Vinay: My Own Little World

This is a story about Vinay and his little world.

Mangilal studied till 5th grade and lives with his father. Much of the harvest from farming is used for their own consumption and the rest is used to buy other necessities. Mangilal has no other skill to supplement this income earned by his father. He is too shy and would raise a doubt in anybody’s mind on how he would be able to navigate through this complex world. There are a group of tribal women, many of them from scheduled category. Unlike our facial creams, gels and packs they have their own style which naturally adds to their beauty. They are adorned with ornaments and this somehow feels more natural. Some wear similar nose rings as a tradition, they have a look of big loops which were fitted into small colorful beads. Some wear maang tikka (head piece jewellery) of badam size which unlike our affluent middle class is put in position by a simple thread running across the parting line on their head. While some strike out from among the rest by their glittering bangles and some by their exotic forehead stickers. These women have little information on the government schemes intended for them. They get income sometimes on MNREGA or depend completely on husbands who migrate for work. They have little economic independence and source too. Their self confidence can thus be guessed without much difficulty.

ujala kiran

Everyone strives to better their living conditions and money is arguably the biggest means to achieve it. Now enters Vinay with his own cute little fantasies and expectations. He wanted to see things the way he would ideally like them to be. So keeping in line with this, he wanted to see each person associated with organization devote themselves selflessly to their utmost capacity for the welfare of society at large and be like demi-Gandhis. But Vinay sees arguments over petty issues and lot of loud voices of anger or frustration around him and feels these are rather avoidable quite easily.

Mangilal received skill training under an Aajeevika Bureau’s program. He got trained in ‘pipe fitting’ work and also received a tool, useful in that trade, at the successful completion of his training along with a certificate of appreciation. Aajeevika Bureau trains a number of youth in different fields which also include fields like security services and mobile repairing. And to give this story a happy ending (or actually a new beginning), it leverages its organizational capabilities to place them too. Tribal women who were once unaware of government schemes now educate other women in their localities about them. These women are made aware and trained to address the concerns of not only themselves but also their neighboring communities. This is done under the auspices of Aajeevika’s yet another program. These women call themselves – Ujala Kirans, which also metaphorically defines them. They now discuss in the meeting on the number of complaints or requests that were lodged by them in the government offices. Not only connecting themselves with government schemes, they share with pride the number of people they educated and connected with various schemes or programs. This particular meeting; they were also learning about a new scheme called ‘bhamashah’ and seemed excited to reap its benefits and inform their community folk. They decided to conduct meetings in an organized manner and seeked the organization’s opinion on procuring resources like a bag, register and a pen. They could in fact purchase from their own collective money. To elaborate, each of them contribute little amount of money every month to make their group sustainable over time. During the meeting, they come out and address the circle either as a part of some activities or to share the work they have done in their localities. Some speak with giggles, some talk shy, and some bold and passionate.

So coming back, Vinay sees all this and tries to understand the impact that is leaving on the lives of these many people. During this time, he also gets an opportunity to meet his organization’s heads. Coincidentally he has the discussion with them on whether he was having a good experience over there. One thing is that this attention and care towards him given was too much to ask for, given they could spend their energies on other things that matter – like the programs that were mentioned. But the more important thing is which story should Vinay carry with him to the outside world and how correct or smart (or can say fair) would it be to carry insignificant petty stories than the beautiful larger picture. He has to be wary of not forming an impressionable mind for little things he sees at close quarters on a daily basis which could cloud the incredible positive impact that brings joy and optimism.

The frog which never turned into a Prince!

 

It’s pouring in Pune with barely any sun out. I keep longing for the Sun. Though I love rains, this constant downpour here is sickening. I wake up to gloomy cold mornings almost everyday.

Every evening when I come home from office I have a visitor waiting for me at home. It is still a mystery to me how these visitors enter my house when the door and window are closed. I think apparition is true like in Harry Potter(yes, I am lot into fiction and sometimes I escape from reality being in my fictitious world). I can’t find any other plausible explanation how these visitors are entering otherwise.

It all started like this. Last week when I came home from office in the evening, I saw a tiny little thing at my door step. I quickly opened the door got inside the house and banged the door shut before that creature could enter. Just when I was happy about my victory I saw an other creature inside the house. This time it was an earth worm. Insects disgust me. I some how managed to pick it up and throw it out of the house.  Next morning when I woke up I saw an other insect whose name I don’t know. I once again threw it out. But that evening again this tiny creature from previous day was waiting for me at the doorstep. This time it happily jumped inside the house before I did. It became a herculean task for me to catch hold of this creature while it was happily jumped around laughing at me in MY HOUSE. I lost my temper and stomped my foot down. The creature stopped jumping and looked straight at me.

“Hello human,” said the creature.

I forgot all about my anger and got startled as the creature started talking to me.

“I am Mr. Froggy the Frog,” said the creature.

“Mr. Froggy the Frog, as in you are a frog,” said I.

Now this frog got offended and said, “stop calling me a frog, I’ve got a name and it’s Mr. Froggy. I’d appreciate it if you called me by my name and nothing else. How would you feel if I just called you a mere human instead of calling you by your name missy?”

“Let me refresh your memory, you did call me human a while ago.” A frog with an attitude and bad memory. It was tiny, cute and grey. But it had a way with words for sure.

“No, I did not,” said Mr. Froggy.

I was already exhausted from a long day at office and did not have the patience to argue with Mr. Froggy so I decided to ignore him for a while and started doing chores at home.

Mr. Froggy didn’t like being ignored, he poked his nose into everything that I was doing. By now I couldn’t take it anymore. I stopped doing my work at hand sat down and decided to talk to Mr. Froggy and be done with him.

“You do realize that if you kissed me I’d turn into a handsome Prince,” said Mr. Froggy.

“Oh, really! I didn’t know about this Mr. Froggy, could you please elaborate?” I asked with sarcasm. Apparently Mr. Froggy is clichéd as well. A frog with many characters. Yes, I am into fiction but not into fairytales. Am past that age now. I know, I know, look at me talking as if fiction is any better. But that is a different story and let us not divert from the topic and stick to Mr. Froggy. He was already feeling edgy.

“Have you never read the story ‘The Frog Prince’ human?” Asked Mr. Froggy.

“Come on now, it’s just a fairytale,” I said.

“Oh!” said Mr. Froggy with gloomy eyes. I felt a little sorry for him now.

“I think am stuck in this form forever. I really hoped to change into human form.” Said Mr. Froggy.

“But, you are as good as a human. You are able to talk.” I said.

“But that’s not the only thing that you humans do, do you?” asked Mr. Froggy. He wasn’t that dumb after all.

I tried to cheer him up by offering him some chocolates, telling him how he could find a beautiful Mrs. Froggy and how he could spend the rest of his life happily with her. This seemed to lift his mood a little.

“I’ll go find my Mrs. Froggy, so long human and watch out for me,” said Mr. Froggy and left.

BOOM!! Suddenly there was this loud noise and I woke up from my slumber only to realize that this was all a dream.

CROAK came an other sound. I look down from my bed only to see a certain Mr. Froggy looking at me with humor in his eyes.

Transitions and Translations – 5: Noahs’ Legacy

There is a certain beauty to floods – to the way they wash away all imperfections, all the grotesque protrusions from the land, leaving nothing but pristine brown uniformity in their wake. No other natural or man-made disaster does this. Earthquakes, hurricanes and even a nuclear explosion leave broken or blasted husks of buildings, trees and also people in their aftermath. But not floods. Floods cover everything, enveloping them like some bizarre kind of natural foundation makeup. But, like so many beautiful things, they are merely hiding the ugliness underneath.
Flood 01Flood 02The Still Waters Of Desolation

The best place to see that ugliness is at the waters’ edge, where the destructive effects of the initial surge of water are uncovered as the water begins its slow recession. And so I found myself travelling to Jajpur district to see firsthand the disaster that had befallen the whole region, including many other neighboring districts. We had just finished organizing the distribution of shoes in two schools and were now heading to meet a partner that was requesting more materials for the relief efforts. We had already sent them an initial consignment, but the scale of the problem meant more was needed. Such a commitment required verification, however, and so we were headed to the area. The numbers were certainly concerning – around 20 panchayats containing over 70,000 people had been affected in this district alone. But a flood could mean anything from mild inundation to entire buildings disappearing underwater. Pictures from the partner could have been taken anywhere and at any time. We had to verify the situation ourselves.
Flood 05 Flood 08 What Lies Beneath…

As we approached the waters’ edge, that ugliness which was hidden from view everywhere else was revealed in stark detail – broken roads, fallen trees, assorted flotsam drawn the newly-formed “coast” by the slow ebb and flow of the water. At first, they were just sections of the road that had fallen away on either side. But eventually, we reached the proverbial ‘end of the line’. There would be no more driving from here on, and only a bit more forward progress by foot. A short walk through the muck, strewn about with branches and sacks – as if to prove that nature did not discriminate between man and its own – of mud forming a makeshift path, and we were there.
Flood 03 Flood 07You Shall Not Pass…

The waters’ edge. No going forward from here, unless one is willing to swim – which was certainly not recommended. One of the people from our partner NGO in the area put a stick in to check the depth at the edge – over 7 feet. And it would definitely be deeper farther out. In the distance we could see the road – or what was left of it – continuing on, as if daring us to cross and see what else lay beyond. We didn’t take the bait.
Flood 04 Flood 06Far Side Of Road                              

There is, of course, a human tale to tell as well, although fortunately no deaths as far as we know – at least so far. We’d passed a flooded village just before reaching the break in the road. There was no one there as far as we could see, although there were plenty of folk on the road. After we were done at the edge, we came back to a small building just about a hundred meters from the terminal point to check on the status of the material we had already sent. Although it was not all stored there – for obvious reasons – a quick chat with the locals reassured us that the supplies were being distributed properly. They asked for more, but then that was to be expected. We didn’t oblige. There were many more people to reach with even this level of supplies first. Satisfied, we departed.
Flood 09 Flood 10Nobody Home…Fortunately

Bigger disasters have happened in other times and places, of course. Orissa itself is no stranger to flooding. Indeed, it happens somewhere in the state pretty much every year. But its size relative to others and the regularity of its occurrence shouldn’t lull us into blasé acceptance. These are human lives we’re talking about here, after all. And, unfortunately, it looks like it has. There has been little, if any, mention of this flood in the mainstream news. If Sachin Tendulkar or Amitabh Bacchan were to say something, or if the stock market were to dip even slightly, it would be discussed on the 9 ‘o’ clock segment for an hour or more. But I doubt the flood we visited would elicit even a line on the ticker. The lives of the underprivileged matter only when in sufficiently massive numbers. Nevertheless, we, at least, were convinced. We would provide what assistance we could.

On the way back, I saw a boy relieving himself in the water. It seemed almost like a defiant act, despite the seeming ordinariness of it – as if daring the gods to hit him again. The resigned eyes of the people we had met, however, told me that they knew that next year, they would…

Vinay: Crèche At The Construction Site

Firstly I urge you to think critically whether crèche is really required? Stop right here, really think for a few seconds before reading further. You might think that crèche being a closed space and so could be contrary to the whole idea of ‘freedom for children’. I can only guess what else you might be thinking, like separation of the kids from their parents at that tender age even though it is for a few hours daily.

Now I shall mention just a couple of things I saw on one normal day, not more. A kid was playing with an iron rod orange in hue – rust and dust, the coloring agents – of length minimum 4 times his/her own height. The kid seemed to be having great fun in that sultry heat surrounded by these hard long sharp and dangerous toys of his. There is no parent in sight, and now feel free to imagine all the possible ill happenings. Second visual is of a kid rolling in the opening field with cement, mud, pebbles, dirt and what not present there. A kid safely holding a safety pin in his/her mouth with no one really noticing it. Okay, but the important point is that these are exactly the images I saw, and no exaggeration. It’s also not that I came to see such things in one of my numerous other similar visits to that construction site. Seeing these things is pretty common and these are not rare is what I mean to say.

Kids while parents are working

Kids while parents are working

I think above few lines might have put a little stress on our conscience, so now let us just plainly look from the parents’ angle. They stay in little dwellings with the so-called walls and roof formed of asbestos sheets. If you are an athlete you could easily do a long-jump and jump across the length of their dwellings. All they have are a few wood sticks, a wire to hang clothes, a cot in some cases, a few utensils, electric connection for a plug and a bulb (some cases). I know it’s hard to believe, but what else can I say other than ‘believe me’. Now it is understandable how important their daily earning is for them. A significant percentage of them have small kids too. These little ones have to be taken care of, that you, me, those parents and everyone knows. But unfortunately here we have only specific hours in a day and so taking care of these little ones invariably reduces our work time and affects our pay. Without over emphasizing, I can safely say that each extra rupee earned by them is a luxury (for them).

Parent taking time out for kid

Parent taking time out for kid

Now Aajeevika Bureau comes with this idea of opening crèches at the construction sites itself, and formulating into action opened one. Main motto is to both provide a safe environment for the kids and to take care of their nutritional needs. Nutritional need can easily be understood and now I believe you can relate to the safety aspect too, given the above images. What if something falls on the kid who was rolling on the ground or how difficult is it not to swallow that safety pin?

So the nutrition and creative space is being provided for the kids. You see them here do drawings, washing hands before having a meal, sleeping inside nets, learning rhymes and much younger ones sleeping in a cradle.

Trainer didi taking care of kids

Trainer didi taking care of kids

So why am I saying all this and posting here for you to see? I want the space to look spectacular with various toys and also include plenty more activities. This is also more like an open invitation and to make you aware of this crèche. You can come and spend time with kids, tell them stories, or help in bettering the look of this space, donate toys, donate crayons and drawing books, donate games which stimulate brain, or you are most welcome to just visit for your own curiosity.

Creche

Creche

See you at S.T. (Gita Mandir), Ahmedabad ;-)

Conchita: Breaking the Fifth Commandment

Today a colleague at work told me that he killed two people. Just casually, as we were talking about love (yes my dear fellows, I am still engaging everyone in conversations about love). When he saw my jaw drop he reassured me by pointing out that his uncle had killed eight people – and he was still in gaol. In fact, he is not just a colleague but a friend as well. We sit next to each other in the office, he teaches me Hindi and we eat lunch in the same group. He is the last person who I thought could be capable of such a heinous act (though some of the accounting team here could pass for murderers with their grave stares and complete absence of joy); sweet smile, playful child-like eyes, always ready to talk and protective and caring like only a mother can be.

Realisation: Not all murderers come in Voldemort-like shapes or sizes.

I sat there in utter shock as he calmly reasoned in his broken Bihari English that he had no choice but to kill these two people on separate occasions. One death was unintentional (though grievous bodily harm appeared intended). The other was provoked. One instance involved a gun and the other, just his bare hands. Both murders occurred in defence of his family and their honour. I have never met someone who killed another human being before. And I am saying that after having visited clients in gaol and having dealt in criminal law. To me, the intentional taking of life from another human being is beyond comprehension. This belief stems largely from my Catholic upbringing and education – you only have one life on this earth and it is worth more than all the treasures that the world could ever offer. Catholics still murder though.

Realisation: Murder, not just love, exceeds all barriers to become universal. 

This colleague, who shall remain nameless only for my irrational fear that the police might still arrest him (he maintains that his father visited the local police station and all charges were dropped), is in love with a girl from a neighbouring state in India, whom he met whilst doing his Masters in Social Work. His family do not approve of her because she is from a lower caste and a different culture. He has threatened them with his own suicide if they do not approve but he knows too well that if he marries his love against the will of his parents then he will jeopardise any future opportunities for his younger siblings’ to find good spouses. He was like an insect trapped inside a spider’s web; family, tradition and culture encasing him from all sides; the more he struggles the more he becomes entangled in its sticky grasp. Whether the spider will eat him or not will be determined by his future actions.

Realisation: Do not fuck with tradition in the villages. It has little if no mercy.

This story he had told me many times before, but today he gave me context to it. A girl from his village ran away from home to marry a boy she fell in love with from a neighbouring village.  Her father then shot her in the head to ‘save’ himself and his ‘family’ from ‘embarrassment’ in the villages. Overuse of quotation marks intended. My colleague was outraged with the behaviour of this man and fought with his local gram panchayat to bring the father to justice. His pleas fell on deaf ears. He tells me that only ten years ago in his village there was much conflict between the different castes and that people would take the law into their own hands. Discrimination towards the lower castes was normalised. Their upheaval was suppressed and met with brutality by their own neighbours. Now things are slowly changing for the better. But it makes me wonder just how many precious lives were lost, how many dreams gone unfulfilled, how many curiosities unexplored; all because of individuals abusing, what was once a natural societal system, for their benefit. Sure you can say this too about other human tragedies; war, genocide and colonialism just to name a few. But caste always seems to get to me and I do not know why. Maybe it is because here in India it is a lot more apparent. Those aforementioned atrocities I see only on the television or read about in books. But here, in the villages and even in the cities you can see how some peoples’ lives are dictated by this external marking they bear.

Realisations: In the villages all kinds of shit goes down and there ain’t nothing you can do about it. I will never ever entirely understand the caste system – it is too bloody complicated.

And what of my colleague? At the time of his scandalous revelations I thought that I would not be able to look at him in the same way. But somehow the mixed feelings of fear and mild disgust dissipated as I realised that he was still, as we would say in Australia “a top bloke”. He wants to make the world a better place just as much as I do; he works hard, lives simply despite his family being prosperous and does everything with a big smile on his face.

And now he has just gone to get us some chai.

Realisations: One person’s actions in the past should not be held against them for the remainder of their life. Chai puts everything into perspective.

Anusha: Crumbling My Built-In Structures

Been a month in the land of mountains…everything looks mesmerized. Fantasized version always covers the mind when the beauty is so hypnotizing. My mind goes back to the days the built-in structure of daydreams, yearning, and ardors and yeah! Perceptions ruled. Well, till now these words are just the words I thought I knew, understood and lived … but for all that matters; I seriously don’t know anyone of them (ignoring the dictionary part). The built-in structures of thoughts in my mind are juggling between do I really want to know them or just let them go.

A month journey has finally got me to write my 3rd word document to be called a blog. The bundle of mixed feelings include lots of experience, lots of learning, lots of drama, lots of whatsapping, lots of traveling, lots of trekking and lots of confusion. When saying everything to be “Lots of”, each deed has its own effects on me and now a larger picture is what builds in mind. Coming to a rural office I felt it will be lot more “RURAL”, the work place will be more or less total mess, the folks will be just not so organized, what can you ever expect more in place where it is in the middle of a forest…but all these built-in stereotype version was broken and I was surprised to see how much they are advanced and I did name them “Rural MNC”, technology and the work of the people who wanted to bring the difference in the life of village folks is really recommendable and the efforts are visible. Why I m naming it a MNC? Then here is the thing – in the middle of the woods taking a leap of setting up a place where the youngsters who never have dreamt other than army and farming now walk around with an ID Card and are really systematic, disciplined and hardworking towards the new dreams and new era, the never ending excel sheets of work, the unlimited Wi-Fi, the extraordinary power supply backup, the 8 to 5 work culture, the house turned office with huge number of computer installations and team work charts hanging around the walls, some memories reminding the deadlines and deliverables … is this not a typical MNC frame? It’s just that missing of huge tech parks, Bangalore Volvo buses, a lot more depressed faces and formally dressed software engineers, the huge food bay coffee shops and pizza outlets, the AC seating and the board rooms with the huge projectors and yeah!! Unlimited coffee at pantry with all hippie graffiti on the wall.

The foundation was already laid to build the house called perceptions, I already had decided on certain things and drawn a picture about each one of them and framed and laminated it so tightly that it took the real experience to break the frame and realize I was wrong. A number of TED talks, a number of motivational speeches, a number of articles on social media platforms and a lot of books on how to break the typecast version of oneself on anything exist. But at the end of it we all are human beings designed to think in that stereotype manner at situations unknowingly.

Smashing my built-in structures took a lot of time to figure it out…until and unless it took me nowhere but left in the middle of nothing…So, My friend find your built-in structure today…crumble it bad and let go off the perceptions and walk to the glory of being that baggage freed!!!

Arthi: Overcoming Nature Deficit Disorder

It was monsoon in Vijaynagar and it stood as the the most peaceful and beautiful place I have ever seen in my numerically narrow travel experiences. My day started with chasing birds from not tearing into my clothes hung to dry outside and ended with mouse chasing me to get on chairs while it enjoyed its feast in our kitchen. My perfect balcony had a view of 6 buffaloes chewing and shitting the whole day in which I gained solace while doing report work.

Vijaynagar View from Home

View From My Home

Field days were the best. Be it meeting with grumpy government officials in the taluka office or the hyper active citizen leaders in their homes. It involved walking and long rides…long ‘rain drenched’ walks and rides. It was not new…I do that in my city also. But in Vijaynagar it was different. My walks were through fields of lush green, villages between the over-flowing river, up the hills and down the roads which made me claustrophilia with the mountains and forests lining them. My rides were with ‘no horn’ policy and with occasional traffic involving squirrels, cows and sheep. Yet I craved for petty things like chocolate, internet etc and was waiting to get their glimpse. Finally got the chance too.  I had to leave for Khedbrama for 2 days. Khedbrama is like ‘the city’ in the hood. It has a movie theatre I had heard and places to eat out. So I was really looking forward towards that trip. Ice cream, the last of my cravings that I did not want to give up. I cherished it for that trip.

But even an hour of my existence in Khedbrama proved to be such a Herculean task. Eating the chocolate ice cream, easily available foods around the corner, access to internet and the honking of vehicles made me want to go back to Vijaynagar even sooner. The rain in Khedbrama was horrible.  I missed my beautiful Vijaynagar. I missed sliding down at 45 degree in the muddy path towards my humble abode, I missed chatting up with Yasodhaben while she made me hot roti, I missed the view of buffaloes, I missed the mountains…realised that mountains stay in specific places for a reason. Gradually it settled upon me that my ‘unlearning’ has started and that this was just the beginning. Finally the bus to Vijaynagar arrived to fulfil my deficiency…” Yo Mountains, here I come” I said to myself.