Monday, November 30

Mentor. Guide. Leader - Gulafsha Khan's story

Gulafsha Khan - Teacher, Magic Bus

Not far from the historic city of the erstwhile Mughal Rulers, Delhi, is the large settlement colony of Bhalswa. In stark contrast to the grandeur of the capital city, Bhalswa can best be described as Delhi’s largest dumping ground. It is difficult to conceive that the shantytown is home to thousands of families who were evicted from slums in Delhi and resettled near a landfill site. It is even harder to believe that a young girl could rise like a phoenix from under the pervasive haze of the putrid and toxic methane gas.

Gulafsha Khan was a young girl when her family was forced to move to Bhalswa. “We lived in a slum in Nizammudin in South Delhi with access to clean water and electricity. We were horrified when we got to Bhalswa. The area was a desolate jungle swarming with snakes. People were so despondent that they wanted to run away. When the settlers began digging the earth to stand their shelters, they found countless bones. It was a creepy place”, recalls Gulafsha. Her five siblings and parents struggled to make ends meet then and it is not very different now. Most of the community’s population is well below the poverty line. Men and women work as daily wage workers at construction sites while some women find employment as maids in more affluent areas nearby.

Over time, the settlement degenerated into a slum while the peripheral area developed with the setting up of two primary schools and one secondary school. Gulafsha and her five siblings found their way to school while living in a one-room slum with their parents.

In 2011, Gulafsha heard about the NGO Magic Bus from her friends. She went to meet its volunteers, Santosh and Mahadev, and learned that Magic Bus worked to drive change in the areas of education, health and hygiene and reproductive health. 

Gulafsha says, “I signed up for the Community Youth Leader (CYL) Programme. After my six day training, I had to make a group of 25 kids and teach through play. I approached several parents to permit their children to join the activities in a nearby park. Many declined for safety reasons. I had to build their trust in me over time to prove to them that I was a responsible girl.” The volunteers at Magic Bus recognized Gulafsha’s enthusiasm and extraordinary mentoring skills and awarded her CYL of the month. They consistently encouraged her to pursue her education while gently cajoling her parents to agree.

Subsequently, Gulafsha also received other essential training such as computer literacy skills and functional English, as part of the Magic Bus Livelihoods Programme.

“It has not been easy for me to step out to work. My community has constantly taunted my parents for letting me work and in turn my parents have often pressured me to abandon social work.

When I am with my group of children I feel like a child again. In the time I spend with them, I forget my worries about the present and the future entirely.”

Gulafsha with the children of Magic Bus 

Gulafsha realized that her parents could not afford her college education so she began giving home tuitions to middle-school children. “I now pay my college fee from my earnings”, says Gulafsha. “I want to study further to qualify for a teacher’s job.”

Guafsha, 19, wants to live life on her own terms and she does today.

(Source: Women of Pure Wonder, published by Roli Books.)

Monday, November 9

Finding a way out of poverty: Keerthi's story

"It is the happiest moment of my life", says 21-year-old Keerthi on getting a job as a Customer Sales Specialist with Eureka Forbes.

“I don’t know if I could be happier. I believe this is the best thing that has happened to me in the last 21 years”, says Keerthi, his excitement seeping through his otherwise calm voice.

In June this year, Keerthi was hired as Customer Sales Specialist in Eureka Forbes at Mysore city, Karnataka. He gets a salary of 4000 per month and incentives for every sale that he makes. 

For Keerthi's family, his job is their only hope to break out of poverty.  
On asking if he is satisfied with the remuneration, Keerthi explains “Our family has seen some tough days since my father passed away 15 years ago. My mother toiled day and night to make ends meet. She works as a coolie in a local sabzi mandi earning just 3000 per month. I would have dropped out long ago had not a government scholarship funded my education from tenth onwards. I was in desperate need for a job. I had to earn and help share the burden in the family. This job engages me for just three hours leaving the rest of the day to help in household chores and improving my own skills. And, the salary is a huge help for my family. Last month, I took home 15,800 for selling 6 vacuum cleaners. For the first time in years, my family could at least afford the basic necessities. It is definitely a beginning”.

After his father's death, Keerthi's mother took up a labourer's job in the local vegetable market. She had a monthly income of Rs. 3000.

“Such opportunities are hard to come by especially for people as poor as us”, says Keerthi.
The Magic Bus Livelihoods Programme provides suitable employment opportunities to underprivileged youth like Keerthi to help them break out of poverty.
Keerthi was a part of the third batch of young people in Magic Bus’ Livelihood Programme in Mysore city. The programme helps in building the capacities of underprivileged youth so that they set realistic aspirations for themselves, inculcate employable skills, and get access to gainful employment.

When Magic Bus Youth Mentor Deepu came to our house and informed us of the Livelihoods Programme, I was drawn towards it. I had graduated last year and was desperately looking for a job. I asked around in my community and heard favourable responses about the programme. A friend of mine in the community had got a job within months of joining the Livelihood Programme”, Keerthi explains.

Keerthi with his trainer at the Magic Bus Livelihoods Centre
After joining the programme, he was taken through a Comprehensive Need Assessment followed by a Personal Development Plan. It was a blueprint of his strength, weaknesses, aptitude and attitude. He also went through a process of training on using computers, managing his finances, spoken English language, and business entrepreneurship. The last is a compulsory skill set giving young minds a direction to become entrepreneurs themselves.

Keerthi’s strength and interest was towards managing interactions with customers. He was advised to focus on marketing and sales oriented job. When the Eureka Forbes opportunity came along, we asked Keerthi to go for the interviews. “It was my first interview. Naturally, I was nervous. But, months of grooming and practice at the Livelihoods Centre had its benefits”, he says.

Keerthi is considered a conscientious and hardworking employee at Eureka Forbes. 
Keerth’s performance at Eureka Forbes is being lauded by his team manager there. He is seen as a valuable member, capable of taking up new challenges, and comfortable with the customers.

For Keerthi, this is a step forward in the right direction. “Some more years down the line, I want to start my own agency”, he signs off.

Keerthi aspires to start his own agency 
Want to help more Keerthi's find their calling and way out of poverty? Donate.

Friday, October 16

A story of exemplary courage: Meet D. Prakash Rao from Cuttack, Odisha

Prakash Rao in his roadside tea stall
A year ago, when the TV show Satyamev Jayate showcased Magic Bus’ work in moving children from poverty, 57-year-old D.Prakash Rao was one of the millions of viewers.

“This was just the organisation I was looking for,” he said, inspired by our experiential learning approach “I wanted children from my school to have the best education possible."

D. Prakash Rao lives in a slum cluster near Buxibazaar in Cuttack, Odisha. He runs a roadside tea stall here – the only source of income for his family of four.

In spite of his overwhelming responsibilities at home and the tea stall, Prakash finds time for the young school-going children in his locality. Between 9.30 and 10am in the morning, he distributes 50 litres of milk to all the school-going children in his locality. “How can a child learn in empty stomach?”.

Having lived through poverty, Prakash understands the struggle of not having enough to eat, let alone go to school. His father’s untimely death caused him to drop out and take up a job and shoulder the responsibilities of the family. It was this experience that led him to set up a school in his slum 15 years ago.“I want to make sure no child misses out on school just because of poverty,” he says. “In my slum, for instance, I decided that if children can’t make it to school, school must come to them," Prakash has opened a small school in his slum and hired a teacher, the entire cost of which comes out of the earnings from his tea stall. The school holds classes for children from the first till the fifth standard. “Primary education is crucial. It is the foundation for further studies”, says Prakash.
Prakash in his school.

Today, 86 children study in this school.
Their parents are rickshaw pullers and domestic workers, the bottom rung of India’s employment pyramid. “It doesn’t matter where you belong in the economic strata, it is important that a every child gets educated”, he explains.

Every day, during the lunch break, Prakash visits the children in his school. Apart from the school, Prakash is equally involved with the local hospital – he visits the patients every day – sometimes bringing in hot water and milk. He even got a water heater installed in the hospital to help patients have access to hot water within the hospital premises.

Having discovered happiness in helping the poorest of the poor, he started influencing the youth to do the same. Through his constant encouragement, a network of youth is now supporting Prakash’s attempt to bring about quality education and healthcare services in the slum.

Prakash contacted our zonal office in Hyderabad soon after seeing the Satyamev Jayate episode. He was intrigued with the approach and wanted us to help enhance the learning experience in his school as well. Our visit to Prakash Rao’s school left us inspired – his grit had brought about a change in the lives of those children who could have either become a child labourer or a child bride. Our activity-based learning sessions were a huge hit with the children.

Prakash Rao’s is a standing example of what we can achieve through sheer determination. We are proud to be a partner of his initiative, and more so for being able to share his story and message to all our readers.

Thank you, Prakash.

Thursday, July 9

5 things you should know about Magic Bus’ young friend, Ishaan Jaffer

1. Ishaan is a 16-year-old national-level swimmer who was adjudged the Best Swimmer in the under-17 boys’ category.

2. He is the youngest swimmer to win a gold medal in the 35th National Games held in Kerela this year.

Ishaan participating in a competition.
3.  Ishaan was the fastest 14-year-old swimmer in India in 2013.

4. He started swimming at the age of 6 and follows a strict practice schedule. He strikes the perfect balance between studies and swimming – this helped him score 96% in the ICSE examinations this year.

5. He wishes to fundraise for 66 underprivileged children so that they can join the Magic Bus.

Support Ishaan's endeavour | Donate

Friday, June 26

When giving up was a better option than giving in: Naseem speaks about overcoming addiction

Disclaimer: The following story is about one of our Community Youth Leaders who overcame alcoholism. His name is changed to protect his identity.

Before it turns your health upside down, addiction plays havoc with a person’s will power.

Nasha was my life. I would begin and end my day with it. I had lost count of days, months, and years that had flown past me while I was in nasha”, recounts 25-years-old Naseem (name changed)

Naseem was an alcoholic for four years, from 2007-2011.

When Naseem graduated from school in 2007, his parents haboured hopes of seeing their youngest child in a white-collared job, unlike their three elder children – two sons and a daughter - all three married and working in the unorganised sector as labourers. 

That’s how most people in his community, Bhalaswa in north Delhi subsist: as daily-wage laourers. Incidents of crime, drug abuse or nasha as people fondly call it, are widely prevalent here. Naseem unwittingly took to alcohol at quite an early age.

A sneak-peak into Naseem's session.
“As a 17-year-old, I was running on a very thin rope; there were enough reasons for me to not indulge in bad company, but at such a tender age, only bad felt good”, he grimaces.
Naseem began consuming alcohol in remarkable proportions since then. His tryst with intoxication continued for 4 years till Magic Bus intervened in the community. Nirmal, Magic Bus Youth Mentor marked the community as “high-risk” as it was known in the neighourhood for indulging in substance abuse. 

Despite caution, Nirmal ventured into the community and began mobilising people. In the second month of meetings, Nirmal met Naseem. Naseem had potential but he was gradually throwing away all his talents through excessive drinking. It was Nirmal who introduced Naseem to Santosh, Training and Monitoring Officer, for rehabilitation and counseling.

“Santosh bhaiya was calm yet firm with me. In my first few sessions, I watched atleast five documentaries that showed me the fatal effects of alcohol. I began to analyse my activities objectively”, he explains.

The incident that shook him the most was when one of his dear friends collapsed in front of him due to excessive consumption of alcohol. He realised that it could have been him. All that Santosh bhaiya had been telling him about abandoning his habit came back to him. He took his friend to the hospital and vowed never to touch alcohol again.

Naseem was dejected. He experienced withdrawal symptoms after he gave up alcohol but he was ready to try and turn around his life towards a better future. That’s when something remarkable happened. Santosh bhaiya appointed him the Community Youth Leader. In one go, Naseem found himself being looked upon as a role model. 

“ I will always credit Magic Bus for believing that I could be a better person, that not all was over. When one is fighting addiction, the belief and faith of the ones closest to you does a great deal of good. The first few months were unbearable without alcohol, but Magic Bus’ constant support and the company of children helped me forego my habit”, he smiles.

Today, Naseem works as a government contractor and continues to be Magic Bus Community Youth Leader. In his free time, he counsels children and youth who indulge in nasha. He gives his own example every time he faces a stubborn addict.

In fact when he shared his story, he believed that it would motivate anyone indulging in substance abuse to give up on their habit.

On International Day against Drug Abuse and Trafficking, sponsor a child and help them stay addiction-free.

Thursday, June 18

Small town, big dreams – Kowsalya’s story

A year ago, it was rare for girls of V.R.P. Chatram community to step out and participate in outdoor activities. V.R.P. Chatram is a semi-rural suburb near Chennai. Its residents are mostly factory or agricultural labourers who travel to Sriperumbudur everyday for work. Girls of this community would often engage with elders to understand the root cause of gender-inequity in their community, and try to subvert it; however, their efforts went in vain.

“There were guidelines set for girls at every age, and we were supposed to adhere to those. I was not ready, but I was unsupported in my quest”, reminisces 19-year-old Kowsalya. 

Kowsalya delivering a session
Kowsalya joined Magic Bus a year ago as a Community Youth Leader. She was spotted by Magic Bus Youth Mentor, Kiruba.  “Kowsalya came across as an independent, righteous girl who wanted to empower herself and women within her community. However, she had limited support from her community”, says Kiruba.

Magic Bus entered her life at a critical juncture: it gave her the platform that she was looking for years. 

“Before I joined Magic Bus, I would give out leaflets to children in my community on gender-equity, healthy practices, and education. They would enjoy reading it but would forget about it in a few days. I soon realised that there was need to reiterate the message and find innovative ways of putting it across as well. Magic Bus’ Sport-for-Development approach was the perfect combination of both”, she explains.

Sports has an easy connect with children. But, to get girls to play alongside boys is always a stiff challenge in communities where the norm is to keep girls indoors. Initial resistance to change, suspicion about Magic Bus’ activities in the community and its underlying purpose always poses a challenge. But, our Community Youth Leaders (CYLs) and Youth Mentors (YMs) are adequately motivated and convinced to take on those challenges and slowly open up the community to support girls participation in sports and activities.

Children participating in a sport-for-development session
Kowsalya overcame the resistance of her home and community. Not only did she step out of her home, but also motivated and encouraged other girls in her community to do the same. She realised that simply stepping out of homes is not enough – girls had to be made aware of the importance of hygiene, healthcare and education.

Kowsalya is studying Bachelors in Computer Science and working as an agent of change in her community.

There are many more Kowsalya’s whose story you will read about in this blog. But, we must not forget the incredible support of Asian Paints in scripting change in this particular community. Thanks to Asian Paints’ support we’re now able to work with 2400 children in this community – many of whom have unrealized leadership potential lying dormant in them.

Similarly, your donation might help more Kowsalya’s to lead change in her community. 
It simply takes Rs.1500 ($25, £15) to help more children like Kowsalya to step out of their homes and become leaders. Support them.

Wednesday, April 22

A little piece of clean, green earth

Imagine a childhood without play! A struggle, right? Such was the case at Appur, a community comprising of 350 households in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

"There was only one open area but it was littered with stones and thorns. Kids would play but they would get hurt too. No one cared", says Barathi, our Magic Bus Community Youth Leader (CYL). "We are a deprived community. We do not have access to primary health care centres,  electricity, or proper government schools. Lack of a space to play was one among the many deprivations we faced. The only problem was, no one recognised it as a problem ", recalls Barathi.

Children participating in a Magic Bus session.
Seven months ago when Magic Bus came to their community, the lack of play spaces made it extremely difficult for them to conduct sessions. 

It was then that the community, led by Barathi and a few other Youth Mentors and Community Youth Leaders, took up the initiative to clean up the only space they had access to. "At present, regular sessions are held here. Children come and play. It's like a new lease of life for them". The cleaning initiative also helped Barathi realise a hidden leadership potential. "He is now a role model for the other CYLs and children", says Yesudass, Training and Monitoring Officer (TMO) with Magic Bus' Tamil Nadu programme.

Children enjoying their clean and green space
Every child has a right to a little piece of clean, green earth.
We, at Magic Bus, firmly believe in this and strive to build clean, safe, and free spaces for underprivileged children. We have ensured that 2546 playgrounds across the country are clean and accessible for all.

Call 1800-200-6858 to support.

Tuesday, April 14

10 things that you didn't know about sports

Sport is exceptionally transformative. No other activity enjoys the kind of attention and excitement that sport does. It helps one overcome barriers of culture, class, gender, and unites communities. How many of these fun facts about sports did you know of?

Parvati Pujari, our Youth Leader is a role-model for many girls in our programme
1. It disproves the belief ‘Girls are weaker than boys’.

2. Sport helps stay active and healthy.

3. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, an old adage that holds true even now. A child who steps out to play concentrates better and performs well in academics.

4. Sport develops a good appetite. Athletes or aspiring sportspersons naturally demand a higher nutrition than the others.

As Jordan famously says, failures are stepping stones to success
5. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketballers gives credit to his failures “I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed”.

6. A child who has lost a game knows the importance of hard work and the sweetness of its rewards.

7. Sport helps build endurance and promotes emotional and mental stability. An underprivileged child who plays a sport pumps energy to any situation and brings out the best among peers too.

8. Sport gives everyone a second chance.

9. Sport teaches one to overcome inhibitions.

10.If you thought team-work, cooperation, caring, and friendship are slowly dying away, all you’ve to do is to get down in the field and play a game.

With a mentor, sport can be much more than just fun
Magic Bus’ sport-for-development curriculum is premised on the transforming power of sports. Each underprivileged child on our programme experiences the remarkable potential of sports by participating and learning through it. You can be a part of it too. Here’s how.

Friday, March 20

Remember Shivam, our bright and courageous Community Youth Leader?

“I joined Magic Bus two-weeks ago”, says 18-year-old Arti. “My brother Shivam encouraged me to join Magic Bus. He has been with Magic Bus as a Community Youth Leader for over a year now”, replies Arti when asked why she joined Magic Bus.

Arti and Shivam are appearing for their higher secondary examinations. Both of them study in a government school in Nangloi, north Delhi, a few blocks away from their one-bedroom house.

Shubham and Arti, the stalwarts of courage
For Arti, stepping out of home was a challenge, “My mobility was limited because of my gender.  As a result, my decision to join Magic Bus was fraught with resistance. However, Shivam’s constant support egged me on and I continued fighting.”

Shivam is a role-model for Arti as he is for the rest of the children in his community. “The best thing about him is his positivity – the way he looks at life and lives it”, says Arti. They are a family of four - three children and a mother - surviving on a salary of just Rs. 3000 a month. The youngest child studies in the ninth standard. “I have seen my mother toil relentlessly to bring us up. After completing school, I want to find a job and study simultaneously so that I can relieve her”, shares Shivam.

The family- unperturbed despite numerous struggles 
Both Shivam and Arti have gone through some difficult experiences in their life so far. They had barely recovered from the shock of losing a parent when Shivam had met with an accident which crushed both his legs. Arti stood by Shivam through his most difficult moments, never allowing him to lose his spirit or his grit. In return, Shivam inspired her to pursue her dreams, to step out and claim the world as her own.  

“The Magic Bus journey has helped me introspect. From being a notorious child in my community I was transformed into a leader who taught good practices to children, young adults, and parents. Today my community identifies me as a hero; one who stood tall despite unfathomable crisis”, he narrates.

Shivam believes that his sister can be a good leader too. “I want Arti to galvanise her friends and other women from the community to step-out and be an agent of change”, says Shivam.

There are many more Artis and Shivams out there waiting to realise their potential as a leader. They need your support. DONATE

Monday, February 23

#Throwback16: Our Sweet 16 stories

A 16-year-old's diary

Shaikh Abdul Rehman Amin, Karjat

Diary entry 1:

I was in the ninth standard when I was 16. I was active and therefore, was selected as a class monitor. If a teacher was absent I would stand in front of the class with a stick in one hand and a chalk in the other and jot down names of the most talkative children. I would complain about them to the teacher the following day.

One day, we had a visitor in our class; he was an army pilot. He gave us tips on how to study smart. After the session, many children started talking about their ambitions. When it came to me I was totally confused and didn’t know what to say. I kept quiet and after few minutes the teacher shouted at me and told me to sit down. The class burst into laughter!  

I came back home and shared this with my mom, she counseled me and said, “Don’t worry; just concentrate on your studies”. After a few days, I forgot everything.

Diary entry 2:

I am the youngest in the family. By the time I turned 16, my sister was married and my two elder brothers were working.

My school timings were 9am to 4pm. I used to get up early and take a cycle ride for almost 1.5 kms to buy milk and bread. I would come back, have breakfast and then rush to school. After coming back from school, I would quickly finish my homework and help my mother in the kitchen.

All this helped me learn how to deal with people, bargaining, calculating on finger tips, and decision making.

Those were the days when I would be out on the streets all day. There was no curfew for me and my parents trusted me. My friends would tell their parents that they are with me and they would be okay with it.

Sometimes it was also a headache for me because my friends would lie about being with me and would sneak out to other places. Their parents would ask me about their children and I would lie to them saying that they were with me.

Red Letters from my 16th

Anirban Sarkar, Noida

Being 16 in a Bollywood-affected cultural atmosphere, a teenage boy started to look around for faces, for the curls in the hair, or for a piercing stare. This search reached its climax when one day, on a crowded street of Gariahat, I saw her! She was waiting for somebody or someone with a cigarette in her hand. The red lipstick, the smoke... took the left side of brain into a different world, a world of endless walk.

PO! PO! The bus was waiting continuously for me to get out its I crossed the road.

For the next few days, I turned up at the same hour she appeared, rushing to the same spot where she stood and waited, and I succeeded! Although I knew she was waiting for a man I didn’t care...who was a relationship between her eyes and mine!
One day her wait lasted for an hour and I gathered the courage to walk upto her and ask,

-“Whats the time?”
“You have a watch!” she said.
“You want to talk to me?”
- (silence)
“Bring a red rose the next time you come. I will think...”
With a pocket money of Rs.80, and that rose cost Rs. 15.... but I never saw her again.

“She smiled at me on the subway.
She was with another man.
But I won't lose no sleep on that,
'Cause I've got a plan.
Flying high....
And I don't think that I'll see her again,
But we shared a moment that will last 'til the end.

You're beautiful. You're beautiful.
You're beautiful, it's true.
I saw your face in a crowded place....”

-You’re Beautiful
, James Blunt

Life as we know it: such was 16!

Rahul Brahmbhatt, United States of America

I turned 16 in 1995. I was in the 11th grade at my hometown of Baton Rouge, LA.  Listening to music, playing basketball, and studying - that was how most days came and went. Around us, the US, and the world, was changing rapidly. 

A new way to view media had just been announced, the DVD, and a small company called eBay tried convincing people that one could use a personal computer to buy and sell things to complete strangers.  Most people didn't think anything of it, probably because of their attention during my 16th was focused on the OJ Simpson double murder trial.

16th brought with it a lot of excitement: I got my driving learners' permit and my first car, a 1991 Nissan 240SX sports car.  I remember the day I got it: August 4, 1995.  I drove it to school and to the library for all the research papers and terms papers I had to do. Those were the non-Google days!  

It was the year I studied and took both the SAT and ACT, the US college admission examination. I took them twice and did quite well on both the occasions.  Applied to 10 universities, and a year later, I got a call from seven of them - Universities of Michigan, Texas, and Louisiana State University were the memorable ones.  

Looking back, I was a good kid at 16- playing by the rules and living by the book.  It's a good thing we're not recalling how life was at 26- that would be a very different story!

Friday, February 20

Day 6: Drowsy at Sea

By Kaustubh Khade

The only sadness in beauty is leaving it behind. Waking up at the doorsteps of a superb temple here in Divegar, I had my breakfast of cold milk and cereal. The three eggs from yesterday evening's home stay / restaurant were protein and I took a tablet for the upset stomach that I'd developed. I had slept a bad 4 hours last night, a condition brought about by collapsing into bed in the afternoon after a 5.5 hour paddling run and the aforementioned stomach. 
I trudged down to the car in my dry-fits, and a short and damp shoes. When you’re in Kayaking everything is always in varying degrees of wetness. Your phone lifetime is less than halved and when you check into a hotel, you look for a good place to dry your wet clothes. Everything chafes, sores, gets sunburnt. While practising for the Asians in March 2013, I developed a tan that lasted 6 months. That’s 6 months of not being on the water.
The cold morning air cut through the cocunut trees and my thin clothes. The driver was found watching a marathi soap in the morning. Everyone tells me I know how to enjoy life. They haven’t met my driver. In his eyes life is a breeze. If it’s too far he says it’s too far. If he can’t make it through a thicket of leaves that my mother has just walked through, he says he’s not going through. If it’s 5:30 in the morning and he prefers watching the climax of the fisherwoman who lost her son to gambling, well. He does do a mean massage though.
We were checking out. That’s the other plus point of an expedition. You arrive and unpack, then eat, get a few laughs in, then you pack again. It’s really just a circle of life kind of a thing. Minus the sunrises from cliffs. That costs extra. Getting everyone into the car and then down to the beach was a fun exercise. If we were any more awake, we’d check on who’s the most awake. We don’t. Except when my driver is lost. He tells us.
Down at the beach, our good boatsmen are on patrol. The safety boat, more a measure of appeasement of parents who worry a bit, is a km out. It will take an hour to get the local water-sports owner to take out a rubber inflatable boat (RIB) out to the boat. Mid-way he tells them it wasn’t inflated properly. Never a dull moment.
I get down to stretches. My driver gets down to the aforementioned massage. My mom inspects proceedings, while my dad takes in the aforementioned beauty that is Divegar. I like that word. Reminds you that there’s an important aspect you might have trivialised. Like putting all your life jackets into the boat. Then parking the boat a km into the water. Trivial. I mount my go-pro, stow away my rehydration drink, and pick up my kayak. Down at the water, I wade in. The water is cold for the first 3 metres. Then the warmth kicks in. I slide in, wave bye and paddle away. No safety boat or life jacket today. Dirty Harry and his 9mm.
Dad staring out into the sea
Kaustubh's father
I survey the water ahead, I have to make a beeline for the cliffs to the left. It’s easy going at first. A strong high tide pushes me to the rocks and I clock in at 8km/hr for the first 30 minutes. I sip my drink. At the end of the first hour I am at 7.5 kms and I venture a guess that the safety boat is readying itself. In an hour my go-pro will give out. I need that safety boat. Ever since Limca asked for video proof that I kayaked the whole way, I’ve been paranoid about it. 
I paddle on. Between 7:30am and 8:30am I see the coast. It’s the kind of quiet you’d get in a British town after an air raid siren went off: or a Tom Cruise movie about aliens coming to kill us, minus the waves. The waves have a calming sound that you want to listen in to. Around the same time, I hit a stretch of choppy water. Every turn, every swell costs me and by the end of the 2 hours, I’m down to 14 kms. But I am not tired. It’s not as hot today and I feel pretty good. I glance back for the safety boat. I hope they’re safe. Then I paddle on.
Mom and my driver giving me a morning massage
Getting ready for the long day
I pass by a stretch of beautiful beaches, and a bunch of inlets. Fishing boats passing by wave usually. This one didn’t. It made a beeline straight for me. I could hear it with the sound of their engine rising. Finally, he killed it and asked me where I was going. Once a kayaker in these parts was towed away to police once by a fisherman. I didn’t fancy towing. So I explained him the plot. Goa would make me sound wonky. So I stuck to Harihareshwar. Placated, I was not as daft as I dressed, he waved me on with good fortune. I sipped some energy drink. Then I paddle on.
When my Go-pro finally gives up, I’ve been paddling for 2 hours. When the safety boat finally gets to me, I’ve done 16 kms, and they congratulate me on making it so far. I’m glad they didn’t get lost. I take my first break for the day. As I swap my go-pro, refill my energy drink, and down an apple, 4 minutes pass by. It seems Harihareshwar is just-yonder-hill. 
What a waste. I was in such good form. I calculate 5 kms. At 21 kms that would be my leanest day. But I’m based out of Harihareshwar for a few days. And it’s silly to press on. I resign myself to it, and follow the boat. 17,18, 19 kms. Then the boat draws parallel to the beach and stops. I pull up close enough for them to say there’s a jetty just beyond the next turn. Bankot. My boatsmen want a dock to tie the boat tonight. The things you own, end up owning you. So I paddle on.
Dolphins. Schools of 5 or more. Graceful, grey, godammit dolphins! I love this part. The way they surface, snort and go back in again. After the sound of the waves, they’re the next best sound. Or before. It’s a grey area. I pause for dolphins. Then I give chase. They are a little faster. So I paddle on.
Dolphins at Harihareshwar
Dolphins at Harihareshwar
On the cliff face to my left a crowd of people are walking. It’s getting to hot to discern them waving, so I paddle…
Around the turn I see a big creek. Bang opposite is Velas. The sand is a dark shade of brown. And tall pines make for a sight to take in. My safety boat has stopped, and we confer. The jetty is deeper into the creek, but Velas is a safe beach to land on. We have to part ways, when Santosh says “Police.” Sure enough a grey police RIB is making straight for us. I sip some energy drink. But mom goes into a frenzy. My mom is the most proper person I know. 
She couldn’t do a dishonest thing if her life depended on it. (She’d do it for mine though.) She gets out the papers from the Coast Guard and the Maharashtra Maritime Board. Before the police man can whip his gold-rimmed aviators into the back of his shirt collar, she’s at the bow telling them we have papers. In the back of their RIB, I hear one person say – “Kayak Ahe!”. I’m on the safety boat’s starboard side and I holler a Namaskar. I tell them we are on expedition. A short pause later the policeman asks us – “Are you on an expedition?” Cool.
We tell them we are going from Mumbai to Goa. He inspects the papers, one leg in the boat, one on the edge of the boat. It’s just 3 hours into paddling and my go-pro is juiced. I reverse and make for their starboard side to get it all on HD. As I go by I see the same policeman leaning over the other side of the boat with his phone out. Taking a picture. I ask him if he wants a close up. As I bring it closer, he asks me about my sponsors. Touchy nerve man. So I paddle on.
Refurbishment before diving into another leg of hard work
As I make for Velas beach, I take in a good place to land. While the long stretch of beach lies just beyond a small creek, I spot a small 50 metre stretch that looks like it has a bright blue tempo. There must be accessible road, so I make for it. I land nice and slow, checking for rocks. As I up the rudder, and brace for surf, I see two young men on a bike. I dismount, pull up the kayak to safety and take off my wet skin. As I’m doing stretches, I field questions from the men there. Everyone loves photos, so I take one with the quieter of the two. 
Shadab asks me if I’d like to come up to his house. I welcome some shade and I stow my wet things in the day hatch and walk up. He tells me he’s got African Turkeys. Hilarious. So we make for it. As we climb up the rock steps Shadab tells me about his rooster and it passing away abruptly. As we go to the back of the house, I see the monster of a turkey. It’s a black feathered beast that’s having its fill. Shadab tells me it can swipe the flesh right off your arm. I think about the rooster. As I look up, I meet Shadab’s father. In just my black shorts and a hydration pack, I must have been a sight. Even the turkey flared up it’s feathers and that big bag of blue flesh under it’s beak turned a blood red. I don’t enquire about the rooster.
Cage that Monster
In and around the sea
Shadab’s father insists on giving me tea. And I for one am not complaining. In a parallel universe where Monster flesh eating fowl flock hillsides above brown sand beaches, my safety crew has docked and mom and Shanj are having their own interrogation about the vessel with customs officals. My dad and the driver are enjoying a ferry ride with the car. I would have had network had my phone not already gone swimming. So I sip my hot tea and have the crispest toast I’ve had. Shadab’s father is the baba at the Dargah at Velas. I have landed at the footsteps of the dargah. He was studying in a school in Bandra when, at the age of 12, he was called to succeed his grandfather at the Dargah. I see pictures of him over the years, and his seat at the Dargah. 
He’s really the nicest man. Mid sentence, I get an inkling that I should man the road, lest my worrying mother speed on. With the kayak tucked away under the wall, it would be easy to miss me sitting here atop a hillock. Literally the minute I reach the gate, I see a rick running past with my white adidas jacket on the left seat. Before I can holler, they pass us. I try Shadab’s phone but apparently there is no network where they’re headed, so his father sends him down with me. We jump on his nifty bike and run through Velas village. 
A quaint village that sits on a small river that runs down to the sea. Shadab tells me it’s popular for turtles. And people come all over to see them. As we zip through the village, me still in just my hydration pack, I imagine my mom being the last person interested in turtles if she doesn’t see her son. It would make for a fun line of enquiry. As we run through the town at great speed, I see my mom just alighting from the rickshaw. No Shanj in sight. I wave to mom. And she slaps her head. Then starts calling out over a bridge. In the distance I see an orange-life-jacket-clad Shanj running through a field. Russel Peters would be so happy.
Moms make for great selfies
Mom and selfies
My mom tells me how the rickshaw ride has last 20 minutes during which the only thing the rickshaw driver has told them is that Velas beach has a point where the water drops 150 feet and is a deathtrap, even for locals who know the area. Why this would make for good conversation with two women who are worried sick eludes me and Shadab and I have a quiet laugh over it as Shanj returns to hit my arm. One less area for my driver to massage.
Shanj on a ferry
With supportive friends
We head back, me still on the bike, and dismount at Shadab’s house. Here the network catches and we inform dad about where we are. I finally change out of my dry shorts and sip some water. (We are out of energy drink.) As dad arrives, I introduce Shadab and I make good on my promise of visiting the Dargah. Back in the day, Shivaji had once halted at Bankot on his way to conquer Murud. The good Baba, that is Shadab’s father’s ancestor, had warned him against it and told him to wait. Shivaji, being the hot blooded guy that he was, pressed on and hit a storm. He returned to get counsel. We visited both tombs and the Baba wished us safe passage. He invited us to see his Takht (Throne) and he insisted on getting his robe on for it. On leaving he presented us with an Ittar(perfume) that he got from his trip to Haj, to remember our trip by. Shadab walked us down and I found out he’s just in the 10th standard with a board exam on the 3rd of March. He likes motor cars. I wished him all the best and promised to send him pictures.
Baba in his robes and me in mine
At the Takht at Velas, Bankot
Bundled in the car, we drive back. The ferry ride at Bankot meant more eyeballs on the kayak and it gave us time to laugh at the day’s events. Tomorrow we take our safety boat and kayak back to Velas and set out to conquer Murud. And so, I’ll paddle on.
Ferry, Car, Boat, Kayak
Ferry, Car, Boat, Kayak
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Tuesday, February 17

#Throwback16: Our Sweet 16 stories

On Magic Bus' 16th birthday, our contributors shared what it was to be 16!

16 again!

Sucheta Ghosh, Kolkata

I am a married lady. I manage home and office simultaneously. When I see happy faces of Magic Bus children, I go back to my childhood, especially when I was 16! I was in school then and I enjoyed playing and chatting with my friends. I miss their company, but now I have more than 500 little friends who make me happy and I go back to being a teenager again!

16-years-old “Young Man”

Dr. Sujeet Ranjan, New Dehi

Turning 16 is an unforgettable milestone and everyone has his/her own story to tell. The transition between childhood and youth is thrilling and yet confusing because you are considered neither a child nor an adult. Since I did not know what was expected of me hence, many of my actions were looked upon with awe. The following incident was one such act of mine.

The year I turned sixteen was also the year I was to appear for my board examinations. As was quite common in those days a Master Ji came to my house to teach me Mathematics. He believed in the phrase “spare the rod and spoil the child”; so he used his stick on me at his own sweet will. If he was unable to explain anything to me he would shout and spank me as if it was my fault. He would often complain to my father that I was weak in Mathematics. This would aggravate the problem further as I was scolded by my father as well.  I tried to explain but in vain.

It was then that my sixteenth Birthday was celebrated. Everyone told me that now since I was at the thresh hold of youth, bidding adieu to my childhood; I must learn to solve my own problems. An aunty often called me ‘Young Man’ the adjective I really liked.

The next day my ‘Master Ji’ came to teach me and as a routine took out his stick to beat me. As soon as he raised it I caught hold of it. Now the ‘Young Man’ that I was, I decided to solve my problem in my way.  Before ‘Master Ji’ could understand, I tied him up with the wire of a pedestal fan and beat him black & blue. The rest is history…

Now when I look back I feel very sorry for my immature behavior and deeply regret my action; but as you know it was simply the effect of turning ‘SIXTEEN’ and proving that was indeed a ‘YOUNG MAN’ ready to take on the world.

Coming of age: Such was 16!

Joieta Roy, Noida

Such was 16! Being a rebel, starting on a novel adventure or just penning down a journal thinking it would become famous one day, or even counting the number of birthday cards and orkut testimonials – 16 had it all; till I met Sheuli, my house-helper’s daughter. She was shy but when coaxed, would sing the most beautiful Bengali songs. 

Usually she would hang around my study when her mother helped out with the housework. Initially, she would sit silent looking at some point in the floor and tracing it with her toes. I hated being disturbed during my reading hours so I would not try to strike a conversation. She would sit and silently leave when her mother called. 

One day I found her peering at the cover of my book. It was a Bengali novel. I asked her, ‘Do you like this book?’. She was startled by the question and went back to staring at the floor. Three days later I found out that she had never been to school. Three more days passed by and she told me that she loved to sing. In two weeks, I would eagerly put my book down and coax her to sing a song.

Later that month she told me she was about to get married. I asked her whether she was happy or sad. She did not reply. Till something hit me, ‘Wait a minute: How old are you’. ‘Sixteen’, said she.