Wednesday, May 25, 2016




My body aches. Unknown hitherto I wake up to new muscles existent in different parts of my limbs. But my heart soars. I have completed my first half marathon.
It’s been a long winding road to the finishing line.
In my late 30’s I realised I could achieve what others call impossible for a woman.
I am a woman, working. I am a mother of two. And no I am not estranged from my husband.
I am no feminist either.
But I believe in human spirit.
Couple of years ago I ended up in hospital for breathing trouble and stress induced trauma. Quiet a mouthful and fancy excuse to spend a day in clinical circumstances marooned from the digital communication. I was labelled as cardiac suspect. But that one day and night gave me time to retrospect on my life and my unfulfilled or unrealised dreams.
Dreams are those that don’t let you sleep. How often have I read that, I would wonder in my head.  Then when is it that I started to sleep...away? I went in flashback. Started to rewind the tape till it came to screeching halt to one particular incident.
I had finished my exams. It was a winter morning and I was all ready and set to go out for a morning run. My grandfather used to go for morning walks every day. He spotted me running on the road. As I was about whiz past him, he stopped me. “You are grown up enough to realise what you are doing,” his tone rebuked me. “Few days later you will be in Xth standard, it’s time for your studies and not running,” he hinted me to go home. I was embarrassed and immediately turned around. I didn’t go out for a run again.
The tape in my head went forward a little and stopped at the scene from my college. I was late to submit my assignment for geography field study. The professor was lenient with other defaulters but when it came to me, she lost her c
ool. “You think you are too smart, right?” she thundered. I could see myself standing in front of her bewildered. She hasn’t been angry with other girls before me. They were all asked to submit it in a day. Her scathing rebuke lashed out at me “If all that you are interested in is basketball and swimming, I suggest you drop out from my class. Because I won’t tolerate this even if you are the topper,” she continued. “I don’t want any excuses and you have two hours to finish it and bring it to my table,” she said as she prepared to leave. Sweats started to gather in my forehead. I made a last ditch attempt. “Ma’am, please allow me to submit it by tomorrow. I have my selection match now” I pleaded with her. She didn’t turn or respond.
I submitted my assignment two hours later. I never played basket ball again. I didn’t study geography either beyond that semester. It used to be my favourite.
The tape goes forward a little. My son tries to learn to cycle. I am in my late twenties. I run after him on the road in front of my house. Our elderly neighbour was watching us from his first floor balcony. He calls after me. “Bouma (daughter-in-law in Bengali) you go home and ask your husband to teach dadabhai (endearment for grandson in Bengali)to cycle. It doesn’t look good for you to struggle and run behind him,” he says with a gentle smile on his face. I smile back hesitantly and nod my head in agreement. “Honey, let’s go home. Mumma’s legs are aching,” I try to reason with my son to take him back.
Years of teaching have instilled the faith that I, as a woman couldn’t achieve my dreams.
Back in the hospital doctors were worried because I used to smoke. Regulated it was but nonetheless addiction to nicotine was injurious and my body had started to show the effects of the poison. They told me that I needed to distress myself because surely I can’t quit my addiction.
I wondered why? “Oh most men can’t do it. They try but it’s hard. So even if you can’t, at least try to reduce it and have detoxifying nutrients to help boost your immunity,” the doctor advises sombrely.
The three men in my life stood by me. My husband and my boys believed I was stronger than others. They plodded and I resolved. My journey to the finishing line started.
I gave up smoking. I joined a gym. Six months later, I ran for the first time for 5 kms in public on the roads of the capital of the country.
Most women like me in Indian subcontinent face the same as I did. My girl friends are all on a series diet dreaming to get back to shape and not health. Because girls and women of educated, cultured family don’t participate in sport. It’s not ladylike.
I fought with myself and my inhibitions. Three pairs of eyes watched over me non-stop.
Two years after that fateful hospitalisation I finished my first half marathon in two hours and fifty minutes. The timing was not important but the fact that I reached the finishing line in time, was important.
I have been diagnosed with thyroid problem and I am a glaucoma suspect. Both are hereditary disease.
Now that I am a runner and an addict of running I know being healthy does not guarantee freedom from disease. It means being free from inhibitions and the spirit to fight and live life to the fullest.
Women need to be healthy to build a healthy society.

My run from the by-lane has started. 

Friday, May 13, 2016


THEIR VOICES: BALAKNAMA, news from Delhi and area slums
A newspaper by street children reports on lives and problems of slum dwellers
‘Balaknama’ is auto biography of childhood on the streets of cities. Photo courtesy: Bipasha Kundu
‘Balaknama’ is auto biography of childhood on the streets of cities. Photo courtesy: Bipasha Kundu
Shambhu is on the hunt. The 16 year old is prowling the underbelly of his neighborhood in the slums of Delhi looking for his source, Faizan. Under the busy Barapullah flyover, beside the stinking nullah, 11 year old Faizan is busy playing cards and sniffing at his handkerchief. Hearing Shambhu’s voice he gets up. Moti too gets up from his slumber and follows his master, Faizan
Shambhu is looking for a story. His deadline is in an hour. And Faizan has all the details.
Shambhu and Faizan are the reporters of ‘Balaknama’, a newspaper run by Chetna, (Childhood Enhancement through Training and Education), an NGO that works to empower street children. Shambhu as chief reporter, he relies on the eyes and ears of Faizan, a Batuni reporter or oral communicator.
 Together they work on stories that only a child living on street can find and report. The newspaper binds them and supports them.
“We are treated as genetic garbage. Nobody bothers about us. But if we are not well, the city can’t be well either” says Shanno, the consulting editor of Balaknama.
Shanno worked as a child laborer in a factory making bangles before she got involved with Chetna and then Balaknama.
The newspaper gave her confidence and made her aware of the plight of other children living on the road or in the slums. “I realized I was the best of the lot. I had home and parents and family. But there were others who had nobody,” says Shanno. While she became their voice, these children taught Shanno the importance of education in life.
Born in 2003 out of the need to give street children a voice, Balaknama was published bi-weekly. Lack of funds forced it to go monthly and now bi-monthly.
“But our readership has gone up from 3000 to 5000 this year,” says Sanjay Gupta, chairman of Chetna.
Children who are illiterate or can’t write, like Faizan, become ‘batuni’ or the oral communicators. Those who can write, like Shambhu, are reporters. They receive a stipend of Rs 5000 per month for their travel and studies.
Nearly all children involved in Balaknama are students of National open school centres run by Chetna.
Faizan is a rag picker addicted to sniffing correction fluid, also known as white liquid. His rickety frame is eaten away by drug abuse.
His ‘masi’ (a self proclaimed supervisor) allows him to live under Barapullah bridge in south Delhi.
“She gives him a blanket and also supplies the drug. He in exchange pays her what he earns from rag picking,” says Shambhu.
“I ran away from home because my father used to beat me up. The boy I ran away with has gone back home but I stayed back on these streets near Nizamuddin Railway station,” Faizan says with a smile on his face.
The streets have made Faizan mature beyond his 11 years. The area where he lives is notorious for crime and he has been witness to many incidents so far.
“I have Moti to guard me,” Faizan says, looking at the mongrel. Then in a swift movement he grabs Moti and forcefully opens his mouth. Moti wriggles away and Faizan bursts out laughing. He pulls out a handkerchief from his pocket and sniffs then becoming conscious of being looked at, tries to hide it.
“He is a good reporter. With Moti around he can go anywhere and get me all sorts of stories,” says Shambhu. “We are working on a murder story that happened a few days before beside the nullah,” adds on the chief reporter of Balaknama.
Faizan and Moti tell their tale to Balaknama. Photo Courtesy: Bipasha Kundu
Faizan and Moti tell their tale to Balaknama. Photo Courtesy: Bipasha Kundu
Chetna hopes that the pride of being a reporter for Balaknama and the association with role models such as Shambhu and Shanno will help Faizan to break his addiction one day.
Faizan says he has taken the first steps. “I have reduced it and I promise to give up in few months. I have given a word to Shambhu dada.”
The Association with Balaknama has opened up a new world for Faizan. His dream is to be a dancer and work in a hotel to support himself and his family.
At 16 Jyoti has fought drug addiction and poverty. “I used to be so drugged that I couldn’t care less about who did what to me. I wasted myself,” Jyoti recalls.
Chetna rescued her from the platforms of Nizamuddin station and forced her into a rehabilitation center. Only when the drugs started to leave her body did Jyoti realize she had a future.
“I wanted to dance. And I wanted to live. My problem is I hate studies but to stay away from this pinhole I have no choice but study and work for Balaknama,” says Jyoti with a glint in her eyes.
Now Jyoti wants to help other children to come out of this life as a delinquent and live life with dignity. She signs off saying, “I am a reporter of Balaknama. I can never go back to doing what I used to.”