From no school to MIT

If I told you that a girl from Mumbai who did not go to school after the age of 12 years, did not give her 10th or 12th board exams is getting into the world renowned MIT [http://web.mit.edu/}, what would your response be?

Here is a brief account from her own mother, Supriya Raj Joshi from Mumbai:

“To all who doubted, accepted, rejected, supported, respected, cherished, criticized our unschooling journey and our fellow homeschoolers.
It was never a smooth journey but it was different in two ways, no teacher, no board, no government but we ourselves chose to take responsibility of our own learning and we pursued that with tremendous freedom and conviction. Secondly, more than marks and medals, we believed and practiced the “joy of learning”.
And I remember a quote I read sometime back,
“What if I Fall? Oh, but my darling what if you fly?”
I just said so to cheer her up but she took it literally. And that made all the difference.
My elder daughter Malvika left her formal schooling at the age of 12.
Scholastically she was a bright student and so people were even more concerned. and I repeat, the journey was never a smooth journey but you see when I say this I am not talking about socialization or assessments. Those are really petty things and this is not what I say, this is what our daughters say because they had more challenges to tackle.
And yesterday Malvika received this note from MIT, world’s top college for science and technology!”
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What more can one say?
Education has indeed moved out of the four walls of a traditional classroom. And I must also admire the American universities for the way in which they spot talent and encourage it. Surely the result of placing value and dignity on every human, which is the result of a worldview that declares that humans are made equal, and have value because they are made in the image of God.

Real Heroes of Mumbai

I have seen a few heroes and heroines in reel and real life. Often the reel heroes seem larger than life and get a lot of adulation because of what they are seen to be doing. But here I want to present to you one man, Nandakumar Pawar, who in my opinion is a real hero of Mumbai.

He hails from the indigenous Koli fishermen community from Bhandup in the north-eastern suburb of Mumbai. They are traditional fishermen. He, along with a few likeminded friends, has done remarkable work in conserving the wetland systems of Mumbai that are so vital for its survival. Stalin D. of Vanashakti is his mentor and hero. I hope to cover Stalin in another blog.

The November 2015 flooding of Chennai is still fresh in the public mind as I write this, and the importance of preserving the natural wetlands is now becoming more evident to the common man, but public memory is short and the greed of developers is endless. That is why I thought of putting up this post, so that more people are aware of this hero of Mumbai. The floods and devastation caused in Chennai was mainly due to wetland destruction and rampant construction on natural drainage areas.

 

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Figure 1 Nandakumar Pawar and the wetlands of Mumbai

Nandakumar Pawar and his NGO the Ekveera Pratisthan has crusaded for the preservation of wetlands and fought not only greedy developers and politicians but even at times people from his own community who tried to erect illegal structures in the mangroves! The indigenous knowledge he has is based on real experience and he showed me the foolhardiness of trying to do mangrove replantation.

Mangrove replantation is being sponsored by several well-meaning Corporates. But what they are actually doing is damaging the existing wetlands.

Nandakumar showed me an area of intertidal grasslands in between the mangroves. These are important areas for birds as they provide resting and roosting places, where these birds lay their eggs and hatch their young. Some NGOs with funding from Corporates have converted part of this grassland into a mangrove replantation zone, but very few of the mangroves have survived! That happened also because the nursery supplied them with Ceriops Tagel species which cannot grow on hard ground.

Stalin from Vanashakti explained “We are replacing each and every saplings with avecenia marina and all will survive..and these grass lands are getting inundated due to seal level rise and mangroves are growing even in places where we or anyone else has not planted”

By the inundation of intertidal grasslands by rising sea water, with the subsequent destruction of their nesting sites, now birds have no place to go, and are deserting this patch as well.

I gained a new appreciation for the wisdom of God in creating all these different areas within the wetlands, including sparse and dense mangroves, intertidal mud flats and grass lands, and creeks where the tide flushes the entire system twice a day. Each is essential for the other and add to the beauty of the whole wetlands. Wetlands do not mean only mangroves, as Nandakumar repeated.

He also showed me the water being pumped out of the Sewage Treatment Plant [STP] at Bhandup Mulund Pumping station.  He was not at all happy with the quality of the water, and from the colour of the water I could make out that all is not well indeed.

Yet by God’s grace there are quite a few birds in other areas of Bhandup creek. I marvel at the resilience of these wonderful creatures. Nandakumar took us out on a boating expedition into the Thane creek where we took these pictures.

 

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Dr. Mathew with Nandakumar and friend
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Black headed Ibis
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Flamingoes looking worried
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Shocking sight: water covered with all sorts of garbage
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Flamingoes taking off
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Koli Fishermen in action
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What a mess we have made of our beautiful coast
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An elegant bird high up on the mangroves

 

 

We came back from the short boating trip with a determination to do our best to bring back Mumbai’s real heroes to the limelight and make more people aware of the wetlands and how we can preserve them and indeed the city of Mumbai for our future generations. Thank you Nandakumar, you have been a real inspiration to me.

Please let me know how you would like to contribute to this effort. I am part of the New Link Road Residents Forum, which is a group of likeminded individuals in Borivali Dahisar in North West Mumbai who are interested in preserving the environment and wetlands our area is blessed with. www.newlinkroad.wordpress.com is our blog.

 

Rewarding robbers

Imagine that you are assigned a spacious official bungalow as part of your job. Someone comes and occupies a part of your living room. He builds a tent, and you ignore him or probably even ask him to pay you some money for it. After many years, he has now built many more rooms in your living room.

Now imagine your boss walking into your home. What do you think he will do? Of course those people living in your living room who would be rightly called encroachers would be asked to leave your room by your employer. That is natural justice. It is perfectly understandable even by a child. Not only that, imagine what would happen to you? You would be immediately dismissed from your job, no doubt about it! You would be called crazy to even think that your boss would reward these encroachers with a bungalow!

Now when you compare this with what is happening to encroachers who have been caught occupying land belonging to others including the Government, you wonder who is crazy!

12 Dec 2015 Hindustan Times (Mumbai) Shailesh Gaikwad shailesh.gaikwad@hindustantimes.com writes:

Slum dwellers may get homes on Centre’s land

State government is in talks with the railway and defence ministries for rehabilitation of slum dwellers on land owned by them in Mumbai

The state government is in talks with Centre for insitu rehabilitation of slums on land owned by Centre’s departments and agencies such as the Railways, Defence, Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) and Mumbai airport.

“We are in talks with the railway and defence ministries for rehabilitation of slum dwellers on l and owned by them in Mumbai. The response from both the ministries is positive,” said Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in reply to a debate on the pending issue of resettlement of slums on airport land initiated by Mumbai legislator Parag Alavani in the state Assembly on Friday.

The government is also seeking a legal clarification on the cut-off date—on whether it is January 2000 or December 2000 — to check for the eligibility under the slum rehabilitation scheme.

“The high court decided it should be 2000, but we want a clarification on whether it should be January 1, 2000 or December 31, 2000,” said Fadnavis. If the deadline is fixed at December 2000, a few lakh more slum dwellers will become eligible for free rehabilitation under state’s slum rehabilitation programme. The ruling BJP wants the decision to be taken ahead of the civic polls in Mumbai in early 2017.

The defence ministry has given its in-principle approval for rehabilitation of slums on their land in Mumbai, said Fadnavis, adding that railway minister Suresh Prabhu has asked the state government to submit a fresh proposal after which a model is likely to be worked out soon.

Officials from the state housing department said the state is planning to prepare a model which will ensure rehabilitation of all slums on lands owned by the Centre in Mumbai. Besides defence, lands belonging to the railways, Mb PT, airport and Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) have also been encroached upon.

The state wants the Centre to allow in-situ development of the slums, as often slum dwellers oppose resettlement away from their current dwellings.

It is also seeking the Centre’s permission to resettle some of slum dwellers to salt pans, which fall under the no-development zone.

“We are discussing how we can compensate the Centre for the land. It could be in the form of land elsewhere or in the form of floor space index (FSI), which it can use elsewhere,” said the official.

The expansion of the Mumbai airport is stuck owing to the failure of the authorities to clear the land which has been encroached upon by slums and issues pertaining to the rehabilitation of slum dwellers.

Following a legal dispute between MIAL and HDIL, the two companies have gone into arbitration.

Union civil aviation minister Ashok Gajpathy Raju had in July 2014 directed that a fresh rehabilitation plan be prepared. Raju has given a nod for in-situ rehabilitation of slum dwellers.

The state government will soon take a decision on the same, Fadnavis said.

Now you decide who is crazy. Is it not us the honest tax paying citizens of India, who have to bear this craziness, of our land and precious public lands which were supposed to be taken care of by these Government organisations, being gifted to these robbers and encroachers?

Hats off to the citizens of Mumbai for our tolerance of this nonsense.

 

Slums burn while Politicians pave the way for even more disasters

Yesterday there was a huge fire in an illegal slum colony in a northern suburb of Mumbai called Kandivali. Over 2000 shanties were burnt, fortunately there were only two casualties. The strange fact was that these were all illegal settlements, many of them owned by local politicians, who have even gone to the extent of further dividing a small 10 X 10 feet hutment into two just to get two names on the list so that when there is a slum rehabilitation project they will be eligible for two concrete and cement flats or apartments in a tower meant to rehabilitate the slum dwellers.

This is an extract from the TOI: “How do we go on now? “was the question on most lips at Kandivli’s Damu Nagar where around 2,000 hutments were destroyed in a blaze on Monday afternoon. Two people died and 11 were injured after a massive fire in the slum, which officials said spread after cylinders in the shanties exploded. Its cause is yet to be determined.

“The fire started around noon, probably due to a cylinder blast in one home, and then spread quickly. There were several explosions as many residents had LPG cylinders” said additional commissioner, north region, Fatehsinh Patil. Local corporator Ajanta Yadav said the fire could have started after a woman tried to set herself ablaze during a fight with her husband.

As the slum is on the slope of a hill, fire-fighters broke a brick wall at the bottom of the slope to lay down large pipes that could carry water uphill. It was impossible for engines to drive up to the narrow clusters of hutments. Many people initially ran up the hill to save themselves, but once the fire was doused began the search for missing relatives, especially children due to return from school at the time. Rinku Gupta, who was in Damu Nagar for a meeting on Monday, said he counted 27 explosions while trying to run for his life.

Sutte, like many of Damu Nagar’s older residents, had paid Rs 7,000 to the forest department which owns the land. “The department conducted a survey of Damu Nagar two decades ago and offered to relocate us to Chandivli for a one-time payment. We paid but only a few have been relocated so far” said Subhash Wavhal, a resident.

N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forests, said families could not be shifted out of Damu Nagar as the rehab homes are yet to be made available to the forest department. Over 33,000 families had paid to be shifted out of the area, but many were yet to pay. Till date, 12,000 families from Sanjay Gandhi National Park have been rehabilitated at Chandivli. Vasudevan said they would make an estimate of the families who were eligible and affected by the blast.

 


Unfortunately, despite all these tragedies, it seems that greed has blinded the Corporators of Mumbai so much that they are all set to pass this absolutely absurd order: The BMC is all set to increase the permissible height of slums from 14 feet to 18 feet. The civic house will discuss “the desirability of giving permission to slums prior to 1995 to increase height” when it meets on December 14. The new permissible ceiling will almost double the number of shanties in each slum pocket. This means that there will be even more crowding and congestion in these slums, putting to risk even more lives. When will our greedy politicians ever learn? http://www.mid-day.com/articles/bmc-to-increase-legal-height-of-slums-to-18-feet-before-civic-polls/16750178. The BMC elections are just over 12 months away. Interestingly, the current height of 14 feet was set after corporators pushed a similar proposal through under the same circumstances in 2011 — one year before the previous BMC election.

Another concern is that the decision will only end up aiding developers. Activists said increasing the height will enable builders to appropriate FSI to build more high-rises. Amit Maru, a slum rehabilitation activist, said builders will use the density of these slums to get more FSI for sale component flats when redeveloping the shanties. “Right now under redevelopment, only the person who stays on the ground floor of a shanty gets a home,” said Maru. “But if the upper floors are legalised, then the builder will show density, will get higher FSI and other incentives to construct taller buildings for sale. Also, the BMC should clarify how many people will benefit when a slum is redeveloped. Is it going to be only the people on the ground floor, as it is currently, or will those in the higher floors also get a redeveloped flat?”

 

 

Fun with Liquid Nitrogen in Mumbai

Fun with Liquid Nitrogen in Mumbai
Imagine being able to have liquid nitrogen which is minus 196 degrees Celsius right in your home! For experimenting with, ofcourse. Nitrogen Utsav (56)The team with the various experiments they did.

They started with introducing themselves, Science Utsav, a company, started 4 years ago in Bangalore. Then they invited questions from the children and parents alike. The first experiment was one of pouring out liquid nitrogen into a plastic beaker and putting a fresh rose in it. Nitrogen Utsav (30) Nancy was told to crush the rose and it powdered in her hands!

After this there were various experiments with different objects like cricket ball, banana, chikoo, balloons and Amul cool Milk. Nitrogen Utsav (20)

Pouring Liquid Nitrogen
Pouring Liquid Nitrogen

Yes that is what some of us Mumbai Homeschoolers got to taste, literally of course, at Liquid Nitrogen Science fun organised by Science Utsav, a company that organises science themed birthday parties too.
We met at our home on the 14th of October 2015. There were around 35 of us including a few parents.

Frothy fountain
Puking Volcano

 We also got to see this Puking volcano!
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Pouring out Liquid nitrogenIMAG6118

Experiments in full swing.IMAG6132

Children lining up to get a taste of instant icecream made right before their eyes!

Everyone enjoyed and learnt a lot of physics, chemistry and biology as well! Three cheers to homeschooling and science Utsav!

Consenting adults, moral policing and other fables

Something unusual happened this month in Mumbai that has been the topic of animated discussion and protests by many liberal progressive people all over.

On 8 August 2015, around 40 consenting adults who had checked into hotels in Madh Island and the Aksa beach area in Mumbai, were dragged out of their rooms and taken to jail by the Malvani police.

Caught!
Caught!

Their crime? They were alone in a room, possibly having sex. After hours of questioning, a Rs. 1200 fine and even calls to their parents [in case of minors or singles], they were finally allowed to go home. But the damage was done. Their takeaway was lifelong humiliation.

Echoing most of their thoughts about this raid that poses as a threat to basic privacy and rights, Bollywood actor Abhay Deol wrote a long message on his Facebook page, concerned about the archaic mentality we have about sex.

It seems that two consenting adults can do pretty much what they please in private and it is not wrong. Even the Supreme court seems to have said the same.

Right?

The DCP of Borivali, Dr. Sudhakar Poojari had a question to the people who were baying for the blood of the police officers who conducted the raids: You say that it is okay for two consenting adults to book a hotel room and do what they want? How would you feel if it was your spouse who was one of them?

Silence!

Now how does that feel?

He was also upset about the fact that more people did not come out openly in support of the police action against such immoral behaviour.

How do we really respond to such situations?

This reminds me of the Master’s amazing response when a woman caught in adultery was brought to him by the fundamental Jews.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
(Joh 8:3-11 ESV)

Jesus recognised sin, yet could forgive the repentant sinner. Can you?

Yoga…the great if only….

If only Yoga lived up to even 1% of its claimed benefits, what a different nation India would have been….many tourists to India have often wondered. And for good reason, as you will discover.

But for now, here is something that will surely pique your curiosity!

United Nations General Assembly has declared 21st of June as an International Yoga Day on 11th of December in 2014.

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The declaration was done after the call by the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi to the United Nations General Assembly on 27th of September in 2014 during his address to the UN General Assembly. He called the United Nations General Assembly for adopting 21st of June as an International Yoga Day to get all the benefits of yoga for the people all around the world. [http://www.indiacelebrating.com/events/international-day-of-yoga/]

Narendra Modi has said during his address to the UN General Assembly that “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature.

A look at India would make us wonder, how on earth does he have the guts to make such tall claims?

Restraint and fulfillment? Harmony between man and nature? Yoga has been practised for centuries in India. Where rivers are treated as dumping grounds for all sorts of garbage, sewage and even dead bodies. Where forests are being destroyed, mangroves reclaimed, the air and water polluted.

So what is this Yoga?

Derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, Yoga means union of the individual consciousness or soul with the Universal Consciousness or Spirit.

There are many more people making tall claims for Yoga.

A renowned Hindu Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, from India, says “Yoga is not just a physical exercise or asanas. Yoga is a complete science. It unites the body, mind, spirit and the universe. Yoga brings that much needed peace in every individual. It also makes a big difference in one’s behavior, thought pattern and attitude. I would say yoga is almost indispensible. If you want to be sane, sensitive, sensible, strong and intuitive you have to follow yoga.”

Now think of the state of the majority of the people in the world. Does he mean to say that they are not sane, sensitive, sensible, strong or intuitive?

Or let us take the other side of this.

What has Yoga done for India?

How many would look at India, the place where Yoga was founded, and say Indians have that much needed peace, and exemplary behaviour, thought patterns and attitudes?

India is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and also considered backward in hygiene, health, equal rights to minorities, women and children, and even in sports. A mere look at the Olympic Medal tally of India will reveal what this so called Yoga has done to help Indians achieve superior physical strength, stamina or health.

So in terms of peace of mind, values, ethics, or in the more measurable physical health, yoga has not been of any use practically to the countless millions of Indians.

Then why is it being propagated?

That is a good question, that the Prime Minister and the present right wing Indian government should be answering.

I believe there are deeper spiritual reasons why Yoga is being propagated.

Yoga promotes the pantheistic world view that everything and everyone is god, and the aim of Yoga is union with this so-called force or god. Is this logically, scientifically and factually true? Ofcourse not! The Creator, whom we would call God, is not a force without any personality or feelings! He is a person, and that is why He made us humans in His image, and He shows us His love. A force or the god consciousness to which Yoga proponents would have you unite, it cannot and never will love you!

The Judaeo-Christian world view clearly states that God is the creator and everybody and everything else is created by Him and distinct from God. The very first temptation faced by humans [Genesis 2-3] was to be like God himself, the very same thing offered by Yoga. Of Course, God was displeased by this heresy and had to punish Adam and Eve, but He [out of His immense love for us] also made a way for us humans to be restored back to a relationship with Him, through repentance and faith in the finished work and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God who became a man to take on Himself the punishment due to us for our sins.

Yoga and its spiritual philosophy tries to deny that we humans are sinners, separated form the God who created us. This is nothing but the lie that satan used in the garden with our very first parents.

Another area of concern in yoga is the concept of emptying the mind, which is contradictory to what Christianity teaches. As Laurette explained, “We are transformed by the renewing of our minds, not the emptying.” Emptying the mind leaves it open to other spirits to take control of the person’s mind, and that is what often happens.

So please be wise before accepting anything. There can be dangers far worse that you could have imagined.

For more reading, please visit these sites:

http://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2005/march/truth-about-yoga.html

http://www.praisemoves.com/ offers excellent and spiritually safe exercises without exposing you to mind emptying spiritual dangers.

http://caryl.tv/

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