Paying off a debt
Nightingale of Ladakh
Frailty too can
be a strength
Paying off a debt
Divya A talks to Anuradha Goburdhun Bakhshi who has set up Project Why to connect with the land of her ancestors.
Anuradha Goburdhun Bakhshi hardly owes anything to this land, unless one takes into account her lineage. Her great grandfather shipped out to Mauritius from Bihar over a century ago as an indentured labourer. She was born in Prague. Her father, Sri Ram Goburdhun—a judge—had taken Indian citizenship and become a diplomat. Anuradha, an ambassador’s daughter, was raised in the lap of luxury in world capitals. Life was a lark with cruises and parties. Marriage to an Indian Airlines executive meant postings abroad again. As the French translator to Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, life seemed to drift closer to the clouds. Today, she spends her waking hours in Delhi’s Giri Nagar slums, battles to raise money for her adopted brood of 600 young people and rides a three-wheeler to donors, to reach anyone who might further the cause of her wards. After coming to India, ultimately she found her moorings in Project Why, aimed at providing free school education to school-going children of Giri Nagar slums at Kalkaji, New Delhi. Starting with a handful of students and a paltry sum of Rs. 70,000, today there are more than 600 students. One rented classroom has increased to five, one computer centre and 35 teachers and a vocational centre for handicapped children. Attendance is near 100 per cent and enthusiasm for learning bubbles through. Excerpts from an intetrview:
What were the objectives for setting up the Ram Godurdhun Trust?
Project Why is my search for answers to things I feel are unjust and my own way of looking at durable solutions for these. It was meant to better the plight of slum children by giving them access to quality education and enhancing their employment opportunities. The commitment comes from the abundant love I get from the people I work with. I was paying back to society, the debt for the privileges I got. Since I belong to a family that migrated from India ages back, I felt I had a social responsibility towards India. If I could help change just one life, all my effort was worth it!
Why did you think of India because you were neither born nor brought up here?
Well, I had everything to do with India. My parents were nationalists and Indianness was inborn in me. My father’s last words were "Never lose your faith in India!" My mother only spoke Hindi to me, so at 16, I spoke either French or Hindi and practically, no English.
What have been the key achievements of your organisation?
I believe in empowering people and many people are beginning to realise that they can do things. It is a proud moment to see 100 per cent results obtained by my kids. They had been taught by slum teachers. One of our key achievements has also been to start an education programme for the children of Gadiya Lohar community. A small boy, Raju, was fixed with a brand new heart by the money we raised for him, another boy Utpal was saved from third-degree burns. Nimmi, a dwarf, has learned to walk. Bringing these children close to a normal life is our biggest achievement!
What are your channels of financial support—NRIs, funding agencies, NGOs, corporates?
We do not have government or corporate support. Rather, we get support from friends, from people who read about us on the Net and send small sums of money. Most of our support comes from people who have seen our work and believe in what we do. Fund raising is difficult as many people do not like paying for salaries and that is what consists of 80 per cent of our expenses.
Do you think the word "NGO" is being misused?
I strongly feel that NGOs are often business propositions and are run like corporates. Social commitment is often absent. Unfortunately, it is the one word used to designate a wide range of activities, and some get lost in the bargain. NGOs should not become corporates because their activities have a lot to do with the moral conscience of society.
Do you have any message for the readers?
My dream was that a project like mine could be run by small contributions of concerned people. I would like not to have to go to external funders etc. All it needs to help 600 children; give employment to 48 people is 500 people giving Rs. 250 per month. Is it so difficult to find them?
Nightingale of Ladakh
Tseshu Lhamo, a Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee, has taken Ladakhi folk music to other parts of India besides Japan, Thailand, Korea, Hong Kong and Mongolia.
Lakshmi Salgame reports on the Lata of Ladakh.
Everybody knows her; from the tiny-tots to the aged as they direct you to her house in Chushod, in the outskirts of Leh, set amid willow trees and rows of cabbage and barley. Tseshu Lhamo, 72, in a carelessly brown deep brown goncha, suns herself on the verandah of her modest, traditional house with gaily-painted beams and woodwork; is engulfed in her thoughts. To an onlooker she passes off as any other old women basking in tender sunlight to beat the chill; but this 'Nightingale of Ladakh' (as she is popularly known) is a living legend. To Ladakhi music she is special and precious. Also nicknamed 'Lata Mangeshkar of Ladakh' by the townspeople, this Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee has taken Ladakhi folk music across geographic boundaries to other parts of India and also Japan, Thailand, Korea, Hong Kong and Mongolia.
Fame and Fortune do not always go together—like many other artists in India, after a glorious and inspiring career, now in her twilight, Tseshu Lhamo still struggles for her basic needs.
Dressed in traditional jewellery with strings of gem-studded chains and rustic headgear, her eyes twinkle as she speaks of her childhood. Born in the Spiti valley into a family of wandering minstrels, she recollects, "I used to accompany my parents from village to village. Some wealthy family would invite us to sing and in return give us food and shelter", adding, "my father Tsering Morup also played the shehnai." Singing tunes and appeasing people en route, Tseshu Lhamo and her family reached Ladakh.
As time passed, her talent became widely known. Soon recognition and fame knocked at her doorstep and awards trickled in. In her sitting room adorned with Ladakhi rugs and choktse (a traditional table with intricate wood carving and painted motifs) are displayed Lhamo's prized awards and mementos. The Sangeet Natak Akademi Award she received in 1985 holds fort in one isolated corner.
With age, Lhamo found her life-mate in a shehnai player and they were married. But as tradition had it, they continued to tour villages to sing and thereby earn a living. "We went all over ladakh, every corner to entertain people," she proclaims.
In the prayer room, a row of large, glass framed, black and white photographs hang opposite the altar. The young Lhamo stares out of them—a countrywoman with striking features. Music is in the blood for most of Lhamo's family. Her brother Sonam Lakdang, and her nephews, accompanied her on shehnai and the Daman whenever she sang. Daman is a folk instrument consisting of a two-drum set, one low-toned and the other high-toned. She herself played the daff, a tambourine-like instrument for her performances.
One can still sense her passion for music and dance as she speaks about her youth with a lot of excitement. After 18 years of wandering lifestyle, Lhamo and her husband saved up some money to build their house. "It started 30 years ago and the final structure isn't complete as yet," she says. Her husband is dead. She reminisces those 20 happily married years with him. "He was very happy that I was recognised and became famous. He encouraged me a lot," she recalls. "I was awarded a gold medal by the state government. The Ladakhi Buddhist Association (LBA) also gave me an award. I served as an LBA councilor for 5 years".
The tallest honor was of course the Padmashree that she received from President Of India for her contribution to folk music in Ladakh. A picture of her receiving the award from the then President of India, Venkatraghavan hangs prominently on the carelessly plastered wall of her prayer room. It feels like ages back. Lhamo no longer connects with that glory. She quietly tucks it away as the past. Her life recently has deteriorated and that has made Lhamo increasingly cynical about praise and fame she received.
Officialdom has forgotten her today. In 2003, her yearly pension of Rs. 3,000- stopped.
In 2001 Lhamo suffered a severe paralytic stroke in her lower limbs. Treatment has not been possible again due to their poor financial condition. A year later, the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Arts, Culture and Language announced it would pay Rs.60, 000 for the treatment, but the family is yet to receive any money. In August 2003, the Academy honored her with the Lifetime Achievement Award. For Lhamo, fame has come in abundance. How she wished money followed!
"If I could sing like before, I could earn the money for the treatment," she says. At one point in time, she had become synonymous with the All India Radio that employed her regularly. Royalty from cassettes could have been a possible source of income. Lhamo estimates that in her lifespan of singing, she must have recorded over 500 cassettes for private companies.
Her cassettes still sell in around Leh. "But copyright and royalty laws were not enforced in Leh around that time. Most singers were rural and thus awareness was poor. However, recently awareness has increased," shares Kunzes Dolma, her daughter.
Lhamo's life has come full circle. From her days as a child artiste begging from village to village to being a mascot for Ladakhi music and travelling abroad to now -as she struggles to make ends meet and lies crippled on her mat.
Frailty too can
be a strength
THE other day in the market I saw a man shouting at his opponent, "Maine koyi choodiyan nahi pahen rakhi hein." This is perhaps the most hackneyed adage used to challenge and threaten an opponent. When boys cry, it is suppressed with a common statement "Don’t cry like a girl." Why do people forget that femininity is not limited to passivity. History has given us several examples of—Joan of Arc, Rani Jhansi — women who excelled trained warriors in the battlefield, thus rendering such cliched statements obsolete. Women, by and large, are more empathetic and sympathetic. This uniqueness, instead of being accorded recognition and value, is ironically rated as women’s vulnerability by the masculine value system.
Empathy and sympathy are modes of human-relatedness and in these qualities lie the roots of altruism and morality. They teach one sharing and sensitivity to the needs of others, even though this trait earns them the title of being "weak."
Is the capacity to be moved by the suffering of others a weakness or a moral strength? If some people overlook or underestimate these virtues and term them as a "weakness" they are not to be blamed but pitied. Patriarchy masters their temperaments and such notions or ugly statements are its chief consequence leading to women’s devaluation. The sex-role in a patriarchal set up is the root cause of such attitudes.
A shared gendered self make girls mirror themselves in their mothers. Mothers too hone the empathetic feelings helpful in attending to the needs of the others in their daughters. They teach them to value, defer, respond and care for the needs of the others at their own expense. Learning to fuse their selves with the others, putting themselves in others and intuiting their feelings make women more empathetically responsive. On the contrary, boys are taught to be "tough" and suppress certain sensitivities like crying when pained or feel saddened. Denial of pain makes them also deny it in others and lessen their responsiveness to others. Hence, men do not easily respond to the suffering of the others as women do. This is the reason as to why most men indulging in war glorify it and fail to see its gory side reflected in maimed innocent children and suffering displaced people.
Lacking in empathy, the war creators find it hard to shed their ego boundaries enough to allow effective flow of empathy. Women who bring forth life in this world and nurture it with tenderness and empathy would never abuse it with violence. In doing so, women exhibit great moral courage and discipline. What someone rightly said can be used here as an advantage, "Physical courage may be the back-bone of bravery but moral courage is the soul of character". Virginia Woolf in her Three Guineas too poses a very valid question to uphold the women’s power to maintain peace. She says that women have never made war, "scarcely a human being in the course of history has fallen to a woman’s rifle, the vast majority of birds and beasts have been killed by you, not us."
The virtues of empathy are ingredients required for a more advanced form of living. Assimilation and development of the same in both the sexes is a must for promotion of overall well-being of humanity, promulgation of morality and creation of a world free of apathy and violence. The illogical assumption that women are weak and powerless due to their sensitivity to the needs and suffering to others — should be replaced with a recognition and celebration of the strengths which make women morally strong. Ego boundaries should be shed and taking examples from the lives of great men who embraced these virtues, we should weave them in our lives to usher in a sympathetic world.