Thursday, December 15, 2005

A man and a few buffaloes

Manimekalai was a very shy girl when I met her couple of months back. Daughter of a bus driver from a low income household in Krishnagiri. She should be 16 years old.

Manimekalai and a team of 15 girls from similar backgrounds form the first team of children who have been selected and trained for our "Eastside Story" project. A joint initiative of UNICEF and NalandaWay.

This team performed a "street play" recently at the World Aids Day Campaign on Dec 3rd at Chennai. The event was organized by CII (most influential industrial association in India). The play was scripted, acted and directed by the girls themselves.

The team won the second prize among 16 schools and colleges all from the city.

"Thank you for recognising us and firing our imagination that we can be possible", goes the thank you note that Manimekalai had written along with a book that she gifted me. The book is a Tamil novel titled "A man and a few buffaloes" by Gyanpeeth Awardee Jayakanthan.

I would like to recognize and thank Mr. Thomas George of UNICEF and Ms. Stella of CII without whom this event wouldn't have been possible.

The photographs of the girls' performance are available for viewing at

Gallery: Street Play at CII World Aids Day Event


Sriram Ayer

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I will kill my father one day!!

November 14th is celebrated as Children's Day in India. It is just another day where TV channels beam some so-called children movies.

I was in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu yesterday at a bridge school for working children.

My meeting with a young boy and her elder sister is something that I would not forget for some time.

The girl named Pramila aged 10 was in her tears when she narrated her story. She had to work for over 14 hours in a factory that made jute mats. She and her brother aged 7 was forced to work because her abusive and drunkard father never worked and tortured her mother and them for money.

The boy narrated one incident which brought tears to my eyes. Oneevening he tied the boy to a rope and threw him inside a well and threatened his mother that he would let go of the rope if she would'nt give money. I could see rage and tears in his eyes when he narrated this incident.

"I would kill my father when I become big!", said the boy rather firmly.

The boy and her sister are in the bridge school for the past 1 year and are provided clothes, food and tutions. They don't goto work any more.

The other children had equally tragic past.

I left the place with more questions and no answers.


Power of mentoring by Subroto Bagchi

The Power of Mentoring

In Bengali households, the eldest brother is often called “Dadamoni’’. I was eight years old when I came under the tutelage of Dadamoni, my eldest brother, D P Bagchi. He is 14 years older than I am, and at that time, was teaching at the local university. I came to live with him in Bhubaneswar from a small place that had no schools in the vicinity. While waiting to be admitted to school in the campus at Vani Vihar, I had no work on hand. I guess being both uneducated and unemployed at eight has its special circumstances. So, at times, I would sneak out of the house to hang around at the university, often eavesdropping on post-graduate classrooms.

On one such occasion, I was outside a classroom where he was teaching and was caught. Instead of punishing me, he asked me if I understood what he was teaching. I sheepishly explained the theory of demand and supply that he was teaching to his class. He was so impressed with me that, instead of discounting me as a child, he started explaining the theory in greater detail. Thereafter, he started telling me about many other theories, like the law of marginal utility. One day, the Chancellor’s Cup Debate was held, and he asked me to come along with the condition that I promised to sit quietly at the back. There, I was thoroughly impressed by the young men and women who came up to the podium to debate the motion. I did not understand a word they said, but the process was spellbinding. I told myself that, someday, I had to do this kind of stuff.

After a year there, Dadamoni joined the IAS. In due time, he was posted as an assistant collector in a sub-division called Keonjhar in Orissa. There, as he was trained in various aspects of district administration from doing land settlement in villages to declaring Section-144 in disturbed areas during a student strike he would treat me like an adult, teaching me all about the IPC and the CrPC, and explaining to me the intricacies of the revenue administration and discuss issues of development. Once the Hungarian ambassador visited an iron-ore mine in Dadamoni’s sub-division and he had to play host. He took me along to meet him. On the way, he explained the concept of protocol and coached me to address the ambassador as “Your Excellency.’’ I couldn’t wait for the visitor to ask me a question, to show off that I knew how to address him correctly even though I was a small boy in shorts.

Dadamoni also taught me to recite Rabindranath Tagore’s timeless verse ‘Where the mind is without fear’. It came in handy for me because I shifted school every other year and, whichever new school I went to, the fact that I could recite an English poem of that sort earned me acceptance in the eyes of my new teachers and peers, who spoke little English themselves.

Strangely, most workplaces have not heard about the concept of mentoring yet. In some, it is seen as a so-called “HR’’ initiative thereby driving it down to the lowest common denominator. In this context, my meeting with a young software engineer, Sriram becomes fascinating. Sriram quit his job to start a mentoring programme called “NalandaWay’’ in Chennai. The initiative impacts more than 220 promising children living in slums. NalandaWay locates such children by going around, meeting their parents and teachers. These children are then paired with successful people in the corporate sector. In the small time that the initiative has been around, it has become massively successful. The internationally renowned Ashoka organisation has adopted it as one of its “social entrepreneurship’’ programmes. Sometime ago, we got the folks from NalandaWay to talk to our leaders on what it takes to mentor young children. The idea was to learn the process so that we could introduce it to our own people.

As my mentor, Dadamoni had a Pygmalion effect in shaping my personality and destiny. Education gives us some knowledge but good mentoring gives us the ability to relate it to the real world; it helps us to learn life-skills and moulds our attitude. The self-confidence that it can generate is so huge, it is almost magical. The principles of mentoring the child that was me, a teenage girl in a fishing village of Chennai and a budding young white-collar worker are not different. They all begin with the magical sensation of a grown-up reaching out to hold a soft, unformed hand and whispering, “Yes, you can!’’ This is when dreams are created and bridges built across to the realm of the possible.

Where would I be today, without you Dadamoni?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Mansi and Lata Posted by Picasa

Navrathri Golu at Lata's residence Posted by Picasa

Thank you Malini and Mansi

I am so grateful to all you people. The world is getting better and India has definitely arrived.

Malini spent her last Sunday with the Mentees in buying them an additional set of uniforms. She was concerned about them having to wear and wash their only set of uniforms everyday.

Mansi through her friends and contacts arranged 5 kilos of rice for more than 50 families whose houses have been flooded by the sudden rains in Chennai.

I was speaking to Anitha the other day and telling her the plight of kids of Rotary Nagar, her immediate response was, "..could I do something?".

I am sure the others are doing equally wonderful things. Please talk about it. We would be very happy to hear them.

I am uploading the photographs of Navrathri Golu at Lata's place. If any of you have some photographs to share. Please send it to me. I would have it uploaded.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Hello friends

Hello Friends

Got some happy news to share.
My mentee Baby Shalini who is in Std xi has secured the first rank in the recent exams.
Gave me a lot of happiness to hear about it. the efforts were all hers 100%.
She has done this in spite of her eye problem which water and puff up often.
Her sister Dhanalakshmi- in the VIII Std- has also done well securing the 6th rank.
And all this under extreme poverty. What strength and perseversence.
I glad that an opportunity has given to me to be a very small part of their lives.
May God Bless and Guide them.


Sunday, October 16, 2005


Amidst all the navarathri hustle-bustle, meeting people and sweets galore one guest made it even more special for me. Yes it was Latha. I always knew that she would accept my invitation and drop in for the golu but I was really touched with the gesture that she showed by gifting me a doll for my golu collection. We spent a good one hour chatting like old friends and discussing golu. Of course it did not end here, she also invited me to her place for golu.

Honestly speaking, I was amazed to see the effort that everyone in Latha's family had taken to set up the golu. And true to the Indian spirit the golu was complete with a cricket display. Latha and her family went out of their way to make Sriram and me comfortable.

By the way, encouraged by the effort that Anitha has taken to teach her mentee english, i would like to start the same for Latha, who wishes to have fluency in spoken english. She's thrilled and we should probably start her coaching soon.

And last but not the least, due to the rains we thought we would help a few needy families by providing them some provisions. I asked Latha if she needed any help. And she completely blew me with her reply- she said that i should offer help to other families who are in dire needs of help and not her as they could manage. Hats off to her unselfishness. Thank you Latha.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Thank you Anitha

I thank you sincerely for your perseverance and creativity in handling the problem that you have encountered. We are conducting a training programme at MindTree Consulting in Bangalore the following week. With your permission I would like to recognise your effort and share your experience with the participants.

I remember Sonal hitting a similar bottleneck earlier with her mentee - Vedapriya. May be she could also share her experience with the group.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005


The last time I had made a contribution it was on a rather depressing note. My mentee Meena at 16, did not really know much English and it was quite a challenge to get her to comprehend the language.

Things have become better. I initially blundered on by just working through Meena's class ten lessons. Since this was too advanced for Meena, it bored and tired her. It also did not do much to her confidence. Finally decided to switch tactics and borrowed the Class 1 text book of my colleague's son.

This seems to have really made a difference. We spent one happy hour mastering 'am', 'are' and 'is' and articles, common nouns, proper nouns etc. The text book gave me an idea on how to start teaching Meena English and also gave some structure in terms of what to teach her first and what next. Meena also has responded well in the last couple of classes since the sentences are simple and she is begining to get a grasp of the fundamentals of the language. Hopefully, she should be able to progress to reading simple books in another four weeks.

Friday, September 16, 2005

It's Love! Stupid!


I have always challenged my thinking that what does a child, rooted inpoverty, struggling for everyday needs, malnourished, traumatized bythe environment gain by a relationship with an outsider who spends around an hour every week.

Well this is the central strategy of NalandaWay in all its projects that aim at helping children overcome challenges to do extraordinary things.

I always had answers, the mentor helps the child in tuitions, invites the child to her family for dinner, she provides health tips to anadolescent girl, guides her to make career choices. Very valid reasons. But I wanted more.

My interaction with Dr. Emma Gonsalvez, eminent Psychiatrist and Counselor, today was an eye opener. This beautiful old lady very poignantly reminded me that it is the feeling of being wanted, being loved, someone to always reach out to in the midst of morbidity, the central and the most spiritual benefit a child derives from the relationship.

It's Love! Stupid!

I am a happy man today.


Thursday, September 01, 2005


Today I feel really happy b'cos my mentee Latha has been awarded a scholarship in college for excelling in her exams. This is awarded to the top four students who score more than 80%, Latha being one of them. This is a cash scholarship which will be adjusted against her semester fees. It's been great just to hear her sound so excited. She is a hardworking girl who really deserves this award. And it's amazing how much someone else's happiness rubs of on you. It's so infectious. I just feel happy that we could be a part of her life.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

hi all

dear all,

this is my first blog n frankly nothing much comes to my mind to log.

k let me tell u a lil abt my mentee - his name is praveen and is 7 years old. he is an adorable kid n quite smart for his age. he has a fabulous memory n picks up things real fast like most kids do.

its been around 1 year since we started the relationship n its been quite an experience for me. its always fascinating to observe how he perceives things arnd him n how differently he views the world.

its an enriching experience everytime i meet him n praveens parents -they are real supportive parents who are stretching the max to provide praveen a good education n all the comforts (most of them they can ill afford given their financial inflows).

thats it for now - will keep blogging...

take care


Friday, August 19, 2005


I met Meena about two months ago. And promptly went on a one month vacation. But what I saw of her was pretty impressive - she was hardworking, well mannered, was keen to study, had a very supportive mom who wanted her to go beyond being a housemaid which is what her sisters are.
Back from my vacation, we have finally got down to serious business. Meena is in Class 10 in a tamil medium school. So we started off by going over her English lessons together. Meena picked out her favourite poem 'The Road less travelled' by Robert Frost and read it out like someone reading a ration list. After 5 minutes it became clear that while she understood a lot of the individual words, she could not understand them when put together. Her teacher has instructed her to just mug up the poet's background so that she will get atleast 2 marks for any annotation questions she attempts in her exam paper.Meena however does not understand anything beyond 'This is beautiful' 'She is fat' kind of sentences.
This has been rather depressing. I am now stuck with the issue of how to brush up her English and atleast bring it up to acceptable levels in a short while. Some thinking and chatting with a few friends later, I have decided for now the best strategy would be to just write down answers for all the questions in her text book and let her mug it. That should help with the Board exams. But for the longer term, the first thing is to help her stop being intimidated by words put into sentences. So I shall probably try to speak to her in English more often. Get her to mug up wordlists and try and use them. And see if I can find some simple but light reading material.
If anybody has faced this before, would welcome ideas.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


I've known Latha for close to 2 months now and i feel the confidence level is growing. Though my interactions with Latha have been largely confined on the phone, a certain comfort zone has been established.

From being a little hesitant at first, Latha has opened up narrating anecdotes of her life and slowly drawing me into her world.

Coming from a lower income group family has exposed Latha to the harsh realities of life- class discrimination being one of them.

However today after getting the oppurtunity to interact with the NalandaWay mentors her perception is changing. She is slowly breaking out of her shell of feeling discriminated. She's happy that there are people who are willing to listen to her, talk to her and help and guide her with her academic as well as personal life.


Sunday, July 17, 2005

Hi Folks

People don't always need gifts to feel wanted. Sometimes just being a patient listener helps. And I discovered this in my interactions with Latha, a young college student. At first shy, she quickly opened up once the comfort zone was established.
After a few rounds of interactions she has broken all her inhibitions and feels comfortable to unload her problems or share her feelings. She now feels wanted and has not stopped wondering how a phone call could change her "view of the world" and of course her life.


Monday, June 13, 2005

Hi to every one!!

Welcome to the NalandaWay Blog. Ideas, inspirations, failures and achievements of our work towards advancing the lives of bright and talented children from low-income families in India.