A 13-year-old Harshul from a shelter home in Delhi has every reason to be disheartened but she is teaching everyone around her the power of positivity
A 13-year-old Harshul from a shelter home in Delhi has every reason to be disheartened but she is teaching everyone around her the power of positivity
Start a conversation about the inclusion of differently-abled with Disabilities Inclusion Act that replaced the 1993’s Disabilities Services Act, and there have been amazing efforts by people and organizations alike.
A 28-year-old Rahul, was about to embark on a new journey in a new home, a new job in Societe Generale in Bangalore after a stint at HCL, with his wife stepping into new married life.
In the examination hall, the students eagerly open the question paper. Design a question paper based on what you have learnt this semester.
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!”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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: email@example.com.
1200 apartments, 5000 residents, 24×7 water supply, a tanker free residency, plants watered through drip irrigation, minimum consumption of water by flush tanks, borewell water that has a hardness of just 250 dH, 3000 trees planted within the society, 92,000 units of electricity saved in a year, a tangible direct saving of Rs. 103,390 in energy expenses this year and much, much more.
Did your jaws just drop? Well mine did! Welcome to Roseland Cooperative Housing Society situated in Pimple Saudagar in Pune, Maharashtra. The society is one of the most sought after complexes in Pimple Saudagar. The residents believe in living a lifestyle that is sustainable and also one that benefits themselves and the people around them. For this, they work together efficiently throughout the year in setting up environment and community friendly practices. They have realised how precious resources like water and electricity are and since 2009, have come up with all sorts of innovative ideas, events and projects.
It all started in 2009 under the active leadership and guidance of Mr. Santosh Maskar, the chairman of the Residency. A native of Bhoom, a town in Osmanabad District in Maharashtra, Santosh spent his childhood in the farms and fields owned and taken care of by his family in the village. He has always been very enthusiastic about doing things in a way that benefits the environment and the community. Santosh and his family have been staying in Roseland Residency since 2006. This Co- founder and Director of Sarvaha Systems Pvt. Ltd. is a true visionary who believes in teamwork. He along with his team of ten people that comprises the Managing Committee members and the residents work together and brainstorm to come up with solutions and practices to various problems. They believe that for a sustainable living the solution lies within.
Mr. Santosh Maskar
Since he moved into Roseland Residency, for almost three years, there have been absolutely no issues regarding water supply in the housing society. In 2009, when the number of people in the Residency increased, the residents faced a water shortage. Two to three times a day water supply dropped down to once a-day. The immediate and short term remedy was to store water which they couldn’t do for long and decided to do something about it.
Santosh thought of rain water harvesting in the society, a method that was being practised on his village farm. There was an open plot in the society where he and his team decided to implement it as a pilot project. The water from the terrace was collected and given to the borewell where it was recharged. This was done for one borewell at first. Following success in this pilot project, it was soon rolled out for the other borewells. 6 borewells were recharged and now the society plans on doing the same for all its 21 borewells! This remarkable feat has made the society ‘tanker- free’ since 2010. What’s more? The water is available 24×7 throughout the year and its hardness keeps decreasing. Right now the water has a hardness of about 250 dH which will become 100 in the next three to four years. Once it reaches 80 dH it will be fit for drinking. This method has saved the society close to 20 lakhs Rupees which would otherwise be utilised to develop methods to provide regular water to its residents.
Roseland society has since been encouraging the neighbouring societies to adopt rain water harvesting as well.
The Managing Committee
Apart from this, there are numerous other projects that have been implemented in the water conservation front by the society. In an attempt to save water that is lost through flushes, the society decided to collect plastic bottles and fit them into the flush tanks. This method saved about 1 litre of water that is lost per flush.
Another initiative was to reduce the flow of water through water taps by installing faucets. This method has been adopted in all the apartments.
Various posters are also displayed from time to time throughout the society to encourage and remind residents of their duty towards the community. About 20 to 30 per cent of people stay on rental basis and the new residents are always encouraged to join in and contribute.
Water conservation is just a part of the numerous activities that have been going on in this dream society. In fact an entire book can be written about how this society comes together, brainstorms and implements everything successfully.
Sparrow conservation, recycling bicycles, plantation drives, marathons, cycling contests, clothes collection drives, waste segregation, yoga sessions are just a few to name. Recently the society organised The Rubik’s Cube Open Competition which was approved by the World Cube Association. For their constant efforts the society has been recognised and presented with several awards in the past.
Roseland Society has been awarded The Green Society award by Radio City in Pune. 400 societies across Pune were visited and Roseland emerged the winners.
MEDA (Maharashtra Energy Development Agency) did an audit and awarded the society for its efforts to save water and conserve electricity.
Wipro in coordination with Nature forever awarded the society for its Sparrow Conservation project.
Asked how the society keeps themselves motivated, Santosh said “We all work as a team and are very passionate about what we believe in. We strive to be different from other people and think about new ways every day. We follow one system – discuss, brainstorm, get people’s opinion and then implement. Once it’s approved we go ahead with a pilot project which takes around two years for its successful implementation.”
Asked if he has a message for people today he says “It takes time to realise that we need to develop ideas not only for us today but also in a manner that is sustainable for the next generation”.
We wish all the luck to Roseland Residency and hope and pray that their efforts are a source of motivation not only to the people around them but also for the generations to come!
“On the day the results were out, I was absolutely confident. I didn’t have to check my result.” the girl says with a smile.
The class – students preparing for competitive exams – falls silent, apparently uncomfortable with the touch of bragging in the girl’s voice. I too stare at the girl.
The girl’s smile broadens and erupts into a laugh, “I knew it! I was sure I’d fail!”
The girl’s self-effacing humour immediately touches base with everyone. We all laugh out loudly. She has won our hearts.
“And you know, I have appeared for umpteen exams – 18, to be precise. Two more and I would have crossed the “-teen” threshold of exams, with 20,” she continues to joke about herself as the laughter subsides. More smiles.
It’s been a year now, but this incident is fresh in my mind. I was witness to this girl talk confidently to aspirants about her umpteen failures and subsequent success (comprehensive success; coming up later). Against all odds. Her good humour cleverly conceals what she has gone through.
But then, this brave girl, Hiral Malvi, is no stranger to overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Being blind – she has zero vision – is just one of them.
“As a kid, I was quite naughty. And also quite headstrong,” Hiral says,
“So it was a shock to me when I lost vision before I was four.”
She puts it so matter-of-factly, without the slightly tinge of complaint, you’d think you didn’t hear her right. But Hiral is quite objective about herself.
“One evening, a little before my fourth birthday, I suddenly started having blurred vision. Before long, I completely lost my eyesight,” Hiral recalls, her smile never leaving her lips.
“My father was an auto-driver and my mother is a home-maker. Even with the extremely limited resources my parents did everything possible for my treatment, including taking me to Nethra, Chennai. Everything failed. I was blinded forever. Just like my sister who lost her vision before she turned 3.”
Finance was always tight in this family of 6. It was simply not possible to offer any special facility for the two differently abled sisters. Things couldn’t have been worse for them.
The two girls were enrolled at a local institute for the visually challenged.
“I did all my schooling, right up to class 12, from V D Parekh Blind School. Often, Braille textbooks were not available in some subjects, so I had to rely on my memory and audio recordings.”
Hiral, in spite of all the limiting factors, did well in academics. When she cleared class 10, her interest and achievement strongly indicated she choose science stream. However, strained finances, among other things, dictated she opt for arts.
“I won’t say I was very committed till I finished graduation. I worked sincerely, but not very hard. And suddenly computers happened.”
Her voice betrays her excitement.
“I was absolutely swept off my feet! It was sheer magic!”
She had found her calling. From Braille to bytes, her life was set to change.
“I learnt about PGDCA (Post Graduate Diploma in Computer Applications) during my college days. I was thrilled that I, an arts graduate, too could study computers!” The headstrong Hiral emerged and without paying attention to naysayers, she applied for and was admitted to PGDCA.
“Many people were apprehensive when I, a blind girl, opted for PGDCA. But I was determined to master it.”
And master she did.
Once she cleared her PDGCA, she set her sights even higher: M.Sc. (IT), a course often considered comparable to MCA (Masters in Computer Application).
“The course turned out to be more rigorous than I had first thought. The schedule was hectic and the deadlines were often insane,” her giggles resurface.
“It didn’t involve computers just for fun; it was serious programming…. something so conceptual! But I had already been handling a variety of stress since long, so I somehow managed.”
I thought ‘somehow managed’ would translate to ‘barely passed’ or something similar. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In 2014, Hiral passed her M.Sc.(IT) with 92% – the first visually challenged student (repeat student, not girl) in the state to complete the course.
“By then I was already on the lookout of a good career with the central government or a bank. So I started my preparations during my M.Sc. (IT)”
In the middle of 2013, Hiral and her teacher from the school for visually challenged, Jagruti Ganatra, walked into a coaching institute. They met the coach and asked whether he’d allow Hiral to enroll.
While eager to help, the coach was visibly confused,
“But how will she read what I write, or my printed handouts, let alone solve questions?” the coach wondered aloud.
That was swiftly taken care of. Hiral carried a recording device to the class. She would attentively listen to every word the teacher spoke. Once home she’d play back the day’s lecture. A special software in her computer would read out all the PDF notes to her.
(How the computer had reached the humble household that Hiral was a part of is also one of the many feathers in Hiral’s cap. As one of the earliest visually challenged person to have finished the degree, Hiral won the computer as a part of the state government’s drive to help differently-abled individuals.)
Daily her father would come to drop her at the coaching institute. Two hours later, her brother or father would return to pick her up. Any waiting period was used in playing back the previous day’s lecture. Her co-students, all with regular vision, were impressed with her involvement, but getting decent marks, even in the practice tests remained elusive.
Not surprisingly, things were difficult. On the one hand, she wouldn’t be able to read anything that the faculty wrote during the sessions; on the other, it was impossible for the faculty to speak everything that he wrote.
So no matter how diligently she prepared, gaps remained. And then, she was also studying for her M.Sc.(IT).
The 4-month course ended, but she couldn’t crack any competitive exam.
In case you aren’t aware, the kind of competitive exams that Hiral was preparing for (Staff Selection Commission and IBPS Bank Exams) test quantitative, language and reasoning skills of candidates. Calculators are not allowed. (Such exams attract around 1.5 to 2 million applications, of which no more than 20,000 are finally selected from all over India.)
If you are a fully sighted individual, please take a moment to read the above paragraph once again.
Hiral had zero vision, and yet she’d be doing math and reasoning. Everything in her head. Without calculators. Without diagrams.
So why didn’t she give up since she didn’t clear the early exams, I asked. What kept you going?
“Oh, I think I had started to love the contents of the exams – they needed a great bit of logic and thinking. I found it too exciting to quit!”
And how were the exams going on, I ask.
“I had to seek help of sighted scribes in each exam. The scribes would read out the questions – puzzles, arithmetical computations, long passages, grammar, algebra, general knowledge…. I would understand the question, do things in my head and ask the scribe to record my answer.” (These exams are multiple choice types.)
“Things aren’t always easy for the scribe too,” Hiral laughs, “For exams that were conducted outside Rajkot, getting scribes willing to travel wasn’t all that easy. And often I wouldn’t understand some questions in the first reading, so the scribe would have to read it out again! It’s tiring for them too.”
But you weren’t successful in the early exams, I say. So how was it like handling failure?
I am met with the same disarming laugh.
“I think nobody likes failure, right? But I knew my road was a long one and there was no point giving up early. My parents, who have always been my Rock of Gibraltar, stood by me. And Jagruti madam remained my constant motivator.”
But before she tasted her first major success, a tragedy struck.
Hiral lost her father in 2014.
Hiral’s father Natvarbhai was the sole bread-winner of the family. With him suddenly gone, things went haywire.
“Not only did we struggle financially, but also emotionally. My father was a constant source of inspiration for me. Any time I’d feel low, he would encourage me,” her voice cracks, but she quickly regains her composure.
Her mother worked as a domestic help at nearby homes, thereby keeping the family afloat, but only just so.
“And then look what happened! I cleared not one but two exams after that!” she beams.
Hers was a resounding success, pun intended. She was selected at two different banks Central Bank of India and State Bank of India (SBI) through two different examinations. She chose the latter over the former.
“I have witnessed her struggle, her anguish, her grit, her losses, her resilience…But one thing I have never seen – she has never ever complained about her circumstances, personal or social. She’s always been a doer rather than a cribber.”
Jagruti Ganatra, who was her coach at the V D Parekh institute and who has accompanied Hiral at all exams and interviews outside Rajkot, told me some time back. I can only nod.
* * *
I am at the Gymkhana branch of SBI where Hiral works. Hiral successfully – and popularly – completed her probation at State Bank of India some time back. I stand aside, watching her deal confidently and patiently with customers.
“Since I take care of Customer Care, most of my time is spent explaining various technology tools my bank offers. I’m so happy doing this – staying in tune with technology,” Hiral tells me during her lunch break.
“Marketing and technology are two things I love, and that’s what I get to do here!”
“I aspire to grow to a senior role within this great organization. There’s so much to learn. I almost can’t wait!”
“And my seniors and colleagues are extremely supportive, but never condescending!”
“That makes me doubly proud that I am giving my best to my organization!” she says, finishing her lunch and returning to her desk five minutes ahead of time. “It’s been said so often, but I’ll still repeat. Differently able people don’t need sympathy, they need opportunity.”
Her satisfaction is palpable, her enthusiasm infectious, her potential limitless. Evidently she’s seeing that I am blind to.
I met her in one of her sessions on ‘How consciousness can help?’ I couldn’t help but smile as she spoke, excited and jumpy, a session filled with examples from her own life answering questions that were asked by the audience but invoked by her thoughts. I just knew, I had to speak to Aditi Surana, so I scheduled a call with her for the next morning.
“My father was a South Indian Communist and my mother is a Maharashtrian.”
She tells me as she reminisces about her childhood, where every decision had to have a reason, dinner table conversations were spent debating politics, an outing was attending art exhibitions or seminars. An environment completely different from kids her age.
“I did a lot of theatre workshops and documentary filmmaking as a teenager, something I still remember and smile about. I still remember as a child when I wanted to become a filmmaker, I asked my father, ‘How do I start and what do I do?’ and he told me if you want that, you’ll have to observe people.” That is when she kindled in herself, a fire of curiosity to observe people.
She was a very curious child, about how people think, how they look at life. Aditi’s intrigue towards how people think took her to a level where she picked it up as a part of her vocation. But her father, an art director, who had been encouraging and progressive for so many things, couldn’t absorb the idea that she chose a field of social sciences and human development.
“My father was my idol and I looked up to him, but for the first time then, I didn’t agree with him. So, in his own way, he got so worried that he asked me to leave the house, assuming I wouldn’t leave or I’d come back, but I didn’t.”
So, at the age of 18, she left her house where many of us have absolutely no clue what we should or would do. She started her professional life as by analyzing handwriting at a Cafe Coffee Day, through which she paid off for her education. She didn’t want to study handwriting analysis initially and work with the human mind instead, but her father wanted her to pursue something core or filmmaking as opposed to what was considered tangential.
“After I left home, I met my friends in a coffee shop. In a middle-class family we didn’t spend hundreds on coffee, but I went to meet them. They said, ‘Hey, why don’t talk to CCD, they might want you to analyze handwriting for people’, and I met all 5 western region heads and analyzed their handwriting, explained the idea and surprisingly, they agreed. I used to charge Rs. 50 for each analysis.”
During this phase of her life, she struggled a lot with speaking the dialect fluently because she came from a vernacular medium and the people who came to CCD were from upper-middle class or youngsters who smoked a lot, a complete contrast to the environment she grew up in.
“When you visit any counselor they kind of tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, but since I was too young to know anything of that sort to anyone elder to me. So, as I didn’t have answers, I used to ask them questions, because I could see that they had fixations that they were operating from. Merely asking would make them rethink and get them to move them from their fixed ideas of life.”
Slowly she got called at events as a speaker to talk about handwriting analysis and of course people had a lot of questions because the subject was new to them. This is when her theater training helped her become an amazing speaker.
During her childhood she had a lot of trouble reading and which other people mistook for tardiness, because she could answer questions, and that meant she wasn’t a dull kid. So, this came as a surprise to me, when she mentioned during her session at AMA, that she was dyslexic. I suppose, it was a surprise for her as well, because she discovered it at the age of 25.
“When I explained to one of my friends how I had difficulty reading, remembering, and how I avoided bank work, she said, “Hey have you taken, dyslexia for adults test?”. I did my research and I had one of those, Oh-shit-I-wish-I-knew-this-sooner moments.”
Things did turn out for the better for her as struggle paid off when she approached two radio stations at the age of 22, and within 15 days she was live on the radio doing a radio show. She started her own company and worked along with her two friends, like a small team. Now they had to reach out to people and corporates weren’t giving her any response.
“I literally approached 100 companies, but I don’t think the corporate India wasn’t ready for something like this, even though I had my certificate and a radio show, but people were open to handwriting analysis on a personal level.”
In an attempt to reach out to people they went for an HR conference in Delhi.
“I literally bumped into HR head of IBM with his wife, and I was like, ‘Hey, can I talk to you? Can I analyze your handwriting?’ And they said yes. I remembered we talked and how much we laughed and laughed. That evening, he had received the best HR professional award, we had dinner together and spent pretty much the entire evening together. People started approaching me in the conference asking questions like ‘Who are you? Why this person was hanging out with you?’.”
She got an assignment with IBM nationally, to analyze their executives’ handwriting. From then on she got signed up to big names like ISPAT too(now JSW), Torrent Pharma, and celebrities like John Abraham, Bipasha Basu, and Smriti Irani et. al. All along the way, she kept studying and honing herself in different skills.
“My father collected newspapers, so from 1980 we had every single newspaper that came to our house. So for me learning to upgrade yourself or investing in you to add value to you was a very normal thing to do. Between the next birthday gift and a course, it was encouraged that I chose the latter, which I still hold today.”
The one we know as Aditi Surana today once went around by the name Chandraprabha. She felt that without knowledge she was providing feedback to these people, that she wasn’t growing. So she let go of her staff and took a sabbatical for two and a half years.
“I looked at everything that I owned and thought as to what am I creating here? So I went for a transcendental meditation, a thing which people take up after they have retired. At 25, I changed my name to ‘Aditi’. Aditi means unbound. I could do whatever I’d like to do.”
During this period she got married too. It mattered to her if whatever she was doing is making her happy or not. According to her very few people really pay attention to whether they are enjoying their life or not.
She went through a lot of emotional abuse as a child, physical and emotional. For people, it wasn’t okay to be different or dyslexic for that matter.
“As I married my entire name changed. Suddenly, I was a nobody. I wasn’t amongst high end people. The yoga teacher in Rishikesh, where I went, didn’t care for who I was. All of that shed a lot of myth of achievement and success that we have.”
But you never know what the future has in store for you. After her sabbatical, she returned back to work. She started realizing that she wasn’t the wife that he had in mind. For him, it was fun being with a random and unpredictable person, but playing that game, in the long run, is something neither of them was ready for. They looked at each other and said that probably they didn’t want to do this. But as fate had it, things didn’t stop there, along with this came another wave,
“As I had started to work again, my father started falling ill and husband had decided to call off our marriage. Again I was a stage where I had no clue, I had to go to my father to be the caretaker.”
With so much resentment in the past, she went to nurse her father. Where she hadn’t spoken to him in years, now she had to be there for him. She tells me how it was one of the toughest phases of her life. Her husband filed for a divorce and in December her father passed away. Her husband stuck around for a couple of months as he knew she was in a very fragile state.
During this, she jolted herself back to the realizing that she cannot shut down the connect she has with consciousness and the experience with people she gained over the years. Aditi has changed 13 apartments, so far.
“Then, I moved to a different apartment. I realized that I was losing on everything that mattered to me, the connect with body, consciousness, and connecting with the universe. I couldn’t shut down. I met a friend who was a client and she told me about Access Consciousness.”
She couldn’t stop, a course that usually takes 2-3 years to complete to become a facilitator, she completed in 11 months, and I went to Italy, for my certification training.
“After my father’s death, everything that was unresolved between us showed up and I couldn’t go back to him and talk. I used to cry for my father, somebody I didn’t meet for 7-8 years. But Access Consciousness help me get through it and resolve the conflict within me. I realized through Access, that I didn’t have to blame him or rationally understand to choose all that I want. I could reconnect with mind and body, which is what gives me the intellectual kick I need.”
During no point in the conversation did I feel her voice losing confidence. You hear people’s version of their struggle. At no point in her life did she give up whether she was aware of the problem or not, the abuse, her dyslexia, her relationships, she kept believing in herself. She has an aura brimming with confidence which makes you feel there will always be problems but if I have a calm like her, you’ll get through it like a fish in water.