Human beings … amen, sister!

Is it a new year or a new decade.  Giving short shrift to this “debate,” dd asked, “when did the 80s begin?”  So this is the first, not the last year of the 20s.  Ah, Fitzgerald.  We will no longer think first of you when we talk of the twenties.   Hear us roar.

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Report, Uncategorized

2015 blog in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 640 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 11 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


Retreat Day2 Notes

People trickled in and conversations formed around various topics.  Once it seemed that a fair number of people had arrived we started the session.  Somnath walked us through the current state of IT infrastructure in AID.

Balaji shared the story of his journey particularly in the past 5-10 years and the challenges that AID-India has faced.

After lunch we convened for a few minutes of silence and then heard from Kiran about his work with Rythu Swaraj Vedika.

Naga then led a discussion about AID @ 25.  We shared a draft logo for AID  @ 25 designed by Sai.  Naga announced a T-shirt contest and Dr B offered a prize of $1000 to the chapter whose volunteer won the contest.   A number of student volunteers also declared that they would like to campaign for people to sign up for dollar-a-day ($365) donations.

Just when we thought we were exhausted volunteers called for a discussion on AID demographics and how to reach out to a new generation of volunteers as well as how to retain older volunteers as they moved into new stages of life.

Younger: Pair an experienced volunteer with a student volunteer.  Some such pairings took place on the spot with the students who came to the retreat from Morgantown.  A new graduate student at the University of Maryland was also instantly grabbed.

Even Younger:  Outreach to high school students seeking volunteer hours or mentoring for a capstone project, and more programs like the youth conference.

Older: Just because someone could not attend CSH, it did not mean that they could not retain close ties with AID and with the other volunteers who were active in their time.  Just as schools have alumni organizations AID should have something to encourage loyalty to the organization and lasting friendships among volunteers who can find new ways to support the organization.




14th March 2012

How do we learn to share?

Often the people who ask are concerned about helping their children learn to share. Is sharing something that we need to learn? If so, from whom?

Someone once said, while asking for contributions to a charity, that when you give, it is a way of saying, that you have enough.

In a world where one is continuously being sold the message that one does not have enough, it can take some effort to remember and acknowledge that we actually do.


Very true and yet very hard concepts to get, for me. In my mind, I completely agree that food must be shared, one must not eat alone … but I often eat alone. I am happy to “share” in that when people come to the door and ask for food I give it to them, or contribute in other ways. I am happy to do it, but if no one “needed” my help in getting food, I would not necessarily have that feeling that “my stomach will hurt if I eat alone.”

We are reading more and more – or at least I who have lost touch with the social and cultural aspect of eating, am reading more and more about the value of eating with others. Food habits are changing so much in this generation, I hope that those who haven’t yet lost the habit of eating as a family, sharing food, etc, value these and keep them alive so the next generation can feel it in their hearts and not only in their minds. In closing, I wish to share something I heard from an elderly woman in a village in AP, when someone was commenting on the way she fed any and all who came to her. There is nothing remarkable in this, she insisted. “The food is not me, or mine. The food is Krishna. It is Krishna who gives and Krishna who receives it. Where am I in all this?”

One might say that this woman could afford to feed everyone. She wasn’t particularly rich, but it was not her wealth that generated this attitude.

Two young people who tried living at the poverty line of Rs. 26 / day wrote about “generosity we got from people who live on the other side, despite their tough lives. ”

(See more at http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Harsh_Mander/article2882340.ece)

I too have experienced the insistent generosity of the poor, seemingly oblivious to the concept of food scarcity. Even among those whom we only know because their community was in the news for poverty and hunger, as Somnath describes in his article, “Eating in Amlashole” When they offer him more food, they insist,

“We have plenty”


Buy Nothing Day

Wal-Mart Worker Dies When Shoppers Break Down Doors

Black Friday took a grim turn when a New York Wal-Mart employee died after bargain hunters broke down the doors to the store, pushing him to the ground.

The 34-year-old male employee was pronounced dead an hour after shoppers breached the doors to the shopping center in Valley Stream, Long Island, about 5 a.m. Friday and knocked him down, police said.

fulltext from FOX: Wal-Mart Worker Dies When Shoppers Break Down Doors

NY Daily News: Worker dies at Long Island Wal-Mart after being trampled in Black Friday stampede

NY Times: Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death

Items on sale at the Wal-Mart store included a $798 Samsung 50-inch Plasma HDTV, a Bissel Compact Upright Vacuum for $28, a Samsung 10.2 megapixel digital camera for $69 and DVDs such as “The Incredible Hulk” for $9.

Nov 26, 2008:

MTV refused to air an ad for Buy Nothing Day

Action update: MTV, the channel that markets itself to hip youth, has decreed that our Buy Nothing Day public service spot “goes further than we are willing to accept on our channels”. Gangsta rap and sexualized, semi-naked school girls are okay, but apparently not a burping pig talking about consumption

Adbusters called for people to sign a letter to MTV

Notes, Uncategorized

Tolapi Meeting on Anganwadi

Tolapi Meeting on Anganwadi

24th December 2007

Varalakshmi went back to talk to the mothers about taking the next step, which would be to prepare a list of all the people within the beneficiary zone of the anganwadi centers and record how much they had received. In a list of 18 names, there were reports of some who had received once, some twice and some not even once. In order to meet a large group of the women at once, we would have to have the meeting in a neutral place, so Varalakshmi suggested the elementary school. This way no single caste would be singled out.

Taking advantage of the presence of guests from the AID conference, including seasoned satyagrahi Ajay from Anakapalle, we called for the meeting today. We gathered about 20 mothers and by the time they all reached the elementary school a crowd of about 20 more had gathered as well. We briefly recapped the issue which was anyway well known to them. Varalakshmi summarized her discussions with the women in their homes, the anganwadi workers at their centers, and also at the sector meeting. The next step was to submit a list of names of those who were eligible but had not received the food. Simple enough.

A young man from the village immediately said that he could tackle the issue, call the press, take videos and meet the required officers. Ajay told him that getting our pictures in the paper was not going to get the results, and could even sidetrack us from our actual goal which was to get the children their food, which was their right. Another said, “ippuDu manaki svacchandi seva samstha undi kada, AID India, manamE Edo cEskovaccu kada, vILLu vALLu cEyyalEdanakunDaga) why harp on the negative saying what government is not doing, we have our voluntary organisation, AID here, why dont we do what we can ourselves and not blame others for not doing this. Reminds me of the words of Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, “When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor were hungry, they called me a communist

After a lot of discussion and after driving home the point that people had to write a letter, sign their names and be prepared to tell the same truths they told during this meeting at the time of any enquiry, Ajay closed with a song on Ambedkar and reminded people that we do not get our rights by begging.


Collecting donated clothes

Collecting donated clothes

30th July 2007

Goodwill, Salvation Army, Value Village and the like do a good job collecting donated items from individuals (and discontinues items from retail stores) and selling them cheap for those who can use them, and employing people in the process.  Goodwill especially strives to employ disabled people in all capacities – not only sorting and pricing but also at register.  I sometimes joke that Goodwill is spiritually equivalent to khadi in America :-)
What about Indian clothes?  Most likely these stores can’t sell them.  Many people want to donate Indian clothes to organisations like AID.  In some cases we are able to take them and give them to needy folks in India.  But sometimes this becomes costlier than it is worth, especially when we start dealing with larger quantities.  Apart from the logistics of transporting, sorting, etc, NRI clothes quite frankly are not the best suited for rural and urban-poor lifestyles.
Yesterday we held a yard sale in Silver Spring, Maryland and along with our handicraft and khadi products from Indian village partners, we also put up 5-6 bags worth of second hand saris & salvar kamiz sets that people had donated.  Much to our surprise these were very popular among the American / International crowd.  A young Indian woman stopped by and bought some handicrafts, then promptly went home and brought back 3 kurtas to donate for sale.  These were actually new.  Another Indian woman bought both handicrafts and a second-hand salwar suit in very good condtion – for a fraction of what it would have cost new.

Many Indians in US are overflowing with Indian clothes and have not enough places to go in them.  Of course they could take them back to India and donate them to needy in their neighborhoods back home.  Next best thing is to hold a yard sale and just donate the money for a good cause.
So that is what AID facilitated – and we found that people were quite happy to get a chance to buy these “fancy” outfits that may not necessarily be the latest fashion in India or among NRIs but were different and exciting for someone new to them.  We sold 2-piece and 3-piece sets for $5.  Next time we might consider $10 for the ones with finer embroidery.  Saris went for $10, and a silk sari for $15.  With proper hangers or racks, these easily draw people and give Indian community a chance to see their gently used outfits help a good cause.


response to MOWCD report on Child Abuse

response to MOWCD report on Child Abuse

28th June 2007

Abuse of Children “Common” 

I hope this statistic wakes people up. It is happening all around us, very likely in our own families. “Page 3″ is another movie that treats the issue of child sexual abuse. Note that both Monsoon Wedding and Page 3 were “alternative” cinema though they did play in mainscreen theatres.

When considering this issue of child abuse and its alarmingly high prevalence, I think we need to look more critically at the structures of authority operating within the family and the school. Concepts of reciprocity between parents or teachers and children, mutual respect and shared power would help many people cut through established parenting/teaching practices and help children protect themselves from abuse of power by anyone, within or without the family/school. India is a land where we still see tribal and remote rural societies practicing some of the healthy family ways that so impressed Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept, and urban and urbanizing families rapidly embracing rigid, authoritative discipline felt to be necessary for the modern, competitive society. Concepts such as consensual living, transparency in parenting or unschooling aren’t much discussed outside elite circles.

Day after Christmas in Mumbai, 2 class II students were made by a teacher to parade naked as a punishment for bad grades and the newspapers were writing about how the child was still refusing to go to school – the teacher was not punished or suspended. The next day another story appeared about a student who was suspended for alleging that a principal had abused her.

Unfortunately stories like this appear in the paper with alarming frequency.  Easily once a week, sometimes several in the same day.  And that is just in one paper in one city.

Abolishing punishment from schools would be one very necessary step towards balancing the power between children and adults. One among many many urgently necessary steps…

Culture of tolerance for abuse and exploitation … ragging in colleges, children’s games that emphasise out & in.  Compare a game like freeze tag or lock&key where the kids are constantly alternating who is in and out and there is some shared advantage in keeping as many people in as possible while only one person tries to get people out ..

One’s sense of self depends on making others feel lower.  We see parents and elders coaching children to think this way, though in my observation it does not come naturally.  Why do people do it – for short term gains.  To manipulate the child.  “DO this, or else people will laugh at you.”  Is that a reason to do anything?  “Say this, or we will think you don’t know it.”  Are appearances more important than what is inside?  Yet these very values, pushed from a young age, lead to the fear and shame that make abuse possible.


Response to global warming news

Response to global warming news

15th May 2007

When I heard Mumbai may be facing submergence as sea levels rise, I remembered my visits to the Narmada Valley….

People of Nimad, inthe fertile bed of the Narmada, have great cultural pride in feeding anyone and everyone who comes … and they aren’t just talking out of the air. If they weren’t actually doing it, could the Parikrama tradition have survived? A Parikrama pilgrimage along the banks of the Narmada without crossing any tributaries, and back, takes more than 3 years on foot. Families as well as lone sages make the parikrama, taking shelter in homes and temples along the way. At Narmada rallies in Bhopal, a Nimadi farmer would come to the podium and invite the Chief Minister and the entire cabinet to Nimad to see the fertile plains for themselves. Everything grows here, s/he’d proudly announce, as eyes gleamed throughout the rally. “Admi bhi boyega to ajayega!” [Plant a man and he will grow too!]. And literally so, if you visit Nimad, you will leave a few pounds heavier! Another favourite saying of Nimadis, “Koyi Nimad Ayega, kya vo bhuka jAyega?” [Whoever comes to Nimad, will they go hungry?]

What struck this city person in Nimad was the truly unbounded welcome she received. We city folk have perfected the art of meaningless invitations (”let’s have dinner sometime” “you must stay with me next time you are in town”) and ways to follow up on invitations in baby steps, confirmationsand revisions (which a minute could reverse …) so as to hold our ground as much as possible.

People travelling in Nimad, when invited to stay for dinner, or overnight, are truly made to feel at home. Women offered me their clothes for sleeping, and would have given me more for the next day, but for my strong insistence that I could manage till I got home. Tis not for naught they say, “feel at home.”
And what will come of all this hospitality when Nimad itself is underwater? What will happen to the Nimadi’s sense of self, so intimately tied with their unbounded welcome? When farmers who never doubted that they could feed anyone who came, face the harrowing uncertainty of whether they will have food next season, and eventually join the masses who aren’t certain even of the next month’s rations. No doubt a few of them will, like those ousted from Bargi, find themselves in the slums, ever threatened with displacement again, and again. And they will feel with the Bargi farmers, who once welcomed travelling parties of 50 without a second thought, “hamare hath hamesha aisa karne ki Adat hai, kabhi aise karne ki adat nahin hai”[our hands have always offered (showing a hand serving food), never asked (showing a hand begging)].

And it is to power the cities that we are submerging the valley and the fertile plains, the very cities that will be submerged by their own high-energy lifestyle. This is according to the news projecting what global warming will do by the time we reach our golden years, and well within our children’s lifetime. Nimadis asked Justice Sohoni (SSP Rehabilitation & Resettlement Grievance Redressal Authority for Madhya Pradesh), “if you take our land, what will we have left to give our children?” Mumbaikars may have to ask themselves, “if we keep driving, deforesting, and using A/C where will our children live?”

Mumbai to face the heat

Report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change