Saturday, January 28, 2012

My Little Sweet Companions

Erika and Edward have suited themselves very well into the CKS family. I was a little apprehensive initially because Ed had to use the eastern style of toilet, and has a room that is also partly our office along with another room that is being used as office as well. The food is certainly not American. But they have taken it all in a stride. They have learnt to relax themselves, as the food is mostly late by any American standards! And what is more beautiful about these two is their availability with their ideas and talents. Ed has come out with ideas for building a web based platform for a particular concept that I shared with him. And so he is busy with building that. He is also designing the display board for CKS, while continue to spend some time each day on his project for setting up  a  tele-medicine system in which patients can speak to the doctors via video.  Erika is always helpful with any odd jobs I give her along with her project work. I am really thankful to them for their wonderful support without which it would have been really hard to move on....

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Power of the Powerless

I will be leaving for Kathmandu on 29 Jan 2012 to give a training in Disaster Risk Reduction. RedR India has asked me to be one of the two trainers who will be taking this training. As I was reflecting about disasters and developmental issues, I began to wonder on what is the actual power of the "powerless". The most vulnerable sections of society, people who have been socially and economically excluded due to reasons of birth, disability, gender, age, wealth and upbringing are the most affected in times of disasters. It is for their welfare the governments function. It is for their safety the social and political systems are. But ultimately, do these people have any real power? I remember watching one of the various films on the life of Jesus. In this the Satan tempts Jesus with the third temptation: Power!
"Power is what every man seeks. It was what they kill for. It is for this they wage wars!" What power do these vulnerable people have? Just over their own bodies,  over the small shelter they own, and a little control over their own children when they are young. Apparently they have at least these powers. But in some places, all these too seem to lose meaning. Go to the stone quarries in Birbhum district of West Bengal or the bordering districts of Jharkhand and Bihar where stone quarries thrive. Every one will say, the women there do not have any power over their own bodies. The women (and only young women are employed) are abused to the core. And they end up suffering from silicosis besides the sexual exploitation when the evening falls. 

The States of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have many stories to tell of how the rich destroy the houses of the poor for no reason of their own. If one person of the lower caste commits a sin the entire village bears the brunt of the rich land lord. They live in fear. Absolute fear.

The power over children is a long lost battle. There are numerable stories that keep regularly appearing in media where poor families have sold their children to keep other children's survival in tact. We know of children who are engaged in labor to pay back the debts of their parents. There are children who are sold for money and sex. There is the huge "camel racing"! And now, read through the media in West Bengal. You have children dying of institutional apathy as they do not get appropriate medical care. Where are our children?

In this context what is the power of the powerless. How can we speak of people's rights that needs to utilized to ensure access to freedom, development, growth and less vulnerability? It is all one big question: What sustains the social inequality.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Mom and the Daughter

5 Jan 2012 - 01.30 am. At this unearthly hour I am waiting for Erika and Edward to land. My two students who are arriving from Seattle and will be with me for the next three months. It is often tough to get my time divided between them and my work. But it is always a joy to learn from them, because they come with fresh ideas, fresh blood and all too new view of India. After I waited for them in the reception hall for almost 40 minutes, I saw them emerging with another lady. I called them out, and I heard Erika telling the lady, "That's Puthumai!". The lady was looking at me, and then was almost turning to go towards the Pre-Paid Taxi Counter from where she can book a taxi for herself to go to wherever she wanted to go! I thought this lady is a co-traveler who was probably sitting next to Erika. Erika suddenly mumbled, "That's my Mom". I couldn't believe my ears. Erika's Mom came all the way to drop her in India? Hei, no kidding! 

I greeted her and asked her where she wanted to go to. She mentioned a Five Star Hotel in the City. I told her we can drop her without any problem. And so, after little bit of persuasion, she agreed. The trip to the hotel was about 30 minutes, and she was so kind, amazingly simple, and was forthcoming with her views, opinions and about her own family. In the short span of 30 minutes, this lady had made a huge impression, that is hard to fade. 

Footnote: She had come to Kolkata to be a volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cyclone Thane

A telephone call from a friend, Stephen Raj, in Puducherry (also known as Pondicherry) in South India made me write this post. He was referring to the serious damage cyclone Thane that hit the union territory of Puducherry and the districts of Cuddalore and Villupuram in Tamilnadu on 29 -30 Dec 2011. Their organization Pondicherry Multipurpose Social Service Society is responding to the needs of thousands of people who are affected by the disaster. He was specially referring to the loss of livelihood. I have traveled in those areas, between Puducherry to Vadalur through Cuddalore and visited many villages in October last year. The places are dry and so mostly cash crops such as cashew nuts, tamarind, coconut and other such trees are grown along with millets and others. According to Stephen the people are feeling that their lives have been pushed back by at least 20 years, as even if they plant trees it would take another nearly 10 years to get on to the regular cropping. Houses are damaged. There is no electricity and people are living in temporary shelters. Huts have been ruined and people  are extremely stressed after the damage. He has sent me some photos and a small project write up if any organization is willing to support PMSSS.  If anyone is interesting in supporting the livelihood of people, you may contact: Executive Director, Pondicherry Multipurpose Social Service Society (PMSSS), No 81, Laporte Street, Puducherry - 605001, India. Email:

You can view files and pictures, including a project proposal by clicking on: Support PMSSS

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


My friend Sean has lost both his mother and father in about 15 days in December. It is really sad. I am sad too. Sean has been such a good friend since I met him first in 2004. No doubt about that. He has traveled twice to meet me and to be with me -- each time for couple of days. And I traveled to Seattle almost four years ago to be with him for nearly 10 days. And he has been such a wonderful friend that he brings blessings through his thoughts and words. The biggest blessing he has is his wife Shannon who has been his ever supportive shoulder to whatever burden comes in his life. 

When in Seattle, I met Sean's Mom and Dad. Sean's Mom and Shannon's father would tease each other so much that it used to be such a wonderful thing to watch both making fun of one another. I had lots of fun as we dined along the Pacific in one of the picturesque restaurant. His Mom died of old age and other complications, and his father suffered a kind of cancer and other complications relating to old age.  

This is for you Sean! All our prayers, blessings and well wishes go to you! May God bless you, and give you peace of mind and heart, fill you with ever abiding Joy, and give you more friends to love, love unconditionally.