Monday, January 16, 2017

Brick by Brick

Apna Skool for kids of kiln workers.
A brick-kiln at Tatayaganj, Kanpur

Make a picture in your mind of a school in which every door and window opens to green and blue of the earth and sky. Where students willingly stay back during their four month long break. Teachers keep them occupied with Maths, Evs, Science and English labs.The co-curricular activities include music, story telling, performing plays, making paper toys, games and other outdoor activities. This sounds like any other elite school. I had the opportunity to visit such a school and even if you are not a teacher like me, you would love to meet the confident students who have an urge to learn. These students, children of brick-kiln labours, have made to come to school by pampering, coaxing, requesting and luring by the volunteers of Apna Skool run by Vijiya Ramachandran near the brick kilns at  the outskirts of Kanpur city. They run 11 schools covering around 28 kilns.

Sangita, a devoted volunteer took me around the school. Class 1, the youngest in the school was the chirpiest. The classroom had two batches of kids as some of them joined late. Opposite walls had black boards and two teachers taught them. Each child stood and gave his/her introduction in English. All 54 of them wanted to speak. The teacher in me saluted the volunteers for such a show. They recited poems and talked about the little pleasures 'Apna Skol' offered them. They learn to read and write in an academic year which doesn't even have 12 months. Thanks to the books specially designed for them by Eklavya. Students are evaluated on the basis of exams conducted by National Institute for open schooling.

Class 2 and 3 shared one classroom which was big enough for around 20 of them. I asked them the  question which we adults are never tired of asking. Most of them wanted to be teachers when they grow up. Did they know any other profession? I wondered. Then someone told me that he wanted to be a 'police' and would catch thieves. Before I proceeded to the next class, they said they too had some questions for me, which ranged from my qualification to my favourite season.

Class four side of the room had the model of 'Rafael' fighter plane hanging from the ceiling. I was told by a student  everything about the model in Wikipedia manner. In class 5  a child told me how to create table of 19 by a math-magic and many interesting games with numbers. (write odd numbers from 1 to19 vertically, then write 9 to 1 backwards.) After that they challenged me with crossword puzzles.
Table of  19 made easy

It was time for lunch, but there were still things they wanted to share. Ashok,who is from Bihar played the guitar and Rohit played the violin. The child who knew to play the flute was absent. They had all the praise for their music sir who gives special classes on Mondays.

Brick-kiln labours live  at the worksite itself  from the month of June to October when the production is on. for rest of the months, with no work in hand they go back to their hometowns. Apna Skol volunteers arrange jobs for them so that kids could study without interruption.This year for the first time, 20 boys and girls were lived in the hostel for 4 months.
After class 5, kids are sent to other private and government schools. Neetu, a class 7 student showed me how Excel works. She goes to Adarsh Inter college.When her school is closed she comes to Apna Skol with other ex-students to clarify the doubts in Maths and science.Today is one such day when DM has declared a holiday due to some reason.

What would she do here for the whole day, I wondered. "She loves to teach class 1 and 2 students and she does it so well", beamed a proud teacher.

It was a pleasure watching the little ones going towards the light of education from the darkness of illiteracy. A day well spent indeed, but not without guilt that what am I doing for the adorable underprivileged kids of my country?

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Jan Gan Man ki Baat

The Supreme Court has asked all cinemas to play the national anthem before a film is screened. This may have become a national debate now but our National Anthem nudges me every morning at the most inappropriate hour. There is a school near my house. Their morning assembly ends with ‘Jan gan man’ which coincides with the time when I’m shampooing my hair and my head and face is covered with foam or when I’m talking to someone over the phone.I can’t be against the lovely ritual of singing the anthem in school assemblies, but the loudspeaker.

A teacher’s day at work begins with the national anthem. I have come across lovely things related to it. Most of the times we have to tell the little ones not to close their eyes while singing. And oh my, you should listen to a kindergarden child singing it. An eight year old NRI student of mine was astonished to see that everyone knew and sang the National Anthem so well in the school. In the US, he said that nobody knows their anthem after a line or two.

When there is s a big discussion going on about respecting our national anthem, I think of the gardener who I saw standing up straight while weeding the flower beds, as soon as students started singing Jan gan man. I went to him and appreciated him for his gesture and humiliated an SIS guard for fidgeting and being indifferent throughout.
In my city they already play National Anthem in cinema halls. I witnessed it before watching Pink in a theatre, when I was expecting "Vicco Turmeric, nahi cosmetic" ad. There is a mood for everything. I love my country, but movies and National Anthem do not match. National Anthem is too pious to be related to something we do leisurely.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Kedar Camp, Time to Stand and Stare.

The group I chose to be a part of for my Kedarnath trip was comprised of six people from Switzerland, Denmark, Russia and Germany. Agastya and Anna (Savitri),  Ami and Anja aka Shyamala, and Matte. They were into Yoga and Hinduism which brought me closer to them. The itinerary had names of the places unknown to me and I resisted the google search of the places as I didn't want to miss the element of surprise.

Our base,  Kedar Camp, Guptkashi, was my home for  seven days. We climbed many mountains, but by  evening came back to the camp for sumptuous food, stories around the fire place, cosy tents with hot water bottles tucked under the blankets and relaxing hot water bath. Next morning we used to be ready for another peak, lake or a lake on the peak. The homely warmth of the place made me realise that before making a house one has to plan and before making such a camp one has to dream.

my tent

Six hours bus journey from Rishikesh ended when I climbed the stone steps which lead me to the camp where I was offered homemade rose drink. The row of tents faced the mighty peaks of Greater Himalayas. Variety of flowers added to the beauty of the place. Lovely collection of roses, passion flower, queen of the night and so many.

Passion Flower

The tent  with mosquito repellents, switchboards to charge the mobiles n laptops was a delight.The biggest relief was the wash room.

later I saw a slide show of the pics of  more than  hundred types  of birds that visit the camp during different seasons of the year. Some of them come back for their yearly visit.There are a few wild berries n fruit trees purposely planted to lure them. Some come in flocks like parrots and others just two of them year after year. The few names I remember are seba, babbler, fench, red bellied bulbul, hupoo, yellow crested woodpecker, plum headed parrot, sunbird and munia. During my morning walk I could also spot a pair of pheasants. I also realised how difficult it is to take bird pics.

Pic: Agastya Seikritt 

Like the kitchen at home dining hall proved to be the heart of the camp, Food was not spicy and  tasty enough to make us overeat. I, a homemaker envied the chef who never repeated a thing throughout our stay. I also wondered how those European fellows never missed their staple food at all. I could only hear them sigh, Wow, I like it, yummy.. From pickles, salads, daals, vegetables, sweet dishes, we loved it all. Porridge, Dalia  topped with mountain honewas a big hit with everyone. Honey reminds me this beehive  which could be seen from the dining hall.


Like we Indians are particular about our chai, my companions were about their coffee. A coffee maker was taken out and different types of coffees were made which were not in the menu, but our host made sure each one gets what he wants. He wanted us to be happy. I, a pahari got ghee  for my khichri and gur, jaggery to be eaten in the end, on the table. Isn't it amazing?


The  adorable fire place in the corner used to be our adda after dinner. Agystya told a kissa about how he was separated from his friends at Gomukh during a storm and heavy snowfall. There appeared a sadhu who gave him shelter and food. As things became normal the sadhu was nowhere to be seen. Years later he saw the same sadhu at Varanasi, but only for a while. He vanished again. Goosebumps!

Add caption

Our host also told us about his regular clients, they call them guests. Most of them become good friends. Victor Banerjee and the Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic also stayed in the camp for a month for the shooting of a film ' Devbhoomi'

One more group came to the camp a day before we were leaving. A swamiji with a few of his disciples. Swamiji brought a garland of colourful flowers for Shalendra, our host. He did make him wear it. This is the relationship he shares with his guests. Most of the ppl in the party had been there before. One of the girls, from Belgium saw our group leader and sprang up shouting his name Majojjjj!! and hugged him. She came to India a few years back and might have been in his tour group. Savitri, from Russia also told me, "Manoj is an angel." I was so proud of these entrepreneurs  who treat these tourists/ guests so well that they remember them forever."

I heard Shalendra refusing an another group over the phone saying the camp is full. I could see that there were a couple of tents lying vacant. I asked the reason and his answer left me speechless.He said,"These many people are enjoying. I'm easily providing them what they want. Quality of service should not suffer." He wanted to give happiness to his guests.They should remember this place. Memories made and lives enriched, that is what he wanted.

The beauty of doing one's work sincerely is that people remember you, they do. This is what I'm doing past midnight, thinking of Kedar Camp, smiling and reliving those happy moments.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

हम तो झोला उठा के चले,

Husband gave me a look of, "Simran,ja ji le apni zindagi" when my train chugged towards Dehradun and he took a flight to Chennai. I chose mountains to beaches. Spouses should give space to each other, literally!
Invoking my muses Mridula, Shivya nath and Writer's Block and many others I broke an imagenary coconut and unplanned my trip. I have decided to take things as they come. I had to go to Uttarkashi, but how, when and duration of the stay was not decided. Even return tickets were not booked.

Dehradun is home which does not recognise me now. Roads are better but Lichi orchards and canal are missing. Visited my college, met a dear friend who is teaching there and roamed about the Pultan Bazar, Astley Hall nand Rajpur Road, places Ruskin Bond mentioned in his award winning novel.

Travelling in mountains is a nightmare for those who suffer from motion sickness. My Uttarkashi trips are enjoyable, thanks to the good roads and the car my brother arranges for me. But he looked at me disdainfully when I asked him to drop me at the trekker (an 8 seater vehicle) stand. During the ride I got to hear Garhwali songs which I didn't like at all. I wished he had played the ones I love. I begged  the driver to play Kishor Kumar or Asha songs, but no luck. I enjoyed half of the journey, had tea, but after that the sickness began. I regretted for not listening to bro. Looking at the brighter side I thought that no dashing young man would have offered me a toffee if I were travelling and puking alone in a swanky car.

Mountain air cured me immediately when I got down at my stop. I crossed a bridge over the Ganges (Gangaji, this is how my people call her), walked a km with my backpack to reach home. 

Hiring a cab and going somewhere was the only way, only if I could have a local guy or a girl for the company. I thought of the travel writers/ bloggers who paint an alluring  picture of a place, garnish it with engaging anecdotes. It was intriguing that how they get right people in the remotest places who take them around. I could only pray to God, specially Shiva who was not away from me even for a second while I was loitering in the market. He was on the signboards, temples, names of the institutions, on the cars windscreen and behind the trucks. He has fulfilled my silly and na-jayaz wishes then this one was at least sane.I reached home and got a call from a relative that he is going to Harsil for a day for his official work and I could accompany him If I wanted.

Getting to travel with locals is a boon. The tone and topics of conversation added a flavour to the trip. On the way to Harsil I witnessed innumerable waterfalls.The scenery was breathtaking even for me, a pahari.

I landed at a training centre for gals. The expensive woollen shawls we buy from the swanky showrooms were being made here in the cold and dark room. On the way I walked through a steep trail. I didn't even bring my shoes. I stood on a large clearing. It was a helipad, which was used during the great cloudburst at kedarnath to bring the people to safer places.

 I was given an hour or two to explore and enjoy while my godsent relative finished his meetings. I was told to go straight and cross a couple of bridges and I would reach the market place. I again looked for someone to accompany me. I was chided that the distance is not much. what if there are some wild animals on the way. But I met only pretty local girls and handsome army guys who happily clicked pics for me.

I passed by the Wilson Cottage and Bridge. Pahari Wilson, who married a local lass, had brought apples to Harsil. Walked for a while and I was at the quietest market I have ever seen. Two-three hotels, a general merchant plus woollen shop, a bank with an ATM that was all. A cemented pathway
lead me to the orchards full of green and red apples. I walked further and there were lovely neat and clean pathway and houses. At the diversion stood a post-office. Later I was told that this post-office was there in the movie which made Harsil famous. I turned back and to the market and looked around for an eatery. Had momos at a lil restaurant with local girls and boys. A boy was ready to be my guide and take me to a 3km walk upto Mukhba. I was told there were meadows and the famous waterfall under which pretty Mandakini bathed in the movie. But lo, the car was waiting for me for the return journey.


On the way back a co-passenger, who was known to my host took me to a village which had 2-3 scattered houses among the apple orchards. I met a family who lived in a typical pahari house. One of the daughters had a very different accent.I got curious and she told me that she got married to a guy from Haryana six years back. Many other girls from this area are married off like her. Had heard about the sex ratio going bad to worse in Haryana, but saw that they have to come so far to look for a bride. I felt relieved when she told me that she is happy. She took me around an orchard which was sold to a contractor. My craving for plucking an apple was ignited, but she told me contractors always keep an eye. The apples have become forbidden now! But she did pluck and gave me one.

Nachiketa Taal  
Chaurangi khal is 30 km away from Uttarkaashi.  3 km uphill walk took us to Nachikta taal. The cab driver and his pretty wife proved to be an excellent company.

While climbing a lovely trail I found blood on my toes and thong slippers. There were tiny leeches which were swollen a bit after sucking my blood. after a while they vanished. It took an hour to reach the top. And when I looked down there was a big lake. It was a lovely site, but I found it a bit overrated. The fish in the lake entertained us . A sadhu lives there in a tent throughout the year. He was chatting with the forest guards. Before going we offered him some fruits and money which he refused politely. I thought of the Pundas  of Sangam at Allahabad and Pushkar who almost snatched my wallet.

September was never so cool before.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Abuses in the Air

A homesick friend of mine who grew up in Kanpur, but settled in another corner of India jokingily told me that how he felt at home while talking to his brother over the phone. No, it was not due to affection but the expletives he could overhear while his brother talked and walked through a crowded street.The 'orators' who blurted gaalies in their usual chatting  were from rickshaw pullers to students to govt employees. I'm taking my city as a sample, but most of the cities of the North Indian are eligible. Abuses are mostly targeted at female relatives of the receiver.

In the movie Jab We Met, Kareena Geet Kapoor vents out  her anger and pain  while she scolds and curses her tormentor over the phone.  finally, at the height of her rage, she gains super salvation when  she utters an abuse indicating his mother. Indo-Pak cricket matches witness exchange of abuses between most admired players. Don't know how their moms n sisters feel watching them mentioned in this way, live!  One evening I heard a group of people shouting in unison. First I thought that Ganesh Puja is round the corner and some chanting is going on, till a man in uniform told me to take a U turn as there is an altercation( using a mild word)  going on between two groups. No, they were not illiterate youth from the two religions but college going kids. Blurting what they have learnt outside the classroom. Swear words often help in venting the anger out, this is the only way to justify this practice. But using these words as adjective and conjunction cause disgust.

 I was buying fruits at the local market when a boy stopped his motorcycle near me and gestured  an another boy to sit pillion.The moment he tried to sit, the bike moved a bit and he stumbled and casually said the common curse related to mother.Whom did he address? He addressed the motorcycle!!

Some years ago a colleague was looking for a house to buy in the city. Everyday she used to update us about her search. Finally they zeroed on a particular flat but then did not buy it. "So, why did u reject that flat?" We all asked curiously. Instead of feeling bad about it she couldn't stop laughing and could barely reproduce what her businessman hubby had said, "Flat to accha hai per #$% toilet bahut chota hai." The flat is fine but #$% toilet is very small. This was the height of personification.

Living here in Manchester of East, I am sure that all the abuses men hurl on living/non things are harmless and should not be taken literally. I, who hate this Gaali culture couldn't suppress my laughter when at the Apple customer care centre, a man who looked well to do, was arguing to replace the charger of his phone. It seemed that he had to come to the centre more than twice and he was asked to come again after two days.  Looking at the other customers to gain support, he fumed ,
" **** this is the state of things here." So, not only inanimate things but circumstances can also be cursed.

As a teacher of nine year olds, I talk to my little girls about 'good and bad touch' and to be very careful in this big, bad world. And when boys, my little heros are around I urge them to respect women and not to use these curse words when they grow up. I hope they would obey their teacher the way they do now.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Radcliffe, The Line that Separates/unites Two Countries

Radcliffe Line that divides India and Pakistan will be 69 this August. Cyril  Radcliffe who drew the line had never visited India before he was assigned the monumental task. Thanks to the hot and humid weather of India that he left as soon his work got over, leaving the two countries living the paradox of loving and hating each other. At Wagah the paradox begins with the aggressive boot thumping by the soldiers and then shaking hands.

Lowering of the Flags ceremony is a daily custom at Wagah border. BSF, (the Border Security Force) of India and Pakistan Rangers of Pakistan present the spectacular show. Surprisingly I did not know the magnanimity of the show so, Wagah border was never in my bucket list, the Golden Temple was. But the parade and ambiance of the place made me see it as a Kumbh mela where collective faith of masses is at its peak. I had never imagined such devotion and love for Bharat mata  without an Indo-Pak  cricket match being played.

The broad passage reserved for parade gets converted  into a large stage. The oxymorons continued when audiences performed with full gusto. Our clothing tells the faith we follow, so I see the people from all the faiths  drenched in the colour of patriotism as well as in the sweat of hot and humid month of May, dancing, laughing, enjoying. I hated myself for having two left feet, but I did what I knew. I whistled loudly like no one was watching.

Partition took place mainly because  Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah thought Muslims needed a separate country. Before 1940 it was not even imagined that such a thing could happen. I could only guess by reading the literature of united India. Can you doubt the true friendship between Jumman Sheikh and Algoo Chaudhary depicted in premchand's famous story 'Panch Parmeshwar' ? Religion was the main cause of the partition, and religion was the only thing I did not see separating us when I sat at Wagah. 

The popular song from the film Veer-Zaara, was playing when husband and I entered the place which looked like an open air theatre. The songs usually played there are, Aisa desh hai mera is written by Javed Akthar, Ye desh hai veer Jawanon ka, penned by Sahir Ludhianvi, sung by our beloved Mohammad Rafi and in the movie performed by Dilip Yusuf Kumar. 

The place I was sitting was not allowing me to see the audience on the other side of the line. It was clear that attendance was thin. A lone small boy was running around waving the Pak flag. The mood was rather formal. I wondered if there was a lady sitting there who was also a school teacher like me. If we could talk or there could be a souvenir  shop, a restaurant where we could taste cuisines from both the countries.We are so similar, but the conflicting thoughts at the back of my mind refused to budge and reminded me all that their army  did to our Lt. Saurabh Kalia in captivity for over twenty two days. Could I see an enemy in the woman sitting that side? No!

I could hardly listen to the music being played across the line, but a journalist friend who watched the parade a few days back had told me that they played  songs sung by Mika! A singer popular among the younger generation of Indians. he also came back humming 'Pakistan, Pakistan' by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who is loved by old n young in India. Indian media's love for Pak is not hidden from the whole world and how I adore the videos from Pakistan praising our Prime Minister and the adorable accent they call him Modi sa'ab with.

I grew up cheering India, but the biggest poster in my room belonged to Imran Khan. I hate mom watching some of the never ending serials on Indian TV channels,  but love to watch Zindagi Gulzar Hai with her on youtube for hours. It has a  strong female protagonist. I still remember her dialogue, "Zindagi main kitne log hote hain jo hum per garm chai nahi girne dete?"The male lead is  Fawad Khan, well a separate post is needed to describe his aura.

Even a small child can tell who is the culprit for the mess and war created between the two countries. He is definitely neither I nor the lady sitting on the other side of the gate at the wagah border,who would love to visit Mumbai or Delhi during her next vacations, if given chance and peaceful circumstances. I too would love to visit the Swat valley, Malala Yousafzai  talks so fondly about.

It is said that after the dark night comes the sparkling sunrise. Thinking about the dashing and brilliant boys sacrificing their precious lives in the continuous war between two countries, hoping against the hope I pray for peace.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Jai Hind, Sir !

The word 'Police' for me is a place where I grew up. All the windows of my house opened to the majestic building of Police Headquarter of Uttar Pradesh. My memories include manicured lawns, clubs, festivals, tamarind trees, mango orchards and everything pleasant. Neighbours lived cordially as a big family. Nobody was filthy rich as the department is known for bribe n black money.
My father was in civil police, so he
never never wore a uniform. As auditor, sometimes he worked whole night in his office with his colleagues. More than half a month he used to be on tours within Uttar Pradesh of some remote part of India. I went to a Mission school but not to one of the schools, Allahabad is known for. Even at that tender age I knew those schools were expensive for us. I saw my parents working very hard. The affluence associated with people working in police department was not there. Contrary to the image of a policewale, father was a teetotaller. Back from his tours he used to tell us hilarious anecdotes. Never ever I heard him mentioning his boss without respect. Even while talking with his friends casually he never forgot to put the suffix, like DIG Sa'ab.

As I grew up I heard stories of police atrocities and corruption, though hindi films had always projected good picture of policemen. Sholay was a luminous example. I Left PHQ as father got a promotion and transferred to some other department and another city. After that I never heard anything good about the Police. Police ke kutte was the most repeated refrain I heard in day to day life, still my emotional bond with policemen remain intact. Even after three decades I give them a second look where ever I see them. Be it a traffic policeman at a crossing of Chennai in scorching heat, groups of policemen patrolling the crowded streets of Varanasi, at Modi's 2014 rally at Kanpur, Siddhivinayak temple in Mumbai, posh areas of South Delhi, I always spot them.
When you listen to their stories, you would know that the number of policemen die on duty in a year is equal to the number of army men died in the Kargil War. Do we ever make memorials for them? Do we know that policemen never celebrate Holi and other festivals as they have to be on duty. Today there is peace in Panjab at what cost? The link below is a part of a Kavi sammelan where Mr Pawan Jain, IPS presents a poem about the lives of his fellow policemen which is an eye opener indeed. (Poetry by Pawan Jain IPS)