Self-confidence, the Answer to Better Learning

I am frequently asked by visitors to Shanti Bhavan from America whether our educational model would work in the West.  They are curious to know how caste and class prejudices experienced in India can be overcome by our graduates when they enter the workplace. These are complicated questions, and they need a broad explanation that cannot be fully covered in this blog. The landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case Brown v. Board of Education was meant to rectify the unequal status of racially separate schools. Now, even after several decades of desegregation measures, including busing children from some affluent families to poor neighborhood schools, their impact on the academic progress of minorities is being questioned. Many factors contribute to reducing the achievement gap in American schools, and racial integration may not necessarily be a solution to the difficulties faced in lifting the educational levels of minority students. As an Asian immigrant who came to America fif…

A Second Front

It has been quite a while since I wrote my last blog. For some reason, I had concluded that there wasn’t enough readership interest in my personal notes and critiques of the country’s system. But recently, a friend of mine who stumbled upon my earlier blogs urged me to continue. Moreover, I had promised in my last blog to write about my experiences as an artillery officer along India’s western border with Pakistan, but I hadn’t kept my word. So finally I made up my mind to venture into writing blogs once again. My medical leave following the dynamite explosion in which I was injured while at Se La Pass was to last six weeks. I had returned home to Trivandrum sufficiently frost bitten to have my large ear lobes and nose turn dark, and skin pealing like a snake’s scales. It was a central topic in several hilarious conversations with guests when they visited our home, and I had a lot of stories to tell about my adventures in the snow-covered mountains of the Himalayas. Everyone wanted to …

Pumpkins for a Smile

This blog is contributed by Shilpa Raj, a Shanti Bhavan graduate now studying in college.

Take a walk on the road by the National Games Village in Koramangala, a prosperous section of Bangalore. Apart from the stench of cow-dung heightened by the odor of the gutters, you will notice signboards posted on blue corrugated sheets shielding a construction site that reads: “BBMP project. Trespassers will be penalized.” A sad story lies hidden behind these barrier walls that run for miles.
Just over a year ago, driving past that very same road, you would have seen smoke rising in the morning from the line of shanty huts. They had been in existence for decades, housing hundreds of poor people who worked at construction sites and as maids in close-by apartments. But now, with all the bulldozer work going on, not even one upright shed or litter on the ground is there to remind you of what lay there before.
On the morning of January 18th, 2013, amidst angry protests, demonstrations and tears, the …

A Forgotten Past: My Story of Time Spent in the Mountains

It is now many years, more precisely over four decades, since I sat down to recall my young adult days as a military officer. For reasons I do not know, I had tucked away those memories as though they belonged to another part of me, except when my two sons or the children of Shanti Bhavan occasionally asked me about my experiences. “Where were you in the Himalayas?” my older son, Ajit, would enquire, or “Did you shoot the Chinese?” the little boys at school would curiously ask. My answers were always brief, as though they were of little consequence.
But now, once again for reasons I cannot really explain to myself, I feel the urge to share my story. May be, I need to explain why I appear to behave like a soldier in their eyes. I need to tell them that there is, I suppose, a stage in everyone’s life that has a greater impact on his future than all others. For me, it was my army experiences that helped shape my outlook on life.
I had seen the poor living conditions of the tribal people …

How Shanti Bhavan Came to Fruition

For many years before I left my professional career in America and started Shanti Bhavan, I thought seriously about my life-long ambition to serve the poor and the socially deprived. I had abstract ideas about it -- a cause that I believed in --, but it was not entirely clear to me how I would achieve my goals. Though my vision might have been ambitious, I did not think about it on the individual, human level. The idea of economic and social justice for all, and how I would deal with those issues, did not connect me to children from poor families.
Sure, I felt injustice was being perpetuated on hundreds of millions of people all around the world, but they were blank faces in my vision– merely numbers. The thought that passed through my mind then was about how to make an impact on society. It was just an idea, an ideal that could impact those I did not think I would come to care about personally. The humanity of those I would be serving was not evident to me.
My understanding of American…

Reflecting on My Life in Rural India

Eighteen years have now passed since I returned to India to work on my lifelong ambition of serving the poor. These years have not been easy for me, though rewarding and challenging. Six to eight months a year away from my family and the comforts of America, and having to live within the confines of a remote rural village, have taken a toll both physically and emotionally. But lately I have been asking myself what has inspired me to seek out this mission from my early adulthood.
Visitors to Shanti Bhavan often ask what motivated me to make the choices I have made. They want to know what persuaded me to start the school and the other projects I had initiated in those years, and why I have continued so long. They probably think it is unusual for a man who has had other options, including a life of leisure and luxury. Not many people know my convictions or the nature of the work I do.
My usual and somewhat casual answers to the curious enquiries of friends and strangers might not have sat…

India's Rural Poor: Why Housing Isn't Enough to Create Sustainable Communities

I am often asked about the living conditions of those in rural villages, especially of the poor.  The article I published on this topic in is reproduced below which hopefully will answer the question.  See

India's desire to become the world's next big economic power is as real as the enormous challenges it faces in raising the social and economic well being of its rural populations. According to Abraham George, founder of The George Foundation, an NGO focused on poverty alleviation in South India, "The issue of adequate housing is integral to poverty reduction and social justice" in India. In this opinion piece, George describes the living conditions of the rural poor and argues that government resettlement programs are inefficient and perpetuate caste-driven schisms. Instead of simply supplying shelter for the inhabitants of rural villages, he says, these programs need to work t…