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!


Earlier related posts-

The Right to Dream

My Friend Vishu

A Confusion of Languages



  1. Manju,

    What a wonderful post for Dussehra ! Vijayadashmi greetings to you and yours ….. I am sure the experience must have made a permanent change in the attitude and outlook of these girls. This is actually real education. (Not the type where ministers cannot decide whether to have 2 unit tests or four in a semester. Will we ever learn ?…..)


  2. Superb and moving, timely article! I believe that talent lies in every child and we need to identify them first then explore and then if we give them the needed basic platform they can succeed in their life. The criteria for identifying good students based on marks and pushing them forward while suppressing other children’s talent is emotional murder which is currently happening in many of the result oriented schools. This brutality needs to be stopped and we should provide the necessary platform to all the children. Lets do the seemolanghan…


  3. You never cease to surprise. And I am sure you would have inspired many over the years, and imbued them with a value system that is rapidly becoming instinct, at least in the dominant, deracinated sections of society that have appropriated the roles of India’s gate and conscience keepers, boatmen and navigators.

    Time for a two-way seemolanghan, yes.

    Happy Dussehra!


  4. Suranga– Thanks!
    Vijayadashmi greetings to you and your family, too!

    Pangala Nagendra Rao“I believe that talent lies in every child…..
    Yes, very true. Unfortunately, all children do not get a chance to develop their talent, and this happens more often in the case of underprivileged children…

    Vinodji– “Time for a two-way seemolanghan,
    Yes, most definitely!

    Chowlaji– Dassehra greetings to you and yours, too!


  5. Each and every child is born with a clean slate. The upbringing and atmosphere changes them. Any child who gets the right opportunity/guidance will definitely shine. These girls blossomed with your guidance, Manju.

    I had guests at home for lunch today and we were discussing about the same topic…we should try to reach out to other people and who knows, our family members also might join us. Now, we think that the house will not run without our 24 hours attention, we might be wrong.

    Happy Vijayadashami, Manju to you and your family!


    1. Yes, any child who gets a chance can shine!

      These children attended High School outside their area. Many of their classmates were from better-off families. They often felt inferior to these classmates. And that caused them to have less confidence in participating in any activities at school.

      Often there are so many students in one class that it is difficult for teachers to give individual attention to everyone.

      Happy Vijayadashami to you and your family, too, Sandhya!


  6. Such a nice experiment.. really impressed by this. we used to do such things even as journalism students, but for schoolchildren, and that too those who felt left out because their work was not duly considered, the experience would have been far more enriching.. for one thing, the enthusiasm schoolchildren have surpasses all levels..


  7. What a wonderful Vijayadashami gift to those who need the encouragement the most! You are right about expanding our circle to include such children/people. May this become a movement.


  8. Gauri– Yes, the girls in this group were very enthusiastic about the project, and as you say, moreso. because they had felt left out at school.

    Radha– Vijayadashami greetings to you and your family, too!
    I wish I could still do this type of volunteer work but my health does not permit…

    zephyr– Welcome to the blog!
    Yes, I hope more people decide to take part in such projects.


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