Thoughts & Reflections

Think beautiful, live beautiful.

Category: Education

Lost childhoods – I

This is the story of Shubham alias Rahul, born to a poor family near Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh. He is 18 years old, works selling gutka[1], pan-masala[2] on the railway station of Lucknow. He completed his education up to 9th standard and then left his school and chose this way of life. He is dilapidated young boy, lives alone in the nearby areas of the railway station. He is independent, directionless and yet goes about living his life confidently on the same railway stations we detest. He works 6-8 hours on the stations in scorching heat (temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius / 104 degrees Fahrenheit ), moving on to trains to sell his products, working tirelessly fighting off his misery. He fears the police, calls them foul words, curses and hates them. Being involved in illegal activity (selling of such products requires licences), he sometimes gets caught by the police officers. They take away the masala, hold him captive, beat him up and then release him. On the station his friends are wary of the police and keep a watch of them. “Saab ji, woh toh kutte hain, roti daalo paltu ban jaate hain (Sir, these police officers are dogs literally, what they want is their share.)“.

Lets look at his earnings. He buys a packet for about Rs 1.6 and sells each packet for Rs 3.33. He is able to sell almost 600 packets a day. That makes his total revenue of about Rs 7.3 Lakhs. His income comes about to be about 3 to 3.5 Lakhs (approximately, taking into account days he does not work and other factors). This is good to see someone earning so much independently, or is it ?? When asked about what he does with that much of money, he replied in a nonchalantly that he saves a little and spends a lot in gambling. His salary is almost double the salary of a bank clerk (~ starting salary of Rs 13K per month) in India.

There is wonderful work that an NGO (named Ehsaas) is doing to relocate lost children, providing them shelter and vocational training. Rahul’s stroy has yet another back story. He ran away sometime ago from his family was caught by this NGO and stayed there for a period of 2-2.5 months. He was sent back to his home. However, due to some fallout he came back to this station and adopted this hellish pathway.

Today, he wants to leave this work because he is uncomfortable working in such a shameful profession. He is reluctant to meet his relatives for fear of his parents’ reputation being maligned. He wants to give up this life of having to constantly be on the run away from the police officers. He wants a better future.

A number of problems emerge from this story:

  1. For once, the level of school education is far from ideal. Having studied up to class 9th, this child should have understood that selling pan-masala is not the best thing to do. Their was an organization to help him out, he could have been more mature and taken a more respectable career. The impact of poor quality education is dangerous. In one of the conversations this boy says, “Woh hamare padosi the, padhe bahut koi kaam na mila unko. Main toh bhaag aya school se. (Their was a neighbor, who although being well educated could not get educated and so I left the school). ”  Our education policies, though ensure nishulk sarva shiksha (free education for all), yet a look at these kids and you know that merely teaching is not enough, education needs to make them aware such that they move away from vices.
  2. Secondly, there is a bigger problem we have at our hand. The problem is of an alternative vocation to selling masala packets. The issue is plain and simple. The vocation that our NGO provides is that of making paper bags. An estimated earning of a person there would be not more than Rs 50, besides they get free food, shelter, medical and sport facilities etc. Yet, one can never compare it with the money they can earn on railway stations. The difference in the amount of money they earn, eventually pulls them to selling masala on the railway stations. The lack of stable vocations is an impediment to the restoration of the childhood of these innocent kids.

    I wonder how many such Rahuls, have been sent down this line, how many actually understand the gravity of the profession they have chosen, what future they would be moving on to (of cheating, adultery, even burglary, mafias etc. etc.), who is going to educate them about their rights, what ways are there to pull them off this path etc. etc.  I guess, life is wonderful as long as we remain, in our cocoon of comfort, in our world of self-created minuscule problems, which get amplified by the fear-devil within. Once you step out, there are real heroes striving selflessly to change the lives of these young boys and girls, and that makes me sad because we never hear of them.

1. Gutka or Gutkha is a preparation of crushed areca nut(also called betel nut), tobaccocatechuparaffinslaked lime and sweet or savory flavorings.
2. Pan masala is made of Betel leaf filled with a mixture of chopped or coarsely ground areca nuts and other spices.

On the notions of success

At times I fail to understand the whole purpose behind the choices in life people make. The path that we as humans take are totally determined by our own conscience and yet, when I look around I find people helplessly pursuing their work in a rather disinterested manner. If the level of motivation in people goes down to zilch, what keeps them forgoing that work.

The explanation is pretty simple; we want happiness and to be happy you need to be in a stable position in your life. Our society has evolved over thousands of years and has come to this state wherein people need to fulfill certain basic (mundane) tasks and they get remunerated for it on a regular basis.

The whole setup seems pretty stable and appeals to the human mind as a simplistic model; yet somewhere it screws up the whole structure of a happy mind. The psychological implications of a mind being trained for a job that one detests can be preposterous.

The socio-economic setup enforces thousands of people to work together in a very similar manner, notwithstanding the diversity of human mind itself. As human mind matures, it can either adapt to changing environmental conditions and survive the game or may fail utterly. It is the latter beings that are cases of real concern – minds that could have been left freely to swim in the ocean of imagination finding their own shores now crippled into jammed lifeboats forced to move in certain direction. I wonder how many great souls go through this pain each and every day unable to fly away.

The “herd effect” channelizes much of our society’s development primarily because there are not enough people (known) out there who fail going against the flow. Why? Because we have very strict notions of success, notions that segregate people with tangible achievements from those who fought their battles in truest manner.

A more sensitized, personalized and inclusive notion of success would encourage people to explore diverse structures of our aptitudes. Minds would be left to search their own space, build their own paths, venture into areas others have refuted and find peace in the freshness of their ideas.

Of Education && Contribution

An awesome video !!

Efforts such as these are honest steps towards making our society a better place. Organizations such as Akanksha ( that reach out to poor students and help them realize the common requirements for survival are pertinent to any society’s growth.

However, there is a subtle question that I keep asking myself and almost never get a satisfying answer to it.

1) Why, we as the most capable minds of a nation are so laid-back that we do not reach out to such organizations and help out these groups ?

2) Why do we do not find motivating examples (from our society) of people that have actually reached out and dedicated their lives? There are thousands of people doing such service and yet it saddens to know that they have been forgot.

3) What kind of a change in mindset is required in our socio-cultural dynamics to channel our efforts and energy towards such fruitful practices?

— We are a developing nation and people’s lives are beset with economic instability. We are so busy building our dream careers, dream homes, dream lives etc. that we forget others whose dreams have turned into nightmares.

— Our social mindset discourages people from taking risks. Apparently, it would be looked down up on as madness if some one who is highly qualified, earning a 7 figure salary annually to go down and dedicate a part of life to such an engagement.

— And yes, finally success here is more about social stature, economic richness,
and achievements. Thus, we tend to move in the direction of personalized goals.

— I believe such initiatives should become a part of our school curriculum. Students who would be exposed to such educational programmes would feel less inhibited to go out and help their fellow mates. Having practical sessions and contact with their poor friends will actually help them understand the importance of reaching out.

— A sense of heroism should be attached to such work. Only then would people start finding motivation in such tasks and start participating actively in them.

This is what I have felt as to what is the mindset of majority of the students. The issues may be different in different spheres of life and yet the problem of going out and doing something remains highly unsolved and discouraged.

Education & Perspectives

I am reminded of this great quotation from a great thinker

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

What this poem essentially underlies is very a vital aspect of education. Education is meant to liberate the mind of an individual. It must provide you with the answers to the most basic queries of your day to day lives guiding you with a sense of direction towards the fulfillment of your desires and aims.

My recent experiences seem to suggest otherwise. The disconnect between real life experiences and the primary motivation behind education itself baffles me and sometimes is hard to understand (may be it is just lack of experience & maturity or may be it is just meant to be that way).

We seem to be heading down a path that instills fear, greed and narrow-mindedness. Fear of failing at tasks laid out by others, where metrics are abstractly defined. We have begun a journey we never chose to take, our aims are not to achieve but to make others believe that we have achieved, where deceit and false promises work out really well in keeping with what is expected and not what is correct. The definitions of correct have become even more fuzzy. Over the period of time, I feel may be the ultimate aim of everyone around is to excel at material living.

Those lessons of morality that education gave us seem to have lost ground. They were good in books, when we memorized them to earn great marks. As soon as we were out, things changed, we changed and it is up to survival, a society that essentially somehow mocks at these lessons. It is hard to understand why we as social beings are adept at adapting to changing situations forgoing our innermost belief systems. A crowd following yet another crowd is what it appears.

Goals that have become so shallow, that you cannot distinguish one man’s desire from the other. Essentially, our society has turned into a tasteless group of mindless runners, pursuing goals we never loved. My deepest fears, is not that people do not experiment more, it is that I as an individual will turn no more different than others. Somewhere, within the social structure we might get caught up in the flow and start moving along, believing that was our destiny.

Where did the education fail,if it ever did? Why has the social structure triumphed over our understanding of our ourselves so easily? Why do we understand yet not realize our true potential? They say, to help others we must learn to help ourselves. How can individuals who cannot stay with their faith, move on and influence those around. The perspectives that education had to shape, might start shaping education in itself and that is one of my deepest fears !!

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