Monday, August 22, 2011

Up, up and away . . .

Not everybody can read. And certainly not everybody can read English. I was standing outside the Doon EIC one morning when a woman came by holding a baby (with Down Syndrome) in her arm and a scrap of paper in her free hand. "Where is this?" she asked me, handing me the scrap of paper.

"Doon EIC," it said, clear as mud.

"Right here," I replied, leading her in to the centre. And right then I decided we needed a better system.

What if we could tell people who don't know English and who may not be able to read: "Just follow the balloons"? Friendly, easy, fun. Just what we want them to feel about what we do and who we are.

But of course, fun and easy for our users means work and effort for us.

On Saturday, a gang of us descended on the Doon Hospital with hammer and nails.

That was for the signs.

But for the balloons, it was paint and brushes and playing to the galleries.

Everyone was curious. Everyone was interested. Who are these people? What the heck are they up to?

Some stayed to find out:

. . . and in the process, they learned that there is a place where children with special needs wil be treated like the special people they are.

Friday, August 19, 2011

New Post!

Please check my new blog address for the latest post!:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A New Home For My Blog!

I've moved! My blog is now a part of our gorgeous new website (thanks, Sidd!)

You can go there directly by using this link:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

An Open Heart For The Stranger

This summer we had a lovely young woman as an intern in the Foundation. Swati is from Dehradun and her parents are both physicians who often refer children to us. She is hoping to become a doctor herself and I was impressed by her quiet, gentle personality and the careful way she went about her work.

Swati told me on the day she was leaving – just in a by-the-way sort of style – that she had seen me once several years before in a clock shop in town and that she had been amazed to hear me speaking in Hindi.

I, on the other hand, was amazed – and a little worried – to think that she had taken note of my presence then and that she had remembered it all these years later.

It made me think about our public personas, and how seldom we consider them – especially in the heat of the moment. What had Swati heard me say in Hindi? If the clock hadn’t been ready on time, as promised, had I gotten get cross? Had I been rude?

Or if it had been ready, had I been sufficiently grateful? Had I remembered to thank the man behind the counter? Had I acknowledged his part in the whole thing? Had I even realized he existed?

People are always watching us and drawing conclusions about who we are – sometimes based on a single encounter. Another woman who later became a good friend told me how she used to see me on my bicycle (Anand perched on the back, Cathleen in a baby basket on the front), buying sabzi and how strange she thought I must be: didn’t I have a car? Didn’t I have an ayah who could look after the children?

I think it’s helpful to remember this as often as possible: that people are watching us, taking note of what we say and how we say it, even if we are unaware of them doing it. So though it always pulls me up short to hear from people that they remembered seeing me years before we actually met, it’s a useful reminder of the effect even our smallest actions can have in the universe.

I wish I could remember it always. I wish I could keep an open heart and a willing hand for every person I encounter, whether I know them or not, whether I am even aware of their presence. It may not be possible in this imperfect life, given this imperfect soul. But it’s worth trying for.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Lakshi Fails PKG

On Saturday, Vijay and Lakshi got their "results."

"What are results?" Lakshi asked.

"How you did on your papers," her Mom explained.

"I didn't do any papers," Lakshi insisted. "Ma'am did them."

Nonetheless, off they trotted that morning, their parents in tow.

Vijay - no surprise - was first in his class and his teacher's darling. "Such a smart boy," she said enthusiastically. "He knows all the answers."

Absolutely true. Vijay is a brilliant boy - sharp, observant, curious.

But Lakshi is no less, in spite of having all zeroes. FAIL! Lakshi failed PKG.

Yet the other night, just for an example, Ravi went upstairs to close the door to the balcony. It's all swollen because of the rains and he had to slam it with a loud bang to get it to shut. Following the bang, there was a brief silence, then Lakshi's voice rang out from their flat in accusing tones: "Who's breaking our door down?"

When she comes in in the evening, wanting to help and I ask her to set the table, she knows exactly where everything is in our kitchen and exactly how it should all be laid out on the table (plates in the center, forks on the left, knives on the right, spoons to the right of the knives, glass positioned just over the tip of the knife).

She knows when I've made a cake and exactly how many slices are left and whose was bigger the last time it was served. She can pour, she can divide, she can measure and subtract.

Yesterday she ran to me in great consternation. "Mom!" she said (she calls me Mom). "It's a disaster! There are two worms in our house."

Lakshi is three.

But the school she attends seems unable to assess her bright, sparkling little mind because Lakshi can neither read nor write. How can they test her? The copy books she dutifully carries back and forth each day and fills with scribbles and x's and straight and slanted lines are meaningless to her. She humors her parents (if she's in the mood) by doing as she's been told, but in fact, she's simply too busy doing what a three year old should be doing to bother with nonsense like sitting still and making marks on a piece of paper.

Lakshi is three. At the moment, thank God, she has no interest in or use for our categories and judgments. Failing PKG is as irrelevant to her as flying to the moon.

If we all play our cards right, this child might yet grow up to discover a cure for cancer or to paint a masterpiece or to develop a new way to distribute water. But if we continue to be as stupid as we have been so far - even whispering the word FAIL anywhere in her vicinity is criminal malpractice - there's no saying what we will miss.

The promise, the expectation, the new dawn just over the next mountain peak: that's all hers. The failure, the downward spiral, the lost and irretrievable hopes - those are ours.

Lakshi is looking at us expectantly.

Have we got anything new, anything beyond false measurements and labels like "FAILURE" to offer her?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Where's That Net Again?

I hate to admit it, but I'm desperate. Again.

It happens with depressing regularity. Every three or four years, I take my eye off the ball. I go to sleep at the wheel. I stop firing on all four cylinders. (Or is it eight?)

Fundraising is a relentless and ever-expanding activity. There is no scope for self-satisfaction, no point at which you are allowed to push back from the desk and stride out of the office, secure in your right to a well-deserved rest. It never ends. People need their salaries every single month. The rent has to be paid. You've got to have petrol for the vans and the bus. The kids need crayons. What about a picnic, the training, the new books?

So you keep raising money and it keeps getting spent. The donor agencies preach self-reliance while the government taxes anything you earn. Yesterday everyone loved special schools, today it's all about inclusion. Tomorrow it will be clean rivers and HIV AIDS. You can't win, but you can't afford to lose.

So you keep running in the vain hope of at least staying in the same place. As the Red Queen explained to Alice: "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

Sometimes, I admit it, I forget what I am supposed to be doing. Mid-stream, I suddenly stop running. My family needs me. I get distracted by a new project. My 53 year old body demands sleep. I. Stop. Fundraising.

That's where we are right now. There. I've said it. We need 36 lakhs ($84,000) to get through the next year and I have NO IDEA where it's going to come from.

Just leap, I have been fond of saying. The net will appear.

There is a fine line between faith and arrogance and a deep gulf between trust in God and reckless expectation. Time after time after time, I have faced the abyss and been amazed and overwhelmed by what seems like an outpouring of support from the universe: we are here, it seems to say. You will not fail.

Each time it has happened I have been humbled and awed and each time - so strange! - I have promised myself that I will not let it happen again, that I will take care to have systems in place to prevent financial ruin. And though I put the systems in, once again I find myself needing to leap into the unknown, hoping against hope that the net will, once again, appear.

It always does. It will again. This time, next time, the time after that. This road we are on is ordained. Not easy, not complacent. But steady and sure, if just a tiny bit unsettling and a little like a test one hasn't prepared for.

But we leap and we leap and we leap - ever higher, ever more agile.

That net, that darling net: it's there every time.