Category Archives: India

Two Right Feet

Four years ago, Sant Advani had a heart ailment owing to which he couldn’t walk at a stretch for even half an hour — but he could still dance salsa for two hours. “I think the ‘feel good’ endorphins simply took over,” says Advani. His cardiologist Dr. D B Pahlajani told him he could continue dancing as long as there was no discomfort.Sant Advani

The spry silver has already mastered salsa, cha-cha-cha, jive, samba, rumba and the foxtrot. And now, he’s perfecting the Argentinean tango and waltz. “Thanks to my wife who is a good dancer, I learnt to dance to Red red wine on the day of my wedding,” says Advani. It was on a holiday to Goa six years ago that he started pursuing dance seriously. “The resort had a dance class that I joined for a lark, and today I am an honorary dance instructor there,” he says with pride. “It never takes me long to get people on the dance floor,” he adds. Noting his enthusiasm, four years ago the hotel staff asked him to be their dance instructor whenever he vacationed there.

Advani heads a pharmaceutical and hospital contamination control firm. But life clearly isn’t ‘all work and no play’. Every week, he takes time out to groove to his favourite numbers that include Bachata, Oye como vas, Mama kiyelele, Summer of ’69, La bamba, Rock around the clock, Tequila and the pulsating salsa version of Hotel California. “When I dance, I surrender to the moment.”


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The Timekeeper

Bela Shanghvi has been a well-known revivalist of handloom weaving techniques since the last 27 years. She received exposure in this field as her childhood as her father used to manufacture textile machinery. This 46 year-old has not received any formal education in textiles but learnt about textile and design from Charles Russolini under whom she served as a first assistant in USA.

“About 25 years ago, I spotted a collection of textiles dating back to the Moghul era in Washington D.C. When I came back, I realised that these textiles were not there is India,” says Shanghvi. “That is when I decided to revive textiles,” she adds.

Shanghvi has served as the President of the Crafts Council Maharashtra and is the national adviser to the Government of India on policy and design. She is currently working on a book on traditional techniques in textiles. Being familiar with about 300 – 400 different techniques, Shanghvi has helped to revive about 30 – 40 techniques which were dying. Additionally, she is also an honorary member of the World Craft Council

Shanghvi also runs Studio Aavartan – a firm that deals with marketing for handlooms and Purnakala that addresses the issues of craftsmen. “Through Purnakala, I can confidently say that I have touched the lives of more than 2000 craftsmen all over India,” informs Shanghvi.

The Patola and Asshawali are her specialties. Shanghvi has not only been training weavers, but has also been providing them with technical support, design inputs and marketing options in an effort to revive the Patola weaving tradition of Patan, in Gujarat. With improved techniques, she cut production time and labour cost.

The challenges she encounters in her quest to revive weaving techniques lies in the creating awareness among the consumers who are do not know about the different kinds of textiles and the effort that goes into making them. “Craftsmen all over the country face several problems ranging from poverty to unemployment and their welfare is very important,” informs Shanghvi.

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Where there is a will, there is a way

You may have slogged all your life and gathered lots of wealth. But have you ever thought what would happen to your assets after your demise? Advocate Shankar Pai, has a solution to this dilemma.
“It all happened in the year 2001 when the Ambani brothers, Mukesh and Anil were having a dispute over the legacy left by their father Dhirubhai Ambani,” says Pai. Shankar Pai“The thought struck me – had the senior Ambani made a will, his sons would land up in such a fix over the distribution of their fathers assets,” he adds. This gave birth to the organisation Make A Will Foundation.Pai decided to take up the challenge of spreading awareness about making a will. Through his lectures, he advocates the Three ‘P’ Philosophy – Peace, Prosperity and Progress. “A person lives forever through a will, there is no death. A will is a plan that defeats death. It is a valuable piece of paper that we prepare in our lifetime so that our wishes are fulfilled after we are no more,” says Pai. “A will is something you can reward the person who has taken care of you,” he adds.Pai, now aged 56, was a branch manager at Dena Bank when he opted for voluntary retirement in 2001. Pai, a qualified lawyer also practices at the Debt Recovery Tribunal in addition to making wills.

Pai encounters numerous problems while spreading awareness about making wills. “A will is a sensitive topic to open up to. In India, people are not comfortable discussing a will. There is a misconception that if someone tells you to make a will, the person thinks that indirectly you are telling him that his end is near or that you are eying his property. However, all apprehensions disappear when I tell them the consequences of not making a will,” informs Pai.

Pai tells people that making a will only eases the burden on the heirs to distribute the assets of the owner. The owners responsibility is to make a will devoid of disparities while the law will intervene only to clear the disparities.

At Pai’s lectures, he clarifies that making a will is not a complex process. All it requires is a plain sheet of paper (not a stamp paper), details of the willed property and the signature of the testator (person making the will). In addition, the signatures of two witnesses are required. It is not necessary that a will has to be registered but, one should try and register it in case it is likely to be challenged in court after the demise of the testator. In case the two witnesses are a doctor and lawyer, then the will is likely to face less legal obstacles. Although not necessary, the doctor’s attestation is beneficial to prove that the testator was in good health while making the will. Pai also clarifies the finer aspects of wills. Contrary to popular beliefs, a will is not irrevocable. It can be revised as many times as the testator wishes to. However, each time the will is revised, a new signature and declaration stating that the will is the final one needs to be added along with the date of the revised will. An executior has to be appointed who will administer the will after the death of the testator.

The foundation, when delivering lectures to corporate reiterates the value of a will in extending corporate social responsibilities by citing examples of Alfred Nobel who institutes the Nobel Prize through his will and Sir Ratan Tata who founded institutes such as the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research through his will. “Today, we encourage the addition of organ donation as a part of the will or an annexure to the will,” says Pai. “If everyone pledges something to society there can be a revolution,” Pai concludes.

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“I am addicted to teaching as a volunteer, not to the money”

“I am addicted to teaching as a volunteer, not to the money,” says 63 year old Lily Sawant. The best way to describe Sawant is that she is a serial volunteer. For the last 40 years, she has been teaching children in Delhi, Aurangabad and Mumbai.Sawant’s journey began in 1972 when she was at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi with her research scholar husband. “During the holidays, I saw many children playing in the hot sun. That’s when I decided to help these children utilise their time constructively. Since I had graduated in Chemistry and Maths was my favourite subject, I decided to teach the children Maths and English using stories and puzzles,” says Sawant.

Sawant then moved to Aurangabad when her husband got a job at the Aurangabad University. In 1984, Aurangabad and other parts of Maharashtra were affected by drought. At that time, the armed forces had advertised vacancies for entry level posts and many youngsters from peasant families wanted to apply. However, they could do so only if they passed a competitive entrance exam and English was compulsory. A colonel contacted Sawant and requested her to help these youngsters. “All the boys passed,” recalls Sawant. “They came to me with a box and sweets and told me that whichever part of the world they may be, they will never forget me. Till today they come to my house and visit me,” she exclaims.

Sawant and her family moved to Mumbai in 1988. Since then she has been teaching Maths, English and Moral Lessons as a volunteer. “Education is a must, a degree is not necessary and that’s why I did not study B.Ed. and become a professional teacher,” says Sawant. “My husband has done a Ph.D. and my two daughters are currently pursuing their Ph.D. degrees. I am the least educated in my house,” she exclaims.

In 1995, while teaching science to students at a municipal school, she had to use a projector. That’s when she realised that only sighted people would benefit from slide display and not the visually impaired. She then went to Vikas Shorewalla, a visually impaired person who taught her Braille and within the next few months, she started teaching maths at the National Association for the Blind. Today, Sawant can read English, Hindi and Marathi in Braille. Sawant learnt to read Braille and Morse Code at the age of 53.

Sawant takes pride in using innovative methods of teaching her children. She teaches children how to make litmus papers using flowers and demonstrates the solar system with the help of fruits. Sawant does not use a blackboard while teaching. “I don’t believe in showing my back to the class,” she exclaims. While teaching the children, they all sit in a circle.

For the last 40 years, Sawant has taught many children but she has done all of this free as she has never had a job in her entire life and therefore never felt the need to charge anybody for her service. I have taught children belonging to all classes of society. Parents of privileged children have offered to pay her for her teaching but she doesn’t take the money. “Children are children after all. It’s not their fault if they are rich or poor,” says Sawant.

Currently Sawant teaches Maths and Science in English, Hindi and Marathi to underprivileged children at Baljivan Trust near her residence at Santa Cruz. She spends three to four hours a day on volunteering. “I don’t waste my time watching movies or going to hotels. Time is in my hands, my hand is not in time,” exclaims Sawant.

Sawant takes pride in the fact that at the age of 63, she has no health complains. “All my worries and tiredness vanishes when I am amongst children,” says Sawant.


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Play it again, Joe

He’s proof that age need not rob you of your deepest passions. A professional musician for the past 84 years, Mumbai-baJoe Menezessed centenarian Joe Menezes still offers music lessons.

Born in Goa on 4 October 1909, Jose Matias Francisco Menezes – Joe, to friends – greets visitors with a firm handshake. Not surprising for a man who started using the walking stick only after his 100th birthday two months ago. “I give credit to my bicycle that I rode daily all over Delhi and Mumbai,” says Menezes. Though cycling helped him stay physically fit, much of his emotional well-being can be attributed to his passion for music. A professional musician, Menezes still offers piano lessons at his house in Bandra, Mumbai.

Menezes’s lifelong affair with music started when he was studying at Island School in Malar, Goa, where a Catholic missionary first noticed his sharp ear for deciphering musical sounds. Menezes learnt to play the violin at school, apart from the basics of reading and writing music. At 16, he received an offer to join a musical troupe that played in cinema halls in Malaysia and set sail on a 10-day voyage to Kuala Lumpur, from where he later travelled to Malacca and Seramban in the next five years. “While the movie was going on, our group of five violinists would sit below the screen and play the background music,” he recalls.

In 1931, he returned to Goa. Just days after coming back, he received an offer to play violin and saxophone at Bristol Hotel, run by a Goan, in Kanpur. “In those days, musicians needed to have expertise in more than one musical instrument to make a decent living,” says Menezes. “I used to play the violin during the lunch session and saxophone at dinner.” As British orchestra groups hired musicians on a contractual basis, his job profile kept changing every few months. From Kanpur, he travelled to Indore, Peshawar and Nainital on various musical assignments. “The British changed places according to the seasons,” he remembers. “During the summer, they lived at hill stations and in winter they shifted to the plains.” Unlike a lot of people, Menezes’s memories of pre-Independence years are not tinged with pain. “Those days were tough but I was not involved in the freedom struggle,” he says with candour. “Life during the British Raj was better. At least we did not have corruption and terrorism the way we do now.”

During one of his visits to Goa, while playing the harmonium in the local church choir, he met a young lady, Retinha. The two fell in love. As Menezes lived in Peshawar, Retinha travelled alone from Goa to Peshawar in 1941 where the two got married without the support of their families. Their son Albert was born a year later and daughter Sophia, in 1948.

Just before World War II, the family moved to Delhi where Menezes got a job as a music teacher at St. Columba’s High School, a stint that was anything but easy. “The boys were rowdy and the principal had offered me a year to train them to form an orchestra,” he reminisces. “That’s when I decided I would never teach boys again in the future if I had a choice.” Today he gives piano lessons to three students – all girls.

Disobedient students apart, Menezes recalls the breathless pace of his initial years in Delhi. “I used to go to the school at 6 am, then play at a restaurant during the lunch session, go over to my students’ houses to give music lessons and then go back again to the restaurant to play at dinner.” His hectic schedule hardly left him with time to think, let alone rest. “I had no weekly holidays and commuted all over Delhi on my bicycle.” Life switched to a more sedate pace when he got a job at the government-run Ashoka Hotel in Delhi where he worked for 10 years. It was the most secure job he had ever known. He even received accommodation at the staff quarters at Diplomatic Enclave in the Teen Murti neighbourhood – where then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru lived and Mahatma Gandhi often visited.

In 1968, Menezes decided to move to Mumbai. “My wife was keen to settle in North India but the climate didn’t suit me,” he says. The couple bought a house in Bandra. A few days after moving into the city, he got an offer to play music for films. Menezes joined the Cine Musicians Association and worked with music composers such as Shankar Jaikishan, Laxmikant Pyarelal and R D Burman. On the side, he also gave private tuitions in violin and piano.

He continued to play music for films till he turned 90, by when the hassles of commuting and the changing norms of the music industry began to get to him. “In my heyday, a large orchestra of 80-100 musicians was quite the rage,” says Menezes. “Eighty per cent of the musicians, though, were dummies who only pretended to play the instrument. After the recording session, musicians used to unwind with a drink, but I was always too busy to hang around.” He is glad he remained a teetotaller and feels his disciplined lifestyle has been an important contributor to his good health.

After retiring, he decided to offer tuitions at home rather than going to his students’ houses. Though, over the years, he had mastered the harmonium, piano, saxophone and clarinet – all on his own – he gave up playing wind instruments a decade ago on the insistence of his family who felt he was too old to exert himself. “It was with a heavy heart that I gave away my prized saxophone and two violins to music enthusiasts.” Today, he can still play the violin flawlessly, but the fingers that once played Mozart don’t comply so easily now. “My fingers and shoulders hurt a little now,” he remarks. After giving up his violin, Menezes focused on the piano.

Though he is adjusting to the aches and pains of life, adapting to the changes around him is not always easy. “Now there is noise and traffic everywhere and I rarely move out as there is hardly any space to walk,” he says with a touch of resignation. He spends his day playing music; meeting friends; going for a walk; reading; watching TV and teaching music. “Though it feels wonderful to spread the joy of music, I don’t encourage my students to pursue a career in music because the profession is riddled with a lot of uncertainty and you don’t earn much.”

His beloved wife passed away 10 years ago but his life is still filled with the laughter and conversations of four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His daughter lives nearby, in Khar, while his son, who has a house in Andheri, now lives with Menezes. “I wanted to dedicate my time to him, so I moved over to live with him,” says Albert, 67, who enjoys the long conversations they share about the good old days. For Menezes’s 100th birthday, Albert and his sister threw a party that was attended by 150 family members from all over the world.

Though Albert keeps him company, Menezes is fully independent. “I don’t visit doctors and I don’t even remember the last time I had fever,” he says. The glaucoma in his eyes is all that bothers him. Both his eyes have been operated upon for cataracts. “I did my second cataract at the age of 95 and the doctor was surprised to see such a good pathology report,” he says with justified pride. When asked if he has any dreams left to fulfil, Menezes has one small wish: “All I ask from the Almighty is to give me good health and happiness right till the end.”




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VOICE of the voiceless

Raju, a porter at the railway station chooses to study after a hard day of work so he heads to the NGO VOICE for his daily dose of education.

VOICE (Voluntary Organisation In Community Enterprise) Victor and Rajashri Bansiwar with the childrenwas started in August 1991 by the husband and wife team Victor and Rajashri Bansiwar who began teaching beggars, porters, rag pickers, vendors and shoe shine boys at railway stations. VOICE started with just 20 children. After 18 years of serving street children, the couple has touched the lives of over 5000 children into becoming educated and independent individuals.

“During my MSW (Masters in Social Work) course, I was posted as a trainee at Matunga at a remand home. During that time, I felt sad to see the dehumanising conditions of the children who were not looked after properly,” says Virctor Bansiwar, founder of VOICE. “By the time we finished our course, our attention got diverted towards children on the railway platforms,” adds Victor. The Bansiwar couple completed their MSW course from Nirmala Niketan College.

“Initially it was very difficult to start the organisation as we neither had the funds nor the resources to do anything. We registered our trust and opened the office in our residence in Andheri,” says Rajashri Bansiwar, founder of VOICE.

The organisation provides not just non-formal education but also encourage children to join the mainstream schools. “Due to unavoidable circumstances, some children could not go to school hence we give them non-formal education at our centres. “We cater to the needs of the Mumbai street child. We do not focus on book learning but on all-round development of the child such as value education, computers, yoga and music. We start with literacy skills and if they become interested, we send them to municipal schools,” says Rajashri. From its inception till 1996, the volunteers and staff of VOICE were teaching at Churchgate, Dadar, Vile Parle, Andheri, Jogeshwari, Goregoan, Borivali, Bhayander and Virar railway stations. “We wanted to teach children at all railway stations but the railway authorities objected to us being there. Everytime they asked us to leave, we would come back only because of the children,” adds Rajashri. Due to the non cooperation of the railway authorities, VOICE could not continue at railway stations. Instead, they taught all the children in their 1BHK home cum office.

After years of struggle, with a grant from Sir Dorab Tata Trust, the Bansiwars obtained a one acre plot at Virar and have constructed a home in August 2006 called Sanjivani for homeless girls who are particularly vulnerable to rape and molestation. The capacity is for about 100 girls. Sanjivani now has 53 children aged between three years to 17 years, seven volunteers and team of teachers who work along with the Bansiwars. “At Sanjivani, in addition to academic education, we teach the girls cooking, tailoring, gardening, yoga, music, computers and so on,” says Rajashri. The couple has now started reaching out to the Adivasi community in and around Virar. Currently, 30 tribal children go to Sanjivani.

VOICE has devised several programmes for the benefit of children. “One important initiative we undertook is Prayas. Under this programme, bank accounts are opened for the children. This inculcates the habit of saving money. The children are expected to save a part of their earnings into their accounts,” says Rajashri. The children have been taught screen printing on gift wrapping paper, cards, letter heads and to make diyas (earthen lamps) which is sold during Diwali. The proceeds of the sale of the gift wrapping papers and diyas go to the children itself who save it in their bank accounts. So far four children have purchased new bicycles with the money they saved while 14-year old Santosh saved Rs. 15,000 over a period of three months.

Other programmes include counselling sessions, debates on social issues and current affairs, educational camps to places like Delhi, Rajasthan and Dharmsala, yoga, singing and playing musical instruments like the tabla, harmonium, guitar and keyboard.

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“Development without security is meaningless. Join the Army”

“There may be lots of development, but if there is no security, development is meaningless. Therefore, join the army” is the motto of 60-year old Anuradha Gore.Anuradha Gore

Fourteen years ago, Captain Vinayak Gore laid down his life fighting insurgents at his post near Kupwara during Operation Rakshak. Since then, his mother Anuradha Gore has drawn up a battle plan of her own.

Since the death of her son, Gore took it upon herself to educate and inspire young children about joining the armed forces. During school vacations, she conducts workshops on all-round development, leadership skills, terrorism and about the armed forces as this is her way to keep Vinayak alive. “Values of bravery have to be inculcated in children at a young age so that they grow up to realise the importance of joining the army,” says Gore. She narrates stories of brave war heroes like Shivaji, Veer Savarkar and Mangal Pandey.

On a regular basis, she also tutors students of class 4th – 6th students of Paranjpe Vidyalaya in self study techniques. She has a team of 12 housewives who help her in this mission.

Gore feels that today children are looking out for more lucrative opportunities, but joining the armed forces does not necessarily mean the person will die. The salaries may be less but benefits are tremendous.

She was a teacher at Parle Tilak High School till 2003 and retired as the principal of R. N. Podar High School in 2007. Her teaching profession helped her deal with the death of her only son. “The principal of Parle Tilak High School sent me a letter stating that there are more than 100 Vinayaks waiting for you in school and there will be many more,” adds Gore.

Gore has written a book titled Vaaras Hovu Abhimanyuche on the lives of 19 slain defence persons. In addition, she serves as a columnist for Marathi newspapers.

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