Alex Paul Menon writes about Suramoni

A grand and completely deserving Tribute to Boro by Alex Paul Menon IAS

Prime Minister's Rural Development Fellows

Alex Paul Menon, who was district collector of Balrampur and supervisor of Suramoni since he joined the field till about a week before his demise has written to Dr. A. S. Mathew, Joint Secretary in Charge of PMRDF Scheme at Government of India. We reproduce the letter below.

_______

Dear Sir,

I write this mail with immense grief, informing you about the sad, untimely demise of Shri Suromani Boro, PMRDF, posted in Balrampur District of Chhattisgarh. A young soul has departed, leaving behind deep imprints of his commendable work in this remote, backward , naxal-affected district.

Sir, Suromani dedicated his fellowship tenure of the last 20 months in streamlining education sector under my own personal mentoring. We set out on an ambitious journey in this border district known for its demotivated staff and officers along with notoriety for teacher absenteeism and school drop – outs. Suramoni, though from a law…

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Snakes and Ladders

I am always told that we should not become participants of a rat race. In the same breath I am warned that I should work harder to become someone. The quest is not to do something, it is all about becoming someone.

What I think? I would say it is no sin to go wrong or just living idly for some time. If you did not work hard that is because in subconscious you did not feel the pull for that particular endeavour. That might have resulted in an option forgone. A chance missed, thousands more to come. No big deal!

In the prestigious IITs, one or more students commit suicide every year. Young boys with bright futures ahead. They lived with a constant guilt of time they have wasted and opportunities they lost. They often had less achievements than their peers. They were exhorted to achieve their true potential which was theoretically and rightfully, infinite. So they felt like underachievers. People around them added emphasis on the ‘under’ and ignored the ‘achievers’. As a result someone envied by millions others committed suicide.

What we fail to realize is that life is not a race on tightrope. It is a game of snakes and ladders. If you have a ladder nearby, work to catch it. If you miss, it’s all right, just keep moving. If you get bitten, No problem! go search for a ladder nearby. Just keep rolling the dice!

For every ladder you have climbed, a snake is awaiting just round the corner. For every snake who bit you, life will compensate with a ladder albeit at a distance.

In a perverse paraphrasing of a movie dialogue: bus, train, ladki aur opportunity; ek jaye to doosri aati hai.

life

A wonderful quote says, “Time you enjoyed wasting was not wasted!” Because the world is not rational, we don’t need to be either.

—–

PS1: Snakes and Ladders was invented in India many centuries ago to teach virtues and vices at different stages of life. Of course the ultimate aim was to attain moksha.

PS2: Mathematically, if the dice is rolled a large number of times, the cumulative probability of finishing the game comes close to 1. (It’s around 175 in a chart on wikipedia. Link here)

Will Swacch Bharat Abhiyan succeed?

India saw a long chain of efforts to eradicate open defecation. It is a shame that even after such sustained efforts around 60 crore people (>50% population) defecate in open. It is said that around a 1000 lives are lost every day because of diarrhea for which open defecation is a major reason.

With effect from 1 April 1999, the Government of India restructured the Comprehensive Rural Sanitation Programme and launched the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) which was later (on 1 April 2012) renamed Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA). Thousands of Nirmal Bharat Puruskar were distributed. Most of the Panchayats who received the award have regressed back to open defecation. In my city (Aurangabad, Bihar) – 56000 toilets have been constructed till now by PHED department under different schemes with an expenditure of 23 crore rupees. 

On 2 October 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission, which aims to eradicate open defecation by 2019, thus restructuring the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. Truthfully, I was very skeptical about this programme for a long time. It is only very recently that I have started participating in the programme. And I can tell you that this is one of the best programmes to work in the development sector. It helps me work with the people at the ground level. Now, let me get down to some misconceptions which I had about this programme.

  1. I thought that people will not change their habits easily. However I found that people respond well to trigger when approached systematically. The CLTS approach is intended to provoke people to think about the harms they are doing to their children, especially their daughters by continuing to defecate in open. They are provoked by playing a kind of drama in the public. Public is asked to drink water from a bisleri bottle. They are then shown how flies sit on excreta and sits on water or food. Using a straw, tiny amount of excreta is mixed with water which is then offered to all. Obviously, no one drinks it. But they realise the point we want to convey. Most of the people get immediately ready to begin construction of the toilets in their homes.
  2. People have some land to construct toilets. They all have bathrooms in their homes where they take bath. A toilet can be constructed partitioning that space.
  3. People have water source within 10-20 meters in my district. Almost all women take bath at home for which they require at least 20 liters of water each. For other domestic requirements also, they need water in plenty. If they can fetch that much of water, they can surely take 2 mugs extra for use in toilet. It should be noticed that the rural toilet pans require only 2 mugs of water at the maximum including for self rinsing.
  4. There are always some motivated people who think for their village. They volunteer to become Vigilante committee members and go to the field every day morning to sound whistle at anyone seen defecating or going to do that. This causes great embarrassment to these people. People defecate in open because they know that every body else is doing that. When they realise that not many people are doing it they start feeling embarrassed.
  5. In SBA also, money is paid by the government after the toilet is constructed. So, many argue that people do not have the capacity to spend that much beforehand. Actually, people can do that easily or they get material on loan for a period of 10-15 days given that there is a surety of time payment by the government officials.
  6. The government officials are generally slow in processing the subsidy request but not in SBA where monitoring is tight and regular progress in disbursal is to be shown. We achieved disbursal to all 96 beneficiaries in one village in less than 15 days.
  7. There are simple techniques which have to be kept in mind to avoid a situation in which the constructed toilets remain unused. It happens also because of that facts that toilets are not friendly to be used in all weathers. I asked people to build toilets with clay tiles rather than tin sheets. This makes them air and smell free. Further, people were asked to leave small ventilation holes in all walls so as to make the toilets more usable. I asked people to make cheap doors using oil tins which costs them only Rs 60. This way they can save around Rs 1000 which also acts as a motivation for them. The two pit toilets can be easily constructed in less than 11,000 rupees.

Toilet Construction

Overall, we were successful in making 2 villages open defecation free in just 20-25 days. These villages are Parsa and Sinduriya in Rajpur Panchayat in Nabinagar block. I have visited these villages are regular intervals and found that the momentum is carried forward and the village is still OD free.

Is it a Comma or a Full Stop?

That problem in front of you, is it a comma or a full stop?

Will it halt you in your tracks forever, or will you be able to find a strategy to move past, around or through it?

What about that rejection that you received, is it a comma or a full stop?

Will it give you an excuse to give up, or will you keep trying?

Life isn’t a short, smooth, straight lane.

It’s often a long, winding trail full of obstacles and challenges.

And off to the side of that trail, you will find those who have given up too soon on their dreams.  They’re sitting there wondering what could have been, but refusing to press on.

They ran into one too many challenges and had one too many setbacks.

And they became a full stop, ending their aspirations.

Don’t let that happen to you.

Turn your full stops into commas.

Turn your reasons for stopping into reasons to keep going.

Turn your failures into learning experiences.

Make it a comma, not a full stop.

कोशिश करने वालों की – हरिवंश राय ‘बच्चन’

I first time read this poem while standing in a queue in front of a mess in Kota. I didn’t qualify for the IIT in my first attempt and I was giving it a shot again. It has been over a decade now and the poem has not lost its potency in motivating me. I love it and thank senior Bacchan Ji for it.

लहरों से डर कर नौका पार नहीं होती,
कोशिश करने वालों की कभी हार नहीं होती।

नन्हीं चींटी जब दाना लेकर चलती है,
चढ़ती दीवारों पर, सौ बार फिसलती है।
मन का विश्वास रगों में साहस भरता है,
चढ़कर गिरना, गिरकर चढ़ना न अखरता है।
आख़िर उसकी मेहनत बेकार नहीं होती,
कोशिश करने वालों की कभी हार नहीं होती।

डुबकियां सिंधु में गोताखोर लगाता है,
जा जा कर खाली हाथ लौटकर आता है।
मिलते नहीं सहज ही मोती गहरे पानी में,
बढ़ता दुगना उत्साह इसी हैरानी में।
मुट्ठी उसकी खाली हर बार नहीं होती,
कोशिश करने वालों की कभी हार नहीं होती।

असफलता एक चुनौती है, इसे स्वीकार करो,
क्या कमी रह गई, देखो और सुधार करो।
जब तक न सफल हो, नींद चैन को त्यागो तुम,
संघर्ष का मैदान छोड़ कर मत भागो तुम।
कुछ किये बिना ही जय जय कार नहीं होती,
कोशिश करने वालों की कभी हार नहीं होती।

Death wins over life in Siachen

“We, the willing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.” Notes from the diary of a soldier who served in Siachen. (Original quote by Mother Teresa.)

India and Pakistan may have their guns aimed on each other at Siachen, but in reality they are both fighting nature, nature defeating them and being defeated by them. At 20,000 feet the world’s largest glacier outside the North and South Poles, Siachen is the world’s highest battlefield.

Till 1984 neither India nor Pakistan had any presence on the glacier, the distrust on Siachen began over mountaineering expeditions. As per the 1949 Karachi Agreement, the cease-fire line between India and Pakistan for disputed Jammu and Kashmir was described as running to map coordinate NJ 9842 and “. . . thence north to the glaciers”.

This line was never demarcated over the glaciers keeping in view the utterly inhospitable climate of Siachen. While India interpreted that the LOC here should extend to the last demarcated point NJ 9842 northeasterly along the Saltoro Range to the Chinese border, Pakistani interpreted that the LOC extends straight from NJ 9842 to the Karakoram Pass towards the Chinese border. The 2003 ceasefire has ensured cessation of military hostilities, but fatalities have not stopped; more soldiers have been killed by the extreme weather conditions than by the conflict.

Military presence at Siachen costs India almost a million US dollars daily, annual costs for maintaining the Siachen outposts for India are around 300 million US dollars and for Pakistan about 100 million US dollars. Although both Indian and Pakistan have not been divulging any causality figures but we know that Indian soldiers are killed every now and then.

Soldiers stationed in temperatures as low as -60 C with fierce snowstorms that can reach speeds of 300 km per hour (150 knots) takes more toll than any military confrontation here could.

Majority of Indian outposts are above 18,500 ft altitude (some at 22000 ft), Indian Army controls the Siachen heights while Pakistan Army controls the Gyong La passes. In terms of accessibility Pakistan army is better off since the road head is only 20 km away from its farthest post, while on the Indian controlled side the road head is about 80 km away its farthest post.

Soldiers coming back from these posts often suffer from vision problems, hearing and memory loss (prolonged use of oxygen masks). Frost bite in such places may lead to loss of feet and hands.

Of all the issues between India and Pakistan, Siachen should have been the easiest to resolve since it involves a lifeless chunk of ice that is inhospitable for any human population. But like other issues between the two countries, this one is also been converted into a ‘nationalistic pride’ by hawks on both sides. It is these extreme elements who have been ensuring that any resolution aimed, confidence building between the two countries are held hostage to a general mistrust. All war mongering experts on both sides of the divide who advocate continuance of the Siachen war should for a change be asked to walk their talk by serving at least one soldier’s term at these outposts.

Supplies on both sides for thousands of troops stationed there and the leftovers have created Siachen as the worlds ‘largest and highest’ garbage dump. Whatever of supplies and ammunition goes up the Siachen glacier never comes back. Almost more than 40% of the thousands of tons of garbage left at Siachen are plastic and metal. Worn out ammunition, crashed transport, supply canisters, rotten and done away food, plastics, discarded cloth and missed para droppings; everything forms part of this irretrievable garbage dump.  Since the ice glacier lacks any biodegrading agents, whatever garbage is dumped at Siachen percolates into the glacier system and eventually releases harmful toxins like cadmium and chromium into the glacial water system, polluting the water that flows downstream into Shyok and finally into Indus. The waters of Indus feed millions of people downstream both in India and Pakistan.

The Siachen conflict is seen as a pointless battle, where the human and economic costs far overweight the achievements. A withdrawal from Siachen region would not put India and Pakistan at any loss if proper monitoring mechanisms were put in place. The challenge however is to put in place a withdrawal system where no side is shown to have lost face or security.

The hawks may portray a withdrawal from Siachen as a window for Kargil type incursion; in reality such hype may not have any basis or connection to the strategic location of Siachen. The deployments across pockets of Siachen are so tough and thinly placed that any major advances from these areas may not be possible. Implementation of efficient monitoring systems could easily counter such concerns. If Sharm-al-Shaikh on the Sinai peninsula, Egypt could be designated an ecosystem, jointly managed by Egypt, Israel and Jordan why can’t the wilderness of Siachen be?

Siachen being a part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir, the tussle between India and Pakistan on this piece of ‘real estate’ is seen more of egos, than of strategies.

Leaving Siachen as an eco-park where either of the militaries have no presence can not only stop the glacier from further degradation, save countless human lives downstream, but also set precedence for resolving the bigger Kashmir issue. If India and Pakistan cannot come to terms on a Godforsaken habitation less glacier which neither controlled till 1984, how can they ever come forward to resolve the more contentious Kashmir issue where human tragedy has been endless?

The posts of Siachen are obscure islands where each soldier, each human is left to fend for himself, cutoff from the real world.  It is these places sanity and insanity coexists closely in the same mind and body, the tripping point towards insanity so thin and undefined. It often becomes a race against a still time when civilization is reduced to a kerosene fume filled snow bunker in the midst of a white, unforgiving desert. In such situations it is not the opposite side that is a soldier’s biggest enemy but the merciless nature. The cost of an inconsequential battle is often unseen by the state, borne by the uncelebrated soldier. It is high time peace and sanity prevails over jingoistic nationalism. India and Pakistan can surely find better use to the money, men and efforts that they are freezing in the high wilderness of Siachen. Let Siachen lead the way for Kashmir.

Memorable moments with Honorable PM

pm meet

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi in group photograph with the youth who have been working in rural areas under Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellows (PMRDF) scheme, in New Delhi on February 08, 2016. The Union Minister for Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Drinking Water and Sanitation, Shri Chaudhary Birender Singh, the Minister of State for Rural Development, Shri Sudarshan Bhagat and the Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development, Shri J.K. Mohapatra are also seen. I am also seen in the back row.

Prime Minster Shri Narendra Modi Ji swept us all away in a 2 hour interaction session that we had on Feb 08 in DRDO Bhawan, Delhi. The PM connected so well with us that all of us felt touched. The Prime Minster was spot on when he expressed that his fellows must be facing dilemma by being different in a materialistic world. He said that you guys have to keep your emotions under check every day when you see others buying new cars or new mobiles, ie living comfortable lives while you guys are struggling in the hinterland of the country. He wondered how worried mothers of girls fellows must be after sending their daughters to these troubled areas.

The Prime Minister also talked about the fact that when all of us wrote letters to him not even one complained. He said that even CMs always present a memo of demand first then talk anything else. He specifically asked us to apprise him about the challenges we face in the districts of posting. He also expressed worry about our experiences not being put to effective use. He said that we will devise a mechanism where we can report directly to the PMO. That would be a great thing to happen!

The Prime Minister also mesmerized us by remembering names of many fellows. He called many fellows by their first names during his speech which is like a huge honour for the programme which was languishing in past some time because of the lack of support at the top most level. The very next day, we got to meet the Joint secretary PMO in this regard.

Overall, the Prime Minister showed again how he is different from other dignitaries. The fact that he concerns for our problems alleviates our pain. The fact that he did so much homework before taking a meeting with us showed how hardworking he is and that inspired us to put in more and more efforts from our side. If the Prime Minister of India can work for 16 hours a day why can’t we? After all, we are his fellows:)

 

है प्रीत जहाँ की रीत सदा – इंदीवर

A truly patriotic song which can be heard all over India on 15 August and 26 January. It is informative as well. I like this song as it is not jingoistic or boasting. Some may disagree that India is getting regressive or such progressive society is a long gone story. I only have to say that even if one falls on the road for a moment, he/she doesn’t become any less important. India will rise up to its core values and we all have to work towards it – One person at a time.

जब ज़ीरो दिया मेरे भारत ने, दुनिया को तब गिनती आई
तारों की भाषा भारत ने, दुनिया को पहले सिखलाई

देता ना दशमलव भारत तो, यूँ चाँद पे जाना मुश्किल था
धरती और चाँद की दूरी का, अंदाज़ लगाना मुश्किल था

सभ्यता जहाँ पहले आई, पहले जनमी है जहाँ पे कला
अपना भारत वो भारत है, जिसके पीछे संसार चला
संसार चला और आगे बढ़ा, ज्यूँ आगे बढ़ा, बढ़ता ही गया
भगवान करे ये और बढ़े, बढ़ता ही रहे और फूले-फले

है प्रीत जहाँ की रीत सदा, मैं गीत वहाँ के गाता हूँ
भारत का रहने वाला हूँ, भारत की बात सुनाता हूँ

काले-गोरे का भेद नहीं, हर दिल से हमारा नाता है
कुछ और न आता हो हमको, हमें प्यार निभाना आता है
जिसे मान चुकी सारी दुनिया, मैं बात वही दोहराता हूँ
भारत का रहने वाला हूँ, भारत की बात सुनाता हूँ

जीते हो किसीने देश तो क्या, हमने तो दिलों को जीता है
जहाँ राम अभी तक है नर में, नारी में अभी तक सीता है
इतने पावन हैं लोग जहाँ, मैं नित-नित शीश झुकाता हूँ
भारत का रहने वाला हूँ, भारत की बात सुनाता हूँ

इतनी ममता नदियों को भी, जहाँ माता कहके बुलाते है
इतना आदर इन्सान तो क्या, पत्थर भी पूजे जातें है
उस धरती पे मैंने जन्म लिया, ये सोच के मैं इतराता हूँ
भारत का रहने वाला हूँ, भारत की बात सुनाता हूँ

कारवां गुज़र गया – गोपालदास ‘नीरज’

This is undoubtedly my favourite Hindi poem. It has a very sad tone but I still love it. The reason being that it evokes many memories of childhood. My father use to sing this to us and I would fall asleep listening to it. Neeraj ji is a living legend and it is a travesty in this country that artists do not get the due respect .

स्वप्न झरे फूल से,
मीत चुभे शूल से,
लुट गये सिंगार सभी बाग़ के बबूल से,
और हम खड़े-खड़े बहार देखते रहे
कारवां गुज़र गया, गुबार देखते रहे!

नींद भी खुली न थी कि हाय धूप ढल गई,
पाँव जब तलक उठे कि ज़िन्दगी फिसल गई,
पात-पात झर गये कि शाख़-शाख़ जल गई,
चाह तो निकल सकी न, पर उमर निकल गई,
गीत अश्क़ बन गए,
छंद हो दफ़न गए,
साथ के सभी दिऐ धुआँ-धुआँ पहन गये,
और हम झुके-झुके,
मोड़ पर रुके-रुके
उम्र के चढ़ाव का उतार देखते रहे
कारवां गुज़र गया, गुबार देखते रहे।

क्या शबाब था कि फूल-फूल प्यार कर उठा,
क्या सुरूप था कि देख आइना मचल उठा
इस तरफ जमीन और आसमां उधर उठा,
थाम कर जिगर उठा कि जो मिला नज़र उठा,
एक दिन मगर यहाँ,
ऐसी कुछ हवा चली,
लुट गयी कली-कली कि घुट गयी गली-गली,
और हम लुटे-लुटे,
वक्त से पिटे-पिटे,
साँस की शराब का खुमार देखते रहे
कारवां गुज़र गया, गुबार देखते रहे।

हाथ थे मिले कि जुल्फ चाँद की सँवार दूँ,
होंठ थे खुले कि हर बहार को पुकार दूँ,
दर्द था दिया गया कि हर दुखी को प्यार दूँ,
और साँस यूँ कि स्वर्ग भूमी पर उतार दूँ,
हो सका न कुछ मगर,
शाम बन गई सहर,
वह उठी लहर कि दह गये किले बिखर-बिखर,
और हम डरे-डरे,
नीर नयन में भरे,
ओढ़कर कफ़न, पड़े मज़ार देखते रहे
कारवां गुज़र गया, गुबार देखते रहे!

माँग भर चली कि एक, जब नई-नई किरन,
ढोलकें धुमुक उठीं, ठुमक उठे चरण-चरण,
शोर मच गया कि लो चली दुल्हन, चली दुल्हन,
गाँव सब उमड़ पड़ा, बहक उठे नयन-नयन,
पर तभी ज़हर भरी,
ग़ाज एक वह गिरी,
पुंछ गया सिंदूर तार-तार हुई चूनरी,
और हम अजान से,
दूर के मकान से,
पालकी लिये हुए कहार देखते रहे।
कारवां गुज़र गया, गुबार देखते रहे।

पुष्प की अभिलाषा – माखनलाल चतुर्वेदी

I love this poem since I first read it in primary school. Simple words, powerful message!

चाह नहीं मैं सुरबाला के
गहनों में गूँथा जाऊँ,

चाह नहीं प्रेमी-माला में
बिंध प्यारी को ललचाऊँ,

चाह नहीं, सम्राटों के शव
पर, हे हरि, डाला जाऊँ

चाह नहीं, देवों के शिर पर,
चढ़ूँ भाग्य पर इठलाऊँ!

मुझे तोड़ लेना वनमाली!
उस पथ पर देना तुम फेंक,

मातृभूमि पर शीश चढ़ाने
जिस पथ जावें वीर अनेक।