My favourite English books

Here’s a list of my favorite English books…they are not jotted down in any particular order. And I hope I haven’t forgotten any; I will update the list later if my memory decides to improve itself. 🙂

Believe me, people; if you haven’t read any of these, you are surely missing a wonderful treat!

  • The Enchanted Woods trilogy-Enid Blyton
  • The Hound of BaskerVilles- Arthur Connan Doyle
  • To Kill a mockingbird -Harper Lee
  • The Diary of a Little Girl – Anne Frank
  • The Partner- John Grisham
  • The Alchemist- Paulo Coelho
  • FountainHead- Ayn Rand
  • Love Story-Erich Segal
  • Acts of Faith- Erich Segal
  • Hotel- Arthur Hailey
  • Mindbend- Robin Cook
  • All the short stories  collections of Jeffrey Archer
  • Veronica Decides to Die- Paulo Coelho
  • The Devil and Miss Prym – Paulo Coelho
  • The Interpreter of Maladies-Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Malgudi days- R K Narayan
  • Waiting for the Mahatma- R K Narayan
  • Mahashweta – Sudha Murthy
  • How I Taught My Grandmother to Read and Other Stories- Sudha Murthy
  • Harry Potter series
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-time-Mark Haddon

What does one need more -Knowledge about life or the understanding of life?

[Post updated on April 20, 2016] After quite a few visits to Eklavya Nyasa, we decided that we should now focus on teaching the kids something concrete. So this time, we went there with a map of India, to teach them the states and the capitals, but in form of quizzes and games instead of lectures. It was a huge success actually, and the kids learned pretty well! We had an e-mail chain with the group later, asking each other’s feedback. Presenting a part (again! heheh) of the e-mail I wrote…

“And yes, the learn@fun strategy is a must! There’s no way we can make kids learn something unless we introduce the fun side of the learning. This clearly reflects in the attitude of the children too. As Nandini (one of the kids we met last Saturday at Eklavya) said, “didi jab hum log book leke baithte ho padhne ko tab kuchh capitals yaad nahi rehte…par aaj achchese reh raha hai.”

Another thing I would like to suggest is that when we are talking about the overall development of the children, we should not just restrict ourselves to increasing their knowledge; we should also focus on increasing their capacity of thinking and understanding, not just in terms of numerical or logical problem solving, but in terms of making them understand general concepts about life (this is very important for them because they come from such an unprivileged background.) I’m saying this because since I met these kids first in July, I have always felt that they are very brilliant, and can excel in academics and other fields; it’s just that they don’t really see a reason why they should. Motivation to live life normally is what is lacking in them and I won’t say it’s their fault. They just need to be reminded that they too are important members of the society, and what they think and do makes a difference to the world! Like what a man whom we met there did! He was talking to the kids about life in general, and I would say the response he got was mixed. Some kids were very interested, and gave such thoughtful answers to his questions, that we were amazed!!! I mean absolutely amazed! He was talking to the kids about the meaning of being good and bad, and what’s God. And to this, guess what Navnath (a really bright kid, I must say!!) said? He said “We make idols out of stone and offer flowers, oil and other goodies to that idol. If instead we use the same money and efforts to help the needy, or for some good cause, then that’s called God.” I was completely stunned, and so was everyone there. Such insight, such thoughts are definitely not expected from a normal 12-year-old. I am not saying that this thought was his own; maybe he read or heard it from somewhere. But the fact that the thought appealed to him, that he understood it, that he believed in it and also had the courage to say such a diagonal thought in front of everyone; is really commendable!

The other kids also had their own different views on these topics, and I won’t discard any of them. Some didn’t have any ideas and were very quiet. So our task would be nurturing the thoughts of children who already have some of their own, and encouraging others to start thinking as well. So I would suggest that apart from knowledge building activities, we should also slowly start looking for ideas to involve these children in “thinking process”. That of course will not come soon, for them, and for us.: -) I think it would be better if we ask the elder members of CSR to engage in such stuff, coz most people of our age are not mature enough to do that. Also, as I observed last time, the children look forward to meeting us, and they look up to elders for what they feel and have to say. Well, these are just a few thoughts. These apart, our normal activities and those now suggested by Joseph n co will definitely help the kids, and help us in getting a smile on all our faces! 🙂 “

My first experience of social service

[Post updated on April 20, 2016] There’s this organization in Pune called Eklavya Nyasa, that works with the children of Commercial Sex Workers (CSWs.) Recently, my employer wanted some volunteers to go to this NGO and interact with these children every weekend. I jumped at this opportunity!

It was an overwhelming experience! For the first session, we decided to play with them and to generally speak to them about traffic rules, personal hygiene, and about India, by asking them to participate in skits. Since we were the first batch to go, we also had to share our experiences with the batches who would go on future weekends. This post contains a part of an e-mail that I wrote to the group about our experience:

“All right, as far as yesterday’s experience goes, there’s loads and loads of stuff to write. For starters, I would like to say that these few hours that we spent with the kids gave us peace of mind, and disturbance of mind, in equal proportions. Peace, because it’s a wonderful and soothing feeling to be amidst these children; and disturbing, because behind those smiling faces is hidden a truth so bitter, that makes us feel very, very fortunate as compared to them. And the difference hurts!

Okay, so after a fair amount of brainstorming on Saturday, we met at the DagduShet Halwai temple on Sunday, practiced our skits, our dialogs, went through our “Do’s and Don’ts”, and went to the building where the kids gathered to read and play! Indrayani Gavaskar (The chief coordinator and daughter of the founder Renutai Gavaskar) was there and so were a couple of kids. We sat down and started speaking to them, sticking to our formula of “likes-n-dislikes: yes, personal-n-family questions: no”. Slowly, lots of other kids started flocking in, and believe me, if one did not know their background, they would seem very normal. We started asking their names, their favorite movies, games, actors.

We played Antakshari with the kids, and the younger lot seemed to enjoy it a lot. But there were older kids too, and they looked a little bored.

Hmm, then it was time for the long-planned skits. But no, the children refused to do any sort of skit. They were pretty much interested in mimicry and stuff like that, but when we tried coaxing them to do skits on topics, they wouldn’t budge.

So, the change of strategy: we simply had to get all of them talking about how much they know and understand about traffic rules, personal hygiene, and India.

Much to our surprise, they knew most of the things. Traffic Lights and Zebra Crossing, washing hands and having bath, dressing wounds, brushing teeth, they knew it all. That they didn’t really practice all that is another thing.

They knew our National Anthem very well, and the Pledge too (which I’m sure most of us volunteers did not.) They also knew the 3 colors of our flag, the Ashok Chakra, etc. And they had a quest to learn, because when we mentioned Ashok Chakra to them, they started asking us questions about the Ashok Stambh, the Sarnath Stupa, the “structure with 4 lions” on currency notes, etc.

I mean all-in-all, they were a bright lot. They were extremely interested in listening to stories, so we had story-telling sessions with them. We played games too, and they knew all those games before.

One thing that many of them did not know was reading the clock. So each of us grouped a few kids and taught them how to do it.

There were quite a few talented kids, and well informed ones too. For example, we were pretty surprised when a boy called Ramzan told us that Italy won the FIFA World Cup, and that there was a head-butting controversy during the match!

Vaibhav is very good at painting, Sooraj at making crafts (he had made this very cute caged lion), and most of the other kids seemed genuinely interested in learning something creative, BUT not in form of lectures or the usual “study” ways. That was pretty obvious by the fact they rejected our idea of skits forthright.

Okay, now to the darker side, because the above description shows only one side of the picture. There was this girl Pooja, who asked me at least 4 times whether they were going to get “dabba“. (they were hoping we had brought them goodies).  There was this girl who was called “Don” by her friends because she was quite aggressive at times (the reason for her behavior being her abusive father, which we learnt later), there was this guy Ramzaan who generally kept to himself and didn’t get involved with others, simply because if there was a fight, he couldn’t control himself. Well this list could go on and on and on, but I don’t know whether this is the right platform to list everything.

Neha came up with a very good idea that we can have some kind of a collaboration with the Andha Vidyalaya, wherein the older children from Eklavya Nyasa could write the exam papers of younger kids. This would have 3 benefits: 1) the kids would get to interact with the outside world, 2) the ones who will write the papers will feel that they too can be of some use to others and may be 3) they will realize that there are other underprivileged people in this world.

Another thing I would really like to appreciate is the way the guys gelled with the kids. I have always observed that boys generally don’t take to young kids, girls are better, but I must say that all 4 of these guys completely washed away my belief. The children really flocked towards all of them, and they too handled them absolutely comfortably.

Well, there’s a lot more to say, but I’ve written such a long e-mail that I think half the recipients are not even going to read it fully :-)))))

So more about this, when we actually meet.

But as a bottom-line, this was definitely a very enriching experience, and it would be a pleasure and an honor to have more of such kind.”



My answers to a questionnaire circulated in TCS on Women’s day…I won the 2nd prize!

1) I am proud to be a woman because: It’s only a woman who can both rock the cradle and rule the world.

2) If there was one thing that I could change in today’s world, it would be : discrimination against any caste, creed, religion, community, gender, etc., because once we rise above such divisions, and start thinking about humanity in general, it’ll be much easier for us to change everything that should be changed.

3) Define Beauty: Beauty is a feeling of well-being, not just from outside, but more importantly from within. Beauty is more about “Conscience” than about “Complexion”.

4) If I could exchange my beauty for something else, that would be: respect for women, because once women start feeling respected by others, and more importantly, from within, I believe they can achieve whatever they want to achieve.

5) Today’s Indian woman is: very much capable of reaching the skies, however, for several reasons, is still trying to find her feet on the ground.

No… There are surely rays of hope!

{Author’s Notes: Updated on October 28, 2015}

As I wrote in my earlier post, something else soon happened, which made me feel good about life, about others, and about myself.
One day I had to walk over the same bridge I mentioned, while going to work. As I passed over it, the snapshots of the other day’s incident kept flashing in my mind, and I was really feeling low. As I crossed the bridge, I saw a family of laborers walking a few meters ahead of me. There was a man carrying a lot of heavy stuff in his hands and on his back. Walking alongside him were two women, also carrying quite a few heavy things on them.

And there was a small girl, dirty and barefoot, but cute, nevertheless, as all kids are! She was lagging behind for some time, and then started pleading with her father to pick her up. As the man was already overloaded, he kept walking ahead, and the girl kept crying and running after him. I was about to sink deeper in my depressed state, when one of the women, may be the mother, turned back laughing with an endeared look. She took from her husband the things that were in his right hand, and told him to carry the girl. The girl’s joys knew no bounds; and I mean it – the happy chuckle that she let out as she was carried by her father was really music to my ears!
It had that power to instantly haul me out of my negative thoughts. The man picked up the girl, and the small group went ahead. I did not look at them afterwards; I was only looking within, wondering how such small and day-to-day happenings can create such huge and long-lasting impact on my life…