Swetha: Country side, bustling town and mixed feelings!

Amidst the comfort of office, listening to music, here I am writing my blog post.

After spending few uneventful days in Pune, it was time for me to leave for Chhattisgarh again. This time on a new assignment; apart from the old one.

The train ride to Raipur was long as usual but there were few interesting people this time in my coupe. I was traveling by AC 3 tier and I see this lady in my coupe who got upper berth getting onto her seat as soon as she boarded the train and tying a bed sheet around her berth. Never seen such a sight. All of us in my coupe exchanged looks and silently smiled. What with everyone having Smartphones these days in no time people clicked pictures and exchanged them with their friends.

After getting down at Raipur one of the other ladies from my coupe was kind enough to drop me at the SHRC office inspite of we being complete strangers. A good samaritan indeed! After reaching the SHRC office, I got the required footage for the toy making documentary and it was time for me to leave for my next destination, Ambikapur in Surguja district. I love the lush green paddy fields there, the quietness and the pollution free environment. I spent some good two days there shooting for the toy making documentary. I also got a chance to ride a two wheeler there with a light drizzle and cool breeze blowing with the beautiful Mainpat hills as backdrop.

Yet again, it was time for me to leave for Raj Nandgaon. After visiting the quite villages around Ambikapur, Raj Nandgaon was not a welcoming sight at all. The bustling town with all its pollution and the shady place that I was at, added no respite. I was completely exhausted by the time I reached Raj Nandgaon but there was no time for rest. So this other assignment that I was assigned was called the Home Scale. A base line study of the home scale was to take place. The field staff of CLR at Raj Nangaon was going to do the study and they had to be trained on the same. My role there was to assist one of my colleagues in the training of the Home Scale. So, as soon as I reached Raj Nandgaon I had to go onto field to test the scale before the training began the next day. It was an interesting scale, we had to interview the mothers or caretakers of the kids this time unlike in the ECCD scale where we tested the kids. The training went fine but I just couldn’t wait to come back to Pune from the day I reached Raj Nandgaon.

Interestingly the women in the villages around Raj Nandgaon were well educated and knew a lot of English as well and every village there had a library too! Unlike Surguja, the villages of Raj Nandgaon district were not backward at all. This was when I realized that Chhattisgarh is not a backward state after all and is far more developed than what I had known about it.

Conchita: Beat Not Bleed

Bleeding hearts should beat not bleed

For helpless mothers with mouths to feed
For farmers surrendering to the rope and tree
For fearful souls who are forced to flee.

Bleeding hearts cannot reach out

To the bridged woman who sows during drought
To the scarred street fighter whose wounds do not show
To the Dalit girl whose eyes keep low.

Bleeding hearts will struggle to hear

The sound of a beggar’s falling tear
A girl’s silent screams as she is torn in the night
A grandmother’s despair as she loses her sight.

Why bleed when hearts can beat to free
These captive souls of humanity?

So that many beats become one sound

Begetting hope from below the ground.

Nishant: Warping Time

Warping time is equally an old concept as much as it is new. Modern times’ way of warping time is quite limited in its scope, and does not really enter into our lives as much as the old concept used to and can. Their purposes are widely different.The new way of warping time is essentially concerned with slowing down time through technology for noticing the intricacies of events that happen quite fast. That has helped us to understand things a naked eye cannot sense and as a result cannot help the mind perceive.

The old way of warping time does not directly slow down time. It works indirectly to slow down time to help us notice the intricacies of our own experiences. Some people call it spiritual enlightenment. And some call it a way to experience wholesomely. I like to call it the latter because the connotation of the former will differ for everyone, and the latter way to define it is simpler. To warp time this way, first we slow down ourselves. Slowing down ourselves means to stay with what we have experienced for a long time or to basically give ourselves a broad margin to think about it. Once we do that, it feels as if time has slowed down. In the old times we had a lot of time to warp time this way. But the fast paced life of the modern, or so called developed world, has caught up with us now and now the mantra is, “The more experiences, the better.” instead of “The more time with the experiences, the better” as was in the times before.

People no longer have time to warp time this way. But I couldn’t ever digest all of this, that we must just never stop to think or reflect. And hence, I took to warping time this way all the time, a long time back. I was always told that I was missing out on a lot. Yes. I was. I knew that. But just the fact that we are told that we are missing out on things does not mean they are worth pursuing in the first place. Identifying sound from noise is the first step that we can take towards slowing ourselves down, and essentially time as a result and broaden our understanding of the little amount of experiences that we allow ourselves to have. I identified for myself what felt worth pursuing. Many people helped. Alive and dead, alike.

Some years and frustrations later, I have ended up at India Fellow. Here, I have met people who let me find the best in myself because they understand the concept, even if unknowingly, of warping time, and who can always help me by pushing me to achieve what I dearly desire and not necessarily what the world may desire of me. By being with such people one feels truly empowered and can muster up the courage for things unimaginable. Happyness is a constant state then and its definition is not like the single-story the world professes.

There are good people around. To find them, one just needs to warp, if not all, but some time, sometimes.

Arthi: I have a dream …

Disability… even the term has not reached a consensus on its usage. In India persons with disability(PwD) account for 2% of our population. India is a ratified nation of the UN convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have national institutes set up for all 7 forms of disability and we have separate teacher training institutes to make persons with disability more inclusive in the society. We have separate acts and legislations for the different types of disability. We have schemes providing free bus pass to supply of aids and appliances. We have budget allocated to make the environment barrier free for PwD. But the way our nation looks at persons with disability is still a long way from what is the ideal state.

Gaining the access to all such government schemes starts with the basic step of a PwD getting the identity card. So how difficult can it be for persons with disability to get a doctor certificate stating that they have more than 40% disability and then get the identity card from the government? Well it should be a natural process right. But no. Especially in rural and tribal areas, it is not the case. And these are areas where more consideration is needed due to their remote location. Conduction of disability camps is one way to identity PwD in such regions. I happened to be an observer in one such camp and it was the worst of its kind I have been to so far. The camp was set up at Vijaynagar Community Health Center(CHC) in the Sabarkantha district of Gujarat. This health center operated in an apartment as the old CHC had collapsed. Geographically Vijaynagar is a terrain of slopes. The new CHC was operating on one such slope. It was as such difficult for people to reach. Aided with the heavy rains from the previous day, people had to travel for hours together to reach there as the easy way of out of their villages were overflowing with river water and they had to take a longer route. The camp was supposed to start at 11 and end by 2. People started coming in from 10. It was expected. The doctors came in by 11.45.  It was expected. What followed after that was so humanely wrong in every possible way. The first step that happened was cutting down the crowd. It was announced people who did not have original ration cards will not be tested. Most people did not have because they were not instructed to bring the original and also it is not safe to carry your only available original proof in such weather. When we asked the doctor why this information was not given priorly they responded that it was not their duty. Then came the behaviour of the doctors. I did not have a clue what was so amusing for them in the camp. One such incident was when people with cataract came in by mistake thinking they were qualified for disability and it triggered roars of laughter in the room. The sick attitude of the doctors continued for an hour. After that it was declared that the camp was over by 1 P.M. There were people waiting out to get tested and many more were on the way. But no, they did not care. They took photographs with persons for whom certificates were issued and then captured the scenic beauty of Vijaynagar as they sped in their vehicles. We had to call and inform people not to come as the camp was closed early. It was the worst part. There were so many discrepancies. People who already had identity card were also there due to the miscommunication from the local government, there was no transportation arranged for them, people from all panchayats near and far had to come to Vijaynagar, the rain factor was not considered, further for getting the identity card they have to carry the issued certificate to collectorate and the list goes on. It was not the case with this one particular camp. I have seen this happen over and again. Only the degree of insensitivity varies from worse to worst.

India talks about changing the whole environment ‘disability friendly’ to make our society more inclusive and accessible. India talks about bringing inclusive education for them. India tries to paint a bigger picture in the global scenario. But all this change in the society, its policies, its infrastructure, everything was made to suit the majority and now trying to fix it is an easy and obvious choice India has made with budget allocations to everything that needs fixing. But I want the basic issue of protecting the rightful dignity of PwD getting sorted out. I want the government and their attitude to stop taking advantage of the patience people have. If only the 2% were the majority, will the government listen then? I want sensible and sensitive people to address the issues of PwD. I don’t know how long changing the policies is going to help unless the minor details are not getting the attention they need. Until then I can only dream for an Indian society that can truly stand for the inclusivity that it speaks about so loudly now. So I do have a dream… a dream that I hope to give it a rest soon…

Abhimanyu : Connecting Colors

I take a leap back in time. When the world around was black and white. Every bit of which had a binary code, making me explode. Fear and death were my dear friends. I had no option but to defend. There was no escape. Shouting and rumbling at me back and forth. I was like a child in a shell board. In all the time I never grew. I was the same child in every view. You entered with a big bucket of all the colors in the world around. Red, blue, green it was all in your heart bound. Knowingly or unknowingly you spilled colors in my life. Like a colorful raining sunshine. It was the colored patches you made on my soul. That helped me create a new way on my own. That makes you and me no apart.  This achromatic color is nothing but a connection between the two souls. Connecting colors which makes us whole. This is what all I have in me. It makes my life complete.

In all the dreams where you came, all I tried is to talk to you in every frame. Your eyes are like twinkling stars in the sky, gleaming in my heart all day and night. I am obsessed with your voice and wish it had a price, price that I could give against my life, because it is worth and right. Each glittering step you take to and fro, makes my every moment to go slow. A breeze is falling from your inner being, touching me like a stream. This connecting color is like a wire between you and me, connecting us by all means. Calling it love might be mean. We all have fixed mind on this love scene. Can this love happen without all the wonted fashion? This connection is my impression. The world might look at us as different poles. But we are one as whole. I am not sure if we will meet in this world again. But will surely meet somewhere beyond this rain. All now I wish is you to share your heart. That can make things clear and past. From all the quietness you have shared. I know you need time to be clear.

Now ending this note is a tough game, because I have so much to say for the same. But with limitation of the words and time, I will leave it for another mile.
Till then feel the Connecting colors!!!!! :)

Vinay: Current Project – Yuva Sandarbha Kendra

Youth Club

For Whom: Migrant workers of the age group (15-35 years of age)

Focus Areas: Recreation, Outside ‘site and room’, Exploration / Creative Space

Recreation – Games for relaxation of mind and to give a few stress-free moments, movie/video watching, playing outdoor sports. ‘Having fun’ is the sole objective in mind while planning or doing these activities.

Outside ‘site and room’ – Stepping out of the ‘site-and-home space’ which could include Ahmedabad sight-seeing (entertainment sites, sites which appreciate nature, and heritage sites with information on their importance), attending seminars or events, tour of NGOs, corporate offices, banks, malls, ward office, government offices, dining at Mc Donalds’ or the likes. Most important objective here is to show them the world outside their construction site (or other working space) and their slum.

Exploration/Creative space – Platform to showcase talents, space to explore interests, chance to perform like street plays, dance, bhajans, etc. opportunity to put forward learning interests (like learning Angrezi (English) language which I heard often), interactive sessions by knowledgeable people on specific themes, circle to share thoughts and views on different issues. Objective here is to learn new things which are of their interest and also for showcasing their talents.

Coming to operations, open source in style. Meaning, anyone (from outside) can feel free to give ideas, or come explore the space or to interact with the people/community here, or even explore themselves through this medium.

Points to be kept in mind: Migrant workers lead extremely exhaustive physical life on a daily basis. They wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning and then prepare breakfast which takes much more time than preparing a bread toast (they prepare ‘roti sabji’). They then do their morning ablutions while keeping in wait other 10-15 people who live with them in their small room. All this hurried-ness is to reach ‘naka’ sites by 8 o’clock in the hope of finding work each and every day. By 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening they return to their extremely congested rooms and again take on the task of preparing dinner (‘roti sabji’) which is yet again a time consuming process. These above few lines can hint at the reason why there is such a prevalent habit of constantly chewing tobacco or relieving in bidi smoke or even de-stressing in cheap liquor.

Constraints: Time availability for them – small window of 2 hours at night; very little of this kind of proposed experience (I mean initiatives similar to youth club) earlier, and so learning mistakes do happen; not their permanent abodes; stressed bodies already; most shy in nature. Keeping in line with these constraints, the following is an example of one of the evenings (/early nights) I spent in their little room (or shed to be more appropriate) – A few mildly drunk, one just happy having fun with his dough, cool breeze seeping in through holes in those walls, pleasant climate owing to the time of the day, ‘bam bhole nath’ of Bob Marley playing in the background with just the right amount of volume, and everyone sharing laughs. It felt really as if I was transported to the ‘bhole nath’s’ place and can only assume how they would have been feeling right then. And so right there in front of me there was a challenge on how to tackle that lovely moment they were experiencing in that little shanty hole-ridden shed with this concept of youth club.

Initiative already got off the ground and a room (small one) is taken on rent for this purpose, in the same area where a decent number of migrant workers live. Finally to sum it up, objective is to create a home outside home for migrant workers.

P.S.: I currently am working from Ahmedabad. Slums or call them valley-of-spits are heavily populated. Deadly municipal latrines when seen from the time the sun is right above our head. Once there, life could actually seem boring outside slums!