Sunday, December 31, 2017

Backward? Think again!

Some days ago over a friendly discussion revolving around the cliched theme of the developmental discourse, someone referred to most part of Meghalaya as being backward. Well, I don't blame that person for his ignorance which he almost flaunted as being elitist. For those who have never visited this place, it may seem so from what they get to read.
Yes, this place may not have turned itself into a concrete jungle but there are things which make it way forward and egalitarian than any place in the country. The gender equality is ubiquitous here and not just because they have a matrilineal system. All places are absolutely safe for women irrespective of the time. Cohabitation is a normal phenomenon among youngsters and totally accepted by the society. All professions are equally respected and feudalism is non-existent. From where I see, this place is light years ahead!

Let's be delusional

There are times in our lives when there comes a spark within us. It comes as a savior meanwhile we are muddled by mediocrity. It tells us of an idea which may seem preposterous by all proportions. You want to believe in that idea to live the impossible dream. But people around you shake you up telling how ridiculously impossible that would be. They surround you shouting in chorus, Reality Check, Reality Check!
But in that ephemeral moment when you want to believe that it's possible, that anything is , only if you can persist that fervor. Only if you can grab all the positivism to keep believing. Then gradually the dream starts getting plausible. Step by step. But the first battle is won only when we are confidant. So let's adopt that attitude of believing that anything is possible. Let's explore the extreme. Let's not get caught up in realism. Let's be delusional!
(Based on the inspiring Ted Talk by Mr. Ravi Dubey)

What was more beautiful?

Was it the golden expanse of Assam.
or, Was it the serenity of Meghalaya.
Was it the singularity of the plain.
or, Was it the illusion of the hills.
Was it the magnanimity of the Brahmaputra.
or, Was it the simplicity of Simsang.
Was it the mist over the river banks.
or, Was it the chilly breeze in the valley.
Was it the mirage over unidirectional roads.
or, Was it the melody of the serpentine paths.
What was more beautiful, thou ask?
Perhaps the journey. And the journey alone.
2000 Kms. 7 days. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

IAS Diaries Part 22 - The Solar Project

It all started on the day of Diwali, the festival of lights. Hailing from the central part of India, Diwali was always about two things essentially- quality family time & lighting up the entire place. Having recently joined as SDM in Dadenggre Sub Division of West Garo Hills in Meghalaya, I had neither of these two. There I was, sitting alone, embraced by the dark woods in every possible direction. That is when it occurred to me possibly we could achieve one of these two things this Diwali. Let's light up the remote villages to start with.

In conversation with my batch-mate Shantanu Sharma, posted as SDM Sohra (popularly known as Cherapunjee) in Meghalaya, we pondered upon the possibility of a crowd funding model. There are certain advantages this model has. It's faster, gives you the flexibility and promotes community participation. I had previously used the model in Tezpur for couple of projects. The one very dear to me was when we used it for getting some computers for an orphanage. Details of that are available HERE. And since that moment when this idea clicked, we didn't even waste a second to look back. Fortunately, a lot of work on Solar Energy had been done in Dadenggre so I knew the right people who could supply quality material at reasonable cost and at the earliest.

Once we finalized the suppliers, we initiated a campaign on Milaap platfrom to crowdfund the project. We decided to go for these high power Solar Lanterns which even the students would be able to use in case they wish to study at night. And it would provide the much needed light especially during the monsoon season when the normal grid totally remains unavailable for months. We initially decided to go for 100 lights each costing 1500 INR only after successful negotiation with the suppliers. They also pledged to give 15 lights from their own side as this was being done for a good cause. I feel extremely happy to share that not only did we achieve that target amount, we exceeded it by almost 1,00,000 INR which enabled us to provide more number of lights. Once again, I thank all the donors without which this could not have been possible. We have had a range of donors from amounts varying from 10 INR to 37,000 INR. Needless to say that no contribution is small and all were as important to the completion of the project.

Bringing consignments to Dadenggre is another challenge in it's own. It's very difficult to find trucks and pickups heading this way. But here again due to the contribution of some generous transport establishments we were finally able to bring all the lamps to Dadenggre for distribution. We involved the BDO office to find out which were the remote villages in the subdivision where condition of grid was the worse or was non-existent. They did wonderful work and also provided us the list of households so that we could provide one solar lantern to each household. We are also thankful to Mr Pankaj Gupta and Akash Garg from JCI NGO Guwahati who also gave us 100 commercial saplings to be distributed to the villagers.

The first village which we had selected was Kosigre about 10 kms from Dadenggre. After the first 5 kms, the road was nowhere to be seen, It was a kuccha road partially dilapidated because of the rains. The slope at times were scary, more so for our guests from Guwahati as their vehicle was not 4x4. We had to pass through couple of streams as well and I was glad that the waters were running very low. We should have come here on our mountain bikes, I thought. An adventure of its own. Lush green jungle with hills, streams and nothing else. Suddenly we see a school where the entire village had gathered. After the warm reception, we started with explaining them the idea of the whole project and how these solar lanterns work. They were fascinated to know how this was funded and that it was not a government scheme. They were also very excited by the scope the commercial saplings had.

Everyone from Kosigre

In between we had this wonderful welcome song performed by the youth members of the village followed by some performances by the children. The entire distribution had the clapping sounds as the background. Smiles everywhere. We asked some of villagers to demonstrate to others how to use these lanterns. They proudly explained the entire process. We also gave lanterns as prizes to children who came forward to perform songs or poems. Lastly, as a wonderful gesture the Village Headman proposed a vote of thanks. It was in Garo but you need not understand the language of warmth and love. You just feel it anyway. And then, he asked one elderly person from the village to pray for all of us. They all closed their eyes, stood in silence. And we in awe.

Welcome Song

Amidst all the chatter here and there, I saw this kid running towards his house with the solar lantern. The house was dark from inside. He switched on the light and all the members kept looking at it. Perhaps wondering how could it work without electricity. There was light. There were smiles. And it wasn't dark anymore.

That smile, is priceless. 

While returning from the village, we stopped at this small check dam near which there are several scenic spots which totally remain isolated. This has lately become my favorite place. Looking back, I thought, it is only moments like these that stay with you. When you are able to bring smiles. When we try to channelize all the good energies. How people residing in different continents had played a part in lighting up a village so far away. Hoping for many more such moments in the times to come.

Once again, dear donors, long may you reign.

For list of all such posts of IAS Diaries, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Indian Sprinter

Among the lush green Garo Hills, upon this beautiful road stretch from Jengjal towards Williamnagar, participants galloped towards the finish point of Tura Marathon. The embracing mist over the landscape was slowly getting pierced by the golden rays from the sky above.
A gentleman from Kenya had maintained an unassailable lead of 3 Kms till now. Not aware of what was in store. In those dying minutes, this local runner suddenly took off his shoes and he pounced forward like a Leopard with such bout of energy rarely seen. It was magical how he closed this insanely large distance and won the race.
At the podium, where usually you would see African runners crowding out others, there he stood with his head held high. And after stating his name he added elatedly, "I am Indian!".
More power to Indian runners. So proud