Visit to Shishu Vihar Hyderabad

What would you associate with a building that houses 250 children in the age group of one to six years? Noise, lots of noise, I suppose. We were greeted with pin-drop silence. Welcome to Shishu Vihar Hyderabad.

We were left with two packets of diapers after B +ve and O +ve got potty trained. I got an idea that we could give it to the orphanage and our daughters could also spend some time there playing with the children.

I called up about 20 orphanages, none had children in the age group that we had diapers for. A couple of people told me that only Government houses the children below six years. The assumption being that the Government knows best to take care of infants and will not entrust this responsibility to anyone else. Once the child crosses six years, s/he is handed over to various orphanages, unless adopted by that age. I have no idea whether this theory told to me is true. However, it is a fact that I could not find a single orphanage in Hyderabad with children below six years.

Reaching out to Shishu Vihar Hyderabad

Seemingly, Shishu Vihar Hyderabad does not have a website or any other social networking paraphernalia. Justdial and Yellowpages show a couple of land-line numbers which are either not functional or nobody picks up.

I checked out the CARA website, assuming that Shishu Vihar Hyderabad should feature as the nodal agency for adoption in the state. But it was not to be.

I stumbled upon a private website that gives contact address of all Shishu Vihars across the country. On calling up the mobile number and saying that I wanted to give diapers, the person told me rudely that I need to take permission from the women and child welfare department.

I was told that diapers should be branded (which I suppose they always are), diapers should not have expired (I suppose nobody would ever want to give expired products to anyone leave aside children). I was told that I should have a satisfactory reason why I wanted to donate diapers. He got convinced that my children had no use for diapers, hence I wanted to give.

Finally, he told me that I can come down to the office, give a written request for diaper donation, take a stamped approval and then go to Shishu Vihar for giving the diapers.

Locating Shishu Vihar Hyderabad

I got the daughters and wife ready in a frenzy to reach the place. I told the girls that they might get to meet the children of their age. They kept asking questions along the way about who these children are and why they are not with their parents.

I realized that the Google Maps and the physical address on the website did not match. The gentleman had spoken to me rudely enough to not be disturbed again. I called up the landline number, repeated the process with a lady this time. She told me that they close the office at 5 pm sharp, I should take the approval before that, and guided me to the wrong place.

After taking a couple of incorrect turns, asking 3-4 people on the road, we finally reached the Shishu Vihar Hyderabad. The security guard and the staff at the building told us that we have directly reached the Shishu Vihar without taking the approval. The department office was in the front, but there is no compound wall and no security at the non-existent entrance, so we reached directly.

I again called up the land-line number, it was 5.05 pm. The lady told me that the office has closed, they have left and that we should come back the next day. This was getting exasperating. I told the lady that our place is 14-15 km away, we cannot keep coming back and that we had to give and not take. Finally, the lady got convinced. She told me that I can give the written request to the staff and hand over the diaper packets. The next day, she will make a back-dated approval letter.

The Shishu Vihar

After the verbal approval from the lady, the security guard escorted us to the building where the children in the age group of one to six years are housed. The first building, where we landed up, houses children below one year.

We walked past an under-repair building, a playground full of rubble and unwanted furniture and 5-6 newly constructed buildings, which were completely empty. Finally, we arrived at the Shishu Vihar building.

The security guard told that 250 children are housed in that building. The only thing we noticed was complete silence and lots of toys kept inside with a warning sign that photography is prohibited. Again the same procedure got repeated with the staff who refused to take the diaper packets without the approval letter. The security guard intervened and told the staff that the lady in the departmental office has verbally approved.

We were given the format of the request letter and blank A4 sheet of paper. After giving the formal request, we were asked to make the entry in the register. The staff refused to give us the acknowledgement for the receipt of diapers and asked us to come back after the office opens.

We enquired about the children and were told that nobody can see the children. On being asked why the children are not playing with the toys or why they are not in the outside playing area, we were told that the weather is a bit cold so they have not been taken out. We asked if we can visit Shishu Vihar to celebrate our daughters’ birthday, we were told that it is strictly not allowed and repeated that there is no access to Shishu Vihar children. We asked if these children go to school. The staff told that 4 teachers visit them and that these children are not allowed to leave the premises.

We did want to ask more about the children, who are they, what they do, the living conditions etc. We were told that we had completed the task of giving the diapers and we should leave.

Conclusion

The government has the responsibility to protect these vulnerable children but did not understand the need for the veil of complete secrecy. These children though come from society are devoid of parental care. What is the need to keep them completely segregated? Even though the society would want to integrate them, the government does not want them to be assimilated.

I did not understand the procedural aspects of all paper-based working wherein even today; the back-dated approval letters are being made (what happened to Digital India)? But, why the approval in the first place? Why this government attitude of being a controller of the fate of these children?

I am not raising any doubt about the working of Shishu Vihar Hyderabad, as I have not seen anything. Though, I suspect if anybody is allowed to see anything here.

It reminded us of Anganwadi, wherein we developed cold feet after seeing the real conditions.

The girls came back from Shishu Vihar Hyderabad without meeting any children of their age. Going by what we saw, they will not be able to meet any children in future either, from this place.

The stones collection – A hobby

The girls have been collecting stones ever since they started taking their tiny steps outside the house. Whenever we go out, almost always, the girls come back home with a stone each in their hands, if not more.

The girls pick up stones from the footpath, from the road, from construction sites, from demolition sites, anywhere and everywhere. If we step out of the house twice in a day, then we have double the collection.

After coming back, they put their stones anywhere in the house and after an extended duration ask for their treasures.  They tend to remember why they went out, how many stones they brought and from where they brought. But, interestingly they forget where they have put it once inside the house. If we are unable to trace out their belongings, we have to endure quite a bit of their pangs of separation. We are now sufficiently trained by them to ensure that their collection is safely put from where it can be easily retrieved.

We have boxes and tubs filled with stones at our house. At times, I fear that municipal officers might levy penalties on us for our girls’ stone-lifting.

Once, their mother took them to a village during Dirty Feet field trip and they went on a stone-collecting spree. The villagers remarked that if they continue stone-collecting at such a pace, they might as well be able to construct their own houses by the time they turn adults with their collection of stones.

When the girls are collecting the stones on the road, a number of times passers-by have tried stopping them. They get surprised when we tell them that it is just fine.

Now, as they are growing up, they are also getting into collecting leaves, twigs and seed-pods.

The stones also, of course, help us in a number of their activities. They learn to sort them as per their size and shapes and colour and learn to barter between them, as well. The girls colour the stones. These stones also double up in making pens for their toy animals. The girls have learnt their number counting basis their stone collection. As kids, stones had a major part in fine-tuning their gross motor and fine motor skills.

After seeing my daughters collecting stones for more than 2 years, I can safely vouch that until now, they have not fallen ill due to this habit. It does seem to be safe collecting and playing with stones and just washing hands with plain water after that.

I suppose they are not just learning to collect the stones, they are learning to own up. They are learning to plan, execute and think through on what they are going to play/do with what they have collected and actually put it in action.

A lot many things that our daughters gather while collecting the stones. Memories for us and their own fun and learning and whatever.

Schools continue to be far for girls in India

We visited my home-town Rajkot in Diwali. The girls get the luxury of the play area in the apartment, where my parents stay, and they make full use of it. During the time that we were in Rajkot, apart from O +ve and B +ve, they were only a couple of children in the play area meant for residents of 50 flats. I had a passing discussion with one of the children about his schooling, and I realized that the schools continue to be far for girls in India.

The child I spoke to studies in the 5th standard of DPS, Rajkot. As per the school’s website, Delhi Public School Rajkot founded in 2002, is one of the schools run under the aegis of Delhi Public School Society, recognized throughout the academic world for its progressive approach to education, path breaking educational practices and commitment to excellence.

I was speaking to the child about his school, classes, course and so on. I asked him about the number of girls in his class and he told me that the number of girls is limited in the school itself, and not just his class. He actually gave me his own version of the reason for this scenario. He told me that the school is far from the city, so the girls are less in the school. I asked him that he goes in the school bus, then how could it be far for the girls? He again repeated that the girls in the school are less as the school is far and what has it got to do with the school transport provided by the school itself? We moved on to other topic but his answer that the school is far for girls stayed with me.

Gender stereotypes built at an early age

I realized from the child’s answer that he has been already programmed. From someone, from somewhere, he has already learnt and accepted that the girls should not be going to the schools far from home. Availability of school transport does not make him budge from his position. The idea of equality of opportunities does not appeal to him. The notion that he, as a boy, is privileged is drilled into his mind.

Differential gender behaviour

My mother informed me a bit about the child and his family. His elder sister works as an interior designer in Dubai and did a course in France – everything all alone. Now, it does not occur to him that it is fine for his sister to venture out of the country but not all right for a girl to go to a school on the outskirts of the city. The double standard of the expected gender behaviour from the mother, sister, wife, daughter and others is getting added to the thought pattern.

The role of the school

The school, of course, would know that the number of boys outnumber the girls. What would have they done to reverse this trend/discrimination? Apart from perpetuating the situation by being a passive bystander, the organization does not do any justice to the vision and mission of its existence. This is a guess, though. I am sure that if the school is working towards this issue, the 5th grader would not have answered the way, he did.

The origin of gender stereotyping

I believe that this gender attitude gets inculcated in a child from the family, including the double standard. Yet, it is considered inappropriate to involve the family in this discussion. I am sure that if I would have gone to discuss this with the child’s father, I would have been asked to leave. It is something like we know that someone is corrupt, is taking dowry, is a bigot yet we continue the relationship with a pretension that everything is fine and we should not intrude in one’s personal space, even though it is detrimental to the society. They, after all, walk among us.

Conclusion

I know that India is progressing. The women are making the country proud in various spheres – they are heading corporates, winning medals, leading changes in the society. I also know that we continue to have one of the worst male:female ratio and a gender discrimination that starts from birth and continues for the entire life-cycle of the woman.

I understand that the readers of this article might feel that I am being needlessly pessimistic when the positive change is happening all-around and the girls are outshining the boys.

Speaking to the 5th grader of one of the elite schools of the country led me to believe that the wheels of change in India is going to grind way too slowly and schools continue to be far for girls in India.

Maybe, I am reading too much from one example.

What is your say?

Raising Children and Being Responsible Citizens

Our 4-years old twin daughters do not go to a formal environment – school / day-care / nursery. We have ample enough time to venture out as a part of their growing up. As the inquisitiveness and the curiosity of a child to know about her surroundings increases, wherever/whenever we go, the girls invariably keeps asking the below questions:

  • Why did the uncle spit on the road?
  • Why did the uncle not stop at the red light?
  • What is the uncle doing facing the wall?
  • Why is the uncle throwing the plastic bag on the road?
  • Why is the uncle driving at so high speed?
  • What is the smoke coming out of uncle’s mouth?

All of you also, I suppose, would have heard these questions and more from the innocent children. What has been your response?

I will tell you mine. Honestly, I do not have the courage to walk up to any of the men doing any of the above-mentioned activities and speak to them about what they did / they are doing. I just try to change the subject and try to divert my daughters’ attention elsewhere. The girls keep repeating these questions and till date, I have not been able to give any sort of sensible answers to them.

I had been thinking about these. I saw a connecting link to all these questions – It is always an UNCLE who is doing these activities that the children keep asking about. Why is it always an Uncle/Brother? It is never an Aunty/Sister who are seen doing such activities.

Why is it always a MAN, invariably a MAN?

I would be guilty of all such behaviours in my earlier avatar of being a non-parenting man. Now that, I am with my children, I want to set the best example for them. I would not indulge in any activity that I would find difficult to explain to my daughters.

In Indian society, women bear the primary responsibility of raising children. How much of un-civic activities in the society would get attributed to the women, as compared to the men? You, of course, know the answer. Why would that be?

We see that a man flouting the civic rules in public becomes a different person altogether, most of the times, when he is with his family. Just that, he does not seem to be spending much time with his family outside the 4 walls of his house.

Basis the above, I found a simplistic explanation of the man’s behaviour. The man who is busy doing the above-mentioned un-civic activities has not lent a helping hand to his wife/mother/sister in raising a child. I am not at all implying that to be a decent man, raising a child is a must. A man can turn out be a gentleman even without raising a child. Just that, a man doing un-civic activities is necessarily not contributing to raising a child in his family.

After all, no man would want to be seen doing wrongful activities in front of his own growing-up children. A man provides for his family, supposedly, hence no man would want to do activities that will lead to an unwanted conduct to his own self by his children.

The man gradually becomes more accommodative, more progressive, more tolerant, more persuasive – more of all the wanted qualities, once he starts staying at home for an extended period, on a continuous and not a one-off basis, with his children.

As a society, to improve ourselves, we have to encourage the active role of men in parenting. I am sure that this will have a cascading effect in us becoming a better civilization with men getting to understand what it goes into raising future citizens and making a better world for his children.

Thus, I present the case for being responsible citizens. The man has to learn how to be a man – raise a child.

What should the parents of a 4-years old know – Part 2

This is the second part of “what should the parents of a 4-years old know”. For the first part, please click here.

Reward / Conditionality:

Being a stay-at-home parent has meant that I am never in a hurry. As the girls do not go to any formal environment, it has meant that they are also never in a hurry. In the case of any issue / any disagreement holding us up, we keep discussing it for whatever time possible, which is all the time. For that matter, even when we are outside the house.

We have consciously avoided getting the girls to act on a conditional basis. I promise that the focus will always be on the task and nothing else, though the task may not fructify at all, number of times.

Keep talking / explaining to the child:

As none of us is in hurry to do any task / go anywhere, we tend to discuss a lot. The girls keep on asking questions and I keep on giving answers to the best of my and Google’s capabilities. Though, this means that when we actually need to get ready / finish the task in a hurry, we are invariably late.

As a parent, I would want to encourage my child’s curiosity and if that means non-stop chattering and getting late for the task on hand, so be it. At least till the time, we can afford to.

Work on my own short-comings:

This is another tough one for me. I used to be a person with a short temper. I have realized that whenever I make the environment around not me not so pleasant, it has a direct impact on the girls. Of course, it is not a great discovery. For all the gyaan given to me, I had never heeded. Now, when I have seen the consequences on my daughters, I do not need any other further excuse not to change.

I realize that if there is anything that can bring about a positive change in one’s own self, it is being with a child.

Play, play & play:

What should the 4-year old be doing? Play, play & play.

Expectations:

It is a tough one. Well, let us be honest. After all the above inputs, what is the expected output? The child may not sing a nursery rhyme when you ask her to. S/he may not be at her best behaviour when you want her to. The child may want just a single pony when you want her to put two.

The resultant action of what we are trying to do with our children means that we have to keep our expectations from them in check.

I suppose around 3-5 years is the age of a child when s/he is actually a child. I have no memories of my being 3-5 years old. The daughters will also not have memories either when they are grown-up. How does it matter that they learn their alphabets/numbers 3-6 months, maybe even more, here and there?

We live only once, the childhood also comes only once. We long for those carefree days. It is not going to return for us though, and we have decided to give it to our daughters to the extent possible.

The last thing I want to know as a parent for my 4-year olds – Be a child.

PS: The things are of course not as good/rosy as I have written above. I am also trying to grow up with my daughters and trying to see how it works out for us, as a family. As mentioned in the beginning, we are a work-in-progress.

What should the parents of a 4-years old know

The twins have turned 4-years old. They are excited to tell people that they are not three years anymore. Even if they are not asked about their age, they go around announcing proudly that they have changed a year.

They, as well as, we as parents get asked about what they know and how much they know. I was also thinking quite a lot about what they have learnt and what they have not. Suddenly, it occurred to me as to why the parents do not get asked about what they know, have started knowing / in the process of knowing / they think they should start knowing after raising kids for four years long; for that matter, any years long.

I suppose it is not just the child who grows and learns, it is we as parents who also grow and learn all along. And we need to ask ourselves as well. I have jotted down the ideas that I feel I have learnt as a parent of 4-year olds. However, for all practical purposes, it is a work-in-progress for me on almost all the ideas, if not all. I keep discussing these ideas with my wife and we, as parents, keep evolving and learning in our own ways.

Academics:

The girls do not go to pre-school / day-care / nursery; as yet. They are not going to go for another year. In the house, we do try to teach them. I have made the promise to myself that I am not going to get worked up about their academics till they turn five years, and not going to work them up either.

We have realized that they are normal children, have the capacity to learn and are learning at their own pace. And, they can continue doing so, for another year.

Comparison:

It is a tough one, as human beings we are wired to compare with the surroundings. As the girls have not been exposed to a formal learning environment, they might seem to lag behind the children of their age. It can also be looked upon as that they continue to enjoy their childhood perks, as they are supposed to be doing. It all depends on the perspective, of course.

I promise myself that I will put the theory in action that every child is unique and has the freedom to learn at their own pace. I shall not compare.

Adjectives:

For me, using an adjective amounts to labelling/branding of the child. The child is just growing up, there is no way to know if the current trait is going to continue or a new attribute is going to pop up at any point in time. Why put the child in the shackle of a word?

I feel that identifying the adjective for a child becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I promise that I shall not use any tags/ labels/adjectives for the child.

Food:

We have consciously kept our daughters away from soft-drinks and fast food; they have not yet tasted either of them. On my own, I would have kept them away from chocolates as well, but I suppose that is another story. Once they grow up, they will have what they want to. As a child, they are supposed to eat what is cooked on a daily basis and that is what they do.

One of the pleasant surprises of our parenting journey is that both the girls eat all the vegetables. Keeping all the fingers crossed.

For the second part of the article, please click here.

Public Parks in India: 5 Parental Observations

We have been visiting public parks on a regular basis. This has led to the post of Public Parks – A 10-point survival guide for children. Also, the post of 5 must-do activities for 4 years in Parks. As I keep visiting the parks often with my twin daughters, I keep realizing a few perplexing issues which as a parent, I myself, am not able to comprehend. The issues relate to what the public parks connote and stand for.

Food:

This issue has been cropping up in high-profile public parks – where the foot-falls are high. Since last 6 months or so, we are getting stopped at the entrance by the security and told to deposit all the eatables at the baggage counter. Now, staying in a park for a period of 2-3 hours, at the minimum, means that B +ve and O +ve are going to ask for food. So, we always carry a good amount of home-made snacks. Now, we are being told that we cannot carry it inside. I have tried to reason out with no avail. We have been told that there is enough food stalls/food court inside to feed my children.

I am not able to decipher this. Is the Government running a public park or a multiplex? I suppose people go to parks to focus on their health. If they want to munch something, they would want healthy snacks and not the run-of-the-mill samosa / pakoda / french fries etc.

Food has to be a matter of choice in a space like public parks. Here, it is getting imposed on the visitors that they can only have from the food stalls inside – which is not at all reasonably priced and more importantly – unhealthy.

There is no way to argue or reason out with the mighty Indian State. Hence, we have decided to stay away from these public parks. Now, we only go to the public parks which are not in the limelight, where the rule of not allowing the outside food is not enforced.

(If the Government is not allowing food inside the parks on the pretext of protecting the environment, they need to apply to the food stalls inside too, and also to the food vendors that roam all through the park).

Children not allowed in the mornings:

This is another peculiar issue. We have been driven back a couple of times from the entrance for coming before 8 am. The park opens at 5 – 6 am, but only for morning walkers. The reason given to us is that children disturb the tranquillity of the place by making noise, so the morning walkers get disturbed. Hence, the children are allowed only after 8 am.

Children seem to be the lesser mortals.

Complete lack of interactive/experiential set-ups in any of the Parks

Once inside the park, the girls want to know the name of each of the trees, flowers, insects, seeds, birds – basically whatever they come across. My inability to answer my daughters for their queries inside the park is leading me to wonder why the park cannot have a name for each of the trees mentioned nearby, for each of the tree parts and also for the insects roaming in the parks.

Why cannot we have a nature-walk on demand / a person who can answer questions about the park and its inhabitants, the upkeep, the history? What all can be done in the park area and what it contributes to the society at large? Too much to ask, I suppose.

Leave aside this as learning of basic science, this is where I believe the inquisitiveness of a child gets killed and s/he becomes what we are.

Whatever is put up, minimum 50% will be unusable

At any point of time in any public park, at least one swing will be broken or its chain will be in some sort of tangle to make it uneven. Slides come in all sorts of gradients to slide down, most of the time inappropriate for children below four years of age. The height between the ground and the slide would be such that two-three children can fit in. See-saw will have either the seat or the handle to hold broken. Even the monkey bar and jungle gym will have some rods missing. Girls use their imagination and learn to make the most of the available resources – they learn “jugaad”.

Of course, no means to raise any complaints about these to anybody.

What are you doing in a park?

The girls are asked the perpetual question. What are they doing in the park when they should have been in the school? Well, they have not even turned four. People expect them to be in school all the time that they see them. To be honest, when we are in the park, there are hardly any children their age.

For me, the question needs to be flipped around. The children need to be in the parks. If they are not, the question needs to be raised – Where are they? Rather, we are being asked – why are you in a park?

I suppose I need help to figure out what the above observations imply.