Saturday, January 30, 2010

Making Celine sit on the naughty step

In between seeing plump delicious models at RUHSA and getting rendu tyres bursti on the road back to Bangalore, I spent a few days with Celine at Karuna Niwas which is the Home of Compassion for women who have been disadvantaged by life, their family or society at large. The main aim, apart from seeing Celine, was to try and get a website organised for her so that she can start raising money for her Women’s Settlement and Children’s Education Trust fund. Her plan is to set up a fixed, high interest account of about 1 crore rupees, which will generate sufficient interest each year to pay for the occasional wedding – at least one per year at a cost of 1 lakh rupees, and to ensure that those children still under the auspices of Celine at Karuna Niwas, get a decent education. There is free education in Karnataka until about 14, however, it is in local language medium – Kannada. The sad truth of the world is that being educated in their own language does not give the children the best chance in life. Studies have apparently shown that the single best link to future success is the ability to speak English. So, a mixed English and Kannada school has better prospects, but is more costly.

Just to explain, a crore and a lakh are uniquely Indian numbers, which take me several moments of staring blankly at my fingers in order to figure out how many noughts are involved for each. At RUHSA, lots of projects cost portions or numbers of lakh rupees. A lakh is 100000. For a little bit of recent cultural context, Slumdog Millionaire revolves around the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which in India is called "Kaun Banega Crorepati?", which means "Who Wants to be a Crorepati?". The film is called Slumdog Crorepati. No-one is called a millionaire over here, which, in view of the exchange rate of 75 rupees to the pound, would only give you £13,000 in your account and although India is cheap, that is not that much money for the rich over there. Instead, they use their own number of a crore which is 10,000,000: you become a Crorepati, and you have 10 million rupees. A crore is 100 lakh. It’s all very confusing and as mentioned, coupled with the exchange rate makes for very difficult calculation of costs. As if it weren’t hard enough, they put the commas in different places so a lakh is 1,00,000 and a crore is 100,00,000.

Anyhow, Celine wants to raise a quarter of a million dollars – approximately a crore rupees, which would give her about 70 lakh per year in interest. Each wedding as mentioned costs 1 lakh, each child costs 16,000 rupees per year to educate - of which she has responsibility for about 7 children - also she wants to be able to send them to college if necessary which is extremely expensive at nearly 2 lakh per year. In addition, anyone who comes to Celine with a need without the ability to manage, she helps. Women have come back to her after many years and she has helped them unthinkingly. She feels it is very important to be able to support her family, which is grows continuously, whenever they need help.

She has therefore wanted to develop a website for several years, but never got around to it. Last year I made some slight inroads into it, but for some reason nothing much happened in the intervening months, despite sending occasional emails to enquire as to progress. Everyone seemed to be waiting for someone else to do something. I had vaguely assumed that Celine, who can arrange for the most extraordinary things to happen in the most serendipitous way, would have picked up the website baton and run with it. However, in fact what I found when I asked what had been done in the last 12m was a mischievous smile and a distinct tendency to slope off to avoid having to do any “homework”. In short, Celine, not unsurprisingly for a techno-agnostic 65 year old, basically does not want to be involved in the nuts and bolts of the website setup, she just wants it to be up and running without being bothered by how, when or why.

The problem was, I was not really wanting to be involved either, I was doing the donor thing of munificently offering to pay for it, but definitely hoping not actually to have to do anything. Net result, nothing done for 12m. Poor Sudhir, who has been trying his best, has, over the course of the year, sent emails to both of us, which we denied vociferously ever having seen, or if seen, swore blind we had replied fulsomely, only to discover each of the emails languishing in the dusty corners of our inboxes unloved, unread and unreplied to. So I bit the bullet and tried to rein in Celine’s reluctance to do her homework. It was hilarious, every opportunity I thought we might have for her to go through the text I had tidied up from her original leaflet, she found some pretext not to do it. Showing me a new project, being introduced to some of the women who were hovering about (not in the least interested in meeting me) visiting her sister, having lunch with her nephew, shopping, cooking breakfast for the next day, admiring a new plaque. Anything would do.

Eventually, I started getting even bossier than usual, telling her that we weren't doing anything else until she had done her homework. No fun things until the work is done. I started marching her towards the papers, to sit her down every time there was a spare moment between admiring vital brass plates and grating crucial coconut for chutney, but by god she is slippery. I have to confess, I was tempted to get her to sit on the naughty step until she had done it, but I felt that was a step (pardon another pun) too far. I even managed to persuade her to let me cook lunch whilst she sat on the table writing her story ideas and expectations on paper for the website. I had to ensure there was not the whiff of a distraction or she would leap up like a child with ADHD whose just had a tubful of brightly coloured smarties and devote her fickle attention (a luxury the homework did not have) to the alternative topic. Of course when Sudhir came for a meeting about the website to finalise the details I had no chance. I did not have enough energy to keep Celine in the meeting and listen to what Sudhir said. She could be heard giggling faintly in the kitchen, delighted at having escaped. Naughty child.

1 comment:

Sally Whittingham said...

Oh my Arabella do I recognise the slipperiness and the one year with nothing accomplished in one's absence..I suppose this has to be a left-over from colonial times or a bit like an adolescent child, pathetically grateful when you do something FOR him, but v v loathe to put in necessary work when you stop applying pressure.Also just love the Traditional youths texting picture. Lots of love and will be in touch if you really are going out so soon. Can you alert me on Facebook when next off? lol xxx