Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kabul !

What would it mean to live with war and conflict all your life ? To be born into a War and grow up with violence around you ? War would seem like a natural activity. The violent, gory blood-shed would become part of the psyche ? What kind of values would one develop ? Of right and wrong ?

Afghanistan, a fierce-spirited country, proud and self-respecting nation, would be an example of such a psycho-social fabric. There are of course other places too like Palestine etc.

Kabul has a special place in my heart. Bombed out of its mind and heart, the empty shells of many a building that stare out blindly at the world, Kabul stands testimony to Afghanistan's gory history of three decades of war and turmoil.

kite-runners ...

The narrow by-lanes, the mud/ adobe houses, ingrained with old timber, its bustling and jostling market, the all-pervasive smell of the kababs, and the pictures of Hindi film heroes and heroines along with blaring hindi songs at every corner, made a unique mix of charm. Combined with the warmth of smiles of the people, the city could win anyone's heart.

The contradictions in the human psyche manifest externally and violently in Kabul. Children playing among the ruins and pock-marked walls was an anomaly one could not adjust to. So was it difficult to relate with the strong American accents of these kids. So was seeing tanks, soldiers with guns, being frisked and checked at various points, difficult to handle.

One takes one's freedom for granted - freedom to speak, to write, to travel around, to live life the way one wants, to believe in one's beliefs ... everyday normal stuff. Until one encounters a Kabul. Until one listens to the everyday stories of people. Until one witnesses the results of human need for power and control over another.

What kind of futures would the young ones have? What will they grow up to be? What happens to the wounds that the hearts and spirits carry - of witnessing whole families wiped out, of the treatment which mothers, sisters and aunts received. What would be their God? What right does another human have to walk into your homes and lay it in ruins?

One feels deep compassion and a deep sympathy for a people of such a nation. An admiration for the endurance of the human spirit, the ability to adapt and adjust and find happiness in whatever one can, fly kites and hear songs, fiercely grasping at the little that comes their way ....

Kabul is a testimony to the human spirit !

Sunday, July 12, 2009

School Mints

My daughter’s School’s Chairman was roughed up by parents.

Andhra Pradesh proposes a fee ceiling for private schools.

My daughter’s current school Timpany, is supposedly one of the better schools in Visakhapatnam. When she started school there was much debate about which school she should go to. And I remember poring over lists, speaking to various parents, friends and researching other sources. At the end of it, we decided that our daughter should go to another school, Visakha Valley School.

What decided our choice was an excellent argument from one of our friends. She said every school has its good teachers and bad teachers. And your child will be concerned about the teachers. The management of the school makes for a good school or a bad school and the child never comes in contact with the management. Hence no matter which school you choose, the quality of teaching will not be much different. I found that excellent advice. We chose a school which had much better ambience, larger, free and open spaces, and with smaller class strengths. And we never regretted our decision.

Timpany, however, seems to be part of her fate. She went to Timpany for her 11th and 12th class as this school offered the combination of subjects which we wanted. And that’s where we got embroiled in the management problems. Timpany has a history of management problems. With stories of the director embezzling funds to now this insane fee-hike.

Timpany, this year, arbitrarily increased its fees by 80%. Without prior information to parents. Suddenly. When we opened the fee book in June we saw that the fees have been almost doubled. The management had played clever and dirty. They waited until June. They did not inform anyone. We could not pull our kids out of the school and take them elsewhere. We were stuck. The problem was the method adopted. The slyness and underhand way of going about the monumental increase in fees. Parents with 2 or 3 kids in school would feel a major crunch.

The parent’s association has raised a hue and cry. They have been fighting the management, have brought orders from the District Department of Education. But to no avail. The management is adamant, inspite of ‘dharnas’ in front of the school.

In this context and atmosphere, the AP government’s proposal for a fee ceiling is welcome. Private schools have become places of rip-offs. They charge incredibly high fees, but the quality of teachers is less than mediocre. For eg. the teachers of the two most difficult subjects for my daughter – maths and accounts, are much less than mediocre. The children do not understand a word of what is being taught. And we spend tons on tuitions. Classroom and toilet conditions, simple comfort levels, attention to non-academic and creative activities etc. are much less than adequate.

Education, has become like politics. A dirty place. A quick, fast way of making huge money, and a no-options situation for the public. A mint for the owner. With so much push and awareness about education, every parent now, whatever economic situation, vies for the best education for the child. But do we get it ? Education has remained mediocre. Teaching methodologies, management policies, classroom and school conditions have not shown the escalation that the fees have shown.

I am not even going into education and its impact on the child – that is another can of worms.

Under these conditions, what is the common (wo)man supposed to do ?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Waiting for succor …

There is a battle going on … between the State government of Bihar and the Centre. On the issue of Central assistance to the State for the rehabilitation of the Kosi flood victims. If we remember, the Kosi floods of August 2008 had displaced 30 lakhs people and destroyed over 3 lakh homes, and laid thousands of acres of fertile land silted and barren.
The current issue being fought over is the size of the Centre’s rehab package – 1,010 crores as against the 14,000 + crores which was asked. The figures are mind-boggling.

The post-Kosi floods situation was heart-rending. Millions of people – children, old, disabled, women and men were marooned for over a month. In December, when we visited, the water was still flowing and hadn’t entirely subsided. That picture itself was frightening. And the hard winter was still not upon the people, who lived in make-shift, non-existent homes.

What was immediately evident was that Bihar had a major, major problem on its hands. The problem was a double-edged sword – there were no homes to shelter and no land to cultivate, which translated into no food and no money to rebuild. With no other alternative livelihood options around (the area is almost entirely dependent on agriculture), the people were just starving. Their only option was State-assistance. The State government valiantly put up relief shelters. But seeing no way opening up, closed down the shelter within a couple of months. The people were sent back to their villages – villages which were still under water, quite often inaccessible, and with no option of earning a day’s food.

There was silent panic all around.

One would expect that the State would galvanize itself and provide the basic assistance that the people needed. Being very much rural, majority of the homes are built with bamboo, thatch and other natural materials. People needed quick, simple homes (that cost not more than Rs.10,000) and quick options for making a livelihood.

But the Bihar government was negotiating with the Centre for a BIG package. The figures being bandied around were for 2.5 to 3 lakhs per home with additional funds for land reclamation and infrastructure building. The argument being if Tamil Nadu could do it, so can Bihar. What was forgotten was the scale – 50,000 against 3,00,000 homes.

The issue was that the State had yet to utilize its funds lying unused under the Indira Awas Yojana. With an additional package from the Centre, the State could get back on its feet. NGOs and people were pushing for solutions that were workable.

It is July 2009 now. The hard winter is past. The monsoon is now upon the people. And the State and the Centre are still embroiled in a battle of what it should get and give. While the people have emptied the villages and have moved and migrated in search of a life. For whom will the State rebuild? Who will get the rehabilitation package?

Why can't we work together ?

It is not about not being able to work together, walk together, journey together. It is not about not being able to build together, energise together. All this is possible. Like Suhail said, if we recognize that we are parts of a larger whole, and that whatever we do goes to nourish the larger whole, then it is possible.

At the moment we are fragmented, because the ‘pay-off’ or the profit is defined to be ‘personal’. One’s personal power comes from personal growth. The reigning need of an individual, organization or community then is ‘personal’ and hence all activities and energies go into that which will ‘personalize’ and ‘individualize’. However if the ‘pay-off’ is (re)defined to be communal, and profit is contextualized and situated in the communal, the tendency would be to communitize and communalize.

We, as a society, are still in an young stage. As the young child’s world is defined by its personal needs, the society is defined by personal needs. We are still in the me-and-mine stage. We are growing, no doubt about it. It is evident across the centuries, across the various civilizations. Each have ‘grown’ over the other. We still have a way to go before we can truly become ‘communal’ or ‘social’. Way to go, before we can socio-psychologically feel confident enough to define the world beyond ourselves.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Armchair causes

Once in a way, I get these invitations for causes on facebook. Initially, I took the trouble to read what it was and even went to the extent of joining few. But now I am beginning to question these 'click for a cause' causes.

Does the money it promises really go to the cause promised? That is one basic question. But beyond this is what this kind of initiatives have done to us - it has turned millions into armchair philanthrophists. We click and believe we have contributed to a cause. And we forget it. We don't even bother to check what really happens to it. There are no updates about what is happening to the so-called cause. Whether it earned what it promised. There is no place that shows the list of people who have clicked-and-contributed. Nothing. Except probably collecting profile data for some marketing gimmick.

It has done what it promises to us - somewhere it has satisfied our need to be relevant. We believe we have done our best. We haven't had to deal with the realities that causes otherwise have. We also get to announce to the world how much we care.

Another symptom of a Facebook Society.