In medias res, NalandaWay



In 2009, at NalandaWay we decided to make a feature film. The film was born out of a workshop that we had conducted with children affected by HIV a year earlier. We were excited about the project. We felt that this approach would get a wider light on the issues faced by children living with HIV. Much to my surprise a few reputed producers were willing to back it. But what followed was an agonizing wait for two years. There was no concept of appointments, you may be asked to wait for 3 to 4 hours for no particular reason, you may be called to meet in the middle of night, no one would return your calls, everyone would sing glorious ‘praise’ but would never make a decision. The whole experience was excruciatingly painful for the entire team. I have never met this many unprofessional people all belonging to one industry in my whole life. I seriously wonder how they even manage to complete and release a film with such incompetence and unprofessionalism. Sigh!

Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan was meant to play the male lead in our film. I have been following his posts on his directorial debut film, “Lens.” He recently won the ‘Gollapudi Srinivas Award’ which is given to first time Directors. I recently read his interview in the Times where he spoke about his disappointments and that he was even considering quitting and how the award came in as a much needed ‘shot in the arm’.

His film “Lens’ was screened last week at the Russian Cultural Centre in Chennai. I was also eager to watch the movie because it had one of my favourite theatre actors, Anand Sami playing the lead.

When my friend and I came to the venue, there was commotion and people rushed into the auditorium. We struggled to find a seat inside.

“I only wish if this was a show in movie hall and all of you had bought tickets,” said Jayaprakash while introducing the film.

We all laughed. We also heard your quiet suffering.

Hang in there JP.

In medias res, NalandaWay



The boy on my left, who is taking the selfie is Prabhakar Reddy. He dropped in yesterday for the Chennai Children’s Choir concert.

Prabhakar was twelve when he joined NalandaWay’s “Achieve through Arts” programme. It must have been 2006. He studied in a Government aided school, worked hard, remained positive, built his skills, and went on to complete engineering. Today he works as a research engineer at Renault Nissan.

What joy to see a young person grow up and shine.

In medias res, NalandaWay

Fifteen people commit suicide every hour; it’s time to act now

“Can you tell my parents that I have let them down, that I am not worthy of their love? I miss them. I am going to die Sriram, I am scared.”

I received this phone call from a young person few years back. I can never forget the anxiety, and stress that my friends and I went through. It also made us understand how unprepared and ignorant we were in dealing with suicides.

India has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world. Fifteen people commit suicide every hour.  Every year, between 30 and 40 people per 100,000 Indians between 15 and 29 kill themselves. This means 1 out of 3 suicides in the country are committed by a young person.

Some common reasons stated by National Crime Records Bureau for suicide among young people are love affairs, failure in examinations, dowry, abuse, illness and family problems.

“I am sad, tired, helpless, disillusioned, paranoid, unhappy; sorry, it would not do justice if I just gave only one adjective to describe my hurt,” a 19 year old told me.

In a world that makes unreasonable demands on them, young people are disillusioned about their education, relationships, jobs, sexuality, bullying, and abuse.  Even with the explosion of social media they do not have credible and accessible information on dealing with depression, rejection and anxiety. Many do not trust or have the comfort to discuss their challenges with teachers and parents. They fear that their friends would judge them and may no longer be accepted if they revealed their anxieties openly.

Given this background “The Story of a Suicide,” is an important project that attempts to fill the information void.

In the novel, a young person decides to commit suicide. Who is this person? Why does he/she want to die? Where do they come from? Why are they upset, depressed and torn apart? And what drives them to it? Does he/she really die?

In the backdrop of a powerful story and visuals, this project aims to reach out to young people, by verbalising their struggles through the story, informing the do’s and don’ts when they face challenges, and providing a platform to share their experiences. It is a difficult subject but gripping and definitely engaging. It is that kind of a novel where one would want to stay-up-all-night to finish it.

Youngsters are surprisingly apathetic when it comes to things outside the Internet. So we decided to keep it online instead of a physical book. Reading the novel is simple. Go to and follow the links. One can read the novel on a laptop, tablet or mobile phone. For those who are not excited with the written word go ahead and listen to the novel by clicking on the play button under the Audio book. Each chapter also has a set of “How do I?” on various questions that trouble them. The do’s and don’ts would be direct but never moralistic.

“I don’t have the energy and will to live anymore Charu. I am tired of being a failure. I am tired of being defeated. I am tired of being heartbroken,” says Hari, one of the protagonists in the novel.

“Don’t worry. We can win their hearts, everyone, including your parents. Please don’t give up on life. Well if everyone who has a problem decided to commit suicide, this world will be filled with only dead people. There are people with problems far worse than yours but are still looking forward to a tomorrow with hope. Get up and prove that you are capable of something. Anything! Have faith. Have hope,” replies Charu.

I sensed the same helplessness, hurt and dejection when I heard the young person’s voice on the phone. She was crying for help, she was yearning to live, screaming to be understood but tired of failing.

During my interactions I found that youngsters are expressive, self-absorbed, independent, afraid, hurried, fearless, fame hungry, but surprisingly resilient. They need a listening ear, a reassuring touch and an inspiring push, not very hard but gentle enough to make them feel empowered so that they go on to create the lives that they truly want to create.

This article was published on DailyO


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2 – Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2008. New Delhi: Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India; 2010. National Crime Records Bureau.

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In medias res, NalandaWay


“Sriram, can I speak to you for a few minutes?” it was Selestinal on the phone.

Selestinal is from a village near Villupuram in Tamil Nadu. She came from a poor family but managed to complete graduation and later B Ed. She used to work at NalandaWay Foundation for over an year till August last year.

Seles was a great find for us; she was passionate about children, education and always had the eye for details.

It took me a while to change her to call me by my name instead of “sir.” She married the man whom she had loved for more than 10 years. She would blush like a ‘love-struck’ teenager when all of us quizzed her about how they managed to stay committed for so many years in these polyamorous times.

When we started the Chennai Children’s Choir she personally ensured that we included children with visual impairment and other disabilities. She worked with us up to eight months of her pregnancy.

Last evening when she had called, we spoke about the new developments in office, about her 6 months old baby, our colleagues; we had spoken for more than ten minutes but she did not bring up anything specific about why she had called.

“Is there anything that I can do for you Seles?” I asked.

“Nothing Sriram. I have been generally feeling low and lonely for some time. My one year at NalandaWay was the best period of my life and speaking to you reminded me of the happier times. I always felt better when I spoke to you,” she said.

I smiled when I heard her. It felt nice.

Happy, actually.


Chennai Children’s Choir


I am super excited about the logo that we have created for NalandaWay’s Chennai Children’s Choir. For the second time, we used the services of designer Ana (flis industri) on to get this done. It just took 5 days to complete. Highly recommended.

In medias res, NalandaWay



A sudden unexpected gift from a child, in the middle of a crazy day did brighten up my spirits. Kamesh a twelve year old, had carefully scooped out the contents of an egg, painted the shell in bright colours, inserted a cutesy message in neatly rolled pieces of paper, gift wrapped it and sent it through a colleague. There is redemption, our world is not all that bad. Love you Kamesh.

In medias res, NalandaWay

Social entrepreneurship


These days, calling social entrepreneurs to speak about their work is the new entertainment ‘tamasha’ that the moneyed and company types indulge in. “They want to be inspired,” the organisers will tell you, “they have lots of money and their connections can open the world to you.” I have been waiting for that utopian cheque at every one of these events. When they get bored of stand-up comedians they organise the ‘speech of the century that will rock you,’ by the most available bakra in town.

“I exactly know when the aunties in the audience will get teary-eyed,” a friend once told me. And if you thought your work had inspired them and they might actually sign a cheque, my sincere apologies, that was not why they came for the show. It is like shedding a tear when they watch Shahrukh light a bulb in ‘Swades.’ Period. Pop corn time over.

And you got your five minutes of spotlight.

“We loved your presentation. Did you enjoy the food?” the organiser lady in stilettos asked.

“Thank you,” I smiled. Yes, gourmet food at fancy hotels is all that I look for in these events.


Healing through music and play


The floods in Chennai were like never before and took its toll in various ways. A natural disaster of this kind always can have a very traumatic impact on children which may manifest in later life. It requires timely intervention and healing. The trauma symptoms are often displayed in the form of startle reactions, dreams, crying, anger, palpitations and the like. Slightly older children tend to withdraw, become fearful, want to cling to elders, have sleep disturbances or refuse to go to school , avoid going near water, climbing a bridge etc.

Nalandaway Foundation identified 2780 small children who had suffered anxieties due to flood water entering their homes. We partnered with V Excel Trust to conduct 93 music and play therapy sessions. For children, especially the younger ones, who cannot express their feelings either in words or pictures, a movement story and sensitive touch through activities, can give a sense of security and safety.

This photograph was taken at a school on the outskirts of Chennai. The joy and energy of these kids was so infectious and are so evident. Thank you Vasudha Prakash of V Excel for helping us in this project.





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Nalandaway Foundation has adopted 26 Government Primary schools in Chennai, that had been severely affected during the floods in December. We are rebuilding classrooms, toilets, libraries, art labs, providing learning aids, uniforms, furniture, equipments, etc. But I am very excited to show the beautiful murals that our artists, volunteers and children are painting in these schools.

Aren’t they beautiful? Do let us know if you’d like to volunteer.

NalandaWay, Pay it forward



I was invited to be a chief guest for a book release function earlier this evening. It was a collection of Tamil short stories written by Shankar. I always get flustered when I am expected to speak in Tamil. I tried hard to find excuses to avoid speaking, but was bullied into getting on stage. I could also not avoid because it was a collection of stories about 12 children who had attended NalandaWay’s ‘Kanavupattarai’ camps. It means ‘workshop of dreams.’ The book was also titled by the same name.

A popular Tamil poet introduced the book. He spoke how he was deeply touched by the challenges, fears, struggles that these children and how the workshop gave them ‘hope.’

These camps are special to us. 25 Adolescent boys and girls from government schools come and stay together at the beautiful Dakshinachitra campus in Chennai, to paint, sing, dance and act for four days. They discuss their fears, anxieties and joys. We use arts to help them face the crowd, show their talents and get applauded. It could have been for the first time for some. We have conducted over 60 camps in the last 3 years. Shankar has facilitated in some of the camps.

The camp just offers them a small cup of sunshine, their issues back home cannot be fixed in 4 days, but they feel rejuvenated and re-assured, confident to continue the fight.

Please let me know if you would like to have a copy.

As a token of my thanks, I gifted Shankar the book, ‘Roots’ by Alex Haley.Gomathi Shankar

‪#‎PayItForward 21/100