Thursday, May 26, 2011

Education is not cowardliness | It is courage | To take charge and act

Please watch the video before you read

"Congratulations Mrs. Goel, your twins have won the scholarship for the third time", said the old lady who knew almost everything about almost everything happening in her neighborhood.

Mrs. Goel did not express her surprise and offered sweets to her,"congratulations to you too."

"You have brilliant kids, they will make this country proud one day. They will do 'something' for this country for sure", said the old lady.

"Well, everyone does something for his/her country according to his/her capacity, I just pray to God that my kids remain sane and honest all their lives, honest to themselves", exclaimed the proud mother.

The state board used to award scholarships to brilliant students, few hundred students from the state who had performed well in their academics in the board exams. A cash prize of INR 10, 000 was given to brilliant students. The basic idea behind the scholarship program was to promote the hard working students to do well, study well and pay back to the state when they are in a condition to pay back. After all, we invest in government for our good, government invests in us for collective good. And for a small, limited-budget state like Himachal, giving away INR 10,000 per year for four years is not an easy thing, the state government must have had very high expectations.

For the twins and hundreds of other students like them , cash prize of INR 10,000 meant a new cycle, brand new Campus shoes and for the less privileged, it meant school fee and household expenditure for the next few months. Money was spent carefully and by the time next board exams were over, they managed to earn another scholarship of INR 10,000. Things were going great, government was promoting the young talent and the young talent too was willing to serve the nation, the state, one day.

The schools were over and it was time to get into the colleges, choice was never a choice so they both ended up in good engineering colleges, the ones which are next to IITs. Most of the others who availed INR 10,000 for four years also landed in similar colleges, some of them even managed to get into IITs. They enjoyed scholarships in their engineering colleges too, however the amount was not as great as it used to be, but whatever it was, it kept coming. Finally they got a job, a good, nice job in a big nice city. They had to move because that was the best offered to them. The state had nothing to offer, so they had to leave their state. And not to forget, the others who got those scholarships also did the same, they also moved out. They started earning, however they did not love their job, well most of them did not. They wanted to make decisions, gain control, to make an impact, to make a change. After all, they were not normal students, they were brilliant students once and brilliance does not settle for anything less than brilliance or perfection [or probably nowadays they do settle for easy things, easily.]

In the free time, they would talk about the differences in the education system of their state and other states. How Delhi's ninth grader is smarter than a Himachal's graduate. How they would have not become an engineer, had they been born in some X Y Z state because they would have had better exposure. And some even came from Bihar, UP, Jharkhand and other 'mineral rich' states of the country, For most of them, every thing looked new, almost every thing. They were fluent in Hindi but they felt learning English is more important than speaking near perfect Hindi. Well, learning is never bad but at the cost of forgetting your best skill, it is a questionable act for sure.

After working for a while as Software Engineers, both the twins felt that they should move ahead and the only thing that looked attractive to them was MBA because their high paying jobs were not good enough for them to earn respect, both social and self respect. Their brilliance was soon overpowered by fear and they could not understand what they actually wanted to do. And interestingly they did not know what did they fear.  As they were brilliant, they managed to get into IIMs which would make them best managers of the country. Even there they kept feeling that their education system has betrayed them. Had it been nice, they would have become something else but not engineers and not even managers.

Back in their state, 11long years, the poor state government was still giving INR 10, 000 as scholarships to the brilliant students, so that they will serve the nation and the state of course, one day.

Both the twins would go back to their hometown, sit with their parents, who were still proud but would stay alone in their big house. They were happy that their kids were doing great, they wanted them to settle in their respective cities because their cities were 'advance' and had better scope for them. One fine day, both the twins went to their old school, just to meet their teachers. They found out that their school had developed, better classrooms, a big computer lab, a nice playground and many other things that were not available at their time.

And then they met their old friend in their school, who had become a TGT Chemistry lecturer in the school. He was just an average guy when he was studying with them, even today he was an average guy. He would speak of nothing but money and cars and mobile phones. He blamed the students for not studying, and he also told them that how he does not like his job and he wanted to be an engineer. The twins felt pity for the students, how they were at the mercy of an incompetent asshole who was just not motivating enough for himself, let alone the students. He did his BSc, then MSc, then BEd and then ended up in the job after availing the reservation facility bestowed upon him some 63 years ago.They concluded that nothing has changed here, the teachers were still the same.

But then he was not a brilliant guy.
He never got a 10,000 scholarship for four straight years.
He never went to any engineering college, which was next to IIT
He did not understand why school level education was important, why it is important to have a very strong and motivated school education because that is what makes young blood actually blood.

He did not understand anything.

They both knew what was needed.
They both knew that entry level education needed to change.
But they had to catch a flight next day as they were granted only three day leave by their bosses and go back to the 'city' which they never loved. However, they would always miss their hometown back in the 'city'.

While coming back from their school they met an old teacher who used to run a small library. He had this huge collection of books, fictional, non-fiction, philosophy, poetry and what not. He was still a primary school teacher but he was a happy man, as he used to be happy when both of them were studying in the school. He had a small room and interested students would come to his library, read books, listen to his stories, share his experience and feel good about life. Life which he had been living for the last 65 years.

They entered into his small library and saw him working with his books. They both sat with him and he tried to remember them. He recognized them instantly because they were the ones who gave him hope once.

And the first thing they asked him,"Sir, how do you manage all this even today?"

He said,"I don't manage son. I just try to live, to find joy in what I do."
'It looks the same, nothing has changed here. Why did you not change it? I does not look good aesthetically.' said one of them.
"I like it better this way, and those who care will change it someday, I am hopeful that someone will come back for sure, for once, someone will definitely come back."
Nobody spoke a word, they looked at each other and the sound of deep breathing of young ones sitting in the library was the only thing indicating that life existed inside that room.

They soon left the place, next year the library was renovated.
The twins had decided to take break twice every year. They had found joy, a cause in their lives. They had a piece of land which their father had bought to sell-off some day to earn 'more cash'. Both of them convinced their father that cash is never 'more'. The library was better now, more and more people joined them, the ones who had once regretted their birth in the town. the forgotten brilliant kids who claimed everyday that their life is worth nothing and in the race of being known they had started not recognizing their own selves.

"All we need to find a cause, something that makes us excited when we get up in the morning and happy when we sleep. We are not yet all lost, we were given scholarships because they had faith in us. Now it is time that we have faith in ourselves", said one of the guys who had just quit his job because he had understood that education is never a curse, it is always a boon, which [must] gives you strength to stand tall and make bold decisions, about yourselves and everything else.
Education [learning] must not be restricted to schools. Those who crib or cribbed about bad education system must understand and accept that there are still thousands of students who want to go to school and learn but they never get a chance. Those who get a chance are busy finding mistakes. There are thousands of things we can do to make a change, we just need to have faith in our self. 

I have this dream of having a huge library one day where not only books but vision is also shared.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

How 9% Growth Means Nothing - Our People Still Die For 1500 INR | Rangde |

Peepli Live!, remember anyone?
What was it all about?
Nathha? LaalBahadur or AamirKhaan?

Exert a little pressure on our minds and you will realize that it was about 'farmer suicides '. In India, which is growing at a rate of 9% per year. Thousands of farmers have killed themselves because they could not pay back their loan. And when you hear the amount they had to pay back,you might hang your head in shame. Some of the farmers [at least 10,000] committed suicide along with their families because they could not manage to pay a loan amount of INR 1500.

The Small Scale Industries [कुटीर उद्योग] also share the same fate; they are dying at a very slow but consistent rate. Every year thousands of people close down their home grown businesses [read integrity and self-respect] and head to Delhi, Noida, Mumbai and other big cities to work as laborers or unskilled workers [read 9% growth rate per year]

It was important to cater to the needs of the rural workers and at the same time protect them from the claws of landlords. Ram and Smita started, which is an effort to share the love and show that we all are a big family where we all care for each other and help others in difficulties.

Here is how Rangde works, read carefully.

I am a farmer, I work in a village in Himachal and the local moneylender is the only one who is willing and able to give me money for my farming and non-farming needs. So, I head to the local moneylender and ask him to lend me INR 1000 so that I can buy equipment [See what equipment I use] and reap my crop in time. I am always optimistic because that is the best and the only thing I can do, so I assume that day after I get the money, I will reap my harvest and sell it and pay back the loan.

My moneylender is a nice person, at least he appears to be one. He charges only 1% per day and as my work will be finished in three days, I will have to pay back only INR 1030 three days later. Currently, the moneylender is as optimistic as I am. Now, I buy my equipment, go to the bed and next morning I wake up to see its raining, just as it was raining a few months back. It rains continuously for three days and my entire crop is washed out, as I am poor I can only manage gunny bags as cover, which is going to serve no purpose because the rains this year have been very harsh.

Three days later, I see my crops, they are all gone, and this is the only piece of land I ever had, now as there is no one to help me and the money lender tells me that If I can't pay back the loan within the next six months, he will confiscate my land. In case, if I do manage to get hold of some money in four months [120 days] I will be paying him 1000+ 120% Interest because the interest is 1% per day [Compound Interest]. I will ask what is Compound Interest and he will explain it to me and even then I will not be able to understand that how did my 1000 become 5000.

Now here is why Rangde is important for millions of farmers like the one described above. 

Rangde shall lend me the same money with a very low interest and shall provide me with ample time to repay the amount back (in a year). I will never have to worry about the interest rates or repayment terms because Ranngde allows me to take my time because my lenders [investors] do not want my land, they don't even want my life, they just want to see me happy and working because if I work, only then they get to eat.

Rangde asks its investors, commoners like you and me to invest amount as low as INR 100, so that people keep working, manage their household well, and send their kids to school. You do not have to ask for their religion or caste or breed, you just have to see their need, which is sometimes as low as INR 1000 and on top of that, it is not like you give and forget, you will be paid back with interest of 5% within a year. This investment makes more sense than letting the same small amount rot in your savings account (only 3.5% interest)

It is not giving, it is sharing.
It is not donation, it is social investment.
It is not charity; it is about integrity of a farmer.

Few weeks ago when there was a news about Japan's Nuclear Radiation reaching India, people got  worried about their countrymen, so they did not waste even a single moment to post it on Facebook, twitter and some of those who were too patriotic ended up SMSing everyone.

Well, that news was a hoax.

But farmers’ killing themselves is true. Aamir Khan said this in Peepli Live (watch it again if you still want proof)

The following news paper articles say the same
1. Wikipedia Link
2. A Professor speaking about farmers suicide
3. Farmer Suicide
4. Madhya Pradesh Farmer Suicide

Rangde is almost similar to, a successful and popular micro-finance organization, started and run by the Americans.

If you want to show patriotism, this is the right time so that your coming generations do not die because of food shortage. We so proudly go to ChowkiDhani, and feel good about our culture, the village culture. Our Villagers are dying and without them, there will be nothing left to be proud of.

In case you are too much in love with IPL, Rangde makes sure your social investment [Rangde IPL] is in the name of your favorite team.

Step up and take charge because since your childhood, you always wanted to make a difference.

Are you ready?

Monday, May 9, 2011

'A' for Barot - Welcome to Mindlessness

Awesome Barot, District Mandi, Himachal Pradesh

You feel that your mind needs rest?

Or you just want to visit a nice place, in the laps of Himalayas and close to mother/father nature?

Then, let me Welcome you to Barot.

Barot stands at a height of 2200+ meters, almost equal to altitude of Shimla but it looks more natural than Shimla. Yes, subtract the Mall Road, CCD and other city like attractions but if you want all these things, then Gudgaon/Noida is the best place, why come out of there.

Now that you have subtracted the above mentioned things, feel free to add a huge water reservoir, continuously running water, navigating through control gates, canals and diversion tunnels and did I mention the trout fish [and its taste?]

Barot happens to be the last village [panchayat/ग्राम पंचायत ] of district Mandi touching the Kangda District. Geographically, Barot is a very interesting place. River Uhl, originating in the Bada Bhangal region of Dhauladhar Ranges forms a very complex mathematical equation for Barot. Prior to the formation of Himachal Pradesh as a complete state, this region belonged to Punjab State. Now, as the land belonged to them, obviously they had the first right over the water of this region too. So, interestingly, river Uhl in Barot belongs to the Punjab State, even the water reservoir and its maintenance is duty of Punjab State Power Corporation and not to mention, the power generated in Barot also belongs to Punjab. The reservoir in Barot is sent to two power plants, one in JoginderNagar and the other one is Bassi.

So, you can rent a room in Negi Guest House, located in District Mandi, buy a bottle of whiskey/rum/vodka from the 'theka' located on the other side of river, in district Kangda. And if you want to go fishing, the fish will belong to Punjab and as a matter of fact, fish here has a strong built [sizewise], which happens to be a characteristic property of Punjabis.

So, if you drink too much and create trouble in the Punjab State Land/Water, you will be prosecuted under/by the Punjab Police Laws [Punjab Police have their own laws and they never hesitate to implement those laws]

However, all this was just general knowledge, major attraction of Barot remains water. One of my friends, who has visited Barot many times and soon he will be given permanent citizenship of Barot, told me that he has never seen so much water in the Uhl River. Probably this year God had some leak problem and that has flooded the rivers across the country.

Honorary Citizen of Barot, Mr. Sunny[Right]

Flowing water creates psychedelic magic and if you keep looking at it, I am 100% sure that you will feel dizzy and feel yourself moving along with the water which might prompt you to jump into the running water. However, the flow of water is so fast that you will not come alive out of it for sure. According to the guard of the reservoir, one can do almost anything inside the campus but not click the photographs. He further explained that you can enjoy liquor, fight, shout, dance but photography is strictly prohibited there, some crazy rule made by some crazy engineer which all the crazy people are following till date. So, effectively you can go in, watch the lonely boat dancing to the tunes of rapid currents of water, watch the water making noise and moving effortlessly, but you cannot click the images. Yes, you can disobey the rules when no one is watching but at a place like Barot, one must stay honest [to him/herself], because Barot is what it is because of honesty, honesty of people and honesty of nature.

Lets Roll!

Another interesting fact about this village is the the British constructed a railway track here back in pre-independence days, if chasing away the Britishers [only] meant gaining independence. The railway track is just outside the premises of the reservoir area and from there you can click photographs. Outside, you can sit on the railway track and keep looking at the water, for not more than 5 minutes continuously, or even less because effortless flow of water is something out of this world and aliens have always scared humans.

The Railway Track

Reaching Barot
There are numerous ways to reach Barot, however NH-20 remains the lifeline to reach Barot. Those who know/want to trek can come through The Bhang Trek, or name-it-anything-trek, in case if you are lost, just keep moving downhill, you will definitely reach a village, ask for the name of village and name it the X Village trek.
The trek is not very difficult and you can reach Kullu Valley but as I do not much about it, I would rather not speak about it.

Tashi Jong Monastery (near Paprola)

So, if you are a motorcycle enthusiast, which you ought to be, there is nothing soothing than road to Barot. The road is too good, first few kilometers are uphill climb and the last few kilometers are steep downhill track.

If you are coming from Mandi -Manali, leave the NH-21 and join the NH-20, move 48 kilometers towards Palampur and there you reach at Ghatasni (घटासनी) , take a right from there and there you embark on a journey that takes you through the waterfalls, watermills, watery roads, and by the time you reach at Barot, your mind will be all watered.

Not a single drop comes back to the same point again, and when it does, the whole story of existence is changed by then

On your way to Barot, you will see little kids selling wild, local vegetables, usually they work in post-school sessions, hence the work-while-you-study is not an American Concept, it is a desi invention, just the way we invented almost everything from bulb to gravity. [Who is Newton?]

Yay! we again proved that we are the oldest and originals and Americans suck :P

Other way(s) to reach Barot :

From Shimla: NH-88, Shimla-Hamirpur-(State Highway 39) - Sujanpur-Palampur-Baijnath (NH-20)-joginderNagar-Ghatasni-[Take Left] - Barot

From Dharamshala: NH-20, Dharamshala-Palampur-JoginderNagar-Ghatasni-Barot.

Barot is 25km from Ghatasni and it takes[usually] one hour to reach Barot from there.

When you reach Barot, you are welcomed by a sleepy town, surrounded by water and disturbed by a noisy river. However, the noise caused by the river has become an integral part of the town and without the river it is hard to imagine existence of the town. During the night, you ought to sit and relax by the banks of the river. The mind goes blank, I tried very very hard to think of something but could not think of anything, such is the beauty of Barot. Mindlessness, that is what you experience at Barot. There is a dhaba in Barot [in the Mandi District Side, Shiva Dhaba I guess] and that guy makes awefuckingsome Black Tea. Even the food was too good and even the pricing was very unlike tourist spot pricing.

6 kilometers into the wild towards the Bada Bhangal, you reach a village called Lohardi [लुहाराड़ी]. That is the first place I have seen in Himachal where road actually ends, dead-end you see, well Chandrataal was the first place. 46 kilometers into the further wild and you reach the paragliding havens of Himachal Pradesh, The Bir-Billing. It was a nice site to see a Health Center, BSNL Phone-booths and higher secondary school in that village. Even the newly launched 108 ambulance was available there.

The Last Resort-Luhardi

The trip culminated but to experience the mindlessness , I have to go back.
The receding waters are crazy, always.

Jump in the air

P.S: A for 'Amazingly Beautiful' Barot

Photo Courtesy: Jaipal Mandyal