Meeting Mili

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“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Gandhi

It was Wednesday evening. Amber and I were trying to hurriedly squeeze our way through the mob of passengers at Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station. Somewhere in the middle of cribbing about the chaos and regretting having entered from the Sarai Kale Khan side, which is apparently more dirty, our eyes fell upon some movement on the floor. It was a dog. It was a full grown female mix breed dog. But that’s not important. What’s important is that she was in pitiable state and we couldn’t help but stop to take a closer look at her.

She was dehrydrated; so dehydrated that all her skin had been sucked in through her bones. The slightest movement of her body clearly seemed to be very taxing for her. When we offered her some milk and biscuits, she tried to get up and awkwardly walk towards the food only to realise that she was too devoid of energy to be able to eat. We offered her water and she tried her best to drink some. Her hind legs were giving her away and she was slipping at every small step. What added to her woes was an injury above her eyebrow and a heavily discharging eye.

It was even more heart wrenching to see was the fact that people were in such a hurry that without even realising, most of them were stepping on her tail or brushing their heavy baggage against her. With no strength whatsoever, the poor dog could not cry out, or growl or bark at them. So she just lay there, bearing whatever came her way.

In my heart I knew that there was no way that I was going to turn my back on her and walk away in ignorant bliss. So after quickly making whatever enquiries we had gone to the railway station to make, Amber went about looking for some cloth or a jute sack to help lift her and carry her in our car. Meanwhile, I stood there, shielding her from ignorant passersby, taking in their jerks and jolts like a good old shock-absorber, while our dog lay there catching a quick disturbance free nap!

Very soon, she was sitting in our car’s backseat after a very cute ride in Amber’s arms, all wrapped up in a jute rag. While we drove her down to Friendicoes, a Delhi based NGO for animals, we christened her Mili!

At Friendicoes, while she was being injected for the drip, Amber gently patted her and said, “Koi baat nahi, sabb theek ho jaayega” (Don’t worry, everything will be alright) and I could see Mili wag her tail that very instant. Elated, we showered her with some more love and she gracefully understood and soaked in every ounce of it.

We clicked a picture of Mili, for our family album and bade her goodbye.

Back home, Bhalu and Hachi, our 5 month old pups, were happy that we were back. As they checked and inspected the new smell on our hands, they seemed to understand what Mommy & Daddy had been up to and they seemed mighty proud. I sense that unlike most human children, doggies seem to like that their human mom & dad are good to other doggies as well.

As I think about her today I realise that Mili, like any other mother, had drained herself out  while bearing and feeding and nurturing and protecting her babies, several times over the years. So much so, that she had forgotten to save any energy for her own well-being. Lying at the railway station amid constant hurt and insult is not the life a mother ought to have. I am glad she finally called out to us for help. I am praying for a speedy recovery for Mili and hopefully a more respectable life ahead.

Mothers, after all, are God’s greatest Gift to Mankind and each of them deserves a life full of love.

A day at the Brothel

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One night there was a special mail from my dear friend, Pratyush, that read

Would like to invite you to an afternoon of art and fun with kids on Feb 2 (Sat). Pls read on for more details.

Time: 2-5 pm

Location: GB road, Delhi (will meet at New Delhi metro station, 0.5 kms from there)

Background

Our dear sister Gitanjali (she came to the 1st Awakin also) has been engaging with the didis (sex workers) and their kids in Delhi’s red light area on GB road. In terms of project activities in the past 1 year, she has focused on developing tailoring skills among the didis (the ones interested and allowed to come) and also providing an environment for their kids that is conducive to fun and learning. They do quite a bit with the approx. 20 kids now that some more volunteers have joined in (dance, art, school subjects, etc) Its been quite a journey for her and the group, one that we cannot imagine!!! At some point later, hope to hear her story J

Among the various ripples that the group’s fearlessness and determination has generated, one has been that a brothel owner has given them a space for the kids, on the top floor. This ‘play school’ area is at present barren, and can be made more child-friendly! So, we thought of inviting our dear ones over to come and unleash the artist in them! And, of course, spend time with the kids J

At that moment, I did not stop to think about the ‘red light area’ part or the ‘sex workers’ part as I was too consumed in my excitement to get crafty and  to creatively do up a certain space. Never having seen a brothel before, I was quite oblivious to what was in store for me. Saturday morning was all about brainstorming about the possible crafts, making a list, hopping to the closest market and getting down to some pre-preparations. By 1pm, I was all set to go with my box full of craft goodies.

As our car entered GB road, we were taken aback by the sight of the sex workers waving from window grills from above the line of shops on the ground floor. A chill ran down my spine. Just then, Pratyush came in, helped us park and showed us the way to the staircase leading to one of the brothels. The climb to the topmost floor where the children were waiting seemed to take a lifetime. The dark green walls, the women sitting around, the man leaving hurriedly, the claustrophobia had me shivering from top to toe. I was clenching Amber’s hand as tight as a tick!

By the time, I met the kids, I was dumbstruck. So I went about decorating the place and making it look more creative and colourful, all with shivering hands and stammer in my speech. But as time passed, I realised how these children were no different from any other children I’ve ever met. The boys were naughty, smart and proactive while the girls were shy, patient and artistic just like in most homes and neighbourhoods.

Some of the Didis too came upstairs and one of them sat with us to make a beautiful piece of art. They were all pleasant and kind and quite oblidged to see so many of us contributing. But you know what I think? It is us who should be immensely grateful to them for facing the dark side of brutes, the shame of the society and freeing us to enjoy the good life.

I found myself regretting all the times I would have in my mind abused another woman to be a ‘whore’. You see, it isn’t an abuse at all! Whores are women with a profession that earns them a livelihood. They take in their stride, various forms of frustration and desperation, which otherwise maybe you or me would have had to face. Can we not give them a little respect, if nothing else?

If I had stopped to think about the consequences of visiting a brothel, maybe I would have turned down Pratyush’s invitation. But my ignorance dragged me there and I am glad I was able to help make a very small yet significant difference in their lives. Hats off to Gitanjali and her team for being so dedicated in their cause.

Turning a blind eye to such a glaring reality of our society is anything but praiseworthy. Wouldn’t it be a beautiful world if we saw all the diverse aspects of our society, free of judgement, and learnt to give each human being his/her due respect and acceptance.

Yes, it would be!

Valentine’s Day – not so cheesy after all

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The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.
-Mother Teresa

I have always had my prejudices about Valentine’s Day. The red roses, the red hearts, the love poems, the teddy bears, the chocolates have all seemed quite cheesy always. This time around too, I was feeling quite wary of all the pre- Valentine’s hype all over Facebook.

What followed was SOS from Google, where I started reading about the origin and the significance of this day. To my rescue came the simplest answer! Valentine comes from the Latin word ‘valor’ which means worthy. Yes, it is a day to show your love to those who are worthy.

This made beautiful sense and I thought why not make the best of this new found meaning and make the day special for someone worthy, who we otherwise do not acknowledge in our busy day to day lives.

Amber liked the idea too and this is who we wanted to share Valentine’s Day with.

Meet Ma’am Sinha – Amber’s English teacher back in school. She was every child’s favourite. She renounced tuition culture and she never let any child’s morale go low. She was such an inspiring and likable person that students loved attending her classes, unlike most other classes which they would not mind bunking.

Ma’am Sinha, a spinster, used to stay with her sister very close to the St. Aloysius School, in Kanpur. Her blissful life soon took a dip, with family problems and the loss of her dear sister. All the emotional turmoil gave Ma’am Sinha a severe paralytic attack. The right side of her body became close to non-functional. And since that terrible attack in 2001, it is her students from all across the world who have been taking care of her right from finding her a nice home, to her food, regular visits to her, spending time with her and several other countless beautiful ways.

When I visited her for the first time, I was amazed by the grace she still carries, the beauty that is so evident in her manner and her words and the genuine love for all her students that seems to have become her life force now.  Soaking in her timeless love and beauty, time just flew by in conversations and soon we had to take our leave.

We returned to Delhi. Weeks passed by and I kept thinking about her from time to time but never got down to writing to her. So on Valentine’s Day, we bought a beautiful diary, penned in our letters to Ma’am Sinha and shipped the gift to one of the students living in Kanpur who could deliver our package.

On Valentine’s Day, we heard from him saying Ma’am Sinha was touched and very happy to see our little gift and she sends us lots of love, which ofcourse made our day very very special.

So Yes! Valentine’s Day is surely all about love and this time around, I felt the love in the air too!

Belief System in the Real World

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In this Article I would like to share my journey 6 months after SOIL, focusing specifically on the belief system that I had developed and its implications in the real world since then.

Bribing and getting the work done is something that has seeped into every system of our society. While studying at School of Inspired Leadership (SOIL) a lot of emphasis was given on being ethical no matter what may come. We were exposed to lot of live examples of people who have done really well in life by walking the straight path. One of them, with whom we all closely interacted, was the CEO of our school himself, Mr. Anil Sachdev. He in an inspiration to a lot of us and has helped us all strengthen and sometimes develop a belief system to fall back upon.

In the last 6 months I have faced 3 situations where I have been asked for a bribe. I have tried to narrate them below in the best possible way:

Story 1: July 28th 2012, my wife and I boarded the Kolkata Rajdhani from Kanpur at 6:00 AM to go to New Delhi. We settled into our seats when the TC came to check the tickets. He pointed a mistake which was, while booking the tickets I had forgotten to select “Female” for my wife and hence the default entry “male” was reflecting against her name. To clarify further, the TC asked me to come to his seat with a valid Id proof of my wife.

On reaching there, he started telling me how grave a mistake that was and insisted that I should pay the fine and get a new ticket made for my wife. The new ticket would have cost me Rs. 1900, against the standard price of Rs. 1000 because of the fine for boarding the train without a ticket. I apologized to him for my mistake and requested him to cross check all other details and consider this as a genuine mistake. To that he made me an offer of settling the issue by paying Rs.500 as bribe. I politely told him that “neither I nor you will like if I paid a bribe. We keep cribbing about corruption and now we are indulging in it ourselves (and a little more gyan). If you think that it is such a grave mistake then I will buy a new ticket and later file a TDR for the existing one, but I would not pay the bribe”. He had no defence and so he told me that I can go and need not pay anything.

Story 2: November 2nd 2012, my wife and I reached Delhi from Ahmedabad at 7:00 AM in the morning. It being our first Karwa Chauth, we both were fasting and hence had to visit my In Laws, who stay at a 6 hour drive from Delhi, for the ritual. Although we were supposed to leave Delhi by 10:00 AM, things got delayed and we managed to leave only by 1:00 PM. Hungry, thirsty and extremely late, I thought of making up the lost time by putting my foot down on the accelerator. We were on the Delhi-Ambala expressway where the maximum speed is set to 90 KMPH, however I was cruising comfortably at 110 KMPH. Just before we reached Panipat, we were intercepted by the cops for over speeding. As I stopped on the side, I was asked to come out only to be told that my speed was 110 KMPH.

I was informed of the consequences: A fine of Rs.2000 plus my licence to be punched and be collected from some official in Panipat after 15 days. Ignorant of the law, I had assumed that the amount he quoted would be out of the air. I requested him to fine me for Rs1000 and let me go as coming back and collecting the license will be too much of a trouble. He declined my request but proposed that we can “settle” things for Rs.500 without putting anything in the books. I at no point wanted to pay a single penny as bribe and so I told him the same things that neither I nor he would like if I paid a bribe so it’s best that I pay the fine of Rs.2000. I was also willing to let go of my license and collect it later from Panipat after it had been punched. Something happened that minute, he told his colleague to write me a fine of Rs.300 and let me go. While going back to my car, which was parked at some distance, I crossed him again. He shook hands and told me that “See not all policemen are corrupt and there are who don’t take bribe”. I smiled, thanked him and was back on road at the speed of 85 KMPH.

Story 3: December 8th 2012, I was coming back to Delhi from Bhubanaeswar in Purshottam Express. I had a reservation in 2nd Ac however my ticket was under RAC (Reservation Against Cancellation) so for a 30 hour journey, I had to share my seat with another gentleman. On the first night in the train, I was fortunate to get a berth to sleep on, since many passengers were expected to come in the morning and the TC was kind enough to let me grab one for the time being. However, there was hardly any space the next night. I was told to ask the new TC, who would board at Allahabad Station, to allot me a berth to sleep on, if there is one free. The train had been delayed by 6 hours already and so we reached Allahabad at 1:30 AM. I explained the TC my situation only to be told to come back in 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes he allotted me a berth of a person who had not boarded the train from Allahabad. Thanking my stars, I grabbed my stuff to go to the berth and thanked the TC for his generosity. When I reached my berth I could see that he was expecting something more than some appreciation. He asked me to come to see him with my ticket after I am done settling in. I approached him with my e-ticket and his response was “ Oh it’s on mobile, if you had the paper one I would have written your seat number on it, Anyways Kuch Seva kar dijiye” ( Please do some charity by paying me a bribe). With a puppy face and in a very polite manner I replied back saying “Sir, I am sorry but mae Seva nahi karta hun “(I am sorry I don’t do charity). He was taken aback and came back with “Yeh to bahut acchi baat hae ki Seva nahi karte hae aap” ( It is very good that you don’t do charity). That was the end of the conversation and I slept like a baby on my new cherished possession.
Going through these three experiences I learnt that we always have a choice no matter what. The consequence of not paying a bribe can only be losing out on a personal front. In all these three occasions I had either some money or comfort to loose. Also, it was my fault in the first place for not being careful while booking a ticket or over speeding.

I believe that sticking on to the belief system no matter what the situation is important. One will always get compensated much more than we lose. There is no price tag for the satisfaction of doing the right thing that we gain out of such experiences. As humans, sometimes things become very difficult to handle and we break down, but that should not discourage us from still coming back and trying to do the right thing. After all, our failures should only teach us something.

I wanted to share it as I believe that my one year at SOIL has a big role in restoring my belief system. Learning first hand from people who have lived their life trying to do the right thing has highly inspired me. I wanted to express my gratitude to the institution and the belief system that it is trying to inculcate in its students. Thank you for doing that for the country. This is the biggest need of the hour. – Amber Agarwal

Motherhood or not

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“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” 
― Mahatma Gandhi

 

In the spirit of Friday night, Amber and I had gone to catch the 8pm show of Talaash, Amir Khan’s new movie. While returning I began to share my thoughts on motherhood with Amber.

I explained how women are Nurturers by nature. As little girls we shower our love and motherhood on all our toys and dolls and dogs. But as we grow up, we forget this gift within us and start walking on the usual ambitious, self absorbed path to get to the right job, the right guy, the right city, the right possessions and so on. All through, motherhood, which is the love to give and nurture, stays trapped inside us, waiting to be realised as and when we have a child of our own.

Something in me said this wasn’t God’s initial plan. Love is to be shared, not preserved. Love is meant to be given to whoever needs it and not to be locked up for a special few. Why should a mother be so absorbed in the love for her biological child that she forgets to look beyond and practice the unconditional power she possesses to love.

And while I was going on and on with this saintly sermon of mine, I realised Amber had bought two sets of balloons and was giving them to some children sleeping by the roadside. Their eyes lit up and touched our hearts.

My sermon ofcourse did not need to be completed. I am grateful to Amber for showing me that it isn’t motherhood but parenthood that lies within each of us and can be realised through the countless children of the world.

 

 

Diwali – the light within

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“To give pleasure to a single heart by a single act is better than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” 
― Mahatma Gandhi

 

The custom of giving gifts on Diwali has been around for ages, in all Indian households. Gifts to friends, to helpers and to anyone who helps makes our lives simpler.

So Amber and I set about hunting for the right things to give, keeping a close eye on our budget. We bought warm blankets and sweet boxes for the following people who make each day possible

  • Nirmala aunty, who comes in every morning and makes sure our house stays spic and span. She is the pseudo mother-in-law, who is always looking to guide me with just about everything, from washing onions the right way to customs/rituals and inspiring stories of courage and positivity from her own life. She shares her experience without qualms and if I ever ask her what she needs from me, she blushes and says, “Nothing at all.”
  • Ram Bahadur, who cleans our car and bike every morning after his night shift as the society guard. He has a knack for finding our car, no matter which corner of the society we park it in.
  • Ram Bahadur’s younger brother who serves as the security guard around our house. He only knows Nepali and does not comprehend a word of what we say. But there are times when we go out for a dinner or a movie and we come back, only to find him waiting for us with a nice parking spot he managed to reserve for us. The communication barrier does not seem to stop him from understanding people’s needs and helping in his own way.
  • Ram Bahadur’s older brother, who has been waving and smiling at us from the day we moved into this neighbourhood. There are no actual services he gives us. We just happen to love his presence.
  • Asha aunty, who comes to our neighbourhood with her aged father to make sure we all have perfectly ironed crisp clothes to wear. Her son lost his job recently and has been accompanying his mother these days. Her father’s eyesight is failing but he brings her to work on a scooter each day. Her husband is no more and she is the sole bread winner for her family. There isn’t a day when she does not greet me with her huge infectious smile.
  • And lastly, the Kachre-wale bhaiya whose name we still do not know. We have never seen him on holiday. He is young, has a cool air about him and always looks happy to be taking away our garbage. He seems to have a sense of maturity and sensibility which most people even double his age lack.

 

We gave them their blankets and sweets with a nice warm hug and Diwali greetings. They seemed to be used to the gifts but what caught them unaware were the hugs. And I think that’s what made them smile from ear to ear.

 

During the same time, Amber and I happened to be discussing how in the past we have been very verbal and proactive when it comes to making a complaint about a certain service or individual. But each time we are happy or satisfied, we forget to even appreciate the person responsible.

So we wrote letters of gratitude and appreciation for two people, as gifts for Diwali.

  • Our personal banker, whose first encounter with us was when we were highly dissatisfied with HDFC Bank. He has always been very patient with us and solved all of our problems to the best of his abilities. His courteous ways and simplifying acts have made our banking experience so much smoother. We had been so hasty in expressing our disappointment but we never bothered to express our gratitude. How easy it is to take the good things for granted! So we wrote to his superiors sharing all the wonderful things about him with them.

 

  • The salesman from Policy Bazaar, whom we kept on his toes for a long time before bombarding him with all our questions, queries and doubts to look for the policy most suited to our needs. His unshakable patience and graciousness was worth praising. He was never too tired to run around in circles with us. We usually end up criticizing sales people, as we feel we have to tolerate the constant pestering from them. What we do not realise is – they are just having to do their job and in that they may be the ones having to tolerate our whims and fancies endlessly. And so we expressed our respect and gratitude towards him.

 

All this happily concluded in an interesting & beautiful Diwali. We decorated our house, said our prayers , spent time with friends and celebrated the light within. 

The DOG Family

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“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Gandhi

This September, my husband and I moved into a new rented place. One day our landlords, an old Bengali couple, informed us that they were travelling to Mumbai for a week and we should feed the street dog outside every evening, on their behalf. Being animal lovers, we happily agreed.

That very evening, we were greeted by a frail Indian dog waiting outside, wagging her tail for us. She had very little fur and was constantly biting on the infectious wounds all over her body. This was preventing her wounds from drying. After having fed her milk and bread, we found rescue with Google and stumbled upon a blog describing basic medicines and their dosage for dogs. The next day onwards, we started giving her medicines to dry her wounds, antibiotics to reduce her infections and de-worming to make life a little easy for her.

Our landlords, of course were back but we continued feeding Pagli (if you see her wagging her tail, you would not want to call her anything else either!). Soon, her health improved and so did our bond.

Meanwhile, another dog began paying us a visit. For some reason, which only my husband knows, his name is Paglu! To me Paglu is nothing close to his name. His ways are truly army-like. His walk, his manners, his sense of pride is nowhere close to those of civilians. He would not run behind us. He would wag his tail just once; to let us know that we can feed him if we want. Handsome, groomed and proud, I adopted Paglu the moment I saw him!

We bought two earthen bowls for our new children and feeding them every evening has been a ritual since then. As winters approached, we realised they were having trouble with the cold milk so we began warming the milk and adding eggs to keep them warm through the night.

Some weeks down the line, Pagli stopped coming. I began to get worried that she may have been caught in a road accident. Amber went about looking for her in all possible places but she was nowhere. Then one afternoon, as I was talking to the cylinder-guy from Indane, I saw Pagli jumping from behind the gate, wagging her tail and trying to tell me a million things. As I went closer, everything became crystal clear, as we shared eye contact with our teary eyes. She had given babies. They were hiding right under the cemented drain near our house. Since the last couple of days she had been too weak to come out for food or water. I was so happy for her. She had been a brave girl!

I rushed inside to get her some warm milk and bread. She ate hungrily and came back to me, thanked me with her wagging tail and crawled back into the drain. Following this, Amber and I read up all about nursing dogs in trying to understand basics of feeding them. We realised their appetite increases manifold and so we began feeding her thrice a day.

Her babies are still in hiding. We peeked inside and counted five of them, tucked in each other’s arms. Every time we bring food, we call out for her and she comes out of the drain. That’s when we get to hear the sweet “kooyi kooyi” of her babies.

I am very grateful to Pagli for letting me be a part of her motherhood. Before I have my meals, I feed her. Sometimes When I feel she may be thirsty, I put water outside for her. And then there are other times when she seems too tired to come out and eat. So, we leave some food right outside the drain, to help her conserve energy.

Paglu, on the other hand seems to have softened a bit too. He sees that we wait for him to finish his food so he has started coming and letting us pat him a bit before he heads off to grab his place on one of the car roofs.

As for us, we are happy that Paglu and Pagli came into our lives and chose to love us. Often, we find ourselves discussing them like proud parents. Seeing us, they come jumping and running and there is no better feeling than that.

I cannot wait to meet Paglu and Pagli’s babies and tell them all about their awesome awesome parents!