School and education

Adolfo Serra

“I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”

~ Neil Gaiman | Art by Adolfo Serra

Walking with Rama

Faith Gonsalves


When I entered “Barsoom” a bar in Hauz Khaz Village, Delhi, Faith Gonsalves was sitting on a chair with her knees pulled to the chest and immersed in her Macbook.

Barsoom is a woody, science fiction inspired and eclectic space which offers wonderful food, cocktails and great music. It was only seven in the evening and the café looked empty.

Faith is the founder of Music Basti, a non-profit that provides structured music education to under-privileged children living in shelter homes in Delhi.

“We want to make a lasting change in the lives of these children through music.”

“We call our programme ‘Re-Sound,’ which introduces the elements of music including appreciation, listening and song writing through a creative and fun methodology, especially focused on voice and group learning.”

The entrance to the bar had a sliding door, which the guests who had started trickling in seldom closed it. This bothered Faith, she reached out her hand and closed it every time without showing her annoyance. She did not give up.

“Spread across 30 lessons over eight months, our trainers use both Hindustani and Western styles. The programme finally ends with a showcase, where kids perform to a wider audience,” she glowed with confidence.

What impressed me the most, unlike other young social entrepreneurs, who normally struggle for structure in their projects during their early years, Music Basti very soon had built a programme that had clear goals and a well defined implementation plan.

“Music is a powerful equaliser. It brings with it a whole host of learning and developmental benefits – whether it’s learning math and rhythm, language and singing or how to work together with other children,” she concluded.

While I shook hands with this beautiful and confident girl, the bar was filling up with a good mix of men, women and techno music.

Sriram Ayer

‘Walking with Rama’ is series of stories from my meetings with artists, musicians, dancers, actors, craftsmen and mavericks across India.

In medias res



“Could I meet you sir? It’s urgent.”

My friend who is a popular speaker in schools and colleges narrated an incident.

“Sir, I am student of the college you spoke last week. My friend is in a bind,” a student called him on the phone.

The boy who had called, his friend, a girl and a middle aged lady turned up at my friend’s house the next day at the scheduled time. The girl wore a school uniform.

“This is Babu, Priya and this is Babu’s mother,” introduced the boy who had called earlier.

Babu, aged 19 studied in a college while Priya aged 16 went to school. They reside on the outskirts of Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Babu and Priya were romantically involved during their school days and have had many encounters of unprotected sex. Babu’s father is a cab driver while his mother is a nurse. Priya came from a wealthier background but her parents had died several years ago. She became pregnant when she was 14 and she was quietly whisked away from school. She delivered a child ten months later. She has never seen the child and does not know the whereabouts of the baby today. She suspected that her relatives had a hand at the child’s disappearance that she walked away from the house and has been living at Babu’s house for the past one year. There have been frequent threats from her uncle who had threatened to kill them all if she does not return.

Babu’s mother continued, “Babu has always been a studious boy and I am so disappointed at him for being so irresponsible. Priya is still a minor, so we are worried if they might slap a case of rape and kidnapping on Babu and us. What can we do?”

My friend promised that he would get back to them after speaking to an advocate on the legal options.

“I have promised to both of them that I will ensure that they complete college education and get them married later. Sir when you speak to students please teach them how to use atleast that wretched condom. So many lives would not have not gone astray,” Babu’s mother said.

My friend echoed her concern that a large number of teenagers both in cities and villages are indulged in unprotected sex with very less or no information about protection, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases.

It is high time we stopped debating about morality, culture and values, and speak to youngsters about sex. They will engage in sexual behavior whether we speak to them or not. They might act safe and responsible if we do.

The choice is before us.

In medias res

Agarbathi boy


“Sir would you like to buy some Agarbathis?”

Vinod Kumar had walked into my cabin one evening in December in the year 2004. He should have been 8 or 9 years old then. I still remember the way he looked that evening; clean roundish face, well-oiled and combed hair, back pack but no foot wear.

Two years earlier in 2002, the riots in Gujarat had scarred and disillusioned me. This incident left me suddenly rudderless on the direction and the purpose of my life.

Vinod’s father had deserted his family. He went to school during the day while his mother made agarbathis. After school he went to different parts of the city to sell incense sticks, soaps and toiletries. At the age of 9 he was the sole earning member of his family. That meeting with Vinod changed my life completely. Vinod gave a purpose to my life and that was to help disadvantaged children. I quit my job in less than a week and started NalandaWay Foundation ( Today, NalandaWay uses the power of arts to change the lives of over 18,000 children like Vinod.

It took over 6 years to locate Vinod again. We supported his school and college education.

Vinod dropped into my office last week again.

He wanted to tell me that he had landed a job at KCP Cements. I was elated at the news.

After work he still continues to sell agarbathis, perhaps there is need for miracles in the lives of many others.

In medias res

‘Payasam’ for the soul

A colleague and I were on our way to a Government school in the northern fringes of Chennai. The neighbourhood was infamous for gangsters and violence. It was 2 pm in the afternoon, but a wine shop at the entrance of the street leading to the school was bustling with business. Sooner we got into the school we were greeted by a thick smell of urine.

Twenty five children from this school had attended our 4 days residential art camp a month earlier and we wanted to meet the kids, teachers and their parents to understand if our camp made any difference. So after an hour of conversations with children and teachers we did feel slightly reassuring that our efforts have not gone in vain.

It was time to meet the parents and only two mothers had turned up. My colleague inquired if they saw any changes in their kids’ behavior. One of the mothers remained silent but nodded along to all the questions while the other lady was talkative and open about her observations. The chatty lady looked prosperous compared to the quiet person.

“Ours is a very poor family,” she finally opened up.

“My husband and son do not work and I sell vegetables on the street to find money. I have never been to a school, but my daughter is very smart and beautiful. I have always the best for my kids, but with the money that I bring home, I can hardly make them rice once a day.”

“But that day she came running to me after the camp. She looked so excited and happy. She announced that she ate payasam, ice cream, biriyani, potato roast, cream biscuits and so much more,” and the lady started crying.

We let her cry. Her tears had more answers than what we wished for.