Month: May 2005

Rest Insured

Rest Insured

Life is unpredictable and its blows can be severe. Like in the case of two journalists who were killed in an accident last December. On Friday, December 03, 2004, Prashant Bhole, 25, a reporter with Marathi Daily Lokmat and R V Syed, 29, a journalist with Jan Aadesh, were killed in a road accident when a truck rammed into their motorcycle. Both journalists were rushed to hospital where they succumbed to the injuries. The tragic death of these reporters was mourned even by the International Federation of Journalists, the world’s largest organisation for journalists.

When Asad Chaus, NCP’s Thane District Secretary, heard about this tragedy, he decided to visit the family of the victims to offer condolences and some help, he was shocked to find out that both victims were sole breadwinners of their respective families. Chaus was even more shaken when he learned that Syed’s parents are blind and Bhole was survived by an aging mother and two dependent brothers. With no insurance policy, the grief-stricken, family members found themselves in dire straits. So moved was Chaus by the pitiable condition of the survivors that he decided to do something that’s never been done before – mass insurance of Thane reporters. "The job of reporters is full of risks, yet they are not paid well, especially if they work for local newspapers with limited circulation. If we don’t do something for them, who will?" said Chaus.

Last Friday, State excise minister Ganesh Naik distributed free accident insurance policies to 70 reporters from Thane city. Every reporter is now insured for five lakh rupees, which will, at least partially, shield the reporters and their survivors from unexpected tragedies. The premium for all the 70 was paid by Chaus himself. Following his example, many other associates of Chaus have also shown interest in doing the same. "If five socially conscious citizens come forth, our reporter friends will be insured for Rs 25 lacs, which is a reasonable sum in case a tragedy strikes," said Chaus who is happy that his initiative has set a precedent for others to emulate. In fact NCP president Sharad Pawar heard about the mass insurance drive, he too was touched by Chaus’s thoughtful gesture and conveyed his feelings.

Incidentally, this was the second mass insurance movement in the city in the last week. In the first one, a group of residents from Saket Complex insured 100 housemaids that work there. The residents of Thane have large hearts indeed.

Help is on the way
Along with the insurance policies, Ganesh Naik also inaugurated an ambulance service for Thane on Friday. This was once again an initiative of Chaus, who faced a situation a few days ago when he rushed to get an ambulance from the city to help an accident victim on Ghodbunder road. The victim died before the ambulance could reach the accident spot. Chaus felt there was an urgent need for an ambulance service in the Ghodbunder area, considering its recent growth. The ambulance service will be operated on a no-profit basis. In case of an emergency, readers can call for an ambulance on 25301355.

Gender Bender

Gender Bender

Nurturing any kind of gender bias is detrimental to the health of the society. On the other  hand, promoting gender equality in any sphere is a sign of an unbiased, forward-looking society. According to Kofi Annan, the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations and 2001 Nobel Peace Prize winner, "Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance".

Last week Thane took yet another positive step in the direction of endorsing gender equality when city residents thronged the Gadkari Ranagaytan to attend a unique all-women’s musical orchestra. Organised by city based arts institution called "Onjal", it was first all-women orchestra to be organised in Maharshatra and the response of the audience attested to its success.

25 women from Thane participated in the orchestra that was based on memorable Marathi songs from yesteryears rendered by the two living legends of Indian Music, Lata Manageshkar and Asha Bhosle. Evergreen numbers such as "Kehva tari pahate", "Sanj ye gokuli" and many others were among the two dozen or so songs that the women performed to a packed auditorium which included celebrities such as Ramesh Deo and Ashok Hande. It was amazing to see a troupe comprising entirely of women – from the host and instrument players to singers and dancers – every one on the stage was a woman.
 
The script of the orchestra was carefully researched and before every song was performed, the host of the show (also a woman) revealed its history. While some songs were the results of accidents, others were so challenging that they took days and sometimes weeks to complete. There was also a one-act play by small girl called Bhairavi Goregaonkar.

It is said that behind every successful man is a woman. Seem like the opposite is also true – at least as far is this orchestra is concerned. So, although the stage was adorned entirely by women, the concept, direction, script and production was handled by men.   Mandar Tillu conceived and directed the show while Amish Kondra arranged the music. The famous Marathi scriptwriter Shirish Latkar penned the script while Balkrishna Hodekar was the executive producer. Asked why a show like this was organised, Devendra Goregaonkar, who is on the advisory committee of Onjal, said, "Usually in an orchestra, women only sing or dance. But there are women who play musical instruments and we wanted to give them a platform to demonstrate their skills. Playing the tunes of songs sung by legends like Lata and Asha requires a certain level of competency, which these women successfully demonstrated."

In his post-show speech, Ashok Hande, chief guest of the evening said, "Thane has always been the cultural hub of Maharashtra, and has given a lot to Marathi theatre. Such innovative shows can happen only in Thane." Ramesh Deo, the veteran actor who inaugurated the show, praised the all-woman troupe saying, "They have done well in a field dominated by men. My prediction is that this orchestra will go places, even across the seven seas." Such encouragement from prominent and respected individuals is sure to take the orchestra places – and with it, perhaps the reputation of Thane as a culturally rich society that respects women and men equally.

Not just TV by the Bay

Not just TV by the Bay

During school days, the pressure of the academic year leaves little scope for children to pursue anything substantial outside their curriculum. But it is a known fact that when too much emphasis is placed on a narrow set of academic tasks, children fail to develop life skills. In such a situation, the only time left for children to engage in non-academic activities is the summer vacation. Yet, most parents complain that their little ones do little other than watch TV. While watching TV for sometime everyday is not bad at all, being glued to it all the time can be detrimental to the child’s proper development.

Rati Bosekar and Shweta Phadke, two primary teachers from the city, recently went to Pune’s Bal Bhavan Institute to learn techniques of how to distract youngsters from watching too much TV and attract them to extra-curricular activities. After spending 15 days in Pune, the two women are now putting to use what they learnt at a camp for city children.   Called "Hasa, Khela, Nacha aani Pustakahi Vaacha", (translated, as laugh, play, dance and even read books), the camp began on May 01 and will continue through May 15 including weekends. 45 children aged between 4 and 10 years from various city schools participating in this innovative camp. There are two batches – 9 am to 11 am everyday at Saraswati Mandir Trust and 5 to 7pm at Ghantali Maidan. The primary objective of the camp is to promote a wholesome development of the children.  

The camp ensures that these children spend at least two hours away from the idiot box everyday and indulge in outdoor and indoor games, physical activities, painting, craft, singing, reciting slokas, reading story books several such non-academic activities. Everyday for about 15-20 minutes, the children are left free in the open with no restrictions on how to conduct themselves. Not worried about getting dirty or soiling their clothes, the children experience a different kind of freedom that they seem to have forgotten.   The children have learnt new outdoor and indoor games that they can play with their friends.

The camp agenda includes educational visits too. So the children were taken to a small picnic to a nearby botanical garden where they were given familiarised with the various types of plants and trees. On Saturday and Monday, the two batches were taken to Bolinjkar’s Workshop where Ganpati idols are made. Bolinjkar’s idols are one of the most popular in the state and the children learnt how the idols are moulded from plaster of Paris. Many parents too accompanied their children to this one, as even they had never had an opportunity to see how the idols are crafted. Then, to foster the spirit of creativity, the two teachers decided to give a little chunk of plaster of Paris to the children on the next day and asked them to create anything they could imagine. Inspired by their previous day’s visit to the idol factory, the children made beautiful artefacts – elephants, fish and whatever else their imaginations permitted. Next, the children will learn to prepare their own meals – simple stuff such as a sandwich – and eat.

The camp will be over tomorrow. But by then the children would’ve learnt newer, more exciting ways of keeping busy and happy. Going by the camp’s agenda, these children will play the new games they’ve learnt, paint or create new objects, read stories, allow their imaginations to run riot and then, if there’s still time left, watch TV.

Rulers of the heart

Rulers of the heart

In the 1967 film, King of Hearts, a World War I soldier, separated from his battalion wanders into a small village, which is totally deserted, leave for inmates of a mental asylum. The villagers, fearing an attack by enemy forces, have fled, leaving behind the mentally handicapped patients, who were regarded as totally disposable, for even their wardens abandon them. Such an attitude is widespread in our society, where the marginalised section is often left to fend for itself. But thankfully several NGOs have taken upon themselves to attend to the needs of this oft-ignored fragment of our social order. Like city-based NGO Sevadham.

A few weeks ago, about 25 women inmates, accompanied by TMH staff that included medical professionals and social workers (all women) from Sevadham spent a fun day near the sea. The troop parked itself at a resort near Aqsa beach which is owned by the JJ Nursing Association and is a lent only to NGOs that serve the poor and the marginalised. For the inmates of TMH, who spend theirs days confined within the boundaries of TMH, this was a welcome break. "The objective of taking them for a picnic is to give these inmates a break from their monotonous lives. Besides, being near water has a therapeutic effect on them – it helps them release their tensions," a Sevadham volunteer revealed.

The shallow pond in the resort became their playground as the inmates participated in a number of sports and games that were played inside the pond. Later, the drenched women, who did not have spare clothes, dried themselves under the sun. There were other games too, like poking straws in the head and collecting scattered marbles. There was a dancing session, wherein the inmates let their hair loose literally. From 8 am to 4 pm, the women inmates had a ball of a time. When it was time to wind up the unwinding session, the inmates expressed their desire to want more. A unanimous question from the inmates was, "When’s our next picnic?"

Hearing about the wonderful time that the ladies had, the staff of TMH requested Sevadham to organise a similar trip for the male inmates too. So coming Tuesday, it’s the turn of the male inmates to enjoy, play games, splash water and dance merrily. The reason why medical staff accompanies volunteers is because these patients need to be attended to at all times, though the experience of volunteers suggests that such outings are usually trouble-free as inmates are so engrossed in having fun that they forget themselves in the process.

Sevadham regularly organizes picnics for the poor and marginalised sections of the society. Earlier it has earlier taken physically and mentally challenged students from city schools like Jidd and St John the Baptist School for special children as also tribal children from villages around in and around Thane.

In the aforementioned film "King of Hearts", the soldier leads the disoriented patients out of the asylum and into the abandoned village, where they establish a surprisingly balanced community – there is singing and dancing, laughter and love, the strong care for the weak, the haves share with the have-nots. Come to think of it, volunteers of NGOs like Sevadham are like soldiers – they are bringing equilibrium back into those whose lives have been rendered off-balance by fate and by the so-called oriented society. They are truly the kings and queens of hearts.