Category Archives: India

“I find satisfaction in teaching underprivileged children”

Maria D’Souza, a resident of Bandra retired from St. Stanislaus High School in May 2008 after completing a fruitful teaching career of 21 years.Maria Dsouza

Post retirement, life could not get any better for this teacher who taught English and History to students of Std. 10th in addition to music and drama to students of St. Stanislaus High School in Bandra. D’Souza joined the Bandra based NGO Aseema that is an educational centre for street and underprivileged children as an education officer. D’Souza now teaches at the Pali Chimbai Municipal School that was adopted by Aseema in 2001. In addition, she also oversees the administration of the school that currently has 426 students. The Pali Chimbai Municpal School was earlier a Marathi medium school but when English medium education became the need of the hour, many students dropped out. The school now offers education till Std. 7th with English as the medium of instruction. D’Souza now teaches English, History and Geography to the students.

“Teaching at Pali Chimbai Municipal School is a big challenge in itself. The students here are first generation learners of English and their parents don’t have a concept of education whereas St. Stanislaus was a mainstream English medium school with students who were smart and affluent and could grasp easily,” says D’Souza.

After the students complete Std. 7th, they move to the Santacruz Municipal School, another school adopted by Aseema that is located at Santacruz and offers English medium education from Std. 8th to Std. 10th.

Maria D’Souza has been associated with Assema since 1998. She used to conduct social service activities in St. Stanislaus. Post school hours in St. Stanislaus, D’Souza along with the social service students used to tutor the underprivileged students. “I feel very happy now. I now feel I should have done this long back and not waited for so long till I retire. But it is human nature to stay back for material things like pension and provident fund,” she adds.

D’Souza lives with her husband and sons at Mount Mary’s Road in Bandra. She is also an active member of the Mount Mary Road Advanced Locality Management (ALM).

Even though the children come from humble backgrounds, the quality of education they receive is not compromised upon. “Most of the students don’t understand what the teacher is teaching them. Hence, we use teaching aids like charts, slides and movies wherever possible. Recently, we conducted out first practical lesson on democracy by conducting elections for the class monitor through secret ballot,” informs D’Souza.

Aseema has several other volunteers who teach the underprivileged students. Most of the volunteers are school students who study in the International Baccalaureate board of education. These student volunteers donate their old reference books to the Pali Chimbai Municipal School Library for the use of the students.

“I find immense satisfaction in teaching these underprivileged children. Even though they are weak and backward in studies, they are very loving, affectionate and ready to learn. Even though they don’t pay high fees, they still know and appreciate the value of education. For these students, their teacher means everything to them,” says D’Souza.


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The Karvi Flower Visits Mumbai

The forests of Mumbai have borne a new look. karvi 5After a long gap of eight years, the Karvi plant peculiar to the Western Ghats has bloomed. The flowers can be spotted throughout the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali and at some parts of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) area near Film City in Goregaon. The last bloom was seen in August 2000.

The botanical name for the plant is Strobilanthes Callosa while the common man knows it simply as the Karvi plant. The Karvi has an interesting life cycle. “Each year, the plant comes alive with the onset of the monsoons and once the rains are over, only the dry and dead looking stems remain. Karvi 1This pattern repeats itself for seven years and in the eighth year, it blooms into mass flowering thus giving the entire area a lavender blush,” says Priti Choghale, Education Officer of BNHS. The lifespan of a single Karvi bloom lasts for 15 – 20 days. The Karvi season begins by mid-August and ends by the end of September. “After the flowers bloom, it enters the fruiting phase. The fruits take a year to dry up and will germinate by next monsoon. During the next monsoon, there will be loud cracking sounds of the Karvi seeds as they open,” explains Choghale.

The plant was first discovered by Nees, a resident Britisher of Mumbai during the last century. The plant grows about two to six metres tall while the leaves are about 10 – 20 centimetres long.

The Karvi plant has many uses. The plant prevents soil erosion. Medically, the plant also acts as a blood purifier. The leaves can be crushed and the juice when drunk is a cure for stomach ailments. After the Karvi season, the leaves and the stem are used for thatched roofs also known as Karvi Huts.


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Invitations with a Special Touch

As one walks through the by lanes of C.P Tank in Girgaum and enters Khadilkar Road, a line of invitation card shops greet you on both the sides. Khadilkar Road is an invitation card market where people come from far and wide to get that special card for all occasions according to their specifications. 13032007(005)These shops also provide an array of handbags and gift boxes in addition to invitation cards. In these shops, the occasion and religion is no bar.

Meena Agencies was among the first few shops to open in the area in 1964. This retail shop stocks a wide variety of cards ranging from textile design, embroidery and handicrafts to the printing technology. “Earlier an invitation was a mode of information or an invitation. Today it has become a style statement as the invitation creates the first impression of the event,” says Anand Thakkar, the owner of Meena Agencies. This store has around 1000 different varieties of invitation cards within the price range of Rs. 5 to Rs. 150 that is affordable to the idle class society. The shop targets people who want to customize their card. “In this business, creativity and tradition have to merge,” says Gopal Shah, owner of Vardha Enterprises, a relatively new player in the industry. This shop sells cards at wholesale rates and has distributors across the country.

The peak season of business for all these shops is between March to May and October to December. The owners do not worry about competition as each shop is unique in its products and designs. Every shop is filled with customers round the clock. “I have come all the way from Mumbra to select a card for my big day. It is a tough choice as there is a wide variety to choose from and I feel like giving each of my guest a different design,” says Monisha Chatterji, a customer.

A shop that caters to high-end customers especially for the elite and Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) is Mars Arts. “Everlasting standard of quality, intricate detail workmanship and immense creativeness is the strength of our company,” states the owner, Mahavir Shah. Mars Arts has been in the business since 16 years and has established a good rapport with its customers. The company boasts of an in-house design studio and customer service centre. The price range of a card in this shop is Rs. 45 onwards. “The most expensive card we have made was for Rs. 1000. It was gold plates and had intricate embroidery,” adds Mahavir Shah.

The next time you want to send out invitation cards you know where to go to – Khadilakr Road near C. P. Tank.


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Mumbai Resident Trains Autisitc Children Only

Mumbai resident, Dinesh Kumar is on a mission to impart music to children with autism. DSC01918It all began five years back, when he saw an advertisement inviting applications for the post of a music instructor for Priyanj Special School for autistic children for which he had applied. “I did not know who special children were and thought a special school is for high profile kids and for those who have extraordinary talents and abilities,” says Kumar. When he entered the school, all the children there looked like anybody else and later on got to know the condition about the children“When I began teaching, I thought that the children were deaf as I was not sure if they were listening to me,” adds Kumar. As time passed, Kumar read about autism and devised a plan of action on how to teach them.

“Initially I had to observe the behaviour of the children and see if they respond to music,” says the 30-year old Kumar. Kumar started by imparting music sense by making them clap their hands and bang the table tops to a rhythm. “If they clapped or band according to the beat or rhythm, I could gauge the musical abilities,” he adds.

This resident of Kandivali, a suburb in Mumbai now knows all the minute details about the condition of autistic children. No more does he feel as though something is wrong with them. “If the children do not respond, I feel as though something is wrong with me and my teaching,” says Kumar.

Since the students have a difficulty in deciphering the notes and chords, Kumar teaches them to play by the ear. Kumar makes it a point to teach the children popular Hindi songs. He just gives them the starting note and the pitch and they can play with ease. In order to teach the children the notes and the lyrics, Kumar has to teach them over and over again for them to retain and remember. “Sometimes it takes over a year for the children to learn one song,” Kumar mentions.

Thirty-year old Kumar feels that music has made a difference in the lives of these children. Music has increased their concentration and even started keeping eye contact with others.

Today, Kumar has come a long way. He currently teaches music to 60 children in Priyanj Special School and visits 20 children at their homes to teach them music. He plays the guitar, keyboard, bongo and the tambourine. However, he teaches the children just the keyboard as that is the easiest way the children can learn to play music.

Kumar has many invitations to teach others but he refuses as he has decided to teach children with autism. “Anyone can teach music to normal children but teaching autistic children is challenging as you have to keep up to their pace and wait for them to respond to your teaching,” says Kumar.

Kumar has also benefitted by teaching autistic children “Teaching these children requires lots of patience and tolerance and hence my patience and tolerance levels have increased,” he adds.


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Italian Nuns serve leprosy patients

Located in Andheri, a suburb in Mumbai is the Vimala Dermatological Centre run by the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate which provides care to leprosy and tuberculosis patients.(l-r) Sr. Bertilla and Sr. LuciaBoth born in Italy, 69-year old Sr. Bertilla Capra and 64-year old Sr. Lucia Pala belong to the congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate also known as PIME – Pontificio Instituto Missioni Estere (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Mission). After joining the convent, they completed their nursing courses in Italy and had a mission to serve the sick and the needy. Their compassion for fellow human beings brought them to India leaving their hometown Italy. “I had a desire to go to either India or Bangladesh to help leprosy patients because they are neglected and shunned away by society,” says Sr. Lucia. After expressing her desire, she was deputed to India in 1977 and Sr. Bertilla in 1970 to serve leprosy patients in India. The duo worked in Bimavaram at Eluru in Andhra Pradesh caring for leprosy and tuberculosis patients. Sr. Bertilla came to Mumbai in 1981 and Sr. Lucia in 1985 to join the Vimala Dermatological Centre. Their dedication towards their mission even led them to learn languages such as Telugu, Hindi and Marathi to help them to communicate better.

“In Italy, we never saw leprosy. In India, leprosy is still a stigma. Nobody is ready to help people affected with leprosy. It was difficult initially as the patients would smell and had worms all over their bodies as they lost sensation,” says Sr. Bertilla. “But it was our desire to serve these people and the dignity of the human being was much more that their dirtiness,” adds Sr. Lucia.

Sr. Bertilla and Sr. Lucia have completed 27 and 23 years respectively at Vimala Dermatological Centre. The centre was established in 1976 and has three wards for men, women and for the children of leprosy patients. The centre aims to detect all existing cases of leprosy and tuberculosis and to treat these ailments. The centre also offers hospitalisation facilities and surgical treatments as well.

“Our main endeavour is to spread awareness and educate people about leprosy. We conduct talks and seminars on leprosy care,” says Sr. Bertilla, superintendent of Vimala Dermatological Centre. To begin with the sisters clarify the myths associated with leprosy. “People believe that leprosy is a curse from God. However, leprosy is not only for the poor. It can attack anybody,” informs Sr. Lucia who stresses that leprosy is curable and does not spread through touch.

Vimala Dermatological Centre has well qualified teams specialising in medicine, surgery, rehabilitation and paramedical activities. After treatment, the patients are adequately rehabilitated. They are taught how to carry out their daily activities even if their finger or toes or limbs are amputated. Most of the patients receive help for housing, employment, loans and training in tailoring, screen printing and motor mechanics.

The centre provides counselling sessions for the families of those suffering from leprosy which includes education on leprosy. “In spite of this, some families want the patients to stay here forever and do not want to take them back home. Fear is not the key – treatment is,” adds Sr. Lucia.

Sr. Lucia feels angry with the families of the leprosy patients who refuse to touch the person or even change the bandage or dressing. “Till the 1990s, nobody ever stepped into our compound with the fear of contracting leprosy. However, now people have started coming and spending time with our patients here but they still have to overcome that fear,” says Sr. Lucia.

The children’s ward was started in order to give shelter to girls between the age of four – 15 years whose parents are suffering from leprosy and cannot afford to give them education and a decent living. 12-year old Lata (name changed to protect her identity) was in her first stage of leprosy when she came to Vimala Dermatological Centre. She was expelled from school due to her condition. After undergoing treatment at the centre for two years, she stays in the children’s ward and now goes to a regular school without traces of her past ailment.

Sr. Bertilla and Sr. Lucia visit their hometown Italy once every four years. During their visit back home, they educate the people in Italy about leprosy and collect funds to run the hospital here as they do not receive any grant from the government. Former leprosy patients have been employed in Vimala Dermatological Centre to stitch clothes, bags and make Christmas decorations. These clothes, bags and decorations are taken to Italy where they are sold in order to generate funds.

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Ad man by day, traffic controller by night

Vijay Kastoori, a of Andheri is the Director – Media Planning and Analysis for Situations Advertising and Marketing Services Pvt. Ltd. by day and controls traffic in Andheri by night.

Vijay Kasturi“It all happened one and a half years back when my neighbour had a fall and suffered a fracture. It took almost two hours for the ambulance to reach because of the traffic,” says Kastoori. From then, Kastoori began analysing the traffic patterns. He then bought a camera, clicked photographs and shot videos. “I then realised that the root cause of the traffic jams in the area is that people drive in wrong lanes hence blocking the smooth flow of traffic,” he adds.

Kastoori, armed with his photographs and videos, then began doing the rounds with officials of the Mumbai Traffic Police. “I met most of the officials to discuss the traffic problem and learnt the techniques of traffic control from them,” informs Kastoori.

Kastoori’s office which is located at Link Road, Andheri West, also witnesses frequent traffic jams. On his way back from office, either by the company bus or BEST bus, he alights from the bus and makes sure the traffic moves and then walks back home.

Kastoori controls the traffic every evening. His usual areas are the signals at Amboli naka, Andheri station and Andheri east – west flyover. He also stands at Andheri subway where there is no signal. According to Kastoori, the worst affected area is Andheri subway because if Andheri East is jammed then the flow of traffic from the west to the east is restricted. When that happens, motorists going to the east halt in the lane of motorists going straight on S. V. Road towards the station. Hence, the traffic continues even till Jogeshwari station.

“Whenever there is heavy traffic jam, I contact the traffic police and ask them to send a policeman. Within five minutes, a policeman comes and only then I move to another area where the traffic is held up,” says Kastoori. Kastoori cannot fine erring motorists as he is not authorised to do so. “Even the traffic police in this area do not always stop motorists unnecessarily because if he will end up spending almost five minutes on one motorist and in that much of time, the traffic goes haywire,” he informs.

Kastoori does not have a uniform but stands at the traffic junction armed with a whistle. “Initially I felt awkward when people used to stare at me and wonder who I was, what I was doing and with what authority I was controlling traffic but now I am use to it,” says Kastoori.

Controlling traffic is not an easy task especially when motorists are in a hurry and cut lanes. “I shout at some erring motorists but ultimately it is just a fraction of them who do not follow road discipline. Most of them are very cooperative and many appreciate the fact that at least somebody is doing something,” says Kastoori. “Now I have become a familiar face at traffic junctions so motorists listen to me and do not take me lightly anymore,” he adds.


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Retired doctor couple from Bandra adopt village to serve people

For Dr. S. Shrinivasan and his wife Dr. Usha Shrinivasan, life could not get any better at this stage of their lives.

DSC01759The 64-year old Dr. S. Shrinivasan and his wife want to make a small difference to the world around them. They have adopted the Khanavadi village in Purandar taluka of Pune district which is approximately 40 kilometres from Pune city. “We wanted to do something for society and we had two ways of doing it, either donating money or doing something ourselves,” says Dr. Usha Shrinivasan. “We could have done cheque book charity but we chose to do it ourselves as it was more fulfilling,” says Dr. S. Shrinivasan. Khanavadi is the birthplace of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule.

The couple met years ago during their MBBS course at B. J. Medical College, Pune. Dr. S. Shrinivasan further went on to pursue the MD course in Pharmacology while Dr. Usha Shrinivasan pursued MD in Pathology. The need to do something worthwhile for those in need brought them together. “We have fulfilled our family commitments and our two children are well settled abroad with good jobs,” says Dr. Usha Shrinivasan.

Dr. S. Shrinivasan took an early retirement from the post of Vice President at the pharmaceutical company Aventis in 1998 while Dr. Usha Shrinivasan who worked at Tata Memorial Hospital has set up her cancer diagnostic laboratory in their home at Bandra. In 2001, they set up the Shastri Memorial Foundation in memory of Dr. S. Shrinivasan’s father, Pandit K. A. S. Shrinivasan who was conferred the Rashtrapati Award for life-time contribution to Indian values in 1977.

The couple spend their weekend at Khanavadi village working for the village. During the week, Dr. S. Shrinivasan receives honoraria for writing and editing medical journals. He also conducts seminars and workshops on education, healthcare and human values while Dr. Usha Shrinivasan attends to her laboratory. “We need to earn in order to sustain our organisation. My father always told me to think high and live simple. We live a very simple life and we do our own household chores as we do not have any maids working for us,” says Dr. S. Shrinivasan.

The couple adopted Khanavadi village in January 2007. Prior to that, they have worked with several NGOs that worked in Kasara and in Raigad. Since then, the couple have set up an office at Khanavadi village and they provide uniforms, books, notebooks and other educational material to needy students. They also provide calcium and multivitamin tablets to needy women and children. In addition, Dr. Usha Shrinivasan talks to the women in the village about issue concerning women’s health.

Dr. S. Shrninivasan is trained in Hindustani vocal music by Pandit Askaran Sharma and late Pandit Datta Kerkar. He has been an Aakashwani artiste for over three decades. He has now begun focussing on music as a tool for value based living through the lyrics of songs written by saints Tukaram and Dhyaneswar. Dr. S. Shrinivasan has also authored books such as ‘Value-based Wellness for the Service Sector executive’, ‘Value-based Management in the Indian context’ and ‘Health @ Your Finger Tips’.



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The Plight of Refugees

Every year 20 June is celebrated as World Refugee Day in order to highlight the plight of all the refugees in the world. In order to commemorate this day, I am dedicating this week’s post to the cause of refugees.

According to Euripides, “There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one’s native land”. This is often the case of a refugee. A refugee’ is defined as “a person who has fled his country owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable or, owing to fear, is unwilling to avail himself the protection of that country.” This definition is according to Article 7 of the 1951 Convention and Protocol relating to the status of refugees. However, India being home to about 3,30,000 refugees, considers them as “aliens”. India, despite completing 60 glorious years of Independence, does not have any special laws for the protection of these refugees. India deals with refugees under the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939 and Foreigners Act, 1946 which is applicable to aliens.

However, the Government of India is empowered to regulate the entry, presence and departure of these aliens. In India, wage earning rights and work permits have no meaning for refugees. Hence, they have no way of supporting themselves and thus remain in poverty. When they just enter India, they are taken to a transit camp. There the necessities are not easily available. Over a period of time, they muster courage to move freely within the country and hence they do not have to live in transit camps.

People flee from their mother countries due to civil conflicts, massive violations of human rights, foreign aggression and occupation, poverty, famine, disease and natural calamities. Reasons such as famine, disease and natural calamities are just passing phases. After this, they return to their own countries whereas the other reasons are long standing anxieties that may or may not be solved.

The Sikhs and Hindus migrated from Pakistan to India and the Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. India and Pakistan readily accepted and rehabilitated these migrants. People of Indian origin were forced to leave Burma (now Myanmar) under the programme of Burmanization. During Bhutanization, the people of Nepali origin were pushed to India and Nepal. Sri Lanka upon becoming independent sent the Tamil plantation workers who were taken to the island by the British back to India. Bihari Muslims were sent to India during the liberation war of Bangladesh though they wanted to enter Pakistan. India continues to host and assist refugee population from different countries especially Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Tibet. Thus, India is diverse of refugee population.

Refugees undergo many trials and tribulations. There is arbitrary arrest of newly arrived young men on suspicion of rebel connection. Sometimes, they are even deported for security reasons. The host country does not welcome them willingly and hence they do not develop a sense of belonging towards the host country. When the refugees flee and seek asylum into another country, they come empty handed leaving behind their belongings. They have to start their life in the host country right from scratch. They are not granted refugee status or given citizenship easily as they are considered liabilities to the country. They are often targeted and accused in case of thefts or terrorist attacks. They are subjected to assaults, both physical and mental. Since they come empty handed, they do not have documentary evidence of their educational qualifications, income, proof of residence and so on. Sometimes even if they have documentary evidence, it is seized upon arrival in the host country. They are often denied accommodation, health facilities, education, protection and the like. Sometimes, they are separated from their families. Though they want to go back to their country, they have no option but to stay at the host country hoping that their own country will become safe one day. Sometimes, the country builds high walls to shut out refugees and asylum seekers. This insensitive gesture is not justified. The Sri Lankan refugees in India face problems of a different genre. They are firstly labeled as terrorists as people consider them as members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ellam (LTTE). A large number of them happen to be Dalits. They are forced to flee because of their caste, only because they are Dalits. They face the problem of apartheid.

Any person seeking refugee status has to approach the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). In spite of not being a member of the 145 – nation signed 1951 Geneva Convention, India has allowed the UNHCR to function in India through its offices in Delhi and Chennai. Many refugees have spent years waiting for resettlement but end up becoming a burden to the government. They are pleading with the Indian Government to grant them protection and refugee status.

The lack of legal provisions and policies on refugees is one of fundamental flaws of protection in India. At the same time, India cannot be blamed for this because many people take advantage of the hospitable nature of the Indian Government. They flee for better prospects and to enhance their quality of life. This is not forced migration but migration out of choice. Thus, the Government is very careful in granting refugee status.

I feel that safeguarding the refugees is the responsibility of the international community. It is high time India becomes a part of the UNHCR Convention of 1951. India should also consider amending its Foreigners Act, 1946 and differentiate between a “refugee” and a “foreigner”. We should realize that refugees are not born refugees; they are made refugees. Hence, we should not ostracize them. This will be possible only through awareness in refugee issues that will sensitize the people to give the refugees a hassle – free stay in India.


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You see them everywhere for cheap, FM pocket radios, batteries, CDs, floppies, torches, keychains, pens, pencils, erasers, glue, note-books, combs, tooth-brushes, mirrors, knives, spoons, forks, toys, writing pads, staplers, paper-clips, hair clips, sewing kits, show pieces, curios, etc.

These are just a few goods. Indian markets are filled with the influx of these goods. But do you know where these goods are coming from?

The goods are coming from China. They are made by Chinese prisoners and Tibetan hostages who live in inhumane conditions and are exploited. The returns obtained from these goods go to the Government of China whereas the workers get a minimal wage that is insufficient to satisfy their basic needs.

On the other hand, Indian small-scale industries and cottage industries manufacture the same goods that are of a better quality for a slightly higher price. The people working in these industries belong to the lower economic strata of society and their goods are not selling due to the influx of Chinese goods in the Indian market and the industries are dying with poverty and unemployment on the rise. Hence,



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