Tears of Baby Tree

forest 1

এক গাছ-শিশুর কান্না  

কারা যেন পয়সা দিয়ে কিনে নিল মাকে, কাক ভোরে কারা যেন কেটে নিল তাকে,

আমার মা, আমার মা গো, কেউ কি পয়সা দিয়ে আবার মা কিনে নেয়,

কেউ কি পয়সা দিয়ে কারো মা কিনে দেয় |

 

মা যখন ছিল পাশে কত পাখি আসতো  উড়ে একটু বাসার আশে,

বাতাস এসে ভিড় জমাতো মায়ের সবুজ আঁচলে

কেউ কি পয়সা দিয়ে আবার মা কিনে নেয়,

কেউ কি পয়সা দিয়ে কারো মা কিনে দেয় |

 

কত পথিক বসতো এসে মায়ের মধুর মিষ্টি ছায়া ঘেঁষে

আগাছা ঘাসেরা শুতো  মায়ের বিশাল কোলে

কেউ কি পয়সা দিয়ে আবার মা কিনে নেয়,

কেউ কি পয়সা দিয়ে কারো মা কিনে দেয় |

 

বড় হবো আমিও যখন, ওরা আবার আসবে

আমার দুখে তোমরা কি কেউ চোখের জলে ভাসবে ?

বল ভাই, বল ভাই,

কেউ কি পয়সা দিয়ে আবার বোন কিনে নেয় !

১৯৯৪                          – দীপ্তেন্দু মুখোপাধ্যায়

* কচি কাঁচাদের “পরিবেশ শিক্ষা”র কাজে বিভিন্ন গ্রামে এটি ব্যবহৃত হয় |

গানটি শোনার জন্য ক্লিক করুনCLICK

 

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Chinese in Calcutta : Memories Old & Sweet

I was barely 8 years old then.  Come Christmas, my father would take me to a place called Toy Land. This was a small shop located in Brabourne Road, beyond  Writers Building – the Ministers Office. During the Christmas there was a Toy Packet, for distribution among neighbourhood children, sponsored by some benevolent organisation in UK, which was delivered from this shop. It was  perhaps 1962, as I was happily proceeding after collecting the gift packet, I noticed a ground floor office in a paper-lanterns-chinese-new-year-decorations-2large building with broken glass panes and windows… a lot of pedestrians were peeping through the broken windows. I was too short to see much, but nevertheless saw an abandoned office, with deserted office tables, chairs and the sundries. My father explained “this was a Chinese  Bank, once the war started, some people pelted stones.. and the office is now closed and abandoned. .. there is no bank now.”. I  heard that there was a war, but  I was a little confused and asked “But dad, the war is somewhere near the Himalayas …. Why breaking window glasses here …” ? My father did not answer to this but gave me a blank look, and, I was sure he did not approve the idea of breaking windows right here in Calcutta mid-town. Our next place, every year was the China Bazar where we bought some paper-lantern (we had only one variety then)  and some coloured paper. We used to buy them from an old lady from her road-side spread. Those were all home made and there were a few other chinese sellers along side her selling space… there was no formal shop for them. (Last I purchased those was about a decade ago… since then those sellers vanished. In their place there are now stationary shop owners who stock the paper lanterns…… all imported straight from China, available in nicely wrapped packets, and the products are machine made. I surely miss those nice people who made those passionately crafted decoratives.)

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old china bazarIt was late evening. All four of us.. my three elder sisters and myself, were busy preparing our school lessons in our front room when our uncle entered the room. He was working with a paint factory.   “Here is something very special for you” saying this he placed a box on our table. “Try this, this is called Chow Chow….  a chinese preparation…. Very tasty…. Try it.” We all jumped on it and indeed we all agreed that it was very tasty….. our first taste of a Chinese food !

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A decade later I was at a Leadership Camp. It was a camp for university students organized by St. Xaviers College, and, even though I was  studying in another college, I was attending… there were a few more like me from other colleges. During day time there were interesting sessions on leadership, and, in the evening there were cultural exposions.  Singing was my fort, especially hindi film songs, and, obviously this cultural session was my favorite part. There was one Ricky….he played guitar very well who sung many Beatles numbers.. and  he could compose songs instantly. Bangladesh liberation war was on and in one evening Ricky composed a song called “Joi Bangla”… it was a very good rendition and I became his fan. Returning to Calcutta I landed up in his house. His father was a businessman and they lived in a big two storied building in central Calcutta. There after very often I came to his house and we spent good times listening to Beatles on cassette player, and, of course many numbers sung by Ricky live ! He was my first Chinese friend. He explained that their family business is making Electro Magnet, an important component meant  for various industries.

The same year we had a group or Chinese University students, from Hong Kong,  visiting the city on an exposure visit. The entire programme for them was managed by a group of six university students of the city, including myself. We hired a mini-bus for the week-long programme, and, had good fun. We were 16 altogether, 10 chinese and 6 bengalis. Most of us spoke broken English, but we soon realized that language is indeed not a barrier before true friendship !  During the period we went on a long trip to a small village called Khari in Sunderban forest region. The villagers prepared rice and some curries. It was then we realized that our Chinese friends was not used to eat by bare hands, and in any case the villagers did not have so many spoons ! Ranjitda, oneof the villagers, soon worked out quite an innovative way out. He quickly managed to cut nice long thin tree branches, shaped them neatly, and made good chop- sticks, and they all enjoyed the meal !

On the last day of the visit, it was planned to hold a fellowship dinner. There was a restaurant near our home at Garcha  Road called Kim Wah. My good friend Tarun and self went to the place that morning and met the owner. The Chinese gentle man was quite nice and quickly understood our problem. He explained that Chinese food are not very expensive and there are frequent such programme for college goers in his place, and, that we should not feel nervous about the expenses. In the evening when we all reached there was a nice sitting arrangement. Several tables were joined together to give the look of a very large table…. On top there was a white linen. With chairs around it was indeed a gala show. This was the first time we noticed that the place had nice lamp shades … golden-red coloured. There were a number of songs presented by enthusiasts among us,  before we settled for our meal. The menue was mixed chow, mixed fried rice and chilly-chicken…. Only a few full-plates were ordered but very efficiently shared by the restaurant friends. As promised, the bill was not at all expensive…. (And then on for all our gatherings, even now , we go for the same menue) At the end there was a special performance …. Magic Show by one of us … Raja. Raja was studying science at a city college and all along the trip days Raja was very helpful…. He would get down from the bus every time there is a traffic jam and help us to have smooth ride.  His magic items were simple. Piercing a balloon with a long needle… and the balloon would not burst ! Then he will take out various colour ribbons from his mouth…. real long ones…. And finally his special item. He would gulp a long piece of white thread. …. He would then make a slit on his stomach… and then pull out the thread…. Real blood- read in colour ! Clap…..clap……clap !!  At this point Deborah Chou, the youngest Chinese friend shouted with tears on her eyes “oh no, you should not do this trick again…. You can not hurt yourself like this !”  (Little did she know that it is only a hoax, a pre-coloured thread piece was already pasted on Raja’s stomach with a transparent sticky tape, and, then in a dramatic way he only had to make a slit on the tape, to pull the red coloured thread piece !!!)

The next day when we went to the Airport to bid them good bye we were teasing Raja…”Did Deborah said Good Bye to you Raja “!! Before the departure the team leader of the Chinese students said that there should be more to this…. It was suggested by them that one of us should visit Hong Kong on an exposure trip. We all agreed that Raja should get this opportunity. A couple of months later Raja indeed left for Hong Kong. Within a week Raja’s air-mail letter arrived us…. Yes. He had a good time there…. A special mention was there that he visited Deborah’s house….and that her father was a very nice persons.  By next year Raja married Deborah and they lived happily ever-after !

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wellingtonBy next year I got my first job. It was at Bangalore and every one advised me that I should be well dressed… complete with a nice pair of shoes. As usual my good friend Tarun came to my rescue. He told me that he knew of a place, a shoe store… a Chinese “uncle” sells nice shoes at an affordable price, and the styles are quite good for young people like us. The place was on Wellesly Street near Wellington crossing. There was a signboard which simply said “Any Shoe 14.50”! Yes, Rupees Fourteen and fifty paise. I had Rs.20/- with me and guessed I could afford this luxary ! Uncle showed me a large variety and we settled for deep brown crocodile designed shoe. “You may put on and walk around so that you may know whether it was comfortable”… uncle suggested.

Now I was all ready for a new life….. I have entered the earning line !

Leaving No One Behind

Swadhina, our civil society organisation was invited to make a Presentation on Social Issues at an event in Kolkata. This was the final day of the week-long “YWCA-YMCA Week of Prayer, the annual programme of the two world-wide organisations. This was held at the Auditorium of YMCA Calcutta Auditorium. We had a small team – two Narrators, Smita Mukerji and Dipanwita Pal. Others were Supta, Smriti, Antariksh, Anangalekha and AyantikaThe narration of each issue was visually supported by a large Posters, raised aloft which helped the congregation to have a clarity on the issue. Here is the Presentation

Written by Srichandra, and, the photos are by Subhadip Mukerji.

“ Leaving No one Behind”

 Narrator:  Recently the movie ‘Pink’ was much in news. It spoke of equal rights of women, equal chances for women and equal voice for women. Suddenly “Pink” became the colour of empowerment of women and girls. It became the symbolism of an inclusive world – where the rules were same for all. But are we really living in a world that is free of discrimination? To bring forward the real situation, we present here: the colors of change…..

 Song1: Laal Neel Sobujer Mela Boseche (Its a colourful fair – full of red, blue, green)

 dsc_1943Narrator: RED. What does the color Red signify ? In the Indian context red symbolises marriage – a color of warmth and happiness. But ask Sonamoni. For her it is the symbol of dread, symbol of fear, symbol of social stigma. She is an AIDS victim. At the age of twelve she was sold to the red-light area. At the age of twenty she returned to her village, only to be denied medical care or even the basic requirements of food, water and shelter. And Sonamoni is not alone. Consider these facts:

– The estimated number of people living with HIV in India is 2.1 million in 2013 according to UN reports.

– India has the third largest population suffering from HIV/AIDS.

-It is estimated that 70,000 children below the age of 15 infected with 21,000 children being infected through mother-child transmission every year.

– Being one of the biggest driving forces behind social stigma, there have been cases of denial of access to food, using water from common wells or ponds, denial of treatment by hospitals as well as denial of studying in schools.

So, irrespective of the legal security the social truth is that there are thousands of AIDS victims facing a daily death due to our social exclusion. But, it is time we make a change. So what can we do ?

– If we know a person who is HIV positive we ensure that she gets proper treatment at the right place.

– We should not discriminate against anyone that we know having HIV – at schools, colleges, workplace.

– We have t build awareness at every level.

– And be inclusive enough to shake hands and share a warm hug with the one suffering from HIV/AIDS infection.

Let Red be the colour of Hope and Not of Stigma because how I treat my co human beings is how I treat God, and everything I do is a Gift to God.

Song 2: Everything I do is a Gift to God

dsc_1948Narrator: PINK. Pink has always meant a soft colour – a colour for the babies. It is also the colour of Breast Cancer Awareness. And today Pink symbolises the voice of women against violence, voice against suppression, voice against deprivation of health care, education, economic rights. She was 15 years when Lakshmi Aggarwal became a victim of acid attack when she rejected the advance of a man. She had to undergo seven major operations just for survival, leave alone her normal looks which has been damaged permanently. We have been fighting for a gender-equal world , a gender-equal country for a long time but what does the reality project ?

– According to 2015 survey cruelty by husbands and relatives under section 498‐A of Indian Penal Code is the major crime committed against women across the country, with 909,713 cases reported over the last 10 years which means 10 women tortured every hour.

– In year 2014 alone 1,22,877 reported cases of outraging of women’s modesty have been reported in a single year. And mind you, these are just officially reported cases.

– 82,235 rape case have been officially registered in one year in 2014. And there are many more unreported cases.

– 80, 833 cases of dowry related death have been recorded by the police within an year.

– 66% of women have reported some form of sexual harassment or the other in one year.

So, do we just sit back and gape at these reports? Do we just organise seminars and protest marches and then forget about it? No, we need to be proactive , we need to raise our voice.

– Report every case of violence against women that we know of and NO, it is not interference, it is being a responsible human-being.

– Bring up our children equally. If it is curfew time for 10 pm for your daughter, so it should be for your son. If it is a cricket bat for your son, why not for your daughter ?

– Raise your voice for better and women-friendly judicial system and One-stop crisis centres for women victims of violence.

– Build awareness and be aware about issues that affect women but are seldom discussed about – like breast cancer and cervical cancer.

It is time for women to shed social stigma and say ‘let it go’

Song 3: ‘Let it go’

dsc_1950Narrator: GREEN. What is the first thing that comes to mind when we think Green ? Yes, trees and plants. They are our life-givers. But when we say “leaving no one behind?”, do we really think about our environment ? Our trees, flora and fauna? But think about it. If we are moving forward towards development without thinking about our environment, we are only inviting doomsday. In New Delhi recently a near-state of total closure happened due to pollution. The pollution level was so high that inhaling the air was equivalent to intake of smoke of 33 cigarettes per day. And this was not all. Just think of these:

– Indian cities alone generate more than 100 million tons of solid waste a year.

-India is the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, in 2009 at 1.65 Gt per year, after China and the United States.

– The WHO estimated in 2007 that air pollution causes half a million deaths per year in India.

– Over ten million people in India fell ill with waterborne illnesses in 2013 alone, and 1,535 people died, most of them children.

So, friends, isn’t it time that we become conscious citizens of this world ? Isn’t it time that we also think of our environment as we become developed nations ?

–  If you have a car, share it with others as a car pool so that there are less cars travelling at the same time. Also have the pollution emission checked regularly.

– Think Green. Act Green, For that – plant more trees – even if it means placing some little plants in your balcony.

– Build awareness at every level against usage of chemical pesticides.

– Remember and practice the three R s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle when it comes to goods like plastic goods.

We HAVE to do this. Or, else a young sapling will shed it’s silent tears asking for it’s mother tree – ‘Kaara jeno poysha diye kiney nilo maakey’ (Someone bought my mother, by paying some money !)

Song 4: ‘Kaara jeno poysha diye’

dsc_1952Narrator: WHITE. The color white depicts serenity, purity, innocence. And as soon as we say ‘innocence’ we are compelled to think about children. They are God’s divine gift to mankind. But are we giving them equal opportunities to grow up in a blissful manner?

Mahinder was only of eight years old when his father almost ‘sold him’ to a tea stall owner. There he was physically abused daily for two years till he ran away. He then unknowingly joined a gang of petty criminals who in turn sexually abused him for years. Today Mahinder, who is twenty now, is a hardened criminal, languishing in jail.

But it is not Mahinder alone.

– A study report of Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007 has pointed out that 69% of children between the ages of 5-12 have faced physical abuse of some form or the other.

– A study backed by the Indian Government on child sexual abuse have pointed out that 53% of the children in the sample said that they were subjected to one or more forms of sexual abuse and of which 20% were severe and serious forms of abuse.

– It is estimated that 47% of the marriages happening in India are child marriages with the age of the bride being below 18 years. The figure is 69% and 65% in Bihar and Rajasthan respectively.

– Nearly 12 million children in India are married before the age of ten and of them about 44% are illiterate.

But as co-humans we must ensure that the foundation of our tomorrow is safe and for that it is essential to ensure a safer world for children. So, what can we do?

–  Ensure education for children, even if she is not from my family. If we have the capability we must provide for the education for those who cannot afford.

– Report every case of violence and child abuse. Socially shun the shopkeeper who uses child labourer. Report the incident to police.

– If you hear of any incidence of child marriage or child abuse, do not hesitate to intervene.

– Be careful and aware of any change in behaviour of a child known to you. Talk to her. She may be a silent victim of abuse.

We MUST make this world free of any forms of violence and abuse for children so that they may say loudly : We are the world , we are the children.

Song 5: ‘We are the world’

dsc_1962Narrator: BLACK. The mere mention of the word evokes a sense of hatred, disgust and discrimination. Black equals discrimination and discrimination equals black. M.T.Oliva was minutes away from his birthday. Thinking of his family back home, the twenty three year old African student was walking back to his temporary home in Vasant Kunj area in New Delhi. Following an argument with local men after some racist comments, the young African was killed with stones and sticks. And it was just one of the many incidents of racist hatred that young Africans face each day all around the work.

If someone is different from our socially set norms of ‘beautiful’ we exhibit a sense of disgust.

– We talk about unity and equality but still refer to our friends from Arunachal, Assam or Sikkim as ‘Chinkies’ and Africans are always ‘blackies’ for us.

– So much disgust there is about the dark skin color in Indian mind-set that Fairness Creams have the largest share in skin care sector, recording a steady growth of 15-20% every year.

– Dark skin has been considered as one of the strong reasons for increased dowry demands.

But ‘leaving no one behind’ needs an acceptance of all as one – without any discrimination or prejudice. So,

– Stop referring to and discourage others to refer to someone as a ‘blackie’, ‘nigger’ or ‘chinky’ merely on the basis of how they look.

– Believe in the fact that everyone is a creation of God and an insult to His creation is an insult of God himself.

–  Make every young person aware that her skin colour is her own asset and she should be proud of it.

– And for heaven’s sake, Stop advertising for or seeking  a ‘fair, slim, good-looking’  bride.

Remember, the Sun shines for all – without discrimantion, the moon soothes all- without discrimination and the stars twinkle – without discrimination. Believe that : Hum ek hai : We are all One.

Song 6: ‘Hum ek hai’

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CHRISTMAS GIFT !

thanks

Responses to our Appeal (given below) have started trickling in ! We profusely express our heartfelt thanks to the following friends for their immediate Donations. We also hope other well wishers will kindly help us.

1.Ms. Panchali Goswami Bhattacharya, Kolkata     INR. 1000/-

2.Ms. Sonia Bhattacharya, Bangalore                         INR 1000/-

3.Rasa & Rian Chatterjee, Kolkata                               INR  500/- (worth of gifts like crayons, drawing books, pencils and cup cakes)

4. Sanjay Basu, Poona (Annual Pledge)                     INR  12000/-

5. Palash Roy, Kolkata (Annual Pledge)                    INR 12000/-

6. Ayansh Aron Patnaik, Ghatsila                               INR  1000/-

7. Antariksh V, Kolkata                                                  INR 1000/-

8. Sarrah Ayantika Mukerji, Kolkata                          INR 1000/-

dabitGift a Magic!!
For little Joyce Murmu, a visit to the local city of Ghatsila meant watching young girls of her age going to the local school in their fresh, colourful uniforms with school bags, nice shoes and socks. Being from the remote village of Kadamdih in Jharkhand, this was all but a dream. Today, Joyce goes to the Swadhina Good Hope School set up in her village. She too has a colorful uniform like her friends in the city and gets to learn little English rhymes like them.

For Ratuli Sahis, life as a marginal farmer was difficult. She had to balance her house-hold work with her on-off work as a land labourer.magic-2 That was the only way she could support her big family. Swadhina’s help to her in the form of a pair of goats came as a boon to her. Now she has a comfortable life by Animal Reaing with goats and hens as her source of income. She has managed to repair her dilapidated house and is able to afford school education for her children.
magic-3Being the third among her seven siblings, Tapati’s life was a story of a never-ending drudgery – bringing in unending buckets of water from the local tap, washing huge pile of utensils and washing clothes from dawn to mid-noon. However, being offered a chance by Swadhina, she enrolled for a Batik Handicraft Training course of three months in her locality. Diligently, she took out time from her busy schedule to attend the classes. At the end of the course she became so well versed with the intricacies of the craft that she began to get offers from different boutiques. She now is a permanent staff in a renowned fashion boutique in New Delhi. She has evolved herself from the ashes of her drudgery to be an empowered, young woman.

magic-4It is the Christmas Season once again. It is the time of gifts and merrymaking. So, this time why not Gift a Magic ? ‘Gift a Magic’ is a gift that would bring in a positive change in the lives of those who are deprived of the privilege of a better life and livelihood. It is a gift that empower women and children themselves-belonging to the extreme marginalised sections of the society located in Purulia (West Bengal), East Singbhum (Jharkhand), Mayurbhanj (Odisha), East Champaran (Bihar) and Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu) through our organisation, SWADHINA. Your support can go a long way to bring in a postive change in the lives of many more Joyce, Ratuli or Tapati. It would help us help people like them have a better life and living; it would help us enlighten the light of magic in their lives! This Christmas, let there be light in the life of little Joyce !

There are three activities that you can help support:
* Support a Rural School – Good Hope School : US$ 50 / € 50 / £ 45
(School Dresses/Shoes-Socks/Books/Copies/Sweaters for 5 students)

* Support Skill Training Programme for Rural Women: US$ 50 / € 50 / £ 45
(Skill Training for 5 Young Rural Women )

* Support for providing Animal Resources to MarginalFarmer Women: US$ 50 / € 50 / £ 45
(Animal Support in the form 20 ducks/ hen or 1 goat each for 5 women)

You can send your donation through A/c Payee Cheque issued in the name of : SWADHINA and mail it to : Swadhina, 34/C Bondel Road, Kolkata 700019, India.

Also, please share this Appeal with your friends and dear ones so that they too may take part in this joy of sharing a perfect CHRISTMAS GIFT !.

CLICK HERE TO KNOW MORE ABOUT US
E-mail: swadhina_org@yahoo.com mainoffice.swadhina@gmail.com

Journey Recharged !

The seat looked dusty. I looked around myself. There were hardly any co-passengers around. The train had arrived at the platform an hour earlier than scheduled and I guess people were yet to find their respective coaches. There was only a young girl in the opposite seat – a young woman rather. With jeans and a loose T-shirt and a silver colored nose-ring she looked weird. Her eyes were glued to her mobile phone.

Huh! Another of those gadget geeks!

I put my hands in my pocket searching for a piece of paper or even my handkerchief. No way would I sit on the dusty train seat.

“Tissues?”

The voice startled me. I looked up. A smiling face looked at me in return. Her left hand held out a muddled bundle of fresh tissues. That same weird girl!

How on earth did she know that I was actually looking for a piece of paper?

“Take some. I cleaned mine with these”, she laughed. As she laughed I noticed the twinkle in her eyes.

scf1224Normally I refuse help from strangers – that too such a strange looking stranger – but right then I had no option.

But before I could even give her a formal thanks, she got up from her seat with a spring and began cleaning my dusty seat.

“Aha..ha…why….”

“Ha, it’s all right uncle. I would have done the same for my Dad”, she smiled the same way, having cleaned the seat in a jiffy.

“Tadaaa…here you are”, she pointed to my nearly clean seat.

“Thanks”, I thanked her softly.

A few of the co-passengers had begun arriving. Porters, noisy children, worried mothers, see-off relatives….

I looked outside. There was no one for me. Geeta had to pick up her son from school, Sekhar had his office to attend. It was more than enough that they had bothered to drop me at the station atleast.

“Sorry Appa. Please….I have to pick up Rohan in another hour, the school is pretty far away from here, if I don’t leave now I would never reach and you know how Rohan is….he would just keep crying!”, she had sounded apologetic.

“No problem.  Anyway, I just have to carry a single bag. It’s no big deal”, I had tried to comfort her in my own way. Afterall  she was my daughter. And it wasn’t wrong either. How much would the bag of a sixty five year old weigh anyway? The heart weighed heavier!

I adjusted my sole bag near my feet. The other passengers had mostly arrived.

Someone somewhere had perhaps opened a tiffin can of freshly fried Vade. The smell of crisply fried fritters wafted through the air. If Sudha had been around she would have certainly packed in a dozen….idlis…puliyothare….she always ensured she carried meals during her journey….she hated meals from pantry.

I closed my eyes, trying not to think about the past or even food for that matter. Without Sudha, life had become a burden. Staying with married daughter is not an easy option but with a son in the IT sector in Kolkata, with an erratic work schedule, staying with him wasn’t an option either. Thought of Ravi gave me a sudden jerk – a jolt rather. That conversation two weeks back had knocked off my sleep. Geeta hasn’t stopped crying since then.

It was just a three line monologue from Ravi.

“Ummm….Appa, I have found a girl for myself….Bengali, Christian…RebecaaBiswas. I know you will never agree to the match. But please, please, please come and meet her. She would be coming from Bangalore after her training in another two weeks.”

No way would I agree to the match! A vegetarian, Tamil boy from a Brahmin family marrying a non-vegetarian, Bengali, Christian girl!  I would go and try to reason with him. If he doesn’t agree I will sever all my ties with him –forever! I shook my head unknowingly! I opened my eyes.

The train had begun with a jerk. Loud good-byes,sobs , laughter filled the coach! A few of them began to call their relatives informing them of the train’s departure.

I too took out my mobile phone from my pocket. I know it wouldn’t really matter but as a courtesy I wanted to call Geeta.  Just as I began to press the numbers I suddenly realised there wasn’t a single rupee balance left in my mobile. I had been asking Geeta, requesting Sekhar but they had either forgotten or not bothered. I had even gone out to recharge the phone myself but the nearest shop was closed for over a week.

I stared helplessly at the screen.

“Here, use mine!”, a hand with pink nail colour held out a mobile phone.

That weird girl again! Her face was still smiley with that strange twinkle.

“I…I..no..thanks”

“It’s alright. Use mine.”

“Okay then…no need to call. Just send an sms to my daughter: Train started-Appa”, I felt weird and ashamed at the same time.

img913With deft fingers she typed out the message and the number as I dictated.

Beep!

“Here, it’s done!”, she smiled.

“I..I..actually I forgot to recharge my phone…and I can’t blame my daughter either…she has her hands full”, I sounded apologetic yet again.

“ It happens….with most of us. Why don’t you try one of  those re-charge systems ? They are quite useful.  It is actually  easy and user-friendly.”

“Ha ha ha….those are for young people like you! Not for oldies like us!”, for a change I tried to sound informal.

“But online dealings are never safe. Frankly, I don’t trust these online facilities. Every other day you hear of an online scam. But in any case it sounds interesting….actually I keep forgetting about these things like recharge and bill payment. And when I remember it is either too late or too difficult. And by then I am already into trouble…like I was, just a few minutes ago.”, I laughed.

I was really impressed with this girl. Not like the usual ones, and what I liked about her is that she was very sincere in her approach. Who on earth would waste time on explaining all those things.

“Would you care for some Vade?”

I saw the girl holding out a tiffin box of freshly Vade and Chutney.

This time I didn’t mind. I helped myself to one. I suddenly felt recharged.

“Did you make these?”

“Oh no! Not exactly ! One of my neighbours made all the preparations, I only fried them ……. of course upon strict instructions from that neighbourhood aunty !  I am originally travelling from Bangalore. I didn’t get a direct ticket to Kolkata. So I had to take a stop-over at Chennai.”

She bowed her head a little – perhaps in a short prayer- before she touched her piece. That is when I noticed the little golden cross adorning her neck! Sudha would do just the same. She would close her eyes and mutter “Sarveswara”, before she would touch her food.

Before I could ask further she spoke again – this time with her mouthful, “Mmm…but you know I can almost make these as tasty but that little hole in the middle just wouldn’t come. I have to practice some more. I need to impress my father-in-law …to be that is!”, she giggled.

I loved the innocence in her. Irrespective of what she was, how she was, her dress, her mannerisms and even her religion, I loved her. How I wish I had someone like her as my daughter in law.

“What is your name  Maa ?”, I asked her.

“Rebecca Biswas.  And what’s yours, uncle?”

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Literacy Jatha:March at a Tribal Village for Literacy Promotion

Literacy “Jatha”- a “Jatha” is a March in which certain action is also accomplished along the way. Some times ago we, an NGO group organised a Literacy Jatha in a tribal village

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picture-326called “Majhidih”. The basic objective of the March was to spread awareness on the need to have a minimum literacy for all, and, also to teach women of the village ‘how to sign their names’. Since this was organised by an NGO working for women’s empowerment, the stress was to cover women in the village. Most of the women did know how to sign their names even. We were stressing on this because these days, they need to put their signatures for various reasons i.e. to open a Bank Account, to get govt. benefit schemes to become an effective member of Self Help Group and so on.

picture-319Majhidih literary means a Santhal Village i.e.” Majhi” means Santhal tribe, and, “dih” means a village.  This village is located amidst East Singbhum region of Jharkhand state in India. Jharkhand meaning “The Forest Land”, is a new state. There was a long time demand from the local Tribals – the Adivasis that they be given a separate state.  We are working in villages here on women and children development programmes since inception of this state.

Spending the night before at our camp office at Bondih we set out for the Majhidih village early morning in two bikes and a few bicycles. We also asked our village volunteers from neighbouring villages to assemble at the Majhidih village. It took about half an hour to reach the village for our bikes.  The cyclists also made it within that time limit, since they took short cut passage through forest. It was summer, the area is chronically drought prone, there was scorching heat emanating from the stony road, even though it was still early in the morning.

After reaching the village we made two teams. The men in the team were given the task of writing awareness slogans on the walls. The Santhal houses have mud walls, but, they are kept very clean and neat by pasting coloured mud regularly.There is particiularly a red soil available in the hills here which look very beautiful on walls.

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Writing on Wall: “I Want Education”

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“Must Learn How to Sign My Name”

The women in our team, joined by other village volunteers, took the charge of teaching signature writing to the village women.

Our March or the Jatha began.  While we took charge of the wall writing, the women, in small teams entered a few huts on both sides of the village road. The villagers were too enthusiastic to participate in this learning process. It was nice to see that while the women were busy trying to write their signatures on the paper, the menfolk in the house took care of the children. ( a rare scenario in Indian village context where bringing up a child is solely vested on women)

Once a cluster of 4 to 5 huts covered, the Jatha marched forward. At times we, the graffiti team were lagging behind to complete the our paint-brush task.

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The only reason I was treated differently was my tummy !

Around 3 p.m. we reached at the end of village. Here we had out lunch…. piping hot rice, lentil curry and a potato-brinjal curry…. served on Sal Leaves plates. It was tasty, and, in any case we were really hungry… we did not have a chance to break our fast (skipped the break fast !)

Our end of the Jatha was a cultural show, organised open-air. We have cultural team, which presented  a number of Awareness song and dance, composed by us on various social issues like cutting of trees, need for literacy for all, torture on women and so on.  At the end there was  a Magic Show which was thoroughly enjoyed by all !

( I love playing a Folk Drum, and, whenever there is a chance….. !!!)

 

Mask : For Folk Dance

“Tomorrow we shall go to Hesla” my wife announced. “This village is near Bandwan, in Bengal,  and there is a forest road from here which will lead us there” she added.

img_0205We have come to a village called Bondih in East Singbhum in Jharkhand. We are staying here  for the past several days. It is a nice place except there are frequent load shedding, so most of the nights are spent on kerosene lamps. But fresh air, fresh vegetables are all for a refreshing change from our city life. We have several working  villages here in which we are doing rural development programmes. It is surrounded by forest, and, placed amidst a hilly terrain. Though about 50 kilometres  away , from the nearest town  Jamshedpur, it is quite inaccessible, mainly due to very limited transport service. This meant we will have an inter-state  travel tomorrow !

Next morning we set out for the Bengal village. We had two bikes. I was driving a heavier one, with my wife in the pillion. Her colleague was in the other bike, a bit lighter one, as a pillion rider. It was pleasant to start with. One good thing about long bike ride is that there is always cool breeze to enjoy, especially in the mornings, and I always relish such  pleasant ride.  img_0201For about an hour we drove through several small villages, small huts, small ponds, forest trees on both sides. But like all good things, the smoothness of the journey ended.  We reached at the end of the forest road, and, here onwards we will have to tread through thin pedestrian route. This part is quite risky, especially to find out the correct track, but if one drives the bike at a steady speed one can always be able to see the thin white pedestrian track.  At one point we sped through a risky patch with deep dry water body on both sides.

Around   10 a.m. we reached the Hesla  village, of Purulia district. My wife and her colleague joined the women’s group which met at  a villager’s veranda. Their basic agenda of the meet was to work out a plan for a training programme for the village women group as a part of the women’s empowerment initiative.

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Myself and Pradip – the other bike rider, set out to have a go at the village. I was told by some of the local youth  that this village, like most of the village in Purulia, has  Chhow Dance troupe. For the past several  years now I serve as the liaison for these various dance troupes and the Kolkata Puja organisers, to get these people contracts for performance.  They always look forward to get a scope to show-case their talent in city situations.  Kolkata organisers on their part sincerely look for getting these groups to perform in their puja arena. Some of the village youth from these troupes requested me to arrange for some performance contracts from Kolkata. ( Later, after a few months, at least two such trips got actually materialised ! ).

By the time we walked back to the women’s meet venue it was already 12 noon.  My wife informed that they have agreed upon on the training programme – training on “Mask Making for Chhow Dance” ! This dance is a kind of marshal-art form, and, predominantly  performed by men – even on performing  women’s role.  The villagers arranged for our lunch – hot pooris and sweet  boondia, a very strange combination. But as the saying goes ‘hunger is the best sauce’ we thoroughly enjoyed the meal.

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By next month the training programme started, with the help of an expert mask-maker  brought down from the Bandwan town.