Nurturing Young Minds

Nurturing Young Minds

Sunday, July 18, 2010

5. The Barber Boy and a Billion Children: the Story of an Evolving Dream

(This is a real life story of the power and potential of penniless children, symbolic of over a billion underprivileged kids having no or nominal access to education in the underdeveloped and developing world, who could make all the difference to this planet given the opportunity and guidance)

Episode 5
The first conference begins at home
Now that the children had been identified and collected, the next task was to work out the structure of the camp and allocate responsibilities. This was the first event of its kind that I or we were organizing. There were no human or financial resources yet ready with us to keep the learning camp going for a month. It has always been my belief that once a clear resolve or will develops, resources start building up. I have always believed that man has been fashioned in the image of God, and all humans are miniature Gods in their attributes. When God said, "Let there be light", I do not know if He thought about the resources with Him to create and spread light. He just willed and said, "Let there be light", and there was light. Thomas Edison willed and said, "Let there be light when God's light fades", and there was the bulb! The only difference was that when humans will, it might not happen immediately. But it also happens sooner or later, provided that the will is backed up by commitment and toil. And maybe there are a few failures before the final success. Thomas Edison had only 499 failures before the bulb came into existence!

The only captive team I had with me at that moment consisted of three people living under the same roof with me: my wife Vinita, a school going daughter Prerna aged 17,  and son Priyadarshi aged 21, who was a student of engineering at a local engineering college. All four of us were heavily engaged with our respective works and assignments.

the core team (withTausif)

My wife has been a homemaker, and she has always liked cooking herself. This is one reason why I, in spite of all my best efforts, have been unable to bring my weight below 95 kilograms over the last two decades, some times dangerously hovering around a hundred kilograms. She is passionate about cooking, and, when the food is good, I tend to throw caution to winds, hiding behind the pretext that my height is six feet three inches, and that justifies this weight. It is another matter that I know that I am not being truthful to myself, and I should weigh less. I envy the husband of my wife's twin sister, who (the husband) has similar height,  but has always maintained perfect weight due to his wife being less passionate about cooking!$?#!

An additional problem was that my official residence was unreasonably big with two floors,  constructed by Russian engineers, when they came to build the Heavy Engineering Corporation four decades back. I am told that all women that lived in these houses had been cursing the Russians who were responsible for making  them climb up and down more than twenty times a day, Vinita being no exception. I was given to understand by one such well-informed lady that the Soviet Union crumbled and disintegrated under the curses of these aggrieved women only! To tell you privately, we the men always felt delighted that the Russian engineers had very cleverly ensured that our women, who loathed walking, jogging or sprinting, barring the two notable exceptions of PT Usha and Shiny Abraham, were forced to remain physically fit in this manner. However, there is no denying the fact that the bigger the house, the more time consuming it becomes to maintain it. But now no pretext would do. We had to start the camp. So the first meeting of this core committee began.

I proposed that Vinita would be the Camp Mother.

There was an uncomfortable silence for some time. I knew that if I called her Camp Manager she would not agree. She loathes being a manager, and managing things. Indian women, perhaps Asian women, are fascinated by the concept of motherhood. They become wives perhaps in order to become mothers. And once they become mothers, they practically forget their husbands, busy most of the time with their children. If they become mother to two, three or more children, the husband is relegated to the background. So I knew  if I had to succeed in finding an unpaid manager for the camp I had to play the mother-card.

I succeeded in my game. She could not refuse. She only asked who would cook at home?
I said, "No body. We will eat our lunch with children everyday at the camp community kitchen. We would only take dinner at home."
Breakfast was no problem, becasue we were accustomed to taking light and uncooked or quick-to-cook breakfast of fruits, boiled eggs and milk  in order to preserve our health, to save the house lady from over work, and to allow her time for her creative hobbies.

"That is fine", said Vinita, "but who would cook for camp children? And from where will come the cooking material for a month for so many people - the rice, pulses, oil, vegetables and all?"

I informed her that a cook was being arranged for children, and it had already been communicated to children's parents that those of them who could afford, should send the dry ration and potatoes for their children for a month along with one liter of vegetable oil in a packed bottle. I was sure that most parents would manage that for the future of their children. I told her that we would take care of the shortfall, if any. In any case, there was that One up above who always sent the necessary help whenever required, without our asking, when our efforts proved inadequate. She knew that, and sincerely  believed in it. So the issue was shelved.

"What about the faculty who would teach children? And what was going to be taught in the camp?", asked my daughter.

"Fifty per cent of the time would be given to English language teaching, and fifty per cent to developing such abilities and skills as would help them become more complete human beings.", Said I. "This is July, and the camp is to be organised in August-September. I will put the entire camp curriculum for one month in place shortly, and hand it over to Vinita.We will get ready with all the hand-outs preferably before the camp began, and all the testing instruments too.  I would teach children after office hours and Vinita and you would teach when I am not there. We would also find other qualified people who would donate their time for camp children. We would request the HEC authorities to spare three security guards from the HEC for guarding the house round the clock and regulating access, because no child should go missing from the camp."  I hoped that the HEC authorities would agree to this because it was mainly the HEC school's children that were participating in the camp.

Prerna has the great quality of establishing rapport with people in no time. She is very good at making friends, and maintaining friendship. She is an outgoing type, and she emits light, positive vibes that make the atmosphere jovial and friendly immediately. In this respect she is my exact opposite! So I said that Prerna would visit the camp off an on, and would motivate children apart from assisting those few that were academically especially weak. I was sure the children would not visit a learning camp again in their life if they had to be in my company alone for a month!

Vinita had once administered my English language teaching module in 1992, so she was comfortable with that part of the camp curriculum. But she was not sure of what she could do to implement the other 'total development' modules of which she had thus far only a vague idea. I allayed her apprehensions saying that a paradigm would emerge automatically during the course of the camp. I requested her to prepare a menu for camp children that would be economical, healthy, convenient and yet have variety. There could not be a proposal which she could more readily agree to - feeding children, the summon bonum of a an archetypal mother!

At the end of the conference, an important issue was raised by Priyadarshi, who happens to be a thoughtful person, and who generally  lived away from home in the hostel of his engineering college, and used to visit us on week-ends: "Do you think a positive difference can be made to the life of those children in a month's time, when so many negative influences were at work at the school, home and the society at large, where they had spent so may years already, and would be spending the rest of their life?"

I thought for a moment and the replied: "We find that one interaction sometimes changes our life for ever. The Buddha once happened to pass through the area where the infamous robber Angulaimal had been wreaking havoc, looting and killing people, and donning the garland made of the victims' finger-bones. On sighting  the Buddha, he ran after him as well. As he reached near him shouting "stop, stop", the Buddha coolly turned and gently said, "Angulimaal, I had stopped long back. When would you stop?"  And it made the robber stop forever! He gave up his profession in one moment in which he had been for years!"

"I agree that the mystical factor in the Buddha cannot be re-produced in a camp, but when new ideas, new people and  new attitudes are encountered by children in a new environment continuously for a few days or weeks, the seeds of change are bound to get embedded in their minds, which may germinate in due course. In some children the seeds may sprout and then die, but in others - most others - the seeds may grow into saplings, and then into trees, to given them sweet fruits. We should remember that the children's mind is more receptive than grown-ups".

"I believe that a difference of five to ten degrees will be induced in most children, which will not appear very pronounced at this moment, but over the years these five to ten degrees would mean a vast difference in the trajectory of children."

"In fact, I believe that  the difference would be quite noticeable in many matters by the end of the month itself. And the difference could be measured by an independent agency", I said.

"Then what are we going to do to get the differences measured by independent agencies?", asked Priyadarshi.

"I would try my best  to arrange for independent measurement", said I, and the conference ended without tea, sweets and snacks, which are the main marks of a successful conference, because the person who could provide us with all this exotic stuff was herself in the conference.


  1. So interesting and inspiring. The mention of your wife and her great cooking made me so envious because Indian food has recently become one of my favorites. You are most fortunate to have two children who also embrace the same values and importance to reach out to the less fortunate as yourself.

  2. Yes, I am one of the luckiest persons around! God has given me everything in life that one can seek. People like us have all the reason, therefore, to take care of the less fortunate.

    Not only my wife, my children are amazingly good and creative. They have understood the meaning and value of a 'total living' that allows space for a wide gamut of finer things without which the human existence cannot be complete, though an animal existence can be! Regards.

  3. I forgot telling you, that this was the description of my wife as she used to be in 2006! I have practically made her forget cooking, because she now devotes her time to higher things in life in helping me. Those things need a lot of time that are not possible with her passion for cooking continuing. Yet, on demand she can always produce those food items.