Friday, February 3, 2012

My first visit to a Balawadi

This was my first visit to a Balawadi center run by PRATHAM. There were two friends who were also coming and one of them was celebrating her birthday. Being North Indians to ease their communication with the children a center in a Muslim area was selected. The center was a one room operation but quite spacious with a high roof and a shady mango tree outside. All the walls were decorated with pictures and charts. There were about twenty children aged between 3 and 5. They all greeted us in chorus with a cheerful "Good Morning". I was surprised to see a German lady assisting the teacher in-charge of the Balawadi. I subsequently learnt that foreign volunteers (mainly German) come regularly every year. They do volunteering full time spending time at the Balawadi as well as Goverment schools as part of PRATHAM's programs. Soon there were several rhymes recitation by the children which was on par with any kindergarten in the city. Next one of the children gave a hand made greeting card to the visitor and this was followed by the "Happy Birthday" song. Evidently they had prior information of the visit! After sweets were distributed by the visitors and children had their fill, it was touching to see the German volunteer take a broom and clean up the place just as we Indians do. It showed the amount of integration with the local culture that she had imbibed during her stay.
After a long series of handshakes with each of the enthusiastic kids and bye-byes it was time to leave.
While we could not look at the mode of teaching, the specific aids designed by PRATHAM which are used, it was still a good experience which provided a glimpse of the workings of the Balawadi. Going by the children's enthusiasm I can say that the dedication and hard work of the staff is very much evident.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Continuing on the subject of values this was my recent experience.
I have started my gardening after shifting to Mysore. I was looking for raw materials like cow-dung and sugarcane bagasse. I will write about my gardening experiments separately but restrict this post to my attempts at procuring sugarcane bagasse. I went to a sugarcane juice vendor who said somebody had already taken it and I could come the next day; he would keep it for me. Accordingly I went the next day and he had a cement bag of bagasse. I took it and asked him what he was expecting for the same. He answered that I could give him whatever I was giving earlier. I could not elicit a figure from him and finally gave him Rs 5 which was what I was paying to the vendor at Bangalore. At this point he seem to be "ashamed" to receive such a low amount. Finally he said that the other person (who takes it to feed his buffaloes) pays Rs 20 independent of the quantity! So finally I handed him Rs 15 (which was the change I had) but with some reservations in my mind. Somehow it became a business transaction without goodwill and my mind was already thinking of looking up an alternate source. Perhaps he did have a customer who paid him Rs 20; I had no means to verify but I felt he was overcharging me for what is essentially a waste product of his main business - vending sugarcane juice.

I always felt that whoever is recycling waste is doing a service to the society and hence should be encouraged. We did the same with my old newspapers. We always gave away freely to the raddiwala who came by since I felt that we are paying to read the news content of the newspaper. If the raddiwala can make living out of it we should not cut into his meager profits. But this had the side effect that each raddiwala wanted newspapers to be exclusively reserved for himself while we did not have any preferences! This created a goodwill that even now when we visit our old house if a raddiwala is passing by he recognizes and has a conversation.

Now back to the sugarcane bagasse story...
I located another vendor and asked him about the bagasse. He said he just puts it in the vacant site behind and whoever is interested can pick it up. I handed him a bag and requested him to fill it up which I would pick up in the evening. When I went in the evening he pointed to the bag and was about to leave. When I tried to pay him he refused and rode off on his two wheeler! So I was left standing there with a sense of gratitude or goodwill and respect for this person.
Now from an economics point of view it seems foolish on his part to not seize this "business opportunity" to create monetary value out of his waste. But in terms of human values and goodwill generate I feel he has gained a lot more.

What is value (of anything) ?

I am not talking of the value in terms of money which is ever changing but the core intrinsic value of anything. For eg: if 1 kg of rice can satiate the hunger of "x" people that is its value and it is required irrespective of the market value of rice. Money value which is only a convenient mechanism for exchange of different goods has no intrinsic value in itself. For eg: what is the value of Rs 100 if there is no rice to available to buy? However associating a money value distorts our own value system and priorities over time. For eg: some one was commenting growing off-season crops in the garden would give great satisfaction since we get it free when the market prices are high. I feel the real satisfaction is in the challenge of growing a crop (some might be easier compared to others) and also in relishing it but it should not be linked to the market value in Rupees. A pomegranate tastes like a pomegranate and it should be enjoyed as such irrespective of its price. Whether one grows tomatoes or strawberries the joy is in growing process itself and not really in the end product. Many a times it is painful to pull out the robustly grown carrots or radishes!