Wednesday, May 24, 2017

BEYOND THE BAY

Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration at the White House is set to take place today. He will take the Oath of Office, and make his first speech as the POTUS.

Before America wakes up to prepare to be great again, we’ve come up with a unique drinking game that everyone – immigrants, Mexicans, and Muslims (beat that) can play. Here’s how it goes:

We’ve picked out a few of Trump’s favourite words. When he uses them in his speech, you take a shot (or gobble a kebab).

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Artwork by Deswick Correa

‘Goat Yoga Class Has a Waiting List of 900 People’ is something I came across on Reddit’s ‘nottheonion’ subreddit, a place which aggregates satirical and hard-to-believe news from around the world. Naturally, I clicked on the link expecting to see yet another silly yoga fad, but I was pleasantly surprised. On the surface, it appears to be a yoga class for those who are not too serious about yoga and who love playing with cute animals (such as myself). You dig deeper and realise it is actually almost therapeutic.

Lainey 1
Lainey Morse

Earlier in 2016, Morse— Lainey Morse, the founder of Goat Yoga had let out her farm for a kid’s birthday party. A yoga instructor asked if she could host a yoga class there. A few goats joined the class and the concept was born. After working 10 years in marketing and freelance photography, Morse quit her job to work full time on ‘Goat Yoga’ and ‘Your Daily Goat’ at her No Regrets Farm in Willamette Valley, Oregon.

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What does a goat yoga class look like? “It’s a normal yoga class with a yoga instructor teaching it. The only difference is that I include my mini goats. They just wander around and sit on people’s mats, only to show their desire to be a pet and attract people’s attention. Most people don’t just get that interaction with goats or that country life, they are all so busy and stressed out. So they love that interaction with the goats,” Morse tells Bayside Journal.

It’s quite safe to assume that the concept has been a roaring success and has gone viral not once, but twice, with Morse being approached by a publisher to write a book. The official launch will be in spring, probably on the first of March, says Morse. The classes started in the summer of 2016 and in December there were a few special holiday goat yoga classes in her barn. “It was like 25 degrees (Fahrenheit) out with icy roads and yet people were driving hundreds of miles to come to the classes,  so it was a real success,” says Morse about the massive popularity of the classes. For those who don’t want to wait and are fortunate enough to be in that area, there is a special Valentine’s Day couple’s yoga class in February.

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The class attracts all kinds of people—from animal lovers and yoga practitioners to the curious. “I’ve had a lot of people who show up, who have never tried yoga before, and they say, oh, finally, a reason to try yoga! I have yoga lovers who love goats. All the people that have come are kind, wonderful people,” says Morse.

With a bunch of animals roaming around while you try your best to do a Dhanurasana, a little bit of interference is bound to happen. But you won’t really call that a hindrance. “People love it. When you have a little mini goat that comes up to you and nuzzles his head into you while you are trying to do a pose, you are probably going to stop that pose and pet that goat,” says Morse with a laugh. You’re damn right, I will!

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Goat Yoga sounds like a fuzzy, adorable activity but like anything else, it has its critics. “It’s not a real, serious yoga class and I know some people are thinking that I am destroying the legacy of yoga, but that’s not what I am doing. It’s just making people happy and getting them out amid nature and combining cute, adorable animals— now that can’t be a bad thing?” It’s quite the contrary.

Most city-folks such as me wonder—what are goats like? They are a little skittish, a bit afraid of things. My goats are very social, loving animals because I spend two-three hours with them every day since they have been babies. They are very used to humans. They probably think humans are put on this earth to pet them or feed  them. Some goats, people think, will head butt them or chew on something and some goats are probably like that because they haven’t been made to socialise like a dog or a cat. But, when people spend a lot of time with animals, they tend to be friendly and loving. I have trained mine to only play with people and not head butt them.

Are they like dogs, I ask, imagining myself petting a baby goat. “They are more like cats because they don’t know their names and they won’t come to you if you call them. They just will come up to you if they want attention,” says Morse with a chuckle. That sounds exactly like cats.

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Since goats are usually livestock and not domesticated pets, does Morse believe her classes will further the cause of veganism and vegetarians? “Most of my clients are vegans and vegetarians. I think people should live how they want and should not be judgmental of how other people live. I actually have some animal activists contact me and say I am exploiting my goats, which is ridiculous because they are probably the most spoilt goats in the world,” says Morse.

Morse’s end goal is not to start a quirky, new yoga fad. She plans to start animal-assisted therapy sessions with the help of a local therapist.

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“What I am calling it is ‘Goat Happy Hour’. It has nothing to do with alcohol but that’s how people feel when they leave. I have had people who are stressed out and depressed and sick. And when you get around goats, it is really hard to be sad and depressed when you have baby goats jumping around. I went through my own time diagnosed with a disease. I was in pain and in bad shape. I spent every day with those goats. It is very therapeutic. You forget that you are in pain. I know that it helped me and I know that it is going to help other people too.”

“I think a lot of people are just stressed out and sick of politics, war and the negative press. My hope is that I can be a trailblazing pioneer with the goat therapy. I have seen how many people (those who have come to her farm) it has helped,” says Morse.

When independent filmmaker Ruben Lagattolla decided to go to Syria, it was for a photo exhibition. However, 10 days later, he returned with material for his documentary, which is now going places. Titled Young Syrian Lenses, the documentary premiered in January 2015 and is about a group of young adults who became ‘media activists’ due to the war. With the regime taking over Aleppo in November 2015, Lagattolla released the documentary on the Internet. Speaking to Bayside Journal from his hometown in Italy, Ruben Lagattolla shares what propelled him to document these media activists, how he managed to enter Syria and the highlights of his 10-day stay in the country.

Back in 2012, when matters in Syria became worse, Ruben was working with refugees in Iraq’s Kurdish territories that had witnessed several Syrian refugees desperate for shelter. “It was my first experience with Syrian refugees. I was a cameraman then with a director and we were documenting the refugees and other minorities in Iraq,” he says, “I interviewed hundreds of Syrian refugees to get a sense of what was happening in the country they had escaped.”

A still from the film
A still from the film

Meanwhile, Ruben had met a photographer-friend in Italy, who was about to conduct an exhibition on media activists from Aleppo. “I found this idea crazy enough and thought of accompanying him,” he says. However, the venue was bombed and reduced to rubble days before their arrival. It was then that the idea of making a documentary on the activists struck Lagatolla. “The rate of bombardment had increased between September 2013 and March 2014, yet these activists were diligently covering the happenings. We decided to make a documentary by following them on their job,” he shares

A still from the film
A still from the film

Entering Syria

Ruben, along with his photographer-friend Enea Discepoli, entered Syria “illegally” on April 30, 2014, from Turkey, through the southern border of Hatay. “We took a flight to Turkey from Italy and paid for an agricultural truck to help us to reach the border. We were not alone. There were around 10 to 15 people, and yet there was complete silence in the truck. Once at the border, we dispersed quickly,” he says.

Ruben says they had to trim their hair and grow their beards to look like locals. Besides that, they also had to brush up their knowledge of basic Arabic to stay away from suspicion.

After crossing over to Syria, things weren’t as challenging. “We had an agreement with our friends in Syria, who had come to pick us up at the border,” he says. This was the time when the ambush had intensified and there were reports of ISIS kidnapping other nationals in Syria. “While we drove to Aleppo, we had to be constantly vigilant to avoid ISIS and the regime,” he says.

A still from the film
A still from the film

Welcoming Day and Life in Aleppo

No sooner had they arrived in Aleppo than the radio crackled with news of bombings in the vicinity. “Two blasts had led to a massive fire and we followed these activists immediately as they set out on their job,” he says and adds, “It was our welcoming day in Aleppo.”

The following days, says Ruben, were pretty much the same. Calling the situation “scary and gory”, Ruben recalls that they couldn’t sleep a single night. “After 11 p.m., there were curfews and electricity would be cut off. The generators don’t work for too long leaving the city in dark and silence after a while. You can hear petrifying sounds of explosions, firings, and helicopters hovering over the area in the dead of the night,” he says.

A still from the film
A still from the film

But Syrians are resilient, underlines Ruben. “It’s a hard life in Syria. Despite that the people were positive and hoping for the situation to improve. It was hard for us to adapt to the conditions, but they had accepted their fate,” he says.

Media Activists: A Phenomenon in Syria

Young Syrian Lenses is based on a group of 50 media activists from Aleppo’s Halab News. Halab News was initially a television network only; however, later they also got a website Halabnews.com. According to Ruben, these activists have been reporting from the affected and rural areas since 2011, with a focus on casualties. “While people were talking about the situation, I felt it was important to document these youngsters who went unnoticed,” he says.

Schermata 5
A still from the film

Interestingly, says Ruben, none of them were journalists before the war. “One was driving an ambulance, another was making perfumes and so on. Everything changed for them with the war,” he says and adds, “It was fascinating to me that unlike many, these boys did not take up weapons but cameras and pens for the cause.”

Ruben says their commitment for information, despite hardships, was significant. Besides that, they were not paid for the work, unless they received funds from the local council. “Coming from Western countries, remuneration is given importance. But these youngsters mostly worked without payments,” he says, “They were rebels dedicated for their country and cause.”

Even when the situation was tense, these guys started a satirical program mocking dictator Bashar Al-Assad. However, Ruben says, the protagonist of the program was killed by the Assad regime. The circumstances, he says, are extremely difficult and dangerous for journalists in Syria. “The Press Rights are not being respected by the regime,” he says and adds that he has now been put on the country’s blacklist.

Ruben Lagattolla
Ruben Lagattolla

Learning to Take Risks

Ruben says that risks have taught him a lot in life. “I think twice before going to a risky place every time. After all, I am attached to my life and don’t wish to be killed. But, at the same time, these places teach many life lessons that you would cherish forever,” he says, “My visit to Syria was worth it. I realised the significance of living each second,” he says.

Ruben says he won’t ever forget the humanity he was showered with in Aleppo. “We were welcomed by anybody and everybody we came across. Though they were helpless and restless, they spoke to us wholeheartedly,” he says.

By Laertes (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonhurd/2343445788/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the thaw in Indo-Pak relations following the Uri attacks in September last year for which India blamed Pakistan’s Jaish-e-Mohammed, Pakistan has released 218 fishermen who had allegedly strayed into Pakistani waters, reports Hindustan Times.

On December 25 last year, Pakistan had released 220 Indian fishermen who were imprisoned for more than year, as a goodwill response to PM Narendra Modi’s wishing Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif on his birthday.

These fishermen were asked to be set free from Malir Jail by the Interior Ministry, said superintendent Hasan Sehto. He also said that about 110 more Indian fishermen remain imprisoned in Karachi in its Landhi Jail.

Both Pakistan and India are known to frequently capture each others’ fishermen for violating boundaries. Since there is no clear mark or a boundary that separates the Arabian Sea, poor fishermen are often arrested for illegal fishing. Just last Friday, 66 Indian fishermen were arrested for illegal fishing by Pakistan Maritime Security Agency. The only hope for the captured fishermen to be set free is through these goodwill gestures.

The phrase “Go to Pakistan” has become a fashionable insult of late. This insult is catapulted at anyone who says anything against the government or in criticism of India. The implication of it is, “Hey, you dared to insult our motherland. Why don’t you move to the country that is our arch-enemy?” We don’t say “Go to hell” anymore, because Pakistan is much worse in our eyes.

In the context of the times we live in, I find it interesting that many Pakistani Hindus are comfortable with and attached to their Pakistani identities. Recently, the Indian government declared that the fee for Indian citizenship for Hindus living in Pakistan has been reduced from Rs 15,000 to Rs 100. But it will not be surprising if a large chunk of them decide to continue living in the place of their birth.

Inherently Pakistani

The families of most Hindus residing in Pakistan have lived in this country for generations. These were the people who made the choice to not move to India after Partition. Some families migrated from rural areas to the more urban parts of the country. Today, a large number of Hindus live in the Sindh area.

Cosmopolitanism and Acceptance

Most people belonging to this community do not live in Hindu-only localities or ghettos. Digital marketer Priyanka Pahuja and member of the Agha Khan University Exam Board Ajay Pinjani live in Karachi, which is predominantly a Muslim city with a share of families who follow other religions. Jagdeesh Ahuja, a political analyst and columnist, resides in Sindh, and his neighbourhood is home to a mix of Muslims, Hindus, and Catholics.

Even when it comes to education, there are no Hindu-only institutes. Here too, Ajay and Priyanka found that a majority of their classmates were Muslims. In fact, Ajay was the only Hindu in his class. Priyanka’s friend circle has never been dominated by Hindus. “The rare cases of Hindu friends I have today are from the local Hindu community prayers or friends of friends. The number of Muslims definitely exceeds all other faiths in my friend circle,” she says.

Ajay and Jagdeesh find that a majority of their friends, too, are Muslims. Just like Priyanka, Ajay’s Hindu friends are his cousins and people he has met at family gatherings. Growing up, neither of them was told that they should make friends only in their community. Ajay credits this openness towards other communities to his parents’ warm and cordial relationships with people of other faiths.

Religion and Everyday Life

How often does religion come up in everyday conversation? Priyanka argues that it does not predominantly feature in her personal life. “My co-worker prays five times a day and I go to prayers every Sunday. I think we’ve all accepted everyone with their own set of rituals they follow,” she says. But she points out that religion is widely discussed if any communally charged incident occurs or if some religion-based news goes viral. Ajay has the same observation.

“Some political events in Pakistan have tremendously used faith as a weapon to shape a rigid mindset among common citizenry and provided free space to hate-speech against specific minorities,” says Ajay. Jagdeesh finds that religion is discussed quite widely in Sindh. “Since religion and sectarianism are being used in politics, it is a much talked about and very controversial topic,” he says.

The Minority Status 

Discrimination against Hindus seems to exist at different levels in Pakistan. “Everyone thinks that since you are a minority in the state, you must be discriminated. Personally for me, it hasn’t affected me enough to make me think about it,” says Priyanka. In fact, she finds that people pay more attention to her safety and protect her because she does not belong to the majority community.

Ajay says that even though he has not faced discrimination, his Hindu identity has led to some interesting experiences. Once, while volunteering for a summer camp in the Swat Valley, Ajay interacted with several internally displaced children. At the end of this camp, one child asked for his name and refused to believe that he is a Hindu. “You are so nice; you certainly can’t be a Hindu!” the child said. The child made Ajay repeat a verse and rejoiced that he had now converted to Islam.

Jagdeesh recites an incident of discrimination that has stayed with him for years. Once during his college years, he got into a discussion about Mohammed Bin Qasim, a man who is portrayed as a hero in textbooks and official narratives but was responsible for invading Sindh. When he tried to challenge Qasim’s positive portrayal, he was hounded for his views rather than listened to. “What kind of Muslims are you? A Hindu kafir is talking against our Islamic hero and you’re listening to him?” are the accusations that his friends had to hear. This incident taught Jagdeesh to remain conscious of his views during all discussions about religion.

Ground Realities

“Hindu families that are economically affluent and reside in the urban cities of Pakistan receive equal opportunities like any other Pakistani. However, those residing in rural areas, especially Sindh, become the victim of discrimination,” says Ajay. Minority rights activist Kapil Dev supports what Ajay says. There is adequate representation for the Hindu community in the country, but elected members mainly belong to the higher classes. In the northern part of Sindh, people face several issues such as forced conversions, kidnapping for ransom, and accusations of blasphemy, Kapil says.

He further adds, “Every time, there is an instance of religious extremism against Muslims in India, the reciprocal effect is felt here, on the Hindu community.” Kapil has experienced discrimination firsthand. He has been incorrectly called an Indian on national television. In fact, people often ask him, “Aren’t you Indian?”

Another issue is sheer indifference. “Most Hindus reside in Sindh, while only a few Hindu families live in other parts of Pakistan. As a result, the majority never really interacts with a Hindu; hence, may be indifferent to their existence as well,” says Ajay. Kapil finds it surprising that the majority is still largely ignorant about Hindus and their culture, considering that five million of them live in Pakistan.

The Protection Offered by Privilege

Priyanka acknowledges that the liberal attitude she has adopted may be a result of her socioeconomic background. “Probably because I was born and brought up in an educated environment and the city life surrounding included people with similar mindsets,” she explains.

Ajay says that he has not experienced the consequences of a negative, discriminatory mindset because of his socioeconomic status. “Since my family and I are economically privileged, live in relatively secured urban centers, and do not depend on the State for basic necessities of life, we have not directly experienced the consequences of such mindset. However, because of easy access to information, there is an indelible psychological impact on our lives,” he says.

A Sense of Home and Belonging

“Not just the Hindu community, anyone from any community in Pakistan would immediately pack their bags if given the chance and resources to move out,” says Priyanka. She says that the state of the economy and law and order in the country are a constant hurdle when it comes to building a career and earning a livelihood. Almost half of her paternal relatives have moved to India.

Despite this, she says that people wish to continue living in the country for reasons such as a sense of home and belonging, as well as loved ones. Apart from this attachment to the land, Ajay says he did not consider moving to India because its culture seemed foreign to him. His decision is also guided by the belief that if he is to shift to India, he will still be considered a migrant Sindhi rather than an Indian. Kapil says that it is this fear of not being accepted in India that will prevent Hindus from opting for the subsidised Indian citizenship, along with the inordinate amount of time that it takes for the citizenship to materialise.

Another reason why several Pakistani Hindus do not wish to leave their home is because they have been faring better over the last few years. From the celebration of Hindu festivals by Muslim leaders, to increased welfare programs and legislation, and a change in perception, their lives have improved massively since Partition.

“Magical realism is defined as what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe. There’s a reason magical realism was born in Colombia.”

The first episode of the Netflix series Narcos starts with these lines. Considering how surreal the story of Pablo Escobar is, it would not be surprising if there was some magical realism involved. This is the man who, at the height of his career, supplied 80% of the cocaine that was consumed in the United States. He is also the man who built his own prison. In addition to being surreal, his story has also made him seem powerful and awe-inspiring, especially after Narcos gained popularity. Fans of the show are proudly wearing t-shirts with his words “Plato or Plomo” written on them.

So really, who was Pablo Escobar? A charismatic drug lord with an army of sicarios who earned the love of the people? Or a criminal who ruined the country’s economy and the lives of thousands of civilians? While most people think of him as a gun-wielding powerhouse of awesomeness, Colombians detest him. And a lot of them think that Narcos is portraying him as a hero of sorts.

“The year I was born, two terrible events occurred. The first was a natural disaster where a volcano had erupted close to my hometown, and the second was the siege on the Palace of Justice, which is the Supreme Court,” says Valentina Macías Isaza, who was born and raised in Medellin, the city that Pablo Escobar operated out of. She explains that 15 days before and after her birthday, there was chaos, and Pablo was responsible for it.

“To this date, nobody knows exactly what happened that day when the Court was attacked; nobody can account for the missing people. The violence went on for three days. You can never get over that kind of violence. They dumped parts of people’s bodies into the rivers. Years later, people’s bodies are still being found,” she laments. Valentina lived through the years when Pablo was at the height of his power. Even though she and her family members were not involved in drug trafficking, their lives were still deeply impacted by it.

Why then did people perceive him positively? “At the beginning, nobody thought he was that bad. When he started making a lot of money, people started calling him Robin Hood. They thought he would take from the rich and give to the poor,” Valentina explains. He helped rebuild one of the slums in Medellin. The people from this slum which was renamed the Pablo Escobar neighbourhood praised him and saw him in a different light. But not many knew that he was undertaking this social work with an ulterior motive. After all, he needed to get rid of the information that the government had on him and bring down the stringent extradition laws.

“When you live in a community, what one person does affects the lives of everybody else. Just like genes get passed on from one generation to another, the consequences of actions too last beyond one generation,” says Valentina. One of the lasting memories she has of her childhood is the image and sound of windows rattling when bombs exploded a neighbourhood away. She distinctly remembers listening to the news about bombings and seeing posters of wanted criminals and of rewards offered for their capture.

What Pablo has left behind is more a train wreck rather than a legacy. The export of cocaine by his cartel has led to the rise of the “narco-culture” in Colombia. Along with narco-culture, there was the growth of the sicarioto, or an army of hitmen and a deep-seated fear of them, which exists even today. “In Medellin, there are these invisible frontier lines between neighbourhoods. If you are new to a particular area, you could get killed just because you entered it,” says Valentina.

But the impact of his decisions and actions does not end there. It also changed the way prostitution functioned in Colombia. When drug trafficking reached its zenith in the eighties and nineties, there were big parties to celebrate the export of cocaine to Miami, and prostitutes were invited to them. The parties got grander, and the types of prostitutes one could hire increased in number. “Prepaid prostitution existed then. Pamphlets and brochures would be passed around, and even university students were on offer,” Valentina recalls.

People began second-guessing the source of their neighbours’ and acquaintances’ money. “When we learn that someone has made a lot of money overnight, we directly assume that they are involved in trafficking drugs,” Valentina explains. Narco-culture also seeped into religion; the Virgin Mary gained a negative connotation during the eighties and nineties. Hitmen would have her figurine incorporated onto their guns and pray to her.

Reminders of Pablo’s life still exist. His tomb gets a large number of visitors every week, and his largest property, which has been turned into a park, is considered an exotic tourist destination. Colombians, however, don’t care much for it. “But Narcos is definitely the biggest reminder,” Valentina says with a chuckle.

Did life change after Pablo died? Even though the fear in the minds of the people reduced, circumstances did not change radically. Indiscriminate bombing reduced and life had become more peaceful. But drug trafficking is still a rampant issue. In fact, Valentina is of the opinion that it has only gotten worse, because it is now controlled by a group of militants. As she puts it, “With this type of business, whenever they cut the head, another one rises.”

Valentina has experienced the consequence of Pablo’s actions first-hand. But children who were born a generation after her know about him only from reference. “They don’t have the same kind of memories that my generation does. In a sense, even they are foreigners to history. For them, the story of Pablo is just an urban legend,” says Valentina. They probably know only a little more than the viewers of the TV series.

Narcos has impacted the way people all over the world perceive Colombians and the city of Medellin. Most people are impressed by the fact that Valentina hails from the same country as the famed drug lord. But she has also been discriminated against because of her nationality. “When I lived in the United States 15 years ago, it was terrible. I remember this one guy who would bully me in the corridors by saying, ‘Hey, Colombian! Where’s the coke? How much did you bring?’ For a 16-year-old, that can be traumatising,” she recalls.

But even the friends she made in the US weren’t always sensitive. “I love Pablo! I can’t believe I met a person from Medellin. You’re actually from his country!” they’d say. This seems to be the case for most people she meets; they are amazed that the story of Pablo is not fictional. They also ‘exoticise’ it. And this is where the problem lies: For non-Colombians, he is an anti-hero. For the marketing department of Narcos, he is a great symbol to use for branding. But for Colombians, he is a monster; an unfortunate reality. This is why many Colombians think that the creators of the TV series could have handled the subject in a more delicate and respectful manner. “For me, it’s as bad as selling products with Hitler’s mottos on it. They’re abusing a piece of history. But as a show in itself, I think it has been made well,” Valentina says.

Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office - Flickr. More details Displaced Rohingya people in Rakhine State (8280610831)

The Rohingya Muslims have been called “the most persecuted minority in the world” by several human rights organisations and academicians. According to Amnesty International, they have been at the receiving end of human rights violations for 38 years now. This group has been denied Burmese citizenship, and as of November 19, 125 of them who wished to leave Myanmar have been denied entry into Bangladesh.

1. Who are the Rohingya Muslims?

They are a Muslim minority ethnic group belonging to the Indo-Aryan race. They speak a dialect of Bengali. While some of them live in India, Pakistan, and other countries in Southeast Asia, a majority of them reside in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.

They are neither considered to be citizens of this country, nor do they feature in the list of Burmese ethnic groups. They are thought of as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh by the Buddhist population of Myanmar, and are called Rohingya Bengalis.

2. What conditions do they live in?

Interfaith relations are far from harmonious in Myanmar, and the majority Buddhist community has been called Islamophobic because of the way that Rohingyas have been treated in this country.

They are not allowed to vote and they have limited opportunities when it comes to education and employment. They have a very low socioeconomic status and a significant number of them live in ghetto-like camps.

3. Why are they being persecuted in Myanmar?

Since October 9, the Rakhine area has been under lockdown because nine police officers were killed in an attack on three border posts. The police suspected that it was the Rohingyas who were behind this attack.

However, this is not the first instance where this community has been targeted; in a series of riots in 2012 and the refugee crisis of 2015, several lives were lost.

4. Why do they want to leave their country?

In the month that has passed since the lockdown, hundreds of Rohingyas have been killed, hundred others have been detained by the military, and 1.5 lakh people have been deprived of basic necessities like food and medical aid. Accusations of rape have been made by Rohingya women against Burmese officials. The extent of the destruction is so large that satellites have captured images of razed villages. This treatment of the community has been called the beginning of orgnanised genocide and ethnic cleansing.

In an attempt to escape the violence spewing in Rakhine, Rohingya Muslims are fleeing the country. Of the 125 people who wanted to flee 61 are women and 36 are children. They got into seven boats and travelled across the Naf River to Bangladesh, where they were stopped at the border by the Bangladeshi Border Guards.

5. What action have the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments taken?

The staff of one of the Border Guards of Bangladesh provided food and medicines to 82 people. However, these people were turned back and two boats with 86 people were pushed back.

The Bangladesh government has increased security measures along the border and hundreds of troops have been deployed for patrolling. Nobel Peace Prize winner and the State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised because the government has denied the Rohingya claim of persecution at the hands of the army. On November 19, the Myanmar media also denied the claims of the Bangladeshi army about the presence of Rohingya refugees at the Bangladesh border.

Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons/Voice of America News: Scott Bobb reports from Aleppo, Syria

On November 18, several babies who were placed in incubators had to be evacuated because an air raid hit a hospital in Aleppo. According to a report on Aljazeera.com, nurses had to struggle through the darkness in the hospital’s wards to move patients to safety. One of the evacuated babies still had hospital tubes attached to their body. After countless children and adults, premature babies have now become collateral damage in 2016’s biggest refugee crisis.

This facility was the only children’s hospital in the affected area, and now, it is out of action. Three of its floors were destroyed and the staff was forced to move patients to the basement.

This Syrian city witnessed 30 airstrikes that have critically paralysed all hospitals and makeshift medical facilities says a Doctors Without Borders report. This has never happened in the history of the eastern part of the city. In the past, hospitals have been rebuilt and have gone back to functioning normally, but this does not seem possible now. On November 18, the last standing hospital in East Aleppo was attacked.

Reports from other sources say that even though there are some functional facilities, people are reluctant to visit them, and this is hardly surprising. This tragedy occurs at a time when 2,50,000 people are living under siege and there is an acute shortage of basic necessities, such as food and medical supplies.

Rescuer group White Helmets say that their equipment and vehicles have been damaged. This, combined with the systematic attacks on hospitals and medical warehouses, has left the civilians with no options. “What is not clear is how much longer the health system, already on its knees, can carry on functioning unless the bombing stops and medical supplies are allowed in,” a source from Doctors Without Borders says.

Earlier this year in April and May, the al-Quds and al-Dabit hospitals were bombed. In June, the al-Bayan and al-Hakeem hospitals, as well as the Abdulhadi Fares clinic, were attacked by airstrikes. In September, the M2 and M10 hospitals were bombed. In October, M10 was attacked again.

Aleppo has had a divided existence since 2012, with the eastern half of the city being controlled by rebels and the western half by the government. It has been claimed that these attacks on Aleppo have been carried out based on orders given by the Syrian and Russian governments. However, both governments deny this claim.

Those week-old babies, who were evacuated, will grow up in a world that is very different from the one their parents grew up in. The only good news that has emerged out of this is that all of them are safe. But will these children ever be able to live without fear?

Image Credit: Facebook/SSY Finland

In 1989, when a 17-year-old Rami Adham left his Syrian homeland to move to Finland for further studies, Syria was very peaceful. Today, Syria is no more the place he used to know. “The Syria I knew back then was the most beautiful place on Earth. Syria as a country is very rich in history and multicultural. It is a great spot in the world situated between three continents. It is the place I acquired valuable social habits that will stay with me for a lifetime. Now, sadly, it is a war-torn land where the common man is bombarded every day with barrel bombs or Russian air jets,” says Rami, with grief in his voice.

Image Credit: Facebook/SSY Finland
Image Credit: Facebook/SSY Finland

Twenty-three years down the line, it pains him deeply to watch his motherland face the on-going turmoil that broke out during the Arab Spring of 2011. A journey that he embarked upon five years ago to provide relief to his country has come a long way. In 2012, he made his first trip to Syria and delivered food and medicines, along with toys, a noble thought brought to him by his daughter Yasmeen. “Kids love toys, it makes them happy,” says Rami, who is fondly known as ‘toy uncle’. His journey is now a movement that has received global support. It inspired Rami to start ‘SUOMI SYYRIA YTHEISO’ (SSY), an organization that provides relief to Syrians who are trapped in their own homeland. “There is nothing more or less I can do for them; I have to help my people with whatever is in my power.”

Image Credit: Facebook/SSY Finland
Image Credit: Facebook/SSY Finland

To date, Rami has made 28 trips to Syria, and delivered over 20,000 toys to children there. “In the past, I have legally entered Syria with 70 kgs of toys with me, but after Turkey closed its borders in 2015, I had to find illegal routes to enter.” It is the locals who help him navigate from Aleppo to Amteh and other parts of Syria, and even rescue him when need be. Early this year, there was a rocket attack during which he sustained serious injuries to his head, back and shoulders. Yet, he never let that deter his spirit. But that wasn’t enough for him. Aside from toys, he carries around 25 to 40 thousand Euros with him, with which he buys food and medicines for the refugees. He has even built three schools near the borders of Turkey. “Toys can bring smiles to their faces, but they cannot feed the children. Children need food. 66% of kids in Syria do not attend school since the start of the war and if this continues, we will lose Syria’s future. So in a way, providing them with food, medicines, and education is investing in their future.”

At his home in Finland, Rami lives with his wife and six children; two boys, and four girls, all of whom support him whole-heartedly in his endeavours. “My wife looks after my daughters and sons, and as far as I am concerned, that’s the greatest help for me,” says Rami. In fact, his family helps him to pack the toys and to prepare for his journeys every time. Such a journey requires at least six weeks of advance planning, and he makes these trips every two months. He says his home, office, and warehouse are filled with toys sent to him by children and well-wishers all over Finland.

Image Credit: Facebook/SSY Finland
Image Credit: Facebook/SSY Finland

Through his Iftar Project, he was able to feed 3000 families every day during the holy month of Ramadan, and even employed 21 locals to help him out. If that wasn’t enough, over 2000 children have been educated in the schools built by him, of which he has sponsored studies for 350 of them to date. Rami is currently looking for assistance from Go Fund Me, to build a high school in Syria.

Every time Rami returns from Syria, he starts planning for his next journey, not knowing what lies ahead of him. He hopes and prays everyday for Syria, his motherland, to be freed from her turmoil.

Ninety nine percent of us aspire to quit our jobs and travel but hardly any of us has the balls to do it. Meet Sai Kumar, part of the ‘hardly any’, who quit his boring desk job, packed the saddle bags on his Royal Enfield Thunderbird and set off from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu where he lives.

“My work was just numbers and sales. Somedays it was sitting on a desk and staring in the screen. I worked there (Qatar) for three years. It got monotonous and I started to hate every minute of it and I wanted to quit for the longest time,” he says.

Was it an out of the blue f*ck-it-I-am-quitting-this-job or was it a planned trip? “Quitting the job was the plan, travelling just followed.” He laughs. “The first two months I was doing nothing, I was just roaming here and there but then I started looking for a bike because you need a vehicle to roam about and once I got that bike, I started reading about how people have travelled all the way up to the north and so it happened that it was the season as well, so I thought to myself, why not?’’

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Sai Kumar

In spite of turning 30 this year, there was no escaping from parent’s over protection. Kumar tells us when he first pitched in this idea to his parents, they might or might not have questioned their son’s mental health. Kumar’s parents reside in Abu Dhabi but distance had nothing on Papa’s scolding, “So when I told my parents, they thought I lost it. They thought I completely lost it and everybody kept on saying ‘Sai is gone mad now’.”  Eventually he came up with a convincing lie that involved a group of imaginary bikers travelling along with him and then his parents were half-convinced.

When D-Day was near, Kumar finally told him that he’s going alone and this is just something he has to do and in that very moment his Dad’s blood pressure shot up and it remained high for two days.

We’ve all come across the quote ‘When you travel alone, you’re not really alone.’  I asked Kumar if he met people throughout his journey, he tells us “Oh, of course! I met tons of people that I’ve lost count. There was this foreigner who was walking all the way to Leh Ladakh and it was crazy. He had a backpack and a camera and he was just walking. So what happened was when I was entering the Jammu Kashmir post I had to stop put the entry on the check post, where the police checks your vehicle number and everything. So when the cop asked him where is your vehicle and he just goes like ‘No, I’m just walking all the way.’ and both me and the cop just looked at him and wondered if he was okay.”

What about finding places to stay? That must have been expensive. “Finding a place to stay wasn’t hard at all! There were pretty decent rooms for 500 rupees per night and there was absolutely no tension.”

Rajasthan
Rajasthan

When asked if it got boring for a while to just ride the bike, Kumar denies with a stern no. “It never got boring. When you’re travelling like this, every single day is different. For instance, when I arrived to Amritsar, I initially thought I’d stay here for a day and then leave but I ended up staying for five days.”

A flooded Rann of Kutch

From seeing magnificent Leh skies to the legendary Taj Mahal, Kumar also visited Rann of Kutch. But it didn’t go as planned.

“Funny thing that happened was, when I left Rann of Kutch, 10-15 kilometers in I realized that I had forgotten my camera. So I went all the way back to get it, and it was still there because nobody other than me visited that place. It was insane,” he says.  Well, it may have been crazy but Kumar now has a brilliant story to tell his grandkids.

Saach Pass

Kumar also had the privilege to ride up to Saach pass and as outstanding as it looks, it is really frightening to walk there, let alone ride a bike.

“So what happened was, I could not go to Srinagar from Amritsar because of the curfew and the other route was to go through Manali, and there was also this other British guy Peter who has been travelling the whole world on a motorbike and now he’s in India so he had also made it up from Tamil Nadu and he asked me to join him. When he told me we’ll go through the Saach pass, I agreed and I didn’t even know what it was. But then when we were riding I realized this is some horrendous trail, it’s not even a road. Like there are waterfalls and the road is quite quirky, so one slip and you fall. There’s no going back after that. So you have to be very careful.”

Leh

He is 30. Does getting older make it harder to travel? He answers, “I know people say age is a number and all but I think travelling should be done in your 20s. I turned 30 just recently and I found it a little difficult to push myself to wake up every morning. I know I am growing older now. So when you’ve got the chance, you have got to grab it. When you keep on saying ‘nahi baad mein karlenge, purri life hai’ you forget that as you grow older, your responsibilities increase. There is job, there is marriage, and there is kids. So when you’re 20, you have time in your hand, enough time to travel.”

Zanskar valley. The confluence of two rivers. Indus and Zanskar. (Jammu & Kashmir)
Zanskar valley. The confluence of two rivers. Indus and Zanskar. (Jammu & Kashmir)

What about the myth that the whole world changes after you travel? “See, nothing will change after you’re back. Reality will hit you in the face. But when you’re out there, it’s great. I remember when I was on the road and coming back, I asked myself, ‘Do I really have to go home now?’”

Rohtang Pass! I could touch the clouds here! (Himachal Pradesh)
Rohtang Pass (Himachal Pradesh)

I asked him if he achieved his end goal, that was, finding himself, he says, “I did. I don’t know exactly but I can definitely say that I’ve become way calmer than I used to be. I’ve realized that nothing really matters in the end. The realization that there is so much more outside of all the chaos that we surround ourselves with, that there is a whole different world outside waiting to be explored only came to me when I was on that bike and it was one of the best moments ever.”

It’s tough tracking down Jasmine “Jaz” O’Hara. We have been trying to get an interview with her for four weeks now. Jessica, a lovely girl, working with Jaz’s organization The Worldwide Tribe (WWT), has been co-ordinating between us for four weeks and we just can’t seem to pin Jaz down. We are in Mumbai, Jessica is based out of the UK, and Jaz is gallivanting all over Europe raising money, resources and awareness for refugees in Europe.

I have almost given up hope of the interview when Jaz sends me an email asking if we can get on the telephone in the next 24 hours. Of course, I say yes. The call turns out to be one of the most interesting ones I have had as a journalist.

Jaz is all of 27. She loves social media. She actually knows how to use social media for the greater good of the world. Consider this: She visited the Jungle in Calais, France where she met and interacted with a large number of Middle East refugees fleeing oppression, for the first time in August 2015. She wrote a post about it when she got home on August 6, 2015 and slept off. When she woke up that post had been shared over 65,000 times and this one-time design student knew that her life had changed forever.

The first Facebook post:

“I did not see this coming. That one Facebook post that I wrote that went viral and raised a lot of money. It also kind of sparked a huge movement of people wanting to donate and volunteer to work in the camp. It is incredible. I could have never foreseen it,” she says.

That spurred her to start The Worldwide Tribe where she and her team use creative ways and social media to get the stories of the refugees in Europe to the rest of the world. In a little more than a year, they have also started grass-roots projects that directly make a difference to the refugees’ lives.

Life in Izmir camp in Turkey
Life in Izmir camp in Turkey

They started off with basic aid, making sure the refugees got food, clothing and other essential items they needed in Calais. At Lesvos in Greece, the team helps rescue the immigrants arriving by boat; in Turkey, they worked with ReVi to help refugees settle in their new home. Now, they are setting up WiFi hotspots in Calais.

Why WiFi? “A massive issue with those people in the camps in boredom. You are dealing with people who are educated and speak English. The reason they are living in the jungle is that they want to get to the UK. They were translators for the British and American army if they are Afghans. They are bored. It is a question of getting through each day at a time and keep yourself together as much as possible while living there,” she says.

Jaz is always on the move. WWT works on three levels: Talks and advocacy, creating content around the refugee crisis, and starting projects to benefit these communities. Jaz has just come off a hectic schedule where she was in Warsaw [Poland] giving a talk, filming a documentary in Greece and Turkey, and installing WiFi in Lebanon.

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When it comes to social media, Jaz handles it herself. “I try to keep it very raw, very personal very real. I think that personal approach really relates to people. And that is a massive part of how we share our content,” she says. It also helps that she is not seen as a journalist or someone with any agenda. “I don’t have a background in politics, charity or anything, so people relate to the fact that I’m a normal person who went to the Camp and was shocked by what she has experienced. That’s what people connect with,” says Jaz.

WWT is predominantly crowdfunded, including all the projects. Before we got on this call, Jaz had a meeting with Google discussing how they could use the organisation’s time, support and resources to help WWT. “We have a lot of corporations wanting get involved and help where they can. Hopefully that will happen soon,” says Jaz.

All of what WWT has accomplished has been done with a barebones team of four full time members and a bunch of volunteers. They set up a lot of meetings and work with a lot of partners. “We work with a partner who helps with the donation of food and clothes. We run projects on the ground but we don’t do any actual physical donations. It is a massive undertaking. Even with funding you want to have a really good solid understanding of the situation like where best to send the money. So we spend a lot of time on ground in the camps trying to learn as much as we possibly can,” says Jaz.

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With so many things on her mind, how does Jaz make sure she retains her sanity? “Trauma is infectious. When people share their experiences with you, you do need to protect yourself from it to a certain extent. Because if you are not OK, you can’t help anyone else. This work completely eclipsed and overcame my life and everything I was thinking of doing. I have to give myself a bit of balance and time to process the stories I’m hearing. I’m still learning. I try to make sure I’m eating, sleeping and taking care of myself so I’m able to help other people. If you give everything to other people then there is nothing else, and you don’t want that either. It’s about balance,” she says.

What happens when human lives are used as pawns in a political game? Ask Saud Baloch, a young artist from Pakistan whose sculptures can tell you more than a human rights dossier. He hails from Balochistan, a province in Pakistan, known for its beauty, natural resources, and a rich cultural history – all of which are now under siege from state brutality, sectarian violence, unsustainable development, and terrorism.

Saud’s most recent work was exhibited at the Sanat Gallery in Karachi this August, and it earned glowing reviews for its stark manner and emotional appeal. The show, ‘Under The Dust’, was dedicated to Saud’s cousin Sangat Jamaldini, and “to Sangat’s friends and colleagues who died alongside him in the bombing of Civil Hospital in Quetta, Pakistan on August 8, 2016 (while) they were paying their respects to the President of the Balochistan Bar Association, Bilal Anwar Kasi, who had strongly condemned target killings in Quetta.”

The show’s title came from a poem by Habib Jalib translated from Urdu into English, while Saud was discussing with the show’s curator, Madeline Amelia Clements (also his wife), the idea of dust as metaphor, and the relationship of his sculptures to the earth of which they are made.

“For me, earth also stands for land. In Balochistan, people’s homes, also created out of mud, are built on land which has belonged to the families for many generations. While it belongs to them, they also feel that they belong to and are made of it. However, this assumption is now being undermined, with building and mining projects in places such as Gwadar and Rek-o-diq. It seems the sea, the land, and its gold and mineral wealth no longer belong to us.”

Saud grew up in Nushki, “which lies close to the Afghan border, and hence has been affected by the various conflicts taking place in that region between Pakistan, America and the Soviets, and also as a result of the insurgency and Baloch attempts to gain greater rights for the people.”

Saud lives in the UK but continues to visit Nushki twice a year. The family home is located there, and it holds the memory of a childhood spent playing with friends; going on picnics to the desert and mountains. “Things changed most rapidly after 2001 – around the time I left Nushki to live in Quetta. (Now) when I return, I notice a resignation and kind of paralysis amongst many people, who worry constantly about how they can look after their families in the current climate, and about what the future holds,” he says.

A report by Human Rights Watch, We Can Torture, Kill or Keep You for Years: Enforced Disappearances by Pakistani Security Forces in Balochistan, published in 2011, describes the case of a Baloch nationalist named Abdul Ghaffar Lango who was picked up by a truck in Karachi just as he was leaving a hospital in December 2009. His wife reported, “Ten men in plain clothes approached the couple and started beating Lango with the butt of an AK47 assault rifle until he lost consciousness.” He was dragged and driven away. When his family went to the police to register this abduction, they were told that he was detained for his political activities. The police refused to furnish information on Lango’s location or any specific charges against him. Eventually, in July 2011, his corpse was discovered at a hotel in Lasbela, Balochistan. The dead body bore multiple marks of brutal torture.

The repercussions of conflict in the region seem to have crept into our homes, resulting in the apprehension and disappearance of loved ones who are thought to have connections with political groups,” says Saud.

Images courtesy Sanat Gallery, Karachi.
Images courtesy Sanat Gallery, Karachi.

There is a strong feeling of being under attack, and its effects are visible on the human bodies Saud recreated through sculptures cast out of clay, fibreglass, brass and wood.

It is a very natural thing to feel a connection with the human body — or with human bodies…But bodies are fallible: they can easily be broken,” says Saud.

Images courtesy Sanat Gallery, Karachi.
Images courtesy Sanat Gallery, Karachi.

Making these sculptures was a visceral, even cathartic, process for him. “I feel almost as if I am embodying the figures and faces I create. I feel their postures and contortions in my own body, and use this as a reference point for the work,” he says.

When he went to the UK in 2012, and saw people and the surroundings “so full of life,” he felt frustrated thinking about how his own people in Balochistan do not have the same freedoms or the same relationship to their environment.

Thankfully, this frustration has not crystallized into hopelessness. Jalib’s poem reminds Saud that the pride of rulers too will come crashing down someday, for they too need to return to the same dust.

The author is a Mumbai-based writer, educator, and researcher. 

Now, that the curfew has been lifted in the Kashmir Valley, a Mumbaikar shares her experience of being in Kashmir during the curfew. 

Flying down from Panjtarni to Neelgarth in a helicopter was a one of a kind experience. The fact that it was my first ever air travel experience made it even sweeter. Seated next to the pilot, I gazed down at the valley; as we flew between two those giant green mountains, their snow-capped peaks looked out of this world. As a Mumbaikar who was travelling to the north first time, my excitement was palpable. My mother and I were on a religious trip to Amarnath, along with 30 other people who were part of our travel group. When we got back to Baltal from Amarnath, we were all the more excited, as our next stop would be Manali through Srinagar.

Tents at Panjtarni

But little did I know that we’d hear a news update that would change the entire course of our journey when we arrived at Baltal.

View of all of Baltal from a bus

Three days had passed since we were stuck in Baltal. It wasn’t all that bad though; there were plenty of langars offering free food to all. We were well protected by the Army, and there were good toilet systems near our tents, what more could we want? Yet, the question “When will the Army let us go home?” was on everyone’s minds. People were allowed to enter Baltal and take shelter there, but no one was allowed to leave. We learnt that Burhan Wani had been shot dead by the Army, and this was the reason why a curfew was enforced in all of Kashmir, with stringent restrictions in Srinagar.

As the days passed, the situation only worsened and we began receiving reports of the deaths of locals and Army men. The langars were falling short of supplies, and soon staying here was not going to be easy anymore. We had to leave.

The organisers of our trip were constantly in talks with the Army, and trying to finding a way out of the state. The next morning, the Army announced that they would be opening a route, but it wasn’t the one we expected. They suggested that we pass through the Kargil-Leh-Ladakh route to reach our destination. We all heaved a sigh of relief, and those of us who had never been to Ladakh were even more excited by the prospect of visiting it.

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On the road to Ladakh

We set out for Ladakh, and at first it did feel thrilling – as if we were escaping a life and death situation like actors do in apocalyptic movies. But I soon learnt about the conflict that was unfolding in the Valley. Our driver, who was a Kashmiri, said that Wani was a good man who helped the common people. I remember him saying “Burhan Wani shaheed ho gaya.” Our driver was scared for his family. The fear of death had become more pervasive, and it had become extremely difficult for them to even leave their houses even to buy groceries.

Upon interacting with few Army men at Kargil, I heard a completely different story. They said Burhan Wani was working for terrorists, and that he “stole” money to fund those terrorist groups. They also said that he wasn’t a good man, and that he had created such an image for himself,  so that the locals would look up to him as a hero figure.

The tourists’ suffering was somewhat akin to that of the locals during the curfew. People were being dragged out of their hotel rooms and beaten up. The Srinagar Airport was flooded with people trying to get back home. My friend Vinayak, who was at Srinagar the day after the curfew had been imposed, experienced a near-death situation. When he was sampling some street food with his father, suddenly the vendor hurriedly packed up his stall and began running in the opposite direction. When Vinayak turned to see what it was that he was running from, he was shocked to find that a group of locals riding motorbikes and holding hand grenades and sticks was coming this way.

Thankfully, we chose to take the route through Ladakh as soon as it was opened up for use. Those who chose to stay back and wait for the curfew to be lifted had to suffer further. The local travel agents began asking for sums as large as 20,000-30,000 rupees to get families out of Baltal.

Tents in Ladakh

As we traversed through the roads in the mountains of Ladakh, we found that we were all alone. There were only three buses in sight; no people were to be seen in the stretch of 50 km between Baltal and Ladakh. The lack of vegetation, the steep valley, and the narrow roads made the journey an extremely terrifying experience – and we had to endure it for 12 hours a day on the road.

Ladakh

When I came back from this trip, every other person I met would get excited and want to know about my memories from Ladakh. No one could imagine the fear we lived in and how we completed our journey. We might not have seen the worst of the curfew, but our lives were certainly affected by it for those 15 days. The pain of using roofless toilets and the back of big boulders to relieve ourselves, eating rajma chawal every night and drinking tasteless tea in the mornings, sleeping with two pairs of socks and three layers of clothing, and using two thick blanket and still feeling cold was negated by the experience of waking up and realising that I was surrounded by the mountains. I felt at peace for I knew that I was away from all the chaos unfolding in the Valley.

Hetal Sawant is a handpicked product of the Bayside Pathfinder where we empower the young and the young at heart with the power of storytelling. To become a part of our extended family of unique contributors, call up Prem Madnani at +91 9892913788 or email him on prem@glowormapp.com.

Gurkul Public School in Purasi, UP educates kids at a nominal cost.

In India, there is a stark difference between in the quality of education children receive. The upper-middle class usually attend private schools, get an all-round education and subsequently are able to afford a higher standard of living. In the hinterlands, or even outside big cities, things are a lot different.

Pooja Mishra had a first-hand experience of this gap in the quality of education. Her father moved from a rural area to Lucknow when she was younger and was able to provide her with a good education. As a result, she was able to become an engineer, work for Infosys in the US and subsequently do an MBA from IIM-Calcutta. Her first cousins however, had already been married off and had kids by the time she had completed her education. “That made me think how two girls from the same family, how life has taken them on two different turns. I realised that it was all because of the education that I got,” says Pooja. So she opted out of the placement process from IIM-C, moved back to her ancestral village in Purasi, UP and decided to start a school.

Pooja dived headlong into the whole process despite having no educational background or expertise in running a school. Her husband was fully supportive. “He told me you should write to your placement officer immediately saying that you are opting out, because the more you think, the more you will want to go back to the corporate world which you don’t want. If your heart says you want to go run a school, then you must,” she says about when she decided to opt out.

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Gurukul Public School, an English-medium institution started with just 28 students but has now grown to accommodate 974 kids, all of whom are from an underprivileged, rural background. The school supports these students by way of providing them free tuition, mid-day meals and uniforms. They run classes from nursery to Class 8 and are looking to start 10th standard classes as well. The journey from 28-974 wasn’t that easy. In 2013, a year after she started the school, she realised there weren’t enough funds to sustain the school. The 100 rupee fee which sounds minuscule to urban Indians was too much for the students’ families. Pooja says, “Even if they would pay that much, I would not be able to run a school with that money. It is a hard fact that a school requires money. All the good feelings, intentions and thoughts aside, you can’t run a good school without money.”

She even contemplated shutting down the school. “During the summer vacation, I was thinking of closing and my children are asking me when will the school reopen. I was in a dilemma. How could I cheat these students? In the one year they have been with me, I have given them a hope of a better life and opportunities. I cannot tell them that it is not happening, shut down and move away,” she says.

So she reached out to her fellow IIM-C batchmates, most of them who were doing well in their corporate jobs. They agreed to sponsor some of the children, which enabled them to grow from a classroom size group of students to a whopping 974 in just four years.

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Pooja also doesn’t believe in running a school for the heck of it or to feel good about oneself. She says, “You cannot run a school anywhere you want to. You cannot start a school in a jhopda.I don’t believe in the concept of running a school under a tree and doing a social service. When you are dong something, do it the way it is supposed to be done. A school should  be comfortable, safe and provides a good learning environment.” This is why Gurukul public school has teachers equipped with B.Ed degrees sports facilities, martial arts classes, a computer lab, science lab and a fully functioning library. “When we opened up a library in this area, the children did not even have the concept of one. Now they enjoy going to the library and reading. We are also planning to introduce a music class,” says Pooja on the school’s rapidly expanding infrastructure.

Pooja shares an interesting anecdote about the mindset of the rural folk towards class attendance. “A lady came here and said that her child was made to stand outside the classroom for sometime. She came and said, “Ma’am into class me baithne nahi de rate hai. I  asked her what happened. She said, “Bol rate hai absent hai, lekin mera bachcha regular aata hai.” So I checked the attendance register and saw that he comes only twice a week and I told her that. She said, “Nahi Ma’am vo to regular ho gaya.” This is one of the attitudes Pooja hopes to change through her school.

The mentors, some of them her own batchmates keep dropping in on a regular basis or have Skype chats with the students. “In rural areas people’s aspirations are very low. I want to give them exposure and that is why my mentors talk to them on a regular basis,” explains Pooja stressing the fact that exposure to the outside the world and having a role model to look up to is equally important.

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Although these students are aware of the fact that their education is being funded by other people, Pooja never lets them feel obligated towards them. She states, “In my school I have not created an atmosphere that my students are the needy ones although I am providing an education. I never have that conversation that I am the giver and they are the takers. That puts the child into a secondary position right from the beginning. When I talk to my supporters, I acknowledge that they are the they are the supporters but when the children are talking to them I tell them not to make the child feel any less.”

Pooja hopes she can help these children, especially the girls dream of a better life. “Here, a woman is not even supposed to stand up to a man, she is expected to sit at home in a ghoonghat. When they see me coming in a trouser and a shirt, taking meetings and instructing the headmasters and principals, who are often men, I think makes a difference to the girls on the subconscious level.”

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For Pooja, the kind of confidence she has seen her student develop is a source of pride and joy to her. “There was this girl who got a certificate for her class performance. And her teachers told her that when you go on stage, say thank you into the mike. But this girl did not even have the courage to say it on stage, she put her head down, took her certificate and moved away. The next year, I saw the very same girl performing an act in a play.”

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Flag hoisting ceremony at the school

Pooja has big plans for the school. In four years, she hopes to have 10,000 students enrolled, have more supporters on board, expand the campus and hopefully develop a methodology that can be implemented across schools in rural areas.

Marcus Johst

Marcus Johst, founder of Berlin Artparasites, confesses that the artworks you may love may not be his favourites. He tells us about how the idea for this platform came about, and how he picks artwork.

Berlin Artparasites, a global platform for artists from different disciplines, was founded in 2011. As its founder Marcus Johst explains, it was originally meant to display the art that is produced in Berlin, but it has fast invaded the social media timelines of people living in India and the rest of the world. Berlin Artparasites assimilates the experience of walking through an art gallery and reading a novel at the same time, all while scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. The idea for this format of combining paintings, photographs, or the occasional video with a quote, poem or excerpt was a result of a lengthy study in how best to make art go viral. Marcus considers virality and an online presence as being very important for artists today. “It’s all about global visibility in that great gallery space named the Internet,” he explains. Johst says his project has more than three million Facebook followers and that some of his posts get over two million views worldwide. Moreover, his website www.artparasites.com has over one million unique visitors per month.

The very name of the website is a tongue-in-cheek indication that Berlin Artparasites is not part of the “art scene” as we know of it from the media. “We go beyond the traditional conception of art, and are able to crawl under the door to place art in a broader context,” he says. This attitude towards art, coupled with the choice of themes such as love, longing, and loss is aimed at creating a public appeal for artwork. “I chose these themes because they are what people relate most to,” says Marcus.

The beauty of Berlin Artparasites lies in the fact that it brings art and the appreciation of art into our everyday lives – during rides on the train, between breaks at work, and right before we go to sleep at night. The question “How Art You Today”, which greets the reader as she clicks on the website, perfectly encapsulates this phenomenon. “The question was a spontaneous idea I had in the shower,” says Marcus.

Sometimes the desire

He is of the opinion that one does not need a formal degree to understand the aesthetics of a platform such as Berlin Artparasites. When asked how he honed the ability to match art from different disciplines, Marcus says that the key lies in learning to develop a certain gaze. The decision to combine particular artworks and texts is not based on harmony, but rather cacophony. “We actually aim for a bit of cacophony to give our combinations character,” says Marcus. This is why he and his team don’t encounter situations where they can’t find visuals to complement text or vice versa – they aren’t looking for compatibility in the first place.

When picking artwork to feature on the website, he and his team try to gauge the emotional value of the visuals or text in question, a criterion that he finds is subjective. Marcus believes that emotion and technique both have an equally important place in art. “Many great artists – from Goya to Jeff Koons – have evoked strong emotions after perfecting their technique,” he says.

Everyone walks around

He confesses that he does not necessarily love every artwork that goes up on the website. There have been several times when he has put together posts that he knows his audience will appreciate. In fact, the ones that perform the best on social media and the website aren’t even his favourites. When asked which combinations he likes best, he said, “I love to combine old masters with modern literature like a poem by one of Tumblr’s upcoming poets.”

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This iconic style of presenting art and evoking emotions has turned into a genre in itself, and there is a possibility that it could get repetitive or monotonous, especially because new art forums emerge on the Internet every week. However, Marcus is not worried that the format that Berlin Artparasites uses will get boring. “Artparasites has changed many times and it must evolve in the future if it is going to stay unique,” he says. The real challenge lies in becoming the world’s most popular online source for inspiration and art in today’s world, which he calls “a sea of adversity”. What keeps Marcus going is the sense of satisfaction he gets from his job and the fact that it allows him to connect with artists all over the world.

“I started this foundation because I wanted to give something back to India, the land that taught me yoga; the land that I now call my home”, says Yana Lewis, the founder of the Lewis Foundation for Classical Ballet. Yana runs a tight ship at this foundation, mentoring 900 students over 18 years. Her foundation is a non-profit organisation, and the funds received from classes go towards running the foundation and its empowerment program. In this conversation, she tells me about teaching ballet to underprivileged kids, integrating yoga into dance, and her love for India.

Yana was a ballet teacher based in the UK, who initially came to India to further her learning of yoga. When she arrived here and travelled across the country, she was appalled when she saw what was being passed off as “western” dance. She was really aggravated at by the fact that people were imitating western dance styles rather than practising them the way they should be. She also said that this Indianised version of “western” dance lacked form – an aspect of western dance that can be bettered by learning ballet. This is because most western styles of dance have a ballet base; the lines and essence of movements in these styles can be mastered best through ballet training, in her opinion. Yana wanted to spread awareness about ballet and dispel all misconceived notions about this dance form; the result is that she never left the country

The themes, the style and the costumes of ballet dancers are very different from those of Indian classical dancers. So obviously, one of the first challenges Yana had to face was introducing an art form that was foreign to India and moulding people’s perceptions of it. “But Bengaluru is a culturally vibrant and welcoming city, so the response to ballet has been amazing” she says.

The one thing on top of Yana’s mind was that she wanted to shatter the belief that ballet was an art for the elite, which is why she decided to take ballet to every section of society. Every year, she invites 1200 children from an NGO to watch a ballet show, where they are transported into a magical world. Underprivileged children also perform at these shows, and their parents are given tickets to watch them, which is a new experience for such families. Yana trains these kids at class, and she says that they love ballet. Because they have no preconceived notions about it, they take learn everything that they are taught with an open mind.

Yana is of the opinion that underprivileged kids would respond to any dance form if it were taught in the right way. The method that she adopts is one that starts with using the kids’ imagination and incorporating stories into lessons. “We turn them into kings and queens and princesses and teach them in a way that they don’t realise that they’re learning ballet, they’re just having fun”, she explains. After a while, she introduces technique into classes and the stories gradually reduce. By then, they’re so involved in the dance form that they only want to improve. She feels that it is because underprivileged children have received so little in the past that when she teaches ballet to them, they really cherish it.

Of these underprivileged children, she picks six of the most talented ones and gives them full-time training. She funds their costumes and tuition, and they are given the chance to audition for her junior dance company. The ones that get selected are integrated into classes with regular students, and no differentiation is made between them and the rest. This full-time training is aimed at encouraging them to take up ballet as a vocation and earn a living in the future. “To be able to channel their energy is really special for me; to channel that raw energy that is so often misused. We channel it into something that is really positive and constructive” she says.

There is a strange phenomenon unfolding in her class for underprivileged kids. “The number of boys in our class for underprivileged kids is larger than the boys in regular classes”, Yana says. Perhaps this is because they have not been socialised into thinking that ballet is only for girls. She has observed that as they grow up, the number of regular boys attending class decreases because their families, especially fathers, want them to switch to something more “macho” and boyish. However, there are a considerable number of older boys in regular classes. Yana thinks that this might be because they are more confident about their masculinity and don’t associate the dance form with femininity. There’s no stigma involved with them learning ballet and they are confident enough to make their own decisions.

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Yana also runs an empowerment program for kids who are HIV+ from the Snehadaan and Parikrama Humanity Foundation NGOs in Bengaluru. These kids have gone through a lot of psychological trauma and most of them are orphans. She teaches them ballet not from a technical perspective, but as a creative movement form. She teaches them how to be confident, disciplined, focused and hygienic. “These aren’t things that are necessarily taught to them in school or things that can be learnt from books. But they are lessons that automatically come about while learning to dance”, she says. They gain these life skills at an age when they are confronted with tough questions about their bodies and their parents. They are forced to just be with themselves. Even though the process of empowering kids through such skills is a slow process, Yana finds it extremely fulfilling. “When they perform at our shows, they’re really proud of themselves. It’s heartwarming to see a child with no sense of self turn into a child who is self-aware”, she adds.

Throughout the conversation, she also emphasizes the importance of yoga, as well as the basics of ballet, with respect to maintaining a fit body that will endure long practice sessions. Yana is no stranger to understanding the body in a scientific way when it comes to her dance; she has training in anatomy and physiology. Her learning has led her to make the conclusion that a lot of injuries that Indian classical dancers undergo can be prevented through a proper warmup consisting of yoga asanas. In her injury prevention workshops and even during class, she analyses the turnout of each dancer’s body and increases their strength so that they can dance better. This, she says, is a better way of achieving perfection as a dancer, rather than mindlessly forcing and pushing yourself. She says that this is especially true for knee and back injuries, which result from standing in particular postures that put pressure on the spine.

Yana is forever indebted to what India has given her in terms of her career and soul. “India has energy, a heartbeat, and a vibe that the UK lacks. I felt like my soul was not being nourished back in the UK” she confides. She loves the warmth and the friendliness of Indians, and especially the fact that they all have a sense of belonging to their culture; a kind of connectedness. She also feels that India has given her perspective by showing her extremes and kept her grounded.

This difference in the way the UK and India have treated her also translates into her contrasting experiences with the students she has met from both countries. She says that in the UK, when she was teaching class, she was also dealing with the personal problems with the kids. But in India, she finds that students come to her with the main goal of learning; they’re hungry to know more. She finds that they respect her and appreciate her effort. There is also a stark difference in the attitudes of students from these two countries. “In Europe, every teenager thinks the world owes them something!” she says, with a chuckle. In India, the students have been diligent and sincere, and they know where to draw the line between having fun and creating mischief.

Yana has very concrete plans for the future. She wants to establish the National Ballet of India, because India is one of the few countries that doesn’t have its own nation-wide ballet company. She also wants to start a diploma course in classical ballet. In the past, she has sent students who wish to take up the dance form as a career to the UK and US, but this is not an option that every family can afford. A course offered by her own foundation, on the other hand, will make ballet more accessible to Indians. Her final dream, however, is to take stories from Indian mythology and use them as themes for ballet routines. I could hear the smile in her voice as she said “The splendor and magic of ballet can bring Indian mythology to life – that’s my ultimate goal”.

Imagine stepping out your kitchen and plucking fresh vegetables from your own carefully maintained garden to prepare a healthy meal. That would be ideal, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, with busy lifestyles and limited urban spaces that remains a distant dream for most of us. Mr S. Madhusudhan of back2basics farm wants you to experience just that, without the hassle of maintaining a personal garden.

His organic farm, back2basics, which is based in Bengaluru, delivers fresh, organic vegetables to your doorstep. And by fresh, we mean really fresh. The produce that is delivered to your home has been harvested that very day itself, not spent hours on a dusty truck, washed with chemicals, and changed several hands before you finally buy it from your local supermarket or vegetable vendor.

Mr Madhusudhan, a man with no prior agricultural background started this farm, which is now spread across 180 acres in 2011. Before back2basics, Madhusudhan, a graduate from IIM Bangalore was your typical, corporate workhorse, working 18-hour days. In his 27-year corporate career, he launched Airtel in South India as part of the marketing team. He was also senior VP of the Manipal group.

The long work hours and stress eventually took a toll on his health. He collapsed in the office one day due to health issues and was advised medical leave and rest. With a wife in Singapore as a global head for business solution in Deutsche bank and his only child studying in Wharton, for the first time in his life, he was bored and had nothing to do. He was advised by doctors to take up a relaxing hobby. Madhusudhan had always been fond of plants and animals. He had a small 30 by 40 feet site and started growing leafy greens purely out of interest.

He joined the GKVK Institute of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore but was frustrated and disappointed because of the lack of practical experience offered. He did not like the fact that even the professors offered only theoretical knowledge which the students accepted without question. After every class he would try out what he had learnt. If the methods failed and he approached the teachers he had no forthcoming answers. In 6 months he realised he was going nowhere. So he quit.

He spent the first 4 years of his ‘new avatar’ trying to learn how to grow awesome fruits and vegetables. “It is not difficult to grow, but difficult to grow high-quality fruits and vegetables. My biggest gurus have been Wikipedia, Google and Youtube. I am a self-taught farmer. I have learnt more from my failures than my successes. At 45, when I had this health scare and started something I don’t know about, and from a 30*40 site that is 1200 sq ft I went to 180 acres. If I can do it, anybody can, provided you have the passion and the interest”, says Madhusudhan matter-of-factly.

According to Madhusudhan, “Almost 99.9% of us who consume our fruits and vegetables don’t know where our fruits and vegetables are coming from. The more worrying thing is that we don’t spend time to worry about where it came from.” It is probably because of the frequency of the purchase, he suggests.

When we buy cars and watches we do so much research to come to a conclusion but when it comes to fruits and vegetables, something we consume internally, we rarely stop to think about it, says Madhusudhan about the poor awareness and lack of interest among Indians when it comes to buying produce.

“We buy our footwear from air-conditioned showrooms and malls, but our fruits and vegetables from the footpath,” he said reiterating the fact that most of us do not bother where are food comes from.

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What sets back2basics farm apart from the other players in the market is that they have control over all aspects of production, right from the seed to the delivery. According to Madhusudhan, almost all the people who are in the organic food business are buyers, traders and sellers not producers.

All the produce back2basics has does not go to a commission agent or a mandi.  The whole concept is from the farm to the consumer’s doorstep. As a result, it’s cheaper for customers as there are no middlemen to hike up the cost. Secondly, its much fresher, since produce usually changes 5-6 hands before it reaches the end consumer.

But the biggest advantage about back2basics, according to Madhusudhan is: transparency coupled with trust.

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“You don’t have to believe what I am telling you, we will take you to our farm, you see what we are growing, how we are growing so that the produce that you are going to be getting next week you can see on our farm. We want our customers to experience the origin of the food.”

Most stores which stock organic produce have no clue about their wares or do not wish to divulge their sources, says Madhusudhan.

From 2011 to Feb 2016, back2basics exported their produce to countries such as Singapore and Germany, supplied to corporates and over 50 organic stores in the country.

In Jan 2016, his daughter a graduate of Wharton University, one of the best business schools in the world left her high-paying job in a private equity firm in Germany to join her father in his enterprise. In February, they launched their own delivery service focusing exclusively on regular customers because as Madhusudhan puts it, they wanted customers to not just buy a pomegranate but a ‘back2basics pomegranate’.

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The entire supply chain as elaborated by Mr Madhusudhan, is handled by the farm. Right from the seed, to the land, to the plant, to the fruit, to the vegetable, to the cleaning, sourcing, sorting, segregation, delivery, delivery truck and employee is controlled by back2basics.

They have control over consistency, colour, quality. None of the farms are given for contract farming. “Everything we grow is under our supervision and our control,” asserts Madhusudhan.

“It is almost as good as plucking it out from your own kitchen garden,” emphasises Madhusudhan on the quality of his produce.

“We started this initiative to educate our customers. We have hardly done any marketing. We have not done any advertising. Most of our customers come to us from word-of-mouth. We have been inundated with the orders and humbled with the response”, says Madhusudhan about the feedback from his customers.

Back2basics does not have any storage facilities, the storage is on the plant. If an order is received during the day, the consolidation of orders is done in the evening, sent out to farm supervisors and at 1:30 am the next morning, the harvest begins. Delivery starts the same afternoon. They have divided Bangalore into 4 zones. In each zone, they supply 1 day on a weekend and 1 day on a weekday, so the same area gets supplied twice a week.

Their plans for further expansion is still in the nascent stages. Madhusudhan says they are looking at other cities in other states and exploring inquiries.

Most organic foodstuff is significantly higher-priced which tends to drive the customers away. Is it the price, I ask? Mr Madhusudhan asks me to check out the price of coconut on his website, it’s currently retailing around 18 rupees. In Mumbai, it sells anywhere between 20-30 rupees. Well, if the high price was the only thing keeping you away from organic food, Mr Madhusudhan has the answer.

Image Sources: 1,2,3,4

It is not everyday that you see a bunch of backpacking foreigners ride a rickshaw through India  As tourists, any normal individual would expect to have a good time, stay in comfortable places and sight see in comfortable vans or cars, not a rickety rickshaw. This is exactly what Bram Schuurman, Ernie Bergen and Daniel Kunzle did differently when they decided to embark on a 2,700 kilometre journey from Jaisalmer to Shillong in a rickshaw for 11 days starting the 4th of April this year for a cause which circles around the children of the SOS village in Shillong, a conceptualised village that helps abandoned and orphaned children grow up in a family environment.

Speaking to us all the way from Zurich, Switzerland, Ernie Bergen, one of the people who managed to make it to Shillong despite all odds along with his team of two, he says, “Due to having just a start and finish point planned (Jaisalmer & Shillong) plus not knowing how far we would be able to drive each day we weren’t able to plan the route or stops beforehand.  Basically at the start of each day we set a goal of where we wanted to get that day.  Sometimes we made it to that destination, sometimes not.” Of course, travelling in a rickshaw didn’t make it any easier as they got through their beloved rickshaw, Lily’s 5 breakdowns, still determined to make it through the whole journey.

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Considering the fact that travelling for 11 days at a stretch in a three-wheeler that travels at the speed of 30 kmph, it would take forever to reach wherever you want to go, let alone landscape the country in it. “Not knowing the quality of the roads was the main challenge.  In the maps you can’t see if a road would be good and we could go ‘fast’ or if it was a gravel road or a road with many potholes which would mean a very slow drive. The roads and heat eventually got to us. Driving 10-14 hours everyday on sometimes awful roads in 45 degree temperatures were exhausting!”, asserts Ernie. Why would someone choose to see the country in a rickshaw out of all the vehicles that exist, we ask? “We chose the adventure of seeing India in an auto-rickshaw firstly because it’s slow, noisy, uses a lot of petrol with a small tank so we had to fill up 3-4 times a day and not very comfortable but it allowed us to take roads we couldn’t in a car, visit towns and villages that other tourists probably have never been to before, be closer to the locals and added to the adventure of driving across India”, explains Ernie.

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For someone who doesn’t reside in a country such as India, the diversity can be a bit overwhelming. More so, when you’re travelling in a rickshaw, living in small towns and are vulnerable to the environment around you. Ernie brushes aside all these doubts by saying, “We got to experience getting to know many locals of different lifestyles, beliefs and social status.  All were super friendly and curious about why we would drive 3000km in a rickshaw. The most common factor that we noticed throughout the country was the curiousness and friendliness of the people. Whenever we stopped there would be a group of 30 or more people around the rickshaw within minutes asking where we are from, what we are doing in a rickshaw, and much more.  They were just very interested in us and our journey which was amazing.”

While the Kohinoor Khiladis or Diamond Players, as they call themselves, were taken by the culture and the warmth of the people, they were surprised that only men came up to make a conversation with them while the women stood at a distance and watched with inquisitive expressions on their faces. “It was sad that we couldn’t interact with them and find out more about what it’s like to be a woman in India but guess cultural differences didn’t allow for that”, sighs Ernie.

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Elaborating on his association with the children of the SOS village charity, a world-wide Non Governmental Organisation that works in the spirit of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Ernie quips, “We wanted to raise money for something local and for children which is why we picked the great organization of SOS and their village in Shillong.  Other teams also raised money for charity, and some for really good causes, but we feel we found the best cause. Children are our future and if we don’t help them with their future than what future is there for anyone?”

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As we speak, Ernie recalls his most memorable experience from the west to the east. “We arrived at sundown after taking the beautiful road up from Siliguri because we had a tight schedule for reaching Shillong we didn’t get a chance to spend daylight time in Kurseong and didn’t make it to Darjeeling.  One more day for Kurseong would have been great!”, Ernie asserts. Amongst all the hullabaloo that surrounds their rocky rickshaw ride from one corner of the country to another, Ernie urges donors to come forward and do their bit and contribute to a bigger cause. “People see and feel our passion for this cause.  When we write, make presentations or just casually talk about it.  They become curious and eventually very keen to help in any way they can.  Most people are too busy to dedicate time for volunteering but still want to help in some other way.  SOS is a great organization for a great cause, helping orphaned or abandoned children get a chance to have a brighter future, the chance most of us take for granted.  When we share this view with people they generally get excited about helping and do so very happily”, he says.

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“Our visit to the SOS Children’s Village in Shillong was the highlight of the trip for all 3 of us.  The warm welcome we received and the time we had with the children is something we will cherish forever!”, gushes Ernie. Prod him on if he’s up for another adventure like this one, Ernie smiles, “At this time we have no future plans. We have already discussed the possibility of doing another race maybe next year with an even bigger fundraising goal but as we’re so tired at the moment we can’t look past.

Sanjana Govinda, has always had a soft corner for animals. She noticed how the rising temperatures, scorching heat and depleting lakes and water bodies; animals had barely anywhere to go for a drink of water. Inspired by the works of ‘In Defence of Animals’, Mumbai, she thought of  starting a social initiative of quenching the thirst of animals in the city of Bangalore, and thus ‘The Water Bowl Project’ was born.

We spoke to Sanjana on how the journey has been so far and the challenges that she faced while implementing the ‘The Water Bowl Project’. Excerpts from the interview below:


1. What inspired you start ‘The Water Bowl’ project in Bangalore? 

I have always loved animals and ever since I was a child, I would rescue injured, abandoned or lost animals. As an adult I was able to do this better, and was always on the lookout for ways to improve their welfare. On a particularly hot day in Bangalore I noticed my neighbourhood dog, drinking from a pool of cow urine in a desperate attempt to relieve himself of his thirst. It’s an image that stuck with me. I spent a few days understanding the real extent of the problem and saw what IDA; Mumbai was doing at their shelter. I realize that this simple, but powerful idea of putting out water bowls can help a lot of animals. Often times, a bowl of water can be the different between remaining healthy or collapsing from dehydration.

I crowd funded the initial amount on Wishberry, where I raised 15,000 rupees. I did this to spread awareness about the idea and get more people involved.

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2. Till date how many water bowls you have distributed among the people of Bangalore?

Over 500 bowls primarily to individuals living in independent homes , residents of smaller apartment complexes, small shops, few religious institutions and a few nursery schools.

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3. You charge Rs 100 for concrete bowl and Rs 200 for terracotta bowl. Why is that so?

This is how much the bowls cost me.


4. How many volunteers work with you?

This is a voluntary initiative and I am a volunteer as well. Everyone who takes a bowl is a volunteer, as they commit to maintain the bowl for as long as possible.

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5. Any idea how many animals you may have reached out to?

Over the past three years, I have put out close to 500 bowls around Bangalore city.  I have also supported other volunteers with setting up their own version of this in other cities and in Bangalore. I can’t guess, but I would like to believe that there are thousands of animals for whom summer is a bit more bearable.


6. Any challenges you faced while implementing the water bowl project?

A key challenge that I continue to face is that many people believe that just putting a bowl out is enough. Water Bowls need to be monitored, maintained and it is important that volunteers who manage them live in these areas for a reasonable amount of time. However, often times many individuals or organizations who are working on the same idea, bypass the necessary due diligence required to ensure that the bowls will be taken care of. This means that there are many abandoned water bowls, which serve no purpose except to add to the waste in the city.

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7. With water scarcity being a major concern, do you believe that the Water Bowl Project has brought some relief to animals in Bangalore?

Yes, it has. It’s not just about water scarcity. Lack of access to clean drinking water is the main issue. Drinking dirty and poisonous water is among the fastest killers of urban wildlife and animals.


8. Do you have any plans of taking the Water Bowl Project to other cities in India?

The project is already in Mumbai, Delhi, Indore, Pune and Chennai. Typically volunteers from these states reach out to me and I share with them in detail all the things I have learned over the course of the past three years of running this project. I encourage them to start this on their own in the way that works for them.

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9. Who provides you with the bowls? Is there any organization that is supporting the project?

The terracotta bowls are designed and made by my dear friend and fellow animal lover Shashi Bagchi founder of Maati. These earthen bowls are not only beautiful, put keep the water very cool. She also engages in very environmentally friendly practises in manufacturing. I buy the concrete bowls from a local mason who makes them for me.  I am not supported by any organization.  I also provide 50% of all the bowls I procure free of cost to those who may not have the means to pay. I charge INR 100 for concrete bowls and INR 200 for terracotta bowls, which cover my costs. I make no money from this initiative and I am able to sustain it because I have a day job.


10. Are the water bowls enough to quench the animals’ thirst?

Water Bowls can only do so much. During summer months, people get in touch with me because the unbearable heat is a reminder that something needs to be done. But during cooler months there aren’t too many people putting water out for animals. That’s when sources like rivers, lakes and ponds are critical to ensuring the survival of our urban flora and fauna.


11. What message would you like to give to people who want to do their bit?

Putting out a water bowl is a great start. Commitment is critical to ensuring that these bowls are maintained and animals can rely on volunteers to fill them up.

On a larger scale, I think it all starts with children. Teaching them empathy and compassion will be the foundation of any revolution of the future. As a mother, I have witnessed first-hand its impact.

If you ever visit a petrol pump in Bhopal these days, you will witness an unusual scene. Both the entry and exit signs will have people holding helmets.  Bikers come up to them, pay them cash, take a helmet, fill petrol, and exit on the other side after handing over the helmet to someone standing there.

This scene repeats itself at least five times an hour. Why? The government in Madhya Pradesh passed a ‘No Helmet, No Petrol’ rule  recently. Petrol pumps were instructed to sell petrol to only those  riders who rode with a helmet, others were to be turned away.  The only issue is that a lot of two-wheeler riders in Bhopal don’t want to wear helmets because you know, it’s too inconvenient. Take Arihant, 20 years old. “I find carrying a helmet irritating as I have to carry it everywhere I go.

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So whenever I have to get fuel for my bike, I go to the petrol pump and  ‘borrow’ a helmet from someone then and there only.” Renting a helmet costs Rs. 10- Rs. 20. “When one is already spending a hundred bucks or so on fuel an extra expense of 10rs isn’t much if it helps you get fuel,” says Priyansh, “so instead of begging someone to lend me their helmet I just rent one from nearby vendors.”

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How do petrol pumps deal with this? They just sell petrol because they don’t want to get beaten up. Rajesh Yadav, an employee of HP petrol pump, says “Often people come without helmets and then argue with us when we refuse to sell them petrol. They try to threaten us and use abusive language.” Rahul, an Indian Oil petrol pump employee, “There have been times when people come and tell us that they have big connections and they’ll get us fired for not giving them petrol. But we’re only doing our jobs.” Sometimes people come up with excuses like they’re getting late for a meeting, or they’re going to a party and didn’t want their hairstyle to get ruined, or someone borrowed their helmet and took off with it, says another employee. Excuses vary but the bottom line is that people don’t like helmets.

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Tushar recalls a funny incident, “This one time when I went to the petrol pump and a guy behind me asked me to lend him my helmet. I gave it to him. But he then passed it on to the guy behind him, and this kept happening for quite some time as my helmet passed among half a dozen people and I had to keep waiting to get it back. Deeksha, a college student says “I don’t like to wear a helmet, but I have to carry it to buy petrol. So I carry my helmet in the dikki of my vehicle, and whenever I have to buy fuel I show it to the petrol pump employees.”

Moral of the story: No one does jugaad like us Indians. So what if we could end up with a broken face because we don’t have a helmet.

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