Can cctv cameras replace our moral compass?

The article was published in The Bangalore Mirror

Of late, the newspaper headlines have been screaming of the mass molestation of women during New Year’s Eve in one of the signature roads of one of the most progressive cities in India. And this is not sensational journalism; it is just the highlighting of facts. Videos captured by CCTV cameras of horrific sexual aggression on hapless girls have been doing the social media rounds. We have been reading of how many such sexual assaults that are being captured by CCTV cameras will now be booked and retributed by law. More CCTV cameras are being demanded by the public to stop such crimes. I agree that the state needs to invest more on equipment that will empower the police to solve crimes unequivocally and fast. Continue reading “Can cctv cameras replace our moral compass?”

Why learning should never stop

I believe that a nation can be great if the children are allowed to think and adults are encouraged to learn.

Somehow the practice everywhere is in the reverse. It is assumed that children are not capable of doing any critical thinking and are spoon-fed at home and at schools, they are robbed of their ability to make wise choices or think creatively. It is also assumed that adults have done all the learning and have nothing more to learn. It is only when we make a paradigm shift to this equation that will any movement towards true education take place.

Continue reading “Why learning should never stop”

The anatomy of the poor

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I have been working closely with people in the slums for around 18 years. The people I work with from around 72 slums in Bangalore are the parents of the children that come to the schools run by Parikrma Humanity Foundation. While this is my most recent and longest experience, I have had some exposure to slums in Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Nepal, Bangladesh, New York and Mexico City. While I don’t claim to be an expert on the slums, I do have data that has been time tested about how desperately poor people in the slums look at themselves in the role of parents.

Continue reading “The anatomy of the poor”

When I volunteered at Mother Teresa’s

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The 4th of September 2016, Mother Teresa was declared as a saint in Vatican. She will from today be called the Saint Teresa of Calcutta. We hear of celebrations in Kolkata, Vatican, and the hundreds of Missionaries of Charity centres across the world. I have such mixed feelings about this canonization.

I am of course delighted that none other than the Pope of the Catholic Church is bestowing her this honour considering she had the courage to leave her convent in 1976 although she had taken a vow never to leave it. I have heard from the some of the early nuns, some of who are no more, about her inner turmoil and struggle to leave the Loreto Convent. I too was a Loreto student and studied in the Loreto Covent in Darjeeling where Mother Teresa started one of her earliest centres. That was the beginning of my volunteering days with Mother Teresa. I volunteered with her for seven years in Kolkata right through college and higher studies. I was just one of the many volunteers she had but she was the one amongst many for me.

Amidst all these celebrations I wonder what would Mother Teresa say if she was alive. She truly demonstrated selfless service and had no personal benefit in mind when she would roll up her sleeves to take away the maggots one by one from an infected wound of a dying man. I have seen her do that so often in Nirmal Hriday, a hospice that she started in her early days to tend to the sick and abandoned people in Kolkata. There were hundreds of patients with terminal illnesses like cancer and sometimes very infectious diseases as well. This centre actually smelled of death but you could never believe that when you saw the tenderness with which Mother Teresa would speak and handle the dying. I know Mother had no ambition of recognition and awards, leave alone canonization, when she served the poor. Her only ambition was to make people around her feel love.

Mother Teresa was such an antithesis to the images one creates when one hears about a world leader. She barely had any physical presence…I will always remember her as a diminutive, bent and wrinkled figure, shuffling around in her large sandals. She was a leader who had none of the qualities that a traditional leader is expected to have. She was so soft-spoken that it was sometimes difficult to hear her. She was never good at oratory but whenever she spoke there was a pin drop silence. Her eyes were soft and kind and not the piercing eyes that leaders are reputed to have. I believe she was the best CEO I have ever worked for because she had thousands of us doing things for her without her ever asking us to do it. But she was not at all conscious of her image and the impact she had on people. I remember when I had taken one of my friends from Denmark to meet her; she was quite shocked that Sonja had come all the way from Europe just to meet her. She thought all that was so unnecessary.

I remember that even when I would go to Nirmal Hriday during the weekends, which was adjacent to the iconic Hindu Kalighat temple, I would hear the rumble of criticism about her. She has been criticized for hobnobbing with tyrants, for taking photographs with political leaders but mostly for “converting” the dying with her Christian prayer. I would be often asked if that was true. I of course saw her pray with and for the dying. It was the most poignant and serene sight. I don’t think Mother was ever conscience or even aware of the religion of the sick she tended. To her it was the suffering that mattered. Her prayer brought calmness around all of us and many times the patient died with a smile. I learnt from Mother that the best gift one can give anyone is the sense of dignity and that does not require any money or material wealth.

And, so I sit here wondering what would Mother Teresa do to see all the “tamasha” to use her own words, around her canonization today? I think she would just quietly kneel down and pray.

 

 

Can patriotism be taught?

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India just celebrated its 70th Independence Day on the 15th of August. All schools and offices are shut on that day and if that day happens to be on a Thursday or a Friday most people get out of the city for a long week end. So, it is left to a motley number of conscientious schools and officials to raise the flag and exchange sweets to celebrate. At Parikrma we have always kept our schools opened, raised the Indian flag, sang patriotic songs and given an opportunity to our children to choreograph a cultural event of their own.

For me it is an opportunity to go to all our four schools and meet the students and talk to them about issues that are current and relevant. Most often, I talk about how true freedom is the one that respects someone else’s freedom. This year I spoke about the difference between Patriotism and Nationalism. Of late there have been many news about how people have been criticized of actually falling into the groove of sedition if they are not nationalistic. This trend worries me. We need to be very sure about what we want in our country, a patriot or a nationalist?  A patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility while the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to a war.

As educators it is our responsibility to introduce to the minds of our students that it is possible to be connected to the world outside, to fellow exist and not just tolerate. When we teach our children that we need to tolerate all religions, all people we are actually instilling in them some arrogance. Because honestly who are we to just tolerate others? Are we in anyway superior to anyone else that we should just be tolerating them instead of co-existing with them, and actually integrating with them?

I therefore, feel it is more important to be patriotic and love our country but be open minded about all the things that are going wrong and try and do what we can. There is so much to learn from others without feeling in any way inadequate or insecure about ourselves.

We need to do something instead of just talking about it. I suppose that is the very genesis of Parikrma.