Meagre needs but boundless desires

Raghavan was jumping from one online portal to other in order to arrange groceries and vegetables. Meanwhile, his wife Meenakshi was putting their daughter Srinika to bed. Soon after the little one was fast asleep her mother tip toed out of the room. While closing the door her eyes fell on two pairs of snowshoes and bags that were packed with winter essentials like jackets, woollen gloves, caps.

“These are of no use now.” Meenakshi thought to herself taking a deep breath.
“Any luck?” Meenakshi asked her husband and headed straight to the kitchen.
“No, not yet.” Out of frustration he flunked his hand in the air and replied.

She walked silently into the kitchen and combed through the pantry cabinets in order to take a stock of groceries.

“Half a container of rice, around three kilograms of pulses, wheat flour seems okay, but oil won’t last more than five days… ”, promptly she got into an assessment mode.
“None of them are accepting orders. Don’t know what to do.” Raghavan came in to inform.
“Leave it for now. You could try again tomorrow morning.” Meenakshi suggested.
“What’s the situation here?” Raghavan inquired looking at one of the empty pantry cabinets.
“Well, I think this stock would last for five to six days at the most.” She replied pensively.

Stocking up items that are essential for basic survival did not occupy their mental space till this moment as they were preparing for a trip to Europe that would have commenced shortly. However, life is known for throwing surprises. As a pre-emptive measure to check the spread of covid-19 virus the Government of India had imposed lockdown in the country. Hence, being trapped in an unexpected turn of events compelled them to put the trip on hold for now. Interestingly, in no time they adapted to the changing scenario. So instead of crying over spilt milk or getting in touch with the travel agency for postponing the date of travel or refund of their booked tickets, they got down just to the basics… survival. After all, challenging situations makes one realize what constitutes the core and what was the peripheral crust in life.

“Don’t worry, there will be a way out. There are so many shops nearby. Once the mad rush to hoard things settles down, we can go and buy things. We have some staple to last us a few days.” Meenakshi reassured. Although she had provided solace to her husband, but deep inside she had apprehensions regarding the hidden facets of the coming days that would unfurl eventually.

“And what if we face grimmer situation like food scarcity during this period, what are we going to do? All these years we have toiled hard accumulating wealth for our future needs but when the need came knocking at the door, no amount of bank balance came to our rescue. Even after having buying power in good proportion, the currency notes look mere paper and bank cards are useless pieces of plastic.” Raghavan asked helplessly.

That day their efforts went in vain but three days later Raghavan ventured out to buy essential goods. He felt no less than a soldier donned with a mask shielding his face, clutching a hand sanitizer as his only weapon and with fear in his heart cautiously avoiding as much touch points as possible, thus taking baby steps forward. With humanity waging a war against this dreaded pathogen, the dynamics of warfare has changed in a blink of an eye. Now, it is widely understood that a war is no longer fought at frontiers alone and an enemy could be a microscopic organism too. Though Raghavan came back home with groceries and other essentials successfully, yet he was far from feeling victorious or claim the mission as accomplished.

“Keep everything in the balcony, discard your mask and take bath. I have kept everything ready in the bathroom.” Meenakshi announced as she proceeded to toil with fruits and vegetables, cleaning and sanitizing them for an hour. After they were done with their newfound rituals, they sat relived for a few minutes before dispersing to their respective make-shift workspace. As their trip got cancelled, they thought it was sensible to resume their work straight away. Luckily, their nature of work supported work from anywhere concept.

“How was everything outside?” Meenakshi enquired.
“Okay… it looked okay as most of the people were trying to maintain a safe distance from each other. Of course some of them acted callously too. But there is a lot of confusion outside.” Raghavan replied.
“Yeah, it is better to stay at home.” Meenakshi added.
“Hmmm, indeed. Just thinking of it for some time… our home has become Noah’s ark of present times. Isn’t it?” Raghavan sighed and continued, “As if we are all floating in a deep, dark ocean of uncertainties but once inside our tiny abode, we are still safe from this torrential virus. In the same way, every creation of God who had boarded Noah’s Ark were safe despite whatever was going on outside of it.”

While contemplating about God’s design in maintaining an equilibrium in the universe, she looked around the abandoned construction site from her window. The place was hustling and bustling with activities just a few days ago, but it is sparsely populated now due to lockdown.

“Don’t know if this virus has originated naturally or in a lab, but nothing is possible without God’s consent. There must be a bigger picture, a greater purpose than what meets our eyes. If you observe properly you would realize, this incident has made everyone to stand in a single line. Anybody or everybody can get effected by this virus irrespective of their class, status or financial ability… no exemption, no favoritism whatsoever.” Raghavan added.

That afternoon, after slogging for a few hours at work she thought of reheating the food to be consumed for lunch as it was prepared in the morning. While keeping vegetable curry and rasam on gas stove she felt a sense of relief as they were able to arrange enough food for coming days. For a moment, her heart sank as she drifted away to their maiden trip to Europe. To be at the safer side they had postponed it to the third quarter of the year as the situation does not look conducive any time soon.

“We should give a call or send a mail to the travel agency to get a confirmation. They should give a clear picture, but they are just not at all responding. Oh! sometimes I feel life is a series of uncomfortable situations with a bit of relief in between.” she thought.

Strange are the ways of a flickering mind, as after her home got stacked with essentials for basic needs, it wandered to more peripheral needs such as following up the travel agent or the trip. She was brought back by shrill screams of a dog. She quickly rushed to the balcony thinking, “Why is this dog crying?”

To her surprise, a little boy and his sister were giving bath to a stray puppy at the same construction site adjacent to their building. And the puppy is in turn reluctant to get drenched in water thus screaming his lungs out. The innocence and the excitement with which they both were going about their job brought a smile on Meenakshi’s face as she knew the thrill of bringing home a pup from the streets. As kids, many a times she and her brother use to bring stray pups home, bath them or wipe them with antiseptic liquid, give them milk and even name them before getting stern orders from their mother to leave the pup outside.

“Life was so simple yet satisfying back then.” she thought to herself.
“Rasam was boiling so I have switched off the stove. I have filled water bottles and put plates on dining table. Shall we sit for lunch?” Raghavan said from behind.
“Yeah, coming. Could you please call Srinika for lunch?” She replied.

Later that evening, when she got up from work, she checked on Srinika and headed straight to the kitchen to get some milk for the kid and prepared some tea for themselves. She also kept some murukku on a plate to be savoured with hot beverage.

“Raghav, will you have tea with us, or shall I keep the cup at your table?” She asked.
“Yes, I am coming in five minutes.” he replied

All three of them sat with tea, milk and snacks. With great excitement little Srinika was showing drawings and paper crafts which she had made during the day. They were spending good time together… eating, talking and laughing. From this sight who could gauge that they too have their own share of concerns. Lakhs of money stuck with travel agent, uncertainties at work front, mammoth-sized home loan. In the current situation everything seems like an albatross hanging around the neck.

“After ages we got some time together, life has become so hectic.” she said to her husband.
“Yeah, as if we are all running… a never-ending race. We did not even have the luxury to sit peacefully.” he replied.
After some time, turning towards Raghavan, she asked “Let me start preparing dinner now. What shall I prepare for dinner, tomato rice or Idlis?”
“Anything would do.” he replied.

While going back to kitchen she felt like checking on the kids at the construction area. She had developed a soft corner for those children. They appeared excited as they played hopscotch. The little puppy looked amused too as it jumped in synchrony with them. At some point, the three musketeers huddled together, and boy raised his hand up in the air pretending to take a selfie.

“Now, this is pure joy. Oblivious to the situation around they seem to be living and cherishing the moments together. Childhood is so carefree and unadulterated. I have bought a high-end camera for this trip, considering it highly essential. Is it because I wanted to relive those moments years later or is it because I wanted to flaunt our trip on social media? Somehow, in a quest to click that perfect pose in an exotic location we would have missed out on experiencing the moment. And later, we would have become so busy in our lives that looking back at those moments would have been a far cry.” she thought.

Meenakshi looked around the construction site minutely, amidst well-constructed villas their tiny shack stood upright on a framework of bamboo logs where tarpaulin and bamboo sheets were used both as roof and walls. A few cloths neatly hanging on a rope, totally dried up under the sun by now. A net basket full of onions and tomatoes hang from the roof. Aluminium utensils washed and kept in a plastic basket, a simple Kolam (floor drawing) adorned the entrance. Interestingly, a few shrubs were planted in discarded paint tumblers too. A man, supposedly their father, was sitting on a foldable charpoy and eating something. While their mother sat under an open sky near their hut and was occasionally talking with amusement with her husband. At the same time she was preparing dinner on a stove made of mud and bricks.

“There seems to be an order, a rhythm in an otherwise disorganized and temporary arrangement. They seem to be so composed amidst the turmoil all around.” she thought to herself.

Raghav was crossing by and saw Meenakshi standing by the balcony thus he joined her. On seeing him she asked abruptly, “If material opulence alone can give us happiness then why does this family looks happy with meagre resources? And why is it that even after attaining so much, a void still lingers in our heart?”

“By and large we are suffering due to polluted aim in life, namely lording it over material resources. We have become far too mechanical in chasing our dreams…desires. All our lives we stay trapped in an illusion thinking designation, position and material comfort makes us happy or defines our success but ultimately, we become slaves of our own desires. Ironic it may sound, we work hard to accomplish them, which in turn invites stress and then we go around searching for peace.” he lamented.

“True, when lockdown commenced, we were only worried about basic needs for survival. We did not think about superficial desires such as the trip. In a way, this pandemic reminds us that our needs remain limited, but we have made our desires boundless…” Meenakshi said drifting deep into her thoughts.

Humans have increased their needs far too high, but life is never made comfortable by artificial needs but plain living and high thinking. We have become so busy caring for our body and mind that we have forgotten the needs of our soul.

– Aradhana Basu Das

Children born in paradise

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Many years ago while sitting thousands of kilometers away and quite unaware of the ground reality in Jammu and Kashmir, I came across this famous quote by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir “Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast” (“If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here”). There is no denying the fact that these words were instrumental in arousing my curiosity for this place. The visuals of Dal lake with floating houseboats, snow clad Himalayas, the breathtaking glaciers, gardens neatly manicured with chinar trees, the mighty Jhelem gushing through the valley and beautiful people showcasing their unique culture, made such an enchanting panorama in my mind that at times I used to feel envious of those blessed people who lived there. But ironically, little did I know that a place as serene as a paradise had long been infected with deadly viruses such as insurgency and terrorism. When, how and why this blessing became a curse is a point to introspect for all of us as humans. Jahangir’s Kashmir resembled a beautiful damsel blushing in hues of red aptly mirroring the chinar leaves of autumn. Whereas the Kashmir that we have seen in recent times is a reflection of a helpless vagrant. Though she is still smitten in crimson, but unfortunately with blood oozing out from her burned and bruised self. As an aftermath of prolonged armed conflict, the place which should have been cheerful and vibrant with constant footfalls of tourists has now become deserted and forlorn. The sad truth about this fiasco is that fear, distrust, uncertainty and gloom has crept in the society… hindering its survival and growth. As a result of growing up in a conflict zone the children are subjected to constant trauma such as anxiety of separation and death. We also get to hear a lot about mental health issues that has cropped up in the region. Unfortunately, the youngsters are the worst affected in the whole process as they are robbed off their innocence far too early in their lives something that no child should be deprived off. As children have a tendency to imitate what they perceive from the world around them it becomes all the more difficult for them to avoid getting influenced by untoward incidents that take place around them. Moreover, the day to day discussions of these impressionable minds are also quite different unlike the children growing up in a more peaceful place. With schools being closed due to curfew every now and then and minimal constructive engagement some of these kids indulge in meaningless discussions and activities.

Interestingly, a place doesn’t determine the talent quotient of its inhabitants instead it decides how equipped it is to nurture their talent and help them evolve. God bestows upon each of his creations the power to excel but how do we utilize that power is up to our free will. However, amidst heart wrenching stories of youth being swayed by radical thinking and thereby engaging in anti-social activities in Jammu and Kashmir, we also hear about individuals who have made their mark in spite of all odds. For instance, the phenomenal story of child prodigy Tajamul Islam winning world kick boxing championship for India or the achievements of television sensations like Shaheer Sheikh and Hina Khan. Or, for that matter the success story of Athar Amir-ul-Shafi Khan, an officer in Indian Administrative Service, acts as a silver lining on an otherwise dark and gloomy cloud. Thinking about  Athar’s journey… from Anantnag to Indian Institute of Technology, Mandi and from there to Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy for Administration, Mussoorie has been exemplary. Similarly, other known and unknown faces from the region have also dared to defy all odds and dream differently. Their success depicts the true nature of the human race, i.e. a strong instinct to survive in the face of elimination. Perhaps, we are designed in such a way that we are in a constant pursuit of opportunities that would take us to a better situation than the existing one. After all, nobody wants to remain stuck in a deep and dark den eternally, therefore we tend to get attracted to even a small flickering light that we find because it could be a sign of a possible way out to a brighter future ahead. In such cases, the parent’s role becomes all the more significant as they anchor the puzzled child to take a detour while tactfully avoiding the roadblocks so that their children are able to reach their destination. No doubt, these known or unknown achievers pose as a role model for many… as the youngsters watch every move that they make and get inspired to follow the trails that these idols lay along the way.

There could have been another name in the above list of achievers – Zaira Wasim. The way she thumped her way with her remarkably flawless acting skill into mainstream hindi cinema is simply mind blowing. But quite recently, she gave a jolt to the whole nation by announcing to quit cinema. Who could have imagined that the gifted girl who made the whole country awestruck with each outing at the box office would make such a decision. For many of us who live far away from the shambles that Jammu and Kashmir deals with, it resembles a maze full of Rashomon effect, where one could easily get disillusioned and lost because at every juncture it presents a different version of the same story. I often wonder, what could have been the real reason behind her exit or rather what made her to crack-up? No doubt, the entertainment industry comes with its own share of stress and pressure which could possibly pose as a huge burden on a young shoulder. Besides, time and again she has also been subjected to extra scrutiny and grinding than what was called-for. Right from the beginning of her stint in cinema there have been instances where separatists did not take things that she did or the people that she met in a good light. Therefore, Zaira had to endure their constant verbal lashing. During those days, it was hard for me to comprehend her fearful, apologetic and calculated behavior. But gradually, I realized how difficult life must have been for her and numerous children like her who grow up in the backyard of terror. Let’s not forget that years of living in fear and being oppressed takes a huge toll on the psyche of an individual. 

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Even Though, I genuinely wish Zaira is able to deal with her inner turmoil and figure out the real purpose of her life so that she lives a contented life but deep within… I still can’t lose hope that someday she might realize the fact that she has been gifted with a wonderful talent by the almighty which should not go in vain. I still can’t understand how a profession can become a hindrance to one’s faith and religion (as stated by her before quitting acting)? Personally, I feel one can serve God by performing one’s occupational duties well. Haven’t we heard of artists being closer to God? By being part of meaningful projects she could have been closer to the creator as well and his creations. But presuming her decision was governed by external factors, for instance if she was scared of becoming an outcast in the eyes of fundamentalists and society or perhaps a threat to her family’s life then it is a matter of concern. In that case it would be shameful for all of us as that would mean that  we have failed in protecting the interests of our children. This reminds me of an African saying, “It takes an entire village to raise a child.” The society as a whole has a responsibility to take care of and protect the children. Interestingly, a society not just comprises of only ordinary people from all walks of life instead it also includes politicians, fundamentalists and separatist alike. These people possess within themselves the power to influence people. And unfortunately, this could be a colossal problem for any society as its so-called stalwarts fail to understand that due to their squabbling over fringy and petty matters the development of innocent souls get hampered. Moreover, living in such a melancholic environment affects the mental well being of the people. In the past we have witnessed incidents where children and young adults were mobilized to participate in stone pelting activity or take up arms. I wonder if the people who instigate the youth to indulge in such things encourage their own children to participate in them? Or, do they conveniently play with the fate of others children while tactfully shielding their own progeny with security cover? It is so pathetic to see the inability in refraining from double standards, by the same people who holds a responsible position in the society. 

In the present scenario with Jammu and Kashmir becoming a union territory of India, I hope it brings dawn of a new era in this region. While the world has its eyes glued on this part of the country, it is up to all of us to show maturity and sensitivity in handling this issue. And gradually, help it to re-discover and prepare itself to come face to face with Jahangir’s idea of ‘heaven on earth’. No doubt, as of now it might be limping or rather clawing back to normalcy but with proper vision, support and patience from all quarters it could stand on its feet and this could be a turning point for the residents of Jammu and Kashmir and for the whole country. The real achievement for us would be when Kashmiri society regains its vigor and come into the mainstream. This could happen when their youth get to enjoy equal opportunities just like their peers from other parts of the country. Moreover, when there is none with vested interest to manipulate their sentiments and beliefs, that is when they would march towards a brighter future without having an iota of fear or doubt . After all, just like every child on earth they too are entitled to feel happy, free, secured and most importantly… to dream.

– By Aradhana Basu Das

Break free from the shackles

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As memories of my past experience with Sanskrit are still fresh in my mind, advertisements regarding crash courses offered in different languages often made me  wonder how can someone learn a language in such a short span. As ironic as it may sound in spite of having Sanskrit as a third language at the school (for four years) this could not make me to construct even simple sentences, let alone speak the language fluently. However, as days went by instead of having a regret for not being able to learn this ancient Indian language the question of its utility in modern times often came to my mind. But as fate took its course, I landed up in an introductory session for spoken Sanskrit classes which was conducted in our society by Samskrita Bharati. It’s a non profit organization which has been working relentlessly towards reviving Sanskrit to its past glory. They conduct ten days capsule classes for two-hours duration for basic Sanskrit conversational skill and that too without charging anything from students. They have designed an unique and effective method of teaching this ancient language which is also known as ‘Deva Bhasha’. Though I wasn’t expecting to continue beyond a session, to my surprise our ever smiling and energetic teacher Deepika presented before us an unconventional approach of teaching by using toys, chart papers, gestures. She had created an interactive and inclusive environment compared to what we were introduced at the school. That day I realized that Sanskrit is not tough but the curriculum that were designed for schools in India were faulty. I was also astonished to find out about few of the striking benefits of speaking in Sanskrit. For instance, Sanskrit improves and expands the brain, our tongue muscles are fully utilized while we speak in this language and of course it is one of the most structured and computer friendly languages the world has known so far.

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Sometime during those ten days I got to know about Panini, who is considered as father of linguistics, a great Sanskrit philologist, a revered grammarian from ancient India. So, on coming back home that day I tried collecting more information about Panini. While digging deep into his life I came across a very interesting story. Though, I don’t know about its authenticity but found it extremely inspiring. Thus thought of sharing.

In around 500-600 BC, there lived a great scholar by the name of Pani near the bank of river Indus. Pani and his wife Dakshi were blessed with a son known as Panini. Panini was an active, little boy and was loved by his parents very dearly. One day, an old friend of Pani who also happened to be a great scholar, an astrologer and a palmist had payed him a visit. He enjoyed great hospitality at Pani’s place. Just after lunch while both the friends were relaxing, Pani’s scholarly friend he noticed little Panini. Obediently, Panini sat near him and showed him his palm on being asked to do so. While he took time and meticulously studied the lines of Panini’s palm, Pani watched the whole process patiently. Pani noticed that slowly his learned friend’s face which looked joyful initially had started to embody grave concern. He asked his friend what was bothering him. The scholarly man looked at Pani with great sympathy in his eyes and said, “Oh my dear friend! Ultimately, we are all puppets in the hands of fate. On one hand you have acquired so much knowledge that people come seeking your advice from places far and wide but on the other hand your son is destined remain illiterate all his life.”

“I don’t doubt your knowledge but could you please check one more time?”, Pani requested while still in shock.

The friend looked at horror stricken Pani and softly assured him in a comforting voice, “I have checked several times but the line of education could not be found. It is certain for him to remain illiterate.” Pani closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

All this while Panini was listening to their conversation very carefully and very politely requested the learned man, “ Could you please let me know where exactly the line of education would have been had it been there on my palm?”

Pani and his friend looked sympathetically at the little boy. The latter showed Panini the area on palm where the line of education should have been. Panini quickly ran out of the room leaving both the men bewildered. After sometime he came back and put his palm forward saying, “Now that I have a line right there on my palm… will I become a scholar when I grow up?”

Both the men were shocked to see Panini’s palm, for it was oozing with blood. The conversation between both the men had made such an impact on little Panini’s mind that he had etched a line with a stone on his palm, the line run down his palm at the same place where the line of education should have been there. This act of Panini left both the wise men absolutely speechless.

But somewhere down the line as a father Pani could not accept this as absolute truth. As days went by Pani witnessed unquenchable desire to acquire knowledge in his young son. That’s when he took the responsibility upon himself to teach young Panini all that he could. Moreover, in order to get more knowledge Pani used to meditate on Lord Shiva. Interestingly, it is believed that Panini is the one who has formulated Sanskrit morphology, syntax and semantics in 3959 sutras called Ashtadhyayi, the foundation of the grammatical branch of Vedanga. His verses influenced many scholars of that time to engage in bhashyas (commentaries).

Here was a man who defied and scripted the course of his own destiny with dedication and hard work. Moreover, Pani’s role as a father is exemplary as he was able to break free from the shackles of fear, self pity and doubt and identified the spark in little Panini thus supported him all along. The father and son duo must have channelized their energy and enjoyed the whole process of evolving rather than dwelling too much on the uncertainties of future. I wonder how much Panini could have achieved had his father not believed in his abilities. This story serves as an important lesson for me, not just as an individual but also as a parent. As I understand that raising a child could be rough sailing at times. We have to accept that our children don’t come into our lives served in a silver platter. Instead they come tagged with their own set of abilities as well as challenges. It is up to us to tab their potential and channelize their energy towards that which they are good at. So that they too can act to their full potential and write the script of their life their way.

– By Aradhana Basu Das

Power of One – Conclusion

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A few days ago, I met Isha in the morning. While we were taking a walk together she asked me about the topic for my next article. While discussing about the topic she abruptly said, “At times I feel, maybe you could have written about journeys of some well-known personalities rather than about us. We are simple, very ordinary people. Writing about towering personalities would have fetched you better readership.” I said, “Maybe, I could have. But the idea was never to portray the journey of a famous person, but to gather inspiration from the struggles and successes of people around us.” The people whom the world considers ordinary or irrelevant, are the ones who manage to take some time out of their existing commitments to envision and conceptualize that which many of us fail to see. We fail to notice this, not because we don’t have capability to do so, but because our mental space is occupied with a lot of run of the mill things. In the pursuit of desired goal they withstand all odds with conviction, integrity, grit and focus. Even though I admire the famous personalities all over the world, but the people around me inspire me the most. As they are one among us, leading similar lives, it encourages me to think if they can do it why can’t I.

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Quite often, during the morning assembly, the principal of my school would tell us, “Children, you are the future of this country.” Back then I couldn’t fully understand what it is to be ‘the future of this country’. I thought one needs to be a force to be reckoned with as per the societal standards to become one. I never really understood the real meaning of the statement until I was bestowed upon with the responsibility of moulding a tiny, delicate and impressionable being. One who has the potential to gradually became an individual, able to find her ground in this world, while holding her beliefs, integrity and self respect closer to her heart. Isha’s green movement provided my daughter with ample exposure. As a result, we are able to witness a streak of sensitivity in her. She now collects seeds from vegetable peels to sow them in a mini kitchen garden that she maintains. She waters her plants and watches them grow. The realisation that even a rejected thing like a seed (whose fate could have taken it to the garbage bin), if provided with favourable conditions could flaunt their real potential and grow into a plant, is unbelievably beautiful. How fascinating are the ways of nature, as anything which has life or can possibly continue the chain of providing life, have been gifted with inherent potential to grow and blossom. All one needs is a suitable environment, rest the nature can manifest itself. This very experience left her delighted and thrilled to watch a seed germinating into a seedling and into a plant thereafter. On the other hand, the way Ratna advocated the need for correct disposal of wastes had led her to bring home her trash to be put into our recyclable bag instead of throwing away the garbage anywhere. Surprisingly, her world is no more confined between toys and play house. Instead she is growing into an opinionated individual, who prefers to decide her own topic for her painting, showcasing the need for tree plantation and waste management. I am immensely thankful to people like Isha, Anant and Ratna and many more unknown faces like them for being instrumental in transforming so many lives. Especially the young individuals who would comprise the future generations of the world. According to the traditional African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child”. I realized that no matter how much we try as parents, but without these responsible adults around, without these exposures, it would be a bit difficult to give shape to our children’s character.

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William Shakespeare famously wrote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any name would smell as sweet”. While writing I choose not to use real names of people as I believe a name doesn’t define who we are, but the actions that we take and virtues that we possess does. In fact, even if one remembers the name generations after the event, the name of the person becomes less significant. Instead, the actions that were taken hold greater importance as it is the actions that define our future. Over the years, our genes have got structured in such a way that when our sense of existence is pushed to the brink, our survival instincts compels us to rise to the occasion and challenge the situation with all our might. The idea of survival, the threshold of tolerance, aspirations, purpose in life, sense of contentment varies with different individuals. While Isha, Ratna, Anant and many more like them choose to do something for public welfare, there could be others who feel more accomplished by attaining their personal goals. Our soul shows us the way where it wants to reach, we just need to listen to our inner voice and embark on a journey for self fulfillment. The power to excel is so deep-seated within each one of us that if it is nurtured with sincerity and hard work, it could take us a long way in transforming our lives, societies, nations and the world.

Not only these inspiring personalities, we all have a flame burning within us. We just need to inculcate willingness to walk that extra mile to accomplish what we want to achieve. This willingness act is like a fuel to the burning flame. In a way, we are all like those tiny glow worms having potential to become luminous and spread brightness wherever we go. One glow worm may not be able to lighten-up the whole area, but at least it can show a ray of hope amid despair and gloom. Furthermore, if a few glow worms forms a cluster, together they can definitely illuminate the whole area. When in doubt about the strength within, let’s remind ourselves “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle”. This is the power of one.

– Aradhana Basu Das

Power of One – Waste Management Crusader

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Many moons ago on a lazy summer afternoon, while spending time on the verandah of my childhood home, I saw an elderly lady roaming in the by lanes of our sleepy neighbourhood. I vividly remember that incident even though it’s been years since then. She was holding a sack with one hand near her shoulder while balancing it comfortably on her back. The piece of cloth which was wrapped around her fragile frame looked dirty and torn from several places. She walked barefoot, while her eyes fixed on the ground as if in search of something precious. While observing her I noticed that she was picking plastic bags, packets and other trash from every possible nook and corner. My curiosity multiplied several folds as I failed to understand her reason or need to collect those items from filth. Therefore, a volley of questions forced open the floodgate of my innocent mind.

”Is she alone, with no one to take care in her twilight years?”

”How could she walk barefoot on the streets? Is the ground not hot enough?”

“Is she not feeling dirty to touch the garbage?”

I called her once she was done with collecting trash from that area and asked her why was she doing this and that too at her age. She said she had none who could take care of her and she does this for a living. As I was moved by her plight I asked my mother if we could do something for her. My mother said maybe we could collect recyclable plastics and hand it over to her when she comes. I felt good as I thought in this manner we could do our bit to help the poor lady. Initially I exhibited great enthusiasm in collecting milk packets, plastic bags and other plastic recyclables for the old lady, but the zeal gradually dipped down and therefore after sometime it became my mother’s sole responsibility to collect the trash. But I always made sure to personally hand those over to the lady. This ritual continued for a couple of years until she stopped coming. Back then I had no idea what waste management was all about. I just tried to help her out of empathy. Surprisingly, after so many years while I retrospect, I am unable to recollect studying about waste management or for that matter plastic pollution at the school. It was only while pursuing my higher studies that I got a chance to learn about hazardous nature of different types of wastes and their management. Even though I was not ignorant about the issue by then, but still I didn’t have the knowledge of what exactly needs to be done at an individual level. In our country, issues like household waste management don’t enjoy the same status as issues like pollution or deforestation, may be due to lack of awareness. It is due to this lack of awareness we are not able to comprehend a larger picture.

Last year, when the schools reopened after summer vacation, gradually the euphoria surrounding green movement mellowed out but a handful of people still continued their tryst with the garden. During those days I realised, giving shape to the garden was difficult no doubt. But maintaining it was all the more difficult as weeding continuously was quite taxing. All this time while contributing assiduously to the cause of green movement, Ratna – one of the active volunteers, had researched about the issue which is closer to her heart… Waste Management. During those weeding sessions at the garden, she discussed about it extensively and she had plans of taking that up with the society’s maintenance committee. This is an issue which has created waves in western countries, but if we say in our part of the world it has started creating ripples that would be an over statement. But still I thought it to be another great cause that was creeping into our life having a potential to mobilise the society and turn it into a great movement. Amid talks with the maintenance committee at different levels, she brought home a stack composter/khamba for her wet kitchen wastes and started collecting other recyclables; especially plastics as they take thousands of years to degrade, thus creating a menace to our environment. As per the information she gathered, it seems first of all waste needs to be segregated into kitchen and dry wastes. Secondly, almost everything under the sun could be recycled thus increasing sustainability. From a piece of paper, to shampoo bottle, to masala packet etc everything could be recycled. Interestingly, if our wastes are managed efficiently, a lot of energy could be saved. Kitchen wastes when decompose in landfills generates methane, a greenhouse gas which is 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide (another greenhouse gas). Thus, by composting her kitchen wastes at home she intended to minimise methane gas generation. And also by collecting solid wastes and sending them to recycling plants, she was able to do her bit to reduce carbon footprint.

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I am sure she must have been the only one from our society to start composting kitchen wastes and that too showing dedication in collecting recyclables to the extent of rinsing plastic pouches (from food takeaways) and keeping them aside. In spite of this, my prior experience with the green movement (as by this time I had understood what power within one person can do) did not allow me to doubt her potential to bring about change. Even a small step taken by an individual is important as it could bring about a significant change in the mindset of the society. As by seeing one individual taking the unusual path, many like minded people could get inspired to walk the same path. She had already taken the first step, thus paving way for others. According to the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: ”A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

As Ganesh Chaturthi was round the corner and lot of residents were expected to participate in the celebration, Ratna thought of promoting waste management awareness by staging a skit with the help of resident children. For days children rehearsed at Ratna’s home. She along with a few others suggested the Ganesha committee to go for eco-friendly idol instead of plaster of paris idol as the latter produces a menace to water bodies after they get immersed. Meanwhile she had prepared and laminated a few pictorial charts related to the segregation of wastes, so as to circulate the pictures in various whatsapp groups within the society. On her request, the committee agreed to put a stack composter/khamba near the Ganesh pandal so as to make manure by composting flowers which were offered to Ganesha. And later the manure could be spread in our gardens. She volunteered to bring the composters. As we too wanted to bring home a composter, we accompanied her in order to bring the composters together. As per one’s family size one can choose the size of the composter, but we went for a big one. One set of stack composter comprises of three terracotta vessels. Which should be placed one above the other.

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We were coming home with two sets, so there were six vessels in all to load in the car. A couple of them were placed in the dicky and rest others had to be adjusted on the rear seat of the car. I vividly remember our journey back home. The earthen vessels took the side seats near the windows while Ratna sat in the middle of the rear seat, right on the edge with her son on her lap. I quickly clicked couple of pictures, and she sportingly obliged me with a smile. I don’t have an idea how she managed to sit like that for so long. While coming back home, I wondered if they were feeling claustrophobic, being packed from all around with no space to breath. We asked them repeatedly, if they were alright, and to my surprise, the smile on Ratna’s lips was able to belie the discomfort she was in. I was awed by her humbleness. After some time I sat silently as we drove back home… watching the branches of the trees crossing by, the clouds wandering in the sky, while watching them… slowly my thoughts too drifted to a situation which involved Ratna and her sons. During the green movement days by any chance if her kids missed out the morning session at the garden, she made sure that they made up for it later in the day. Very quietly, three of them tilled the soil, weeding a patch of land under the scorching sun. They just went about with their duty without being noticed by most of us. Honestly, it would be incorrect if I say I didn’t take a leaf out of her book in parenting. I wonder if these virtues of discipline, dutifulness, punctuality and humility were due to her upbringing or due to her association with armed forces. The age in which we live, we are habituated to see the world around us preoccupied with the notion of self projections. If one meets a person who is not shouting from the rooftop and going about the task in a low profile manner, this certainly comes as a sweet surprise.

The skit on waste management was conducted on eighth day of Ganesh Chaturthi. While Ratna anchored the act, the children nailed it in conveying a strong message regarding eco-friendly idols, and the need for waste management, landfill menace, plastic pollution and health hazards due to plastics through their short but informative act. After the skit, Ratna took to the center stage and delivered a thought provoking speech.

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“Ladies and gentlemen hope you enjoyed the skit. Could we please have a round of applause for this splendid performance.” The atmosphere got filled with loud clapping and cheering. After a pause, Ratna resumed again. “I think the kids were able to create an awareness about the hazardous nature of plastics and the need for recycling them. So I need not go deep into that but all I would like to tell is that please keep this in mind – Earth is the only planet which is presently habitable for human race and other living beings. Colonising somewhere in outer space still seems like a distant dream. And even if that becomes a possibility, is there a guarantee that our children’s future family members would be able to make it to a safe place? So for most of our children and their future families this planet is the only place where they can live. It would be quite unfortunate if our future generations have to face the consequences of our irresponsible behavior. Obviously, we don’t want them to suffer due to our ignorance and recklessness. Besides we could save our resources by adopting sustainability principle, i.e., by reducing, reusing and recycling our wastes. So dear residents, please start segregating your wet/ kitchen wastes and dry wastes. This is the first and the most important step. If it is feasible for you, you could use a composter at home just as I am doing. I had a word with one of the organizations which collects trash and send those to various recycling units. Every alternate Sundays, they are expected to send their representative to our society. We can give away the recyclables, especially plastics to them. Let us all join hands in the mission to hand over a better earth to our future generations. I request you to spread this information to others in the society. So two weeks from now we will all meet near the central park with our trash. Thank you.”

Ratna left the stage amid roars and cheers. As we were getting late for dinner, holding my little one’s hand I quickly left for home. Somehow, Ratna’s words were hovering in my mind, striking me where it hurts or matters the most… my child, her future family. I pledged to do whatever I could, even if that meant walking an extra mile, so as to leave my child comparatively a safer and healthier place to live in. After that Ratna did not sit quietly. Instead, she mediated a few meetings between the residents and the organization which was suppose to collect our recyclables. Apart from this, she along with a few others campaigned and conducted meetings with the women folks at their residence, so as to spread awareness for the cause. Besides, she repeatedly showed her stack composter/khamba to the interested residents at her home and discussed and demonstrated how to do composting so as to spread maximum awareness.

After two weeks the recycling guys came at the appointed time, to collect our trash. While walking with the recyclables towards the central park, a strange nostalgia overpowered me. After so many years I could feel the same enthusiasm and a sense of accomplishment that I felt during my childhood days, while handing over plastic bags to the old lady. While glancing at the bags I realized that over the years our plastic usage had increased manifolds. I could see so many packets in the sack which were used to pack different items. The packaging of food items have changed over the years. When we were kids, the local grocer would use old papers and jute strings to pack things. I remember my mother and grandmother stitching cloth bags out of old and used clothes, to be carried by my father and grandfather to the market. Those days we did not have online grocery stores sending us vegetables in separate plastic bags. Instead, vegetables of all kinds would come in a single cloth bag to be segregated and kept in the refrigerator later. Years ago, neither the spices came in plastic packets nor juices came in tetra packs. I remember the grocer used to pack pulses and other items in paper pouches which were handmade out of used papers. But slowly, the polythene bags replaced the paper pouches. Interestingly, our previous generation reused every ounce of resources that were available instead of throwing away things instantly. And recyclables were kept aside to be given to the scrap collector. Ironically, the world has come up with the concept of sustainability or waste hierarchy, i.e., reduce, reuse and recycle. But our progenitors without knowing much about the three ‘R’ had adopted a lifestyle which implemented the same.

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Once I reached the stall, I figured out that around only 20 odd families had come down to give away their trash so far. Strangely, after all the effort that Ratna had put in, the turnover was very low. May be their mind was still bogged down in the narrow by lanes of present. Thus, they couldn’t fathom an obvious catastrophe in future. As a result, they thought this activity of segregating and bring wastes to the recycling van to be an unnecessary affair. But Ratna, as much as I could study her, is certainly not one of those who would give up easily. The biggest challenge that posed in front of her was to convince people to segregate their kitchen wastes from the dry wastes and come down to the recycling stall. For the next couple of months, she came up with one innovative idea after another to lure as many people as possible into this. Every time, she would surprise me with her courage to proceed alone with minimal support. She brimmed with resolve and optimism which helped her to bounce back with one innovative idea after another. She excelled in understanding the situation and was able to read the resident’s mind and accordingly chalk out her next plan of action. For instance, she understood that if children were made the target audience, they could be moulded easily as their young impressionable minds would be more receptive. After all, it was their future that we were talking about. In Spite of her busy schedule, she managed to take out time to plan and make arrangements for for events that she wanted to conduct. Of course, a few people helped her. But honestly, their support was just like a few drops of water in the ocean. But I never found her complaining. Instead, she acknowledged whatever help she received and moved on. On some days, she would arrange for an open air film show for the kids. The film depicting the ill effects of plastic in our lives, water bodies aquatic life etc. Then post film session, she would again tell the children what to collect for recycling and also asked the children to inform their parents about the same. There were occasions when she would conduct painting competition having waste management as a topic or conducted cleanliness drives on weekends for interested grown ups and children. Which was then followed by breakfast for the children, sponsored by the green movement fund.

To me, involving children in this mission proved to be master stroke for her as the children were able to understand the need to dispose plastic in a better manner and inculcate the habit of sending them to the right place. I have heard about instances where children acted like her, holding a pen in a similar way as she would hold a microphone while talking, talking like her while playing pretend games. She became an inspiration, a role model for many children in the society. A few children without feeling awkward, at the drop of a hat, would pick up plastics from common areas and throw them in trash cans. Interestingly they were the same people who had a habit of throwing chocolate wrapper on the floor, at their home. Ratna was able to influence and mould them positively. Hopefully, these children would be able to resist feeling awkward or inhibited in doing the same thing when they grow up.

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The numbers definitely increased after all the efforts that Ratna had put in. But it was still a long way to go. The state government in the meantime had started taking segregation of wastes more seriously. As a result, we were given instructions to strictly adhere to segregation and disposals of wet and dry wastes. Actually, it becomes practically difficult for the garbage pickers to manually separate these wastes if given together. It is such a shame for us as a society if we are insensitive to the plight of the garbage pickers. Moreover, we don’t even realize that we are sitting on a time bomb which would explode anytime. Already scientists are confirming that we are heading into a mass extinction comparable to the ones which made Dinosaurs extinct. The difference this time is – this event is man made. Meanwhile Ratna had met the municipal commissioner at his office to ensure the authenticity of the claim of correct waste disposal/ management by the government. On her request, the commissioner had send the medical officer to engage in informative discussions with us about the health hazards and other issues. After all these efforts that she had taken, now we need not come up to the recycling van. Instead, we could give away the segregated wastes at our own door steps as the garbage collector would bring separate baskets for our wet and dry wastes.

In these few months, she was able to accomplish substantially. Ratna has no intention to sit on her laurels. Instead, her trials and tribulations with the cause still continues. Her contributions are priceless. Even though she struggled to hold her ground, she never gave up. She took up an issue which did not have much takers but still fought hard to uphold it. She never waited for a whole lot of people to support her (even though she would have loved it that way), but she did not hesitate to embark on a journey less preferred; with her conviction and strength of character to give her company. In other words, her initiative was able to create ripples locally, and maybe someday these ripples would become bigger waves thrusting their way to virgin shores. Many of us would say that Ratna is an exception. But honestly, each one of us have the same inner strength and indomitable spirit which could help us to rise to the occasion and achieve what the soul strives for. We just have to tell ourselves “to arise, awake and stop not till we reach our goal”.

– Aradhana Basu Das

Power of One – The Green Warrior

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The summer of 2016 was different in more ways than one. In these eight years that I have lived in Hyderabad, never did I experience such a hot summer. The state government had send a circular to schools to reschedule the summer vacation early. As the hot season was setting in, personally I had started dealing with my own set of summer time worries – daughter’s low appetite; total rejection of milk; keeping my family protected from summer heat; maintaining her schedule; keeping her engaged constructively during vacations; keeping my work well paced during the time she is at home. Amidst all these, another interesting and life transforming event took place and undoubtedly, this must have got ingrained as a sweet memory for all of us who had contributed to it in some way or the other.

During this time, I happened to bump into an acquaintance Isha, an upcoming artist who also teaches painting. Even though we were not very close then, but still I loved talking to her as I found her to be quite sensitive, opinionated, well read and abreast with latest developments around the world. While we started conversing, the course of our discussion shifted from mundane ones to the more important ones like global warming, the ill-effect of deforestation in the process of making an area more urban, water scarcity during peak summers, benefits and possibilities of rain water harvesting and what the world, our country and we are doing to address such issues.

“It is such a vicious cycle…”

” …every year during summer, many parts of Hyderabad faces water scarcity and when the rain comes so much water gets wasted “

” …why can’t people think of rain water harvesting to address this issue?” she said. And then she abruptly exclaimed ”Can’t we do something about it?”

Couple of days after that meeting, Isha called up to discuss about the initiative taken by her and few others to increase the green quotient of nearby areas. She asked if we could join them along with our daughter. She had already chalked out a plan, which I found quite impressive. The plan was to start a movement where-in the children and adults would come down by 6am everyday and contribute in the green movement. Interestingly, the kids were to play the primary role of planting a sapling and then take care of the sapling that they plant. Their parents and interested grown ups could facilitate the kids in the process. Thus, this could be a good learning experience both for our children as well as for us.

So the next day volunteers, along with some children, assembled near the central park at 6am to discuss the next plan of action. The open areas in the society was surveyed and the area behind one of the blocks was zeroed in. The place was full of construction debris and it was quite difficult to walk, let alone have a lush green garden. The gravity of the task made me a bit perplexed as I was not sure how long and how many people could continue with this in the long run. But surprisingly, Isha’s eyes sparkled with such undeterred confidence that nothing could obstruct the path leading towards her desired goal.

Thus, we embarked on a makeover journey from construction landfill to a garden. Isha insisted on doing things the right way so as to avoid any complications later. She meticulously started a whats-app group for this purpose. Joint meeting between maintenance committee, builder’s representatives, and volunteers were held. In the meeting it was decided that as it would be very difficult and time consuming to remove the rubble manually, and a bulldozer was required to do the task of removing debris and do initial tilling. The maintenance committee agreed to arrange for it within two days. Arti, one of the volunteers, cajoled and negotiated with the committee and convinced them to provide it the same day. On Isha’s request, Mr Venkat arranged for fertile soil and laborers to dig pits in order to plant saplings. Donations were accepted as money was needed to buy saplings and equipment. She along with Arti and Ms Prathibha went to a nearby nursery and brought saplings, seeds, manure and garden implements. Even though this movement was initiated by Isha, but it looked like everyone’s movement. Each and every person in the group, whether an active or a passive partner, contributed in some way or the other. We were encouraged to share our ideas and decisions were taken weighing the pros and cons of the given idea. It was not a one person show. Instead, it was a team effort where every volunteer was considered as an important stakeholder. Thus the first hurdle was crossed and finally the stage was set for our children to convert the area into a garden.

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Next few days were simply magical. Children and grown-ups alike, showed great enthusiasm in planting the saplings and filling the pits with fertile soil. Mr Alok, a seed scientist by profession, guided us through out with the nitty-gritty of gardening. Children would start flocking from 6 am near the garden area. From their excitement it was evident that they enjoyed every bit of it. For them it was nothing less than a summer camp and for the adults the whole experience was like reliving the fun-filled days of childhood. While the children were making memories, we were going down the memory lane.

When the implements which were bought fell short to cater to the needs of so many people, Isha along with the children brought serving spoons, bowls and plates from their home and used those to fill the pit with soil. It is simply amazing to see how people can innovate and utilize available resources or how they work around a problem. It was so heartening to see the camaraderie, team work and exuberance among the group. And personally, I felt good to watch my little one taking part in such a activity which in turn would help in building her character. After the saplings were all planted, the next challenging task was to water the saplings twice a day. With no water connection in that area initially, it was all the more difficult to bring water from a distance. Soon we got a water connection in that area, but for a while it was difficult to manage. Smita, along with the children showed great commitment towards the cause by carrying buckets of water from a distance. Planting saplings in summer is quite a challenging task as the plants need lot of water to survive in this season. Ideally, rainy season would have been more appropriate but children could have contributed only during their vacations. Besides, it was a moment of now or never for Isha and for us too. When there is a strong urge, a sense of urgency and self belief to withstand difficulties, one can flow upstream to accomplish the desired. In the words of Paulo Coelho: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”.

In the meanwhile few more shrubs were brought, and therefore we needed few more pits to plant them. As it was decided that we would dig those pits ourselves, the children and adults joined in the digging task. During the time we were digging smaller pits, so many virtues of Isha came to light. One such instance, which is difficult for me to forget, was when the children after struggling for more than an hour to get desired depth of the pit, had started giving up. Isha sensed that, so she sat with them and started to help them with the digging. While doing so, she asked them, “Why were you giving up?” Together they spoke out “We tried a lot but the cement block is huge, and we could not take that out”. Isha said “When you found out that it is difficult to take out the block, you could try to dig around it. Lets figure out the edges of the block, try to remove the soil near that area and slowly lift the cement block” she said. Isha and the kids chirpily went along with their work and in due course of time were successfully able to to take that out. The children as well as Isha were delighted, they rejoiced the achievement with high fives, clapping and laughter.

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Time and again I have noticed, whenever the going got tough, Isha came up with her characteristic smile, infectious energy and humor, which had a potential to lift the spirits. She was the catalyst which kept the whole group going for such a long time. Otherwise, I have seen many such initiatives loose steam midway, before achieving anything substantial. After the jubilation was over, Isha said again “Always remember this children – whenever you face a hindrance in your path, don’t get disappointed and leave midway. Instead, work around and change your path a bit. Thus, you could reach your goal”. I thought, this could be an important lesson for an young impressionable mind and for anybody for that matter. Usually people would spare about an hour in the morning before heading for office or other daily chores. Occasionally, Mr Sinha would treat us with hot tea prepared by his sweet wife Vijaita and Archana treated the children with juice as refreshment. During this break, adults and children gathered in two separate groups. We had come together for a purpose and we gelled well as a community of like minded individuals.

By the time the schools were about to reopen, the garden had already taken shape. We withstood all odds with team work and determination in order to convert a debris laden area into a garden. It now boasted of around 25 saplings which would grow into big trees someday and more than 40 smaller plants which would add glamour to the garden with either their looks or their flowers. Surprisingly, a thick carpet of grass was also starting to grow in the area. The plants were growing properly and few of them had started to flower too. Watching the branches and leaves swaying in the breeze, the fresh feel of the morning air, cheerfulness of the flowers, soothing rays of the early morning sun… all together had such a mesmerizing effect, as if you are one with whole of nature. The volunteers decided to celebrate the success by having a small tea party in the garden. The morning started with wall painting, which was suggested by Mr Abhay. The children and grown-ups thoroughly enjoyed trying their hands at wall painting. This was followed by the potluck party. People laughed together, shared jokes, congratulated each other. In short, the whole team felt accomplished. For some, the day was the finale of the event which had unfurled at the onset of summer vacation and for few others, the journey continued.

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Personally, I felt privileged to be part of this movement. The anxiety which I had at the onset of summer could not really bog me down. Instead, those were dealt with in a matter of fact manner, as the main focus was the garden. It was amazing to see, how a single person’s enthusiasm could become a passion for many. Many of us think of doing something but become skeptical and hesitate to move forward thinking what if we don’t get support. From this experience I can tell that don’t ever hesitate to come up with your idea, and like minded people would definitely come along. The idea could be anything which is close to your heart, which could define your existence in this world. It could be about a social cause, or even a new business venture. Last summer it took a shape of a movement. Summer is approaching again, and I hope it becomes a revolution this time around. Its all up to us… believe me. We just need to ask ourselves the same question that Isha had asked “Can’t we do something about it?”

Power of One – Introduction

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Buddha had said “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle”. One candle may not be able to light up a whole room, but it certainly has the potential to light many candles which can make a room vibrant and illuminated. Same rule of the thumb should be applicable to us also. But I would often wonder, how much of a significant change can one bring just by changing oneself? Or how far can a person walk alone?

If one looks back at history, one can cite numerous examples from the past where individuals have stood for something they believed was right. When Mahatma Gandhi raised a voice against racial epithet, he was the first one to do so. Non-violent methods of protest preached by him was something which revolutionary leaders like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela got inspiration from. I sometimes think about Malala Yosufzai, the courage which she exhibited at such a tender age in withstanding the suppression of women and children (their right to education) was par excellence. The list of such fiery people is endless.

One could think that such great men and women were extraordinary individuals, driven by surreal talent and determination. Their stories of struggle and success are inspiring no doubt, but not everyone aspires to change the world. Most of us are simple people, having quite a few responsibilities upon our shoulders, and thus can’t give all our time for a cause.

Of late I have witnessed a remarkable series of events, which has totally changed my perception of the power which is within an individual. During this period I have seen around me what exactly the power of one person can do. This power that I am talking about is a strong and persistent desire to do that which is right, even if it meant standing against the flow or coming out of their comfort zone. I have seen a few people taking up causes for overall welfare of the society in-spite of their responsibilities at home, work commitments, their health issues. They are neither big names as crusaders of the cause, nor are they the first ones to initiate them. But still their contributions are priceless as in spite of their busy schedule, they were able to walk that extra mile and in that process motivated many. Sometimes, when we see someone amongst us make a difference, they could be more inspiring than all the big names.

In the next couple of articles, I wish to highlight such instances where ordinary citizens triggered the change which can redefine our society. This series is a tribute to them… and an inspiration for all of us.

– Aradhana Basu Das

Competitions – A double edged sword

 

As a school going kid I thoroughly enjoyed participating in competitions and performances. Never did I understand the importance of such things in a child’s life until the time my daughter started participating in them. These events have played such a vital role in developing her personality. But I feel that competitions are like double edged swords. They can be beneficial in providing a child ample exposure so that they come out of their shell and gain in confidence. At the same time if the child doesn’t get desired result (which is quite likely) they can possibly lose confidence and self-esteem. Recently Akshita my daughter won a gold medal along with few others from her painting class in a national level painting competition held for children. But I don’t want to discuss her success story. Instead, I find that it is the story of her failure that is worth sharing.

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Couple of months earlier I had got a message from Usha, my daughters painting teacher, on WhatsApp. It was to inform the people in that group about a national level painting competition for children which is to be held in Hyderabad. She wanted all her students to participate in this. We needed to send entries latest by 28th of June. There were topics to choose from as per the age criteria. After reading the message my thoughts drifted to a similar situation in which we were in a few months ago. On a Saturday afternoon I went to Usha’s Studio to fetch Akshita home. Within seconds, I realized it wasn’t a usual day at the painting class. The students were engrossed with the work assigned to them. Usha informed me of a painting competition which was supposed to be held at a preschool located near our society. The topic for the competition was ‘save the earth’. Akshita was informed by her teacher about this and she was excited to go for it. She was just out of a splendid dance performance which she along with other girls had given during the ugadi celebrations in our society. As a result, she was basking with self-esteem. I was delighted to see her enhanced confidence, but at the same time was sceptical about the topic. I thought the topic was too much for a five years old to handle.

Next one hour I sat silently watching her in admiration. What I like the most in her is the fact that in spite of quite a few shortcomings, she exhibits great zeal to take up challenges that the life throws at her. Even though Akshita looks quite timid and delicate to the world outside her home, but deep inside she is pretty gritty and strong willed. This was very evident from the very beginning. For instance, when she was in my womb this tiny soul had to play a tug of war between life and host of medical issues which could have occurred. But fortunately got avoided due to the intervention of a good team of doctors… and God’s will. Amidst the pre and during delivery complications, she was holding on to the twig called life. She was born in the month of August, exactly two weeks before the due date. Thus being a Leo cub she is a fighter to the core. Akshita is one of those children who started speaking late. When she joined preschool she saw a whole bunch of her peers talking, screaming and communicating in so many languages. On the contrary she could barely speak a few words. But still that did not deter her to love going to school. She was the youngest of all girls at the dance class when she had joined. She used to give a confused look and was totally fish out of water. But neither did she show reluctance to go there nor did she ever asked me to hang around at the dance class. In fact, after coming back home she use to spend next half an hour teaching me Bharatanatyam steps. Believe me she is a tough task master; because no matter how much my thighs use to pain she wouldn’t leave me.

In order to master your shortcomings/fears you need to confront them, running away from them can never be a solution. If you choose to do the later, you restrict your growth as a person. The fear of failure will always be there but that shouldn’t deter you from facing challenges. I took fifteen years to realize this, but I am glad to find that this quality is inherent in her. During this time, while I was busy in retrospection, she was diligently following instructions and replicating her teacher’s drawing. I causally glanced at her drawing notebook. “Plant more trees” was written in bold letters on top of the sheet. It depicted a scenery with lush green patches, trees, blue sky and a small hut in the middle of nature. It looked beautiful.

Next day my husband dropped both of us at the school. We were received by Renu, one of the teachers at the preschool, who also happens to be a neighbour. She took Akshita to a room where all the kids were busy drawing or colouring. I could see three more students of Usha there, apart from Akshita. I feel it is God’s grace that we have facilities like music class, dance class, painting class etc in our own society. During growing up stages children are in constant pressure from all quarters. As a result, they have lot of pent up emotions. These activities are just a medium through which these emotions get released, their social skills increases, self-esteem and confidence enhances. And this in turn helps in overall development of the child. Akshita is far more obedient and manageable now then what she was before we sent her for these classes.

After about an hour and half, Akshita came out totally satisfied with whatever she had done in her painting. We were asked to wait as there was Prize Distribution Ceremony within 20 minutes. I immediately called up Anirban to let him know that she was done with the painting. I asked her how was it. She said ‘superb’. In the meantime, within minutes a makeshift stage was set up and prizes wrapped in coloured papers where kept on one side of the table by the organizers. Akshita was all the more excited after seeing those prizes. From her exuberance it was very clear that she had high expectations from the event. Considering the fact that Akshita was probably the youngest participant, I had genuine apprehensions of her chances of getting a prize.

The first prize went to a girl whose painting depicted a scene controlling air pollution. Her painting was shown to the audience, who in turn applauded her for the painting. Akshita was disappointed for not getting the first prize. I on the other hand was surprised to see that she actually expected the first price. Isn’t it too big an expectation? I thought. She is here to participate; get some exposure. For us the main purpose for sending her for different Co-curricular activities was that she would get ample opportunities to mingle with children of her age, which in turn would help her to learn social skills and also time would be utilized in a constructive manner. We felt that this purpose was being served. We didn’t expect her to bring laurels for us at all. We just enjoyed the baby steps that she took in her journey of development.

In order to soothe her restlessness, I said accolades don’t decide our love for her. Instead we take pride in her zeal to participate and compete. I could sense that my little girl was not convinced. Deep within I dreaded the situation which we might have to tackle if she does not get recognition for her painting. We might have to get into a crisis management mode sometime soon. Much to my solace my husband was on his way to join us.

In the meanwhile, second prize went to one of Usha’s three pupils Sai Charan. My daughter had started losing patience by this time. So far we have never pushed her for anything. The fact that she chose to participate was more than enough to feel good about. But kids of her age can’t really understand this. The child needs something to hold, to feel. Something to show to their parents. In my opinion they are too young to understand the importance of a participation certificate. According to them, a small Candy is better than a certificate. Parikshit, another student of Usha got the third prize. Akshita was all teary eyed by then. I thought to myself if her confidence dips down, that would probably be the last thing that I would want from this competition. I gave her a quick hug and said “I love you”.

My husband had reached the venue by this time. Akshita jumped with joy and wiped her eyes instantly, seeing her father. She shared her curiosity with him about what could be there inside the gift wrapped boxes. In next ten minutes few of them received consolation prizes and each one of them got participation certificates. Akshita received only a participation certificate. She felt dejected and sad, actually she is too young to understand the importance of a participation certificate. I cuddled her and kissed her forehead and said Maa and Baba is simply proud of what she did. Our love for her is not dependent on her successes or failures. But we certainly appreciate her willingness to work hard to achieve a goal.

I glanced at my husband and he immediately understood what I wanted to convey. He took over the task of motivating her. Over the years both of us have learnt the art of communicating through eyes. It was so heartening to see Anirban’s softer side. He lifted her and made her to sit on his lap, embraced her and planted a kiss on Akshita swollen cheeks. These gestures are so essential to repair a child’s broken heart and spirit. She in turn put her arms around his shoulders. Anirban whispered in her ears: “You are a winner in our eyes as we value the attempt that you made and will definitely get a gift from us”. I wondered if she really understood what we were trying to tell her but I am sure she understands the warmth we shower on her. So on our way back home we took her to the nearest supermarket and let her choose things that she wanted to pick from there. We have made conscious effort to bestow her with our precious time but not freedom of demanding loads of toys and gifts as a compensation. She understands this very well; thus she rarely demands anything. We on the other hand make sure that we provide her with all necessary things and give her surprise gifts even without asking for it. Except for special occasions like this, when we give her liberty to ask whatever she wants, we generally don’t fulfill her demands immediately.

In the supermarket while Akshita was busy selecting things, I said to my husband “She is finding it difficult to digest the fact that her painting didn’t fetch an award”. He nodded his head in affirmation and said “Sometimes it is good to get a taste of failure. This a very important lesson for life. Don’t worry she will be fine”. So true… if you don’t see failures and setbacks in life, you would neither learn to gracefully deal with it, nor you would experience sense of accomplishment after toiling hard for success.

Akshita’s mood started to change while picking things from the shelves; and we felt so relieved to see that. I started feeling confident that together we would overcome this phase. As parents we just need to be available for them, to support them when their chips are down.

Coming back to the present, we have to gear up for yet another painting competition. As far as my little girl is concerned, my gut feeling says she must have learned a few lessons from her previous outing. Let’s hope it would be easier to handle the situation this time around. And if with God’s grace she wins accolades in the process, it’s always a bonus but certainly not the ultimate thing.

Aradhana Basu Das