Friday, 18 August 2017

The mirror on the wall

The village women oil and comb their hair neatly. And spend a few seconds to place the kumkum neatly on their forehead. Looking into the small mirror hung on their mud walls.
Some urban women spend 2000/- on beauty parlour trips.
Both look just the same as they did, day after day. And both look 40, when they turn 40. And 50 when they turn 50. Which is as it should be.


Fowzia Fiona Didi, u r such an inspiration whn everyday I'm fighting with my urban depression ...  
Yesterday at 08:15

Aparna Krishnan The village women do not know the word depression !
Reply23 hrs

Fowzia Fiona What do u think, its a urban creation ? or it is about the space ? but trust me we all are fighting. me, my colleagues , friends everyone and we don't know the way how to get rid of 

Aparna Krishnan what exactly does it mean ? i understand grief, anger, sadness, numbing pain. But what is depression.
Aparna Krishnan i have dealt with all that. I did not know the word depression, and all I know is that one held on and those times passed, The village women face what none should. But they also do not know that word, and they move on in faith and in a community they give to and take from.
23 hrs
Fowzia Fiona hm.. but here none of us is satisfied with our life we just running after nothing. Every time we start a race we think that would be make us happy and it never happened . And then we start another race without knowing we really want it or not. After spending 3-4 years in a job we feel like that job is killing us, and the interesting thing is that we don't have courage to leave that one. It might be a numbing pain with sadness .
Aparna Krishnan So you know the answer . Satisfaction. And that no material desire can satisfy. Because 1. it causes satiety and 2. it passes away. Ones learns the need for a deeper anchor.

SreeHarsha Thanneru Wonderfully captured Aparna garu. Those black hair lines with oil and the image in mirror, stunning !!
Reply23 hrs
Aparna Krishnan accidental shot !! like everything in my life !!
Geetha Dinesh As a child I mocked my mom whenever she asked me to oil the hair. Just in my 30's , hair greyed up and stopped growing , so then when I took opinion from 'experts' , they asked me to oil (massage) it. 😀 😀 Understood the wisdom of our country a little late. 
Saroja Sundararajan Words of wisdom!
Reply20 hrs
Aparna Krishnan Ageing gets us all ! Waste of time to try to outrun it !! The money has better uses in a poor country, anyway.
Reply20 hrs

Sasi, and my last attempt September 2016

My friend  has advised me to read Siddhartha. I have read it long back, and i know that sometimes one simply has to summon the strength to helplessly watch a child walking its fate. 

June 2016 ... 
Village children forced into a poor quality, disconnected schooling caused many to get sacrificed along the way. 
And this child had fates ranged against him, a complicated and tragic series of events, including a father who was murdered, and a mother abandoning the children later, that left him and his sister effectively orphaned and care of an assetless grandmother. We were the neighbours, and we did what we could, in our best understanding.    
... Eashwaramma called up and told me Sasi refused to go to school today as well. All the village people Varalu, Anandanna, Sarojamma have all spoken, threatened and cajoled him. To no avail. Ten years ago, Surendra was in this same boat, and I also failed after using every carrot and every stick. And I know how he has ended up. Useless and drunk.

Sasi grew up with no role model, and no parental disciplining and as adolescence came on there was an deep seated rebellion that we never sensed. Also, a neighbor and a grandmother can only do so much disciplining and without our realizing it, his wilfulness had grown to vast dimensions.

A year ago we had put him into a  good government residential school, through a friend in the government, fearing his going astray in adolescence. But it was English medium and he could not cope. Having joined him we told him to just complete the year, given the trouble and expense we had all been put to. But he stopped simply eating, went on a hunger strike, and the headmaster fearing health consequences, sent him back. That was maybe his initiation into the power he could wield. The tired grandmother ran around to the old school and pleaded many times and got him readmitted there. By then we were not in the village all the time, being partly in Madras, and also missed the nuances.

Over the year he kept getting more difficult. But to all of us in the village, he was the small boy we had always known, and given an essential charm and innocence which also was uniquely his, we alternately upbraided and pampered him. Given his peculiarly deprived status, everyone in the village also had a softness towards him.

But then he also started raging against his grandmother. In anger he would hit her also. Maybe hidden anger and angst against life, and against abandonment by his parents, was getting focused on the only family member he saw around him. Then he stopped going to school. He ran away one day with the milk vendor and started working in their center. There were some issues there that we have not got to the bottom of, and we were told by people of that village that the milk vendor’s family there needed a kidney transplant for their child and that was a motive in luring Sasi away. Anyway they were pampering him, and he switched loyalties to them totally. The grandmother finally went to that village with some people from our village, and after making no headway there, gave a police complaint about his having been taken away there. In return the boy, under guidance from them, gave a written letter to the police saying that he was there by choice, and did not want to return to his grandmother at all and that she beats him.

When he was finally brought back to the village he was on full misbehavior, hitting his grandmother, demanding the best foods, and knocking down the food if he disliked it.  And kept threatening to go back to the milk centre. He had also picked up some unsavoury adult ways of talking back and playing up.

There was fear  that he would come go away to the milk centre and come to physical harm there, and Eashwaramma called up and told me to keep him in Chennai. So he came down with Varalu, and  had a good time for a week. With his essential charm he made friends with the neighbours, and the watchmen around. He went to the beach and with his talents ringed many toys. He helped me collect many medicinal herbs in the neighbourhood. As some women came from the village to learn screen printing, he joined them.  He had a good time, while other children were at school !

I had been looking desperately for a school where he could settle down, where there was also a good work component along with studies. There was nothing working out in AP, and a good friend running an excellent rural school in TN was recommended to us by many as the ideal place for him. Language would be an issue, but there were Telugu teachers there, and as the school had many strengths whereby he could pursue his interests even apart from studies, we sent him there to try. I made the mistake maybe, of telling him that I would send him and he could see if he liked it and stay on if he did. Giving him such a liberal offer was obviously in retrospect foolish.

Sasi came to Chennai. The next day our friend Saravana Perumal came with two new sets of clothes as gifts for him to make his going more cheerful. I ran around late at night buying him odds and ends – a watch, toiletries etc. Vignesh, our friend, and who had also become his great friend, offered to go with him on the overnight trip to help him get adjusted. There my friend who runs the school took him on with complete commitment. On the first day Sasi called me up and informed me that he did not like it and would return. I told him that he would not, and would stay for a week. He started shouting at me demanding to know if I had not promised him that he could decide after a day. I told him that I now demanded a week, and given the time and money I had invested in him he could do this. He refused and told me he would run away. I told him to do what he pleased and hung up. My friend who runs the school put him with the art teacher who spoke Telugu and asked him to stay with him. She said he need not study and could simply do painting and modeling.

He kept saying he would return with Vignesh who had accompanied him, and Vignesh  actually extended his stay by another few days to help Sasi acclimatize. My friend, a seasoned educationist, tried everything. Gentleness and persuation, and also an iron hand. Sasi started his hunger strike, and she put him in a room and said he would be unlocked when he wished to eat. He started breaking the door, and was given a hard slap. Then he was given food and sent with kind words and  advice to work with the art teacher.

Then he was told that Vignesh would need to leave the next day, and he could stay till I went down in the weekend. Thet night he slinked down to Vignesh’s side and took money to enable his running away. At that my friend caught him and confisicated his bags, thinking that that would retain him. The next day to test him, she told him that Vignesh would leave shortly, and before people could respond, he ran away to the main road and thumbed a lift and left to the town, penniless.

I was informed on phone, and was frozen. I told Nagesh who was also stunned into immobility. But the police there was alerted, and I called up Piyush in Salem for help, and also Sridhar also who was there then by a stroke of luck. Sridhar left for the busstop immediately. Sasi was nabbed at the busstop where he seems to have spun a story of having come with his father and lost him when they were changeing buses. And he had even  got ticket money from the kind police constable who believed him. 

At the police station, into the might, Sasi despite all entreties refused to return to the school, maybe sure that we would never let him out again. Nagesh  called him up and promised that he would leave Chennai shortly and come there, and for him to please go to the school. He refused. As a police station cannot retain a child at night, he was moved into a neighbouring girls hostel for the night. The girls there took care of him well and fed him pooris and potatoes ! Nagesh took a car and left on an overnight drive to there. When I called him up I could hear Sasi chattering with someone in the background unfazed. The police station then demanded that the family come to claim him.  Eashwaramma was called and told to make the 8 hour trip down from the village, and Chandra was asked to accompany her. They reached late night yesterday, and after he was released the drive down to Chennai happened.

Sasis was unfazed by the infinite troubles he caused, the vast expenses that have been incurred, the stress a  school has been put to. He simply sees it from his point that we demanded he stay on for a week when the initial ‘agreement’ was that he will stay for a day and decide. He probably sees the police stay as a success story, that he came out with little trouble.

-   He then asked me for some porcelean dolls he had ringed in the beach as he was leaving. When yelled at him asking if he understood what he had us all through, he said, 'But it was my money I used.' He was completely self absorbed.

My friend, with her vast experience with children, sees him at utterly hellbent on only having his way. I have realized that he has scant regard for anyone putting themselves out for him. Sridhar has advised me to lay off, saying that handling , this is not within my capability, and for my sake, and also for Sasi’s, to lay off. I know, and yet.

A child is on the verge of ruin. Eashwaramma has lived thro’ her son’s murder, brought up the two grandchildren singly, and now faces losing her grandson this way. 

Aug 2017 

Eashwaramma as grandmother, never gave up. She took him to all the vaids. She send him on the Sabarimalai pilgrimage at impossible expenses. She continues showering love. But he is currently lost to us. He is simply hanging around. Neither going to school, nor to work.

I simply watch ...

Thursday, 17 August 2017


The story of the cycle

The school is 3km away, and it was a long walk for the children. As they were already
undernourished,  they used to come with leg pains daily. When friends offered to buy them cycles, cycles happened !

Sasi, Eashwaramma's grandson, made a flurry of phonecalls when I was away. When I called back, he shouted down the phone that he had a 'green' cycle, his sister Kavya had a 'blue and golden' cycle, and Redipa, the Madiga boy in the next hamlet, had a 'red' cycle. 
Unable to let a chance go, I made him promise that every morning he would drink his milk and ashwagandhadhi at Varalu's, saying that the cycle gift had been made conditional to that. He needs that milk very badly.
Eashwaramma had gone to Piler with Balaji, Annapurna's brother, and got these finally. It must be a small celebration in the small home.

 Sasi called me up a few days later with an urgent, 'Madam, no money in the cell, call back'. Two days back I had confisicated his new cycle after a few warnings. He was to have his milk and ashwagandhadhi at Varalu's daily with the other children, and attend 'tution' with Varalu every night. All my sweeness and charm failed, and I reverted to my stick. I told Varalu to lock up the cycle at my home. 

Two days later I had a fair idea what the call was for. I called up and after a 'Baaunnaava madam' and exchange of mutual courtesies we were both silent. Then I asked him if he had attended tution the pervious days and he gave a thumping 'yes'. Then after some more silences, I asked him if he wanted the cycle, and he shouted down the phone 'Yes'. After a few more moralizing statements I permitted it, and putting down the phone could just see him cartwheeling home to get his cycle.

The new cycle, and the envy of his classmates filled his heart with unspeakable joy. He immediately moved to the SC hostel near the school where we had been registered. Later we heard from the other kids that he was ‘earning’ money there by loaning the cycle to other kids for rupees three per hour of riding. Such initiative and entrepreneurship I needed to nip in the bud because I was worried about the cycle ! When confronted with his deeds and misdeeds he stuck to the age old device of  children facing implacable adults – stout denial. So the cycle was duly confisicated for two days. Here Sowmya is trying to get further details of this venture from him, and only hearing the same stout denial.

Over the phone, I was updated by other children about his latest. On the way back from school, he gives his cycle to Vinay to cycle on from from Bandakaadapalle to our village, and hops behind his sister's cycle. That poor child Kavya has no choice but to pedal with him behind. He leaves his bag on his cycle, and Vinay cycles with that bag, and his own bag uphill, and pays the 2/- that Sasi demands for the privilege.  So Sasi is back into his entrepruener mode - and what happenns to the poor cycle is anyone's guess. I think I have met my Waterloo. Finally at this age.

As Velu came in the auto to take us to Kothapeta the usual smiling well beloved faces came to see us off. Sasi hopped into the auto as his cycle was punctured as always and is grandmother had stopped trying to supply the 5/- for the puncture repair. When we saw him off I gave him 5/- to buy some sweet, and he ran and got a chart for himself which was needed in school. In these times getting an extra 5/- at home was hard, and the 11 year old gave up his sweet without a thought. And so village children live.

Vinayaka Pooja 

When he made the Vinayaka image with his gang, he used
Please dont miss the puff in this hairstyle !

his only five rupees that a relative had given him towards kumkum and turmeric for the image. No one had taught him that owning up an activity meant first stakeing one's own for it - the first lesson of ethical management.

When our friends Prasad and Jacinte came and stayed with us, Sasi and Prasad hit it off. I decided that Prasad could be pressed into service, and asked him to call up Sasi weekly from U.S. I knew Sasi would be thrilled and proud. he would then go from house to house for the next two hours, solicitously asking every child, "Prasad saar called me. Oh, he really did not call you up ? Really ? So sad ...". His day would be made. And his week, as he would count the hours, for the next Sunday call. And in that dream of happiness would hopefully do some studies, and abstain from temptations ...
One day Sasi called me and informed me that Prasad Saar had called him up thrice so far,  and once Jacinte had called him ... and when I asked how on earth he managed to converse with Jacinte, and in what language, he confidently said he had managed ... and knowing his ingenuity i believed him. Later i discovered that it was a marvellous piece of imaginary fiction that i has been listening to ... and that Prasad had only spoken to him once, and though Sasi had asked after 'Madam', she had not been ther.


Panimara's foot soldiers

Foot-Soldiers of Freedom

Panimara's foot soldiers of freedom - 2

TEN TALES OF FREEDOM – 3: The little settlement in Odisha that earned the name ‘Freedom Village’
The last living fighters in Panimara at their daily prayers
There were battles on other fronts, too, that Panimara's freedom fighters had to wage. Some of these were right at home.
Inspired by Gandhiji's call against untouchability, they acted.
"One day, we marched into our Jagannath temple in this village with 400 Dalits," says Chamaru. The Brahmins did not like it. But some of them supported us. Maybe they felt compelled to. Such was the mood of the times. The gauntiya (village chief) was managing trustee of the temple. He was outraged and left the village in protest. Yet, his own son joined us, supporting us and denouncing his father's action.
"The campaign against British goods was serious. We wore only khadi. We wove it ourselves. Ideology was a part of it. We actually were very poor, so it was good for us."
All the freedom fighters stuck to this practice for decades afterwards. Until their fingers could no longer spin or weave. "At 90, last year," says Chamaru, “I thought it was time to stop."
It all started with a Congress-inspired "training" camp held in Sambalpur in the 1930s. "This training was called `sewa' [service] but instead we were taught about life in jail. About cleaning toilets there, about the miserable food. We all knew what the training was really for. Nine of us went from the village to this camp.
"We were seen off by the entire village, with garlands and sindhur and fruit. There was that kind of sense of ferment and significance."
There was also, in the background, the magic of the Mahatma. "His letter calling people to satyagraha electrified us. Here we were, being told that us poor, illiterate people, could act in defiance, to change our world. But we were also pledged to non-violence, to a code of conduct." A code most of the freedom fighters of Panimara lived by for the rest of their lives.
They had never seen Gandhiji then. But like millions of others, were moved by his call. "We were inspired here by Congress leaders like Manmohan Choudhary and Dayanand Satpathy." Panimara's fighters made their first trip to jail even before August 1942. “We had taken a vow. Any kind of cooperation with the war [World War II] in money or in person, was a betrayal. A sin. War had to be protested by all non-violent means. Everybody in this village supported this.
"We went to jail in Cuttack for six weeks. The British were not keeping people imprisoned for long. Mainly because there were thousands cramming into their jails. There were just too many people willing to be jailed."
The anti-untouchability campaign threw up the first internal pressures. But these were overcome. "Even today," says Dayanidhi, "we don't use Brahmins for most of our rituals. That `temple entry' upset some of them. Though, of course, most felt compelled to join us in the Quit India movement."
Caste exerted other pressures, too. "Each time we came out of jail," says Madan Bhoi, "relatives in nearby villages wanted us to be `purified'. This was because we had been in prison with untouchables." (This "purification" of caste prisoners goes on in rural Orissa, even today: PS).
"When I returned from jail once," says Bhoi, "it was the 11th day ceremony for my maternal grandmother. She had died while I was inside jail. My uncle asked me, `Madan, have you been purified?' I said no, we purify others by our actions as satyagrahis. I was then seated separately from the rest of the family. I was isolated and ate alone.
"My marriage had been fixed before I went to jail. When I came out, it was cancelled. The girl's father did not want a jailbird for a son-in-law. Finally, though, I found a bride from Sarandapalli, a village where the Congress had great influence."
Chamaru, Jitendra and Purnachandra had no problems of purity at all during their prison stay in August 1942.
"They sent us to a prison for criminals. We made the most of it," says Jitendra. "In those days, the British were trying to recruit soldiers to die in their war against Germany. So they held out promises to those who were serving long sentences as criminals. Those who signed up for the war would be given Rs. 100. Each of their families would get Rs. 500. And they would be free after the war.
"We campaigned with the criminal prisoners. Is it worth dying for Rs. 500 for these people and their wars? You will surely be amongst the first to die, we told them. You are not important for them. Why should you be their cannon fodder?
"After a while, they began to listen to us. [They used to call us Gandhi, or simply, Congress]. Many of them dropped out of the scheme. They rebelled and refused to go. The warden was most unhappy. `Why have you dissuaded them?' he asked. `They were ready to go till now’. We told him that, in retrospect, we were happy to have been placed amongst the criminals. We were able to make them see the truth of what was going on.
"The next day we were transferred to a jail for political prisoners. Our sentence was changed to six months of simple imprisonment.”
What was the injustice of the British Raj that provoked them to confront so mighty an empire?
"Ask me what was the justice in the British Raj," says Chamaru with gentle derision. That was not a smart question to have put to him. "Everything about it was injustice.
"We were the slaves of the British. They destroyed our economy. Our people had no rights. Our agriculture was ruined. People were reduced to terrible poverty. Between July and September 1942 only five or seven of the 400 families here had enough to eat. The rest braved hunger and humiliation.
"The present rulers too, are pretty shameless. They loot the poor as well. Mind you, I won't equate anything to the British Raj, though. But our present lot are also awful.”
Panimara’s freedom fighters still go to the Jagannath temple every morning. Where they beat the nissan (drum) as they have since 1942. At an early hour, it can be heard for a couple of kilometres around, they say.
But on Fridays, the freedom fighters try to gather at 5.17 p.m. Because "it was Friday that the Mahatma was murdered." At 5.17 p.m. It's a tradition this village has kept alive for 54 years.
It's a Friday today, and we accompany them to the temple. Four of the seven living freedom fighters are present. Chamaru, Dayanidhi, Madan and Jitendra. Three others, Chaitanya, Chandrashekar Sahu and Chandrashekar Parida, are out of the village just now.
The foyer of the temple is packed with people, who sing a bhajan favoured by Gandhi. "In 1948," says Chamaru, "many in this village shaved their heads when the news of the Mahatma's murder came. They felt they had lost their father. And to this day, many fast on Fridays."

02-2005-PS-Foot Soldiers of Freedom-Panimara 2.jpg
Jitendra Pradhan, 81, and others singing one of Gandhi's favourite bhajans
May be some of the children are here in the little temple out of curiosity. But this is a village with a sense of its history. With a sense of its own heroism. One that feels a duty to keep the flame of freedom alive.
Panimara is a village of small cultivators. "There were around 100 Kulta (cultivator caste) families. About 80 Oriya (also cultivators). Close to 50 Saura Adivasi households, 10 goldsmith caste families. Some Goud (Yadav) families and so on," says Dayanidhi.
That, broadly, remains the village’s . Most of the freedom fighters were members of the cultivator castes. "True, we have not had too many inter-caste marriages. But relations between the groups have always been fine since the days of the freedom struggle. The temple is still open to all. The rights of all are respected."
There are a few who feel some of their rights have not been recognised. Dibitya Bhoi is one of them. "I was very young and I was badly thrashed by the British," he says. Bhoi was then 13. But since he was not sent to prison, his name did not make it to the official list of freedom fighters. Some others were also badly beaten up by the British but ignored in the official record because they did not go to prison.
That colours the names on the stambh or pillar to commemorate the freedom fighters. Only the names of those who went to jail in 1942 are there. But no one disputes their right to be there. Just sadly, the way the official recording of "freedom fighters" went, it left out others who also deserved recognition.

03-2006-PS-Foot Soldiers of Freedom-Panimara 2.jpg
Showing a visitor the full list of Panimara's fighters
August 2002, 60 years later, and Panimara's freedom fighters are at it again.
This time Madan Bhoi – the poorest of the seven, owning just over half an acre of land – and his friends are sitting on a dharna. This is just outside the Sohela telephone office. "Imagine," says Bhoi, "after all these decades, this village of ours does not have a telephone."
So on that demand, “we sat on a dharna. The SDO [sub-divisional officer] said he had never heard of our village," he laughs. "This is blasphemy if you live in Bargarh. This time, funnily, the police intervened."
The police, who knew these men as living legends, marvelled at the SDO's ignorance. And were quite worried about the condition of the 80-year-olds. "In fact, after hours of the dharna, the police, a doctor, medical staff and others intervened. Then the telephone people promised us an instrument by September 15. Let us see."
Once again, Panimara's fighters were struggling for others. Not for themselves. What did they ever get out of their struggles for themselves?
"Freedom," says Chamaru.
For you and me.
Photos: P. Sainath