Thirteen Years Later…

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Scene One: Conference Hall in a beautiful heritage hotel…There is a banner which says ‘ Giving Back to Society: The Innumerable Ways !’

People milling around. The smart youth, in latest fashions. Camera men, journalists, participants with their ID cards.
A sudden flurry of activity when the Chief Guest arrives.Bouquets , flashes of camera, voices…

Cut to back of the room…A tall man, in his late twenties, sits quietly. He is looking at the speakers on the podium. He gazes at one face and is lost in memories.

*
On the podium.

Compère: ‘And now, we would like to invite Mrs. Karuna Menon to share her experiences as a counsellor and rehabilitation specialist dealing with juvenile delinquents for many decades.’

A young woman steps forward and manoeuvres a wheel chair towards the mike. There is a poignant sigh rising from the audience. The woman in the wheel chair is around seventy, with a shock of white hair. She is radiant and cheerful.

Mrs Menon : Dear friends on the dais and beloved members of the audience! Thank you for giving me a chance to highlight the need for sensitivity towards juvenile delinquents. No child is born a criminal…As members of the society in which she or he lives, we are responsible for nurturing that soul to the proper heights it can aspire to. For that, we should stop looking at juvenile delinquents as evil. We should learn to open our eyes and see them for what they are: children fighting for survival.

Then she continues with her speech.

Back of the room. The man, lost in memories…

The Q&A session begins.
Raised hands: hyper smart questions, cynical queries, opinions disguised as questions…Mrs.Menon answers with grace and humility.

Slowly, the man raises his hand. He gets up.

Compère: Yes, sir… please ask your question.

Man: I stand here as a testimony to the great work of Mrs. Karuna Menon. I was a drug addict in my teenage. A very dangerous juvenile delinquent who stole his own mother’s jewellery. This lady, she saved my life. When the whole world hated me, she opened her home to the likes of me. Madam, thank you.

There is a ruffling sound, as many heads turn to gaze at the man. Slowly, someone begins to applaud. Mrs.Menon, in her wheel chair, stares unbelievingly at the tall man.

‘ Thank you, thank you,’ she murmurs, overwhelmed. She beckons the man to come forward.

He moves. He climbs the steps to the podium. And hugs the woman in the wheel chair.

Mrs.Menon: Ravi! Where were you, all this while?  How many years, now? Thirteen, fourteen? You never got in touch!
Man: I had to do something worthwhile before coming back to you, right?

Compère: Sir, the audience would like to know more!

The audience is on their feet now. It is a standing ovation for both the mentor and the protege.

Man: There is nothing more to tell. I was lost, she saved me. I have started a company which is into skill development. We actively work with prisoners released from jails and delinquents who are released from Homes. We help them get dignified employment.

Compère: What is the name of your firm?

Man: ( Smiles) Karuna, or Compassion.

He bends and touches the lifeless feet of Mrs.Karuna Menon.
*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Unassailable Law

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I have been rather an untutored pupil in the practice of the spiritual law- “In giving do we receive”.  But on reading books by many mentors on the subject, it became clear to me, that every one of us are either following it or not, every moment of our lives.

Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, one of the greatest vernacular writers, also known as a Sufi among writers for his humanistic approach to life, once commented that prayer can also be synonymous with giving water to a thirsty creature. Today, in the newspapers I read that a young man was beaten for hours together in a running train, by three passengers because he dared to drink water from one of their bottles, without asking. Evil then can be interpreted as denying a living creature a sip of water and assaulting him for daring to quench his thirst.

Life has taught me that many people find it very hard to give- freely of their love, time, intimacy, affection, kindness, laughter, even money. They are miserly by nature. Stingy with sharing anything significant for their own umpteen reasons. Fear- of loss of control, of intimacy, of being seen for their true selves, whatever it may be…fear prevents them from understanding that great spiritual law. And the harder they hold on to whatever they have in inscrutable negativity, like Ebenezer Scrooge or Marley, the more the chain links are getting forged- preventing them from being free to enjoy a  meaningful and full life.

On days that I have bitterly despised those who have wronged me (my version of course!), complained about lack of whatever I really deserved, looked at my resources with fear of them dwindling away leaving me struggling, my energy level had proportionately tumbled down to the depths. Life did not seem worth living on those days. What difference would that make anyway, the cynical voice would argue from within.

And then, like a ray from heaven, one call would come from somewhere, pushing me out of my own little self,  to do some work which involved another’s welfare. Whether it was attending to someone in distress or arranging help for a child in need, or a matter of creating a policy or action agenda for bettering lives of others… it focused my energy onto something positive, outside my own narrow self. And then, miraculously my energy level would soar sky high, as if an ineffable divine energy  source was buoying me upwards,  and then connections would form, the correct people, the correct information, the perfect help coming in…not just pouring in but cascading in harmony. I would be used as an instrument, to do my little bit in a chain of fortuitous events.

It was then that I learnt the way. On severe painful occasions, all one has to do to start a blessing of happiness would be to willingly and sincerely do an act of service. Giving away from your money, clothes, books, time, even your blood- anything for another less fortunate, would miraculously turn the focus of that divinity towards your own bereft self- replenishing you laughingly, as if whispering, ah, now smartie pie, you have caught on…Vivekananda, I remember,  had spoken about this unassailable law too.

Life  might have placed us all in different battle fields- metaphorical or real. But surely, to know that to drink  a joyful sip of water, one has to be part of giving a joyful sip of life too- is a battle secret worth knowing and practicing.

Happy Giving!

Each one, Teach one.

On a bright summer day in 2014, when the teachers of government schools of the district where I was working as District Magistrate, invited me for inaugurating a  sports function, I decided to pitch a challenge.

” Can you make Teaching Learning Material for  the children in the Anganwady (Govt kindergarten) in your compound ? From the material around you, using the skill and enthusiasm of your B.Ed days, getting the help from your young students in work experience classes, by contributing some money from your own pockets? These children from anganwadis can benefit with your creativity. After all, they are your future students”

To my great delight they volunteered to take up the challenge. In a matter of four months, we had organised multiple camps to distribute their TLM to the concerned anganwadis. Hundreds of schools volunteered enthusiastically and their imagination was outstanding! Except motivating them and attending all camps, and applauding as each anganwady received the TLM kit from the school, I did nothing.

Of the 1.29 lakh of anganwady kids studying, we reached out to  75,000  children through the initial response.  Mathematics, alphabets, memory tools- the talent was amazing!

This is one project which I wish ardently the civil society takes up too- if you are creative, create and donate to an anganwady next to your house.

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Warming Sunshine

When we start , the Arctic chill has coloured the fog an opaque white. The drive is long and the cold intense. But she is smiling. When the debate gets over, and I tell her that she had spoken well, she smiles again. Every one is excellent. The eight toppers had come after clearing a  rough total of two hundred and forty schools, each representing their respective branch levels, where they had stood first among thirty schools, to compete at the regionals. She does not make it into the top three, and being a biased mother, of course, I  am really irritated at the end results.

As we return, the sky is clear. She enjoys her tiffin, and wonders on the board practicals that had begun. She wishes aloud that her optics  and electricity experiments would work out fine.

” Are you not disappointed? ” I ask casually. I had literally pushed her out of a warm bed at an unearthly hour for this round of competition.

” Well, to be truthful, I prefer losing to better competitors. Not really at the top of the cloud, but  I had a lot of fun, you know!” She smiles.

Suddenly the car passes by three  very young girl children, carrying firewood on their heads. They are in rags in that bitter cold. Their mother is loading more firewood on her own head.

My daughter stops smiling.

” My sister’s age…” She murmurs.

” And that…”, I tell her, ” is the reality that you have to change by your work. Science and debates and life are meaningless if not for that resolution.”

She nods her head.” I will  continue to teach  Science to needy students,” she says. ” I will do it, irrespective of the place I join.”

This time, the sky clears in my mind.

I look out at the sunshine and smile.

***