Thursday, April 08, 2021

Bhumi - Problems Galore, Connect the Dots

Taking a lot of people along towards a common goal is difficult, especially when ties are weak and communication is broken and you don't know who are all the people. Towards late 2006 - early 2007, from my perspective, it seemed, everything was going awry.

In BM, a few months earlier we had started drafting a 'constitution' to formalize a rule book for the informal group. Someone was naïve enough to think that we were the first such group to do so, I even remember picking up silly arguments over that… A lot of people started quitting for various reasons and I had a lot of trouble keeping up. When Santhosh (then employed at a PSU, now full-time AAP activist) who used to lead the drafting team quit, the mantle fell on Abhijit (then a civil services aspirant) and me. Everything seemed to be up for debate why the name Bhumi, why did we register Bhumi and in Chennai, specific clauses of the rules drafted several months before, our intent etc.

 

What made matters worse was a lack of clarity on who was raising questions and why. People who seemed to have become inactive were suddenly popping up to raise questions or share their thoughts. I seemed to be performing an important responsibility. But among a virtual, mixed age group of people without strong ties, I felt powerless and crawling in a minefield. Personally too, it was an extremely challenging time and it was quite a roller coaster going down. At times, I had self-doubt whether it was all worth it. During that period, Gyan who was already disillusioned with the national group urged me to focus only on the work we were doing in Chennai and the staunch practical support of my friend Abhijit kept me going.

 

When I look back at this phase and connect the dots, two aspects of the organisation and its culture stemmed from here. The youth-only age bar protected the fledgeling group as we matured on our own. A strong bias for action came out of an aversion from people who only gave ideas or raised questions.

 

Have often had you been grateful for the tough times when you connected the dots? Leave a comment.



#StartupStories #Bhumi #StartYourNGO

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Book Recco : A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I had tears in my eyes when I finished this heartwarming, funny story about a grumpy old man and the community he lives in. #MustRead #5Stars Can't wait for the movie by #TomHanks

Some quotes that stayed with me

‘Loving someone is like moving into a house,’ Sonja used to say. ‘At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come rushing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake had been made, you weren’t actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this. Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection, but rather its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without their creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home.’

Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the great motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

What's the value of a Co-founder?

Sometime back a friend reached out to me for advice on how to handle challenges in another founder-led organisation. It was another occasion to reflect how Bhumi was a vastly different organisation primarily because we have active co-founders. 

In the early years, there were several key people and volunteers who played a role in bringing our informal group to the stage where we formed and grew Bhumi. While there were many 'founding members' (more about them in the coming months), there were just three co-founders. The value of an equal, active co-founder in the non-profit sector is hard to measure both within and outside the org.

We hardly did any conference calls then apart from our monthly meetings. Hari and I would connect often to align. Since Hari and Ayyanar were childhood friends, they used to discuss a lot and do things together. Hari played a significant role in the first few years until he left for the US. It was not until after that, I started working a lot more with Ayyanar directly.

While Ayyanar has largely focused on the programmes, I have largely focused on the organisation. Often Ayyanar shares how he has taken leadership learnings from Bhumi to his corporate job and vice versa, I have largely learnt a lot from/shared with the eco-system. While Ayyanar is more intuitive with people and connects more easily, he largely remains in the shadows and I have been the face of the organisation both externally and internally. While we do have long discussions, debates and disagreements, there has never been a major conflict in all these years.

But the most important thing is the hardest to see and is a culture that must be experienced. When there is not just a single 'founder' or 'leader', ownership is shared, which has then made it easier to create a culture of shared ownership with every Bhumian.

Thank you Ayyanar for being who you are, for all the shared moments, achievements, and learning. Wish you a very Happy Birthday!

From L>R I am standing with Hari, Malli and Ayyanar in this picture taken at Anbu Karangal in 2007

#StartupStories #Bhumi #StartYourNGO


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Bhumi - Failure#2 Hitting Rock Bottom

I came to know from Hari that the person in charge of the first shelter home where we taught had asked us for a report and since we were not able to provide the report, I had to go meet this person and sort things out … Little did I know how that meeting would change it all and I would also meet the third person who influenced and shaped Bhumi.

Because I was coordinating the Pudupettai Community centre, I had discontinued teaching at the first centre, Bala Mandir. There was a break in the classes because of some holidays and the children had some exams. When Hari went to seek permission to restart the classes, he was asked to submit a report on what impact our classes had on the children.

 

We were thoroughly befuddled by the request. We had neither made a diagnostic baseline assessment, nor one at the end of our last class. Even though Hari had planned each class, we had never planned the programme to achieve a cumulative impact. After some weeks of being paralysed in inaction, we decided to go meet her and explain our predicament.

 

Hari fixed the meeting because it was on a weekday morning and he could not go, I went instead. Ms.Maya Gaitonde a trustee of the shelter home is an imposing person who manages almost everything at Bala Mandir even today. Imagine a Principal in a school and she would tick off all the checkboxes. The children loved her, but she could be strict; she has the best interests of the children in mind even if it meant being tough. I remember waiting on the bench outside her room and 'Hari from Bhumi' was called in for the meeting. She understood we had no impact report and gave me a thorough dressing down. I was prepared with detailed explanations on why we could not do what she was expecting us, but I hardly got out a word! She kept referring to me as Hari and I could not even open my mouth to correct her! The meeting ended with a stalemate, without a report, we could not restart classes!

 

From a seeming high, we had hit rock bottom.

 

Do you remember a time in life when you hit rock bottom? Leave a comment.



Thursday, March 18, 2021

Bhumi - Failure#1

We seemed to be on a high, we had quickly started two centres, we had volunteers joining us almost every week, we had managed to register Bhumi. But things unravelled quite quickly …

At our second centre classes continued regularly, we even started weekday evening classes. In those days I used to study at the Library in the TN MGR Medical University, Guindy, Chennai. In the afternoon, I would make 20 KM trips to Pudupettai so that we would be there immediately after the children reached home from school. Within a few classes, we realised the children needed support with basic English. I was especially struggling and purchased some English books with alphabets and small words to teach.

 

First, it happened on & off, that the staff of the partner organisation would forget to come. Without their support there would be no room to teach, so we would sit on the floor and teach the children. The floor was made of terracotta tiles and was slightly hot from the afternoon sun. The kids never had a problem and were quite regular, so we trudged on. On some weeks, some other volunteers would join me too but mostly it was just me. Female volunteers who found the courage to walk into the community would gingerly stand as our classes happened on the floor. Volunteers were dropping off regularly and we realized that there was a gap between the idealism and optimism of the core team to take on the tougher challenge of directly working in a community and what the new volunteers were comfortable doing.

 

After some days the staff completely stopped turning up or answering my calls. One evening after walking up three floors through the dirt lined walls of the housing complex, I found the door to the rooftop locked and I was the only volunteer there. No reasons were given, we were simply shut off. At that time I thought maybe the organisation was wary that we were now 'registered NGO' sharing their space. Now I feel it could have also been that the staff simply did not like to spend the extra time there. I remember standing behind the shut door in the semi-darkness and dialling Hari (in the pic on an earlier occasion) to confer. We decided immediately.


 

I could have tried reviving the partnership, but we simply quit. This was the last time I would teach children for another decade, but I hadn't decided then.

 

Have there been times, when you suddenly gave up suddenly in frustration? Leave a comment

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Before Bhumi - Getting to Bhumi

While in Madurai Medical College I was part of a failed attempt to register the TN Medical Students Association. We formed an informal group and tried to formalise it to demand better learning and working conditions for the residents. Then, our registration was rejected on technical grounds …

I started making enquiries on how to register an NGO and understood there were two possible options, to register as a Society or a Trust (now I also know there is a third option of registering a Section 8 Company). While registering as a Trust seemed to have a lesser compliance burden, we chose to register as a Society because Gyan advised it would be better to have a system where we reported accounts etc. to the government annually. Even then the choice of transparency over convenience was clear.

 

I found the nearest registrar office and we submitted the application to register Bhumi. The registrar office is a tough place to navigate for a novice with 10-20 registries including marriages, property (more lucrative and hence a higher priority at the office). To avoid the pitfalls of the previous attempt I took the help of an agent Ms. Latha to complete the process. Watch the movie Indian where the young Kamal Haasan, how he's seated outside the RTO, much like that :)

 

Within a few days, Ms. Latha informed me that, the name "Bhumi" could not be accepted and that we had to re-submit an application with a more appropriate name like "Bhumi Educational Charitable Society" etc. When I refused to accept that and explained to her that the name "Bhumi" was important, she suggested I meet the registrar and appeal, if he agreed we could register as Bhumi itself.

 

Ms. Latha has a mobile phone but she hardly answers (even now!) so every day I would visit the registrar office to seek a meeting with the registrar. Either he would be busy, or travelling or someone in the team who has to get the file would be on leave. After seven, maybe ten attempts over a 2-3 week period I finally met him and pitched. I explained about our pan-India group and we wanted the name "Bhumi" because it meant the same in most Indian languages. He agreed and a few weeks later in November we were officially registered!

 

Several years later I learnt that an #Entrepreneur was someone who never took no for an answer.

Do you agree? Leave a comment

 

#StartupStories #Bhumi #StartYourNGO

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Before Bhumi - October 2, 2006

I found out that to register an NGO you need to state your objectives. So, on October 2, 2006, Gyan, Prakash, a few others and I gathered at the Himalayas canteen in IIT Madras to draft these. Ayyanar would later tell me that Hari and he decided to skip the meeting because they thought the rest of us would take care of it. Attached is the notepad we wrote it on it's my handwriting in the first half and Gyan's below. The parts in Italics are my notes on the points explaining further.

01. To promote social entrepreneurship - Our solution for joblessness and prosperity for all

02. To promote eco-friendly technology for sustainable development - Our solution to prevent environmental damage while leveraging science & technology effectively

03. To use modern tools and technologies for promoting education and scientific temper among the urban under-privileged and in rural areas - Note the focus on urban poor even then

04. To promote nationalism and patriotism in youth - We wanted more people to be like us

05. To suitably empower local administrative bodies for equitable development and proper implementation of welfare schemes  - Our solution for better governance starts with the grassroots

06. To create awareness of diseases/natural calamities and ways to prevent/manage the situation as and when required - the incredible foresight of Gyan, probably his life experiences growing up in disaster-prone Orissa

I hope the story and the objectives, gives you a window into how we thought at that point. Share your thoughts as a comment

#StartupStories #Bhumi #StartYourNGO

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Before Bhumi - August 15, 2006

August 15, is an important date for India and for Bhumi. The day in 2006 was not remarkable in any manner, but it's a date we celebrate and cherish … It's the day the idea of Bhumi was born ...

We had planned to celebrate Independence Day at the Pudupettai community centre. A few days before, I was on a call with Soundarya & Jayalakshmi planning the activities. One of them involved a ball and we were wondering, what if the ball fell down from the terrace? I casually told Soundarya that she could go down to pick it up and would lose weight in the process. I realized I had said something inappropriate only when she disconnected the call. 😞However, within a few minutes, she called me back on her own to continue the discussion. Over the years, I have made my share of mistakes and grown from them because of people like Soundarya, who have positively influenced me.

 

Though I was looking forward to the event earlier, because of the events of the previous night, I had to push myself to be there on that day. We didn't take any pictures but someone clicked this one impromptu.


After the activities, we sang the national anthem with the children and wrapped up the event. I left the place deep in thought. As I drove back home in my Hero Honda bike under the hot Chennai sun, it became clear what had to be done to continue the journey ...

 

Every day, so many people feel pain, so many ideas are born, yet, why do only some sprout and flourish? What's the secret/x-factor? Leave a comment


#StartupStories #Bhumi #StartYourNGO

Monday, February 22, 2021

Book Recco: Crowdfunding: The Story of People

Do pick up this book if you are looking to understand Crowd-funding, it's history, why it's needed, what are the various types, challenges and future predictions. It's backed by a lot of data and could be overwhelming at places for a non-serious reader.

While this book has examples of great crowdfunding campaigns, this is not a how-to book on crowdfunding. If you do not understand crowd-funding at all, you will finish this book a believer. I found the first few sections very academic, but largely the book was great to read.

The book also has a section on Non-profit fundraising which covers Bhumi's own experience shifting from smile tickets to Give fundraisers and also quotes me "Crowdfunding platforms are democratic, if an NGO has engaged and communicated sufficiently to build a base of fundraisers and donors, their size doesn't matter" 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Before Bhumi - August 14, 2006

On August 14, 2006, there was a split in the group and the Hyderabad team decided to chart their own path.

In the weeks leading up to that night, many of us in BM were surprised to know that the group in Hyderabad had registered as an NGO in the name of Bhumi. Though I didn't fully understand what led them to the decision to break away; I wanted the group to stay together and felt deceived that the name was being taken away. At that point in time, I was naïve in believing that the domain http://bhumi.in/ was also crucial to our further plans.

I remember a really long late-night conference call and the disappointing realization that the Hyderabad group had decided to move on and the rest of us were powerless to change things now. 

The group in Hyderabad was led by someone who inspired his team to do more than any of the other chapters had managed to until then. They continued to do inspiring work for several years and later we also collaborated with them. Earlier that day he had asked me if they could use one of the logos we had shortlisted and I readily agreed. This would add to the brand confusion that continued for several years and I have at times regretted that I agreed.

A few years back they decided to cease operations and I ended up acquiring the expired domain. I often share this Tamil adage with this example "Poruthaar Bhumi Alvar" translates to "The one who waits with patience, will rule the world (Bhumi)"

Have you gotten something you wanted after years of patient waiting? Leave a comment.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Before Bhumi - The Micro Finance Idea

Our meeting used to be a melting pot of ideas, many ideas were proposed, while some proposed ideas and disappeared, some stayed back to execute them.

One of the ideas that would shape the course of the organisation came from a volunteer who was older than all of us…

Anurag Shrivatsava used to then work at a large Multi-National Bank in Chennai and used to frequent our meetings. I first learnt about micro-finance from him. His idea was to identify tribal people in forests and needy people in rural areas and give them small loans to develop trades. We discussed the ideas over a few meets when he suggested we visit the department of Forests and explore the idea further.

We visited the TN Forest Department office at Panagal Building, Saidapet, Chennai where after a long wait we got to meet one of the senior officials. I don't remember him heeding our idea so much. What's etched in my memory is his outright refusal to even discuss with a group that was not a 'registered NGO'.

We tried convincing we were a large group, IIT, youth etc. but he wasn't impressed and told us to come back after we were registered

This was my first exposure to the bureaucracy as a part of Bhumi and I returned dejected

Have you had an experience when someone flatly refused to take you seriously? Leave a comment.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Before Bhumi - A Self-sustainable practice and who I learnt it from

While the weekly classes continued, we continued to meet every month. Initially, our meetings used to be either the Gandhi Mandapam park or on the lawn at the entrance of IIT Madras. This was while Manish, Gyan and others used to host the meetings

 

As more volunteers who were not from IIT joined us, we started meeting primarily at the Gandhi Mandapam park, once in a while at the Guindy Children's park and stopped having meetings at IIT. While at the Children's park we had stone benches to sit and was suitable for small groups, we used to sit on the floor in a large circle on the lawns of Gandhi Mandapam park.

 

Meetings would usually be national level updates about BM, some initiatives a few of us were doing. We would then review the projects and discuss any new ideas. One practice which helped us then was every volunteer who was a student contributing Rs.1/day i.e. Rs.30-50 per month and every working professional contributing Rs.5/day i.e. Rs.150 per month. We followed this diligently, during those times it was strongly ingrained culturally. Volunteers who sometimes missed meetings would always pay in for the missed months. This culture helped us be largely self-sustained financially until 2009.

 

I'm unsure if this was a BM wide process, but I learnt this from Gyan. What I learnt from him, I still believe. You do the work, the money will automatically follow.

 

Do you agree?

 

#StartupStories #Bhumi #StartYourNGO 

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Lead Read by Give India

Quick catch-ups with thought leaders in the social sector. Original Post

STARTED by a small group of friends in 2006, Bhumi provides the youth with a platform to serve the society and bridges the gap between the educated and the uneducated. Bhumi today is one of India’s largest independent non-profit organisations for youth volunteering.

It enables a pool of about 25,000 volunteers who educate and mentor children from orphanages, slum and village community centres across the country to give them a better future. The learning experience is mutual – volunteers gain perspective and the experience to mould themselves into tomorrow’s leaders.

In this first of a new series of quick catch-ups with thought leaders in the social sector, we had a chat with Bhumi co-founder Dr. Prahalathan KK to know what makes him tick as the head of an NGO  – and as a person:

Q. Share one of your first experiences of being involved in the social sector? A moment that is significant to you in some way

I still remember my first class as a teaching volunteer in 2006,  what I experienced shocked me into continuing what we started. 

We were allocated a group of middle school kids at a shelter home in Chennai, where we divided the kids into groups and split ourselves to ‘teach’ them. The first class was an ice breaker – we introduced ourselves, why we were there. When we asked them what they wanted to learn, they asked for lessons in English, Computers, Maths & Science.

It was a two-hour session, and we found that some children were struggling to write their names in English, so we helped them. One of the children gave up and said she could not do it!

To ease the mood we then switched to a small pop quiz on general knowledge – Who is the PM of India, who is the President, the national anthem, father of the nation, etc. When one of the children said she did not know the capital of Tamil Nadu, I felt incredulous and refused to believe her. I then realised there were a few others in our class who did not know it either.

The class soon got over, we bid goodbye promising to return next week. We had a debrief in the portico in front of the house where I shared my disbelief at what happened with the group. 

I left the place ruminating about the kind of education I had received and the gap these children had to fill. I felt grateful, committed, and motivated. In the next few weeks, Bhumi was born.

Q. What is the biggest problem you face as an NGO working for Education?

Inequality in access and opportunities to receive quality education resulting in sustainable livelihoods is one of the biggest problems. We at Bhumi have taken a multi-pronged approach to address supplementary education, scholarships, school transformation, and promoting admissions under Section 12(1)(C) of Right To Education, to name a few.

What I am most passionate about is getting more young people into the education sector to solve this challenge – both as volunteers to provide supplementary education and as a Bhumi Fellow.

Q. When would you say that you have accomplished what you set out to do? As in what goal would you have to get to?

I am extremely optimistic, but I do not think the goal I strive for will be achieved in my lifetime. An ambitious goal is to get every Indian volunteering and make volunteering a national habit. People should be able to volunteer for civic issues that connect with them the most. India will be a more equal, influential, and socially conscious society.

Q. Can you tell us of three changes you will make or have made to your life because of the pandemic

I have rediscovered my love for reading. I have completed over 40 books since the lockdown began. This is what stands out for me when I think about the pandemic pause.

Apart from that I have been able to manage a very regular sleep pattern now – I wake up around 4.30 AM, start my day with black coffee and The Hindu E-paper, I complete my walk and emails before the day starts. I have dinner around 7.30 PM and hit the bed by 10 PM. I have even started doing more household chores and have cooked a few times to surprise my wife, Vaishnavi.

Q. If you could invite three famous people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be and why? What would you speak to them about?

I would invite Mahatma Gandhi, I have been deeply inspired by his life, how a seemingly flawed person went on to inspire a whole nation. I would also invite Aamir Khan and Rajinikanth to try to convince them to promote volunteering and the Right To Education like how actor Siddharth did.

Interviewed by Abhishek Pde———————————————————————————————————–

Established in 2000, GiveIndia is India’s most trusted giving platform for donors. Our community of 1.5M+ donors and 150+ corporate partners have supported 1,800+ nonprofits, impacting 10M+ lives across India.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Before Bhumi - Second Centre #1

Volunteers kept joining us every week and we quickly decided to start a second centre. We wanted to start in a slum community, hence we found an organisation that was working in Pudupettai community in Chennai. 

I went to their office in Egmore, Chennai for permission. They were surprised we were not a 'registered organisation' I was questioned a lot about that, I explained about the informal nature of our group. They requested us to request permission on a letterhead. I quickly put together a letterhead and went there again and they permitted us to start our weekly classes. The organisation CODIAC was conducting skill development classes in the rooftop of the Govt housing board building and they agreed to share the space with us for our classes. Their staff would be present at each class too (To the left of the group pic)

On July 1, 2006, we had our first interaction with the children, an ice breaker. We played a lot of games with the children. What I remember from that day is Prakash teaching the students Karate. 


We asked them what we could teach and listened to them. The children wanted to learn English, Computers, Maths & Science. It was similar to what we understood from the children of our first centre. 


From L>R Raghav, Ayyanar, Prakash, Suren & Swami. I'm missing because I was the photographer :)

I used to be a frequent visitor to the Computer market on Ritchie Street at least once a month during those times, I never realised there was a huge slum beyond the bustling marketplace. 

This is quite common in India, but, have you been surprised similarly? Leave a comment

#StartupStories #Bhumi #StartYourNGO

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Before Bhumi - First centre #2

We returned to the shelter home every weekend to teach. The classes were a lot of fun for both the children and the volunteers. Though I still have just one regret …

 

We used to assemble at the centre every Sunday at around 9.30 AM. Hari used to be the one who prepared the plan for each class which he shared with all of us. The children were from classes 6-8, so, we then split up to handle the children as per their classes.

 

Every day we used to do different things in class, English, Maths, Science, GK … One of our classes even involved bringing all the kids out the portico and playing a game. We wrapped every class at noon with a debrief on the front portico.

 

Every week some new volunteers kept joining our group. While some came for just one class, our numbers continued to swell. It was satisfying and reinforced our motivation to keep doing what we did.

 

To protect the privacy of the children we weren't allowed to click pictures at the shelter home. That's my only regret from then, not even a single picture :(

 

Do you have any such regrets from 15 years ago? Leave a comment

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Before Bhumi - First centre

 I still remember our first class as a teaching volunteer 

… it shocked me into continuing what we started.

We were allocated a group of middle school kids at Bala Mandir home, Chennai, we had divided the kids into groups and split ourselves to 'teach' them. The first class was more like an ice breaker, we introduced ourselves, why we were there. We asked them what we could teach and listened to them. The children wanted to learn English, Computers, Maths & Science (More or less in this order)

It was a two-hour session, in my class, two or three children struggled to write their names in English, we helped them do it. One of the children gave up and said she couldn't do it!

We then did a small pop quiz in general knowledge. Who's the PM of India, who's the president of India, National Anthem, father of the nation etc. When one of the children said she didn't know the capital of Tamil Nadu, I felt incredulous and refused to believe her. I then realised there were a few others in our class who didn't know it too.

The class soon got over, we bid goodbye promising to return next week. We had a debrief in the portico in front of the home. I shared my disbelief at what happened with the group. 

I left the place ruminating the kind of education I had received, the gap. I now know that this is considered a feeling of being privileged thanks to my friends at the Acumen Fellowship. Then, I was just feeling thankful, committed and motivated.

Do you remember the first time something shocked you?

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Before Bhumi - The meeting that started it all

The group was always buzzing with new people walking into every meeting. Sometime in early 2006, at one of our meets, we were brainstorming ideas for our group to do. This is how I remember the meeting unfolded.

It was probably the first meeting for Soundarya & Jayalakshmi who were friends and had some prior experience with social work. Soundarya suggested that we could volunteer to teach at an Orphanage. 

To me then it seemed everyone there was passionate and eager to contribute. I didn't have the maturity to understand who would have carried through and who was just giving ideas. 

We debated several ideas; It seemed like the teaching idea was the most appropriate for a committed group of young volunteers to contribute to society. People who knew orphanages suggested places and people volunteered to check. The group zeroed in on an orphanage in T.Nagar, Chennai and Hari volunteered to go seek permission. I remember Soundarya asking by when it would be done ;) and she probably volunteered to go along with him as well.

Some days later I came to know that we had received permission to start teaching at the orphanage. All it took was one meeting, one suggestion and a gentle nudge.

I think it always pays to be action-oriented, do you agree?

Saturday, January 02, 2021

God & I

 Unedited text of the column in the New Indian Express on Jan 2, 2013


1. What is your understanding of God?

The mythological Prahalathan believed God is Omnipresent whether it was a pillar or a fiber, my beliefs are not very different. Hence, I don't believe in Idol worship, if God were indeed so powerful enough to create this universe, god ought to be everywhere.

PS: It's very hard for a true student of science... biological evolution to not believe in that.

2. What are your spiritual beliefs?

I personally do not have any spiritual beliefs. I don't believe that we should not do wrong or do good things to others only because I will get something in 'the end'. I live my life the way I do because it's the right way to do it.

That said, Spiritual beliefs are good for the world, while some fear the law, some fear god to do the right things and they balance out those who fear neither to do the not so right things.

3. What are your spiritual practices?

I visit the temple once a year on my birthday because my Mother expects me to. When I pray I pray for everyone and I don't feel the need to stand in front of an idol.

4. What is your take on miracles?

If you want something strongly enough you are bound to get it or make it happen because there's nothing stronger than human will. If humans haven't made it happen, the 'miracles' can probably be explained by chance.

5. Have you been to any pilgrimage sites? Are you planning to? What are your experiences with them?

During school holidays, I've visited every major temple in Tamil Nadu because the other members of my family, especially my Mother, are extremely religious.

I don't have any intention of visiting any pilgrim sites unless someone I care about makes a reasonable request.

I used to visit old temples around Madurai during college because I found the experience very peaceful and calming.

On the contrary, I avoid going to crowded temples like Tirupathi... Apart from the claustrophobia because of the crowd, I was also afraid of the hairpin bends the last time I visited Tirupathi as a 10-12-year-old 🙂

Friday, January 01, 2021

Happy New Year 2021 - A new hope for a decade of transformation and renewal

Travelling makes the world seem smaller. The #Covid19 pandemic in spite of restricting travel globally and locally has reminded us about humanity in spite of restricting travel.


There are certain islands that may have surmounted #Covid; there will be countries that vaccinate their entire populations even before poorer countries get a single shot. Through second waves & third waves amidst a false sense of security; throughout most of 2021, the virus will continue to remind us that we live in this shared home, planet earth.


Hope the start of a new decade followed by the #PandemicPause will cause self-reflection propelling action among the leaders, elite, and citizens of the world. Like the seemingly invisible virus, we face other seeming invisible challenges like growing inequalities and #ClimateChange. None of us are safe until all of us are


Here's to a #DecadeOfHope, #DecadeofTransformation, #DecadeOfRenewal. I wish you all a #HappyNewYear2021