Sunday, 4 August 2019

The PaalaGuttaPalleFamily, a post a day - Aravinda Pillalamarri

Aravinda Pillalamarri

Friend and pillar of support to the women of PaalaGuttaPalle. From day 1. With unflagging commitment.

There is no way we can walk through all that she has done and is doing with and for the women of Paalaguttapalle. And towards their efforts to lead an honest livlihood.

At each turning raising the bar. Demanding perfection from the women. And getting it. And working out orders for them.On a sustained basis.

The grocery compartment bags were ordered in many hundreds, and she systematically worked on getting friends to carry the bags to US. These orders themselves sustained the womens work for months.

The Compartment Bag Video 
(click to see)

Aravinda's post, 

6 spacious pockets in one bags.
The tomatoes stay in their pocket, and the potatoes in theirs. 

Nobody crushes anybody !
Orders yours now ! Available in 3 sizes.
 Yes! A bag for everything and everything in the bag. 

Take this multi pocket shopping bag and say no to plastic bags of every shape and size.
KICK the USE-n-THROW habit for GOOD!
Thanks to Aparna Krishnan and the Paalaguttapalle - Dalitwada folks."
She took the bags to so many places.
@The Farmers Market. 

This is how she has been part of so many designs.
Aravinda Pillalamarri, friend, co-traveller, sent me this image for the #PaalaGuttaPalleBags team.
A duffel bag, with a pocket for a vertical water bottle, with another zipped outer pocket with a small hole from where the cell phone earphones wire can go in.
I sent the picture to Anitha yesterday over Whatsapp. Today she Whatsapps these pictures to me.

She ordered these bags for  Upper Chesapeake Bay Pride  event

And this is her lovely daughter Khiyali, as committed as her to all social causes.


 And sent us this beautiful article.

                                                              (click here to open)

She made these bags from the remote hamlet in Chittor reach all the events in USA !

Ravi and Aravinda, the 2 person army !

Medha Patkar

Dr Edaserry, Kalahandi

Roopa sent me this card image one day. With much glee. 
"Madam, send me her whatsapp number. We will also call and wish her. 
Aravinda madam wrote to us that she sees people using our bags in USA, and feels very happy when she sees this."

Chennai dogs and dog owners.

This pomeranian. Was abandoned by its presumably well off owners. A month ago. It moped for a week, refused food which local small shopkeepers gave.
Then slowly made terms with the fates. And started searching for food in dustbins.
Now this homeless man who lives in ths cart, sustains himself and the dog.
I hang my head whenever I pass them.
Me and my class are the scrouge of this earth.
The poor sustain this earth..with their goodness.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

My religion, as seen across class.

Many of my friends have wondered at my position on religion and religiousness. And asked.
I have lived in two worlds.
My schooling years were in an urban, English medium school setting. The religion I saw in the upper class urban setting was temple going, seeking mental peace and blessings.
It did not necessarily translate into becoming more compassionate, more sensitive human beings. Those years I questioned religion. I stepped to the periphery of religion. I called myself an agnostic.
Then in my late twenties I moved into the real India. Into villages. And there I understood the real meaning of religion. In my country.
Where Dharmam, righteous behavior, is synonymous with Devudu, godhood.
Where the poorest find the strength for giving away their last glass of rice to someone poorer. As it is Dharmam.
Where the poorest seek to walk on the path of integrity. As there is a Devudu. Who watches all.
Where religion empowers sacrifice and integrity.
That is the religion of my land that I found. Rooted in practice. In daily living.
And I found again my gods whom I had lost. I found myself.
And that is where I stand today. Rooted in that understanding. In that religiousness. With the peoples of this land.


One friend who had gone for the darshan at Kanchipuram was commenting, "So many poor people. With so much devotion. They must be coming to god to pray for succour. They lead such difficult lives. If this gives them peace, so be it ..."
How could I explain to her.
The role of god in the lives of people of this land.
Where religion is simply a way of being.
Where temples. The small village temple. And the larger pilgrimage sites. Are part of the very being of oneself. Of the personal and social.
It is not 'poor superstitious helpless people praying for succor'.
It is people, rooted in the ethos of this land. To whom god and goodness, devudu and dharmam are one.
And who pray for succour. For oneself and for all. For the well being of creation.
To whom god is that which gives courage to give away ones last glass of rice to him in greater need. Dharmam.
Dharmam. From the root Dhr. That which sustains.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Davan's Open Heart Surgery

Gangulamma is from our village. Our neighbour's sister. Married into Tirupati to her husband, a driver.

This is she and her husband and her grandson. Dhawan. Dhawan is four years. Tiny. Looks two years. Bright eyed, adorable.
They came to meet Dr Girija yesterday. For Dhawan. And the story of the travails of the poor unfolded. As I took down their case.
The child was diagnosed with a aorta constriction, congenital, but detected only 3 months ago. And then they got admission into the government hospital in Tirupati. And then were sent to the speciality hospital SVIMS. As it was too complicated, they were asked to leave and go elsewhere.

Hyderabad has a good heart hospital they heard, but there they were told that because of the bifurcation of states, they will not accept the Arogya Sri government health card of Andhra Pradesh. And the real cost will be 5 lakhs.

They then asked around. And came to rhe government Children's Hospital at Egmore. There. "Your government is not giving us water. But for treatment they want us to serve you. You tell us why !! Ok, we will bill you even if we do it. Ok, at a lower rate."
They came in May. Waited thro the month. In the hospital. "Two of us stayed in the premises. Daily food cost is ar least 300/-. Dhawan is fed, but we need to eat in hotel." Gangulamma said. Then added. "Food is also not good here. Not like our Andhra." With a wan smile.
After a month, they were told that there are too many waiting patients. And were sent back to come after a month. They came again.
July 1st. Waiting for 20 days. No information.
They did not complain. They said there are families that are waiting even longer with no information.
They contacted me only yesterday. They took buses from Egmore Childrens Hospital and cane to see Dr Girija. They were glad to meet someone who cares, who had time for them. And the concern to think and talk.
Dr. Girija went through their case. Also connected them with some heart specialists who will give a good picture, an honest assessment.
We are continuing making the rounds ...

A village child. An open heart surgery. His grandparents have brought him to Chennai. They are making the rounds.
The grandfather calls me. "My wife wants to sell her earrings to pay for the operation costs. If needed. Please help us on how to proceed with this here.'
To most people in this country. That is the value of ornaments. An asset. To be sold. In hard times. To survive.


29 July 2019

Dawan, a 4 year old child with a serious heart condition. His grandmother is from our village. They are now in Tirupati.
The open heart surgery would cost a few lakhs. Father works as an attender.
As the condition could not be managed at the Tirupathi government hospital, they came to the Children's Government hospital in Egmore.
Where they were kept waiting without information in the ward for 2 months. As the grandfather said, for the grandparents to stay there meant eating out daily, and a pointless expense of 400/- a day. The expenses only mounted.
Then their daughter Jyothi, my neighbour in my village, told me.
My friend Chitra Sharan moved mountains to organize a surgery for them through a trust. Shes like that. She does things. Silently.
They were told to get discharged and check into the other hospital.
The government Childrens Hospital, Egmore, would not give discharge papers.
The grandfather just now paid a big bribe to get the discharge papers. He will now go to the other hospital for the open heart surgery.
This is my country. And this is how the poor in my country survive.
The head of the country is giving photo ops with some wildlife. We are left running from pillar to post.

... 2nd August

Dawan. In his hospital gown. Welcomed us with a cheerful smile. Was happy to be photographed. Grabbed the phone to check out his pictures.
His open heart surgery was due yesterday. Due to an emergency case. It was postponed. Today again he was wheeled into the OT, and again had to be wheeled out.
His mother and grandparents are there. Patient. And glad that they will get one of the best surgeons to operate. The surgeon spoke to them. That made them feel much better.
"The doctor knows Telugu. He explained to us why we had to make way for another more urgent case. Last two days.
I told him that it was all in his hands. He told me that he will do his best. But there are some failures always. Thats it's in God's hands", said the mother Subhashini.
The mother sleeps with the child. The grandparents sleep outside in the corridor. Everything is comfortable. Everyone of us is waiting for the operation, and for the positive outcome. With faith. With hope.

Dawan's smile is heart melting.

Aug 9, 2019 5 pm.

When a child comes through a difficult heart surgery smoothly.
And smiles again as of old. Davan.
Open heart surgery on Monday. Discharged on Friday. Back homewards on the train to Tirupati. With mother and grandparents.
This chapter in this small life has had a happy ending.

Aug 9, 2019 7 pm
One country, two worlds.
Davan had an open heart surgery on Monday. They have been discharged today, the fifth day after surgery. They are right now in the passenger train to Tirupati.
His mother on the phone. " Aunty, very very crowded. Chaala janaalu. Slowgaa pothavundhi." As it's a passenger train it will reach after many hours. Crowded to a point where one can hardly stand. They are traveling unreserved. No tickets possible in this weekend rush.
In another world. Our world. After such a surgery. One would engage a private vehicle. Air conditioned. A vehicle with good cushioning. Which would take a recently operated child in full comfort. In sterile safety.
The two worlds co exist. On the same land.

13 Aug 2019

Davan's well !
Last Monday this time the open heart surgery was going on. For four long hours.
Friday he was discharged. Today, a week since the surgery, his grandparents brought him from Tirupati to Chennai to get the stitches removed.
The surgeon was very happy with the progress.
The grandparents brought Tirupati ladoos for everyone. For the attenders, the nurses, the surgeons.
On the day of the surgery. All Davan's family was praying. The aunts and uncles and cousins. They walked up the steps to Tirumala, taking the footpath.They went up praying for him.
On the footpath ladoos are given, five per pilgrim. All those were sent to those who were with Dawan helping in Chennai.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Wall of Giving (2)

I see more and more "Wall of Giving" posts. Where the rich are encouraged to place their old clothes in shelves on the street where the poor can come and pick then up.
My village. Landless and poor. Will never pickup castaways from a street shelf.
Some friends have asked me if they can send their children's outgrown 'in good shape' clothes to my village. I have never permitted that.
The poor have dignity. Even when all else is gone. The poor are not beggers.
My plea. Allow them that. That dignity.
And because it's convenient to give away outgrown or excess clothes, don't.
Buy and give new clothes with dignity to the poor you know. If you can. Otherwise dont. But don't place used clothes on a street shelf.
Even if it helps you sleep better.

Santosh Koulagi It needs lot of sensitivity to understand what you are saying.
  • Aparna Krishnan Maybe it is experiential ? It has to be lived. To be understood.
  • Santosh Koulagi Aparna Krishnan yes. It is experiential.
  • Aparna Krishnan Santosh Koulagi and yet, even when I was a urban youngster I would have understood this. I have friends who are completely urban and who understand.

    I think it comes from a understanding of self. If an honesty that sees ourselves the privileged as violaters and not as 'saviours'.

    Then one can more easily see through one s own gimmicks. Like the Wall of Giving !

 Via Amarendra Srivastava

Agree. Discarding and calling it "Giving" is obnoxious and demeaning to the person you think you are "helping". Urban people love to use the word empathy. If you are that urban discarder who calls it giving, try to use empathy - put yourself in the shoes (though they may not even have that) of the poor. How would you feel if the same is done to you?

To understand hunger

 A young girl, in a colourful wraparound, with chunky jewellery. Sitting on the roadside. Munching a large burger.
Two waifs, one maybe seven, another maybe four. Standing near her. Staring at her. The young girl in the wraparound, pointing to the burger, waved her hand at the children. Indicating that she would not give them anything. Indicating that they should go away.
The two small girls did not go.They were hungry.
My daughter tugged at me. I stopped, thinking I would get the children some food at the stall. But then quickened my footsteps."What use is a one time giving to anyone." Easier to walk away from painful situations. Which speak to ourselves about ourselves.
My daughter said, "They are hungry. Buy."
We ordered two burgers, and the kids smiled. We talked while the burgers were made. Nice kids. Like our village kids.
The two girls took the burgers are ran down. To an old woman who was selling plastic trinkets on a sheet spread on the footpath. There was a tinier child there. Another sister maybe. The three sisters and the old woman, their grandmother, shared the food. They may have got a mouthful each.
It was a very difficult fact, the reality. As usual, I moved on quickly. With lowered head. Ad I have done through life.
Again. A mirror. The young girl waving away the children. I could easily see myself in her place. It is a class thing.
Beggers make us uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. For that moment, the utter unfairness of our privilege in the reality of their poverty slaps us. We shut our eyes. Wish they would disappear. And leave our sleeping conscience alone.
We have also worked out elaborate theories. To defend ourselves. From truth. We have a theory why begging is bad and we that we should not encourage beggers.
We are fakes. Hypocrites. Me and my class.
My village people. Poorest in the land. Landless assetless labourers. Give to each person who comes to their door. With humility. With dignity.
Even in times if drought.
There is no word begger in village vocabulary. There us only the word hunger. And Daanam. And Dharmam.

After Roopas Pickles were sold

Thank you friends.
For all the messages about how you loved Roopas homemade pickles from PaalaGuttaPalle.
About the smell of spices, and the tang in the taste. Pickles made at home, free of preservatives, have that magic. Lost in these days if branded supermarket pickles.
The sales translated into a pair of gold earrings for Roopa, the first gold in this home. The savings after addressing the education costs of the two children. Shravanti and Dinesh..
Gold in such homes is an asset which stays safe with the woman. Savings are built up step by small step thus.
Keep the orders coming friends ! They scatter joy.
Enjoy the homemade pickles. From PaalaGuttaPalle.