True News|Apr 22, 2009 1:06 PM| by:

Because, He Saw Them Standing There…

Delhi-Project Why-Dec09-IMG_4660

Anuradha Goburdhun Bakhshi says she is paying back a debt to India. But that is strange accounting. She hardly owes anything to this land—unless you count her lineage. Her great grandfather shipped out to Mauritius from Bihar over a century ago as an indentured labourer. By the time she was born in Prague the family had prospered. Her father Sri Ram Goburdhun—a judge—had heeded a call by Pandit Nehru, taken Indian citizenship and become a diplomat. Anuradha—an Ambassador’s daughter—was raised in the lap of luxury in world capitals. She spoke French before she spoke Hindi or English. Life was a lark with cruises, parties, fine dining and savouring of classics. Marriage to a rising executive meant postings abroad again. As the French translator to Indira and Rajiv Gandhi and with connections in high places her life seemed to drift closer to the clouds.

Yet today, she spends her waking hours in Delhi’s Giri Nagar slums, battles to raise money for her adopted brood of 500 young people and rides a three wheeler to the courts, to donors, to reach Page-3 people and anyone who might further the cause of her wards. Anuradha’s story reveals the way India weaves her magic over those that display the slightest affection for her.

Asking ‘why?’

Her sense of indebtedness to India is perhaps inevitable given her forbears. Goverdhan Singh—labourer No.354495—who shipped out to Mauritius in 1871 on S S Nimrod never forgot his village Barka Koppa, District Patna. He returned to take a bride—and dig a well for his village. Anuradha’s maternal stream in the meanwhile, was outspokenly nationalist. Her grandfather Gopinath Sinha, a freedom fighter, made jail going a commonplace. Her mother to be—Kamala—had sworn she would not marry in an enslaved India. When India did become free, Kamala was 30 and a Red Cross truck driver running errands to mitigate the rigours of one of India’s many famines that the British had neither the inclination nor the wit to prevent. In 1948, Ram Goburdhan—a barrister at law from the Inner Temple and a licentiate from the University of Lille—took Indian citizenship and began a career as new India’s envoy.

Anuradha says her father’s distance from India gave him a romantic outlook and her mother’s more recent experience of it made her a sturdy realist. Even as they exposed their only child to the rationalism and fine arts of the West, they laced her life with an Indian-ness. It was an influence she was unaware of through a rebellious teens and effortless successes in academics: upon her parents’ insistence she qualified for the IAS and having proved to them her ability, refused to join it. Marriage, two children and a glamorous career as interpreter followed. Then, quite quickly between 1990 and 1992 both her parents died.

Her father’s last words to her were: “don’t ever lose faith in India.” Her mother—ever the realist—left her a vignette: “when I was the young child of a poor priest, my cousins were wealthy. They would grudgingly give me a sweet-meat but only after pointedly licking it on all sides. Don’t ever forget that such pettiness happens all the time in this land. They can scar lives.”

With parents suddenly removed, Anuradha discovered that life was a serious matter. Her grief and reflections on her parents’ values brought on a physical stress, a depression even. A few years before, she had visited Barka Koppa and was treated to the most exuberant bonhomie by her just re-discovered kinsmen. And yet all around her was some of the most casual inhumanity. Lost for answers, she became a near physical wreck. Was it a psychosomatic consequence of bereavement? Her physician had no such doubts: he pronounced her ailment ‘spondylitis’ and fitted her with a collar. Anuradha wore it for the next several years and cultivated a suitable stoop. In 1998 her younger daughter Shamika who had thriven in European schools found herself a misfit in an Indian school. Anuradha took her out of the system. The list of ‘whys’ was lengthening.

Manu shows the way

She decided to ‘do something’. “I shall deliver nutritious biscuits to scrawny children everywhere,” she told herself. She began a trust named after her father, canvassed wealthy sponsors and the project lurched along. But somehow it seemed too superficial. There was more down there that needed to be faced. And that evaded grasp. So the collar stayed.

One day in 2001, an acquaintance steered her to a healer in Giri Nagar slums. The lady, a poor Nepalese whom Anuradha calls Mataji, was direct. “Your collar is a decoy and leads you away from what you should be doing. Get rid of it and start examining yourself through involved work for the needy.” And that wisdom from a simple, unlettered, poor woman instantly turned Anuradha’s life around. The collar came off after 9 years, without further ado. The bemusedly named Project Why happened the moment she met Manu, the young man who would provide a meaning to her life.

She met him as she sat waiting for Mataji. “Though physically and mentally challenged, Manu had spent a happy early childhood, tended and cared for by his mother,” she says. “Mother passed away when he was a young lad. His sisters in their own way cared for him too but they were married off at an early age by their alcoholic father. Manu lived on the street, dirty, soiled, and neglected. The neighbours fed him, but like one would feed an animal. Children threw stones at him. He was abused in all conceivable ways. Manu was made to beg but the money was snatched away from him. No one touched him, no one hugged him. He learned to bear it all. When things became too much, he let out the most heart rending cry that no one heard.”

Manu precipitated the most deafeningly loud “why?”. Anuradha rented a hovel and began to care for him. Manu being washed, cared for and loved became a curious novelty. Soon other parents brought their handicapped wards. Coming everyday with Shamika to Giri Nagar taught Anuradha ways to do things without complaining, agonising or imagining enemies. A wealthy friend—who refuses to be named—bought her a shanty for Rs.70,000 and the Sri Ram Goburdhun Trust had a permanent home. Anuradha’s inheritance too began to flow through her work.

Coming back to our enquiry, ‘why’ do Manus happen? Anuradha began to get some answers. They happen because poor adults are without hope and their children will forever remain out of the ‘good’ jobs loop. Because schooling for the poor, where it does exist, begins with the presumption that they can never be taught the core skills that good jobs need. Shamika’s experience, terrible though it was, at least did not include corporal punishment and mockery to which the poor are subject. Anuradha saw Shamika blossoming when once she was filled with responsibility, purpose and optimism. Why then, won’t the poor?

Project Why began offering real education to the merely school-going. Available to all is the immensely popular English speaking course. Then with machines donated by friends, a computer centre started at which children clamour for their turn. Today there are over 500 children taught by 35 teachers. Children going to the afternoon schools come to Project Why in the mornings and the morning schoolers come in the afternoon. Attendance is near 100% and enthusiasm for learning bubbles through. Beneficiaries are toddlers to Plus-2 students. Teachers are almost entirely slum raised folks; they need to have passed Class-8 at a minimum, but many are graduates and there is even a Masters. There are about fifteen children with various handicaps, who are ferried in Project Why’s three wheeler, washed and fed and taught. The monthly budget of Rs.85,000 goes mostly as handsome teacher salaries—between Rs.1500 and Rs.3000—and rentals for the five or so shacks that are rented. So Project Why is creating a cadre of slum based teachers, trained to be creative and human.

“We don’t realise how much a dysfunctional school system contributes to social discord,” says Anuradha. “The formal schools in fact end up convincing children that learning is beyond them. Add to that the abuse, mockery and caning and you have the perfect recipe for future outlaws.” She was puzzled in the early days, that students would proffer their text books and ask her to ‘underline’ passages. Then she realised that this was the standard teaching method in their schools: a teacher would underline and her students would memorise those lines. There was no other effort to teach. Even the pathetic pass mark of 33% was a difficult hurdle. Children discovered they had ‘failed’ as early as age-10. They accepted a life away from the mainstream.
In under three years Project Why’s personal attention has changed all that. In the recent school examinations, pass percentage among the Project Why children was 98%. More and more parents are bringing their children over and more neighbourhoods are asking Project Why to start branches there. At Giri Nagar there is a PTA, an Annual Day, street sports, cultural programmes, picnics and above all dollops of cheer and hope.

More than a Centre

Main Street Giri Nagar throbs with energy radiating from Project Why offices. Loud sing alongs of children, people bustling about purposefully and neighbours pitching in to help are everyday happenings. But early days were not so. Anuradha faced surliness and deep distrust. She was evicted from a park where she used to hold classes, driven out by shack-owners and even openly abused. But she has stood her ground and won the neighbourhood over. ‘Lala’ Baburam now a mild mannered employee running the crafts shop, says he thought Anuradha was seeking religious conversions. Many others like him greet her warmly today.

She calls Rani—a Giri Nagar local—her ‘executive assistant’. Rani takes care of the roster, time tables and very frequently, finding a home that would host a class in a hurry. There are constant improvisations to survive and run the classes. Rani says cheerfully, “Majboori ka naam Mahatma Gandhi!” [“When you face an obstacle, invoke Mahatma Gandhi”]. Bernie handles the external world: donors, visitors and the correspondence. Young Shamika is happiest caring for children with debilities and teaching English to eager eyed classes.

Money is of course a constant worry as Anuradha must spring Rs.85,000 every month. Whenever she is short—which is often—she dips into her inheritance. But she says it’s worth it and very satisfying. It sure must be, for she seldom dismisses a problem as not being hers.

For example, a small tribe of Gadiya Lohars have lived for close to fifty years on Kalkaji Road foot-paths. They are registered voters, have ration cards and yet are regularly hounded by petty municipal officials. Anuradha speaks up for their rights: “They are such a handsome, gentle people. They are itinerant blacksmiths. They used to follow armies in their exquisitely carved carts—’gadiyas’—and service the arms and the horseshoes. Now they are treated as undesirables. They have a right to existence.” When three year old Utpal’s indifferent mother ignored his safety, the poor boy fell into boiling curry and sustained third degree burns. Project Why jumped in, treated Utpal and nursed him back to his smiling ways again. There is young Hussain a runaway from Bihar, who began as a floor sweeper at a computer company, got interested and has mastered enough to teach computers to others. Two young children went missing one evening and were found dead in a drain. Anuradha marched into the police station to impress that death of two poor children was no less important than others. She meets with social activists and lawyers to pursue the poor’s rights. She organises fund raisers and keeps exploring ways and means to make her project self sustaining. Problems pop-up on a daily basis. Cities are places where conflicts are endemic. Anuradha however will wrestle with every injustice, every sadness, explore every promise that crosses her path, bringing in a Western clarity and an Indian sensitivity.

It’s been worth it because Manu has begun to smile again. She says it means he has forgiven his tormentors. And wonders if life’s purpose is to earn the forgiveness of the wronged ones. If that sounds too negative, how about it being an endeavour to enfold everyone into the picture? Anuradha says that but for the accident of that ancestor on S S Nimrod, she too would be out there battling life. She is now trying to arrange such happy accidents for the 500 under her care.

(Published with kind permission of www.goodnewsindia.com where you will find many positive stories on India.)
(For further information contact www.projectwhy.org)

 

Anuradha Goburdhun Bakhshi says she is paying back a debt to India. But that is strange accounting. She hardly owes anything to this land—unless you count her lineage. Her great grandfather shipped out to Mauritius from Bihar over a century ago as an indentured labourer. By the time she was born in Prague the family had prospered. Her father Sri Ram Goburdhun—a judge—had heeded a call by Pandit Nehru, taken Indian citizenship and become a diplomat. Anuradha—an Ambassador’s daughter—was raised in the lap of luxury in world capitals. She spoke French before she spoke Hindi or English. Life was a lark with cruises, parties, fine dining and savouring of classics. Marriage to a rising executive meant postings abroad again. As the French translator to Indira and Rajiv Gandhi and with connections in high places her life seemed to drift closer to the clouds. 

Yet today, she spends her waking hours in Delhi’s Giri Nagar slums, battles to raise money for her adopted brood of 500 young people and rides a three wheeler to the courts, to donors, to reach Page-3 people and anyone who might further the cause of her wards. Anuradha’s story reveals the way India weaves her magic over those that display the slightest affection for her. 

Asking ‘why?’

Her sense of indebtedness to India is perhaps inevitable given her forbears. Goverdhan Singh—labourer No.354495—who shipped out to Mauritius in 1871 on S S Nimrod never forgot his village Barka Koppa, District Patna. He returned to take a bride—and dig a well for his village. Anuradha’s maternal stream in the meanwhile, was outspokenly nationalist. Her grandfather Gopinath Sinha, a freedom fighter, made jail going a commonplace. Her mother to be—Kamala—had sworn she would not marry in an enslaved India. When India did become free, Kamala was 30 and a Red Cross truck driver running errands to mitigate the rigours of one of India’s many famines that the British had neither the inclination nor the wit to prevent. In 1948, Ram Goburdhan—a barrister at law from the Inner Temple and a licentiate from the University of Lille—took Indian citizenship and began a career as new India’s envoy. 

Anuradha says her father’s distance from India gave him a romantic outlook and her mother’s more recent experience of it made her a sturdy realist. Even as they exposed their only child to the rationalism and fine arts of the West, they laced her life with an Indian-ness. It was an influence she was unaware of through a rebellious teens and effortless successes in academics: upon her parents’ insistence she qualified for the IAS and having proved to them her ability, refused to join it. Marriage, two children and a glamorous career as interpreter followed. Then, quite quickly between 1990 and 1992 both her parents died. 

Her father’s last words to her were: “don’t ever lose faith in India.” Her mother—ever the realist—left her a vignette: “when I was the young child of a poor priest, my cousins were wealthy. They would grudgingly give me a sweet-meat but only after pointedly licking it on all sides. Don’t ever forget that such pettiness happens all the time in this land. They can scar lives.” 

With parents suddenly removed, Anuradha discovered that life was a serious matter. Her grief and reflections on her parents’ values brought on a physical stress, a depression even. A few years before, she had visited Barka Koppa and was treated to the most exuberant bonhomie by her just re-discovered kinsmen. And yet all around her was some of the most casual inhumanity. Lost for answers, she became a near physical wreck. Was it a psychosomatic consequence of bereavement? Her physician had no such doubts: he pronounced her ailment ‘spondylitis’ and fitted her with a collar. Anuradha wore it for the next several years and cultivated a suitable stoop. In 1998 her younger daughter Shamika who had thriven in European schools found herself a misfit in an Indian school. Anuradha took her out of the system. The list of ‘whys’ was lengthening. 

Manu shows the way

She decided to ‘do something’. “I shall deliver nutritious biscuits to scrawny children everywhere,” she told herself. She began a trust named after her father, canvassed wealthy sponsors and the project lurched along. But somehow it seemed too superficial. There was more down there that needed to be faced. And that evaded grasp. So the collar stayed. 

One day in 2001, an acquaintance steered her to a healer in Giri Nagar slums. The lady, a poor Nepalese whom Anuradha calls Mataji, was direct. “Your collar is a decoy and leads you away from what you should be doing. Get rid of it and start examining yourself through involved work for the needy.” And that wisdom from a simple, unlettered, poor woman instantly turned Anuradha’s life around. The collar came off after 9 years, without further ado. The bemusedly named Project Why happened the moment she met Manu, the young man who would provide a meaning to her life. 

She met him as she sat waiting for Mataji. “Though physically and mentally challenged, Manu had spent a happy early childhood, tended and cared for by his mother,” she says. “Mother passed away when he was a young lad. His sisters in their own way cared for him too but they were married off at an early age by their alcoholic father. Manu lived on the street, dirty, soiled, and neglected. The neighbours fed him, but like one would feed an animal. Children threw stones at him. He was abused in all conceivable ways. Manu was made to beg but the money was snatched away from him. No one touched him, no one hugged him. He learned to bear it all. When things became too much, he let out the most heart rending cry that no one heard.” 

Manu precipitated the most deafeningly loud “why?”. Anuradha rented a hovel and began to care for him. Manu being washed, cared for and loved became a curious novelty. Soon other parents brought their handicapped wards. Coming everyday with Shamika to Giri Nagar taught Anuradha ways to do things without complaining, agonising or imagining enemies. A wealthy friend—who refuses to be named—bought her a shanty for Rs.70,000 and the Sri Ram Goburdhun Trust had a permanent home. Anuradha’s inheritance too began to flow through her work. 

Coming back to our enquiry, ‘why’ do Manus happen? Anuradha began to get some answers. They happen because poor adults are without hope and their children will forever remain out of the ‘good’ jobs loop. Because schooling for the poor, where it does exist, begins with the presumption that they can never be taught the core skills that good jobs need. Shamika’s experience, terrible though it was, at least did not include corporal punishment and mockery to which the poor are subject. Anuradha saw Shamika blossoming when once she was filled with responsibility, purpose and optimism. Why then, won’t the poor? 

Project Why began offering real education to the merely school-going. Available to all is the immensely popular English speaking course. Then with machines donated by friends, a computer centre started at which children clamour for their turn. Today there are over 500 children taught by 35 teachers. Children going to the afternoon schools come to Project Why in the mornings and the morning schoolers come in the afternoon. Attendance is near 100% and enthusiasm for learning bubbles through. Beneficiaries are toddlers to Plus-2 students. Teachers are almost entirely slum raised folks; they need to have passed Class-8 at a minimum, but many are graduates and there is even a Masters. There are about fifteen children with various handicaps, who are ferried in Project Why’s three wheeler, washed and fed and taught. The monthly budget of Rs.85,000 goes mostly as handsome teacher salaries—between Rs.1500 and Rs.3000—and rentals for the five or so shacks that are rented. So Project Why is creating a cadre of slum based teachers, trained to be creative and human. 

“We don’t realise how much a dysfunctional school system contributes to social discord,” says Anuradha. “The formal schools in fact end up convincing children that learning is beyond them. Add to that the abuse, mockery and caning and you have the perfect recipe for future outlaws.” She was puzzled in the early days, that students would proffer their text books and ask her to ‘underline’ passages. Then she realised that this was the standard teaching method in their schools: a teacher would underline and her students would memorise those lines. There was no other effort to teach. Even the pathetic pass mark of 33% was a difficult hurdle. Children discovered they had ‘failed’ as early as age-10. They accepted a life away from the mainstream. 
In under three years Project Why’s personal attention has changed all that. In the recent school examinations, pass percentage among the Project Why children was 98%. More and more parents are bringing their children over and more neighbourhoods are asking Project Why to start branches there. At Giri Nagar there is a PTA, an Annual Day, street sports, cultural programmes, picnics and above all dollops of cheer and hope. 

More than a Centre

Main Street Giri Nagar throbs with energy radiating from Project Why offices. Loud sing alongs of children, people bustling about purposefully and neighbours pitching in to help are everyday happenings. But early days were not so. Anuradha faced surliness and deep distrust. She was evicted from a park where she used to hold classes, driven out by shack-owners and even openly abused. But she has stood her ground and won the neighbourhood over. ‘Lala’ Baburam now a mild mannered employee running the crafts shop, says he thought Anuradha was seeking religious conversions. Many others like him greet her warmly today. 

She calls Rani—a Giri Nagar local—her ‘executive assistant’. Rani takes care of the roster, time tables and very frequently, finding a home that would host a class in a hurry. There are constant improvisations to survive and run the classes. Rani says cheerfully, “Majboori ka naam Mahatma Gandhi!” [“When you face an obstacle, invoke Mahatma Gandhi”]. Bernie handles the external world: donors, visitors and the correspondence. Young Shamika is happiest caring for children with debilities and teaching English to eager eyed classes. 

Money is of course a constant worry as Anuradha must spring Rs.85,000 every month. Whenever she is short—which is often—she dips into her inheritance. But she says it’s worth it and very satisfying. It sure must be, for she seldom dismisses a problem as not being hers.

For example, a small tribe of Gadiya Lohars have lived for close to fifty years on Kalkaji Road foot-paths. They are registered voters, have ration cards and yet are regularly hounded by petty municipal officials. Anuradha speaks up for their rights: “They are such a handsome, gentle people. They are itinerant blacksmiths. They used to follow armies in their exquisitely carved carts—’gadiyas’—and service the arms and the horseshoes. Now they are treated as undesirables. They have a right to existence.” When three year old Utpal’s indifferent mother ignored his safety, the poor boy fell into boiling curry and sustained third degree burns. Project Why jumped in, treated Utpal and nursed him back to his smiling ways again. There is young Hussain a runaway from Bihar, who began as a floor sweeper at a computer company, got interested and has mastered enough to teach computers to others. Two young children went missing one evening and were found dead in a drain. Anuradha marched into the police station to impress that death of two poor children was no less important than others. She meets with social activists and lawyers to pursue the poor’s rights. She organises fund raisers and keeps exploring ways and means to make her project self sustaining. Problems pop-up on a daily basis. Cities are places where conflicts are endemic. Anuradha however will wrestle with every injustice, every sadness, explore every promise that crosses her path, bringing in a Western clarity and an Indian sensitivity.

It’s been worth it because Manu has begun to smile again. She says it means he has forgiven his tormentors. And wonders if life’s purpose is to earn the forgiveness of the wronged ones. If that sounds too negative, how about it being an endeavour to enfold everyone into the picture? Anuradha says that but for the accident of that ancestor on S S Nimrod, she too would be out there battling life. She is now trying to arrange such happy accidents for the 500 under her care.


(Published with kind permission of www.goodnewsindia.com where you will find many positive stories on India.)

(Sri Ram Goburdhun Charitable Trust
email:[email protected]; url:projectwhy.org
)

  • http://Website Sreeladi

    Remarkable!