Of late, a Yellow building has captivated me, for reasons that have little to do with an appreciation of aesthetics. It seemed to me that I had seen a structure just like it- a carbon copy- but I couldn’t place it, either somewhere in the world as we know it or in a fever dream. In a shrinking world, one where practically everyone and their aunt has a conception of what the Eiffel Tower is, it only gets harder to place these memories. After passing the building every day for an entire it became a little clearer- I had seen it in some YouTube about a shrine for cats in Japan, or maybe it was somewhere else, maybe Madurai. People would come to honour the lives of their deceased, missing or living cats, silently offering a few gifts and going their own silent way. One woman walks slowly and catches the camera’s focus and says “Oh cat, wherever you have run to, I wish you the very best from the bottom of my heart.”, she then places a shawl and walks away. For the life of me, I can’t remember the video’s name nor can I find it, perhaps it’s a completely constructed memory, maybe this is where the mind goes seeking closure for misplaced images. Our yellow building is no cat shrine, it’s a seamstress’s home where sarees with zig zag falls are also tailored.
Am I really a good person? Or do I just want to be seen as one by others, including me?
What is it like being a good person? To do what is right, or, to do what I think is right?
Ever since we are tiny, we are told not to be angry when we are. Not to cry when we do. And eventually this suppression of what you feel and say just becomes a part of our hardwired settings which has now become very difficult to alter. And I feel this is what makes me weak.
It’s true, I was never an intellectual, nor ever had an ability to put across my ideas articulately. But I go back to what I write and alter it several times.
I think it over, to make it clear in my own head. I try to be in a place more reflective. I don’t want to be preachy.
Maybe I just say all this to hide my weaknesses. My poor grammar and low vocabulary. I could at least google my spellings. But do I really want to put in the work?
Because it takes a lot of personal courage for me to appear weak in front of others.
Though accepting your weakness might be a reason for heartburn and fatigue, this is what will make me stronger. And at the end of the day I at least want to appear strong in front of others.
Sometimes I think and act like a person that ‘I’ would have liked to interact with. Like an aspirational portrait of myself. But do I want to alter what I think and do for the approval of others?
It’s like the choice I have to make at a party. Hang out at the party and get involved in that small talk about weight loss and the new app or talk about what you want to, specifically to the people you want to. About magic, death, meaning of life, what keeps me up at night, my fears and my insecurities, something that is far from the limited answers that comes from the question “Whats up?”
Because I want connect to people with the “How are you?”. And if there is some pain, or something in life that is making me weak , I’d rather talk about it. That pain has not showed up for no reason. It is a sign for me to understand and change something. This ‘understanding me’ bug does need a second opinion for its fix.
This month we caught up with Becky Bowers, a research student in anthropology who focuses on female construction workers and gendered spaces in Bengaluru. While working on the field in Bengaluru, she decided to undertake the rather challenging task of starting an English class for the children of the construction workers. This is one of the most insightful and vital community posts that we have done, so we implore you to take some time and hear what Becky has to say.
What sparked the idea that led to this initiative? What were the initial responses from the children and their parents? What were some of the hurdles that you had to encounter?
There were a couple of moments that sparked this for me: Firstly, I frequently encountered people in my work who asked ‘What are you doing for the poor?’ and since it was difficult to explain how my research or what I wanted to do once I finish my PhD might have any direct or positive impact on the lives of my research participants, I considered what I might be able to contribute in the present. Ethically, anthropologists try to adhere to the practice of fair return in ways that are not cash incentives but that contribute something to the people we work with. The catalyst though was when a teenage girl approached me during the Sangha and told me that she would like to improve her English and become a teacher. All her family were in construction and she was concerned she would have to drop out of school too. It was her request that motivated me to begin English lessons for the children of that community. Even if it was a small contribution, I wanted to help improve their chances of moving outside of the construction and domestic worker roles that most of their parents undertake.
The initial responses from the children and their parents were positive and we began with classes of around 20 which was also thanks to APSA, the NGO who worked with the community and promoted the lessons to them as well as letting us use their office space for lessons. However, getting frequent attendance is always something of an effort due to the children’s trips to their parent’s and grandparent’s villages in the north of Karnataka. Some children also dropped out - not just from the classes but from their school as well. Hearing this is very disheartening, but unfortunately not surprising given the precarity of family incomes in the area. Many of the children were very shy to begin with especially when asked to speak about themselves and why they wanted to improve their English, some could barely introduce themselves. Co-ordinating the volunteers was one of the biggest challenges due to the shifting nature of Bengaluru’s population (as well as getting people to brave the traffic and come to Jayanagar!) and it was always difficult when one of the teachers had to leave. Besides improving conversational English, our main objective was for the kids to enjoy themselves and improve their education of the world outside the colony in which they live - explaining where and what Europe was for instance, proved quite a challenge! Getting the children to think outside of the box and beyond the world of a rote learning dominated education system still proves a challenge today although they have certainly embraced our more interactive methods. Anything with teams can easily become chaos due to the competitive nature of the kids - in fact many are formidable kabaddi players.
What are some of the other problems that migrant kids of construction workers face in a new city?
The children from the colony are mostly members of settled families (that is they are often second generation city dwellers) although the colony still maintains strong links with areas such as Gulbarga, Raichur and Yadgiri, in northern Karnataka. Some of the girls may still have to return to rural areas for marriage and farming. From my experience working with migrant children whose parents frequently shift between Karnataka and neighbouring states, they face substantial challenges. The most immediate concern is health issues. A number of migrant children live on construction sites with their parents which are obviously not child friendly places. Like their parents, they inhale and are exposed to cement dust, and are housed either in tents or tin shacks with poor sanitation. As a result, dengue and other such illnesses are also fairly common occurrences. Despite various laws in place to protect the children of construction workers and the attempts of NGOs, access to education and healthcare is minimal at best. One group of migrant children I came to know bore visible signs of poor nutrition since their parents were unable to leave the site to buy fresh fruit or vegetables (perhaps once a week), or even afford them.
Aspirations ranged from age group to migrant status of construction workers. Some workers could only express the desire to endure - that is to keep working and being able to eat until they were no longer able to. Others would express their denial in terms of what they wanted their children to do: whilst many did not want their children to follow them into their occupation, for some of the inter state migrants, this was the only foreseeable option since their children did not go to school. Since I worked mostly with women who are restricted to the bottom rung of the skills ladder in construction, many could not envision an alternative form of income and since promotion for them was impossible, they placed everything they had on their children’s future. For the children, the same was also true in terms of demographic vis a vis aspirational variances. For my students aspirations were high and often focused on improving the lives of their parents (one of the older boys wanted to become a bank manager "because my parents are poor") and another wanted to become a doctor in order to cure dengue which was also prevalent in the colony. When I asked the children from a construction site I frequently visited what they wanted to do when they were older, such alternatives to construction or agricultural work seemed inconceivable to them.
Around a year ago, we worked on a short community documentary about the traffic police in Bengaluru for Write Leela Write. My friend Vishnu Nambiar and I went around the city, nettling traffic cops for interviews on their busy beats, meeting senior police in quaint, old police stations and trying to capture the perfect money shots of the traffic pileups that have come to personify Bangalore's collective grief, pain and anger. As one senior traffic police cadre pithily summed it up "It used to be the Garden city, now it's just a garbage city with traffic."
Sure, this was no 'Apocalypse Now', but we worked pretty darn hard on this film. Two months of earnest work went into the making a docu-short that had a running length of 5 odd minutes. Personally, I felt it was a miles ahead of our first documentary where we interviewed Tea shop owners across Indiranagar. The questions we posed were more focused, there was a far more rounded narrative and even the editing and cinematography seemed to belie our modest budget. However, the first one was far better received. Obviously, there are many factors that could have contributed to this- metrics are rarely predictable. But there's an elementary fact that underlies the tepid response to the second film. People don't like cops.
To understand better how Indian society perceives it's police force, we only have to look at our movies. Typically, they are portrayed as corrupt, inept and are endowed with a drawl that one has to chew obscene amounts of paan to achieve. At their best, they are seen as a larger than life, iconoclastic mustachioed breed who break and/or bend the law towards realizing a rather sanskaari sense of morality and masculinity (an essential trope in this specific genre). There is some truth to these caricatures, Indian cops are often corrupt, inept and mustachioed. But, in both these cases, the bedrock remains the same- a cop is inherently unethical - even when he's busy committing a litany of infractions for what audiences will eventually consider the greater Indian good.
Our loathing for the police cuts across classes. But it's the so called middle class' loathing that is uniquely peculiar. Most of us in Bangalore have never been through police brutality the way a minority has in America has or, closer home, folks in Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and Manipur have. I personally have been roughed up by the cops on a few occasions over here, and by Indian standards I certainly 'deserved it' even though I definitely don't agree with the Indian requisites of when violence ought to be implemented. I've also heard horror stories from women trying to approach the police with grievances, a occurrence that's almost passe in a depressingly patriarchal society. Nothing justifies these incidents and I'm not even attempting to exonerate the Indian police.
However, a lot of the middle class' deeply held grouses against the police stem from their own sense of being inconvenienced when a cop was merely doing his or her job (being caught driving under the influence, without a helmet, speeding, jumping a red light etc etc) and the truth is we practice traffic violations like an activity sport. More often than not, we're let off with a warning or a fine, or a bribe (which gives us some absurd moral advantage over the policeman taking the bribe), which is still a pretty lax punishment for being an entitled moron on the road. Our methods of punishment are often reflective of our society and there's no greater representation of our society than the enforcers of the law.
While shooting the documentary,it became clear to us that the Indian police were an underpaid, overworked and pretty understaffed unit, you know, like techies with lower pay, no lanyards and bereft of the illusion of capitalist benefits. Even bribe taking wasn't this glorious free for all that we had imagined, there were sanctioned monthly targets to be met and most regular cops didn't see much of the moolah in any case. None of this was news to us, but it's a fact that we choose to overlook when we spit venom at a cop who pulled us over for jumping a red. It's almost as if we forget our cops aren't the well oiled, heavily armed machinery we see in American movies. They're just regular folks in khaki, accoutred with a lathi, and a glistening few armed with outdated pistols that would even make part time thugs operating out of Tannery road giggle.
This is why the police's efforts in the recent events that plagued Bangalore are particularly spectacular. Besides a fantastic social media presence that assuaged the fears of the general public, which had reached such a mindless, pointless fever pitch that was just waiting to morph into hysteria, their efforts on the ground far exceeded anything their Twitter handle had the time to articulate. Almost all the ethnic Tamil neighbourhoods were heavily protected, troublemakers were brought to book swiftly and they even took the time to tow and thereby protect parked TN registered vehicles. The police force on the road were approachable, ready to help in any way possible and and within a day Bangalore was back to a sense of normalcy that we had only last seen in the 90's (because of the lack of cars on the roads).
Shri Krishna Temple road represents a slowly vanishing side of Indiranagar. Twenty years ago, one would take an excursion to this side of on a weekend for some grocery shopping, or maybe for lunch at Wanley's or Sue's, or even a drink at the erstwhile Viceroy's (currently Viceroy Sarathy). Besides this, there were a few 'Fancy stores', the temple that gave the road it's name, a dignified litter of flower shops, an Iyengar bakery and a few private residences (with garages, a defining feature of private residences in Indiranagar circa 1980), but it still stood out like a bustling colossus amidst the thick foliage that was Indiranagar. A lot of these topographical constants still remain, some hang on more tenuously than others. One of the more robust constants, a vegetable vendor named Ashraf R.P who meticulously stacks his produce in the most beguiling manner every morning, managed to catch the attention of our co-founder Kala, an appellant liable to wander through the narrower lanes and cobbled streets. Here are a few snatches from their conversation:
Kala: "In English, there's a term for this. It's called 'OCD', which stands for Obsessive..."
Ashraf: "No no no, I don't have any problem and all madam!"
Kala: "What if I move this vegetable over here? Would it bother you?"
Ashraf: "I'll just put it back in it's place after you're gone." he says , smiling.
Kala: "So how long have you been doing this? What is your regular day like?"
Ashraf: "My father began this 45 years ago and we've been at the same spot ever since. We are natives of Thrissur who moved here back then to start this business. Every morning, I wake up at 5 to go to the market near Majestic to pick up the vegetables for my shop. By 7 I'm back here stacking them up. It takes about two hours to do it, so I just chat with my brother who helps me run the shop . Sometimes, even if my brother is not around, a passerby will come help me stack them up. I'm here the whole day and go home late in the evening. Business is good, I would say we sell more than the supermarket down the street."
Kala: "But why do you find the need to do this? Why don't other vendors do this? Do you stack in a particular order?"
Ashraf: "Oh, they do madam. If you go on Mysore road and see you'll find people who stack it up like this. Most of the people here don't do it because they just don't have the scale of operations that I do, so all they can do is just place their vegetables around them. I do this because I want customers to be attracted by the presentation. Even at home I organize things like this. I don't stack them in any specific order daily, depends on my mood that day, but I always stack them every day."
Kala: "What's your favorite vegetable?"
Ashraf: "Me? Actually madam, I eat only non- veg."
The standard requirement in blog posts like this is that I'm expected to talk about our rights in the society or metaphors of life. So let's talk about one more cliché́ in the genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about teaching you how to think.
If you're like me as a student, you've never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you got admitted to a design college seems like proof that you already know how to think.
I think this one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean that I have to be a little less arrogant & have just a little critical awareness about myself. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of it turns out to be totally misled. One of them is that everything in my own immediate experience supports my belief, I am the absolute centre of the universe.
I have learnt this the hard way, and I suppose many of us have too.
Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the pure centre of. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to us somehow, but our own are so immediate, urgent, real.
I am here not trying to lecture about compassion. It's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering of my default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centred and to see and interpret everything through this eye of self.
By way of example, let's say it's an average grown up day, and you get up and go to your challenging, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight hours, and at the end of the day you're tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have dinner and maybe unwind for an hour, and then pass out early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again.
But then you remember there's no food at home. It's the end of the work day and the traffic is obviously very bad. You haven't had time to shop this week because of your job, and so now after work you have to walk to the hideously lit, crowded supermarket. Of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. Infused with soul-killing colour pop, the checkout line is incredibly long, but you can't take your frustration out on that stressed out lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily dullness surpasses the imagination of any of us here reading this article.
But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front and pay and then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries and walk all the way home slow, heavy, etc etc
Everyone here has done this, of course.
But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in.
For me the traffic jams and long bus journeys and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to step out. Because at this time its all about my tiredness and my desire to just get home, and it's going to seem the world is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? They are all just one more like me.
Or, of course, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, lane-blocking trucks, burning their wasteful, a few gallon full tank of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest most disgustingly selfish vehicle drivers.
You get the idea.
The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles idling in my way, it's not impossible that the Scorpio that just cut my bus off is maybe being driven by a father whose little kid is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to get this child to the hospital, and he's in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.
I'm not saying you are supposed to think this way and no one expects you to just automatically do it because it's hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat out won't want to.
But if you really pay attention to other options, it will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, summer-hell type situation as not only meaningful but enlightening.
Not that all this stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's true is the freedom of a real education that you get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't.
But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is really important involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is being educated, and understanding how to think. This stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy and inspirational. None of this stuff is really about morality or big fancy questions of life after death.
For me it is about living life not only for me.
This bed is pristine. These sheets, I suspect ironed. This bed is where my Pishi hung out. She read the news, she watched the news, she sang along to Sonu Nigam, she yelled out instructions to her daughter, and chattered on and on to my nodding Uncle in the evenings.
My Pishi was a blunt, honest, no-nonsense and a hysterically funny woman. She thrived being with us 'young' folk and asked us (with unabashed thrill) about our sex lives. We lingered around her, no one wanted to leave too early- her insights and honesty about the world, our families, and our relationships were far too mesmerizing. Yes, we lingered with her, I stole earrings from her cupboards, and she lent me saris I would never return.
My Pishi had worried about my failing grades in high school and trouble with men early on in life. The issue was simple enough, the Indian schooling system had rendered me stupid academically, and I hadn't found a chance to find myself. That would take another 12 years. She told me if I was interested in writing, then do something about it. Or else, 'how about getting into acting?'
Yeah acting, she wanted to throw me into South Indian Cinema at the age of 20 because she loved me too much to see me so lost with life, maybe all my life juice would come together with acting, since I was so heavily into theatre at the time.
That never happened. Instead she watched me fumble, grope in the dark, for a sense of identity and success. When I moved back to India for good in 2012, only 6km away from her house, she finally saw me starting to thrive. Writing, starting my own business, responding in clear sentences instead of vague mumbling.
When Write Leela Write completed one year in 2015 , she had just finished multiple rounds of chemo for ovarian cancer. But she was over it, happy, her meaty silver earrings swung swell with her new short hair. She was done with the damn chemo and she was happy to move on. Not one for obsessing over health, not one for regular doctor check-ups, not one for giving undue importance to her life- she said we were a tiny spark in a raging fire. She hadn't understood that her speck of spark was our brightest light in our darkest times. She had not understood that her printed saris and manic laughter, her filthy vocabulary and her earnest attempt to set things right without being intrusive- well that was our life line.
At the end of the one year celebration she came up to me and said "Rheea your father would have been so proud of you today." Her eyes teary, her mouth slippery with the 3 mojitos she had at the party.
He would have been, it's true, but I was content that my mother was alive to see all this, and that Pishi was there to track my growing personal victories.
6 months later, at the peak of WLW's growth, Kala and I juggling multiple clients, Pishi's cancer came back. She had been heartbroken about a few things before she got really sick, and her sadness was a protein shake for her cancer. It pumped into her body, it yelled, it tore her a part. So we watched her on the bed, her sense of humour still intact until the morphine dazed her comfortably numb.Before the morphine won, she made wild jokes about her cancer, stunning the nurses with her jokes about her own impending death. We giggled in the corner further frightening the nurses. How can you describe the relationship we have with her? How do you tell strangers that it was completely fine to go up to her and tell her "Pishi, couldn't you have picked a better way to go? You can't even wear lipstick in here."
We sat outside the lobby when she was asleep and we talked to our clients on the phone, accepting deadlines and popping in and out of the office between hospital trips. Our work became our only sense of hope, our escape from the reality of impending loss. If we worked normal, if we diligently typed out emails and talked on the phone with sharp professional answers, then nothing could be that wrong.
Have you ever been on a plane with severe turbulence? I freak my good soul out when the plane bounces in the sky, then I look at the air hostesses and soak in the relief that comes with their calm faces, the relief that comes with their confident strides as they tuck in their beverage trolleys and smile at us as if we were children in a park about to ride a slide for the first time.
That's the normal we created at the time of loss. A merciless countdown of 10 days, and she was gone. Her daughter is just 18. She is only just starting to do the things my Pishi would have revelled in talking about with her- boys, college, career, stupid gossip, and most importantly how to be kind person. My Uncle is confused, caught in a black-hole of sorrow, enraged by this utter twist in life, a time when they should be setting sail and celebrating the decades of building a life together.
Will she be proud now? Who will track us now? As we get better and better at life, as we make healthier choices and swing into landscapes of successes that my father, that my mother, that my Pishi were always rooting for, you have to ask- why do you leave when we're just started doing the things you wanted us to do? Why do you leave when we just started being the people you had hoped we'd be.
And she answers, from inside, her voice, her laughter, tangled in my DNA, and she says - 'Isn't that the whole point, Rheea? Don't be a fucking drama queen.'
So we don't do drama. We work. We become people they thought we would be. We become people we had no idea we could be. We start to track other peoples' lives, we wish them well, we hope for them, we uncover their potential. Then one day we leave and pray they'll know how proud we are of them.
I joined Write Leela Write a little over a year ago, still fresh from the prohibitive atmosphere of a leading university that insisted it's women walked around with gunny bags covering their legs. In a superficial sense, my university experience endowed me with a very solemn and sober appearance. I had learned to wear formal clothes to bed, my speech patterns harked back to a Soviet manner of deference and I had developed a rigid and uninspiring gait. However, an apparition of the person I had once been still remained, and thankfully, Rheea and Kala possessed the wisdom to discern this and decided that not much harm could come from hiring this flannel wearing dweeb.
The process of unlearning began soon after- I was allowed to admit that my real career goals lay in noir themed detective work, I spoke about how I felt that cauliflower is a demanding vegetable, that ketchup is an abominable condiment and how Don Delilo is nothing but a typically male novelist...for emotionally fragile white guys. No topic was too holy, stereotypes have been confronted, the Thane Maharastrian community has been a constant soft target and pipe manufacturing honchos have been taken down in our hallowed environs of outright freedom.
While my blog piece does carry a frivolous tone, I think it does find a place in the noble reactions to the incidents that have taken place in our republic over the past few weeks. In a close knit, collective society like ours, we need to ask ourselves if the environs we find ourselves in are truly 'free'. Whether it's in home or the world beyond, we need to have an understanding of the levels of autonomy that we are allowed to exercise with our speech. Sometimes, we find that the hardest place to speak our minds is in the places that we spend most of our time at- home with family, or at work with your colleagues. I'm just glad that the inherently vile nature of cauliflowers has been exposed in my office.
Is it difficult going to homes and convincing parents to send their children to school and paying a portion of their fees once they get into mainstream schools? Wouldn't the parents of these children prefer having the child around at home supplementing their income or just giving an additional hand with the household work?
Ans: As you correctly posed this issue, we have faced many difficult situations when we visit our communities to talk to the parents as well as the children. I would answer this question in three points.
The first being that we have observed the people in the communities we work in are generally very logical in their calculations to why they should or should not send their children to school. We cannot win them through mere emotional talk or empowering them about their rights. We need to show them calculations of the returns the child will be able to bring in if he is working without an education or if he works after an education. We enlighten them about the difference in monetary returns, financial and social growth and security of being a skilled labour and an unskilled labour. We merely state the two differences in the form of numerical calculations in front of them without posing a certain bias on either one side, after doing so we have generally seen that they choose the path which has higher monetary returns and sustainability.
The second would be that, many times we have realised through our intervention in the community that it is not always a case where the children are deprived of their access to education because the parents do not want them to. But we see that the children themselves are least interested or bothered about schooling. The parents may not impede their children from attending school but they are not aware of the manner in which they should push the child to attend school. For example, when a parent is asked why their child is not attending school, their response would just be of beating the child and telling him to attend, or they would respond with an attitude of indifference saying, "What to do, he likes playing and roaming around". This issue with the children requires regular visits to the community and a process of slow conditioning of the child to start looking forward to school.
The third would be the process through which we involve the children and parents along with our bridge school program. We not only bridge the children into the mode of schooling but also the parents. We provide food for the children in school and through a step-by-step process we take our children and parents along with us as they see changes in the children's progress, habits, hygiene, attitude which transpires to their homes and families. They see the children who are already bridged and put in mainstream schools and build a certain faith in the strengths of this process of education.
You have very ambitious targets for the students who enroll in your schools. How do you ensure that these targets are maintained?
Ans: The Samridhdhi Program has two basic fractions when it comes to targets from the students: The Bridge program and the after-school program. In our Bridge program, our targets for the students are to ensure that the children's attendance is maintained and their bridging is complete in the period of one to two years. The attendance is monitored with regular checks and visits to the community, the provision of food which attracts them and with incentives. The bridging process is maintained through customised curriculum for each child. We do not have a curriculum which is written in stone, but it is always modified based on the needs of the children to be able to maintain the targets.
The after-school program has many targets like attendance, keeping at par with the school's expectations and targets. We administer this through are close intimate program of daily tuitions, accessibility to extra-curricular activities like sports, music, dance, art, field trips etc for a holistic growth of the children. To maintain and reward the children's zeal to attend classes and push themselves to grow, we give them incentives. For example, we tell the children if they manage to maintain 95% attendance and score around 80% marks, they receive rewards such as a trip to a different city - Delhi, Mumbai, etc. These incentives gets the children excited and we can ensure a positive environment of learning.
One of the aspects I personally like about your syllabus is the fact that while you emphasize the importance of the local language (in this case Kannada in Bengaluru), you also find a place for their native tongues. Therefore, can we say that your goal isn't complete assimilation but rather giving children a more cosmopolitan outlook of the world where their own roots aren't forgotten?
Ans: This question is beautiful posed in the manner of answering it on behalf of us as well. Haha.. Well you are absolutely spot on with your analysis of this goal of ours. We include the the children's local language in the curriculum because we do believe that the look of the world we are providing to the children should enable them to move forward by holding on to their roots as well as imbibing new understandings and learnings in order to shape one's life. We also believe a child understands best when you relate it to the language of his thought process, which at that early age is their mother tongue, because at the mercy of a foreign language they lose out on basic conceptual understanding and ability to apply what they are learning.
Things that were more organic before now need more attention and care. Like yourself. It's not a simple life. Constantly trying to keep it simple and knot free is an unrelenting task.
Its almost 2 years since Rheea and I started on our Leela journey. Unconsciously, subconsciously, consciously, this has been the most knot-free phase of my life.
A lot of things happened pre-Leela that allowed me to take a good look at myself and reboot.
It's not as dramatic as I make it out to be, the melodrama is just a result of writing a blog for the first time in my life. Since this is our first Leela blog, I couldn't not start on a reflective and 'philosophical' note.
While I gained confidence in the person that was in the making for the last 27 years (then), THAT also gave me the strength to look at myself, like really look at myself. Taking note of things I sucked at. I was never and still not am a person who is very ambitious career-wise. I am not somebody who has defined career goals, who wants to be remembered by the body of work she has created or the money she had made. That doesn't mean that I don't put in effort or heart into what I do, or that I don't have sleepless nights over making something better. The fact that I never really wanted to make 'great' works of design or art bothered me before. But then I accepted it. I had a problem with the glorification of my industry, but I realised I didn't have to be a part of it. If I didn't find making(designing) a cushion cover /bed sheet/ hoarding/poster/brochure glorifying then that's the truth and I can live with it. I was more comfortable with the way I approached my work. It was more about the day and what I wanted from that day. I always derived enough life from smaller things I made or worked on. At a very micro level. An origami a day. A small project which turned out perfect. An idea in my head. It didn't matter who saw or who didn't. I am still not tremendously outgoing with sharing my work. But now, I can trace my journey and that itself gives me enough peace. I know how my mind has evolved and integrated with the way I work and lead my life. It's not 2 separate things.
To summarize an already summarized blog, I have been working on myself a lot in the last 2 years, a lot of watering, pruning, changing soil, shading. Everything to get larger inside.
Leela loves cookies! So, we baked up a storm this November and asked our community to buy our chocolate chip and yogurt raisin cookies. All the money we made from selling cookies (every paisa) went to Precious Paws Foundation, a space where dogs and cats are rescued, fostered, and rehabilitated. Check out https://www.facebook.com/preciouspawsfoundation/?ref=br_rs for more information. Leela raised INR 6,000 for food supplies! Thanks for helping us help our community.
Introducing Debadrita Jadhav founder of Precious Paws.
3 questions from Team Leela :
1) Animal rescue, fostering, and finding the right parents for animals is no easy task. What made you create Precious Paws? What drives you to sustain it?
It all began when I lost my babies due to medical negligence and poor medical facilities. That was when I decided to take it up on myself to give the voiceless a voice. My passion to bridge the gap between expression and rationale is what keeps me at it. My family, especially my human babies, have been constant support and encouragement. Had it not been for their patience and love towards the many homeless pups I took care of in my rented apartment, I wouldn’t have been able to sustain Precious Paws.
2) I am sure you've experienced a lot of frustration and heartbreak in what you do, but give us an incident or experience that makes you have faith in our community and the city of Bangalore?
It is impossible to cite one incident or experience. The love I have received from Namma Bengaluru is tremendous. Just how there have been people calling to adopt only breed dogs, there have been many more who have been available for help at any time of the day or night. And let me tell you, they are all working professionals, with their own busy schedules, but, what sets them apart is their thoughts and action for stray dogs. Such people encourage me a lot, and restore my faith in humanity.
3)What are a few things people can do to help support organisations like yours?
Think. That is the most important thing someone can do to support. Think before you act. Think before you throw a stone at a dog. Think before you decide to give them away. Think, most importantly, before you bring home one. If people start acting responsibly and with kindness, organisations like us will not have to operate. I want to be able to help create a world where humanity triumphs.
This week we bring to you the very endearing and sassy Shweta Sharan, founding editor of The Affair Magazine. The Affair brings the short story alive in Bangalore and sets it free to the world. Three questions for Shweta by Team Leela.
1.What can the short story do for the culture of an expanding city?
The short story can be taken to people in different ways. You can plant it in the city and watch it take root and do interesting things. We plan to do this in simple ways that require very little investment of money: fuss-free little booklets of the stories we publish will be available in different parts of the city - cafes, the metro, theaters, schools and colleges.
2. Literary magazines make no money. It's a ton of work going through submissions piles and hunting for prose with craft, vision, humour and vast imaginations.What makes you do it? Why not sit back and just read good fiction?
It is exciting to discover new voices. It has its moments of frustrations but it is also the closest you could get to having the power to root and push for the kind of fiction that you want to dominate the market, instead of what actually does. So instead of buying a book because a popular publisher has published it, you motivate people to look for different cues -- language, the narrative arc, a different genre, the small indie bookstores, blogs, publishers, writing and reading communities that support the book, how different it is to anything else you have read before, how it breaks down and rebuilds your consciousness, how it brings so many ideas into your head.
3. What's something you didn't expect in your experience of being an editor and founder of The Affair?
The kindness of friends and strangers, especially famous writers, new writers and other people in the field, has really helped me soldier on despite the many little problems. A writer like George Saunders, who is the first winner of the Folio Prize and the next literary sensation, agreed to be interviewed by us, a small magazine in a city that is miles away from where he lives and teaches. Another little revelation has been the power of collaboration and communities. I think there are so many possibilities there.
Thanks Shweta for giving serious love to the short story and making our city that much more cooler and vibrant!
Check out The Affair here:
Web site: www.theaffair.in
This week, Leela has a super read for those who appreciate the community driven. Sinu Joseph is our community super person who blends creativity, heart, culture, and change and makes it her full-time job. This interview is worth the 7 minutes to read. So do it.
1. Your work with Mythri is fascinating. Can you tell our readers about this very unique animated video?
Mythri is an animated film in Kannada about Menstrual Hygiene. Before making Mythri, my colleague Vyjayanthi and I had done sessions on Menstruation for about 5000 adolescent girls across government schools in Karnataka. Each of these sessions were done orally and had great results. But, it was exhausting as each session would take at least 2 hours and we realized our limitations as individuals if we had to reach out to a larger number of girls. That's why we created Mythri which covers all the information in about 23 minutes, so that we facilitators could focus on enabling the girls to overcome their inhibitions and talk about menstruation and problems around it. Mythri was made with the intention of reaching all government schools across Karnataka targeting around 22 lac adolescent girls. Today, with the acceptance of Mythri by the NRHM and the Department of Public Instruction, it is becoming possible. However, the acceptance of Mythri beyond Karnataka was something I did not think would happen at the pace in which it did. It has already been dubbed into Odiya by the NGO Aaina in Orissa. We are currently working on dubbing it into Hindi and English in a month's time.
2. You aren't an intrusive change-maker, your work is moulded to ensure that cultures, sentiments, and individual beliefs are respected and nurtured even when you impart education and the tools to change something for the better. What are the challenges you've faced while doing this?
Thanks for making that observation! Yes, absolutely, I do not think that anyone should impose their ideologies or beliefs on others, especially when you know so little about others' lives. As an educator on a topic as sensitive as menstruation, I keep reminding myself that I need to listen to and respect others' reasons, especially when it comes to taboos and restrictions. It didn't happen automatically and was something I developed as I went along. The challenge, which is constant, is to not be influenced by everything that is already written and said about this topic, and to see things afresh and with an open mind each time. A lot of unverified data and statistics is quoted about menstruation and there is a general negative impression of the poor Indian woman who has no access to Sanitary Pads, which time and again, I found to be untrue in all the 100+ schools & villages where I have done sessions so far. It is so very important to constantly do a reality check and get a first-hand understanding of what the truth is. The other challenge is to help educators and promoters of menstrual hygiene see the issue for what it is and not hide behind Sanitary Napkin distributions. And perhaps the biggest challenge is to change the perception, world-over, of looking at Menstruation as a “problem” to be solved, instead of accepting it as a natural process and being grateful for having this inbuilt, wonderful indicator of a woman's health & well being.
3. You have have been to rural Karnataka and most recently Jharkhand and seen the government education system in action in these areas. What are things we might be pleasantly surprised about? What IS something urbanites like us should be aware about in terms of rural education, particularly for girls?
People usually ask me if I have trouble getting permission to do these talks in government schools. The trouble, if any, has been in a few private schools where someone asked me to do the talk, but couldn't manage to convince the school authorities! The government schools on the other hand, be it in Karnataka or in Jharkhand, welcome us and are extremely glad that we come forward to do these sessions. While travelling to places like Jharkhand, we make last minute plans and in spite of not giving any prior notice, the government schools completely cooperate in making the session happen. If there is any network that thinks holistically for the development of a child, it is the government. In Karnataka, they have the “Kelu Kishori” program covering menstruation, HIV, sexuality and changes in adolescent boys and girls. In Jharkhand, we saw a similar program with a book called “Anita Badi Ho Chali.” While most of us think that the government is hesitant about introducing sex education, it is already a part of their program and covered under the project of the NRHM called the Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health (ARSH). The hesitation, if any, for the teachers is on how to convey these topics, and it is not about the topic itself. Across schools, teachers have often requested us to go beyond menstruation and talk about sexuality, sexual abuse and rape. They may not talk about it themselves, but definitely agree that the topic is very important and needs to be spoken about.
Most urban women who set out to help / educate rural girls or women have a tendency to begin by pitying their conditions. Somehow, we think that using cloth to absorb menstrual flow is a sad business and that it is done because the poor rural girl cannot afford Sanitary Napkins. The truth is that it has little to do with affordability or even accessibility. Even in the remotest and tribal villages and schools in Dandeli (Karnataka) and Khunti (Jharkhand), majority of the school-going girls are using Sanitary Napkins. And the women who use cloth, do so because they “prefer” it. It is time we learnt to respect that. There is much an urban woman can learn from their rural counterparts about being environment-friendly and allowing their bodies to be in tune with nature as it was meant to be. Most urban women have lost touch with nature and their bodies natural cycles, and what's worse is that we are trying to impose the same thinking on rural women. Urban women need to learn to learn from the rural woman.
This week Leela finds a black belter in community vigilance.Our media is getting more responsive and people are starting to make cracks in the silence around sexual violence. Poonacha Machaiah builds a sustainable platform to encourage people to come together and create a community that is vigilant, secure and committed.
1. You are an entrepreneur, an unabashed idealist, and a dreamer. What sustains these passions when there are so many black forces around us?
We have one life to live and I believe in making a difference personally and professionally. What drives me in short is PHD. Living life with passion, hunger to keep pushing the envelope in any endeavor I pursue, and having the drive and tenacity to overcome the challenges and obstacle along the way. We live in a time when we are are surrounded with negativity, instead we need to look at life with unbounded positivity. I believe that we always have the choice to pick the path of positivity, because it is better than the alternative!
2. What is Citzens4me about? What made you jump to organize this group?
Bangalore is the city I was born in and after after spending 17 years in the US, returned back to settle down with my family in 2008. Since I have been back, I have been witnessing the rise in violence across India towards children and women. Most of the time we used to look at it at something that was happening in Delhi or "up north" and not in Bangalore. Over the last couple of weeks we have seen the rape of 6 year old at Vibgyor by a "skating instructor" and the 22 year old girl who was raped in Frazer Town and the complete apathy in the response of the political and judicial system.
Ironically, the skate instructor was also the instructor of my children while they were at Deens Academy, and was not reported to the police. The 22 year old girl was from my own "Kodava" community and known to my friends and this happened in my neighbor "Frazer Town" were I had the fondest memories growing up.
Therefore, the choice ahead of me were sat that "nothing will ever change and the whole system sucks" and do nothing or "express my angst by joining the protest and rallies that were being held". I wanted to see if we could get back to the basics and create a sustainable movement that starts by getting back to the fundamental human essence of love and start by taking care of each other. There the goal of citizens4me is to create a social movement by instilling "civic responsibility", by taking "tiny steps" every day by "caring" for each other, sharing information and building a safer community one street at a time.
3.Why is citizen and city ownership and pride so crucial to our wellbeing as a country? What is something we can change right now about the way we behave in our community?
Personal well being, leads to societal well being and collectively lead to the wellbeing of a country. If our children, women and weak are not feeling safe, there is no emotional wellbeing and indirectly will lead to impacting the growth of the nation. Therefore it is the job of every "free citizen" to ensure that they stand up and exercise their rights as citizens of a free nation to be "safe" and rest assured that they live in a society/community that takes care of them. We are social beings, right? There is a proverb which says "It takes a village to bring up a child". I believe that it takes a "community" to get us through life. Therefore, the goal of Citizens4Me movement, is start taking "tiny steps" and engage in "tiny habits" of taking care of your personal well being, and wellbeing of the ones around you. This could be just by being more aware of your neighbor, or showing up someone needs help, or standing up for what is right. Eventually, these tiny habits will uplift society wellbeing.
Citizens4me on FB : https://www.facebook.com/groups/citizens4me.bangalore/?ref=br_tf
This week Leela had the good fortune of running into the multi-talented Vikshut Mundkur. Vikshut works as an energy consultant and even doubles up as a musician.In the increasingly consumptive times that we live in we ought to be glad that we have such conscientious superpersons in our community.Take some time off, read this interview and get a glimpse into his world.
1. What inspired you to work in the development sector?
Before getting into the development sector, I was an IT professional, with Infosys. I couldn't relate to the work I was doing at all and for a long time was wondering if there was something different I could do. Fortunately Infosys had a sabbatical program where employees can take a year off and work with an NGO. I saw this as an opportunity and grabbed it with both hands. All of a sudden I felt I was doing something meaningful and interesting at the same time. That’s when I decided that this was it for me.
2. What are some of the more challenging moments in your line of work?
I now work as a consultant for decentralized renewable energy policy interventions for unserved and under-served rural areas. The challenges are in understanding the root cause of issues, involving all stake holders and working out holistic solutions from that space. When designing and proposing solutions at policy levels, we have to make sure that the most important stake holder i.e. the end users are truly benefiting from the processes and the technologies being reached out to them.
3.You are also an ardent social worker. Could you please tell us more about some of the causes that you are involved in?
I wouldn’t call myself an ardent social worker! I use my skills as an energy consultant and musician to help my wife and some friends out on work they’re doing on waste management and woman and child issues respectively.
Today we caught up with the inspiring Harish Bhuvan. Harish works with 'Compassionate Clowns', an extremely interesting group that does some fabulous work around town.Take a few minutes and find out more about them!
1. To kick things off,I think we'd all like to know what compassionate clowns is all about?
We are a bunch of people who love clowning around in hospital to spread joy in the lives of others. Clowning could involve just making merry, being silly, singing goofy songs, dancing around, shaping animals with balloons and so on. It also brings about connections and a sense of kinship and this is what keeps us going. We have grown so much after we began compassionate clowning .
2. What inspired you guys to get into this?
The inspiration was when the kids started smiling to all the goofy actions we were doing, and them getting up from their bed and walking around with us, wherever we went, made us realize that they were healing themselves in the process.
3.What are some of the challenges you face in your line of work?
Some of the challenges that we face in this line of work is that, getting volunteers is little difficult, but once we get it, it is so much fun, and one most difficult challenge in our work is getting the funds.
To know more, check out these links!
Don't forget to catch the video too!
This week Leela caught up with the superlatively interesting Ashok Gubbi Venkateshmurthy. Take a few minutes and find out more about him. It will be worth your while.
1.Tell us a little bit about the work you do.
I am one of the two Co-Founders and Managing Partners of CorLit Legal. I come from a background in indirect taxation, trade mark management and protection and commercial litigation, which forms the crux of my practice as a lawyer. As part of our pro bono initiative, I work with Enfold Proactive Health Trust to provide legal assistance to survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse, besides undertaking sensitization and capacity building programs for law enforcement, students and social workers on the subject of sexual violence.
2.What inspired you to get into this specific line of work?
I guess role models make all the difference. I had a combination of both fictional and non fictional role models. On one hand there was Dr. Ravindranath Shanbhag and my father, himself an accomplished Attorney. On the other hand, characters in fiction like Atticus Finch, Jake Brigance and Alan Shore shaped my perception of what kind of a person I wanted to be. I was also influenced by John Douglas, Nicholas Groth, Kenneth V. Lanning and Roy Hazelwood, who have taught the world everything it knows about violence against women and children. Once I stepped into the profession, the work itself became a motivation. The kind of people I met, the situations I encountered and the adversities we overcame, had and continues to shape my character. It is not just a job that I do anymore. It is a journey in personal development, spiritual growth and character building.
3.What are some of the difficulties you face on the job?
The problems I encounter are symptomatic of a larger more disturbing picture. Any society that sees a sexual assault on a child as a threat to her marriage prospects instead of an affront to her bodily integrity, autonomy and human rights; has seriously poor perspective that needs addressing. A justice system which sees incest as a family problem and advocates an out of court settlement instead of mandating a fair and impartial investigation and aggressive prosecution, is collapsed and needs repairing.
You see, the issue is ignorance. But what makes it worse is the culture of anti intellectualism in the country at the moment. Behavioral Science, Psychology, scientific temper and spirit of inquiry are shunned in favour of traditions, stereotypes and anecdotes, no matter how unfounded. Rather than seeing atrocities as an affront to human rights, we see it as religious, political and moral issues, thereby undermining and even diluting the individual’s suffering and thirst for justice. In the name of practicality, we abandon values and principles all the time. As a country, we haven’t embraced constitutional values as a way of life and the state systems just reflect our own shortcomings. I wish we could all be more empathetic, less judgmental and more open to learning.