Month: September 2004

Eco Designs on Ganesha

Eco Designs on Ganesha

In Maharashtra, creative expression is at its peak during Ganpati festival. Such is the enthusiasm that surrounds the Big G’s arrival that year after year, devotees get transformed into artists as they decorate Ganpati’s ten-day habitat in the most beautiful and innovative manner with socially relevant themes. So we have had themes like modern medicine and AIDS awareness, evolution of humankind and the beginning of the Universe and evolution of religion. Pokhran Blasts, Kargil War, KBC, cricket match-fixing and 9/11 were prominently used themes due to their topicality. In the last few years, environment consciousness has also taken centre stage and many people are now putting together Ganesha’s dwelling out of eco-friendly stuff.

Let’s take the example of the Ganpati decoration at Prasad Birjee’s home at Ram Maruti Road, Thane. For two consecutive years, Birjee’s Ganpati decor won awards for the most eco-friendly Ganpati. Birjees have been celebrating Ganpati for the last 70 years, a tradition started by Prasad’s great grandfather.

The prize-winning decorations are put together by Prasad with the help of his family members, especially his mother and wife. Although an engineer by profession, 35-year-old Prasad is extremely creative when it comes to decorating the abode of Lord Ganesha. Prasad got started with this idea of innovative decoration in 1986 when he was made in-charge of decorating the pandal by his sports club Hanuman Vyayamshala, a 75-year old sports club that celebrates Ganesh Chaturthi with vigour. That year he made a miniature model of the Dadoji Kondeo Stadium, which was appreciated by everyone. It was then that he realised that he could be very creative when it came to decorating Ganesh pandals.
What’s impressive is that as a mark of respect for the environment, they stopped immersing their Ganpati idol 14 years ago, when they brought in an idol made out of fibre, and which they now install every year. "As a symbolic farewell, we immerse Beetle leaves and Supaari (Beetle nuts), which are equally revered according to tradition," says Prasad. Now, since the last four years, Prasad uses only paper for decorations. A couple of years ago, he made a banyan tree out of paper, complete with roots hanging out of its trunks. It won him the first prize in "the most eco-friendly Ganpati decoration contest" organised by the Jidnyasa Trust.

Last year, the family spent two full months making more than 200 Hibiscus paper flowers of different colours and six large flower pots, also made of paper. This year the theme is the significance Satyanarayan Puja in Hindu tradition. Lord Ganesha is sitting blissfully in the midst of Banana Trees acting like pillars. Once again, the five-feet-or-so tall banana trees and the big banana leaves have been made entirely out of paper. The rest of the stuff used in decoration is mostly made from items found at home. This makes the decoration not only eco-friendly but also low cost.  

There is no better way to please the Lord than to care for His creation and preserve this environment. Blessed are those who use Ganesh Chaturthi as an opportunity to celebrate the ecosystem we inhabit.

Not Clean Bowled

Not Clean Bowled

MK: What is the right attitude to exams and results?
Harsha Bhogle:
It is easier said than done. It is easier for us to comment because we have the advantage of looking back at something. But if our experience is any indicator, students need to tackle an exam exactly the way a sportsman does a match. You prepare hard, the secret is in the preparation, and the executions often takes care of itself. I believe a student needs to replicate an exam in his preparation the way a good batsman tries to replicate a match in the nets. Confidence comes from preparation and if you are not prepared, you will be tense. Several times students have their minds elsewhere when they are studying. This is natural and I am sure we were like that as well. But if they can learn the art of giving 100 per cent while studying and 100 per cent while relaxing or doing something else, they will gain a lot. VVS Laxman, who was an outstanding student, and did very well in his class X, told me that when he was playing cricket he didn’t think of studies and when he was studying he didn’t think of cricket! harsha_at_lighthouse_seminar.jpg

MK: How does one stay motivated in spite of failures?
Harsha Bhogle:
I must admit it is difficult because even today i am disappointed if I haven’t performed. And when you are 15 or 16 it is easy to believe that the world has shut its doors on you. At such times the best thing to do is to seek inspiration elsewhere; from stories that remind you that one failure isn’t the end of the world; that most people in life have a second chance if they are prepared to search for it. Look at the recent French open final where Gaudio Lost the first set 0-6, the second 3-6 and still won the match. Or the test at Kolkata against Australia, where India, already 0-1 down in the series, were 274 behind in the first innings. They still won the test and went on to win the series. But students need to look at such Instances not out of a sense of fantasy but with a sense of determination.

MK: Do you think class X results are the most important determining factor in a student’s life? Why?
Harsha Bhogle:
No, but they are important. Anybody who thinks they are not is running away from the truth. If you have done badly the first thing you must do is acknowledge that you have done badly and not get carried away by people who say "no problem, let it be". Of course there is a problem but unless you realise there is a problem you cannot solve it. The class X results are like a blood test, you are not dead yet but they tell you if you are headed there. They allow you to make a correction in your life. If you know what you did wrong in class X you can correct it in class xii but you must know what you did wrong. A batsman who gets out the same way twice is not learning, so too a student who makes the same mistakes.

MK:What is your advice to students who are unhappy with their class X results and are feeling worthless?
Harsha Bhogle:
Allow yourself to feel worthless for a while and tell yourself you will never let yourself feel that way again. Once you experience the pain, you will know what it is and then if you are strong you can make it your biggest motivator. Again this is easily said and students who are 15 or 16 should ideally have someone around who can remind them of that. If people around them keep telling them they are useless, they will continue feeling that way. Look at Marvan Atapattu, who is now captain of Sri Lanka and who has scored six double centuries in test cricket. His first six innings in test cricket had five ducks and a single. If he thought he was worthless he would never have scored all these runs.

MK: You are a parent of a class X student. How critical is the role of parents in helping students cope with their results?
Harsha Bhogle:
Very critical. A child should know that come what may, his parents are in his team. A family is the only unit in which nobody changes sides and we should be emphasising the role of this ultimate unit instead of irresponsibly glamourising broken marriages. The parents have to be a child’s shelter and i feel sorry for people who seek attention by stating otherwise. Having said that i think parents are sometimes more at fault for they seek to fight their wars through their children, use their children’s marks as their status symbols, occasionally transfer their ambitions onto their children. And they cannot transfer their tensions onto the kids. If the captain is tense the team will be tense, if the captain is calm the team thinks there is hope. But this is an ideal situation and we have all been guilty of these things.

MK: How should one perform well, not in academics only but in all spheres of life?
Harsha Bhogle:
I guess each of us needs to find our own solution. I found that enjoying what I do, and not looking upon it as a chore, worked wonders; believing that every activity you perform is deserving of your full ability, giving it 100 per cent, is a good starting point. Also I think students should set realistic goals and parents can help hugely here. Not everyone can get 90 per cent, not everyone can score a double century, so you need to measure your marks against what you think is a fair target.

A story of courage

A story of courage

Faith, hope, courage, determination, optimism, kindness, love and many such qualities put together are at core of the human spirit. The now-famous Marathi film Shwaas is based on a true story of human spirit. Shwaas won the Swarna Kamal for the best feature film of 2003 at the 51st National Film Awards held at New Delhi last month. Child actor Ashwin Chitale, who plays little Parshuram afflicted with Retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eyes, won the award for best child performance.

What’s fascinating is that the making of the film itself reflects the triumph of the human spirit. This is what we concluded when we heard Arun Nalawade, the actor-producer of the film, spoke about the way he and his colleagues went about producing this film.

Nalawade was in the city for a felicitation programme organised by the Sarawati Mandir Trust’s pre-primary section in Naupada, which is celebrating it golden jubilee year. Incidentally, it was fifty years ago, that a Marathi Film titled Shyamchi Aai won the first National Award in best feature film category.

The felicitation programme was held at Malhar Cinema at 8.30 am of Sunday, September 12. Senior Trustee S D Ghatpande honoured Nalawade after which a special screening was organised for the school’s students. After the honours, Nalawade revealed the story behind the making of his best-seller which was produced by seven individuals on a cooperative basis. The script of the film is based on a six-month long research conducted by interviewing a leading eye surgeon from Pune, Dr Shailesh Puntambekar, from whose professional life the story was inspired. Making a song-less movie with a modest budget, and a plot sans the usual melodramatic hero-heroine fare, requires courage. Plus the movie was filmed in Marathi, which meant restricted audiences. In spite of this, the movie has done extremely well and has completed 100 days. The national award only proves the core message of the film: Never give up on life, no matter what.   Nalawade also spoke about the intricacies of working with a child actor, who had to portray the difficult character of Parshuram. "The hospital scenes, especially the overwhelming medical scanning equipment, would intimidate Ashwin and it required a lot of cajoling and encouragement to get him to do the scenes," said Nalawade.

Speaking about the idea of a special screening of his film for school students, Nalawade said he was touched: "This is the first time Shwaas is being screened for school students ever since it hit the theatres in March 2004." And he said it made a lot of sense too, because children were the real target audience for the film. The story highlights the predicament of a man who is faced with a situation where is beloved grandchild is about to lose his eyesight. He wants is grandchild to make the most of the time left to see the world in all its vibrant colours.

The bookings for the special screening for students opened on Friday morning and sold out within two hours. But happily, students who missed this opportunity can still watch it if they want. Going by the demand for the film, the school management has decided to hold two more special screening at discounted rates – one on September 26 and another on October 3. Rohini Rasal, principal of the pre-primary sections said, "A nine-year old came to book tickets with her grandfather. She said she would like to see the movie with him. Another student said she would love to see it again and again." In reaching out to the children’s hearts and touching a chord in them, Shwaas has proved true its own message – that human spirit always prevails.

Teachers are Way Showers

Teachers are Way Showers

On September 05, India observed a special day to honour those in the noble profession of teaching. The story goes that when the first president of India, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, who was also a great teacher, was approached by few of his students and friends who wanted to celebrate his birthday, he replied, "instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if September 05 is observed as Teachers’ day." Such was the love and respect that Dr Radhakrihnan had for the profession of teaching.

Last year, our current President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who is son of a teacher, spoke about how his own teachers had played such an important role in shaping his life. He emphasised the importance of good teachers and said, "A student spends 25,000 hours in the campus. The school must have the best of teachers who have the ability to teach, love teaching and build moral qualities." It is true that teachers mould the lives their students. The foundation of a sound moral value system begins at childhood. And teachers, along with parents, are the biggest influencers in this area of the child’s development.

In recognition of the role of teachers, several organisations from Thane organised programmes and felicitated teachers on September 05. A number of city schools celebrated teachers’ day on Monday because September 05 was a Sunday. But that did not deter students, both former and present, to wish their teachers on Sunday. This writer knows many batch mates from his alma mater St John The Baptist High School, who never fail to express their gratitude to their teachers on this day. And why not? Teachers are way-showers. Like Oprah Winfrey, one of the most successful TV celebrities of all time, said, "For every one of us that succeeds, it’s because there’s somebody there to show you the way out. The light doesn’t always necessarily have to be in your family; for me it was teachers and school." It is indeed a good time to remember that teaching today is far more challenging than it used to be. And therefore, teachers need all the encouragement they can get from the society.

The spirit of Janmashtami
After Teacher’s Day, it was time to celebrate Lord Krishna’s Birthday. Lord Krishna is the most charismatic Hindu God. It is hardly a surprise then, that Janmashtami is celebrated with such fervour and ecstasy the world over. On Tuesday, hundreds of young men were seen forming human hills across the city to reach the Dahi Handi and break it. The temptation though was not as much the contents of the pot (butter in Lord Kirshna’s case), but large sums of prize money announced by various associations.

Thankfully, just like the teacher’s day, many NGO’s and schools organised their own dahi-handi programmes. For instance The Saraswati Mandir Trust’s Pre-primary School organised a dahi-handi for its little students. Sevadham organised one for tribal children from villages on the outskirts of Thane. Every year little children are dressed as Lord Krishna and they enact the ritual of breaking a pot of butter. Only difference here is that there is no prize money involved luring them. The children, whether from the city or villages, were in it for the sake for pure joy. They celebrated Janmashtami in its true spirit. Now we know why it is said that God resides in the heart of children.      

Save Masunda
September is quite a month. After Teacher’s Day and Janmashtami, it is time to welcome everyone’s favourite God. Next Saturday we will celebrate the coming of Lord Ganesha. It’s time to rejoice. But it’s also time to contemplate about the environment we inhabit and our duty towards it. Led by Jidnyasa, several city-based NGOs are coming together to kick-start a week-long awareness programme that begins tomorrow with forming of a human chain around the Masunda Lake. The message to people is to leave the Masunda Lake alone, which has already shrunk a lot due to immersing of POP in the past years. "As citizens, it is our constitutional duty to conserve our natural resources," says Surendra Dighe, Managing Trustee of Jidnyasa. Here is an appeal from all the NGO’s involved: If you are an environment-conscious individual, please join the human chain and spread the message of conserving our natural resources.

To share and care

To share and care

Every year, September 08 is observed as the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. The birth of Mary is considered a miracle. According to ancient scriptures, Mary was born to Joachim and Anne (Y’hoyakhin and Hannah in Hebrew) on September 08. The feast was first celebrated in the East by the Church of Jerusalem, which was adopted by the western church around the seventh century. Ever since, thousands of people observe a novena before the feast. A novena is a prayer that is said for nine days. This year too, hundreds of thousands of people around the world are observing a novena which began on August 31 and will culminate on September 08, which is the day of the feast.

Everyday, the devotees who come to pray offer flowers to Our Lady. But this year’s there’s something different happening at Thane’s St. John the Baptist Church at Jambli Naka. The church realised that the flowers that devotees offer remain fresh only for a day or so, after which they start rotting and have to be disposed of. These flowers cost a lot too. So the parish priest at the church, Father John Rumaeo, made a noble request to the children praying at the Church. He suggested to children that instead of flowers, they should offer useful things that can distributed to the poor. So, by sacrificing a small part of their pocket money, the children are bringing in and offering different items on each day of the novena: Rice, dal (pulses), wheat, biscuits, soaps, sugar, books, pencils and even a little cash. On September 08, these things will be distributed to the poor who gather outside the St John the Baptist High school (SJBHS) in the pavilion area. Shirley Fernandes, a regular at the St John the Baptist Church, said, "This is good thing that the church is doing. It is teaching children to be responsible and to understand their role towards the society of which they are a part."

The rice, dal, biscuits et al may cost these children only part of their pocket money, but in return they are learning an invaluable lesson of caring by sharing. Is there a better way to celebrate Mother Mary’s birthday?

Dressed to kill
It is a known fact that extracurricular activities are as important to the overall development of children as academics. This is true, irrespective of whether the children are normal or special. Perhaps extracurricular activities are more beneficial to children with mental and physical disabilities than normal children.

Friday, September 03, marked the beginning of a unique inter-school fancy dress competition for special children from Thane. There are four age groups and five students from each group will be selected for the finals, which are scheduled to be held in December. Depending on the total number of schools/students who will participate, approximately 35 to 40 students will reach the finals.  

By the time this article is published, the first of the elimination rounds would have taken place and 105 special kids from Jidd School would have come on stage dressed like historical leaders, professionals, renowned sportsmen or even film stars. 15 from among them would have qualified for the finals. Next in line are 110 students from Sri Maa Snehadeep School for special children at Patlipada, Thane.

To ensure fair judging of the competition, only mentally challenged students are being allowed to participate. "The mental faculties of physically challenged children are intact and so they tend to perform better and therefore it would be unfair to mentally challenged children if physically challenged children are allowed to compete," says Sarmistha Chowdhury, who is the member of the Inner Wheel Club of Thane Hills, the organisation behind the competition. The club is also planning a similar contest for Kamalini and Zaveri Thanawala Schools for Deaf and Dumb. However, this contest will be organised separately.

The organisers invite all special schools from Thane to participate in this competition. They school in-charge may call on 25886538.

A Great Indian from Great Britain

A Great Indian from Great Britain

Dr Kartar Lalwani’s simple appearance and his unpretentious demeanour hide the virtues that have made him one of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs. This founder-owner of Britain’s first vitamin supplement company Vitabiotics is as unassuming as you can get. For one, he looks much younger than his age. At 72, this scientist-turned-entrepreneur displays an almost contagious enthusiasm for life – effect of consuming his own products, he suggests in all seriousness. For another, he’s actively involved in running Vitabiotics – he’s the President and CEO of the company. In fact, his pioneering work in pharma-medical research has got him four prestigious awards in the year 2003 including one for his company.

The first among the awards was The Queen’s Award for Enterprise bestowed by Her Majesty the Queen on the recommendation of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in recognition of the company’s remarkable contribution to International Trade. Then there was the Asian Achiever’s Award for Trade and Industry followed by Entrepreneur of the Year in UK sponsored by British Telecom and GG2. And most recently in December 2003, he was honoured with the Asian of the Year 2003-2004, awarded by the Asian Who’s Who.

Lalwani’s romance with nutrient technology began in the early 1960s when, as a young research scientist at AIIMS Delhi, he observed anomalies in the administration of some of the most basic vitamins and minerals. "The iron administered to patients at AIIMS was at least seven to eight times more than the recommended dosage," he remembers. Today, his company Vitabiotics is UK’s fastest growing vitamin company, exporting to sixty countries.

Lalwani has, in more ways than one, been a pioneer. And among his many pioneering efforts is Menopace, the first non-HRT remedy for menopausal women, which is today a market leader in UK. "Today HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) is under serious clout," declares Lalwani with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

He describes his lifestyle as simple and loves the old and the historic. Antiques and ancient works of art such as ivories, furniture and paintings fascinate him. His rare possessions include two of the oldest and most beautiful English homes in Regent Park in London. An exceptional painting of the beautiful Gayatri Devi by Augustus John adorns the living room of his home in Bombay, of which he says, "This one was a jackpot." He bought it at an auction in the UK some twenty five years ago. Nobody there seemed to know who she was – they referred to her as "some Indian princess". Augustus John was one of the best-known English portrait painters during the early part of the 20th century. He painted many wealthy and important people and Her Highness Gayatri Devi was certainly one such person.

He’s got a collection of historical books, with some amazing insights into times gone by, illustrated with beautiful sketches. In fact such is his interest in history that these days Lalwani’s is actively involved in co-writing a book about the role of British in the history of India.

In spite of all the wealth, fame and recognition, Lalwani has remained down-to-earth. From the moment you first meet Lalwani, he surprises you with his modesty. He wears simple clothes, speaks in an Indian accent and doesn’t talk much unless you happen discuss his favourite subject – vitamins and minerals. Then he doesn’t stop. He’s passionate about his work, his company and his vision of making it the world’s foremost vitamin supplement company.

Lalwani was born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1931. After partition, Lalwani’s family moved to India. "In Pakistan, my father ran one of the biggest wholesale and retail pharmacies of the time" he reveals. In 1956, after his B.Pharm, Lalwani left Indian shores for higher education. He acquired a post-graduate degree in pharmacy in London before proceeding to Germany for his doctorate in Medicinal Chemistry. After a brief stint in Germany where he worked as a professor, he returned to India, got married to a medical doctor and worked with the AIIMS as a research scientist for two years before returning to London where he joined a pharma publication in an editorial position. "It was a journal that published a compilation of abstracts of world patents in medicine. Almost all major pharma companies in the world were subscribers," he reveals proudly.
During the late sixties, Lalwani suffered from persistent mouth ulcers. He had tried lots of medicines, but nothing had worked. Finally, after having suffered for about five years, he had decided to find a cure himself – after all he was a qualified pharmacist. He invented a medicine which worked wonders – he used it a few times, after which his mouth ulcers vanished completely never to return again. It was time for him to use his knowledge of patents which he had learnt in his editorial job in London. He applied for a British patent for this new cure for mouth ulcers and got it.   Next, he tried to sell the patent but no company would buy it.

His failure to sell the patent was a blessing in disguise as Lalwani then decided to produce and sell his new creation himself. Having studied pharmacy locally, he had a fair amount of knowledge of the local market. He also knew that people often rely on pharmacists for such things as headaches and ulcers. So he packed a dozen units of Oralcer in a neat box and sent them to all the local chemists along with a letter and a return stamp and address. He reminisces, "I said in the letter: You know that nothing works for ulcers. This is the first treatment in the world that will work. If you’re happy, you sell the product, and if not, you may return the box. Only ten per cent of the boxes came back. The rest of them sent repeat orders." This was the beginning of Vitabiotics. Then, when he visited Nigeria, Lalwani noticed that there was a market for multivitamin brand there and decided to introduce a multivitamin supplement. He developed an attractive packaging for the brand and called it Omega-H3. Today, Omega H3 is the largest selling nutritional supplement in several countries around the world.

Lalwani has stuck to his vision of making products out of natural ingredients like vitamins and minerals for prevention and treatment of a range of health issues, from common ailments to lethal ones like AIDS. His believes that vitamins and minerals combined in accurate quantities can cure as well as, and sometimes even better than, traditional medicine – the belief has certainly paid him rich dividends.

The success of his children means a great deal to him. He proudly describes the achievement of his eldest son, Ajit Lalwanii, who is a medical doctor at the Oxford. Ajit has achieved a rare distinction of inventing a test for tuberculosis which has 99 per cent accuracy with the results being available on the same day displacing a hundred year old test that required six days for a result and has an accuracy of only 80 per cent. According to Lalwani, TB was not a disease of the developed world, so multinationals never took it seriously.

Talk about the awards bestowed on him and he shifts uncomfortably from shyness. He was reluctant to accept the Asian of the Year award this year as he thought that it would be one award too many in a single year. Yet he was persuaded to receive it this year itself. However, his true source of delight, he contends, is the appreciation and positive feedback he receives from the thousands of users of his products from across the world about how his medicines are benefiting them. He even recalls an incident of a young girl who attempted suicide because her mouth ulcers were so bad that she felt that "life was not liveable." Her desperate attempt came after nothing had cured her. Then she was given Oralcer, and her condition improved immediately and gradually she was permanently cured. These and many other episodes are the driving force behind Lalwani.

"It’s not profit that drives us. We sac
rifice a lot even today. We don’t jump into something simply because of a fad. It’s true that success would have come to me quicker if I was more businesslike. But that’s not been my philosophy. If I am not satisfied, if I am not sure that a product will truly benefit people, I will not get involved in it, even if trends suggest that it would be profitable to do so."

Compassion is written all over his face, as he tells us how he prices his products low in developing countries. When it comes to generosity, he does not distinguish between nationalities. He will donate money and help needy people wherever they are. And he thinks doing charity is no big deal. He recollects an incident that took place about two years ago. A young English man aged about 24 years, came to Kulu Manali for an adventure trek. While paragliding, he was lost. His mother was a nurse and father was school teacher. The boy’s parents contacted the British High Commission for assistance who in turn contacted the Indian High Commission. They were told that the search operation would cost them a lot of money, which they could not afford. When Lalwani read this in the newspapers, he instructed his secretary to locate the hassled parents and then sponsored the entire search operation for two days. Although the search did not yield the desired results (the boy was unfortunately never found), at least the parents were satisfied that a serious attempt had been made.

Ask him if he has any regrets in life, and he says he has none. He has lived a good, contended life. He does have dreams, though, that he’d like to see coming true in his lifetime. Like Vitabiotics being a major International player and an India with 100 per cent rate of literacy. Lalwani thinks that India’s future can be bright if only our literacy rates could go up. He also leaves us with a thought to ponder: With a population like ours, if every earning Indian would set aside only one day’s income for a charitable purpose like education, India could attain hundred per cent literacy in five years.