Monday, 23 December 2013

Winter Memories

Winter always brings back memories of childhood and school. Foggy mornings, woolly clothes and rushing to school with friends. The air is thick with Christmas cheer, Santa Claus, sweet meats, songs, carols and many colours.

All this reminds me of a long-lost song:

Sing a song of wintry weather,
Snow flakes light as downy feather
Hill and field and road together,
'neath their mantle hiding.

Hear the merry laughter ringing,
Girls and boys are gayly singing,
Glad that winter time is bringing,
Days to go a sliding.

Sledges ready off we scurry,
Clad in coats and mufflers furry,
To the snowy hills we hurry,
Where the drifts are lying.

Skillfully our sledges guiding,
Faster-faster onwards riding,
Through the drifts we keep gliding,
Past each other flying.

Happy Christmas and New Year to all.

2013-2014 Winter.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Roadmap to stamp-out child labour

To work towards the goal of combatting the various challenges to end the worst forms of child labour a ‘Global Conference on Child Labour’ was held in May 2010, at The Hague, The Netherlands. This was organized by the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment and the ILO. The outcome of this conference was ‘Roadmap for achieving the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child labour by 2016 ’. ‘Global March Against Child Labour’ was one of the civil society members of the Consultative Group at the Conference.
An initial step of commitment towards ratifying the ILO Convention 182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour) as well as ILO Convention 138 (Minimum Age of Employment) was taken in 2006 by the ILO member states through the adoption of a ‘Global Action Plan’ to create a world free of any child labour by 2016. However, the passage of years did not see much progress towards the achievement of this goal.
Roadmap 2016 & the Garment Manufacturing Sector
Since the adoption of ‘Roadmap for achieving the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child labour by 2016 ’ was not an end in itself, but a means to the end goal, the urgent need for commitment by all the actors involved was emphasized upon in the conference held in 2010. Twelve months from its implementation, an international consultation was organized by ‘Global March against Child Labour’ on May 11, 2011 in New Delhi, India, to evaluate the till-date status and progress and to underline the key challenges remaining in tackling rampant child labour practices. This was to ensure decent working conditions along with implementation of core labour standards in all the levels of the garment manufacturing supply chain in India.
‘Global March Against Child Labour’ is a worldwide coalition of trade unions, civil society and teachers’ organizations, in its struggle to eliminate the worst forms of child labour practices, protect and promote children’s rights to provide education and freedom from economic exploitation across the planet. Through the promotion of decent work, education, social protection and poverty alleviation, the organization advocates policy changes and coherence amongst the above all levels of the organized and un-organised work sectors.  
The main objective of this consultation was to facilitate a dialogue and engagement between multi-stakeholder groups, national government representatives, domestic and international manufacturing and retail companies, national and international trade unions and civil society organizations, national and international certification and social compliance initiatives, UN agencies and international organizations and other interest groups present at the conference. Such an exercise brought forth a grand effort of coherence and solidarity amongst all the above mentioned bodies in an endeavor to bring together the various individual public and private initiatives which already exist to achieve Roadmap 2016. This international consultation also provided a platform for sharing of experiences and expertise, building partnerships, thereby elaborating the broader picture of the current environment of the garment sector and the realizing the burning necessity to facilitate highly structured reform wherever practicable.          
The forum saw some eminent actors of the above mentioned organisations who shared their knowledge, experience and best practices as well as the many obstacles faced by each of them. The talks given by the various personalities such as Mr. Kailash Satyarthi (Global March), Mr. Ashok Singh (Ministry of Labour, India), Ms. Tine Staermose and Mr. Ben Smith (ILO), Mr. Peter McAllister (ETI), Ms. Lakshmi Menon Bhatia (FLA) among others, were very informative. Although we see child labour practices around us everyday, the consultation gave us an insight into the underlying facts. The speakers imposed that constant criticism and accusation by the civil society needs to be replaced by active participation in educating the parties involved (children, parents, employers). Subsequently, the gross lack of coordination and coherence between NGOs, unions, stake holders and manufacturers which lead to failure of eradication of child labour practices was highlighted. Convergence of  the existing gaps between the local child protection laws, current government policies and initiatives tackling the child labour menace has become the need of the hour. Hence, the 3 C’s (convergence, communication and collaboration) amongst the various stakeholders was emphasized to move further towards the goal.
At the end of the discussion round, both the industry and the non-industry groups emerged with their individual lists of pledge and expectations (from each other) in order to make Roadmap 2016 an achievable reality. Both groups agreed to and committed the following practices in their role to wipe out child labour from the garment sector:
  • To collaborate with each other;
  • To implement stricter monitoring practices;
  • To create awareness and address issues at all levels of the supply chain;
  • To associate and connect the individual practices of stamping out child labour so that the actual goal can be achieved;
  • To recognize the complexity and build partnerships based on trust and confidence;
  • To be able to deal with media expose (if any for the brands), take onus and commit towards appropriate action to combat any child labour issues.
Finally, it was understood by all present that 2016 is the deadline for elimination of the worst forms of child labour (as per the commitment made at The Hague), which could only be reached by initiating and implementing all the opportunities evolved out of the consultation. It remains imperative that all the working groups promote and follow the recommendations which emerged from the event. It is also crucial that they coordinate with open and frank exchange of ideas, and correlate each others’ actions. This remains the most effective way of working towards stamping out child labour.
However, it remains to be seen how much can be achieved by the industry and the non-industry groups towards remediation of child labour practices. It is a daunting task in India to primarily map school drop-outs, work done by children at various sub-levels of the supply chain and child labour trafficking practices, etc. Ultimately, it all depends on the actors, to not just adhere to the 3 C’s, but to be the change they want to see, in order to realize the goal of Roadmap 2016.      

Friday, 10 August 2012

No Age of Innocence

Some days ago when I overheard a conversation in the local market, something inside me asked a question. Is the age of innocence really over? Is humanity and compassion of no value any more? Does money talk all the time? Does one always need to have money in his pocket to be able to show his worth? It is truly disheartening to see that the world is heading towards a black hole which lacks innocence, values, and virtues.
Nowadays most children lash out at their parents if their demands are not granted. They throw tantrums all the time and it seems as if their demands are never-ending. It’s understandable that peer pressure is a major cause of such behavior, however, parents also willingly agree. Moreover, this attributes to a great extent to parents’ affordability and that they cannot devote much time for the children. Further, a recent survey revealed that 70% of 13-18 year olds agree to deceit to attain success. If this is where the value system has reached, how is one going to cultivate morality in their child? What has happened to the current generation? Where are the kids who used to be happy playing ludo, carom, chess, monopoly, scrabble and other simple and family board games? Even dolls are not liked by little girls these days. Everyone wants to play with complicated and expensive games. I remember we used to play gulli-danda, pittuk, hide& seek, dark-room and other similar local games, hurt ourselves and be blissful. Why are such games unheard of today? Thankfully atleast, some local kids play simple versions of badminton and cricket on the streets and parks instead of spending that time with the computer, TV or video games. Moreover, friendship has become more virtual that real. Greeting cards are hardly bought, leave alone drawn and painted by the children. And then again I was quite taken aback to come across a children’s salon in one of the malls. It looked more fashionable that an adult’s salon. Are these kids made of a different matter altogether?
Truly the society has metamorphosed greatly. This is evident in the advertisements and commercials. The products, the attitudes, the expressions tell us that simplicity and innocence are passé. One can only survive if one changes oneself in thought, word and deed. Also the current songs, movies, TV serials portray a similar picture. Brands are the need of the hour-- for adults and children alike. Aggression, rudeness, impolite behaviour, arrogance, intolerance, impatience, dishonesty, etc. are the current behavioural traits. Perhaps that’s why we hear of road rage, serial killers, frequent mass shoot-outs of innocent people, kidnapping by children etc. everyday. Cheating, killing, and robbing are commonplace nowadays. People are ready to boast at the drop of a hat. And none bats an eyelid when they observe a misdeed. Every negative action seems to be acceptable in today’s world.   
Who is to blame for all this? Why has it come to this? Is this how we intended to see our future evolve? I feel there’s still time and scope to change for the better and correct ourselves if we pay attention, think positively and understand the dent that we’re making in the society at large. This is my appeal to all to continue the good work of cleansing our culture, and to help bring back those who have moved away from the right path. 

Sunday, 4 March 2012

If Mobiles Could Cook

The single most important device that one cannot do without today is the mobile phone. Correction! I would rather name them the I-Phones, the I-Pads, the Tablets, the Smart phones. All these can be used to read books, write letters/stories/blogs, draw pictures, surf the internet, purchase products, book train, flight, movie and theatre tickets, play games, do official work, do monetary transactions, etc. etc. etc. And, by the way, they are also used as phones. About 7-8 years ago, I had once heard a line about a mobile phone: “It’s a phone, you call, and you hang up”. But I suppose, it’s not that simple anymore. This gadget offers multitude of services or apps which help you with almost every possible need in life today.  

However, it’s pitiable that mobile phones have not yet been programmed to cook for us. That’s one app which the world might be waiting for. Food at the press of a button! Wow!! Imagine feeding the device with vegetables or meat and masala/spices of your choice, and lo behold… the dish is ready. No stoves, no fire, no utensils, no waiting and preparation time. You can throw away all the cooking tools and buy only cutlery and crockery. Just think of the dish, input the ingredients in the app, and that’s it. Your plate is full. A new cuisine everyday!

Now imagine this! Breaking News: ‘Chefs lose jobs, restaurants, vegetable and meat shops and grocers close down- Reason: Mobiles can cook’.  ‘Huge sales of mobile devices for cooking apps’, et al.

Are we ready for this revolutionary electronic food yet? Or are we satisfied and happy to eat normally cooked food?

Saturday, 3 March 2012

31 Oct 1984: My story

The train stopped with a jolt mid-way into the station of Konnagar, a quiet hamlet at the outskirts of Howrah District. It was 3:00 pm and we presumed it was one of the usual unscheduled stops during an Indian train journey. I was about 10 years old and was accompanying my Father, my maternal Uncle, a doctor and my ailing Mother, and we were headed to Kolkata (then known as Calcutta) from Indore. Hence, I was infact more of an observer than an actor through most of the events which were to follow.

When the duration of the halt seemed rather extended it dawned upon the passengers to make enquiries. Rumors and stories flew in from all sides and it seemed that the people were making much ado about nothing. However, it was finally confirmed that the then Prime Minister of India Mrs. Indira Gandhi had been assassinated by her security guards in New Delhi. This news opened Pandora’s Box and literally all hell broke loose.

Panic and chaos spread like wildfire. Roads were blocked and trains were stopped in their tracks. People were distrusting each other and were ready for violence at the drop of a hat. Gradually there was a scene of sheer madness all around us. Amongst this commotion my Father pleaded with the station-master to arrange for an ambulance to take us to Kolkata and also announce our non-arrival at the Howrah station so that our awaiting family could be informed accordingly.

The ambulance eventually arranged, my Mother, Father, the doctor and me took off towards Kolkata and my Uncle stayed on with the luggage in the train awaiting its arrival to the Howrah Station. Our journey was often obstructed by the many barricades built by the locals. I remember seeing plenty of road rallies and demonstrations. I also remember feeling quite nauseated due to motion sickness. Thank God I’m quite cured of that now. Bracing similar obstacles aplenty, we reached our home in Kolkata after several hours.   

27 years have passed since Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s assassination, and till date each of us can recall the obstacles faced on that unfortunate day. Young or old, healthy or ailing, I’m sure all of us have a story to tell, and even while you’re reading this your hair has surely stood on end with memories of the similar or worse incidents in your lives.  

October 2011

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

My Jethu

My Jethu, Mr. Anshu Banerjee, had been a Father to me. From being instrumental in admitting me to one of the best schools in Kolkata to pampering me with all sorts of luxuries that a child can never dream of, he brought me up with ethics and values. He instilled in me a liberal thought process by introducing me to the path of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. He taught me the importance of life’s struggles, to always accept challenges towards growth and to broaden my horizon about life. His brilliant and unmatched wit and humour was a part of my growing years and reminiscing those unforgettable moments always bring me great joy.

As a child I fondly remember him painting many a canvas, writing and reading a variety of literature. Jethu used read the works of Sri Aurobindo, explain the interesting world of the ‘Impressionist’ painters and gave me Reiki healing while I was recuperating after my surgery. I recall his constant encouragement to be optimistic and feel fortunate and blessed by the Almighty. His influence in my life brought me in contact with many important personalities, of visiting unthinkable places and it’s all because of my Jethu’s upbringing that I’ve been able to come this far in life.

Often I played Jethu’s bar-tender and fixed him a drink or two. He liked to take a medium peg (he called it Mejo) and I had mastered the art of fixing the same for him. Never in my adult years did he offer me a drink. It was only once when I was vacationing in Kolkata that he surprised me by offering me some wine.

It’s disheartening that such a loveable and towering personality had to suffer towards the end. Although it is difficult to accept that my Jethu is no more, I’m sure his blessings are always there for me and he’ll remain in my thoughts forever. Let’s hope I can live up to his aspirations and be his ideal Gadai Master.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Delhi to Dhaka-April 2009

Parked at a comfortable corner at the waiting area of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, I was awaiting my flight to Dhaka along with other passengers headed to different destinations. As far as my vision went, I could see a myriad of colours, faces, heads, people, luggage, and hear a multitude of announcements, voices, squabbles, tongues and noise. It seemed like I was in some cosmopolitan country, where being an Indian felt strange. There were many Indians, correction, NRIs around who only resembled that they once belonged to my beloved India. Of these, the older generations might have even spoken in a familiar tongue and accent, but the current crop looked, behaved and spoke completely foreign. It made me wonder whether they would be Indian at heart, or even belong here, if ever their families decide to relocate to their incredible Motherland.

It was as if I was getting a ring-side view of the whole world sitting here. The little play pen near Gate No.4 was a playground for several Indian, Pakistani, British and Thai kids. The area had turned into a mini Olympic enclosure, with all the participants playing together and thoroughly enjoying themselves. If only we could take this example and peace could be established across the world.

Amidst the din, my ears caught the boarding announcement of my flight. I moved towards the gate with mixed feelings. Happy to be setting off to a new and unexplored destination, but sad to leave this global terminal bustling with activity.

Although this assignment came as a surprise, but it seemed destined. I had renewed my passport a month ago and my boss wanted me to go to Dhaka. I was excited at the prospect, but there was truly an apprehension since this was my maiden overseas official venture and I was going to be my soul guardian there.

Since it was only work for those two days, I couldn’t fulfil my desire to take a city tour. From whatever I captured, Dhaka is like any other modern city with its shortcomings. The main hub has broad roads, hotels, markets and restaurants. However, the factories are located in a separate zone located at the city outskirts and the roads here are not very good. Shabby Maruti 800 cars are used as taxis which tarnish the modernity. Further, the auto-rickshaw drivers are caged to save themselves from being knifed by local rouges. It’s also rumoured that most industries are run by an unethical lot.

Having said all this, it was interesting to note that the people and language of the capital city of Bangladesh (erstwhile East Bengal) brought certain warmth in me. It was a learning experience and I’m surely looking forward to revisit so that I can familiarise myself more with our neighbour.