Sunday, December 9, 2018

I am Malala - Book Review

An inspirational autobiography of a girl who stood up for the cause of education of girls in the Swat valley at times when Sharia was being enforced by the Taliban. Many people perhaps only know her from the assassination attempt but through this book you get to understand there was so much more to it. Her life and struggles before this incident must be read to understand the extent of her contribution.

And along with that, the resolute and stern father with a dream of educating all the children in the swat valley. His character had the greatest impact on how our Wonder girl shapes up in life. When your life is full of sacrifices, determination and perseverance, no matter how one writes it, it would turn out into something everyone must read. More power to such brave souls! 

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Creative High

Wall paintings are a great way to beautify a place and to simultaneously spread awareness on several issues. Just before one enters the subdivision, there is this really long boundary wall along side the road, I wanted it filled with such art work and hence asked around for some local artist who could. "There is only one person here who can, but he is always drunk", said my PSO.
Bringstar, the artist, was true to the reputation he owned. After somehow starting the work, he disappeared for days. Day or night, he would be found drunk. Unable to even walk, forget holding the brush. But even from the few strokes he could manage on the wall, I could see the talent within. Months of counselling ensued. Several art works were promised with the pre-requisite of sobriety. We involved his family too in the process. For now, he has distanced himself from alcohol. For now, recuperation is in order. For now, and hopefully for future, the creative high, will do.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Book Review-Why I am a Hindu

The book has been very categorically divided into three parts. The first one titled "My Hinduism" deals with the million facets of it's history and the 'my' emphasizes and rightly so, that every one has their own version and that this flexibility exists, has helped it to survive. The second part deals with the political dimensions. It puts across the facts of the case very bluntly and the reader then has the choice to go either way. It helps to understand the difference between several terms which are used interchangeably by several. And the last part discusses a possible redemption from all that has gone wrong. A wonderful read for an insight on what it means to be a Hindu and what is Hinduism. I close by quoting the author when he talks about wrongs of fundamentalism. 

"Survival is the best revenge, rather than reprisal; undoing the wrongs of a different era through new wrongs in a different context only compounds the original sin. Large, eclectic, agglomerative, the Hinduism that i know understands that faith is a matter of hearts and minds, not bricks and stone".

Friday, November 2, 2018

IAS Diaries Part 25 - Dadenggre Public Library

Libraries have always been a special place for me where ever I was. In school, it was a place where we grappled for the latest edition of Champak and other story books. They may not have been as enriching as various pictorial encyclopedias available today, but they surely opened up the creative sides. In college, it was a place to find some peace amidst the myriad susurations of the youthful crowd. For some it was a place to realize their untapped potential, something which was perhaps not possible in the mediocrity of classroom compulsions. Libraries have always been the ultimate storehouse of knowledge. Ergo, that was the first thing I asked about, when I joined in Dadenggre. There was none. And since then, it became a thing on my to-do list.

Dadenggre is a remote and rural subdivision in West Garo Hills in Meghalaya. The terrain is hilly and the population is scattered in habitation terms. Education has not really made a headway in the region and most of the students in the schools are first generation learners. And as a result, reading is mostly understood as going through school textbooks. Library, as a word, is mostly unheard here. After visiting numerous schools and testing the general learning outcomes, it became further clear, that a reading culture needs inception.   

The first challenge was to get a place. Here if you tour the schools in the area, you will find a typical Assam-type house building with few rooms which won't be enough to accommodate all the classes even, forget about an extra room for any other purpose. Moreover, the schools are mostly not connected to the grid, and hence the place would be of no use after sun-down. There wasn't any issue of getting land for a new library building but that would have meant a huge capital expenditure and the long gestation period involving the construction. And therefore, we started looking for abandoned or dilapidated government building which we can renovate at a small cost.

In the process of hopping around old and dilapidated structures of several governmental institutions, I realized this fact that, great many funds and efforts go into creation of assets with no plans or machinery on the proper usage and maintenance of the structures. And if that happens, capital expenditure becomes wasteful expenditure. This further reinforced my resolve to use already existing structures and it was not long before we found one. It had a huge room with two bathrooms constructed as youth activity center. Sadly, the only activity which was happening was the late night drinking sessions and littering thereupon. All this at a place, which was designed for uplifting the youth. Sigh.

The building was totally in ruins. There was no electricity connection, no internal wiring and no electrical equipment installed. There was no water connection and the existing toilets were out of order. To make it suitable for a library, a major overhaul was needed. Here, I would like to thank our Honorable Home Minister, Shri James K Sangma, who agreed to help out with the restoration as soon as he heard my plea. We started the resurrection process, one brick at a time. We decided to go for a stand alone Solar power unit to get rid of any recurring expenditure. Ergo, this library is totally off grid and with an installed capacity of 2 KW. This also goes in spirit with the fact that Dadenggre already has several solar installations. Various offices and hospitals are already fully solar powered. 

For the books, we got a grant from Office of Governor of Meghalaya for which I am grateful to all people involved. But of course, this wasn't enough as a library needs huge number of books. The social media post which I made asking for book donations proved to be a big help. I received several set of books from across the country and few from abroad even. Numerous locals also volunteered to collect books from several part of the district. Sarvahitey, an NGO working to establish several libraries in rural parts of India, has also volunteered to provide nearly thousand books as a part of their Project Paper Bridge.  The fact that so many people have come forward to help us in this process is truly heart warming to see. And this public library, stands as a beacon of cooperation from across the globe.

The same was inaugurated recently on 25th October, 2018 by Honorable Home Minister, Shri James K Sangma. During the inaugural, we wanted some local student to make a speech on Importance of library in English. For most of you, it would seem to be a fairly easy task. But in the last one year I have visited more than 100 local govt schools, and I share this with a heavy heart, even the students of senior classes were unable to express themselves in English, not even one paragraph. So, when this girl made a wonderful speech in English, I was pleasantly surprised. She had been practicing very hard, motivated by the prospect of a library, she told me.

By opening the library, we have come half way I feel. The second challenge would be to run it and sustain it for years down the line. For that, we have some ideas in mind. And I am hopeful, that with the participation of locals, we would realize the same. I hope this initiative succeeds to inculcate in the locals, a desire to read. So, a library in Dadendggre, check!

P.S. A news article in The Shillong Times covering the inaugural -- Click Here

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Lucknow Boy- Book Review

An intriguing account of the most sacked Editor in the history of Indian journalism. Presents an honest depiction of how the Print media houses and governments dealt with each other in the 80s, 90s and thereafter. Indirectly you get a chronological account of how print media has evolved over the decades. The debates of freedom of press and cross-media ownership are well interwoven in his story. But there comes a point where the author loses track of the theme. It becomes more a political commentary than a memoir. Towards the end, one chapter deals with great insight on role of an editor, can prove to be useful for aspiring journalists. Overall it's pretty average a read, editors are not writers, not good ones perhaps.