Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Sit together, eat together

March 21st:

OK, so my second 24 hour train journey was more tiring than the last, or it was just the effect of Bombay's wonderful atmosphere, but I spent the morning tired and with a cough. My hosts, who were our neighbors during my school days, tried to get me to take some antibiotics. But I, in my infinite wisdom, refused and we compromised on standard cough syrup!

In the evening, I headed out to IIT to meet Om Damani. Om's adjusting to his new role - that of a prof. trying to encourage his students to operate 'out of the box'. Here's hoping he sticks it out. I also met my friend's 2-year-old son, who's staying for a while with his grandparents. My friend's father is a prof at IIT with enough seniority to get an independent house. But it's just he and his wife at home, and temporarily their grandson, so he's refused to take it and they continue to live in an apartment. So, when a professor is senior enough to be entitled to more spacious quarters, there aren't enough people at home to occupy them!

March 22nd:

After getting out of the traffic hell-hole that is Saki Naka (it took almost 2 hours), I got to Andheri station and then to town. I met P. Sainath for lunch in Gaylord's. It turned into a 3-hour lunch, though this seems to be the usual amount of time Sainath spends here. It seems the restaurant is very open to journalists spending a number of hours in it even if they just order coffee. And a waiter even stopped to discuss the denial of a US visa to Narendra Modi. Sainath had a lot to say about the status of agriculture, of different peoples' movements and their strategies and how AID has to position itself now and in the future. Since a lot of his writings are already online, I'll refrain from adding more here.

In the afternoon, I met with Jayantbhai of Bombay Sarvodaya Friendship Center (BSFC). AID-MN has been supporting their project on promoting communal harmony in B.Ed. and D.Ed. colleges in Mumbai. Jayantbhai is also associated with a group called Janmukti Sangharsh Vahini, a spinoff of a students' group established by JP during the Emergency. Janmukti is leading the work on the project. We hadn't received feedback for a while from them and slipped up on follow-up. Anyway, Jayantbhai told me that as soon as they received our questions and suggestions, they had a meeting. They also e-mailed us a reply, or so they thought, since nothing reached us. The idea of celebrating festivals jointly, which we suggested, appealed to them, especially since Diwali and Id were on the same day this past year. So they organized a joint celebration, which was attended by about 250 people. Different groups presented dances, sang ghazals and qawwalis, did mimicry etc. Food was provided, courtesy of the Mani Bhavan society (I didn't note down the exact name of this group). The function was co-sponsored by some Gandhian groups and a Muslim association.

Where the lectures in colleges are concerned, they are continuing in full pace. New speakers have been added - the list is now 9, including 2 women. Jayantbhai still does a major part of the lectures, maybe 30-40 %. But workshops, which are either a day long or a few days in duration, are handled entirely by another person, Mohan. They have also started distributing a pamphlet on Communalism written by Ram Puniyani, an IIT professor and member of EKTA, Mumbai. They conduct
an exam on the matter in this book - there was one scheduled for Thursday in Anjuman Khairul Islam college in Kurla. This college is an Urdu D.Ed. college - the group has extended its activities to Urdu colleges this year. Why an exam? was a question to which I did not get a satisfactory answer. I decided to ask the teachers and students in the college when I accompanied Jayantbhai there.

I asked Jayantbhai if he talks about the problems of Communalism in Bombay today - of how the city is divided and whether he thinks what they are doing can really bridge this gap. As he put it 'In 1947, the country was partitioned. In 1992-93, Bombay was partitioned. Most of the students in college today do not know any other reality. It is up to us to tell them about the past, to talk about what got us here - Shah Bano, the Babri Masjid and many other things.' How far these efforts will go, he doesn't know. But he continues to believe that by reaching out to future teachers, they will reach a much larger population eventually. In schools in Maharashtra, a one hour session called 'mulya shikshan' or value education has been added. Their plan is to distribute a set of lesson plans that can be used for this period by teachers.

I, for one, was immensely pleased that they incorporated our suggestion so promptly and slightly ashamed that we haven't done a better job of following up with them.

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