Tag: Human Spirit

Thank you teacher!

Thank you teacher!

On September 5, every year, we honour the most important people in our lives after our parents- our teachers. We learn many important lessons from teachers – both academic and non-academic – guiding us whenever we stumble in the walk of life.

All of us have a few teachers we remember fondly – these are the ones who are etched in our memories forever as torchbearers.

This year, on the occasion of Teacher’s Day, I am reminded of one of the most distinguished teachers of Thane – Alu Shroff. All of 80, Alu teacher, as she is fondly called, dedicated her whole life to this noble profession, teaching for half a century.

Alu Shroff, what teachers ought to be

Alu teacher joined St John the Baptist High School in 1951 as a Mathematics teacher. She retired from the school as Vice-principal, the highest position possible. Universally revered by students and colleagues, this remarkable woman represents the spirit of a perfect teacher – an extraordinary combination of intelligence, wit, compassion, perseverance and dedication. Her frail body structure notwithstanding, her stature in the teaching profession is nothing less than a giant. All those who have studied or taught in St John the Baptist High School, anytime between 1951 and 2000 would vouch for this. She was also conferred the Best Teacher’s Award from the Education Department, Thane Municipal Corporation.

Alu teacher reminds one of Mother Teresa – not only does she look like her, but just like Mother’s Teresa’s life, her life too is simple, yet inspiring. She has even remained unmarried like the Mother! Ironically, Mother Teresa left her physical body on September 5, 1997.

Just last year, I had the privilege of meeting Alu teacher at a function organised to honour her. After the function, I offered to drop her home and she insisted, in her typical soft-spoken manner, that she would not like to trouble anyone and that she would walk it down – this despite not being able to see clearly and being extremely weak. To be able to spend time speaking to such a wonderful and selfless human being, who speaks like an angel incarnate, and to receive her best wishes and blessings in person, was indeed a joy to behold.

Since that function last year, Alu teacher’s health has deteriorated even further and she is now totally homebound. Old age has rendered her homebound. But her life has been an example for the rest of us to follow.

This year on Teacher’s Day let us all pray for Alu teacher’s well-being in her twilight years. Let us also thank all the teachers like her who have made a difference to thousands of us in a silent, selfless way. May their tribe increase!

Triple talent

Triple talent

Rajesh Vilas Shinde is 17 years old and studies in Class VII. His father doesn’t have a permanent job and works as a daily wage earner. His mother works as a housemaid. Rajesh also has two sisters and a brother, all of who attend normal schools. According to his teachers, he is a good student and takes active interest in studies. He loves playing cricket and chess and is a good swimmer, too. Last year, he finished first in the 400-metre race at the district level. Rajesh also contributes to his family’s wages by selling newspapers during his vacations and making Ganesh idols

Sixteen-year-old Jeetendra Dinanath Yadav is also in Class VII. His father sells vada pav on a street side cart, while his mother is a housewife. He has four younger brothers who go to normal schools. Jeetendra is interested in judo, karate and cricket. Each year he actively participates in stage performances, especially dance and drama, in his school’s annual day function. Everyday after school he helps his father in his business.

Annu Rakesh Pandey is a 14-year-old girl and is in Class V. She has an elder sister and a younger brother who attend normal schools. She stays with her father, who is an auto-rickshaw driver, while her mother stays in her native place. While Annu loves playing outdoor games, she also takes care of domestic work and helps her mother in stitching clothes.

Rajesh, Jeetendra and Annu are students of Thane’s Kamalini Karnabadhir Vidyalaya, a school for the hearing impaired. But the trio have more than just their hearing disability in common. For one, they come from the lower economic strata, where existence is usually hand to mouth. For another, their disability and social background notwithstanding, they display enormous talent.

The three are extremely talented in drawing and have, on more occasions than one, surprised the peers and teachers by demonstrating an exceptional ability to create award-winning illustrations. What makes their effort special is that the school does not have a drawing teacher. So, in spite of no formal training whatsoever, the three win all the drawing competitions in which they participate.

Their school is situated at Jijamata road in Thane East and has 60-odd students suffering from hearing impairment. The school has trained teachers in routine subjects, but being run by an NGO trust, it cannot afford to appoint a drawing teacher. Moreover, they don’t get too many opportunities to demonstrate their talent.

Archana Nare, the principal of the school says, “These students can’t participate in many inter-school competitions because the parents can’t afford participation fees. So they have to remain content with competitions that are organised by various NGOs in our school.”

The purpose of this story is not to highlight the exceptional talents of three hearing impaired students, but to underline the importance of determination and self-confidence. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some use their weaknesses to give excuses for not taking any initiatives and then blaming their misfortune for everything that goes wrong in their lives.

Others count their blessings and focus on their strengths, converting every obstacle into an opportunity to prove that success is the result of an attitude, not of luck. The triple talents of Kamalini Karnabadhir Vidyalaya focus on their strengths – the dexterity of their hands and the imaginative power of their minds. Only time will tell if they will make their mark in the world of art. But one thing is certain – if they continue to believe in themselves, their self-confidence is sure to take them places.

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.

Triumph of the Human Spirit

Triumph of the Human Spirit

There’s a famous quote that goes: "Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope." Hope is that all important ingredient that is found in all stories of survival. There is one more strikingly common feature in such stories -the triumph of human spirit in the face of adversity. A few youngsters from Thane demonstrated this quite aptly.  

A few days ago a bus filled with about 20 students from Thane was returning from a nature camp at a Wild Life Santuary near Alibag. The camp was one of the many organised by city-based student welfare group Jidnyasa for all age groups. The campers comprised of one guide, Chitra Oak, seven seniors (college students under 20) and the remaining school children between 9 and 15. It was 3.45 pm and the bus was negotiating the ghats five km from the camp house, when unseasonal rains rendered the roads slippery. For some reason, the driver lost control and did not turn at the right moment – resulting in the bus plunging 40 feet into the valley. It was a shocking nose dive, but thankfully the valley was densely populated with trees and bushes which prevented it from hitting the ground, which could’ve been devastating.

Mercifully, in spite of the terrorising fate of the bus, there were no major injuries, except to Chitra Oak, who was the guide to the students and was also the oldest passenger. Oak was in tears because of the unbearable pain – apparently, she had fractured her limbs. After the initial shock, the senior students showed an amazing presence of mind. Instead of succumbing to panic, which is very natural in such circumstances, the college students made sensible use of their minds and began to work towards rescuing the others. Slowly, everyone was pulled out of the hanging bus and helped onto the road. Afterward, the seniors formed a human chain to transfer the luggage to a safer location. Once everyone was out, their first priority was Oak, who seemed to be badly hurt. Manasi Apte and Manas Takle went to fetch transport for the injured lady so that she could be taken to the nearest hospital. The location of the accident was quite remote and hardly inhabited. Manas found a six-seater (a cab commonly found in the interior Maharashtra) and after consulting a local doctor, who feared multiple fractures, they took Oak to a hospital in Alibag.

Meanwhile, the other seniors were trying to calm down the younger children back at the accident site. These youngsters had still to recover from the shock – some of them were crying.

Mobiles were out of range and another senior, Abhijit walked for half a km, managed to get a lift and reach a telephone from where he called Surendra Dighe, managing trustee of Jidnyasa, to inform him about the incident. Dighe immediately arranged for another bus and headed towards the accident spot. He also called the camp house at Alibaug and informed the instructors about the mishap. Two instructors then brought the shocked campers back to the camp house.

Manasi, who played an important role in the handling the situation, said, "I had not expected this. Nobody does. So for a few sparing moments, I panicked. I was sitting next to Chitra Aunty, on the front seat. When I turned back and saw that my sister and others were safe, I felt a sense of relief, after which I began to think what to do next."

As often happens in such situations, Murphy’s Law came into effect. Mid-way, the new bus that Dighe was bringing met with a freak accident and its radiator ruptured. So Dighe had to return to Thane and arrange for another way to bring back the kids. This time he took two Sumos with him. Finally, he reached Alibaugh a little after midnight. And when he saw the bus, he couldn’t believe his eyes. "I had not imagined such a severe accident. The bus was actually hanging in the middle of the nowhere, supported by bushes and trees," said Dighe. Later, after he heard the account from the children, Dighe’s chest swelled with pride. He said, "The seniors showed amazing presence of mind. It was indeed a true display of the values of courage and determination that Jidnyasa stands for and tries to instil in every student. Now I know that Jidnyasa will live, long after the founders."

In the end, it was teamwork, says Manasi. All seniors maintained their calm, ensured that unnecessary panic was kept at bay, and conquered the adversity. It was a victory of the human spirit.



Studies suggest that drawing is an important part of literacy development. Drawing can serve as a powerful means for developing children’s perception and thought. And when these children are given the appropriate environment, time and access to materials, it is not uncommon for them to spend hours on their drawings, expressing their thoughts, observations and imaginations as vividly as they can. Evidence of this was seen at an inter-school drawing competition held in the Thane city last month.

Organised by the Rotary Club of Thane Mid Town in association with Shiv Samarth Vidyalaya, the drawing competition saw over 200 students from 18 city schools participating. The winners were declared on Tuesday, November 18, 2003 at a function presided by renowned muralist Aarti Sanjeev

The participating students were divided into two main groups. The first group (class five to seven) were given themes like "Unity in Diversity," "Ganpati Decoration" and "Life in rainy season". Themes for second group, for class eight to ten, were more profound – "Bomb explosions in Mumbai," "Seven Wonders of the World" and "Cartoons depicting current affairs (a la R K Laxman)."

There were eight winners in all – three of each group and two consolation prizes. The winners were selected by a panel of judges headed by Vasanti Gokani, who teaches drawing at SES English School, Panch Pakhadi.

Architect Ulhas Pradhan who was also on the panel of judges said that the drawings were selected on the basis of many criteria. He said, "We looked for the human figures, which are rather difficult to draw. We also measured the depth of concept covered, the colour schemes used – but most importantly we tried to judge the visualising power of the child." Indeed, for imagine a child trying to illustrate the scene of a bomb blast and capturing the commotion after the explosion, in spite of not witnessing anything of the sort with his or her own eyes.

First come, First Served
Talk about enthusiasm among culture-crazy Maharashtrian people who will do anything to reserve a seat for the annual "Pandit Ram Marathe Sangeet Samaroh" show. This year, the plans opened on November 16 for the four-day show beginning on November 21. As usual, the booking windows of Gadkari Rangayatan, where the programme is to be held, had queues from the evening of November 15. The first person to arrive at the booking counter was Gunendra Phansalkar, a 65-year-man from Kalyan.

Many others soon appended the queue and spent the night at Rangayatan, waiting for the ticket sales to begin the next morning. Begin they did, only to stop three hours later, when the tickets were sold out.

Phasalkar will be honoured by chief guest Mohan Joshi – it has become customary for the organisers to felicitate the first purchaser of the ticket every year.

Cold Response

Cold Response

A few days ago, a group of four visited a popular ice cream joint in Thane (East) and asked for branded ice cream cones. No sooner had they begun relishing their cones, than it dawned on them that there was something terribly wrong with what they have been served. The cones were completely soggy. The group complained to the shop owner, whose response was lukewarm. He just said, "It’s not our fault. The manufacturer is responsible." The group tried to reason with him and requested him to return the cones to the manufacturer. But the shop owner’s attitude was apathetic and he refused to attend to them. This tepid response from the shopkeeper set off one of the four and she decided that she was not going to be taken for a ride.

She asked the shopkeeper to her the ice cream stock as she suspected that products were not fresh and had probably crossed the consumption date. After a little resistance, the shopkeeper gave in and showed her the stock. Indeed the ice creams were all more than a year old. When she showed the "Best Before" dates to the shopkeeper, he refused to own responsibility. When, after a lengthy argument, the shopkeeper was still not willing to accept the cones back, she threatened to complain to the TMC’s Food and Adulteration Department. The man didn’t budge, thinking that she was probably issuing empty threats. It turned out that the lady actually knew an official from the food department personally and called him on his cell. After she explained the situation to him, the official asked her to hand over the phone to the shopkeeper and had a brief chat with him. We don’t know what the official said to the shopkeeper, but as soon as he hung up he was a transformed man. Not only did he apologise, he accepted all the cones back and promised to clear all the old stuff from his stock. The incident only goes to show that customers are often taken for granted. But that doesn’t mean that one must tolerate unaccepted behaviour. Remember that we are what we eat. Noted writer Virginia Woolf gave so much importance to food that she once wrote, "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well."

So the next time you are served food that you suspect is unfit for consumption, don’t resign yet – contact the authorities in your area and ensure that such practises are stopped. In Thane, you may contact the Health Department of TMC on Tel. no. 25332686

Ingredients for Success
Faith and determination are perhaps the only ingredients necessary to succeed. Consider this: last night while taking a stroll on the streets of an upcoming residential complex in one of city’s posh localities, this writer saw six small children probably aged between four and eight years, sitting on the Their schoolbooks open in front of them, these children were trying to study under the dim streetlights.

They were kids of construction workers living in temporary tents set up near the tall, half finished building they were working on. What was touching was the dedication reflected on the faces of these who, despite minimal facilities, were making a genuine attempt to study. Some of these kids help their parents during daytime, after returning from school. When we observe such kids working hard without so much as a trace of sadness on their faces, we tends to forget or at least lessen our own sense of misery or misfortune.

Enabling the Disabled

Enabling the Disabled

Imagine restless and fidgety children sitting in one place quietly, with legs crossed and eyes closed, trying to meditate. Difficult? Now, imagine that these children are physically or mentally disabled. This is how the day begins each morning at the Jidd School – a special care set-up for physically and mentally challenged children in Thane.

Enabling the DisabledJidd in Marathi means determination, which is what everyone at the School displays. The principal Shyamshree Bhonsle is a lady whose mission in life is to serve the poor disabled children. And she is helped in her efforts by several likeminded and selfless individuals.

According to Bhonsle, "The practice of meditation has been playing a beneficial role in the rehabilitation of these disadvantaged children. It has benefited mentally handicapped subjects by improving their mental ability, also the motor co-ordination and social skills. Physically handicapped subjects too had a restoration of functional ability to some degree after practicing meditation"

Yet, mediation is just one of the unique training techniques that this special school employs. There are special teachers for music, dance, craft and physical exercises as well. There is an occupational-cum-physiotherapy trainer and a psychologist as well. One can gauge the success of the school’s effort from the way the students have responded. Twice last year, the mentally challenged children staged a dance performance in public; in Little Flower School and at Kalidas Hall – this despite the fact that these children had never attended school before.

Jidd School is a TMC undertaking, which primarily caters to the children of the lower socio-economic strata. When the then TMC commissioner Govind Swarup founded the school in 1985, it was meant only for physically impaired children. In August last year, the school opened its doors to the mentally retarded children. Less than a year and the school’s mentally retarded section now trains eighty students as against thirty-four in the physically impaired section.

A School like Jidd is unlike any other school. It serves only the poorest children and its service does not end at education. In fact for most of its mentally challenged students, education not even possible. A child who has a mental handicap generally tends to learn slowly and may also have a limited ability to learn. The presence of this disability causes great difficulty in coping with the demands of daily life. The parents and teachers of a mentally handicapped child have to cope with all of the usual problems of child rearing as well. Thus, each stage in the retarded child’s development may bring with it a new and unique set of issues. Puberty may trigger issues of sexuality and aggression. Later, adolescence brings with it issues of work and conflict between independence and dependence.

One of the biggest issues that Bhonsle and her team deals with, is the reluctance of the parents in accepting their child’s disability. Says Bhonsle, "Parents of mentally handicapped children initially do not want to face the idea that their child requires special care. They do not want to believe it. This is an extremely sensitive and difficult issue"

The School not only educates and trains the students; it also provides free food, transportation, healthcare and playing facilities. A computer room, a rehabilitation room and special garden for disabled children add to the charm of the school.

The students come from as far as Mumbra, Vitava, Kharegaon, Patlipada and Shastri Nagar and free transportation means a lot to them. Similarly, free food is a blessing for most students. "Many students are so poor that they can’t afford more than some dry, stale bread for lunch. So when the school started providing free breakfast and lunch, there was a marked increase in attendance", reveals Bhonsle.

Fortunately, quite a few compassionate citizens from the city frequently extend some form of help to the school. Many prefer to remain anonymous. Such acts of kindness coupled of the determination of some individuals epitomises the essence of life. As Aesop, an Ancient Greek moralist once said, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."

Dance Stance

Dance Stance

Pandit Birju Maharaj, the most distinguished Kathak Dancer of our times, and the recipient of Padma Vibhushan award, was in Thane’s Gadkari Rangayatan Auditorium last week to participate in Gopikrishna Sangeet Mahotsav. While on stage, he recounted a rather funny but meaningful episode that occurred during a performance tour in Russia.

Just a day before the performance was scheduled, the Pakhawaj master who was to accompany Birju Maharaj in the show, realized that he has forgotten to carry atta (wheat flour) required for treating the Pakhawaj. For the uninitiated, the Pakhawaj is an important drumming instrument that accompanies Kathak. The Pakhawaj, known as the king of Indian drums, produces an extraordinarily rich resonance. This powerful reverberation is a result of a flat cake of whole-wheat dough, which has to be prepared fresh for each playing before it is loaded on to the drum-skin.

Coming back to the Performance in Russia, Birju Maharaj and the Pakhawaj player knew that they had to get hold of wheat flour for the show to go on. So they set out to find it in the foreign country. They visited a local bakery but found it extremely difficult to communicate the exact nature of their need as they could not speak Russian and the Bake Man did not understand English.

When verbal attempts failed, Birju Maharaj turned to his Kathak Skills, using his hand movements to convey what was needed. After managing to gesticulate "bread" and the "dough" that goes into making it, Birju Maharaj finally succeeded in putting across his need of wheat-flour, which the bake-man delivered to the artists so that they could go on with their show.

"Dance is the hidden language of the soul", said Martha Graham. We may add that it is also a language that souls of all nationalities can understand.

A Rhythmic Challenge
While on the subject of Kathak as an art form, a mention must be made of Mrs. Manjiri Deo, a well-known personality in the field of Kathak Dance. About 25 years ago, this disciple of Padmashree Nataraj Gopikrishna, founded Shri Ganesh Nritya Kala Mandir in Thane to teach Kathak dancing. Then, a few years ago, she came across Netrali Bhide, a deaf and dumb girl from Thane, who wanted to be her student.

Mrs. Deo took up the challenge of teaching Kathak to Netrali. "I knew it was going to be difficult to teach someone who can’t hear. But I was also aware that Kathak depends on the technique of abhinay (miming). Now, suppose a dancer, unaided by music, were to keep his eye on any person or object (for e.g. movement of the drumsticks) which was marking dancing-time to his/her sight, then he or she could definitely dance to it," states Mrs. Deo enthusiastically.

Although Netrali had previously performed in dance and ballet shows, that was with other handicapped students. Acquiring a degree in Kathak was altogether a different matter. But with Netrali determined to master Kathak, Mrs. Deo put her heart and soul into this challenge. Netrali’s parents too were quite supportive of their child, which according to Mrs. Deo was extremely important.

"The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination", said Tommy Lasorda, one of the greatest Baseball managers of the United States. Last year, at the age of 20, after years of meticulous practice, Netrali went on to become the first and only Deaf and Dumb girl in India to obtain a Visharad in Kathak. Her determination has certainly paid off.

Determination Personified

Determination Personified

Ameya Gawand’s strength of will is a source of motivation for those who know him. Despite all odds, he lives an absolutely normal life and this is what makes him a truly special child.

When you first meet him, it does not even occur to you that he is a child who can barely see and whose right side of body is paralyzed. Within minutes, this gifted child wins over your heart. As a child with severe disabilities, Ameya comes across as an extremely bright and "normal" child.

Ameya’s stamina is infectious and his warm friendliness is heart warming. Once you’ve been with him for a while, his innate talents slowly come to the fore. First, you are treated to his wonderfully colorful drawings, each one reflecting a promise of a great artist of future. Then you are informed that he won the first prize at a national competition organized by The Maharashtra State Council for Child Welfare. Little surprise, that.

Amu, as his loved ones fondly call him, is a natural speaker. His near perfect diction has won him several awards in elocution competitions; both inter school and those organized by his own school. "He delivers his speeches with such passion that his audiences are often left spell bound and in tears", says his father, Dr. Nityanand Gawand. "But he can also make people laugh. His sense of humor is terrific. And his stock of jokes never ends. I think he is a natural entertainer."

He has collected a pile of certificates for other activities too. A sizeable assortment of trophies and cups adorn his living room. He won four consecutive fancy dress competitions organized by the Rotaract Club of Thane, until he crossed the qualifying age, when he could no more participate. Amu excels in recitations, story telling and mimicry and never tires of performing in public. Not the one to shy away from people, Amu is always ready for a public performance. Even guests at home are entertained for hours together.

In school, Amu sets an example of a well-behaved and obedient child. His teachers love him and he has been fortunate to find some exceptional teachers in his childhood. His mother, Sai, is quick to praise Ms. Pimenta, whose contribution has been instrumental in his development as a confident, mature child. She is grateful to Ms. Mahajan for her love and affection towards Amu. Ameya’s parents are also appreciative of Ms. Korde, the principal of Saraswati Vidyalaya, for her continued support and encouragement.

Another striking aspect of his personality is his ability to reason. Amu’s power of reasoning is so strong that it is difficult not be moved by it. His conversations with his father reveal this child’s deep and philosophical mind, and his extremely sensitive disposition. His love for animals is heartrending and his ambition is to be a vet, so that he can be near to animals and help them as much as he can. Accepting that Amu’s wisdom is far beyond his age, his father says candidly, "living my life with Amu has been so full of fun and learning".

Amu’s faint vision has never bothered him. He surfs the Internet and watches TV, albeit from real close. His rather weak right side does not prevent him from playing cricket and winning matches. And he is now learning classical music. Interestingly, his father says that Amu has never complained about his lack and has always demonstrated a resolve to triumph over life’s trials.

Amu’s parents are extremely proud of their child. But, their emotions cannot be felt by any of us. They have preserved Ameya’s first effort at writing. "For me, it was a great achievement of a child who was virtually sightless", says his father, with moist eyes. Every hurdle that Ameya overcame has given his parents a reason to celebrate.

Such is the determination of this young soul that he once participated in marathon race, some two years ago. His physical disability did not stop him from completing the race, though he fell down a few times while running. When you hear such stirring accounts of courage, you are led to conclude that Amu is not handicapped; he is simply more challenged than the rest of us.


Sightless Wonder

Sightless Wonder

His efficiency on the TMC telephone exchange speaks volumes about his dedication towards work. So much so, that when he was selected for the best worker award by TMC last year, few were surprised – in spite of the fact that he is blind.

Ajay Chandrakant Bhide works as a telephone operator in Thane Municipal Corporation’s headquarters in Thane city. Though blind, Ajay has displayed tremendous inner strength. Blindness has not prevented him from striving to accomplish his goals. It has never bothered him that others working with him possess normal eyesight. To him, the outside world may be dark, but he has faith in himself. And that faith, together with his self-determination, has ensured that he lives a normal life.

Ajay did his primary schooling from Pragati Andhavidyalaya School in Badlapur, an institute for the blind. Later he attended normal school till he completed his matriculation. In 1990, Ajay took a mobility course at National Association for the Blind, Worli. This 4-month course enabled him to become self-reliant. The main objective of this course is to ensure all round development of the visually impaired person, ensuring that he is exposed to normal life in society.

A year later, Ajay enrolled himself for a telephone operator course conducted by the same institute. He then started applying for jobs. But, soon afterward he realized, that finding employment is not going to be an easy task. He applied to many organizations including public sector organizations such as Indian Oil Corporation. But he faced rejection everywhere. Even during his days of job hunt, Ajay chose to repay his alma mater, Pragati Andhavidyalaya School, Badlapur. He started training blind students as a substitute teacher in the school.

In December 1994, after great difficulties and struggle, Ajay finally found employment at TMC head office. He was the first blind telephone operator to ever work in TMC. Many wondered how a blind person could operate a telephone exchange – a job that requires tremendous dexterity and swiftness. Ajay even recalls vividly, "In my first few days in TMC, I was the center of attention. All my colleagues and other staff from TMC would gather around my desk to see how a blind person operates a telephone exchange".

Today Ajay has created such a niche for himself in the organization that his blindness doesn’t even occur to any of his colleagues. He has displayed remarkable efficiency, technical expertise and consistent reliability. His hard work fetched him the coveted the "Gunavanta Kamgar Puraskar" or "award for best performer" in the year 2000. "I am the first and only employee from my department to have achieved this distinction", Ajay mentions proudly. And why not – after all, to be chosen as the best worker from among 6540-strong TMC staff is no mean achievement.

Apart from his 9 to 5 routine job, which he enjoys a lot, Ajay involves himself in a number of extra-curricular activities. For instance, he makes it a point to "read" newspapers – specially the English ones, his favourites being The Times of India and Mid-Day. Says Ajay, "My friends read out the news and stories from Marathi and English newspapers." He’s a keen follower of politics and keeps himself abreast of all the latest developments. "Once upon a time, I loved cricket a lot – but when the match-fixing controversy surfaced, I lost interest in the game.

He’s Internet savvy too. He frequently visits a cyber cafe and, with the help of his friends, chats with his cyber pals. He has a few net pals across the border too. He loves movies and music. He’s even "heard" the latest Sunny Deol blockbuster, Gadar. He even wants to get married to a girl with normal vision. He is always ready to extend help to people in need and strangely, people do seek his help quite often.

And why not? Ajay does keep a track of things by keeping his ears open!