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?