Indian scientist Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose was born 158 years ago, and became a world leader in telecommunications with innumerable achievements to his name.
Indian scientist Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose was born 158 years ago, and became a world leader in telecommunications with innumerable achievements to his name.
In the examination hall, the students eagerly open the question paper. Design a question paper based on what you have learnt this semester.
Arre’s Official Chukyagiri’s second episode had just released when a friend of mine texted, “Dude did you check out Chukyagiri? Bohot fun series lag rahi hai.”
And it was. A break from the regular melodrama, the series brought fun and fresh content for an audience like me — the ones in their 20s, the ones who struggle with bai negotiations, people sharing flats or are first jobbers. The struggles, the language, the triumphs in the series — are real. Like bagging a pre-placement interview.
“A lot of the show’s content is as close to reality as possible. Like in almost every story, our intention too was to make Official Chukyagiri relatable to every person who had to painstakingly work their way up”, says Sizil Srivastava, the director of the web series.
A boy from Lucknow, Sizil has spent a tireless ten years to make his mark in the TV and advertising industry. Despite some successful ad films in his kitty, it doesn’t sound like he has had enough. In fact, while promoting the series, Sizil was seen very actively engaging with their audience, taking feedback even personally, over chats and calls.
If you look around, with the help of Google, you’ll find some of the better, socially relevant television films and commercials under his name. I’ve included one here that I remember went viral during beef ban.
“Like any other college going kid, I struggled to find my calling. I kept looking for something I would love to keep going back to. I think that’s how we choose a profession or rather, that’s how we should choose a profession”
Sizil topped his Communication Design batch at NIFT, and when it was time to decide on his career path, the event management industry seemed like a great platform to practice his creative pursuits.
“The stint lasted for 3 years, and I was able to achieve a lot of creative satisfaction through my work, but something was amiss. I wondered if there was anything more to discover, and if there was a way to make my creative voice reach a larger audience. Eventually, one of my clients gave me the opportunity to work with MTV and that’s where my desire to make films kickstarted. It was an experience that paved a way to where I stand now.”
But all wasn’t sunshine and roses at first. His first challenge came in the shape of his unfamiliarity.
“In my first two months at MTV, I was only trying to ‘figure out’ what everyone was up to. There were talented artists, musicians, VJs, movie stars walking in and out of dazzling shoots – I simply wondered if I would ever fit in.”
At this point, it isn’t difficult to draw a parallel between Spandan and Sizil. Hungry to pursue this new profession with passion and to prove himself in unfamiliar waters, he grabbed every opportunity that came his way and left no stone unturned.
“The moment you step out into a big media house like MTV and start from scratch, the first challenge is to make people trust in your potential. Since it’s a rather fast-moving industry, the onus lies completely on you to learn and grow as quickly as you can. I decided to become my own teacher through trial and error. And thus started a 10-month long journey of writing everyday. I had put myself in a challenging place, but I loved it. ”
Eventually, he did find his own place in the madness.
“At first, I was intimidated with the amount of talent the people there had. But I decided to take it all in a positive stride and began forming creative partnerships. It was not all that easy, but at the same time, MTV India was shifting its vision to becoming a primarily Hindi channel back then. Writing in Hindi and Urdu was a big change and everyone took time to warm up to. My ‘supposed’ weakness soon turned to strength and I brought a certain social relevance to the message in my scripts and eventually, my seniors started believing in my writing.”
Since then, Sizil has won multiple awards for his campaigns for Durex, Nescafe, Gaana and MTV Indies. When he was approached by Amrit Pal Bindra and Anand Tiwari at Still and Still Moving pictures for Arre’s for Official Chukyagiri, so much about the show was relatable to his past work experiences, that he instantly decided to do it.
“Isn’t it overwhelming, now that you get so much attention, suddenly?”, I ask.
Sizil decides to answer this with a small story from the past.
“Years back, during my first shoot at MTV Roadies, Raghu asked to arrange some food for him. It perplexed me; all my years of education and work experience…for this? But, I decided to be professional about it and told myself that no job is too small. At that moment, I could’ve either resorted to negativity or worked hard to render myself indispensible to the creative team. And today, when I look at all the trophies, I’m glad that I chose the latter.”
And yet again, Sizil needed to break out of the comfort zone and that triggered him to move out of MTV India and venture into advertising.
“This is when I stepped into the world of advertising, a natural progression of my career. I directed a few prominent ad films and I definitely want to work on a feature film. But it is easier said than done! On the path of moving closer to a feature and to keep honing my skills, ad films and web series feels like the right place to be.”
However now he feels the bigger canvas is not too far away.
The real journey of our lives begin when we believe we are truly free, and we are in a happy-anxious ‘Don’t Settle’ state to find what we love.
“Have you felt that?”, I ask him.
“I experienced that when I had come to Mumbai for the first time. I had to see off my parents at the station and go to college. I stood there till the train left. That moment when there was no one I could recognize in the crowd – that gave me a realization of the excitement, of possibilities, of being lost and the chance to find myself all over again.”
There are words that keep us true to our paths and give meaning to our actions. And Sizil found them in the speech by Charlie Chaplin from Dictator, we know all too well.
“The kingdom of God is within man. Not one man, nor a group of men, but in all men, in you, you the people.”
“Watching that movie, that speech, is when I realized that I am privileged just like anyone around me. However small or big, I don’t want to lose out on any chance to tell my stories.”
Years ago, in the lesser known outskirts of Pune, a young boy who excelled in football, hockey and several other games topped his 10th Grade Board exams. The following year he tutored his younger brother who subsequently topped his Tenth Grade exams. The following year his younger brother’s friends were taught by him and all of them topped their school. When the boy’s youngest sibling was tutored by him, yet again history repeated itself!
This young boy who was born in Kerala and later brought up in Pune, Maharashtra, used to help his parents run their bakery in Vishrantwadi after school hours. Going around on his cycle selling bread, butter, jam and Keralite bakery items, with a smile on his face, the boy who exhibited exceptional brilliance in academics is now fondly known among his students, friends and well wishers, as Anees Bhaiya.
Back in 1988, the young Anees who was immensely popular in his school and neighbourhood for his wizardry in mathematics, set up a full-fledged coaching centre named Anees Classes to help mould young students for admission to India’s National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune.
“I didn’t have much money to buy refreshers and guides,” a smiling Anees recalls his school days.
“After school hours, my friends would come to me seeking help in solving problems. They would also share their refreshers and guides with me. That’s how my first teaching experience began and I realised that I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
He recalls his years from class 1 to 10 to be a bumpy journey with a lot of fond memories. Often he had been made to stand outside his classroom as he couldn’t pay the fees on time. It was at such times that the kindness and affection showed by his teachers got him through.
Miss Govandu, Mr. Thacker, Miss Patwardhan are the few teachers who helped him. “I was always the teachers’ pet,” he reminisces. “I switched schools for my class 11 and 12, and that required a long distance travel from home to school. It was at that time that I took up teaching further and started charging Rs. 50 for my evening classes. My father initially told me that I was doing a foolish thing as I would earn more if I just continued selling the bakery items but my mother supported me and I continued teaching and embarked on home tuitions as well.”
“After my class 12, I was in a dilemma as to what to do further. I wanted to go for medicine but didn’t have the means to pursue it. I didn’t want to become an engineer and due to family’s frugal financial condition, I ended up pursuing a course leading to a Diploma in Electronics and Communication Engineering which I never enjoyed. My passion was for teaching and by now I had around 40-50 students in a batch. I taught a multitude of subjects including Marathi and various syllabi simultaneously.”
Anees, who himself experienced the pain of not receiving career advice from anyone in his time, freely offers career counselling to all his students. While speaking to him one can’t help but notice the warmth and friendly nature he shares with everyone, be it his staff, students or a visitor. He is nothing less than an Academic Superman.
He tells us his story amidst some counselling for some kids.
“Later on, I bought the premises that had been the family’s rented abode and dedicated a separate area for my classes. If on one side of the class I was solving sums for students in one syllabus, two minutes later I would be solving sums to another batch doing a different syllabus.”
One by one his own students became teachers at Anees Classes. The one criterion he stipulated was that all the teachers were to be trained in his classes. This ensured that all the teachers were well acquainted with the style and methodologies followed there.
Today, Anees Classes is spread over 11 locations in Pune and have students coming from all over India. With hostel facilities and food provided for the students, Anees Sir ensures that the students get the best of everything. For this, he has expanded the courses offered starting from stress management classes, coaching classes from class 1 to 12, foreign language classes, soft skills and personality development to various workshops, summer camps, and so on.
But how did he start preparing students for the NDA?
“Back in 1993, three students from Sainik School, Satara (a system of schools to prepare students for entry into the National Defence Academy and Indian Naval Academy) had come to me. All the three got into the NDA. The following year, seven came and later on 10 and then 16. Later I got to know these were Sainik school students. It was then that I started providing them with food and accommodation at my own place”.
Over the years, Anees Classes have prepared over 1000 successful students for the NDA and over 400 are officers in the Army, Navy and Air Force.
He also has his own unconventional techniques for teaching mathematics and has even given them unique names. Jugal Bandi, Chandal Chowkadi, Amar Akbar Antony, Mara Mari are a few of them.
A true philanthropist in every sense of the word, Anees Sir believes in helping every student. He isn’t a materialistic person and gives students the option of a refund in case they don’t like his classes. In the year 1997, he started a family Trust called the Evergreen Foundation along with his father, mother and wife as trustees. Initially this Trust began funding financially weaker students. Besides Evergreen Foundation, Anees Kutty has also co-founded MStartups.biz and the Indian Muslim Entrepreneurs Forum. He wants to create a global platform for young professionals and help nurture businessmen of tomorrow. The Evergreen Foundation conducts several events and workshops to promote professionals to pursue their dreams and careers.
Asked about what makes him the happiest, he says,
“The most satisfying part is that all my students are doing better than I do. I have realised that somewhere down the lane my students have picked up the values I hold. They believe in honesty and are genuine. Most of them call and wish me on my birthday and send me Rakhis on Raksha Bandhan. I am always remembered as their Anees Bhaiya.”
So what is the secret behind this good heart?
“I live by three mottos – Accept, Adjust and Appreciate.”
Well, one thing is for sure. Call him Anees Kutty, Anees Sir or Anees Bhaiya, this man with a heart of gold is a true example of
“Teachers don’t teach for the income, teachers teach for the outcome!”
This post is a part of Neer, a collaborative project by DCB Bank and Chaaipani to bring out stories of individuals and initiatives that are working hard and smart to save water.
We all possess an undying spirit to do something we really believe in. However often times we have to drop certain ideas for the fear of failure or just because it is the most convenient option.
Here is a man Eklavya Prasad whose passion for the term ‘WATER’ made him cross all sorts of boundaries and hurdles to not only execute what he believed in but also to make the people around him realise that they too can have that one thing which reaches Mother Earth in its purest form – NEER, JAL, PAANI in simple terms – pure drinking water.
Coming from a family of doctors, Eklavya Prasad was expected to follow the family tradition. However, his interaction and experiences with people, while he stayed with his brother who was pursuing an M. Phil degree in JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) in New Delhi, exposed Eklavya to various collective actions, political issues and students. It was at that time he learned how to relish even badly cooked food, how to approach friends and how to cherish this beautiful journey called life.
Eklavya wanted to study something which had a bit of everything from humanities and also a practical side to it. Hailing from then Bihar (now Jharkhand) and brought up in Dhanbad, Eklavya started searching for options to do a Bachelor’s course in social work. Jamia Millia Islamia was the only institute that offered a bachelor’s degree in this course and so he enrolled in it.
In his third year, as part of the field work, he got a project where the sole objective was to understand what deaf and mute people go through. Since Eklavya was quite active in the theatre he used that medium to connect with them. He also learned sign language and started linking various issues to the other. The entire experience made him feel the need to work for issues that were not being addressed.
It is definitely not surprising that he got into the prestigious TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) and graduated with a Masters in Social Work (MSW). The practical side of this course made him experience several aspects of real-time life issues in the rural areas. He found out that rural work was far more comforting and involving for him.
In the year 1995, he started to work in Seva Mandir in Udaipur and hence started his water journey.
“My first Guru, Narayan Ameta, who was the Forest Co-ordinator taught me everything about water, right from the letter ‘W’. “
Later on, he worked for the Centre for Science and Environment. He was taken into the water unit by Anil Agarwal, the person who redefined ‘environment’ in India. After working for four years, Eklavya took up the role of a consultant in Delhi and from then on life took another turn.
“I decided to write a story about floods in Bihar for a magazine called the ‘Civil Society’. However, after writing the story I felt something was missing. I had visited the areas affected by the floods and the story had come out very well. But that was not enough. I made the decision to visit Bihar every 2 months and study the situation there. The diseases that were recurring and the problems faced due to floods had to be looked into.”
Eklavya realised, apart from suffering from floods, people were facing other related problems. So he went around various villages in north Bihar trying to convince and explain to the people why rainwater harvesting should be adopted. He knew that to implement it successfully, the technology used should be cheap. He had found out a method which made use of a polythene sheet and container.
“Many people thought I had lost it and, once I was even threatened to be thrown out.”
But Eklavya never gave up. He continued to try and convince the people and started getting mixed responses. It was at one such meeting that three people, who were working in the North East and Himachal Pradesh respectively, stood up and extended their support. The practice was followed back in the place where they had migrated for a sustained livelihood. That helped a lot and finally, people decided to go ahead with the installation. Slowly a change started occurring and an unknown benefit that of the incidence of gastro- intestinal problems started getting addressed by consuming rainwater. It was around this time that ‘MEGH PYNE ABHIYAN’ (MPA), a campaign that looked into the flood-prone areas in five districts of North Bihar was born. Initially, it started off as an informal network with help of the members of Arghyam, a foundation based in Bengaluru with a focus on groundwater and sanitation.
Slowly the campaign got registered as a Public Charitable Trust and currently continues to work in the flood-prone areas of North Bihar.
The kind of hard work and toil that went into developing various practices is truly amazing. What is exceptional here is the efforts made by the entire team to convince people and earn their trust. Slowly people started talking about it. MPA started working towards keeping up the impact all the year round. People made the team realize that it’s not just during floods but the need is to be cautious throughout the year. Slowly they started to see the impact of their work.
All through their journey, Eklavya and the other members have been working on various innovations Jal Kothi (rainwater storage facility), matka filter, flood resistant dug wells and the like. This is just a small part of the work done by them. To actually explain their entire journey till date would mean devoting ten more pages of writing space!
Megh Pyne Abhiyan has been working in collaboration with several grassroots organizations and resource groups. I must say that listening to the entire work done by Eklavya and Megh Pyne Abhiyan is something out of the world.
With each passing day, Eklavya continues his work with even more passion and dedication. He says it is extremely important to work with students as they are a group we need to associate with. Megh Pyne Abhiyan has made a group of students from ninth grade the water ambassadors in Dhanbad. A dynamic and enthusiastic ‘Gang of 20’ or G- 20, these students are from Carmel School, Dhanbad and are working on ‘Participatory Research on Urban Groundwater’ for the Dhanbad city, and proposes to publish a report by July 2018.
Eklavya Prasad hasn’t taken a holiday since 2011. This work is his entertainment, his life! He says “your work should be a good package of everything – fun, enthusiasm, passion, commitment and joy. And before one starts talking about a problem there should be realistic articulation.”
Well, in a world where water is taken for granted in some areas and longed for in others, Eklavya Prasad’s life journey has so much to teach us human beings – you can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.
Ngurang Meena and Reena are from Arunachal Pradesh. A state of multiple tribes. The state of the famous Ziro Festival. A state with immense beauty of mountain ranges from the Himalayas. The kind of scenes we drew as children in our drawing class, a mountain range with a rising sun with a valley and rivers. There is a bitter reality that the people in the Arunachal face. Polygamy. Child marriage.
Reena is one of the 9 siblings in her family from 2 mothers. Reena’s mother was married to her father at the age of 13 even before she even hit puberty. The tribal customary laws support the ways of child marriage and polygamy, exchanging women in marriage for Mithuns and stones. Her mother was a victim of both these practices. Reena’s mother got married at the age of 13. Her father married another woman when Reena was around 10 years old. The practice of multiple marriages is followed without restrictions as there is no registration of marriages which would, in an ideal scenario, prevent it. Meena the eldest among the siblings in the family understood her mother’s dilemma and repercussions of another woman in the house.
“We don’t have grudges towards our father anymore”, says Reena.
They come from a very rural family. Reena’s father lived his entire schooling in one vest and two underpants. He walked barefoot until he was 16 when he got his first pair of slippers. Her father was interested in politics and worked hard to make a name in the society.
Both Meena and Reena understood that the only way to lift their region out of the abyss of these horrifying practices was to educate themselves. Meena moved to Bangalore to pursue her graduation in Economics, History, and Social Sciences. Whereas Reena moved to Delhi to pursue her graduation with a major in Social Sciences from Delhi University. Even in their colleges, they were both very active in politics and student unions, a trait that Reena says they might have inherited from their father.
“I think the silence of women towards these atrocities is what pushed us to Social sciences and to educate ourselves so that we could be their voice. The way they couldn’t voice their troubles and fight for themselves made us want to do something about the way things were.”
Meanwhile, Meena was all set to move to London to pursue further studies, but family’s financial constraints she had to return to Arunachal in 2011.
“Once you’ve had experienced new cultures, opened up to new possibilities, formed a certain mindset, and then you come back, the society doesn’t allow you to let alone change but even have an opinion different than their own”, says Reena.
This is when Meena started questioning the institution of Arunachal, the way things were. So Meena decided to leave the family and started living on her own. Things had to change. But the habitues looked at a woman living by herself as ‘weak’. She protested for proper roads to women rights, and in the past three years set up the ‘Ngurang Learning Institute’ with the aim of giving opportunities to women like their mother who were never given a chance to read and write.
“Since they were illiterate they aren’t able to enroll their children in schools, fill forms, use banking facilities.”
For a long period of time, Meena ran the institute without any money from the women she taught. She used to pursue part-time jobs and fend off for herself and teach these women. Reena would come to Arunachal for 2 months every semester and help her sister run the institute.
“These women didn’t know how to thank us. They used to bring in royal food, or native rice and meat to show their gratitude.”
In return, they had endured threats from the husbands of women. ‘She is my wife. She is supposed to cook. This is no age for her to learn how to read and write’, they would say. Since their father had a political influence, people didn’t act on the threats they made.
“One of the husbands of the women came to my sister’s place with a sword and threatened to stop teaching his wife or else..”
The women they taught, inspired and enlightened told them that they wanted their stories to be heard. They wanted the world to know what they went through so that no one ever endures what they did.
“One of the women who went through such atrocities was 3 years of age when she was married.”
Both the sisters decided to organize a pageant based on the stories of these women to share the progress they have made and to enlighten others about the prevailing condition of the state. Mrs. Arunachal Pradesh, Mother of Substance. The first proof that things are changing is the fact that, their father wholeheartedly supports the event and is the chief advisor for the same.
With so much news about how we’re progressing, initiatives to employ and empower women, help improve education, advance technology and what not, there is still a part of where such unearthly traditions are followed. Communities here do not appreciate the change. But as Elon Musk said, “Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is a disaster.” And these sisters have certainly put the first dent towards a change.
The finale of Mrs. Arunachal Pradesh is on 26th of November, with Mary Kom as their chief guest. Here is how you can get in touch with them to know more about them and the pageant. Email email@example.com and Facebook page to know more about the event. I would strongly recommend people who are in the vicinity to visit the event and show support for the courage of these women.
They have started a movement to celebrate brave-hearted women who have stood up for themselves and others as well, who for some haven’t been able to. Here’s their page to know more about the same.
I’d like to begin this story with reference to a movie I saw, end of October on global warming, Before The Flood. There was a lot covered by Leonardo Di Caprio in his travels, and the conclusion is what we have already established, global warming is here to disrupt lives, unless we take steps to prevent its impact on our generations to come. How is it related to the title that you read up there? So global warming is actually affecting the potable water, and we’re very unconsciously wasting a portion of it in our everyday usage.
No, I am not asking you to carry water in the hollowed palm of your hand. But here is a story brought to us by Divya Ramchandran and how the kids in her class are doing their part to save water and contribute to the environment.
I work at a School called Kids Central. I teach a 2nd-grade classroom and this term we focused on water conservation as a part of primary learning during our Social Responsibility class. We made students discuss how water is wasted on a daily basis and how much can be done by saving it.
We looked into how water can be saved at School. Students went around in the school to make sure there were no leaking taps or A.C’s. But they found a few leaking A.C’s around the campus. So, the students suggested that we could keep a bucket under each of them, and the water collected every day was used to water the plants in the garden.
Some students recognized another interesting point. They realized that a lot of them don’t finish the water in their water bottles every day. Most of them go back home to have it being poured down the drains, the bottles washed and cleaned to be refilled the next day. This was happening in every class, not just one. This meant gallons of water was being wasted every day. Could there be a way to use this water effectively?
The students placed 3 tubs near the school gates. All the students who were leaving the School at the end of the day were to drop any extra water they had in their bottles in the tub before they left.
The amount of water collected was measured every day and it filled up more than just 3 buckets. An analysis of how much water was wasted was done in the school by the students and it was collectively decided by them that this water should be used to water the garden in the school and the grass in the football field, instead of using sprinklers or hoses.
We used a can with a tap instead of one bucket, into which the kids poured any extra water. This was then placed outside near construction work area nearby for the workers to drink water from.
Smaller adjustments to the way of living create a great change for our coming generations. Would you like to answer to your next generation that we idly stood by and watched our go to dumps? Or that we did whatever was within our reach, even if to save ourselves from the guilt of it and but we did something.
It’s an interesting thing, the way we live our lives, the way we are all so different from each other. Yet somewhere in our mundane routines we do the same things, feel the same things and manage to connect as unique individuals.
What did we do?
On one of those random Monday’s we thought we should chalk out our day and see what happened, more so, find out how we could connect with each others. It was a very random sending of pictures back and forth, of some simple daily objects and daily events which added those few extra colors to the day.
So here’s us with #Duality. Hope you all enjoy it!
This is me and Aditya.
PC : Aditya Dhotre and Divya Ramachandran
Today, I write with the utmost respect for mothers, working or homemakers. You might be able to relate to this. I have a mother who tries that neither me nor my sister has to cook a meal unless necessary. And then I wonder what is it that she has done solely for herself. Not for the lack of space and time, but she didn’t pursue her passion. Not that she ever complained or didn’t have the support from us, believe me, she did. But what was it, age, apprehension, judgment, convention, or the just fact that she wasn’t given a chance to do so? Only a mother would be able to answer these.
So, I had the opportunity to meet a Mrs. India Earth contestant. A mother of two, 39 years old, Kanchan Korani from Rajkot lives in Hong Kong with her spouse. I know better now to say that these pageants aren’t just about tainting and painting.
Kanchan got married right after she completed her B.Com and moved to Hong Kong for her husband’s work. She started her own shop there, importing Indian groceries and food for people living in Hong Kong and other countries.
“Meri khudki pehchaan chahiye thi mujhe (I wanted a name of my own)”, she says with pride in her voice.
She started after her son was born. Kanchan wanted to have some connect with her native place and hence she started off with Indian food, sharing it with others who felt and craved what she did.
The wife of a man who assembles watches, Kanchan was trying to find her feet, nurture her kids, and do justice to her life in Hong Kong. Not that her husband wasn’t supportive, he was, but there are things you want to do, things you love without giving up on either one of them.
The 39 year old Kanchan Korani I met is beautiful, elegant, graceful, and looks way different from socially accepted convention falling under mother-of-two. But she wasn’t the same after she got married. With a shop to run and kids to manage, Kanchan had gained weight. Her daughter persuaded Kanchan to apply for the Mrs. India Earth Pageant.
“I had come to India for my brother’s marriage. All through the marriage I heard comments from relatives, ‘She’s married and has two kids, her youth is done for’. That moment shook me. I realised that I am not what I used to be. It wasn’t about how I looked, but how I felt about myself. In my head, I didn’t prove to anyone but my self. ”
That is when she joined a gym and started working out. Simple, no? No. A fit body undoubtedly requires a lot of hard work, which too doesn’t matter, if not clubbed with patience and determination.
“I used to weigh above ninety kilos in my brother’s marriage. Today I am forty-two.”
With the support of her husband, her kids, her younger brother and his wife, Kanchan participated in the Mrs. Earth India and moved to becoming a finalist.
“With their support, I won the subtitle of ‘Mrs. India Earth Beautiful Skin’.”
Kanchan is known amongst the Indian community in Hong Kong because of her established grocery business.. After her recognition in the pageant, she was approached by a lot of women in the community so that she could give strength to them as she found her strength in her kin. She is even the face of Closet Love a fashion app who styled her during the contest.
With this, I ask her what’s the next mountain she wants to climb? And she was ready with her answer.
“I want to study, I wanted to become a Chartered Accountant. So I’ll pursue that, I’ll help further the cause of education. I didn’t pursue higher education. But I want to and would love to help others who want the same.”
Kanchan believes if she will think that she’s forty and is too old to pursue such endeavor, people will always accept the easier and let her, because we have grown up in an environment where no one wants us to step out of the box but keep steady at our places, maybe because that challenges their way of life.
Gaurav, barely three-and-a-half, is swift with the tab. He skillfully navigates through the list of downloaded videos till he reaches the one from where he had left off the previous day.
“FISH!” the voiceover exclaims as the screen shows the picture of a large, grinning fish.
Just then Meena, who’s about a month younger and is perched on a small chair beside Gaurav’s, raises her head from the tab she’s holding and pores over momentarily before echoing. “PHIS!”
Gaurav giggles and then corrects her. “Phis nahi, FISH che!” (It’s not phis, it’s fish!)
The preschool is nice, the teachers are truly professional and the gadgets that the kids get to use are cool rows of cupboards lined with toys, shelves full of big books, walls adorned with cartoon characters, letters of the alphabet, numbers… Nothing you’d not find in an upscale preschool in your city.
Except, of course, the kids.
The kids are different.
While at the preschool, these kids get access to best of the videos, best of gadgets and some of the best of training (proof coming up soon). But once they pile up in autos and reach home, their lives will be starkly different.
Mostly, their homes are shanties. There isn’t anything like a drawing room or a kitchen, so don’t even ask if there’s a study room for them. There isn’t anything like a wall in some of their homes: partitions – created from huge, discarded posters or old, tattered sarees – pass off as internal walls.
Many of them are lucky to have access to public toilets, but for the rest, well, you know.
This means many of these kids have only a vague understanding personal hygiene. The early weeks every year are spent in helping students understand toilet usage.
The ones who are relatively better off are the ones whose father drives an auto and the mother is a domestic help at nearby homes. If that describes the best of the lot, one can very well extrapolate the socio-economic status of the remaining kids.
And yet these kids are being trained at a preschool that can easily compete with the best in the city. A preschool with everything that would have otherwise been cruelly out of reach of their parents’ purses.
This preschool is solely for children from the lowest economic segment of the society. Manjul, the preschool. It’s free – no fees whatsoever are charged.
* * *
On a not-very-sunny late September morning, I’m standing outside the Jain Balashram, right in the heart of Rajkot. This where Manjul is housed.
The 4’ x 3’ board outside reads Manjul the Preschool for little angels.
I walk inside. It’s an old-styled campus, with a big, grassy ground in the middle and the building structure all around. There’s what appears to be the office of the campus – I walk in to find a girl filing some papers.
Following her directions, I go to the adjoining unit. Its quarter to ten and Manjul is already buzzing with activity.
The lower floor has three classrooms, full of chirping children. I ask for Malini Shah and am guided to a large hall– with even more children – on the first floor. At the end of the hall, there are two rooms, one of which is where I will ultimately sit and talk to her for the next hour.
Malini Shah looks up from her laptop and then gets up to greet me. Her personality befits the head of a preschool to a tee – gentle, smiling and warm.
“Give me a second, please,” she says and quickly finishes her task on the laptop. Then she pushes it aside and explains with a grin. “That was a cool video I found on YouTube, something that talks about motor skills. It will help me in the next training session.”
We get talking. Post MBA, Malini worked with one of the most outstanding schools of Rajkot, ultimately rising to the level of Vice-Principal (with nearly 500 students under her). Then, with the lure of doing something more fulfilling, she accepted the challenge to step in as the founder-principal of Manjul in 2014.
I don’t like asking this, but I can’t resist: once these kids finish playschool, what sort of future awaits them?
Ultimately how useful will it be for these children in the long-run?
In a span of three years, while these kids are at this playschool, the purses of their parents aren’t going to get big enough to give their children great education for the rest of their lives.
And this is where the real impact, the real transformation emerges.
A very large proportion of these children will go to very good schools, a couple of which are some of the most expensive in the city.
But the answer must wait a while as Malini shares with me some amazing training sessions she and her teachers were fortunate enough to receive from reputed trainers.
A particularly interesting session was a 15-day training workshop under Christina Farrell, Master Teaching Artist. A faculty at the famed Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, near Washington DC, USA (currently chaired by no less than US First Lady Michelle Obama), she flew in from the USA, exclusively to train the teachers and the students, and conduct workshops with the parents.
Malini’s grin broadens when she notices my jaw dropping (“Faculty from Washington DC? Flew in exclusively for Manjul?”). She clarifies, “Vikrambhai managed that. He follows a simple, but a very demanding policy for Manjul.”
“Just because this preschool is run from donors’ money, on charity, it shouldn’t mean we compromise. Ever. We will make this the best preschool. We’ll pull in the best of resources.”
Her expenses were shared jointly by the Wolf Trap charity, the Rotary Foundation, Shri Tapulal B Mehta Charitable Trust (which funds a large chunk of the expenses at Manjul), Apex Foundation USA, Vikrambhai, and Christina herself.
Not too many of preschools with such stellar credentials around, right?
That brings me to how Manjul started off and who was behind it.
That warrants a meeting with the founder, Vikrambhai Sanghani.
* * *
In the escalator to the eight floor, I try to figure out what might have led Vikrambhai Sanghani, joint MD of Ace Software Exports Ltd., one of the oldest and the biggest IT firms of Saurashtra, to establish Manjul.
I imagine it must have been a situation like this: him dropping off his kids at an upscale school and seeing slum children at traffic points and taking it up as a mission and all that.
Fifteen minutes later, I find out.
“You see I am a trustee of the Shri Tapulal B Mehta Charitable Trust, which funds the college education of a good number of bright students. Students who score 99 percentile and making it sound like it’s the easiest thing in the world. They’re really brainy, but also really deprived.”
“I noticed our social and educational system was working fine for these kids who are super-intelligent – at least in the conventional sense”, the JBIMS alumnus pauses and continues in his trademark soft voice. “Sooner or later, most of them get a break – a benefactor, a charitable trust, a helpful college professor, a community leader… anyone.”
“However, it’s the next level of children from the weaker sections of the society who don’t get a chance. An above-average kid from a middle class family gets a lot of opportunities (mainly due to familial support), but the poorer kids with comparable IQs get a raw deal. Families don’t have money to spend on them and oftentimes, the kids’ 90 percentile fall tragically short of aid from trusts and other bodies.”
The logic sinks in.
The focus is on those kids who are bright (though not necessarily proven geniuses) but hail from very poor families. With the right start and the right push, they can be very successful too.
“As a member of various philanthropic organizations (Vikrambhai travels to various countries as an official assessor for Rotary Foundation-funded projects to observe how the poor communities have benefited from the millions of dollars donated by Rotary), I have observed so many nice people and wonderful organizations do some great things for education.”
Some schools, which catered specifically to children from the economically weaker sections, were doing good, but many could do with some improvements. “For instance, I feel a good playschool with good teachers, high-tech gadgets, and the right environ can make a far bigger impact than a playschool run under street lights. I think these children deserved to be in good places, and being born in families whose purse strings are perennially strained wasn’t their fault.”
“My sons went to Johns Hopkins and Caltech – both figure among the best universities the world over. I think it’s fair to dream that one day Manjul students will make it to Princeton, Harvard, Cambridge, INSEAD…”
No cutting corners
He visualized a playschool that wouldn’t charge a penny from the kids and yet would deliver at par or a whole lot better than the best your neighborhood playschool. Just because Manjul was run on charity and donations would never be an excuse for it being run in an ok-ish way. It would be great. Period.
So what all counts as great, and how it happens is what I wonder.
“To start with, we are clear that at Manjul, we are not obliging the kids or their families. We’re just sharing with society whatever we have. And since we are kind of paying back to the society, making compromises or cutting corners is a lot like short-changing.”
It starts with getting the right teachers. Manjul stresses getting quality teachers. “Bring whatever gadgets, whatever technology tools, the teachers are the ones who’ll impact the most,” says Vikrambhai. “To that extent, we’re already moving towards offering better emoluments and better training inputs for our current and future employees.”
The next, he says, are the training tools. “This is where accomplished people like Christina can make a world of difference.
With her extensive experience across the globe, the accomplished Christina opened up a completely new medium, a new world for our teachers to explore. It was as much a life-changing experience for the students as for our teachers.”
Farrell brought a new perspective to the teachers and the students. While discussing the concepts of large and small, for instance, she actually mimicked the walk of an elephant (“big”) and that of a cat (“small”). The kids couldn’t stop giggling, but they also tremendously loved the sessions.
She used things like a bubble-gum to explain concepts like counting. The effect was so instantaneous that the kids wanted to put it to practice. They asked how many licorice (Yashtimadhu) sticks it would take from one end of the hall they were sitting into the other. And then they actually measured it with their new-found measuring stick!
Thirdly, he elaborates, is teaching aids and technology. He wanted the kids to be comfortably use the latest tools to learn. That’s how the tabs happened. Various educational videos that the team at Manjul constantly discovers are put to use. The videos, of global standards, make the teaching of these preschoolers much more scientific.
The next, and to me the most important, aspect is “placement” of these children. What after they finish the playschool? Some run-down government funded the school that will push them back to their horrible poverty?
Manjul has found a wonderful answer to that. Under the current guidelines laid down under the Right to Education provisions, all schools are expected to take in a certain proportion of their students from the socially underprivileged class.
“I think we solved their (the schools’) problem.” Vikrambhai chuckles. “When our children enter these schools, the schools are happy because they get very well-trained children. So it’s a win-win: our kids get to study at some of the best schools and the schools get children who are as well-trained as their counterparts from well-off families.”
And what about the fund-raising? I asked,
“I was adamant that Manjul will always be free for students.” The seed funding was not that tough: the Tabulal B Mehta Charitable Trust provided enough resources that ensured a good start. The premises too were available at practically no cost. “But founding it and keeping it running are two quite different aspects.” he smiles knowingly.
He meets a number of people who contribute to various causes, because of his involvement in other social activities.
“So I take occasionally some of them to Manjul. I show them around, explaining how it works and how we operate. It might not happen instantly, but once they are aware of Manjul, sooner or later they get back to me. That’s how fundraising happens.”
Manjul also benefits from volunteering resource persons: Rajeshbhai Vyas, a Sa Re Ga Ma finalist, teaches singing and music, assisted by Vikrambhai better half Binaben Sanghani. Rotary club Doctors often conduct medical camps and look after the occasional medical needs of the students.
His vision is very clear. “There are two things that I see happening at Manjul. One, I want it to develop as not just a preschool run on charity, but a true Center of Excellence. It must be a role model for other preschools. And that’s why I keep insisting we don’t compromise.”
The other thing he wants Manjul to be is a training center for other preschools, especially the ones that run on charity and public funding, rather than on students’ fees.
“The purpose is to show that anything run on charity needn’t be a notch lower. We want to replicate this model, and we’ll do all we can to help others set up similar centers.”
Encouraged by the experience at the 3-year old Manjul, Vikrambhai has just started a similar preschool in Gondal (Sanghani Foundation Preschool), a town some 30-kms from Rajkot. It is run by his own family trust and currently operates out of his ancestral home there.
It is close to 10 in the night as I get up and take leave of Vikrambhai. As I wait for the elevator, Vikrambhai joins me. He runs a quick eye over the day’s issue of The Economic Times he’s carrying and then makes a quick business call or two. For someone who heads a big IT company, works with a good number of philanthropic organizations and keeps conceiving one preschool after the other, his pace is quite cool and measured.
We shake hands and part in the parking lot. He gets into his car and heads home. It might be a long journey, but the direction he’s going is infallibly accurate.
* * *
Note: The formal name of the schools is “Manjul – Smt. Dayakunverben Tapulal Mehta Rotary Midtown Playhouse and Nursery” and the building is under the aegis of Shri Vardhman Seva Trust led by Shri Tarunbhai Punjani, c/o. Jain Balashram, Rajputpara Street no. 8, Rajkot. For further information, check out this video on YouTube, check out on Facebook or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.