Thoughts & Reflections

Think beautiful, live beautiful.

Category: India

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.

References:-
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.

Of altruism, perspective & compassion

Every weekend we plan a movie which is followed by a dinner that makes up for a wonderful get-together. This sort of has become a wonderful routine for us friends. This weekend we did a very simple act – which brings one to think upon the way we spend our precious resources.

So, after the movie, as we moved to a restaurant, a young boy (approximately 11 years of age), in a dilapidated condition came up to us begging for money. He seemed pretty afraid of us. A friend of mine called him up, asked why he wanted any money. He answered back saying he was hungry. He handed the boy a packed bag of dosa-sambhar, with a water bottle and the boy seemed pretty gratified with us. The look on his face was very satisfying for us too.

He told us that he had lost his parents, when he was young. He studies in some government school and usually takes his lunch there. He has no way of getting any dinner and therefore, has to beg for money to get his dinner.

It brings us to the very basic question that I have pondered over ever since I started earning and living independently i.e. are we justified (ethically) in living a luxurious life (in comparison to that poor boy)?The whole argument is why do we not give a thought about the problems that such citizens of our nation face. We keep crying and cringing about the petty problems that hinder our progress. We cry about the lack of comfort, the dearth of relationships in our lives, the lack of excess money, of poor quality food, of not working on cutting edge technology etc. etc. Yet, we tend to be ignorant of the common day problems of such poor people living amongst us. We tend to ignore our basic humane qualities of compassion and love towards them.

We tend to spend excessively on our essentials, our source of entertainment in life. At times, I ponder, if we ever give a little more thought to the way we spend our own money, we might be able to support or even feed one such hungry soul. Yet, we, the most educated people of our nation, tend to focus more on our small, narrow minded vision of the world.

There seems to be a lack of awareness and willingness within people (including me) in trying  go out of their way and make someone happy. We have a notion of hoarding money that creates wealth and yet no adds a minimalistic contribution to our society.  We tend to believe that it is the bank account balance that is the final measurement of our worth; a notion that really has objective aim to it.

Altruism is a non-gratifying goal for a large percentage of people. It involves self-denial, abnegation of one’s desires in order to part away with some of the pleasures one could create for one self. One tends to pursue happiness from a very self-ridden perspective. As long as the domain of one’s contribution is confined to the realm of him/herself the value proposition of one’s contribution remains less effective. Once people start propagating some essentials from their lives and dedicate it to others, we would start witnessing a change within the way wealth is distributed amongst the society.

Our society condemns altruism in a manner by not promoting it. Our social conditioning forces us to be restrictive in the way we plan our resource expenditure. There is an excessive emphasis laid on personal development. There in we lay constraints on ourselves and tend to believe that may be supporting another’s development might be an unnecessary burden especially if the other one may not be able to help us back in return. We tend to undermine our powers and the effectiveness of the impact we might be able to create. We might be able to understand the strength of collective efforts; yet the realization does not easily dawn up on us.

May be one day when we sit down and feel the pain, suffering & frustration that these helpless souls have to go through on a daily basis. As I sit down to write this blog post (after a delicious dinner) I am not even sure whether that boy went hungry or even sleep less tonight. This is the kind of thoughts that make me shudder at times. Those packages, salaries, grades seem to be ghosts that fettered our thoughts. Yes, they are important; however, there are other very grave problems that our society faces. Material seems meaningless when you cannot satisfy your stomach. And yet, when you can help some hungry soul go to bed peacefully with a filled tummy, there is a calmness that fills in your conscience; a feeling that is way more than any salary hike, promotion or level of self achievement might be able to.

Of Education && Contribution

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KwIzJfgzs9Y

An awesome video !!

Efforts such as these are honest steps towards making our society a better place. Organizations such as Akanksha (http://www.akanksha.org) 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.

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