Wednesday, 19 April 2006

2003 IIMC Alumnus, Vinayak Lohani, Shows The Way

I recently became aware of efforts of Vinayak Lohani, an IIMC Alumnus (2001 -03) who opted out of placements and started a home for abandoned children in Calcutta : Parivaar

Image and video hosting by TinyPicThe Director IIM Calcutta Prof. Sekhar Choudhary in his 15-20 minute speech at the Annual Convocation on 1st April, 2006 spoke for at least 4-5 minutes on Parivaar. (excerpt of the Parivaar portion from his speech is reproduced below)

I am very happy to inform you that besides the Initiative for Community Action (INCA) which I just mentioned there is another very important social sector initiative taken by one of our recent graduates. 'Parivaar', a social service organization, was started by Shri Vinayak Lohani, an IIT Kharagpur and IIM Calcutta alumnus of the 2001-03 batch.

Shri Lohani did not seek final placement through the Institute's Career Development and Placement office. Inspired by the spiritual and humanistic ideals of Shri Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekananda, he decided to devote his life to the upliftment of homeless children. It started with just 3 children in a small rented building with almost no financial resources, and today
there are currently 162 children who have found a new Home, Family and Future at Parivaar.

Parivaar Ashram at Bakhrahat, about 30 km from Kolkata in 24 Parganas (South) district, is spread over 2 acres of land. Currently Parivaar runs two (2) Bal Ashrams. A facility with a capacity of 400 hundred children is now under construction.

The children admitted into Parivaar Ashram can be broadly classified as homeless and family less and are from categories like orphans, abandoned children, street and pavement children, railway platform children, children from red light areas and other such highly vulnerable children. The children are admitted at a very young age (generally 3 to 8 years) and have no exposure to any kind of education. It is a great challenge to train them initially to enable them to get admission into a class that corresponds to his/her age in a quality formal education school. To achieve this the child admitted in Parivaar undergoes an in-house Rapid Learning Course for a period of one year. The admission into quality formal schools is not easy as the children have to go through rigorous competitive entrance examinations conducted by various schools. Thus the child has to compete on his/her merit.

Since the category of children Parivaar works with needs total rehabilitation, which includes meeting all living costs like food, clothing, education, recreation, etc., the average cost per child is very high compared to education and other day-care initiatives.

Parivaar works with the idea of providing support to each child with a minimum commitment of 12 to 15 years, right from his/her kindergarten stage till he/she grows up and makes good in life. Parivaar has been successful in this by attracting funds through financial contributions from individuals. A point to note is that 300 IIM alumni have enrolled as regular Parivaar donors and more than 200 IIM Calcutta alumni have donated to Parivaar.

For one who is so well qualified, having graduated from two of the most acclaimed institutions in the country getting jobs in top MNCs would have been a cake walk. However, Vinayak chose a life of sacrifice for a larger cause. For one so young such sacrifice is even more poignant. A visit to the Parivaar Ashram where the hitherto uncared for children are laughing, playing and living happily in gay abandon is a most humbling experience. The Institute community is extremely proud of the achievements of our alumnus Shri Vinayak Lohani.

A lot of us graduate hoping to be able to do something for Society somewhere down the line. Some of us feel the call a few years into a job. But it takes a lot of courage, to actually give up a well paying career & plunge whole heartedly into a social cause. Vinayak Lohani is one of these courageous people.

His attempt to start something to help these children at the Grassroot level is something that our Politicians can learn from. Improve basic standards of education & then there will be no necessity for "Reservations"

Parivaar is more than just a day care centre, it covers all living costs like food, clothing, education, recreation etc. Because of this, the cost of maintenance for each child at Parivaar may seem a little high when compared to other Social Organisations. But, rest assured that the money is well utilised with a minimum commitment of 10-12 years with each child.

Parivaar is registered under the West Bengal Societies Registration Act XXVI of 1961 and donations made to Parivaar, fall under Income Tax exemptions under Section 80(G) of the Income Tax Act

The costs per child at Parivaar vary as per the child's age but are around Rs 15,000 annually. However, in the Support A Child Scheme (SAC) they have kept the common contribution at Rs 12,300.

If you contribute to Parivaar, each rupee goes into the programs. This is not a case via a plethora of agencies interfacing between the end donor and grassroots that have a fundraising cost upto 40% of the total funds raised.

For more details on how you can contribute to a child's development at
Parivaar, visit Parivaar's web site

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Wednesday, 5 April 2006

Book Review : Ravan and Eddie by Kiran Nagarkar

I met the author, Kiran Nagarkar, recently and since he seemed like an interesting person, I thought it might be worthwhile to read the book.

Ravan and Eddie is a reasonably hilarious story about Ravan, a Maratha Hindu and Eddie, a Roman Catholic, growing up to adolescence on different floors of the Central Works Department chawl no. 17 in Bombay.

Having never before been inside a Chawl, inspite of seeing plenty from the outside, this book seemed the ideal vehicle to be transported into a place I had never been before. Or at least that's what the blurb said.

The story starts off when Eddie is not yet born and Ravan is barely a year old. Eddie's father, Victor, tries to catch the eye of Ravan's mother, Parvathi, by gurgling at Ram. The thirteen month-old child, Ram, is so excited that he leaps towards Victor standing four floors below. Victor manages to save Ram but dies on the spot. This changes the entire life of Violet the new widow who is pregnant with Eddie at the time. Parvathi promptly renames her son Ravan, to keep the evil eye from falling on her cherub. All this happens in the first 5 pages and the remaining three hundred and twenty-five move as quickly.

The author then follows both children through the twists and turns of their growing up: the pleasure, the pain, the horror, the angst, the guilt, the questions ...

Eddie and Ravan are kept apart by a multitude of barriers - not least among them being that Ravan murdered Eddie's father as Violet will never let anyone forget. Other differences crop up from belonging to different religions, living on different floors, speaking different languages, attending different schools. But by a strange twist of fate, Eddie the catholic boy joins a Sabha and Ravan the Hindu boy joins Tae-Kwon-Do classes conducted by Mr. Billmoria.

Their lives run parallel to each other. Both experience an epiphany of sorts when Ravan watches Dil Dekke Dekko and Eddie watches Rock Around the Clock. One gets involved in black marketeering and the other starts receiving contracts to kill.

Kiran Nagarkar confesses upfront that he has a tendency to rat on his own earnestness with something farcial, bawdy or self-deprecatory. If you can handle that, you will love the book.

With the mill lands being sold off for Commercial gains, the only way we may know of Chawls and life in them will be through books like Ravan and Eddie.

Nagarkar breaks off in between the narrative to give the reader a "Harangue on Poverty", "a Digression on Afghan Snow", the "Great Water Wars", a "Meditation on Neighbours", the "History of Romantic Comedies in Hindi Films", and the "Shortest Survey ever of the Portugese Advanture in the Old World".

The "Meditation on Neighbours" is absolutely brilliant, even as a stand alone piece of writing. It elaborates on some elementary or critical differences between the Catholics and Hindus living in the chawls. The book is worth buying just to read this elaboration.

The language is simple, interspersed with a little Marathi and Hindi. The story line is quite easy to follow as it switches between Ravan's and Eddie's stories. In between, we are introduced to a lot of other characters like Pieta, Violet, Granna, Parvati, Shobhan, Lele Guruji, Prakash, Father D'souza. Each of these characters is more than a bystander and Nagarkar has done justice in giving each one of them layered dimensions.

The book is a very incisive look at life in the Chawls. It covers a gamut of subjects. Out-of-work husbands, the caste system, the other woman, start of the water wars, sexual abuse.... But Nagarkar's style is such that you don't ever feel that he is trying too hard to cramp everything together and say as much as possible within a word limit.

I am looking forward to buying and reading Cuckold and Seven Sixes Are Forty Three. Then maybe I can try to get my hands on his plays and screenplays.

About the Author :

Kiran Nagarkar was born in Mumbai. He wrote his first book in a language in which he had never written before - Marathi. The book was called Saat Sakkam Trechalis, recently translated as Seven Sixes are Forty-Three, and is considered a landmark in post-independence Indian literature. His novel in English, Ravan and Eddie, acclaimed as a literary bestseller, has been translated into Marathi. He won the Sahitya Akademi Award for Cuckold

Read an Interview with the Author Kiran Nagarkar here.

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