The moniker of "Crane Bedi" that I got during my stint with Delhi Traffic Police forms the essence of this blog. A crane removes obstacles-something I have tried to do all my life. Scores of people have urged me to share with them my experiences. Now, at the behest of my two daughters (yes, I have two, one is my godchild), I have decided to keep up with the times. This will serve as a platform to share, narrate and interact with you. "It's always possible"...even for a 57-year old to blog!
It’s something we experience daily. Yet we do not give it the kind of respect it deserves. It is a healthy body. The real wonder of the world is the gift of good health to a living being.
In the past few months, we in the family, close friends and relatives had been in a spin, attending to a loved one who was not keeping good health. He was hospitalised, discharged, hospitalised again and finally set himself free of all suffering. But what is left behind is the deep loss to the family, friends and the causes he was serving. He paid inadequate attention to his health despite being regularly advised by family, friends and doctors.
Everyone has to die one day. But one need not hasten it. This kind of loss is caused by personal negligence, when a person takes the gift of good health for granted. In this attitude, he chooses to ignore early indications and delays attending to his health. Such a person does not “stitch in time to save nine”. We usually tell ourselves, ‘Nothing will happen’, ‘everything will be all right’, ‘it’s all destined’ and ‘time will heal’. Many do not seek timely help, medical or social, when it’s available. Such an attitude ignores proper diet, personal management, lifestyle or the environment causing the decline or other contributing factors.
Dealing with crisis in health
Dealing with crisis in health of a loved one places highly stressful demands on family, friends and finances, causing heavy dislocation on all three counts. The departure of a loved one causes deep deprivation, leaving behind a void.
We witness this frequently, but many do not realise that the inevitable will happen to the observer one day. Apparently, the realisation of consequences of this attitude is absent in our grooming systems, be it home or education.
We over-eat, consume unhealthy food, do not nourish our mind and body correctly, overuse it, overload it with extraneous responsibilities, and also make stressful acquisitions way beyond required needs, little realising that one day all this will be left behind, and counted by those who may not even be there to perform the last rites.
If we truly love our family, our first responsibility is to maintain ourselves for our own sake and for those whom we do not want to see suffer. Despite that, if one takes ill, there is a willing support and acceptance, as the situation was not invited by that person. That is why daily correct nourishment of mind, body and soul is vital and has to be an integral part of growth, upbringing, schooling and community life. It’s also about collective social health.
Asset to society
Being healthy adds to national wealth. Every healthy person is an asset to society as he contributes his energy and productivity to the well-being of the community in one form or the other. Since maintaining good health is a personal responsibility, it’s left to the conscientiousness and maturity of individuals as adults, parents and citizens.
The interesting part is: we all tend to expect this from others, forgetting about ourselves. By this failure, a great amount of suffering is caused. We need to learn and practise to prevent and minimise it. We know the inevitable will come anyway. But why fast-forward it? As Galib said, “Age travels at a galloping pace, who knows where it would stop; we do not have the reins in our hands, we do not have our feet in the stirrups.”
Therefore, do not call for accidents on your own. Respect, serve and guard the human temple as its priest with joy and gratitude.
This Children’s Day, I was invited to speak to teachers at a well-known school in Delhi. I thought I had three options. One, share with them my thoughts on what good teaching is. Second, to ask them to share what they had to say to a question I had in mind. Third, to get them to answer the question that needed to be addressed and then share with them my views on good teachers.
I chose the third option. The question I asked around 200 teachers present was what they thought was the one thing they needed to do to prepare children for the next 70-80 years. They were requested to write down the answer for later analysis.
I hinted at a few things, like growing environmental stress, climate change, infrastructural inadequacies, traffic congestion, population pressure, security concerns, health access, likely deficiencies in support services, nuclear families and the ageing challenges. I asked them how they as teachers were grooming their children, who would outlive them. And a follow-up question was: who is primarily responsible to prepare them?
The answers I got
Here are a few responses to my first question. “Nowadays, children do not have clarity between what is right and what is wrong. They should have moral values. They don’t understand what struggle their parents have undergone to meet their demands. They think it is their duty anyway. Children should understand their responsibilities too. In today’s world, children think having a bank balance is success. But they should understand that fulfilling their moral responsibilities nicely is success.”
Another response was, “The most important quality a child should have is to be able to be a good decision-maker. If this quality is imbibed, the child will be on the right path and will be able to devote him for others’ well-being.”
Another answer was, “Children are sensitive and they follow what their parents do as they are their role models. So first of all, we will teach the child to express himself, whether it is right or wrong. When he will grow up, he will know the right from wrong. If we develop this habit in the child, we will be aware what is going on in his mind and can direct it in the right direction.”
Yet another response was, “Children should understand the meaning of change as they always have to face this. They need to learn how to accept changes in their life and how to make changes in their environment. If they are able to learn, they will be able to survive anywhere, at any time and in any decade.
Parents, teachers to provide nurturing
To my second question as to who would provide this nurturing, the unanimous answer was parents and teachers. Here is a response, “As the saying goes, ‘Practise what you preach.’ So it’s we who have to imbibe these qualities and act; only then our children will be able to think, act and imbibe. Only we as teachers and parents can teach our children by asking their views about a social issue. This way, we can inculcate the habit of expression. If we ask their viewpoint it would help children think and choose options and develop the habit of decision-making, and they would gain confidence. This way, children will become good human beings besides being sensible and responsible citizens.”
So the ball was back in our court as parents and teachers.
Advice to teachers
What I told teachers was: ensure due respect to every child’s viewpoint; make sure you are accessible to them all the time; enable shared expectations; encourage self and love of learning; and teach collaboration.
The teachers I got the feedback from were from Delhi International School, Rohini, and Navjyoti India Foundation. Next time, I will connect with schoolchildren and ask them what they would like to see in their parents and teachers that would help them prepare for the next 70-80 years, and who they think can best provide them the grooming? I cannot wait to know their views.
“Do you know how many seconds we get each day?” Just one hand went up to this question in an audience of more than 1,500 students at a business school where I was invited to speak on time management. The others did not have a clue. They were amazed to know they had 86,400 seconds in their account each day.
Every night, this account becomes empty as we go to sleep. We are left with no credit, as we cannot store these seconds. We also cannot even overdraw. Each day opens with a new account, this is the law of nature. How we invest these 86,400 seconds is in our hands. Our good health, happiness and success depend on it. Whether we fail or pass depends on variable factors.
Every one of us arrives with the gift of energy, visible from the moment we are born. We enhance this energy when we breathe well, sleep well, live well, think well, work well, plan well, and also maintain and cultivate our relationships well. We draw energy from all things we do, but doing it in the right way and right amount is important.
Listen to the body clock
Our body’s system has inbuilt clock. It gives us an alarm when we are fatigued, hungry, depressed, sleepless, stiff, ill, and ageing. It tells us to listen to the body and change our lifestyle when we must. Our body asks us to replenish, repair, restore, detoxify, relax, rest, recover, and treat it. It wants attention, care and right use. Not all of us are built to be marathon runners, weight lifters, boxer, or sprinters. Even champions are not for life. Every purple patch has a time span. Overstretching the body burns it out.
Three periods and their purpose
There are three time periods in our lives - the past, the present, and the future. The past is for learning from experience to live well in the present and prepare for the future. Those who learn from history do not fail. Hitler would not have lost the war had he learnt from Napolean’s experience that Russian winter is the invaders’ deadliest enemy.
We must know our high-output and low-output hours, so that we can complete the difficult tasks when we are most active and easy work when the energy is down.
All creative people and meritorious students know this. Socialising during peak hours and studying during weak hours is doing it the wrong may. It requires only normal intelligence to know that we need to complete the urgent and important tasks first, or everything else in life will become urgent.
To do more in less time
If we are to achieve more in less time, personal discipline is the key. Treasure your time; evaluate regularly how and where your seconds are going. Stick to first things first. Make a to-do list and budget your time. Remember that 80% of the success comes from 20% of your activities, so remain focussed.
Set clear objectives and deadlines. Know why you are doing whatever you are up to. If you want to have fun, you must enjoy. Flow with it. It will help you cut your losses in terms of precious time. Do not stress and overburden yourself. Set realistic goals, and as said earlier, finish the difficult tasks first.
What have you sown?
You reap what you sow in those 86,400 seconds. I asked the B-school students: “If you want trust, are you sowing honesty? If you want friends, are you sowing goodness? If you want greatness, are you sowing humility? If you want victory, are you sowing perseverance? If you want harmony, are you sowing consideration? If you want success, are you sowing hard work? If you want reconciliation, are you sowing forgiveness? If you want improvement, are you sowing patience? If you want a miracle, are you sowing faith?”
Be careful in what you sow in the 86,400 seconds you get each day, for it will determine what you will reap. Fruits of labour are based on the choices you make through the day, one day at a time. Time flies, change is the law, growth is optional, choose wisely.
With Haryana panchayat elections around the corner, I decided to reach out to a few women sarpanches to know their experiences. I was curious to know how much they got to contribute in their respective villages? What was their experience like? What kind of response did they get from men and women? Was there a difference? How cooperative were government officials? What about resources? Were they reasonable? How did they meet their day-to-day expenses? Were there budget provisions to do so? Did the new elected women get any training? How did they manage as families in rural areas are mostly male-driven? Who was the real sarpanch in such cases?
The interaction brought me a lot of insights into things. I was amazed to see women so perceptive. They knew what was needed and what was wrong. They were the perfect faculty for rural management institutes. But did any institute ever think of co-opting them as faculty to share what worked and what did not and how they dealt with others to get results? Unfortunately, no one as they are not formal MBAs.
I found them the real practical managers who knew life through the challenges they survive through. I am saying challenges, because without water and electricity and with minimum resources keeping the family going is not easy; on top of it, with husbands controlling them and government officials almost ignoring them. My heart cries out for them. They are the real teachers who know what needs to be learnt and changed in rural India, which comprises two thirds of the population.
Startling revelations Here are some of their statements which will stay with me. "Ensure we have a cocktail dinner," said a rural official to a woman sarpanch, who had invited him for dinner as she wanted a road in her village to be widened. When I asked her from where did she get the money to serve the cocktail dinner, she said she got it from her husband, that is why he dictated the terms.
Every time one of them called up the local MLA or the minister concerned for the development work in their village, he would say, "Route your request via the CM". "But why should I, you are our representative," she would respond, and he would disconnect the phone.
There is a short induction programme for them, they said, but nothing about the likely challenges at work and how to cope with them. Also, no introduction to the officials they would be working with and no sharing of experience with past sarpanches.
On dealing with men and women of the village, they said, they delivered to the extent possible. Men, of course, did not accept them, while many women were jealous and did not cooperate. Most women said they would not like to contest the elections again, terming it as a horrid experience.
When asked if they thought men and women differed in their work as sarpanches, they said, "Women unite the village whereas men divide it." On how they met their travel and other expenses, they replied that they did it from their own pockets, which meant they tokk the money from their husbands. There is hardly a provision that recognises this need. Men completely control women's mobility in rural areas. They decide for them and even perform the duties in their name most of the time.
What needs to be done Having heard them, I deduce this: Women sarpanches need to be better empowered by resources and training. They must be introduced to key officials in the induction stage itself so that they are in the know and the need for cocktail dinners is eliminated.
An environment of handover and takeover must be held between the new incumbent and the past sarpanch. Government officials should play the connecting role. Perhaps a practice should be started and experimented with.
Also, the first-rank local officials in rural areas need to be overseen better by the district administration and the head offices, which appear to be rather weak or distant. My enquiries revealed absence of field visits and any worthwhile interactions with locals through rural tours and community interactions and dialogues with panchayats.
Unless the senior officials regularly visit villages, the situation would not change. Corruption and delays and cocktail dinners would prevail and women would remain an undermined potential in rural development.
During my interaction, there were two very telling statements. "Are villagers so worthless that they do not need electricity during the day? and "who could be a better manager than a woman, who manages her large family despite different constraints, yet becomes a sarpanch and struggles her way through again?
My key learning from this interaction is: unless the male-dominating mindset changes, women would not be able to contribute their full potential to society. And unless senior officials regularly visit villagers and connect with their residents, rural India would not change. And unless both these changes happen, India's development will remain urban-centric and migration from rural areas will continue to the detriment of overcrowded cities.
Solutions lie in the hands of self-driven field-oriented civil servants, better-quality politicians and progressive teachers sending out educated boys with inclusive mindsets and confident and informed girls.
As students, you build your own future; and education is your duty to acquire
"Remember to comb beneath the hair if you want it to stay recharged and keep your mind virus-free," was one of the several nuggets I gave to college students in Mumbai on the subject of early leadership.
I began by asking them if they had planned for the next one, two, or 60 years? "If all goes well health-wise, you will live up to be 90-plus, so have you prepared for the decades to come in the demanding circumstances ahead? Would you be self-reliant, managing relationships well, and fulfilling responsibilities? Are you preparing your toolkit for the long haul?" I asked them. Laying the foundations of life skills was the focus of my address.
I told them leadership was an expression of responses to situations in life, responses drawn from the toolkit of our character that we build consciously or subconsciously. I reminded them that time flies. Their mentors, parents or providers will pass away some day, and in the end, they will be left on their own. Will they be in good company of their own self when they are by themselves?
I told them they were gifted thrice more than they thought, with a healthy body, a young mind, and the capability to grab the opportunities before them. They need to use all these gifts, none at the cost of the other. They must be conscious of their every thought, word and deed, which is called being your own witness. It's not early to know.
Time is now, before habits harden and we learn at a huge price.
Without mentioning names, I asked them if they had learned anything from a high-profile murder case where it is alleged that a rich mother killed her daughter in pursuit of greed. I reminded them that life would give them many instances to learn from. Wise will be those who pick up the right things to learn.
Why must anyone remind you of your own responsibility at different stages of life? As students, you build your own future; and education - which is a combination of life skills, including professional ability - is your duty to acquire. The more attention you pay it, the securer you will be for the next 60 years.
Since youth indulge too long in social networking, it was natural to talk about this. "Why can't you be researchers? A world of knowledge is available at the press of a button, with search engines as your librarians. How much time do you spend on this, compared with the time you spend with friends on social-networking websites?" I asked them.
Don't wait for jobs
Your life will be built on the company you keep, the material you read, the experience you gain, and how you apply this experience in your day-to-day life. I was told the college had a department of entrepreneurship. I thought of asking the students how many of them had used their summer vacations to earn some money. In the audience of more than 650, only 30-odd hands went up. "Learn by doing, don't wait for jobs, that might come or not. Your self-confidence will be built by doing. The younger the stronger," I said.
When you give the attention-starved generation too much to absorb, they will pick and choose, even when all you said is vital. During the question time, a student was keen to know how the Indian youth could create a revolution of any kind. I replied: "If you care for your country, spare time to teach the illiterates and give skills to the poor, rural communities in particular."
India needs a million more schools. Why? Because we add another UAE or Australia each year to our population. Where will more resources come from?
The youth of this country need to be aware of their responsibilities as citizens and add "kindness quotient" to their IQ, EQ, and spiritual quotient. They could invest their summer vacations in doing internships or helping India become literate, skilled, and cleaner in the next five years. Independent women with earning ability would want to produce fewer children.
I was happy these graduate students heard me with respect. It was at Guru Nanak College of Arts, Science and Commerce. Built as a school in 1947 by the refugee Punjabi community, it has grown into an institution with own management institute. India's present and future were right there. I was the past, striving to remain in present and contribute to the future.
While we celebrate 68 years of Independence, I recall days of my prison assignment when I saw many children with their mother in the jail. The Indian prison system allows women lodged in jails to keep their children with them up to the age of six.
The children were there as their mothers wanted to keep them safe. On one of my first visits in the jail, soon after taking over as the inspector general (IG prisons), I asked the superintendent why were these children were not in school? He said: "Madam, there is no school and there is no teacher. We don't even have the budget for education in the prison complex housing more than 9,700 inmates (at that time)."
These children, as I saw, knew the language of courts, lawyers, and crime. The games they played were how to track and crush insects and play knife-knife. They knew the art of pick-pocketing and they could demonstrate it without any hesitation. For them, it was a sport.
Nursery school in jail
One of immediate things which we did was to open a nursery school on the jail premises. We carved out a space from within the women's ward compound and separated the children from their mothers through the day. We connected with the community and asked for donations in kind for books, toys and stationery. It all arrived. And we started the school. Educated women inmates were asked to take charge along with Catholic nuns who came and volunteered to serve. The place was also visited by Mother Teresa. The children were given school uniforms and bags. This created a whole new atmosphere inside the women's prisons.
Women inmates were told to ready their children for school at 8am. Mothers loved the idea of their children getting education. We also took the children for outings to parks, doll museums and zoos. The whole idea was to educate the children in a free and fair environment.
But then came a challenge. What do we do with the children above the age of six? This is was the upper age limit of staying with mothers in the jail. These women did not want to send their children to shelter homes for various reasons. Primarily being the feeling of insecurity. Meanwhile, the children's school on the Tihar jail premises had been institutionalised and christened as India Vision School after I received the Ramon Magsaysay Award.
But when I was transferred from the Tihar jail, I started looking for a safe place where these children could continue learning. As nature conspires and gives you what you truly ask, one day Catholic nuns of Assisi Convent School approached me for providing education and hostel facility to girl children of prisoners. We only had to provide the hostel and school fee. This led to the start of the Children of Vulnerable Families Project in 1994. It still continues to serve, linking the prison nursery school with missionary schools outside. Today, the India Vision Foundation (IVF) reaches out to nearly 300 families with similar programmes running in four state prisons of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab.
Last week, the programme came together for its first alumni meet. Over 70 children, now grown up, some in college and universities, some married and some employed attended it. It was a reward of over 20 years of work, which started in 1994. We decided to use the opportunity to ask them a few questions to help analyse and reflect. Here are a few of the answers being shared and also the essential learning for us as a community.
Question: If you get a chance to change something in your childhood, what is it that you will like to change and why?
Answers: (Indicative) They all longed for togetherness of their parents. They all wished to be with them. Homes which saw violence and disrespect of their mother were distressing to them. Father's drunkenness impacted them. Poverty agonised them. Disease impoverished them more. They all longed for love, care and opportunities like others. They wanted to share their feelings but some had none. They overcame these because of care we gave them.
Question: How did you deal with your parents' criminal background?
Answers: (Indicative) One said: "She saw the wrongs, but ignored them. I still loved them." Another one said: "It was embarrassing when some of my classmates came to know that my parents were in jail. After a certain period of time, I started to think that everything happens for a reason. If they had not gone to the jail, I would not have got a chance to go to a good school." (Sent by India Vision Foundation running the Children of Vulnerable Families Project). Another said: "I used to run away from my friends' remarks till a senior counsellor trained me how to respond to them."
Yearning for parents' love
The alumni meet revealed that children who suffer at a very early age never forget their lost opportunities. They yearn for their parents' love. They love proximity. Poverty hits them hard. They want both, mother and father. They all wanted to be educated from English medium schools. Hindi alone limits their opportunities. We found girls more expressive in sharing their feelings than boys. They were equally more sensitive.
Lessons learnt were that each child is a life whatever the circumstances might be. Children suffer when parents and teachers fail in their responsibilities. Some children manage to emerge, others take a long time. All need handholding in such circumstances. But all are not so fortunate.
By taking care of such children, the community has succeeded in saving girls from early or forced marriages (as they said in their responses). The foundation and the residential schooling protected them from being victimised or exploited. Boys too were saved from behavioural delinquency or repeating crimes as seen. Sincere collective community effort saves lives. It just needs love of heart and compassion. Children are our future. Parenting is a huge responsibility. Do not undermine it. Never take away your child's childhood.
India has death penalty on its statute book not because Indians are blood-thirsty and want an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth, but because India will not incentivise terrorism. Terrorists cannot kill, attack, destroy, injure and still live to attack again.
India is duty-bound to keep her people safe so that they can live in harmony and peace. India is a democratic country with a robust judiciary. It has due process of law and the right to fair trial applicable to everyone. Every citizen has certain fundamental rights. But they come with responsibilities.
While we have the right to life, we also have the responsibility not to take another's, and if someone commits the crime, he will be tried by law, sent to prison, face a trial, and if proven guilty, gets convicted and goes to prison for punishment as per the sentence awarded. The courts award death penalty depending on the irrefutable barbarity of the case. However, Indian courts have used it sparingly in rarest of the rare cases.
Crime of terror is barbaric. It's cold-blooded murder. It is equally an assault on the security and integrity of the state. It is also an attack on the nation of 1.2 billion people with a conscious attempt to cause mayhem by mass life destruction, bloodshed, pain, suffering, communal division, hostility, revenge within the communities by undermining trust and mutual respect.
The Indian democracy gives all, terrorists included, the due process of law. However barbaric the offence, the accused has the right to defend himself.
Victims' rights are the responsibility of the state delivered through the governments at the Centre and the state. In case of unsatisfactory protection of victims by the state, victims suffer, and lose faith in the system and the governance of the day. The political parties at the helm tend to lose support. Hence, to keep their respective constituencies intact, there is undoubtedly an element of competitive politics and political posturing is seen at play.
Threat of terror
India continues to be under serious threat of terror for decades. It has lost thousands of innocent ordinary citizens, policemen and women, and personnel in armed forces. The attacks have become almost a daily feature in different parts of the country.
As a cop I notice considerable outcry by the intelligentsia against death penalty to a terrorist, irrespective of his barbaric acts. Recently, the country lost the Gurdaspur SP with his 'thullas'. Their loss, comparatively, received little space and attention in visual, print and social media vis-a-vis the clamour of the vocal intelligentsia pleading for mercy to a terrorist. How justified was this? Is this not national blasphemy? And cruelty towards one's own, just because you yourselves have not been the victims, and have not experienced the pain and suffering?
Should our hearts not bleed for the loss of innocent lives and the hapless? Should we not support the rank and file in uniform, our real protectors? I asked a known opinion influencer advocating the abolition of death penalty, "If his heart bled for the slain Gurdaspur SSP and other 'thullas'?" I did not get a satisfactory reply.
Can our hearts instead not cry for a more effective, strong and resourced criminal justice system? Can we not ask for speedy trials, more courts, tougher and updated laws and processes, quality investigation teams, well-trained and equipped, strong intelligence systems, and certainly, exemplary punishment for terrorists?
What we see is energy being dissipated by pleading for mercy for killers or the ticking bombs who have just one single focus -- to tear apart our social fabric and create communal disharmony at any cost. If you get terrorists alive, they remain ticking time bombs in custody, in transit or even after being convicted while lodged in jails. In truth, terrorists are exceedingly indoctrinated with rare exceptions amenable to reforms. This comes out of my experience in prison management.
India today needs an uncompromising voice of unity against terror and terrorists. Challenges and threats of security are accelerating by the day, as is evident the world over, while synergy in political parties back home is diminishing. What all stakeholders need to remember is that if you play with fire, your hands too can get burnt.