Friday, April 13, 2012

Revisiting Jeevan Prabhat Pondicherry
By Virendra N. Mahajan

My wife Shashi and I had made plans to accompany Dev Bhiaya and Bhabhi Dr. Sushma to go to Jeevan Prabhat Pondicherry (Puducherry to be precise). Since we had visited this JP at the time of its inauguration in Nov 2008, we were looking forward to seeing how it had grown. We were excited to have heard that the number of children had grown to 42, the road leading to JP had been built, and leaking roof of the main building had been repaired. As the travel time approached, it became clear that Shashi would not be able to go because of severe pain in her lower back. I was reluctant to go by myself, but she strongly endorsed and encouraged me to go.

Dev Bhaiya, Bhabhi Dr. Sushma, and I arrived in Chennai on Sat 24 March. Mr. Prabakaran met us at the airport and Naresh started driving us to Pondicherry. Mr. Prabakaran treated us with lunch on the way and introduced the Jackfruit to us. I tried to pay for the expenses, but it was all in vain. When we arrived, a row of children greeted us with tilaks and garlands, and thus began our JPP visit. The dinner time approached and the 42 Tamilian gems of JPP sat on the floor mats in a line along the wall. They recited their prayer and began to eat their meal. Thanks to the training by the dedicated JPP administrators Madhu and Ranjan Pandey, both from Uttar Pradesh, the kids are so well behaved. They finished their meal, took their empty plates to the kitchen, and cleaned up their sitting area as if they had not been there, and started decorating the entry area where the havan would be performed in the morning. Interestingly, the kids address Madhu and Ranjan as Didi and Bhaiya and not auntie and uncle, so much so that the locals, not knowing the meaning of those words, think that those are their actual names.

 The havan started precisely at 11 am the next morning, as planned. I was very pleased that one kid sat with confidence on one side of the havan kund as an equal of the adults sitting on the three other sides. Again, thanks to Madhu and Ranjan, the children chanted the mantras in unison without any books. As a product of the DAV School myself, how these young children of various ages remember these mantras with correct pronunciation was an embarrassing reminder to me. I have no doubt that anyone seeing these children perform the havan will be flabbergasted. Their recitation of the mantras reminded me of the similar and soothing recitation by the monks in a Buddhist temple in Korea I witnessed in 2009.

I wanted to ask someone, anyone, if they knew the meaning of the mantras. Our people often talk about Shakespeare and Einstein, but rarely about Kalidas and Raman. I would like these children to know at least the significance of the key mantras so they can also quote with pride that Rigved says this about that and in Gita Lord Krishna says to Arjun about this. Do they know the meaning of Gayatri mantra? Do they know which Ved is about music and which one is full of mathematics?

It is quite common that havan is followed by singing of bhajans. This was no different, except that all the children were also singing. Of special interest to me was the bhajan “Tu pyar ka sagar hai...” sung by them. I was thrilled by the fact that one child (Bhavya, the bright and beautiful daughter of Madhu and Ranjan) accompanied the singers on the harmonium. And that reminds me about the music class for the children.

It has been my earnest desire that children learn music at least to the point where they can sing in tune (sur) and with rhythm (laya). I strongly believe that the playing of harmonium and tabla while singing bhajans adds color and richness. With this in mind, I suggested to Madhu quite smetime ago that a music class be organized for the children, and took the responsibility to fund the cost for such an endeavor. I am very pleased, that after considerable effort in finding a teacher, the children now have one who also teaches in a nearby high school. Her name is Perianayagi and what a wonderful gem she is. When Dev Bhaiya thanked her for her teaching, she responded joyfully by saying that “they were her children.” Not knowing this conversation, when I said to her independently how grateful I was for her teaching, she exclaimed that she “was very happy to have the opportunity to teach these children.” Later I learned from Madhu that she teaches the JP children voluntarily. I didn’t think there were any teachers left these days anywhere who would teach voluntarily.

After the havan, the children entertained us all with a cultural program so ably officiated by Bhavya. She is also a student just like the other children. The girls performed beautiful dances dressed in beautiful costumes. The boys gave us a display of all kinds of calisthenics. The program ended with recognition of the stalwarts of the JPP that included Mr. Prabakaran, Dr. Madan Mohan, Mr. Lamba, and Miss Periyanayagi. I was very happy to see them all honored with a traditional shawl ceremony.

I mentioned earlier about the road leading to JPP being built. Well it doesn’t stop there, but continues to PIMS Hospital. And what a blessing that is, because this hospital provides medical care to the JPP children free of cost. Soon I found that the special guests present I was wondering about were the medical superintendent Dr. M. N. G. Nair and a senior manger in the administration department Mr. Jolly Joseph. Then I found that a group of four young men having lunch together were doctors from the hospital undergoing their residency. I told them how grateful I was for their service to the children.

I salute those who have donated to the JP Pondicherry. I assure you that your money has been put to excellent use, and I am sure you will want to give more if you see these children in action. Sure they are from poor families, many without one or both parents, but thanks to you all, they are living in a middle class home environment, studying in an English medium school, and working hard for their betterment. When a girl was asked if she would like to go back to her mother, her answer was unequivocal NO. Why? Because her mother will take her out of school. They don’t seem to need their parents because they all have parents in Madhu and Ranjan. When I offered Madhu to help the children with math and science, two 10th graders showed up with their math books. When I asked Mullaivendhan what question he would like to ask, he said “none.” And he added pointing to his book, “I have already completed it.” When Pratima asked me about a problem, I asked Mullaivendhan if he knew how to do it. Well, he sat down and solved the problem within a few minutes, while I was still thinking about it.

My Pita Ji rests in peace in the heaven knowing that the seed he sowed in Houston gave birth to JP Pondicherry. The Mahajan Parivar takes great pride in the fact that the Arya Samaj Greater Houston started by Pita Ji continues to provide sustainment funds for  JPP. Long-term plan being considered for the JP Pondicherry is to build a school of their own where the neighborhood children can also be educated. It will not only save cost for the education of the JP children, but also provide income for their sustainment and growth. They already have land, which is right now decorated with banana and chiku trees.

Arya Samajies are generally passive when it comes to donating money. Even those who want to give wonder if their money will be used efficiently and effectively. But please have no doubt that every nickel and dime of your donated money will be used for the JP children. None will be used for administrative cost for collecting and disbursing. I invite you to visit JP Pondicherry as guests of Madhu and Ranjan. It is said that “seeing is believing.” In my case, however, “experiencing was understanding.” You will feast on simple and tasty food home cooked by two lady chefs Govindam and Poongodha, who are also mothers of a child each among the 42 gems. You will enjoy the dessert of papayas and bananas grown in the JP garden. Please donate generously and witness these JP children, our children, rise and touch the sky.