My Father’s Daughter

        I don’t remember exactly when I started making up bedtime stories. I think it was about 4 years ago, when my younger daughter was about 3 months old. My older one Kuttu was close to 3. I think I was just bored reading out Noddy stories night after night. Kuttu I remember was rather obsessed with Noddy and his tinkling cap at that stage.      I like to think I was subconsciously continuing a tradition. I have vivid memories dating back to when I was about 4 -5 years old, of my father telling me stories every night. All of them starting with,”Oru naaliki …”. Which in Tamil means, “One day..”
       Night after night, for well over an hour, he would tell me about the adventures of a little girl and her dog, his voice acquiring varying intonations and cadences. Many of his stories were about animals in need of food or rescue.  At some point he stopped telling them. I can’t recall why. Maybe I just grew too old for them.        I started off telling my daughters stories about two mice, sisters called Meethu and Meethi. How no one took them seriously because they were small and could be barely seen or heard. Of course they had to be pink, since that was Kuttu’s favourite colour at that point. Thankfully she has graduated to blue (Not just any blue mind, but the lightest shade of sky blue).
      Every night to the keen ears of Kuttu and 3 month old Amu (who obviously didn’t understand a word but found the routine soothing) I would make up the adventures of Meethu and Meethi. Through their stories I found ways to address troublesome issues. Take vegetables for instance. Kuttu was very averse to eating carrots and cucumber but when told a few times about Meethu‘s superhuman strength (and guess why!), she started  eating them. Amu’s habit of pinching and biting was similarly resolved (That issue cropped up several months later and took MANY stories). Meethu helped Kuttu adjust to a rather unfriendly teacher in a new school as well.

       Now Kuttu is over 6 years old, Amu will be 4 in a few weeks. I retired Meethu and Meethi several months ago, thinking it was time to move on to more grown up books.  But  I have to say I have been feeling rather tempted to hold onto those stories for as long as I can. Maybe the passing of Kuttu and Amu’s infancy is making me nostalgic. 


No Place For Savitri


I met Savitri at this park near my home. I go there every Sunday with my younger daughter, Amu. We spend an hour there gathering pine cones, drawing in the sand, or sit on the seahorse (that’s how Amu refers to the seesaw), while my older child attends a dance class nearby.
Savitri had come there with her two younger brothers. They are street kids who live near the park. Kids with no fixed address, who go where their parents take them. I asked her if she went to school, because Mumbai has a number of NGOs which look after street kids, clothe and educate them. Savitri answered no. Could be because she and her parents moved often.
 There are over 200,000 kids like Savitri living on Mumbai’s streets. Some of them children of migrants who come here looking for jobs. Others who have been abandoned or have run away from their homes. You find them begging at traffic signals and outside hotels, some caring for younger siblings while their parents are out looking for work.
There are many who find their ways to the numerous shelter homes in the city, run by NGOs which do a decent job of ensuring they stay away from crime, get some basic education and a chance in life. 
The sad part is that there are just not enough homes for street girls. “Too much of a responsibility”, one NGO worker said. ‘If something goes wrong there are too many questions asked.” 
So most girls like Savitri end up going back to the streets in the evening. Where they are preyed upon. One girl told me how in the night, cars would stop by while they were sleeping on the roadside, and some girls would be forced in and taken away.  They would be dropped back after a few days.     
Surely it can’t be so difficult to ensure a safe haven for girls. We celebrate women achievers but when you see girls like Savitri out on the streets every day, that glow dims a fair bit

To Market, To Market,

Not the restaurants, or monuments, and certainly not the malls, if there is one thing that gives you a glimpse into the spirit of a city or town, it’s the local market. You get to hear the dialects, see what is locally grown, sample the local food and interact with people. 

Something brought home to me last month when I visited Orissa on work. We had very little time and the 3 days were spent travelling into interior districts. The morning of my departure, I took some time out and went to a village market at Gopalpur-by-sea, a popular tourist spot with hotels dotted right along the shoreline.

 At that hour of day there were barely any tourists awake but the market was bustling, with village women lined up to sell fish and vegetables. Couldn’t help noticing how peaceful this place was unlike the market near my home in Mumbai where the exchanges can get rather volatile!! (I still love them though)

When they found out I was a visitor they insisted I try out the local banana (orange on the inside), a shrimp snack and coconuts. I went back to Mumbai with a bag full of bananas, chillies and vegetables. I had such a lovely relaxed last day. The best part of my trip and the best ad for Incredible India as far as I am concerned.

 I remember that morning every time I visit the antiseptic food malls that are springing up everywhere in my city.

Hunger Deaths in Rich City

Well not such a silent crisis right now given the newspaper and TV reports in Mumbai screaming about children dying of hunger in a slum. A slum situated in a suburb, Govandi, filled with spanking new buildings, call centres and corporate offices. 18 children, most of them under 2 years, have died here since April this year. Four in December alone. Children of rag pickers who live off the garbage dump near their homes.

The numbers are shocking but the fact is urban malnutrition is a crisis that plays out every year in Mumbai. Look closely at the children playing on the streets and the telltale signs are all too visible. But because children don’t often die of malnutrition, but related illnesses like tuberculosis, even cold and fever, it’s going unnoticed. By the Indian government’s own estimates every year over 25000 children in Mumbai’s slums are dying of malnutrition.

I visited the Rafiq Nagar slum where the 18 deaths occurred. Many of the affected families ironically enough live close to the nutrition centres set up by the state government to provide food to young kids. I met mothers who had buried their kids weeks, just days before.

 One of them Reshma, was holding her surviving child. An 8 month old baby girl who weighs just 3 kgs. It’s been a month since her underweight son died of malnutrition but not a single health official, working in the nutrition centre or anganwadi next door, has been to see her, to advise her on how to take care of her only child…

If this had happened in a middle or upper middle area there would have been an uproar. But because these are poor children, children of migrants, of voters who do not count, there is hardly any public outrage. How many more have to die before authorities, and people wake up?