Tag: Social/Community Issues

Celebrate Gently

Celebrate Gently

Last year, on the sixth day of Ganapati Mahotsav, a truck carrying an idol was proceeding towards immersion. The reveling children and adults were dancing to loud music and throwing gulal (red colour) on passers-by. As this writer overtook the truck in his car, some of the ecstatic celebrators tossed some colour, which landed on his windshield, blocking the view partially. Fortunately, it covered only the passenger side of the windshield. If the colour would’ve landed on the driver’s side, it could’ve led to a disaster on the road, risking the lives of pedestrians and of passengers in other vehicles.

Every year the twin cities of Thane and Mumbai celebrate Lord Ganesha’s birthday with vigour. Millions are spent on extravagant pandals, ornate idols complete with themes and contests marking the ten-day festival. Immersions too are grand affairs with devotees dancing all the way to tunes produced by a combination of large drums, banjo, keyboard and other musical instruments. With so much show of devotion, the Lord of Prosperity would be pleased with Mumbai devotees. So what if in the process of celebrating, the devotees cause irreversible damage to His creation? So what if they disturb the peace of their neighbourhood, cause traffic obstructions and create impediments for ordinary passers-by who are trying to reach home after a hard day’s work? These are trivialities that the Lord will obviously overlook. Or will He?

The world over, and especially in India, people spend a lot of energy in trying to please God by celebrating religious festivals lavishly. To be sure, there’s nothing wrong in celebrating per se, even celebrating lavishly. It is only when these celebrations take on a competitive nature, with everyone vying to please God that the problems begin. It does not require a high level of IQ to understand that you cannot bribe your way through to earn the blessings of the almighty, the Creator, the omnipotent. Bigger idols and brighter colours are often made from substances that pollute the environment and harm Mother Nature, which God created with such love.

Loud music creates noise pollution that has been found to be harmful to humans in the long run. And nothing, not even celebration of the Lord’s birthday, justifies the inconvenience that all this causes to millions of residents, both believers and non-believers.

It strikes one as ironical that devotees create impediments for others in the name of the very God who is known as the "Remover of Impediments." Such is the inconsideration displayed by some of the devotees of the Lord that they need Supreme Court rulings to prevent them from blasting music after 10 pm, so that senior citizens and those suffering from high BP can get sound sleep. Come to think of it, it must have been Lord Ganesha who, in the guise of the Supreme Court judges, gave the 10 pm ruling, in order to protect His other devotees – the ones who express their gratitude silently – while the noisy devotees indulge in reckless extravagance to earn brownie points.

Let’s take a pledge this year to be more considerate towards God’s creations – both Mother Nature and Her people. We can do so by acquiring only idols made of clay, keeping noise pollution in check, by immersing the idols at home in a bucket of water, and by celebrating Lord Ganesha’s birthday in the spirit of love for all humanity. Let’s pray for greater peace in the world and seek His blessings for a better world.

Bridging the gap

Bridging the gap

“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future,” said Franklin D Roosevelt. Wiser words are seldom spoken. Last week Thane Women’s Guild (TWG) organised JOSH, a forum for the youth of Thane where young participants got a rare opportunity to interact directly with public authority figures. TWG is a non-profit group comprising of socially conscious women from Thane.

The forum took place at Sahyog Mandir at Ghantali. The audience comprised of students of various colleges in Thane and Mumbai. Dr D Chavan (DCP Traffic) was the first to address the enthusiastic youngsters. Dr Chavan fielded questions on a range of issues such as traffic regulations, image of the police force, imposition of fines and the issue of bribes and corruption. His message to the youth was, “Be careful of your own safety so that you can take care of the safety of others.”

The next on the firing line was Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) Commissioner Sanjay Sethi, who provided the audience with an idea of how TMC functions, its unique challenges, and the awards it has won from state as well as central governments. When asked what according to him should be the role of the youth in 2020, he replied, “Knowledge without action does not mean anything. You, the youth, should orchestrate social change. There are many areas where you could get actively associated. For example, you could resolve to address health and education issues in slums so that there would be no under-nourished children. You know what your calling is – just follow it.” When another young man grumbled about how difficult it was to meet him, to share ideas with him, Sethi replied, “There is an office protocol that you must follow. Don’t give up easily. I am always available on Mondays and Tuesdays between 10 am to 2 pm.” An engineering student asked him if it was possible for him to do his internship with TMC rather than the usual corporate sector and was pleasantly surprised on hearing an affirmative response.

The last panelist, Justice A V Nirgude (Additional Sessions and District Judge) dealt with questions regarding the law. When a young lady in the audience asked him if transfer of judges causes delay in the resolution of a case, he replied with a gentle but firm “no”. Justice Nirgude too had some advice to give to the youngsters. Addressing the young women in the audience, he said, “Start thinking responsibly. Plan your future and your career. Do not be dependent on your parents. Live your life as responsible citizens.” He also urged the youth to seriously consider joining the legal profession.

Alerting Young Girls

Alerting Young Girls

The recent episode of the rape and murder of a young BPO employee in Bangalore is just one of the many that has brought to the fore the growing incidence of sexual crimes against young women. The trauma of victims of crimes such as molestation, torture and rape is not only severe but indelible too. A major contributing factor in preventing such crimes is the refusal of prospective victims (as also their parents and teachers) to believe that they are susceptible. Low awareness and a hesitation to report are other factors that play a key role in encouraging such crimes.

In wake of the increasing abuse and exploitation of women, especially adolescent girls, the Thane Women’s Guild (TWG), organised a programme titled Caution Against Rape and Exploitation (CARE) for teenage girls of Thane. On Saturday, December 17, 2005, more than 150 girls from 10 city-based schools participated in an interactive session and received vital insights in preventing such crimes against them. The audience also included many principals, teachers, parents and even social workers. The programme was organised in association with the Rotary Club of Thane and with significant help from Nirmal Kumar Deshmukh, the Chief Executive Officer of Thane District Zilla Parishad.

Held at Sahyog Mandir, Ghantali, the highlight of the programme was the address by Archana Tyagi, the District Superintendent of Police, Thane Rural. Being a senior woman police officer, the audience found Tyagi’s words both empathetic and sensible. Her candid discussion on the sensitive topic encouraged several young girls in the audience to ask pertinent questions. She was pleased with the programme because she admits that the police force rarely, if ever, gets an opportunity to interact with people directly regarding such issues. Talking to the girls, she emphasised the importance of speaking out about such crimes. Her address was filled with revealing statistics. For instance few of us know that most rapes and molestation cases occur between 2 pm and 9 pm. Another rather interesting myth that Tyagi busted was that poverty is not linked to crime – even well off individuals commit such crimes. When one girl brought up the case of constable Sunil More, Tyagi was quick to point out that More was one bad apple and does not reflect the make-up of the entire 12,000-strong Mumbai police force. In fact she underlined the importance of believing in law and order and reporting such cases to help the system book the criminals.

Preeti Patkar, the executive secretary of PRERNA, an NGO for women in distress was the other speaker of the evening. Patkar, who handled the touchy issue delicately, explained the idea of rape and molestation and how to minimise the chances of becoming a victim. In the unfortunate event that any of them gets being victimised, she urged that such victims should, under no circumstances, hide the incident or suppress their feelings. They should share it with their parents, teachers, friends or whoever they feel close with. She warned them the young girls are innocent and often suffer silently, especially if the victimiser happens to be an older relative who cajoles them into believing that ‘this is normal’ and that they should not reveal it to anybody. She said the victims should never feel guilty as they are not at fault. Instead they should report the matter to the police. She even guided them on how they should approach the police, telling them that they should insist on interacting with a lady constable at all times.

While such programmes create the much-needed awareness in the society to fight against abuse, it is the moral obligation on the part of each and every one of us to be more sensitive to such problems and train young girls and boys into becoming more sensible and alert.

Expressions of Love

Expressions of Love

Love and music are inseparable twins. Love is expressed best through music. Likewise, one of music’s biggest sources of inspiration is love. Last Saturday, about 60 students of Indian classical music experienced the awesome combination of love and music at a programme organised by the city-based group called Music Circle.

Renowned classical singer Rajashree Pathak was accompanied by tabla maestro P Mukundraj Deo in her rendition of thumri, which is a rich form of classical music that is romantic and devotional in nature, and usually revolves around a girl’s love for Lord Krishna. Pathak, who is a disciple of the legendary queen of thumri Shobha Gurtu, filled the air with the sounds of love like only an accomplished singer like her can. The students benefited immensely as they got the opportunity to learn the finer nuances of thumri.

Thumri Programme by Music Circle

While on stage, Pathak narrated what she called one of her fondest memories on stage. She was playing tanpura at a concert organised by the Indian Music Group. The two performers that day were her guru Shobha Gurtu from Banaras Gharana and Nirmala Arun, mother of the actor Govinda, who was also a renowned thumri singer from Patiala Gharana. Their jugalbandi (duet) was accompanied by the tabla maestros Ustad Nizamuddin Khan and Ustad Zakir Hussain. “This event took place 25 years ago, but remains fresh in my memory. Even today I am spellbound by the reminiscence of that performance,” she said.

The 85-member strong Music Circle is run by senior students of Shri Ganesh Nritya Kala Mandir, where they learn performing arts like tabla, classical dance, or classical music. All programmes are managed by the member students, who organise one programme every three months or so. The group was formally inaugurated on 10 July 2005 at the hands of a veteran of Indian classical music, Lalaji Desai.

The idea behind Music Circle is to close the gap between the performing artists and the audience. In early days, the audience, often comprising students of music, interacted closely with the performers. But in these days of commercialisation of classical music, the artists perform on stage and have very little, if any, direct interaction with the audiences. “I felt that genuine lovers of the art should get an opportunity to closely observe, and learn from, performers who are talented but often unknown,” said Pt Mukundraj Deo, who is also the founder of the group. Deo is of the opinion that it is imperative for a student of any art to have a profound understanding of the art. “How can one render the highly expressive thumri unless you grasp its essence?” he asks.

Women of Culture

Talking about music, a group of women from Jai Ganaraj Society located in Ramchandra Nagar, Thane, were so disappointed with the remix and pop culture that has inundated our social and community gatherings that they decided to do something to preserve Indian culture.

Preserving Indian Culture

Instead of playing the routine remixed music at the annual social gathering that took place in their society, these women prepared and presented a cultural programme called “Maharashtrachi Lokdhara”, which showcased Maharashtra’s rich cultural tradition, its historical backgrounds, literature, music and art. The audience loved the programme and soon the word spread outside. In no time they began to get invitations to perform at other community events. Since then they have already given as many as 10 performances in Thane and Mulund.

The one-hour programme, which starts with Ganesh Vandana, depicts household activities of women in rural areas. Folk songs and folk dances like powada, mangla gaur, lavni, koli, dindi, and many more are staged.

The 12 women, most of who are aged more than 50 years, manage to find time to practise regularly in spite of their domestic chores or employment duties. That they don’t charge for their shows tells a lot about their dedication towards their cause of preserving Indian culture.

Each One Reach One

Each One Reach One

Losing a loved one is perhaps the most challenging of all tests that life offers. At such times it is comforting to know that even though our physical existence is a time-bound phenomenon, the mysterious and unseen energy called life is beyond the grip of time. In that sense, each one of us is immortal. One such immortal soul is Archit Chitre, a compassionate and visionary young boy, whose physical existence came to an end on 18 April 2000 when, at 16, he succumbed to cancer. But Archit lives on.

On October 22, 2005, which is Archit’s birthday, a trust named ARCHIT (Alliance of Real Creative Humane Individuals Today) was born. The trust, formed by Archit’s parents, will work towards fulfilling their son’s dream of a loving and caring society. The focus of the trust would be welfare activities for children in Thane.

Each one Reach One - Learning Project for Slum Children

Health, education, recreation, foster care and sponsorship programmes are some of the things on ARCHIT’s agenda.

The first of ARCHIT’s initiatives, called Child-to-Child Programme, was kicked off on November 14 (Children’s Day), in Thane. The programme helps children from the privileged sections of the society to become sensitised to their less fortunate counterparts and lend a helping hand to them. ARCHIT Disha, a learning project by Bhartiya Mahila Federation and led by Dr Gita Mahajan, was instituted in Jankadevi Slums at Pokhran 2. Around 50 slum children from various age groups were identified. These children don’t or can’t go to school for some reason or the other and will be taught by school- or college-going students from well-to-do families.

ARCHIT will provide them with books and other educational facilities.

ARCHIT’s primary objective is to encourage and facilitate children to form networks within their own locality and then take up issues of social relevance. The motto of ARCHIT is “Each one, reach one”. Several children have already been doing social work in their own small way. With ARCHIT’s support, these children can now go beyond their own capacity and offer serious assistance to those in need. For instance, on Children’s Day, another ARCHIT project involved a young girl from Lok Puram. Along with a her friends, Jennifer Augustine visited Jeevan Asha, a care centre for children of construction workers, where they interacted with the children there and understood first hand the problems of these children. Jennifer and her friends will now spread this awareness to a larger group and mobilise help in various forms. Another poignant story is of Neerja Randive, a class VI student from Sulochanadevi Singhania School, who visited a 96-year-old man in Vasant Vihar and has expressed her wish to “adopt” him. Abhishek Rajderkar, a class X student in Vasant Vihar School has taken the lead for a project called “From Children’s Day to Mother’s Day”. The project, which began on November 14, will culminate on May 8, 2006 on Mother’s Day, when children will appeal for the formation of an alliance of mothers.

The force behind the trust is Archit’s mother, who prefers to be called “Mit”. Mit, which in Hindi, means “friend”, is also an acronym for “Made In Thane”. ARCHIT is also supported by several adults, called mentors, who contribute in their own ways. Archit’s father Pradeep Chitre, Sulochana Kapil, Sarmishtha Chaudhury, Bharti Modi and so many more…the list goes on.

Thane can already feel the presence of ARCHIT and soon even Mumbai and Navi Mumbai will feel him. Mit says, “This is only a small beginning. Activities such as those undertaken by ARCHIT must extend beyond time and space, so that our children will continue the good work long after us.”

ARCHIT has extended an invitation to children from Thane interested in working for a social cause to identify, and bring along, one “underprivileged buddy” from their locality, who can then be supported by ARCHIT. Children can contact Mit on 55998815 or Sarmistha Chaudury on 9821521569.

Elders’ Day Out

Elders’ Day Out

In an era when apathy towards elders is becoming a norm rather than an exception, when grandparents are looked upon as a burden and are often abused, and when increasing number of crimes are being committed against senior citizens, it is reassuring that there are still people who respect the aged.

Elder's Day Out

A couple of weeks ago, more than 200 elders attended the thoughtful programme organised in their honour. The occasion was World Elder’s Day and the organisers were their own grandchildren and students of Sri Ma Group of Institutions. This year’s theme was ‘Respect for Elders at Home’. The children applied tilak, conducted aarti, and sought blessings of their grandparents. An elocution competition on the topic ‘We and Our Grandparents’ and a slogan-writing competition added to the emotional energy of event. The children also presented entertainment programmes and played games in which grandparents also participated.

The next day, on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi Jayanti, the elders experienced another round of compassion when they participated in a free comprehensive health check-up camp, complete with specialist doctors to check every ailment. The camp was organised by Sri Ma Senior Citizens Welfare Centre, which also sponsored follow up consultations, x-rays and other tests where required. The trust also undertook the cost of operation and its pre and post-operative expenses of those elders who were diagnosed with cataract but could not afford the operation. Elders were shown a documentary on hearing aid.

Refreshments, free transport and free medicines for the participants were other highlights of the camp.

The government of India recently announced that it is going to introduce a bill to safeguard the interest of senior citizens by ensuring that children provide for their parents, both financially and emotionally. While it’s great to see the government making such a move, what is painful is that the need for it has arisen due to the indifference of the young towards their old. The children often forget that they owe their lives to their parents and grandparents. They forget that someday they will become old too.

Woman worshippers
Goddess Durga, with her multi-dimensional aspects, represents the supreme power in the female form. Mother of Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati, Durga Ma protects us from misery by defeating evil forces such as selfishness, jealousy, prejudice, hatred, anger and ego. In that sense, Goddess Durga is the ultimate projection of womanhood. No wonder a group of women from the city celebrate this feminine energy by dedicating one of the ten days in the Durgotsav festival to the spirit of women entrepreneurs.

Every year, on the fifth day of the Durgotsav festival (Panchami), women from Thane’s New Bengal Club, an NGO that works for the underprivileged, the variously disabled and women-related issues, organises AnandaMela, a fun-fair that showcases products and services of woman entrepreneurs.

This year too, about 50 women entrepreneurs from Thane and Mumbai participated in AnandaMela to sell jewellery, women’s wear, readymade garments, fashion fabrics, handicrafts and many more items. The Bengali festive spirit was evident in the wide array of sweet delicacies and the typical attire of the bhadralok and the bhadramohila. The chief guest for the evening was entrepreneur Smita Mahajan, who is the chairperson of Bombay Management Association’s Thane chapter and also of Matru Shakti, a city-based NGO.

The proceeds of AnandaMela are used for humanitarian activities and including donations to charities. For the beneficiaries of the proceeds, AnandaMela is not less than the blessing of Goddess Durga, who reveals her omnipotence in mysterious ways.

Walking like Mahatma Gandhi

Walking like Mahatma Gandhi

In spite of what some people think, Mahatma Gandhi’s values and principles are more relevant now than ever before. Today, even as his ideologies are being criticised by people of far less stature, we would do well to remember that the world’s most respected thinkers openly declared their reverence of the father of our nation – Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, George Bernard Shaw, Rabindranath Tagore, Sri Aurobindo, Dr Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Sardar Vallabhai Patel – the list is endless.

October 02, 2005 was Gandhiji’s 136th birth anniversary. It was also the seventh consecutive year of the Shanti Yatra or peace march in the city. The focus was on children this time, with more than 500 students from 12 prominent schools participating in the march. Like in the past, the march began at St John the Baptist High School and ended at the bust of Mahatma Gandhi at Shivaji Path. People from all religions participated in walk that covered prominent city areas like 3 petrol pump, Hari Nivas, Naupade Police Station, Ice Factory, and Dr Ambedkar Road.

85-year-old Cardinal Simon Pimenta came all the way from the Archbishop House Colaba to participate in the Peace March. Notwithstanding his old age, the Cardinal walked the entire stretch of five kilometres without a break. Such was the Cardinal’s regard for the Mahatma that when come concerned volunteers offered him to sit in the car that was travelling alongside as a precaution, he replied, "If you’re tired, why don’t you sit in the car?" Commissioner of Police, D Sivanandan, Dr Homi Dhalla, president of the World Zoroastrian Cultural Federation in Mumbai and Dr. Dawood A Dalvi, ex-Principal of DnyanSadhana College were among the other dignitaries who participated in the march.

Shanti Yatra started as an initiative of Garden School at Cherai in 1999 and then in the subsequent years, several city-based NGOs joined hands to participate in organising the march. The peace march receives the support of hundreds of peace loving residents of Thane. The purpose of Shanti Yatra is to spread the eternal wisdom of Mahatma’s values. Observing October 02 as a holiday and paying a tribute to the great man is not sufficient. What we need is to remember what Gandhji lived and died for. Throughout the march, nobody shouted slogans, but instead carried placards with Mahatma’s messages written on them.

After the March, Pranjali Deshpande, a class VIII student from Vasant Vihar School spoke spiritedly about the significance of ideals such as self-reliance and simplicity that Gandhiji strongly advocated and practised. The participants of the march also sang Gandhiji’s bhajans. Cardinal Pimenta spoke about Gandhiji’s philosophy of ahimsa (non-violence), while Commissioner Sivanandhan congratulated the organisers for the rally and stressed on the need for embracing Gandhiji’s values in the present times. "We must follow his teachings to make this country a better place," he said. The participants then took an oath read out by Anand Turakia from NGO Sevadham. Loosely translated from Hindi, it read thus: "We pledge that we will follow the path upon which the apostle of non-violence walked. We will assimilate the essence of all religions. We will give importance to humanity, non-violence and peace. We will strengthen the bond of love between people and we will strive to make our country a haven of peace."

Most of us tend to become discouraged when we think about the sorry state of affairs that surround us today and wonder whether it is possible to adhere to Gandhiji’s principles. At such times, it would be wise to remember what the Mahatma once said when describing how the British would react to his winning strategy of non-violent activism: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Let this philosophy of persistence guide us along our way so that we never give in to hopelessness; let us walk the path of peace like the Mahatma did.

Selflessly Yours

Selflessly Yours

Every once in a while we hear of an individual who we would all like to emulate. Meet 63-year-old Thaneite C R Upendra Rao, fondly known as "Shri Balgopal", who did the city proud when he was chosen to receive the Rajiv Gandhi Shiromani Award in New Delhi last month. The Award is conferred on select Indian citizens in recognition of their outstanding contributions and achievements in the field of industry, business, public life, administration, social, educational and cultural services. Balgopal was bestowed the award by His Excellency R L Bhatia, the governor of Kerala for his contributions in the spheres of education, social service and culture.

On his return the city, Balgopal was felicitated at a function organised by the Sri Ma Group of Institutions at its Vidyanagari premises at Patlipada, Thane in the presence of several dignitaries, including Chief Guest, V Ranganathan who is the former Chief Secretary to the Government of Maharashtra, and Guests of Honour, S K Agrawal, (Executive Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd.) and Milind Ballal (Editor, Thane Vaibhav).

His Excellency R L Bhatia (Governor of Kerala) presenting the Rajiv Gandhi Shiromani Award (2005) to Sri Balgopal

In spite of donning several hats (he is an educator, writer, editor, social worker, Gandhian, speaker, scholar, and lots more), Balgopal remains humble, as was demonstrated in his thanksgiving speech at the felicitation ceremony, where he started thus, "I surrender this Rajiv Gandhi Shiromani award at the lotus feet of divine mother [Sri Tara Ma] and Swami Omkarananda. This award is not mine alone, but in fact is shared by many like Dilip Deherkar, R Nirmal Jyoti, Ramesh Joshi, Manju Tejwani and Rajan for taking the initiative in sending my profile and Sanjay Bhoir for designing it." After this, he went on to thank a lot of people for having helped him help others, including staff, students, parents and members of the various departments that he is associated with. He also expressed his gratitude, among others, to doctors for all the free medical camps, donors and volunteers involved in relief and rehabilitation work, relief commissioners, collectors of respective districts, local leaders and social activists. Later, while speaking about Balgopal, Swami Omkarananda praised his renunciation of material pleasures in favour of an altruistic life. "You have set an ideal for generations to follow," he concluded.

It was 35 years ago, at a ripe age of 27, that Balgopal renounced the material life and sought refuge under Sri Tara Ma, founder of the Sri Ma Trust, expressing his desire to serve the world selflessly. He started as a correspondent at the Sri Ma Bal Niketan High School housed in a small apartment in Thane, and worked his way through to become an integral part of the Sri Ma Trust, which owes its growth in large part to Balgopal’s contributions. During the last three-and-a-half-decades, Balgopal’s social service activities have provided a different dimension to the Trust’s service activities. In times of calamities, Balgopal’s urge to serve becomes even stronger. Whether it is the floods of Jambulpada and Nagothane, the Mumbai riots, the Orissa Super Cyclone, the Gujarat Earthquake, the Tsunami or the recent flooding in  Mumbai, he has galvanised the Trust’s resources for relief and rehabilitation work.

Balgopal’s contributions to society, his role in spreading the good work, indeed his entire life, has set a high precedent, inspiring many to recognise that true contentment lies in serving others. If even a few follow his footsteps, society will owe a lot to him.

Now Showing: God and His Creation

Now Showing: God and His Creation

Pitale family from Thane is one of the few who celebrate Lord Ganesha’s birthday by spreading a socially relevant message. After winning the award for the best eco-friendly Ganpati decoration for two consecutive years, Jidnyasa’s managing trustee Surendra Dighe requested them to create a “role model” decoration this year for the rest to follow. And Pitale’s gladly obliged.  

Visit their home at Shruti Park in Kolshet, where Lord Ganesha sits in his comfortable abode – a mini-theatre, complete with sound effects, lighting and an LCD projector. As devotees enter this room, they are treated to a 10-minute show, made of stories that leave them in deep contemplation. The narration is in Marathi or English, depending on the visitors.

Lord Ganesha and His Creation

The show begins with a voiceover narrating a story that beautifully illustrates how people follow rituals blindly without understanding the basis. A Brahmin is on his way to perform his morning prayers. Because in Hinduism it is customary to bathe before a prayer, the Brahmin decides to take a dip in the river. Before the dip, he creates a shivling next to his belongings so that when he comes back, he would be able to identify his stuff from others. While he’s doing so, he is unaware that a young Brahmin is observing him. When he goes into the river, the young Brahmin concludes that creating a shivling is ritual before dipping in the river. So he too creates a shivling, keeps his stuff next to it and goes bathing. Soon the entire bank of the river is adorned with Shivlings. When the Brahmin returns he is shocked as he can’t identify his belongings anymore – all because of a blind ritual!

The next story is about a farmer in the olden days, who reaps a good harvest and is grateful to Mother Nature. To express his gratitude he takes some soil from the fertile land and makes an idol of Ganpati, who is the Lord of Prosperity, and worships it. After his veneration, he immerses the idol in the river that flows next to his farm as it is the same river that makes his land fertile. The idea is to unite the idol with the source from where it came. Looking at this farmer, other farmers follow suit and thus a ritual of worshiping the soil, the nature begins. Unfortunately, in the modern-day celebrations, we have forgotten the soil and focus on the idol instead. Instead of quiet, heartfelt expression of gratitude, we now have idols made of non-biodegradable plaster of paris and harmful chemicals, accompanied by loud cacophony music that cares little for Mother Nature.

The next story is about Lokmanya Tilak’s Sarvajanik (Public) Ganpati celebrations. During the freedom struggle, when the British banned public gatherings to prevent freedom fighters from conspiring against them, Tilak set in motion public celebrations of Ganpati to hold political meetings under the guise of religious celebrations. In the post-freedom era, the idea of celebrating Ganpati has taken on a new, competitive meaning, where pandals compete on whose idols are bigger and better.

The show is captivating and the decor is simple yet refreshing. The background is made of paper cut-outs that are used to illustrate the stories narrated in the show. All the three stories are narrated with the help of an LCD projector. The timed lighting effects add to the overall appeal of the show. The show ends with the narrator reminding us of the importance of respecting Mother Nature: “Our ancestors knew that they owe their existence to nature and endeavoured to live in harmony with the environment. But modern man assumes that he can dominate Planet Earth. Natural calamities like Tsunami, Mumbai floods caused by the heaviest downpour, and now Katrina Hurricane in the US are perhaps reminders that Nature is still beyond our control and we must learn to respect it lest we face the consequences.”

 The Pitale’s don’t just preach, they even practise. They don’t immerse their Ganpati idol – the same one is in use since three years now, but it is impossible to believe because it looks new. And in spreading the message of sparing Mother Nature, the whole family is united. Tusshar Pitale (concept and narration), his wife (artwork), his son Vaibhav (sound effects and mixing), his daughter Jaswandi (Narration in English), elder brother Mandar and his son Gaurav (electrical and light effects) have all played a part in organising this show which has already completed 48 screenings.

The Pitale show serves to remind us the best way to express gratitude to God is to respect His creation. The importance of respecting our nature, our environment cannot be overemphasised. Perhaps Frank Lloyd Wright, a famous US architect, said it the best, “I believe in God, only I spell it N-A-T-U-R-E.”

Readers may contact Tusshar Pitale on 9820601444 or may visit B1/103, Shruti Park in Kolshet for a first-hand experience of being one with Nature.

Height of Teaching

Height of Teaching

Madame Montessori, whose name is synonymous with child education, was a tall woman. No, I am not referring to her height, but her social stature. Born on August 31, 1870, Montessori became Italy’s first woman doctor. Initially, she took care of children’s physical ailments and diseases. Eventually, her curiosity led her to explore the minds of children and how they learn. By the early twentieth century, Dr Maria Montessori’s mission was to propagate radically different methods of teaching young children. “Help me do it myself” was her idea of teaching. In other words, she encouraged experiential learning – where children learn by observing, interacting, and experiencing, instead of relying on memory.

She went on to write several books on the subject and set up many institutes based on her philosophy, which was catching on throughout the world, including India. Today, a hundred years later, her teaching philosophy is as relevant as it was in her times.

A lady named Tarabai Modak, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, who started a Balwadi in the Sabarmati Ashram based on Montessori’s teaching philosophy, was also a pioneer of sorts in the area of child education. On, 31 August 2005, the 135th birth anniversary of Dr Maria Montessori, city-based Saraswati Vidya Mandir Trust’s Pre-primary section celebrated a Memorial Day in honour of the two great women. The school invited parents/grandparents of their Kindergarten students to participate in a two-day programme. About 400 adults learnt about the Montessori Method of teaching. Whether it was Maths, Science, Arts, or Music, the young children learn not in classroom or from books, but by experiencing and experimenting hands on. Parents discovered how their children understood the five senses (biology), shapes of toys and objects (geometry), reflection from mirrors (physics), and many other phenomena by being involved in them rather than grasping them conceptually. Such learning is not only more fun but is also more enduring than the bookish variety. Wonder why only children are taught this way, because such a wonderful method of teaching ought to be introduced even at senior levels of education.

When Montessori met Mahatma
Montessori met Mahatma Gandhi in the beginning of October, 1931 in London. And on October 28, 1931 Gandhiji spoke at the Montessori Training College, London where Montessori was also in attendance. His speech, published in Young India dated 19 November 1931, concluded thus: “You have very truly remarked that if we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have the struggle, we won’t have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering.”

Moving towards God

Since 1998, city-based NGO Jidnyasa has been campaigning for eco-friendly Ganpati celebrations. Last year, even the Thane Municipal Corporation joined in by initiating moves to protect the city’s lakes. But Jidnyasa’s Youth Group is not resting. Their mission is to minimise public immersions of idols as they cause pollution. Surendra Dighe, Managing Trustee of Jidnyasa, says, “There is scientific evidence that Ganpati idols, unless made of clay, are non-biodegradable. We, who are aware of the dangers of this trend, must spread the awareness before it’s too late. I think this is the proper use of science – out there in the social context and not inside laboratories.”

Moving closer to Lord Ganesha

Jidnyasa’s primary target is students, who not only influence their parents today, but are also decision-makers of tomorrow. On Sunday, about 300 students formed a human chain around the Masunda Lake with the objective of spreading the good word. And their campaign seems to be having a positive effect – already close to 1000 families from Thane have promised not to immerse idols. To encourage use of clay idols, Jidnyasa organises an annual competition for the “Most Eco-Friendly Decoration in Thane”.

It is said that Cleanliness is next to Godliness. If more and more residents vow to embrace the eco-friendly way, then Thane city is set to move several steps closer to Lord Ganesha. Because, there is no better way to please Him than to keep His creation, His environment free from toxic waste.