Thursday, April 28, 2011

Do you pay the beggars

At a random red light in New Delhi, during peak traffic, with windows rolled up and airconditioning on full blast, I am suddenly confronted with a face unwashed. She peers at me through my drivers window. Her hair is matted, her clothes are rags and her blackened fingrnails beat a tattoo on the pane.

I scrounge around in my bag for a few coins. "You aren't going to give her that!" scolds my driving companion. Beggars are just lazy good for nothing so and so's. Ask her to come to your house to work for a days meal and see how fast she'll go away.

But why should a 6 year old leave familiar surroundings and climb into a strange ladies car to wash her dishes to earn a meal?? Surely she has survived life on the streets because she knows better than that. Besides, wouldn't that be child labour?

It puzzles me. Why do we look at beggars as lazy good for nothings. Dodging killer bluelines all day, dashing between unpredictable bikes and scooters, inhaling diesel fumes in the hot sun takes a lot of energy.

They tend to linger longer at certain car windows and skip others. Months and years of practice helps them make a blink decision about who will give and who won't.

She's still at my window. Looking wistfully inside. I reach for a tenner instead. It will probably be pocketed by the beggar mafia. Tomorrow I will keep some biscuits for her, or better still fresh fruit.

The light turns, she scampers away with a greatful grin. I reach office and have already forgotten my resolve about the gift of food.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Reservations is not the issue

When I walk through any urban slum, or for that matter a basti where income levels are low, there is no health centre in sight, and the nearest school is miles away. I am struck by the backward attitude towards the girl child. I see a place that is crying out for basic amenities like water, electricity, toilets and garbage disposal.

However and wherever I look, I do not see reservation as an issue of national importance.

I see children who have dropped out of school because either the parents wanted them to start earning a living, or because they failed a class and they have nowhere to turn to. I see malnourishment, neglect, apathy.

Before we get into complex issues of reviving the caste system and creating reservations for affluent OBC's who managed to pass high school with good or decent grades, I see the need for meaningful and effective programs that will ensure basic literacy for all, empowerment of women, improvement in the status of the girl child...

Let us start with Literacy. It is the basic ingredient that will change the face of India. Once everyone is literate and empowered, we can take a look at the can of worms that is reservation.

Until then, feast your eyes on the eyecatching posters created by Subbu. (In the blog below). Order one. Help a child get literate. Help us create a population of people who will refuse to take on the status of second class citizen who had to resort to an OBC certificate to get admissions and jobs anywhere.

If you agree with me comment here. If you don't, you can still comment here

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Real stories in a Delhi slum

Hari's story

12 year old Hari finds it difficult to relate to other boys his age. ‘Mature, intelligent, serious’ are the words his teachers use to describe him. He shoulders responsibility like he was born to it. If he sees 2 boys fighting, he automatically acts as mediator. When he gets off the school bus, he stands at the door, helping the younger kids get off.

His homework is always done on time and when it comes to academics he gets the highest marks in class.

None of this would come as a surprise if you knew Hari’s history. For 3 years now, Hari has been working at different jobs to send enough money back home to his native village where his 3 younger siblings and parents live.
Initially he worked as a part time servant boy in a household of 4. In the mornings he swept and cleaned the house. His evenings were spent helping with the cooking and cleaning of dishes. In between Hari found the time to attend afternoon school at VIDYA an ngo working in the slum where he lived with an older sister.
For the initial 2 years this school and job suited Hari perfectly. The ngo was running their school in 2 shifts so he could work in the mornings and attend school in the afternoons. But the senior classes were conducted in the mornings and Hari chose to give up his domestic work in favour of attending School.

Family pressures now made him seek employment as an odd job man and delivery boy for a neighborhood shop. So Hari works 10 hours or more everyday to achieve his dream of becoming a policeman someday and at the same time - earning enough to feed and clothe his family back home.

Thumbprints is an effort to build a school where young boys and girls like Hari can see their dreams turn to reality.

Subbu is making the 8th of 35 paintings with his thumb. With these paintings he hopes to raise funds for the School. He plans to have exhibitions in leading galleries of Delhi and Mumbai. He also plans to sell prints online.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


A hundred years ago or maybe just yesterday, somewhere in a typical Indian village - an illiterate man desperate for funds will put his thumbprint on a piece of paper for a few hundred rupees. Sometimes less.

This Thumbprint, a small amount of blue ink and a small smudge on a paper that has strange squiggles will spell his ruin.

He won't know whether he has signed away his ancestral land or pledged lifelong servitude for himself and his family.

Eventually, this displaced farmer/artisan and his family will spend their last rupees for unreserved seats in a train that will pack them and hundreds of others like them into a train compartment. They will have just enough space to sit on their luggage or lean against something or someone and they will nod off and dream that soon they will get high paying jobs in the big city and within no time at all they will be back in the open fields and the haven of the home they have left behind.
On a freezing winter night or on a searingly hot summer afternoon, this family along with hundreds of others will find itself hungry and penniless at the exit gate of the New Delhi Railway station.

They will gaze at the thousands of honking cars zooming past. They will turn their faces away when busses belching smoke and dust rumble past. And if they are lucky, soon, they will find themselves in a Delhi slum.

5 or 6 square feet of space for the entire family, an asbestos roof over their heads, a tap shared with at least 40 other families and only the streets to serve as toilets.

The daily struggle to find work and food will banish all dreams of ever returning home. The children will become rag pickers or beggars on the streets. The father will drive a cycle rickshaw and haggle for every rupee, with women too lazy to walk. If the mother is lucky, and not pregnant, or feeding an infant, she will find work in a middle class household. She will wash dishes or sweep floors for a few hundred rupees every month.

This journey which started because of an innocent thumbprint can end with Thumbprints of a different sort.

Subbu (Subhashish Datta), a young Painter with a vision to end the oppression and poverty which is directly linked to illiteracy has pledged to make 35 paintings with using just his thumb as a brush.

Here they are

These paintings will be converted into high resolution images and posters and available online on ebay and other sites. The proceeds from the sale of these paintings and posters will go towards building a school for children from the slum communities of New Delhi and Gurgaon.

To know more about the school that will benefit from Subbu's effort log on to