History teacher. Since that day the little prince from another planet became friend and mentor in more ways than one and still is so imagine my surprise when I opened the gift given to me by the kids of my very special class: a painting of the Little Prince with my favourite quote: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. I have tried to live by that maxim and would like to believe that I have done so to the best of my ability.

Project Why is all about seeing with your heart. You could simply see beneficiaries and donors! But what I see is a family of thousand children and an abundant number of souls who see with their heart. This is my family, the one I waited for for many decades. How many of us can walk into their sunset surrounded by such a precious family. My life has truly been turned on its head as the loneliness of early year mutated into abundance and counting.

I know that there is a rose waiting for me on another planet, a rose I will eventually have to go back and tend to but till that moment I just want to bask unabashedly in the love that I have been given and enjoy every moment. Who needs travels and cruises; who needs gifts no matter how lavish. Nothing can surpass what I have today: the unquestionable love of those I call family.

If I were to make a wish it would simply be that my project why family be cared for when my rose calls.

Monday, March 30, 2015

One child every 10 seconds

Forgive the rather disgusting picture that illustrates this mail but there is a method to my madness. This picture was taken close to the Chhattrapur Temple located not far from Utpal's school. He wanted   to buy some sweets and this was the closest market. We have just experienced another nine days of the bi-annual feeding frenzy that happens in North India during what is known as the Navratas, or nine nights dedicated to the Goddess.What has become tradition, or a way to please God and Godesses is the feeding of people. Tents are erected at every street corner, food is cooked sur place, and then doled out in non degradable plates to one and all. I guess it is a feel good factor for the ones who organise such communal feeding. I am sure God(dess) will be happier if one fed one person log haul. What horrifies me is the amount of food wasted and thrown away. You would not believe how much goo food there was in this pile! It could have fed so many hungry children. I see red when people waste food, more so when it is done by supposedly educated ones. And I cannot help myself each time I am faced with a similar situation, of thinking of the part in Ash in the Belly that describes the way mothers ferret rat holes in search of a few grains for their hungry babies: On days where there is no food in the house the whole family sets out to find food. They scour the harvested fields of the landlords with brooms to garner the gleaning of the stray grains of wheat and paddy... they follow field rats to their burrows and are skilled in scrapping out the grains stolen and stored underground by the rodents...after each weekly market ends, they collect in their sari edges, grain  spilled inadvertently by traders or rotting waste vegetable... they even sift through cow dung for undigested grain. (Ash in the Belly page 6). Can you please thick about this the next time you are on the verge of throwing food.

Malnutrition kills one child every 10 seconds. 3.1 million children die every year. These are the latest statistics. In India, one child dies every 4 minutes because of malnutrition. 2.1 million every year. They die of totally preventable diseases like diarrhoea, typhoid, measles mostly because their immune system is impaired. They die because of lack of clean water, lack of sanitation and lack of nourishment. They die because no one cares. They die because grains rot with impunity. They die because programmes made for them never reach them but get hijacked by wily predators. And as these programmes fail, more are made and more pockets fattened. 

Amidst all the talk of making India a super power, comes an article from the State our Prime Minister hails from, a state that is often pitched as an example to emulate. The article citing Government sources states that over 6.5 lakh malnourished children in Gujarat. A knee jerk reply promises remedial action: providing take-home rations, giving fruits, milk as well as breakfast to anganwadi children, besides giving supplementary food to malnourished children. We have heard this ad- nauseum and know that not much will change on the ground. These measures were first enunciated way back in 1975 when the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) was launched. Had it worked there would not have been over 25 million malnourished children in India today. The scheme has failed miserably. All you need to do is visit one of the anganwadis (creche) and you will know the reality.

One child dying from preventable reasons is one child too many. One child every 4 minutes which is what happens in India should make us hang our heads in shame. One child dying every 4 minutes in a land where food grain rots, where food is wasted with impunity in weddings or in the name of religion be it the plates of food thrown during feeding frenzies on the road side, or the still heaped plates found under tables at wedding feasts, or the gallons of milk poured over stone statues is unacceptable. I do not know of any God, if he or she exists, who would not rather have that food find its way in the stomach of a hungry child.

Five thousands deaths a day of children between 0 and 5 is a tragedy. But it does not stop there, even those who make will never be able to develop fully. Malnutrition in early years damage the child for life: their growth is stunted, their immunity low and their brain is affected resulting in lower IQs. Before anything else, it is imperative to tackle malnutrition on a war footing particularly as we pride ourselves in having the youngest population in the world.

I have written about this so many tines, and elicited few reactions. Maybe I belong to another planet but to me the statistic of a child dying of hunger in a land readying itself for a Mars Landing is deeply disturbing. 

Till death do us part

Utpal on his 13th birthday
March 12 2015
This picture was taken last week on Utpal's birthday which we celebrated in his school with cake and samosas. He is 13! A teenager! How time flies. He was the perfect host and made sure all his friends got enough to eat and drink. He also made sure that his teachers got a piece of cake and did not forget the guard on duty. I was proud but not surprised. Utpal has always been the perfect host. Even when he was three year old, he was just that: a perfect host! At that tender age he even knew the importance of returning hospitality. We have come a long way Utpal and I. And every step we have taken together has been a blessed one, even in times of strife. He made my world a better place from the instant he walked into my heart. That was 10 years ago. You must be wondering why I seem to be being around the bush and yes I am. That is because what I need to share today is not easy and actually even frightening. The scariest deafening why lurks around the corner and I am petrified. The answer to this one keeps eluding me. I can only pray that I have one in time.

This is what Popples looked like when he came into my life. Scalded, hurt and almost moribund. For months we fought to ensure  that he would heal and keep all his milestones. I remember how I would make fresh chicken soup for him every day and how he had learnt to recognise the flask and give his most endearing smile when he spotted it. Ok here I am meandering again. Time to get to the point and the why! Soon Utpal will be 18. As per the juvenile justice act, my guardianship will end and as again as per the totally absurd and poorly conceived law, he will be an adult and in charge of his life. Yes in India, even children who are in institutions are let out in the big bad world overnight. How they are supposed to manage is anyone's guess. I know of organisations that employ them to that they can remain in safe. Law or no law, guardianship or no guardianship, Utpal will always have a home that crosses seas and mountains. He is ours forever! However there will be a day when he will ask about  his mom and about what we did for her and should that be not up to the mark then he will ask the dreaded why: Why did you not take care of her. I can never forget the touching quote that says: God to whom little boys say their prayers has a face very like their mother's. I need to be ready with the right and honest answer.

To a boy, no mom is flawed; but to the world this mom has had a rough deal. Being an alkie and bipolar is a rough deal for any woman but a nightmare for one born on the word side of the fence. We did every thing we could to help her: several rehabs, stays in homes etc but the bottle won and we failed. She disappeared for 4 long years causing havoc in her son's life that we had to piece again with love and patience. Then she came back, married a man with three kids, left him, lived with another abusive one, was rejected by the only family she has (one sister-in-law and 2 nephews) who refused to take her in. Years of abuse have left her incapacitated. Sh cannot work as she does not have the strength and her manic depression has taken its toll on her mind and turned her into a child. She needs a place where she can be safe and cared for medically. That is according to the best solution. This is also the answer I can be comfortable with when asked the dreaded question.

We are in the midst of searching for such a place but it is no mean task. I hope and pray we can find one that she is happy in and where her son can meet her the day he so decides.

When you take someone's hand in yours, it is for better or worse till death do us part.

Friday, March 27, 2015

My grandfather's hut

Ram Persad Singh Goburdhun 1880 1949
Upon his return from yet another trip, this time to Mauritius, my husband handed me a book. It was surprising,  as though I did not expect the customary bottle of perfume - the ubiquitous gift you expect from a man - as Mauritius is a land that holds some of my roots and family, a book was the last thing on my mind. A glance at the title and I realised that the sepia coloured book was the story of the Transport Company crated lovingly and painstakingly by my elder uncle, a man with a vision way beyond his times. The book is replete with family photographs that made me all fuzzy as long forgotten memories came alive. I sat down to read it as it began with the family history that till date I had pieced through the occasional chats with my father. I was hoping to fill in the gaping holes. Little did I realise that the book was serendipitous as it concealed a small anecdote, tucked away at the bottom of page, 11 that would complete my life circle and perhaps explain why I am where I am today.

The book is called La Grande Histoire du Bus Mauricien, and is beautifully written by Tristan Bréville. It was published to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Company. (I was unable to find a link in English. The one given above is of an article in a French newspaper). The anecdote I am referring to is about my grandfather, Ram Pershad Singh Goburdhun, the son of a indentured labourer bearing no 354495, who landed in Mauritius in 1871. The son born 9 years later was my grandfather. Of the sparse bits of my ancestors' history imbibed with yearning at my father's knee, I was to learn that my grandfather was a school teacher. The story of how the son if an indentured labourer would become a teacher remained shrouded in mystery. All I knew of my grandpa was that he was a teacher and that he was a very strict man.

Tristan Bréville
La Grande Histoire du Bus Mauricien page 11

The tiny but life altering anecdote that I referred to, tucked away on page 11 of this book, reveals that my grandpa was not just 'any' school teacher. It says that he was one of the youngest school teacher ever as he was just 21 when he started teaching. But that is not all. He also created his own school, and when the owners of the sugar mill 'acquired' the little piece of land where his school stood in 1918, he converted a little straw thatched hut on his own sugar field into a school. The primary school  at Belle-Vue Maurel in Mauritius still bears his name as you can see by scrolling down the list on this page

Every life has a story to tell and those of our ancestors often foretell the ones of those yet to be born. It is when you and you alone read it, that you find the part that relates to you. And as I read of the school under the thatched roof, I knew this part was mine to hold on to. Nothing in my early life or career would have ever suggested that I would in my twilight years turn to educating children, and that too deprived children. True I taught in an University but that was not my true calling and was a short and not so sweet stint. Even when I started project why, education was not the first thing that one had in mind. But then a series of unexpected events, an encounter with a beggar whom I know now was a man with a mission, and a string of deafening whys led me to what was to be my calling: creating a space to educate children from slums, children of the kind that would have found their way to my grandfather's hut. I can feel the undoubtable and powerful link that binds that little hut created almost a century ago to the first project why classroom that was a mud hut with a tin roof. 

I have often wondered why I set up project why! I always felt  the presence of an invisible force that blew beneath my wings and steered  me on an unknown journey. Unable to identify it, I thought it was the one I called the God of Lesser Beings. Today I know who he is. The man who would not give up when his school was taken away and built one on his own land. The man who knew that education was the greatest gift of all. The man  never met. The man who was my grandfather.

Life has come full circle and I feel blessed.