Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Peacock flowers

Aug 21st 2005 turned out to be a looonnnnnnnngggggg day in my life ;-) (2 months late ??)

Well, I just wanted to get away. Atleast away from the workplace....from the mail accounts....that keep you so connected. Did think of catching up with Sunand & doing an half-a-day outing to TG halli or around Dodballapur, But he wasn't reachable. So Lalbaugh it was....had been quite sometime.

Spent some 2 hours that afternoon/evening. It really was relaxing. These days nothing relaxes me better than a nature trail (with my camera). Staring at a tree, chasing a bird, hoping for a butterfly to settle closeby, and simply loooking for those minute movements signaling fauna makes it very exciting.

B'lore seen from the hillock(thru double road). Amalgamation of 8 shots by panorama mode.

Therz a small pond, behind the hillock. Probably created by quarrying. There are many life-forms all over, and it becomes interesting to spot them. One can easily expect water birds, plants, lillies/lotus, insects & snakes. Need to keep ur eyes open, move slowly, and perhaps better done alone ;-))

The major thing for me were these flowers. Reminds of peacock feathers!

These were abundant.

The top view, note the bud facing you.

As I walked across the pond, there were lotz of young boyz generally hanging around. Looked like school drop-outs. Should have talked to them.

As I encircled the pond, it was quite sunny. Very bright shots. I guess, I have reduced the brightness of this shot.

Looks beautiful, the huge size, and the blowing wind seems to have bent the leaf.

Spot the bird. These are birds every birdwatcher would know of....but not me ;-)) despite birdwatching the last 10 years! Some of my friends wonder, how I manage it!!!!

Well, here are some insects...crickets mebbe...not difficult to spot.

And, so my walk went on.....wish one day I just walk into such ponds. Never seen any birdwatcher do it. Perhaps need to cultivate the friendship of rag-pickers and vagabonds. Walk in the water. Unmindful of broken bottles, & other fears! Also should have a water-proof camera.....wow!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Double strike

Hey, the previous post was too short, so here I go again ;-))

Snakes, have fascinated me, probably for the sheer fear & mystery surrounding them, and also that they are hardly seen. I use to offer 100$ rewards for chaps who showed me one during our outings. Nobody has claimed it yet ;-)

I knew cubbon housed a few snakes, some in the pond, a few around the bamboo groove, and the rest almost anywhere. Yet, I failed to spot them. The huge number of people frequenting the park perhaps make them keep a low profile.

Sometime back, there was a crowd below a tree, and they said, a snake had attacked a squirel nest in the branches, some fight, and once people intervened with sticks etc had gone probably into the nest. The nest was a withered hollow branch. Again, I had just missed action.

A few days later, as I walked with Dinesh close to the bamboo grooves, one guy was striking something repeatedly with a big stone, we quickly dashed there, but the damage was done. A green baby snake lay dead with its head crushed. Shouted at that guy, he simply ran away. So much fear & ignorance.

On Tuesday, Aug 23rd, I turned lucky at the pond. This chap hung around for quite sometime, and was busy hunting his prey.

There was a flow of water, and this guy hung around the barrage to catch his prey.

There was another smaller snake - more greener - but disappeared soon.

I moved away delighted at the sightings. The first time I saw a snake through my camera. More luck, a family of parakeets, screeching like hell, had settled on a tree.

Moved very slowly, and took a few snaps, most of them were bad. My hand seemed to shake a lot & fading light didn't help either.

Notice the long tail & the blue in it. Reminds me...somehow I feel there are not many green colored birds. Barbets, parakeets and perhaps a few more. Birds generally are more brightly colored with contrasting color combinations. But, evolution must have aided birds which could camaflouge with the green leaved surroundings, right ?? So what is it that favours brightly colored birds ?? Yeah! we could keep out the water birds out of the picture. Still, lotz of land birds are non-green, why ??


I will talk about my post-lunch walks at cubbon park. Itz more like a nature trail. The big motive has been not to fall asleep right after lunch.

Well, well, some of my close friends would understand how bad I must have felt.

These mushrooms caught my attention in the month of July. It was raining, and I don't see them much these days.

The otherside. Suddenly, I realise I know nothing of these chaps. Who are these guyz ?? how do they trap energy ?? Are they always like some umbrella and then wither away ?? whatz the job of those thin blade like stuff on the underside of the umbrella ?? anybody ?? ready answers ?? Wish my botany lectures, had shown picture or live stuff, posed such questions, and had gone away. I would have learnt botany better ;-) its never too late.

Look at this cluster of mushrooms, almost on the roots of a tree. After a day or two, it had become sunny & they weathered away.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Note Book Drive

Note book drive(NBD), a pet project from the Friends of CRY & now, Dream School Foundation http://www.dsfindia.org has been an annual event in Bangalore for the last 4 years. Distribution of notebooks to govt. school children (mostly primary school) is the idea.

Some of you might wonder why ?? whatz the need, can't the parents get them notebooks ???

Well, that brings us to the India that you may not have seen much. It was an eye-opener for many of us when we visited some of the govt. schools. The infrastructure, the teaching resources, the economic/social background of students made us embark on notebook distribution. The govt. does provide textbooks, uniforms & (mid-day meals for the last one year). Thats wonderful. And, personally I feel the education dept. has been improving conditions in the school as much as they can. The head-masters/teachers, we have met have been very particular & enthusiastic 'bout improving their schools. These are great positives. From our side, we felt its our duty, to get as much as notebooks distributed amongst the schools. Karnataka has over 40, 000 govt. schools. Thats a tall order - 40K - the trick is to begin somewhere. So, we began in & around B'lore, and for the last couple of years have reached out to Kanankpura & Kolar.

Modus operandi: Money is raised at various offices/corporates/IT thru volunteers present in those companies. Posters, emails, physical selling of notebooks thru stalls are the key. And, the money/cheques are used to buy books from BOSCO (a street children's rehabilitation centre where book making is part of vocational training http://www.boscoban.org/) or from private manufacturers.

Meanwhile, needy govt. schools are identified

1. By personally visiting, talking with the headmaster, & getting a first hand feel of the school
2. Thru BEO - Block Educational Officer - These people know which are the needy schools.
3. Other NGO's working with schools. Eg. Sikshana trust, Paraspara etc

So, we get the number of students studying in various classes from a school. And, so we know how many books a school would need. This year we gave 2 books for a student in 1st & 2nd, 3 books for 3rd, 4th & 5th standard, and 4 books for the 6th & 7th standard students.

Okay, those were the funda's for the new. Now, lemme take you through a typical drive.

Yes, its always a saturday morning in the months of monsoon. We collect the books from the manufacturer/dealer; on this occassion some 7K books - 11 schools for the Uthralli drive (Bangalore south) loaded in the bylanes of cottonpet.

Then, if needed push them into a bus/car/tempo, which would also take the volunteers along. This a back-breaking job ;-)) Early morning exercises, on this occassion we were loading around 10K books-14 schools for the kanakpura drive, and there just some 8 of us.

A loaded bus looks like this ;-)) with volunteers from Accenture for the Kolar drive. Here the challenge was to distribute 10K books in 40 schools. It then becomes a nice logistic problem with schools, books, & volunteers. Finally, as a school approaches, the entire gang steps out, or a few of them are dropped with their quota of books.

Transfer of books from bus to a tempo.

Travelling through narrow roads, wonderful countryside, you reach the school. We typically have local teachers/volunteers guiding us. Then, a quick chat with the HM & you burst into the nearest class-room

'Gud Maaaaaarniiiiingggggg Saaaaar' or 'Gud Maaaaaarniiiiiiiinggggggg Misssss'.....U smile...say 'Namaskara' 'Good Morning' 'Hello' etc etc Sometimes, when we walk into 1st or 2nd standard we get bewildered looks!!!! The first std. kids probably are just getting used to their class-room & teachers and suddenly aliens invade!!!!

This was the look from Anganwadi(Creche) kids. This is for kids below 5 years.

Once in the school, its upto the volunteers dynamism & energy levels! You walk in, get to know the children, get them out to the ground, play with them, or take a small class in the class-room. Ask their favourite color, cricket player, subjects, ambition. Get to know them. And, itz fun. The smiles on their faces, some of them are quite shy.

Here, the gang got to play Kabaddi with the kids! Kurian attacks!!

The kids have a lot of folk songs for us. 'Padya' as they call it. And, with all their action, itz nice listening to. Here, the kids in the leftmost column from the 1st & 2nd std singing a song for us.

Another class, another school, and another song.

The schools & class rooms are brightly painted with lot of information in them. Charts are hung, lotz of facts, infact we wonder with so much info. all around, how do their exams go!

Our olympic champion, along with Ganguly besides a baya-weaver's nest!

This gory looking stuff 'bout the human body was hung in the head-master's chamber. There was a TV too, he said, the kids are shown some edu. programs & NEWS!!!

Now, for the notebook distribution. Either, we do it in the classroom itself or get them out and assemble them classwise & distribute. Based on the time we have, we talk to them, we ask for their names, class studying, sometimes their favourite color/player. Ask, what his father does. Then....importantly, we ask slightly elder kids what their ambitions are.....the answers range from....no answer....to driver...conductor...teacher...police...army.....Engineer or Doctor! I suppose, most of them haven't really thought 'bout it....and so say the first thing that comes to their mind.

The school assembled for their books.

The kids have a major smile when they get the books.

Most of them are very shy. In the Kolar BEML cluster I seem to notice a lot of kids - atleast 5-6 over the day - who were blind in one eye atleast. And, the teachers said, it was congenital.

In the cities, the poorest of the poor go to the govt. schools.

In the villages, most of the times this is the only school around. And for various reasons, rural India still remains poor. And, most of the parents of these kids are from the unorganized sectors. Its good to see a lot of children coming to school, absentism is low claim the teachers. In cities, the construction worker's move from place to place, and so the education of their kids become a problem.

This kid was telling me how they use this abacus.

This is the driver of our tempo, he was pretty enthused, and at a school, he found one of the kids hand-writing pretty bad, so sat down wrote a paragraph in his 'good' handwriting!

NBD distribution in full swing.

In Govt. schools Karnataka, English has a subject is introduced 5th standard onwards. We feel this is quite late, there was a move to introduce it from the 1st std. this acad year, but opposition from some quarters have stopped the govt. from enforcing it. Itz a real shame, when educationalists opinion's matter little. Here, this gang was teaching the kids 'Twinkle twinkle little star'.

As we come to the end of the distribution, we take some group snaps with the children. On this occassion, a cine-star was obliging her delighted fans ;-))

This was a predominantly TCS volunteer group.

Some of the schools we have been looked bad. Especially, those one class-room wonders. I have been to schools - rather one class room schools - that housed 1st to 5th std in a single room, with just 2 teachers!


But then, I have seen some fantastic schools too. A school in Bangalore south (under Sikshana trust), had lotz of educational aids, a computer with good edu CD's from Azim Premji foundation, and apparently the kids from this school video-conferenced with same age group students in the United States!!!! This is what involvement of citizens can do to a govt. school.

Finally, group snaps of the volunteers, typically the group splits, distributes, & finally assembles. This was the kanakpura distribution group.

So guyz, this is how a note-book distribution program goes. Its not just 'bout the notebooks, but for us an opportunity to know the schools, the teachers, and the children. And, for many of us, it triggered us into doing something more long-term with govt. schools. For example, adopting govt. schools to improve the conditions, make that school effective in terms of education, work on improving infrastructure, better libraries, spoken english programmes, sports, games, health-camps....and so on.

As a result, Dream School Foundation was started, we have adopted a few govt. schools, and encourage other groups to do so. Govt. schools are in plenty, almost in every neighbourhood, so if U cud form a group of interested volunteers and start interacting with the school for a few hours on saturdays. This would immensly impact the quality of education and thus the future of the students.

Interested in organizing a NBD or working with govt. schools, feel free to write to our co-ordinator, Mrs. Maitreyee Kumar sathyamaitri@satyam.net.in

Monday, August 01, 2005

Remand Home

Juvenile Home is a better euphemism. But still the old name lives in my head, and conjures a collage of images.

Saturday, 30th July - big day for many of us - for we had a logistic challenge/day-mare in our hands, 10 thousand notebooks to be distributed at 40 govt. schools. But, by 4pm, as an exhausted gang of us had an hungry lunch, our cluster of 10 schools were covered, and I guess almost all of us were thrilled with the experience.

Post lunch, we seemed to have a couple of hours, and wondered what next ?
Joining Sunand's gang for some more book distribution was not pragmatic (he was lost somewhere). Hiking to nearby hills formed by the mining slurry, near the entrance of KGF was an option. But, more appealing was a visit to a Remand/Juvenile home closeby. Notebook distribution amongst the kids was a pretext, I was keen on meeting the kids & getting to know the place.

A 5 minute walk took us there, a big building invited us in, we see lot of kids wearing green shirts bunched with an old man. They were apparently doing some pooja(prayer) in a small temple - made up of a small slabs - The God's we didn't notice. But, was the kind of temple children build in minutes to play.

A quick talk with the authorities, and they were happy to have us. This is an home for boyz. 66 boyz were present. Most of them seemed to be below 10 years, and just a few in highschool. A lady warden told us most of them are here for they are orphans. And left unsaid that the rest are sent by the police/judiciary.

So soon, we called over the rest of our volunteer gang. And, the kids were seated in a quadrangle with a cement floor. They introduced themselves with their name, class, the cricket player they like, and optionally could suggest who would be a better captain, Saurav or Rahul ;-))

There seemed to be a lot of kids in 1st/2nd standard. They all had short cropped hair, and sat very obediantly. Looking back that strikes us. For we have hardly seen kids in that age-group so silent & well-behaved, they generally are un-rully, highly energetic, jumping jacks!

Okay, I was pretty impressed with their cricket sense. Sachin & Sewag move aside, the more popular one is Dhoni!!! They also zapped me with Mc Grath, Inzamam, Kambli, and hold ur breath - Suresh Raina!!!!! - he was playing only his 2nd ODI that day!

It was times for games.

We started with 1, 2, clap-clap, 3, 4, clap-clap....kid1 says 1, kid2 says 2, kid3 shud only clap..kid4 says 4 and so on......basically check the concentration of kids....and some basic math...well, this game was not such a success.

So we moved to bombing the cities!! We had Bombay, Delhi, Madras & Bangalore. The kids keep runing around - chanting 'Fire on the mountain run run run' - and when asked to stop, run into the nearest city/circle. And, one of the volunteer would call out the city to be bombed, and boom....all of them are out of play!!!
One volunteer stood in each city as a pole. Soon, S***(don't recall her name) cities were bombed like hell, while Abhishek seemed not to be touched!!!

Next, we wanted to play Dog & bone, but had very few takers. So, thats a challenge, getting games they like, and getting them to participate. Kurian & others got into playing cricket with some kids with a short log as a bat. It was 6ish....the volunteers wanted to get back to Bangalore....so the TCS & Infy crowd went back. And, the kids were sent for their coffee & snacks.

I was waiting for the notebooks from Rohit. And that was to take sometime. So got talking with the wardens there. One of the warden was young, and he seemed to have control over the boyz. How they do it, I am not sure. But this chap looked reasonable & keen on his job.

I got down to a class room session with the kids. Taught them spoken english for some 25 minutes - basic sentences etc etc - the kids were interested. But, seemed very submissive/shy, so hardly any questions from them....Then moved onto some GK. Well, I thought explaining how banks - ATM banks work - would be interesting, so showed my cards, and gave some funda's. And, then though planes must be fascinating to them, and asked them how does an aero-plane fly ?? Well, they said 'white-petrol', and then 'fans'.....At this point, Rohit walked in carrying 150 books. And, we got distracted, and forgot the plane.

Rohit, got an hang of the place & people. Some kids recognised him, for they were in the Bangalore Juvenile home, were Rohit, Sunand & Murtuza had been quite a few times.

Rohit got them to multi-author online story telling. Each kid has to carry forward an online story. And, the start line was 'Ondh uralli ondh Kothi ithuu ;-)'...most exciting line for kids I wud say...'In a village lived a monkey'....well, the high school kids carried the story with a flourish, the smaller ones simply stared!!!!
It soon oscilated between a shopkeeper who was chasing the monkey, and the monkey getting back at him....and suddenly, one kid 'killed' the monkey....well...some silence....whatz this our monkey is gone....the next line came from Rohit....The monkeys ghost came out!!!!....The kids strangely protested..'How is that possible'....their warden said...'Its possible in stories!!!'.....well, I thought the kids would have just accepted such a line....and am surprised by their response....major rationality ??? or no exposure to folk tales ????

We moved on....this time it was 'Name, place, Animal, thing', 4 teams were made, each was given an alphabet and they were to come with those stuff. I wasn't keen on the idea....the kids hardly knew english is what I felt....but R persisted and got them going. Cool....we had 2 rounds...the warden said..itz time for their lunch....so we distributed the notebooks - 2 each - and for 6th std & above, we gave one more book.

And, the warden insisted, that some prize has to be given....well...delicate area...there was one boy in 10th std....we declared him as the winner...gave him some more books....and the kids clapped like hell....there was another younger boy who was pretty clever & very imaginative during story telling....we gave some books to him too.

At this point, Sunand, Murtuza & Dinesh walked in.....some kids recognised them.....and it was time to get back to our bus....almost 7:30....I gave a short speech...extolled them saying hardwork & a keenness to learn will take U places....the rest of the gang used to my long speeches....butted in & pulled me away!!

At this point or b4 my speech, the warden thanked us. And asked the kids to observe a minute's prayer for us. Well. The kids immediately seemed to get into some ghor tapasya ;-)) rapt attention....eyes totally closed....and some of them muttering something.....somehow...at that point..... in that silence....I felt yes, this prayer is genuine......

Yes, in between a couple of times, on popular demand, I SMSed and found the scores of the match....Sri Lanka was chasing....and they were some 68/3 in the 17th over....the kids jumped & shouted....asked if Jayasurya was out....I thought hez an opener, so must be gone...the kids went delirios!!! (Well, Jayasurya apparently batted later with a dislocated shoulder & won the match).

We shook hand with kids. And, one kid kept saying 'Uncle...don't forget me'

As we walked away, the warden asked...'please tell me, whatz lacking here ?'....well, suprise question...Rohit seemed to say this, 'I feel the smaller kids are a bit dull, we need to look into it'.

Yes, that seemed to be true, smaller kids are always running 'bout, full of energy. But, here that was missing. And, I don't know why ??

PS: This was at the Juvenile home, KGF, Kolar on 30th July evening. Camera was not permitted.