Saturday, 29 June 2013

A Noble Gesture-Giving back to the society

As I make my way past the narrow streets , skipping , hopping and in the process , driving away scores of flies hovering above feces lying on the footpath , I think to myself , how did it all come to this ?
Just minutes - literally minutes - less than 10 , or if you would like to gauge it in distance , hardly half a kilometer away lies one of the prime examples of urban development in any city .
The skyscrapers are in stark contrast to the shanty streets
just minutes away.

Over here however , in what is without a shadow of any doubt one of the most ugliest places - better still than so many others - to live in , it's an entirely different story . The very meaning of life seems to differ vastly . It's totally surreal to imagine of such vastly different faces to a city . A city that is considered one among the best and promises to leave behind many in it's trails . It is hard to comprehend that people call this place their home .
As soon as you enter these streets , you too are gripped by an inexplicable fear , especially if you are someone not affluent with Marathi and are brave enough to carry a wallet and a laptop in your backpack . Suddenly , all eyes seem to focus on you , as you move in , the streets get narrower and narrower . The accent used is synonymous to that used by hooligans , you wonder what you may encounter here . The uncertainty is enough to drive into phobia .
To live in these habitats , is by no means a piece of cake . There is the constant fear of something going wrong . Children here play on the roads and footpaths , the same area also functions as their lavatories . Women here seem to lead a miserable life , not knowing what their better half – often the sole earner of the family - is upto . Will he return for the night ? Will they manage the next week ? . However , there is no doubt that even these streets have gone substantial changes – changes for the good . But when the comparison is relative , they take a battering !
On one corner of the street , I see two drunken men fighting for some silly cause and I realize that I've to cross them in order to reach the destination . I walk as casually as possible , dripping sweat in the process , and as I near them , one of them starts running towards me ! My fears come true , thankfully , he asks me to hold his sweater , while he takes care of his counterpart . I somehow manage to escape the ordeal and make it to my destination – Hutatma Rajguru School and College .

I had an unrestricted entry to the school
As soon as I enter inside , or even before I enter , what strikes me is the ease with which I was able to break in . I for one , have never managed to enter even my own house with such ease . You will always find someone overlooking the proceedings. The security is non-existent , I see a sight which I once used to part of . Children running and screaming and playing in the open field . I never , not even in my wildest dreams , imagined that this sight would make me Nostalgic . As I came to terms with the reality that my childhood was well and truly over , I look beyond the playground and see a sight that gives me shivers – a shiver down my spine . Where the playground ends , starts a huge cliff , where , in my childhood days , had heard stories of how Leopards would stoop down and hunt both humans and livestock alike and here were the children playing carelessly . They were in their own world .It would need nothing short of a miracle to change this place , to bring it to level grounds with the city .

Shirish and Raju do the talking.

Enter three fine gentlemen - Praveen A , a software engineer and a graduate from the prestigious NIT Calicut and hailing from Pallakad , Kerala . Shirish Agarwal , working actively in the FOSS and Pune Linux User Groups and finally Raju Vindane , a local of Nagpur , currently pursuing his engineering degree in a college in the city . These geeks , if you will , have been doing their bit in helping the people of the slums realize their dreams . They are tackling one of the main problems in our county head on – education or the lack of it . The children here can't afford quality education due to numerous reasons . The women here are expected to the household work and nothing else . But all of that could change , thanks to this wonderful initiative .
Praveen keeps a watchful eye over the proceedings.
Well , all of this doesn't answer one question , not yet . What the hell am I doing in the middle of all this ?? . Well , without going into the details , I was being mentored by Praveen in my maiden opensource project . In the process , I got acquainted to Shirish , Raju and others . So , when myself and Praveen were conversing on the phone , he invited me to join them in this cause . Though I was a bit skeptic , I decided to give it a go and here I was trying to find my footing in the middle of all the hurly-burly ! I hope that answers the question .

Now , as we made our way in to the school and into the principal's office for a perfunctory meet , on our way , the excitement of the students on seeing their heroes was palpable . Now I too was living it and loving it . It was my first visit to a classroom in a school , since I last passed out of my school (Which was one tenth of a decade ago !) . We were told that we could use the e-learning class . Wow ! That sounds cool , I wasn't expecting such a setting in this school and it came in as a pleasant surprise , but soon all the initial excitement was put to bed when I came to know that the “e-learning classroom” didn't even have a projector screen but at least they had a working projector(The only reason why it must be working is because it stays away from the student's reach).
The guys poke fun at the state of the equipment

I then connected Raju's net-book to the projector and we were off and running . Raju was in charge of the class as he captured the attention of the students with his friendly and calm approach . Most importantly however , he was the one who could best communicate in Marathi . That made the student's feel a lot better and for the next hour they were shown a wonderful cartoon . They enjoyed every bit of it .

The Cartoon that went something like "The Big Buck Bunny"

Raju then emphasized the importance of computer to these students by citing their most favorite example – the cartoon ofcourse . While Raju went further , he was assisted by Sirish from time to time and myself and Praveen took turns to demonstrate Raju's commands . Throughout the hour students kept peeking in with curiosity and showed their interest in learning . An introduction to typing was also given , even I learnt something new , as I tried my luck in typing Marathi . 
Raju then tried to stretch their imagination to the next level as he showed them the various planets of the solar system and the students watched in awe . Raju put some of his knowledge gained during his visits to GMRT to good use as he stated a few interesting facts about different celestial bodies . In the end , it all bodes well for the future of these young minds and in turn the future of our country . Such activities should be promoted and supported , just as these people have no need as such to do all this . It has to come from within . Read how it all started [1].

Raju shows the students the world map and the solar system

We were teaching a class of VIIIth grade girls . The session for boys was to follow which would then be followed by a session to empower women at the Shramik Mahila Morcha office. Here women were taught the basics of computers and how it could come to their aid . The Women even had the chance to work with Raspberry Pi's[2] . This also takes care of another important topic , not just limited to our country - Women Empowerment .
Unfortunately , I couldn't stay back for the next two sessions and had to bid adieu to my inspirational friends and left them to continue this Noble Gesture ...

References :


  1. Ah , I would also like to add a mention to Prasad , who was there helping the guys throughout and unlike me , stayed the whole day . My bad that I failed to mention him in the blog .

  2. Harish, thanks for joining us and sharing your experience. For me, I don't consider it noble, but my duty. I believe, it is their right to have an equal opportunity to learn like you and me. I'm just trying to give them what should be theirs in the first place. It is the result of how this society works for only a few and it is part of my effort to fix it to make it work for everyone. - Praveen

    PS: and blogger is so sick, they can't even get a comment form working properly. I wouldn't bother commenting again if I have to take this much effort and let the track. Try wordpress sometimes.

    1. Ha ha , don't worry , I've already created a wordpress blog , will try importing all this stuff there before my next post .
      Keep up the good work . Thank you so much !

  3. fantastic initiative harish.....hope you give some of your time and attention to these social issues in the future as well.
    salute you

    1. Hi Praveen , this wasn't my initiative , I was just lucky to be a part of this . Ofcourse , after this experience , I too would like to take a similar initiative .