Saturday, December 3, 2011

naresh baiga, 10 years old, with tuberculosis
of the foot and leg bones, was unable to stand when he first was brought to our clinic at bamhni. fortunately he has responded well to treatment.
when we visited bahoud last week, i went to his house to see how he was doing. we found him in the street, playing in the dirt with his friends.

choitram baiga, 38, however, has not been so lucky. he has multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, and continues to be unwell in spite of over a year of treatment. he is being provided with what are called second-line anti-TB drugs, which are expensive, and need to be given for a longer period of time than the usual course of medication.
earlier this year he had sold his few his goats and pigs to raise Rs. 6000 in order to hire a tractor to help till the 5 acres of land he has been given here at new bahoud. i
n spite of that, the rice yield has been poor, and will last his family of 8 for three months. the BPL rice does not last the entire month for the family. the oldest son, 18, works and keeps enough money aside to buy a kilo of arhar daal every fortnight for his father.
choitram's main worry now is how his family will survive this coming year. he is now unable to walk and drags himself around on the ground once someone helps him off the bed.

tuberculosis continues to be a serious and widespread problem in rural india. this small village of bahoud has three patients with severe forms of tuberculosis. the risk of death due to TB increases as the body mass index of the patient reduces. that means that a malnourished person is more likely to die of tuberculosis than a well-nourished patient is.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Resettlement, two years on.

Bahoud village, relocated from within what is now the Achanakmar tiger reserve, to a place several kilometres away. It sits in plain view of the road from Bamhni to Khudia, neat rows of whitewashed buildings, complete with electricity poles along the street and wide cemented roads. This is the village that has been showcased as an example of the Government's resettlement and rehabilitation policy - surely these neatly laid out concrete houses and broad streets are far better than the inaccessible village the Baigas inhabited earlier?
Two years on, most houses have a fence of twigs around them; now in December, several houses have the rice harvest in, ready for threshing.
I visited the village on Friday, to follow up some patients we had seen in our clinic.
What struck me was the solar powered street lights at the corner of each street: why this in addition to electricity, I wondered. Each house has a ceiling fan fitted, as well as a CFL in two of the four rooms. Each house also had a small solar lamp they had purchased at a discount from our NGO, and this was their only source of light at night.

Tugur Baiga sits outside his house warming himself in the sun. I ask him about the solar panels and the electricity poles and wires. There is no provision for electricity supply to our village, I am told. None of the villages nearby have power either.
He has been given five acres of land in this new location, but it is on a slope and does not retain water. So the rice he has harvested is the same quantity as he would get on his 1.5 acres within the forest. After the harvest, we used to supplement our income with forest produce like sal seeds, but now there is nothing, he says. Given the choice would he like to return to his original village? I ask him.
Choice? When do we ever have a choice? he answers. We were bundled here in trucks and left under a few trees, and had to live through the summer and the rains while the houses were built. Now our house has a number.
Do you own your house? Do you have any papers for it? No, he says, nothing.
What about the patta for the five acres? No, there is no talk of giving us a patta, he says. I dont know anything about it.
Why don't you ask for it through your Gram Sabha? He thinks for a while. When our Gram Sabha met, we raised the issue of another drinking water source - this large settlement has only one borewell at one end of the village. The Government had also promised to help with tractor facilities for five years to clear our land of stones, and we have asked that they be reminded of that. But it is two years now, and they have not done it, I wonder if they ever will. Tugur sounds discouraged and resigned.
It is the same story in every household I visit.
I visit the anganwadi centre in some anticipation: one of our staff had reported on CGNet Swara earlier this year that the centre was not receiving rice for the children's meal, and that they had to make do with chana and murra. This had received quite a bit of publicity, and when he visited the village three weeks later, he found the children being given cooked food to eat. We felt encouraged - our report had made the difference, we thought.
The centre is run in one room of the house belonging to the helper. It was brightly decorated with charts on the wall and a mat on the floor, and scattered about it were grains of murra. I asked the helper how many children she had cooked food for that day. There are 30 children who attend, she replied, but I don't cook, since there is no rice supplied. I asked about the rice that was served in April when my colleague visited. Oh, that was the time of the Gram Suraj Abhiyan, when all the officials come to every village, she replied. Before their visit a 50kg sack of rice was provided. But after that, there has been nothing. Indeed, when I look at one of the registers kept there (no growth register or immunization register was available), the last three entries are a flurry of visits in April, with recommendations and remarks: made, no doubt before the bureaucrats and politicians descended on Bahoud for a day to listen to the problems of the aam aadmi.

Development with a human face.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

learning BLS

this is a picture of some of our staff learning to administer cardiac massage on a dummy. we plan to train a few people in each village in this life-saving technique.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Kodekasa Kanyashram

The village is set in a valley, green and verdant now at the end of the monsoon, and as you look down from the top of the road, the houses are to the left, and the various institutions to the right – first is the middle school set in a large ground, then the sub-centre, the panchayat office, and the primary school with the anganwadi in the same compound. Kodekasa is a panchayat headquarters village and the road that runs through it is in a good state of repair.

We had come to meet the ANM who lives at the subcentre here, but she is away to visit her mother who is unwell. We met the Mitanin there, a cheerful woman who has been working as a mitanin for the past ten years. We are now headed back to Dalli and I stop for a last look at the village.

I am standing outside a building surrounded by a wall, with nothing outside to indicate what it is. Only the numerous clothes drying on the wall tells me that it may be a hostel of some sort. Dr Prathap who is with me in the jeep says he would like to see if anyone there has fever (this being the start of the malaria season), and he and the driver set off inside while Temin the nurse and I wait on the roadside enjoying the sun.

They are back in a couple of minutes: it is a girls’ hostel, they say. Temin and I go inside to meet the staff and students. We are able to walk right in, through the gate, through the front door, into the dormitory, into another large room with a water cooler installed (there is no running water in the hostel), and I glimpse more rooms beyond.

The entrance to the dormitory has pictures of Gandhi and Ambedkar on it. To the right is a small board stating this is the Kodekasa Kanyashram (Girls’ Hostel), with an intake capacity of 50 boarders. To its left is a large board giving details of the number of students there. At present there are 30 of them. No other details of whom to contact, who is in charge, no name of the warden, nothing.

My knocking on the door brings three girls out from somewhere inside, and they are soon joined by some of their friends. Today being a holiday, they are not in the middle school fifty yards away.

The dormitory is large and airy, but poorly maintained, and has twelve neatly made beds in two rows. At the far end of the hall is a row of tables with six computers on them. I am impressed and ask whether they know how to use them. No, they say, the computers are out of order. Since when? I ask. The oldest resident there has been in the hostel for three years, and the computers were already there and not functioning at that time, she replies. I ask for their warden – there is no one here, they reply. Has she gone home as it is a holiday? No, there is no warden.

Who takes care of you?

There is Ahilyabai the cook, they reply. Temin goes in search of Ahilyabai, fails to find any adult in the place.

Meanwhile, I try to start the computers – none of the UPS units are functioning, nor are the computers. Understandably, the tables are left alone and everything is coated with dust and cobwebs. There is electricity though.

Some of the computers at the kanyashram.

There are 30 of us girls here, they reply to my question. I ask if there is another dormitory as I count only 12 beds here.

No, they say, all of us sleep here, the smaller ones are 2 or 3 to a bed. We join the beds together at night so that no one falls off.

The dormitory - 12 beds for 30 girls

They attend the middle school that is next to the hostel.

What happens when you fall sick?We go to the village and call our parents and then we go home, they reply.

Don’t you see the ANM who lives here?No.

Don’t you ask the Mitanin to give you some medicines?No, we just go home.

How far is home? Quite far. If we are very sick, our parents come and get us, otherwise we go by ourselves.

Who do I have to ask if I want to get someone to repair the computers?Thakur sir.

Where does he live?In Lohara.

Lohara is at least 10 km from here. No,they don't have his phone number.

The girls are happy that someone has visited, but are shy to talk. I am wary of asking probing questions in case they get into trouble for talking to a stranger. They want a picture taken with the nurse. Temin and I then leave, with all the girls crowded at the gate and waving to us. Just past the bend in the road after the hostel, barely 50 feet away, is a small shop: cycle-repair and petty shop in one, and at this moment there are five young men sitting there and talking.

I leave with many questions in my mind. Who is supposed to be in charge here? Surely there cannot be a residential school for young girls with only the cook who may and may not be there all the time? What about security – all four of us in the jeep could walk in unchallenged. What if some men decide to walk in and harass the girls or worse? Who do they turn to for help? What if one of them has an accident or falls ill – no first aid or simple medication available there? And what about the budget – if the stated capacity is for 50 boarders, surely there must be a provision to purchase 50 cots and mattresses for them? Who purchased the computers, or was it a donation of used ones? Who set it up and why did no one come to check that they have not been working for at least three years? Obviously their parents would like them to study beyond primary school – after all, that is what many of us say is the basic requirement for empowerment of women. Is this what the state offers them?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


i was conducting a training for nurses in sarguja district last week at a place called kakna, 18 km from ambikapur. the night train between durg and ambikapur takes about eight hours from usalapur (near bilaspur) to get there, but the journey was comfortable.

my brief glimspe of ambikapur left me wide-eyed: a huge bustling market, good roads (no significant potholes at least in the market areas and the centre of town, unlike in bilaspur which is one endless series of potholes of varying dimensions all over the city), and large showrooms with branded products. when i worked here, first in 1987 for a year, then in 1992-93, it was much smaller, without a rail-head. traveling to ambikapur meant an eight hour bumpy bus-ride from bilaspur, with at least two punctures guaranteed on the way. both towns were still part of madhya pradesh at that time.

kakna is a silent haven, a lush green valley ringed by hills with no internet access, and poor cellphone connectivity. a perfect place for training. the only downside was the prolonged powercuts but an inverter ensured that the projector and laptop could be used without interruption. keeping the 25 nuns and myself company on the campus were kajal and kalloo the dogs, and changoo the kitten. it rained practically incessantly, with occasional spectacular thunder and lightning thrown it for good measure.

the RAHA centre at kakna is a perfect place for a retreat or for solitude if one wants to write a book. unfortunately i do not have any photographs to share.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

more on lungis

contributed by another soul with ancestors from kerala, but now from all over india like many of us. he has also kindly contributed the photograph of lungis in mumbai.

Some trivia:

- Lungi Utao. Pungi Bhajao was the slogan used by Shiv Sena during their anti south campaign in the 70s. But then most madrasis were tamil, telugu, mangalorean, kannada and yes, malayalis.
- Bengalis also wear lungi.
- The Burmese national dress is also Lungi,
- Most brands of lungis that you buy are packaged/designed for a muslim audience and that could be Mal, Tam, Bengali.
- Kannadigas also wear lungi. Except they like to stitch the ends like a sack with a hole.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Lungi - The Legend

read on- this is not only about mallus: there are contributions from others as well.


Lungi - The Legend : A Tribute to Our Mallu Friends

Author: Unknown (US Citizen, born in Kerala )

Just as the national bird of Kerala is Mosquito, the national dress is 'Lungi'. Pronounced as 'Lu' as in loo and 'ngi ' as in 'mongey', a lungi can be identified by its floral or window-curtain pattern. 'Mundu' is the white variation of lungi and is worn on special occasions like hartal or bandh days, weddings and Onam.

Lungi is simple and 'down to earth' like the mallu wearing it. Lungi is the beginning and the end of evolution in its category. Wearing something on the top half of your body is optional when you are wearing a lungi. Lungi is a strategic dress. It's like a one-size-fits-all-bottoms for Keralites.

The technique of wearing a lungi/mundu is passed on from generation to generation through word of mouth like the British Constitution. If you think it is an easy task wearing it, just try it once! It requires techniques like breath control and yoga that is a notch higher than sudarshan kriya of AOL. A lungi/mundu when perfectly worn won't come off even in a quake of 8 on the richter scale. A lungi is not attached to the waist using duct tape, staple, rope or velcro. It's a bit of mallu magic whose formula is a closely guarded secret like the Coca Cola chemicals.

A lungi can be worn 'Full Mast' or 'Half Mast' like a national flag. A 'Full Mast' lungi is when you are showing respect to an elderly or the dead. Wearing it at full mast has a lot of disadvantages. A major handicap is when a dog runs after you. When you are wearing a lungi/mundu at full mast, the advantage is mainly for the female onlookers who are spared the ordeal of swooning at the sight of hairy legs.

Wearing a lungi 'Half Mast' is when you wear it exposing yourself like those C-grade movie starlets. A mallu can play cricket, football or simbly run when the lungi is worn at half mast. A mallu can even climb a coconut tree wearing lungi at half mast. "It's not good manners, especially for ladies from decent families, to look up at a mallu climbing a coconut tree"- Confucius

Most mallus do the traditional dance kudiyattam. Kudi means drinking alcohol and yattam, pronounced aattam, means random movement of the male body. Note that 'y' is silent. When you are drinking, you drink, there is no 'y'. Any alcohol related "festival" can be enjoyed to the maximum when you are topless with lungi at half-mast and a towel tied around the head. "Half mast lungi makes it easy to dance and shake legs" says Candelaria Amaranto, a Salsa teacher from Spain after watching 'kudiyaattam' .

The 'Lungi Wearing Mallu Union' [LUWMU, pronounced LOVE MU], an NGO which works towards the 'upliftment' of the lungi, strongly disapproves of the GenNext tendency of wearing Bermuda shorts under the lungi. Bermudas under the lungi is a conspiracy by the CIA. It's a disgrace to see a person wearing Bermudas with corporate logos under his lungi. What they don't know is how much these corporates are limiting their freedom of movement and expression.

A mallu wears his lungi round the year. It's all weather, all season versatility has no match. A mallu celebrates winter by wearing a colourful lungi with a floral pattern. Yet in summer, a lungi provides good ventilation and brings down the heat between the legs. A mallu is scared of global warming more than anyone else in the world. If despite wearing a lungi you feel the heat, you can use the ends of the lungi to fan your heated parts.

Jai Lungi


Confirmation from a friend from Kerala:

Of course, there is nothing more liberating than a lungi. It is truly a free flowing garment and colourful too. But the modern gen is not very impressed. My kids have banned lungis in our house – probably they are in cahoots with the Bermuda manufacturers. So I have to go around wearing shorts – like an overgrown school boy :-)


An objection from West Bengal:

How come the lungi is considered something only Mallus wear? As far as I know lungis are favoured casual wear in (at least) West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, and even in Punjab, where it is worn slightly hitched on one side - as anyone who has watched Bhangra dancers will have noticed.


And a protest from a true Tamilian:

I am deeply offended that no one has pointed out the fact that Lungi's history is incomplete without acknowledging the contribution of the Lungi Clad Tamil Desi [LCTD] to this great tradition. Who can forget the ishhtyle of the quintessential LCTD traveling in a bus, his mundu folded and worn high about mid-thigh level, and upon being asked by the conductor to pay the fare, accede to the request by standing tall, with one arm holding on to the rail (primarily to quell newtonian forces because the driver always 'full take a fast' on hearing the biggle [whistle]) reaching deep into the pocket of a long multicoloured Nijar [shorts] allowing the lungi to ride even higher.

Ofcourse I concede that accidents happen sometimes, when the LCTD executes the manouevre only to discover that the long shorts are missing causing the conductor to use the aforementioned biggle again-this time to admonish the LCTD to drop the Lungi immediately forthwith ["Lungi erukku pa- bus iley ladies irukkanga"] and let him get off the bus [" Kasu illaiya? nataraja nata!"]

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

the dalli manual mines

this mountain has been mined for 53 years now, and we are told the iron ore will last for another two years or so. then they will abandon this mine, fill up the hole, and plant trees on it. "leaving mother earth as we found it" is how the assistant mines manager explains it to us.

we are standing on a hill overlooking the dalli manual mines which is a sight to make you pause and catch your breath. the open strip mines here are enormous, leading far down into the hole, where dumper trucks look like miniature lego toys. and small white square structures with a conical top that i mistake for temples (why so many in one area i wondered) turn out to be blaster shelters. the person laying the charge to the dynamite that will blast the rock from the mountainside sits inside this to protect himself before he lights the fuse. each layer is called a bench and is 5 metres high - the limit of the sweep of the excavator. the ledge is as wide if not wider. these mines are completely mechanised now but are still called by their original name of manual mines.

strips of white among the prevailing rust red are where there is no iron ore, and this has now to be removed to get to the ore under it. the iron content here is over 60%, and the mines produce 1.2 million tons of iron ore a year. a sign tells us that on 31st may this year, the mines have achieved 929 accident-free days.

i cannot help wondering how much earth it will take to fill a hole this size, and where it will come from - will it not leave another area somewhere devoid of its topsoil, or make another hole?

Monday, May 16, 2011

mines, and sparrows

the view from my room with the profusion of trees on the campus. the hill where the mines are is seen only dimly in the hot afternoon haze. a part of the hospital building is seen to the left.

i have been here for nearly a week now, and the sound of the blasting on the hills around dalli still startles me. sometimes i see a cloud of dust rising from a far-off hillside, but at other times i cannot make out where the earth is being blasted to lay bare its treasure of ore. the rajhara mines are strip mines: the ore is mined from the surface of the earth, in contrast to the typical mental image one has of mines, which has a pit going deep into the earth in a mine shaft and then horizontal tunnels under the earth.

the shaheed hospital sits on a hillside just outside the town of dalli rajhara, and across the valley is a huge rust-red hill, which has numerous parallel lines on it which i realise is the winding dirt road on which trucks ply all day long. i hope to be able to visit the mines sometime.

the hospital is a 100 bedded one, constructed and managed by mines workers who felt the need to have something of their own, where they would be treated with dignity, and where they could get affordable health care. it is always full to capacity and overflowing, with patients on the floor and in the corridors as well. at present it has seven doctors including dr saibal jana who has been here for the past 25 years. his wife alpana jana is a nurse, who has helped to train the 26 local girls who work in the hospital and provide nursing care, as well as handle most of the deliveries in the labour room.the patients' relatives cook in a long hall fitted with 21 sets of smokeless chulhas; and a separate room provided with LPG gas stoves for those who can pay the required amount of Rs. 20 per hour to cook a meal.

the campus has a variety of trees - amaltas, neem, mango, drumstick, bel, karanj, palash, banyan, and others in addition to the bougainvillea and hibiscus that grow in profusion everywhere. what amazes me is the number of sparrows here, including the couple that has persisted in building its nest in my room in spite of my efforts to shoo them away. in the process they litter my room with several handfuls of grass, small feathers, string and other ingredients essential to the building of their home. i love the sound they make. not since my days in bokaro in the 70s have i seen so many sparrows. lately i have neither seen nor heard them at all: i dont recall any in bhopal, and my part of the town in bilaspur has few birds, and certainly no sparrows. the blasts on the hillsides seem to bother them not at all.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

the sisters with the sisters

i was in karangabahla earlier this week. priti and muskaan look happy to be there. here they are in their school uniform, with the holy family nuns. they are outside a toilet complex that is being constructed with financial help from friends and well-wishers.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

the end of the line

if you board the 08788 passenger train at raipur, it will take you slowly, over three and a half hours, to dalli rajhara - a distance of 126 km. the train meanders past durg through the dry hot countryside, never stopping long at any one place, but not leaving out any station either. risama, gundardehi, balod, kusumkasa - these are stations i have not glimpsed before.

at bhilai a large group of young men gets on with equipment which they stack carefully at one end of the coach. they wear sky-blue T-shirts with "Bhilai Giants" embroidered on the pocket. with easy camaraderie, they share cucumbers, bottles of water, and their earphones to listen to songs on their mobiles. they are headed to dalli for a series of cricket matches this week.

i sit up straight, not wanting my kurta to stick to my back in the sweltering heat. twice i get down to fill my water bottle at the station - lukewarm water from a tap on the platform, but it tastes good. my eyes and throat dry up every so often, and i can feel grit on my face. the glare of the sun hurts my eyes, and i squint down at the book i am reading, though i would prefer to look out of the window.

we pass once an area that has many railway wagons piled high with iron ore. there are low hills beyond, and we have passed the station before i could see what it was. as we pass through this place, the wind blows in reddish dust, instead of the usual grey dust during the rest of the journey.

at 1 pm on a hot april afternoon, we pull into dalli rajhara, after passing through miles of hills of iron ore, that are being mined to feed the steel plant at bhilai. dalli is too small to be marked on most maps. this is the end of the railway line on this route.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


for those who wish to contribute to the hostel at karangabahla run by the holy family sisters, i now have the bank details. they have a society to which you can directly send money: would be best to deposit in any bank of baroda branch in your city - in which case your cheque will be a local cheque and collection charges are waived. also transfer is within 48 hours. mailing the cheque to them will entail collection charges and a long lag period for enchashment.

Shantidhara Society
Bank of Baroda,
Account no. 30220100001594

you can either call up sr chaitanya (095894 43304) or email me about the amount and the date sent and i will inform her so that she can keep track.

thank you for your generosity.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

hostel at karangabahla

sr chaitanya of the holy family convent, karangabahla tells me that priti and muskaan are settling in well. their father called and spoke to them yesterday.

several people had called/ written in asking how they could help the two girls. i have told them that in addition to priti and muskaan, there are other girls staying at the hostel who may need support too. i had written to sr chaitanya asking whether they needed any funds for the hostel facilities, since i had noticed it was sparsely furnished. also anything for the boarders.

she discussed it in her community and they are surprised and touched that people they do not know are wanting to help them. they did have a list but were very hesitant to ask since they feel it is a lot of money, though it is actually quite modest.

if anyone is interested to contribute / know more, please do write to me.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

one week on

priti and muskaan have been at the hostel for a week now. when i spoke to them earlier this evening, both were in high spirits, said they were going to school but today was a holiday. the younger child interrupted her conversation with me to say she could not talk further as she had to go and play with her friends.

their father had called them two days ago, but they were in bed at that time but he spoke to the nun in charge of the convent.

Monday, January 10, 2011

priti and muskaan

here they are. priti and muskaan at the ganiyari campus last week.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


yesterday we took priti and muskaan to the karangabahla holy family convent and admitted them there. it has been recently started, and has 23 boarders so far, ranging from 5 to 14 years of age. the place is 10 km beyond pathalgaon, in jashpur district, and is set off the road in large grounds. you reach it after a long drive though dense forest, and there is an air of peace there.

the girls took the community by surprise, chattering and giving their opinion on things, and exploring the place, in contrast to the shy tribal children who are presently there.
dev kumar returns to bombay today. on the drive to the station at raigarh and on the train ride back he was silent and pensive, often trying to fight back his tears.

the sister in charge called us after we got home at 11 pm last night, to tell us that the children were fine, played with the other girls and had dinner and went to sleep, and did not cry for their father. that is reassuring.

for all of you who through phone calls, emails or the blog extended their support - a big thank you. i will let you know once we figure out how exactly to provide support to this family. dev kumar will be sending a thousand rupees each month for the children's fees. there will be other costs like clothes and books, and travel to and from their village during holidays. he will probably make the trip to chhattisgarh twice or thrice this year instead of only once, so there will be additional travel costs. and perhaps others that we have not thought of as yet.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

at ganiyari

i have been in touch with dev kumar over the phone every day since their return to chhattisgarh.

after shunting around between various relatives, none of whom could, with ease, feed three people for more than two days, he and his daughters are now at the dharamshala on the JSS hospital campus at ganiyari. here they will stay and get food in the canteen till the girls are placed in a hostel.

meanwhile, the number of people who have written in or called offering monetary support, and two even offering to be foster parents to the children - has been very reassuring. two nuns have been actively looking for hostels in northern chhattisgarh, closer to their native district of janjgir-champa. a hostel in karangabahla near pathalgaon (in the neighbouring district of raigarh) looks promising. run by the holy family sisters, the fee per child is rs. 500 per month or rs 100 per month with 20 kg rice and 2 kg daal per month. the fee is similar in other hostels in this region. the children need to be taken home during the holidays.

i have just spoken to dev kumar, and his mother is willing to collect them during the holidays till he comes home. he is absolutely set on returning to work in bombay (the city of dreams?) and not in chhattisgarh.

i hope to go with them later this week to karangabahla. meanwhile, if a hostel is found in janjgir-champa district itself, that will be easier for the family.