I have mentioned before, that for a few years I was associated with a Mandram (organisation) in Dharavi, a slum area, here in Mumbai. Mostly, I worked with a group of girls 10-15 years in age.
Once I asked the girls in our activity group, whether their school conducted any extracurricular activities.
One of the girls, Mahalaxmi, told me that among some other activities, their school published a magazine every year. ‘But the teachers never select our articles.’ she told me sadly, ‘They only include those written by the ‘clever’ students.’
The other girls nodded in agreement.
So we decided that we would bring out a magazine ourselves as our next project.
The girls themselves decided that three of the older girls would be the editors. Two girls who had a talent for art became the illustrators. All the others were reporters.
I suggested that instead of just writing about any topics in general, we should select one particular topic.
I had recently read them a passage written by Swami Vivekananda- whom everyone in the Mandram held in high regard- which was as follows-
“If there is any land on this earth that can lay claim to be the blessed Punya Bhoomi (holy land), to be the land to which all souls on this earth must come to account for Karma, the land to which every soul that is wending its way towards God must come to attain its last home, the land where humanity has attained its highest towards gentleness, towards generosity, towards purity, towards calmness, above all, the land of introspection and of spirituality- it is Bharat.”
So they selected the topic- ‘Punyabhoomi Bharat’ (‘पुण्यभूमि भारत’). The articles and stories were in English and Hindi.
The girls put a lot of work into this project. They wrote about the sacred rivers and about the mountains of our land. They wrote about places of pilgrimage like Guruvayur, Tirupati and Vaishnodevi. There were some enthusiastic artists, too, and they drew pictures depicting the legends connected with these places.
I asked a friend of mine who had been active in social projects for many years, if the girls could interview him, and he agreed. The resulting interview was a wonderful experience for the girls who learned how to prepare questions in advance, write down accurately the answers he gave, and make sure that the interview was completed in the designated time.
We also prepared a questionnaire for the girls in the group to answer, to see how aware they were of current social and political events. A summary of the answers they wrote was also included in the magazine.
We had the articles typed, and adding the cover page and pictures, put it all together in spiral binding. We made a few xerox copies of the whole magazine so that the original could be kept in the Mandram office, and the copies circulated.
All the parents were very proud of their daughters and the girls were very pleased that they could actually publish a magazine!
If one thinks about it, this was not really any great achievement- bringing out a small collection of articles written by a few school-girls.
But the rewards for this small project were not small.
This magazine gave the girls a sense of confidence in themselves- a confidence which they usually lacked, in comparison with their ‘more privileged’ classmates. It gave them a realisation that they, too, could do what the ‘clever’ girls at school did.
Any one of us can think of such activities to take up. This does not require any special skills. It only requires that we ‘connect’ with those that are less fortunate than ourselves. That we try to find out what would help them go a little further in their efforts to improve their lives.
We say that today the world is getting smaller. That we can connect with anyone we please.
However, at the same time, for a number of reasons, the tendency to stay within our close little circle of family and friends seems to be more widespread.
Perhaps we could try to reverse this trend?
Today is Vijayadashami. A time for Seemolanghan (crossing the boundary of a territory).
Perhaps starting from today we could try to step over the boundaries that we draw for ourselves. Try to step out of our usual ‘comfort zones’.
Try to step outside our usual spaces consisting of just “people like us”, and connect with those less fortunate.
It could be as beneficial for us, too, as for them!
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