Sunday, 28 August 2011

Kane Ryan's tyrst with Sakinaka

If you happen to go to Ambedkar Nagar, a slum pocket at Saki Naka, you will see numerous children reeling with laughter and playing pakda-pakdi with a young enthusiastic 28 year-old Canadian, Kane Ryan. They are happy because over the last year, their lives and their locality have got transformed thanks to Ryan’s untiring efforts and single-minded devotion, who came to Mumbai in 2010 to better the life of the people living in Saki Naka.

Ryan’s is an amazing story of what grit, determination and a willingness to help can do to transform a situation. Working on the motto ‘See a need and fill it’, Ryan has tirelessly and selflessly gone about converting garbage dumps into beautiful gardens; getting slum dwellers and enthusiastic artists to paint on the dirty walls in the locality and transform them into works of art; helping over 2,400 people to receive medical treatment through health camps; funding several emergency surgeries, and sponsoring fees for 34 children.
Ryan raises funds periodically for his work at Saki Naka. Initially – during an earlier India visit in 2008 when he went to south India and tried to raise funds for an orphanage there – he did so by exhibiting photographs of dirty walls of paan stains, scattered paint and torn Indian movie posters in his father's restaurant in Victoria, Canada. The pictures fetched him $4000 dollars!

He often gets his friends and do-gooders back in Canada to donate. He is not alone in this effort: the entire Ryan family, particularly his mother, Cindy, works hard to raise funds back home in Canada and funneling it to Ryan’s one-man organization that he has formed in Mumbai called ‘The Dirty Wall Project’. 

He has networked with other like-minded humanitarians in the locality – Ashley Pereira of the Janvi Trust and Vignesh Manjeshwar, founder of the ‘Discover Urjaa Project’ and together they have bettered the lives of many living there. Ashley liaises between Kane and the community residents to overcome language barriers.
Last August, the Dirty Wall Project had its first anniversary dinner at Ambrosia Center with over 200 people attending. The event raised over $10,000 with generous contributions from eminent businessmen in Victoria, Sydney and Vancouver. The Janvi Kindergarden school that Ryan and Ashley set up as well as the community centre at Saki Naka was possible because of this. Ryan also managed to get the students and staff of Rundle School at Calgary, Canada, to organise fund-raising activities by showing them beautifully shot videos of the Saki Naka children. Those students helped raise $3,000!

Kane Ryan at Janvi Kindegarden School
Cindy's versatility has contributed enormously to the Dirty Wall Project. She comes to Mumbai often to spend time along with Kane at the Ambedkar Nagar pipeline. “I love the chaos in India!" she exclaims. In fact, Cindy has taken the initiative further: she has penned down 52 recipes after watching women from the slum cook. She took this enriching experience back to Canada and is in the process of publishing a cookbook based on authentic Indian recipes. Her thirst didn't end here. She made a trip to Crawford Market and bought spices required to make garam masala. She packed these in small packets, named them ‘Spice Packs’ and sold them for $8 dollars each in Canada! Along with each spice pack came one recipe and the story of the woman behind it. The money generated was donated to Ryan’s project.
‘Kane Sir’ – amusingly pronounced ‘Cancer’ – by the locals (as Kane Ryan is fondly referred to) recently spent 75 days cleaning the garbage dump on a roughly 1300-square-yard strip of land in the Saki Naka slum. Residents were moved to action on seeing Ryan standing amidst ankle-deep garbage and human feces wearing a black T-shirt with ‘The Dirty Wall Project’ written across.

Seeing him jump into action with a heavy machete-like knife removing the overgrowth and exposing the garbage underneath, Rajeev and Subhash, two masons living in the locality made their way through the mess. Ryan’s energy got the entire community to participate and they transformed the huge garbage dump into a clean ground. Now they are in the process of turning the ground into a beautiful garden.
Likewise, the grey dirty walls of the ground served as a canvas for many community people and artists – from Chaitanya, a graphic designer who painted a lion on the wall, to eight-year-old Aruna who was picking a paintbrush for the first time, to Bhoomi Shan and Hiral, two students who were doing their bit to spruce up the wall.

"Kane Sir has given us new life," says Jagannath Mulge who owns a local store at Ambedkar Nagar. Adds his wife Kavita, “Earlier, we would have to hold our breath when walking through our own mohalla. Now it’s totally different!” Ranjana Engde, a housewife and mother of two, joyously says she will now be able to make rangolis during Diwali.


Kane Ryan at Sakinaka
Ryan is pretty humble about his achievements. "I don't want to be seen as this white dictator giving instructions. I just strive to be better and help more people," he says. His frustrations with bureaucracy, paper work and religious bias while trying to volunteer for India and other developing countries drove him to be a one-person charitable organisation.    
For the Saki Naka community, he is this friendly gora with tonnes of cash. But they know little of his painstaking efforts to rake in those funds. He shuttles between India and Canada just to fulfill the needs of several underprivileged individuals at Saki Naka.

“I haven’t yet decided where I am taking The Dirty Wall Project. All I know is that the people of Saki Naka are my family. I can hop in into any one of their houses to have chai, or play cricket with the kids, or simply help them study.” It’s interesting because when Ryan landed in Mumbai, a toothless man banged his car window at the airport, and whispered “Welcome home Sir!” Just like that. Now when Ryan thinks of it, he sees a pattern. Maybe he was destined to be here.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Genie Paa!

One morning when Irfan Hamid was fast asleep in his house his students and friends woke him up to give him a surprise on his birthday. "Sir, remember you told us sometime back that your dream car is a Honda Accord. We students have all pooled in and bought you a second-hand one, Sir. It's a small gift for all that you have done for us and mean to us." Hamid is probably one of the few dance teachers in the city who's so adored by his students. For them, he is not just a dance teacher; he is their friend and pal - someone who has endeared himself to them and their families.

Interestingly, two out of ten students of Hamid are special children, and many of them have experienced a high level of healing post their interaction with him. Hamid not only teaches dance but has touched the lives of several students, senior citizens and special children, this humble do gooder has been a huge support and guide to many. His students fondly call him Sir, Sweetheart, Uncle and even Genie Paa!

Without any formal training in dance Hamid has been teaching dance for over a decade now. A three year old dances as cheerfully as a seventy year old in his class. He has over hundred and fifty students from the area and they all get together to perform shows twice annually. Parents of several children are very grateful to him for the painstaking efforts he puts in to bring out the best in all children. One striking incident which occurred at his class is of a child who used to get attacks of epileptic fits at home but in his dance class there was not a single episode of the symptoms recurring. Another remarkable incident is of a nine year old girl Simran Sharma who was a shy and reserved child. She had gone into a shell because of some personal issues within the family.She has now blossomed into a confident and exhuberant girl after interacting with Hamid. “ Irfan Sir is like a godfather to me,” says Simran. Neha Poddar who has Down Syndrome  has been a student of Hamid  since nine years and has experienced a major transformation in her life." Sir is like a brother to me," she says.

 Hamid  has thought several children without charging any fees and is also instrumental in providing his premises to the underpriveleged children of Samarpan school started by a group of ladies from Lokhandwala. They too participate in the annual shows conducted by him thus giving them the oppurtunity to exhibit their talents.  “ Dance is a passion and these children are my life,’’ he says with great emotion.
With a  natural flair for dancing, Hamid teaches  Bollywood free style dancing blending and combining different dance forms. He has participated in several television shows like ‘ Boogie Woogie’, Entertaintment ke liye kuch bhi karega’ and many more. He visits several old age homes and children homes too. He alongwith his dance instructors had trained 160 children at Bal Bhavan at Veera Desai  to participate in the annual show alongwith his students at Bhaidas hall last Diwali. He goes out of the way to arrange for costumes for these children for the dance shows by asking for donations from parents and friends. Seventy children of the Samarpan school and forty children from Taqsheel foundation too displayed their creative skills this summer at Bhaidas under the guidance of Hamid.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Iron-willed Professor


Goregaon Station, 11.30 a.m., Platform No-2, a neatly dressed man, with a receding hairline in his early fifties, carrying a rucksack and a plastic donation box labeled ‘Vidyadaan-Shreshtadaan’. Carrying laminated write-ups tucked under his arm, the rattling sound of the coins in the donation box.

 Commuters travelling in a Goregaon to Churchgate bound local train often experience a loud distinct voice saying, ‘Namaskaar, sabko Vidyadaan Shresthadaan’. This voice belongs to a highly motivated individual, Professor Sandeep Desai who collects funds while travelling in Aamchi Mumbai’s local train for a great cause, providing free education to deprived sections of society. Proficient in various languages, a speech is delivered in English followed by information in Hindi and Marathi. The professor bows down in gratitude each time he receives a donation from generous commuters while extending his donation box. Committed to his cause this humble professor has come a long way in fulfilling his vision.

Professor Desai, a former marine engineer and ex-professor of SP Jain Institute of Management along with his friend Noorul Islam formed Shloka Missionaries Public Charitable Trust in 2000. They intend to take this message of Vidyadaan to villages towns and cities. ‘Every district of India should have a school providing quality education’, says Desai. The trust opened its first school- Shloka Missionaries Public School at Goregoan in 2005. Funds collected through management and creativity workshops with various corporate and management schools were insufficient for this noble cause. The shortage of funds didn’t deter him from his mission, so regardless of all the odds he began asking for funds travelling in trains for a purpose so close to his heart. Vijay Jaiswal in defense of the professor to his fellow commuters says, ‘He is living for others and not for himself, he is not a beggar.’  Adds a retired senior citizen Subhash Nerulkar, ‘We cannot do what he is doing; he is doing great work’. VikramTalwar, a textile businessman adds, ‘Professor’s genuineness touched my heart. His kind gesture motivated me to give a donation for the cause.There have been other commuters who are willing to support the professor in other ways as well.Arvind Yogi, a graphic designer says, ‘ I am willing to create a module on graphic designing and impart lessons to the children.’  A fellow commuter even had the thought of giving his pan card details along with a generous contribution!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Lokhandwala is a city in itself

Teenage years offer challenging experiences which can be exciting or stressful for all of us. Its been a memorable experience for Dr. Shamoly Khera fondly called Shay by her loved ones who spent her precious teenage years amidst the hustle bustle of Lokhandwala. "Lokhandwala is a city in itself," says the doctor who is also an aspiring theatre actress! The residents are a diverse set of people which makes the area very resourceful. Residing in a beautiful bungalow located at the far end of the second cross lane, the physician finds herself fortunate to have such a silent space which is away from the jarring traffic on the main road.

The Food Connoisseur

Since childhood Sudeep Awchat has dipped his taste buds in great Goan food prepared by his mother's  excellent culinary skills. Now when he opens his own Goa Portuguesa restaurant in Andheri, all those memories come flooding in. Awchat, the son of Deepa and Suhas (of Goa Portuguesa, Culture Curry and Diva Maharashtracha fame) grew up watching the hospitality and the fine dining experience rendered by his parents to several guests at their restaurants. At a very young age he discovered his calling to be a part of the food industry. His journey from having good judgement in matters of taste to a degree in Hotel Management to opening a restaurant in Andheri has been an interesting one. This humble restaurateur is all set to not only bring you eclectic cuisines but also win your hearts with his amicable presence.

The Geek and the Big Daddy

Rickshaw fares in Aamchi Mumbai cost us Rs.11 per kilometre, but how would you react if a web design costs you just a mere Rs.11! Wouldn't you jump off your seat? A fresh breed of young, talented students have finally arrived in the web development industry. 'Our dream is to meet Mr. Mukesh Ambani' says the eighteen year old entrepreneurs from Malad.

They have created a premier web and logo development company named V4run's Blue Pencil Studio for small or new businesses wishing to have a presence on the Internet. Varun S Mundra along with close friend Dhruv Thakkar are hugely inspired by Mark Zuckerburg. They announced their project on the eve of Christmas last year and aspire to design websites to appeal to small scale enterprises.

Cycle Ki Sawaari

Join these cyclists groups if you want to revive your passion for cycling


Mumbaikars may be cribbing about lack of cycle paths in the city, but there are scores of them who have not let government apathy get in the way of their passion – which is cycling. There are groups of cyclists who meet, cycle their way across the city, make friends, chill and have loads of fun!

Promenade Paathshala

If you happen to be at Carter Road at around 7am, you may spot children sitting on mattresses and reciting alphabets and memorizing multiplication tables.

These kids belong to construction workers and are part of a school run by the Navjyot Foundation, run by Khar resident Jyoti Kalle and a frail but enthusiastic nonagenarian, G L Singh.