The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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From Karachi, with love
Making merry on streets across the border

It has taken years for the adults in power to come up with no solution to the problems tearing India and Pakistan apart. In January, Shovik Banerjee, a Class XI student of La Martiniere for Boys took a shot at breaking a few barriers as The Telegraph Education Foundation’s ‘young ambassador of peace’, when he accompanied Barry O’Brien on a weeklong visit to Karachi. And he didn’t stop there, so watch this space for more. But here is what he has to say about peace, friendship and neighbours so near, yet so far:

I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be leaving Quaid-e-Azam International Airport with tears in my eyes. I could not have imagined that my voice would choke as I bade farewell, after I bent down to touch Ammi’s feet.

They say human beings are resistant to change. But as I walked through the security check, I knew that in seven days, I was a changed person.

What was it about the country, Pakistan' A country hated by most from my native land… Or was it the people' It may have been simply the experience of travelling to a land where people from this neck of the woods don’t dare set foot.

I left for Karachi via Dubai on January 11 along with Barry sir as The Telegraph Education Foundation’s ‘young ambassador of peace’. On the way to Karachi, our luggage decided to stay behind for another day at the fascinating Dubai airport.

I was on a mission to carry the message of thousands of young voices from all over Calcutta and India. Mr Kassim, our host, greeted us at the airport. The programme for which we had come to Karachi was the International Schools Education Olympiad, 2003, where teams from all over Pakistan took part in a battle of the mind. It provided me with an ideal opportunity to interact with schoolchildren like me from all over Pakistan.

I have a Lahori friend Alijan. Ali had once visited India and was so impressed that he had slightly modified a popular Pakistani song to ‘Dil dil Pakistan, jan jan Hindustan’. This statement on national television caused a hue and cry to erupt across Pakistan and India. But even today, Ali stands by his words. Then there was young Rabia Shahid, who told us she hated Indians. But when the time came to leave, she wrote a message that she hopes leaders of both our countries sort out their problems like the youth had. A middle-aged leather merchant felt that Partition of India was the greatest mistake in the history of this subcontinent. A boy had woken up one morning to hear that his father had been killed by Indian troops in Siachen. Momina Afridi, the youngest daughter of an army general, had heard stories of her uncle and aunts being burnt alive in Punjab during Partition. Was it not natural that such people should hate me with all their heart' But within a few hours we had become the closest of friends.

The days rolled by and we did everything together. We splashed about in the cool waters of the Arabian Sea, played cricket on the beach, sang songs through the night, sat around talking and talking. We were lucky enough to have wonderful hosts like the Kassims. They took us all over Karachi — to Zamzamma, the crowded Elphiston and Victoria Road, Bans Road and Clifton… We walked with the locals and you could not pick us out in the crowd. Two of our escorts, Danish and Yasir, became my best friends. But there are others whom I will never forget. Like the time we stood outside Patrick’s Church and the guard wouldn’t let us in but an officer reprimanded him and opened the gates.

The events of the Olympiad flew by and soon it was time for the closing ceremony where I spoke about my experience in Pakistan. What happened that day in Beach Luxury Hotel was truly remarkable. So many people came up to congratulate us and wrote some remarkable lines in our message book.

And inshallah, we will meet again. Before leaving I told the Kassims that I would be back to a land that had so much in common with my country but was yet so far off. Despite over 50 years of animosity, the people accepted me with arms open wide. I became a friend to so many Pakistanis, a son to a mother, a brother to a young girl, a student to a great teacher.

One cannot know a place if one does not know the people, if one cannot feel the vibrant life that makes a stone-steel city pulsating and colourful. And I have felt the life that flows through the city of Karachi. It is a life no different from the one that resides in the heart of Calcutta, though it is unique. Everything in the city seems to have an Indian connection — the leather salesman who has an aunt leaving in Agra, the working lady with an uncle buried in Calcutta, the kebabs and Hyderabadi biryani that made our mouths water...

I have seen amongst my Indian friends, several Alijans, several Rabias and I know that the dream of The Telegraph Education Foundation will be fulfilled one day. I went to Pakistan with several good wishes from the youth of Calcutta, and I came back with so many more from Karachi. This truly has been an experience of a lifetime. I would like to thank the Foundation for giving me such a wonderful opportunity to visit a country very few can visit. I know that the saga will continue. I hope that more Indians and Pakistanis step ahead and take the initiative so that one day our Utopian dream will become reality.


B-family with a cause

Children under the Parivaar umbrella

B-schools students — engrossed only in exhaustive curricula, plans for careers and dreams of fat salary cheques. If that is what comes to mind when you think of the three letters M-B-A, read on.

Parivaar is an initiative taken by students of IIM Calcutta, who have come together with the two-pronged aim to serve the needy and marginalised in society and develop social sensitivity amongst students. Conceived by three students of IIM Calcutta in February 2002, it has a current membership of 80 plus, with many members of the Institute’s academic faculty involved in the efforts of the group.

The idea of Parivaar evolved with the help from Dr Samir Chaudhari of Child in Need Institute (CINI) and Paritosh Majumdar of Pratham, a network of grassroots organisations devoted to the cause of child education. In its short life, Parivaar has engaged itself in a multitude of activities, most of which focus on health and education. Under its Model School Initiative, two schools, Kendriya Vidyalalya, Joka, and Bratachary School, Thakurpukur, have been adopted. The programme covers mentoring, career-counselling, personality development classes and computer workshops. To boost the confidence of students from economically-challenged backgrounds, Parivaar has worked out a system through which one member acts as a mentor to about five students.

Another initiative is the mess and casual worker’s education initiative, to eradicate illiteracy in our own environments. Abhisek Puglia, co-ordinator of the Workers Education Initiative, says: “If these workers can be sensitised to the advantages of education, they would be doubly careful in fulfilling the educational needs of their next generation.”

Parivaar recently organised a health camp at Titagarh, where 900 slum children were given primary health check ups. A team of 15 doctors from Calcutta Medical College and West Bank Hospital had offered their voluntary services. Efforts are on to partner with a leading pharmaceutical company to conduct follow-up camps where medicines will be distributed free. Parivaar has also organised a blood donation camp on campus in collaboration with Indian Red Cross Society.

With the Institute providing computers, Compucom Software Ltd providing course material and Parivaar members providing the teachers, soon a computer lab will get started at IIMC where students from grassroots schools will have free access to these facilities. A girls’ school in Pailan is receiving funds to upgrade its infrastructure.

Parivaar feels community development initiatives on a sustainable basis cannot be undertaken unless all interested constituents, like corporates, university campuses and grassroots organisations, come together. We want other institutes to join hands with us and play a role in the great task of social development. Says Vinayak Lohani, founder, Parivaar: “We strongly feel that these activities shall make the students more conversant with the ground realities of society and would sensitise them to serve for the cause of humanity at large. Despite having such a latent youth power in the country, there is no network of university campuses and institutions of higher learning, working in synergy for socially constructive programmes.”

The first year of Parivaar has redoubled the enthusiasm with which we hope to make this organisation a success. “Our experience in the first year has convinced us that there is a spark of social sensitivity in a lot of people but they are overwhelmed by a feeling of being lone fighters. What was lacking was a common platform for all of them to unite and that is exactly what we are creating,” feels Abhishek Singh, a member of Parivaar’s core team.

With its roots in IIMC, we have access to some of the best minds and resources in the country. With this as the base, in the years to come, Parivaar aims to become a network of students, alumni and academia of a multitude of top educational institutions and spearhead issues of sustainable social development.

Anindita Sampath & Pranav Pratap Singh,

[email protected]


Training tie-up

The Indian School Certificate Examination (CISCE) has tied up with one of the leading training and consulting organisations, NIS Sparta Ltd, to offer vocational training to students. The training will aim at increasing employability and personal development of the students to empower them to take on the challenges in the corporate sector.

All ISC students, who have appeared for the Class XII exam, and alumni, can enrol for the course. On successful completion, CISCE and NIS will jointly issue a certificate of Advance Diploma Course in Sales and Marketing (ADMAS). The course will be launched in Calcutta and will soon be rolled out in other regions of the country as well.


Concerted effort

Greenfields, a school for mentally challenged and autistic children, held its annual concert on February 15 at the Children’s Little Theatre. The students from the Santoshpur school put up song, dance and mime shows.

The finale was a fusion music item, using tabla and percussion instruments. The children, many of whom have never performed before strangers, flowered under the influence of the beat, keeping perfect time. Tots swung to the tune of Chhoti si asha, and all eyes were on four-year-old Tapas Mondol, displaying great dexterity with his fingers. Kids in wheelchairs joined in, swaying to the tune, as others donned masks to hop and skip around the stage, backed by a little imagination and lots of love.

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