FEATURE: What does it take to be a female private investigator in India

How did it you get into the profession?

Even as a child, I was curious about everything. This tendency only intensified as I grew older. The turning point of sorts was when I was in college and became very intrigued by the behaviour of a girl in my class. I monitored her for a few days and found that she was slowly getting embroiled in a vice gang. I cautioned her father who intervened and that young girl’s future was saved. That is when I knew I could do this well and professionally. Initially my dad, who was also an investigator, was against me taking up this profession but my mum encouraged me to go ahead. I got passionately involved in this work after I graduated and at age 25, started my agency.

Was it difficult to get noticed in the beginning?

I had trouble getting ad space at the outset of my career. Around that time I came across a woman who was getting anonymous letters that claimed her husband was already married. I took up that case which ended up saving her marriage. The woman’s brother was a reporter and he helped me place my first advertisement. In 1991, my story featured in a TV show called Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahin. It aired on national television; that’s when things turned around and we’ve had regular assignements since then.

Rajani Pandit, a Mumbai-based private investigator, has solved thousand of cases. Pictures by Sumesh Rajan/Newslions

What kind of cases do you get?

So far I have solved 75,000 cases. I get approached by insurance companies if they suspect a fraudulent claim; some companies ask me to verify the credentials of their prospective employees. Lots of people want to know if their spouses are having extra-marital affairs. So, much of my work involves tailing individuals to figure out their true intentions.

Are there upsides to being a woman detective?

Since no one expects a woman to be a detective it becomes easy for me to stay under the radar.

Tell us the most interesting case you’ve solved?

It was a murder case. I needed to gain entry into the house of the prime suspect, which was difficult as the man was a recluse and only came home at nights. I told his servant that I was in dire need of a job; the next day I was inside his house as his domestic help. I worked as a maid for six months to gather evidence, but in the end it was worth it because he was brought to book.

What do you like most about your work?

The job is very high-stakes, there is never a dull day in office. My team and I work in great tandem. We get to help people; plus there is the thrill of solving a crime.

Would you ever consider a profession switch?

I quite like the brand identity [of being a woman detective and entrepreneur] that I have established and am very proud of it. Moreover, I don’t think any other profession would be able to make use of the multiplicity of skills I have acquired over the years.

Your advice to aspiring detectives?

A detective must be discreet as he is privy to great many secrets. There will be occasions when one will be tempted to reveal confidential information for personal gain – that’s when one must choose to stay ethical.

What qualities should a sleuth have?

A detective should pay great attention to detail as it helps in sizing up situations. He must have the ability to think on his feet as indecision can be fatal on the field. Criminals are very sharp and to outwit them we have to stay hyper vigilant. Another essential is the ability to manage fear and emotionally-charged behaviour because things do get dangerous and overwhelming on the field. Intuitive understanding of human personality definitely helps.

What do you think is the future of PIs in India?

I think the profession will flourish. With the advent of internet, we have also started getting several cyber fraud cases. So, mysteries are aplenty, there will always be the need for a PI.

NEWSLIONS IMPACT: Boy, 4, has been cured of leukaemia which caused his eyes to bleed and POP OUT


A four-year-old boy whose eyes would bleed and pop out as a result of leukaemia has been cured.

Sagar Dorji, from Lakhimpur in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, developed the form of blood cancer in the summer last year.

His parents were unable to afford to pay for medical tests, but fortunately his story attracted international attention.

Local health officials became aware of his situation and sought to treat him – flying him 1,800 miles (2,900km) away to Bangalore for chemotherapy.

And after a five-month treatment plan, the swelling in his eyes has reduced and the bleeding has completely subsided.

Although there is no threat to his life anymore, doctors remain worried that the disease may have caused irreversible damage to his eye sight.

His surgeon, Dr Sunil Bhat, told MailOnline: ‘We don’t know how much of damaged has happened in the eyes. If the cornea is damaged, it can be fixed.

‘But if the damage is from inside, it would be a challenging task to recover his sight.’

His devastated parents were desperate to find out what was wrong with him after his condition escalated in August 2016 – but couldn’t afford the medical tests required.

But after becoming aware of his family’s campaign, officials in the state of Assam paid to fly the boy to a private hospital in Bangalore.

Doctors here diagnosed Sagar with acute myeloid leukaemia – which can, on rare occasions, affect the blood vessels in the eyes.

Surgeons conducted a bone marrow transplant on Sagar after his nine-year-old sister was found to be a match.


Sagar was considered lucky, as there is only a 30 per cent chance of a match between siblings, according to medical literature.

The entire treatment has so far cost around INR 210,000 (£25,000) – with the Indian government having paid most of it.

Money generated through crowd-funding – in which people from around the world donated – took care of travel, accommodation and food expenses.

Sagar’s parents, who have been camping in Bangalore for the past five months, are relieved to see their child smile again.

‘We are grateful to the state government and all the people who donated for Sagar’s treatment,’ says his father, Humbahadur Dorji.

‘It was really heartening to see how the people from across the world donated for Sagar’s treatment even before the Assam government decided to pitch in.

‘I don’t know how to thank you all. But it is because of your help and generosity that my child back from the jaws of death.

‘We will remain indebted to you all our life for your generosity. Thank you again’

Teenage ‘human snake’ to finally get life-changing treatment

A “human snake” teenager who sheds her skin every six weeks because of an ultra-rare condition is set to get life-improving treatment in Europe.

Shalini Yadav, 16, needs to constantly smear her body with moisturiser and have a bath every hour to stop it from hardening and seizing up.

But her family are so poor they couldn’t afford any specialist treatment to ease her ailments, leaving her unable to walk without a stick or straighten her limbs.

Local fundraisers heard about her painful existence and alerted hospitals around the world — including one in Spain who has now agreed to treat Shalini for free.

The delighted teenager, from Nowgong town in Chattarpur district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, will fly to Spain on Saturday for treatment.

She said: “I was very excited to learn that we’d be going to Spain.”

“I have seen the place in an Indian TV show – now I will actually get to see it.”

Doctors have diagnosed Shalini with Erythroderma, an inflammatory skin disease also known as “red man syndrome,” but were unable to treat it.

It causes the skin over almost the entire body to become scaly and flake off and Shalini has shed her skin every 45 days since she was born.

She has to soak her body in water every hour — night and day — and smear herself with lotion every three hours to prevent drying out.

Her desperate mother Devkunwar said: “I feel so helpless when I see her skin coming off, causing excruciating pain to my child.”

“This disease is not killing her but taking her life bit by bit.”

“We have no idea where to go to and who to consult.”

Devkunwar, a caregiver in a state-funded community center, is so heartbroken she says death would be kinder to her daughter.

She added: “It is better to die than living a life of misery.”

Shalini’s two siblings Sejal, 15, and Price, 8, are normal with no such complication.

Her father Rajbahadur, a daily wage worker, said: “It’s really sad because she was not born normally and has scaly skin all over her body.”

“It is similar to being severely burnt, from the sole of her feet to her head.”

Shalini got help after India-based press agency Newslions, run by Sanjay Pandey, highlighted her plight. Pandey is also helping to pay for additional expenses.

She is being treated for free at Regional University Hospital and Virgen de la Victoria of Malaga.

Rajbahadur added: “I am very grateful for all that the hospital from Spain is offering.”

“Without their help and Pandey’s support, my daughter would never get a shot at leading a normal life.”

Pandey, who is traveling with the family, said: “The ideas is to improve her quality of life so that she can straighten her legs and so on.”

“Doctors say she should be able to walk without a stick after the treatment.”

 

Double take! Two sets of identical twins marry.. each other, with identical twin pageboys, bridesmaids… and even priests

Those attending the weddings of Dinker and Dilraj Varikkassery would be forgiven for leaving with a serious sense of deja vu. Because not only were the grooms identical, but so were the brides – and the page boys, flowers girls and even the priests.

The wedding, held in Thrissur, Kerala State on India’s west coast, was everything the brothers had ever dreamed of, the result of a five year, painstaking search for the most identical sisters they could find.
Their only regret? That there weren’t more twins at the ceremony.


Double take: Brothers Dinker and Dilraj Varikkassery married sisters Reena and Reema in a lavish ceremony overseen by twin priests, who travelled all the way across the country to be at the wedding in Kerala.

Search: The brothers, who work in IT, decided when they were teenagers that they wanted to marry identical twin sisters and they spent five years finding their perfect wives

Mirror images: Their wedding was an all twin affair with not only the bride and groom, but flower girls Ansa, Asna and page boys Henry and Hendri specially chosen because they are twins too. Dinker and Dilraj first decided they would marry identical twin sisters when they were at high school.

From a young age, they were inseparable, spending every minute they could together, always wearing similar clothes – just in case people needed to be reminded they were twins. ‘Even in matriculation exam, we scored similar marks,’ Dinker revealed.

‘After graduating from college, we even landed job in the same company (HCL).’ But then the unthinkable happened. For the first time our life, we were separated after starting our professional career. I was posted in north India, while the company sent Dilraj to the extreme south,’ said 32-year-old Dinker.

Five years ago, the pair decided it was time to settle down. Of course, it couldn’t be just anyone, and they turned to the newspaper to aid their hunt for their wives.

‘Many proposals came following our ads in newspapers and matrimonial sites. But there was a problem: ‘The twins were not identical enough. Also, we had to find twins who came from the similar family backgrounds,” said Dinker.

Future: Five years ago, the brothers decided it was time to settle down and find themselves wives – but realised only another set of twins, with a similar background to themselves, would do

Determination: Nurses Reena and Reema had spent three years searching for the perfect husbands for themselves.

Joy: Then, through a marriage portal, they were introduced to Reema and Reena, twin sisters who had also decided that only a set of twin brothers would be good enough for them

Delight: Reena told MailOnline of the moment the sisters finally found their future husbands. ‘When we saw Dilbar and Dinker we nodded yes to each other’ she said

It was quite an ask, especially considering there are on average just one set oftwins for every 100 babies born in India.

The IT professionals even created a group on Facebook called the All KeralaTwins Group, which now boasts more than 300 members.

‘Occasionally, we would also organise a get-together by pooling in money from the members. The aim was to get suitable twin brides for ourselves.’ Still, though, they could not find their perfect match. But then the brothers struck gold, meeting Reena and Reema through a ‘matrimonial portal,’ revealed Dilraj

‘When we met Reena and Reema, we knew it was them we were looking for all this while. Fortunately, they also had the similar feeling after meeting us,’ he added.

Like the twin brothers, the girls also studied in the same school, went to the same college to train as nurses and also landed jobs at the same firm in Dubai.

Inseparable: Both sets of twins have been close ever since they were children, dressing similarly, attending the same schools, university and getting jobs at the same company after they graduated

Neighbours: These children were chosen to be part of the wedding because they lived nearby. In Kerala, where the couple live, there is a village with more than 200 sets of twins

Passionate: The men have even set up a Facebook group called the All Kerala Twins Group so that they could meet more twins, which now boasts more than 300 members

Perfection: But after so many years, neither set of twins was likely to want a normal wedding – and they set out to make it the most twin-filled event that they possibly could

And they too knew they were destined to marry twin brothers.

Reena told MailOnline:  ‘We had to keep searching the suitable boys for three years in a row. When we saw Dilbar and Dinker we nodded yes to each other. It was a wonderful experience.’

Many proposals came following our ads in newspapers and matrimonial sites. But the twinswere not identical enough.


Dinker amd Dilraj

Organising the perfect twins’ wedding is about more than just ensuring the brides and grooms are perfect mirror images, however. The couples set about hunting down twin priests to solemnise their marriage.

Luckily, the brothers had already met the perfect candidates through one of their get togethers. The only problem was, the priests Rezi and Rozy Manaparambil had a full calendar.

‘We had to wait for months for the priests to come solemnise our wedding,’ Dilraj said, adding ‘But it was worth it.’

The priests travelled across the country, from Chennai on the east coast to Thrissur for the ceremony on November 8. The identical flower girls Ansa and Asna and page boys Henry and Hendri didn’t need to travel quite so far, coming from the their neighbourhood.

But they weren’t the only twins at the ceremony, held at St. Xavier’s Church, in the small town of Pullur.


Twin times: In total, there were seven sets of twins at the ceremony including priests, who travelled across the country to conduct the ceremony in Thrissur in Kerala State on the west coast


Big day: But Dilraj told MailOnline he wanted even more there – adding: ‘In our twins get-together, usually there will around 10 to 12 sets of twins, but I could arrange only seven twins for my wedding’

In total, seven sets of twins attended – including the brides and grooms. It was, a disappointed Dilraj said, not enough. ‘In our twins get-together, usually there will around 10 to 12 sets of twins, but I could arrange only seven twins for my wedding,’ he added.

P.S: This story of Newslions appeared as an exclusive in Mail Online in October 2014

Teenager undergoes life-saving surgery to remove giant facial tumours

By Team Newslions

Sixteen-year-old Mithun Chauhan, from the North Indian state of Bihar, suffers from an extremely rare genetic condition, which has left him with large swollen lumps all over his face and body.

The swollen tumours have been compared to a layer of bubble wrap and he is so disfigured he has been branded a demon by villagers who believe he is cursed as do his family.

Mithun has been forced to live as a recluse for most of his life. He has a condition known as neurofibromatosis, that affects just one in 3,500 people and causes tumours to grow along the body’s nerve endings. Mithun’s case is amongst the most extreme ever discovered.

 

The growths around Mithun’s face are so severe that he struggles to eat, see and breathe.

Left untreated Mithun faced being suffocated to death by the tumours. Mithun’s parents, who live in the North Eastern Indian state of Bihar, are too poor to have him treated.

However hope is provided by journalist Sanjay Pandey who after reading about his plight set up a crowdfunding site to raise money to pay for life-saving surgery.

 

A new Channel 5 documentary, which was aired on July 12, follows Mithun as he takes an 800-mile trip for a series of major operations to not only transform his face but change his life for good.

The teenager faced a huge risk of the medical procedures killing him.

His mother Bachiya, from Tilak Chowk in Kalyan City in Maharashtra, said before her son’s operation: ‘Sometimes Mithun says he feels like dying. Like there is nothing left in life. It hurts me.’

Mithun was born healthy but developed the condition when he was five years old.

‘If I go to school, people get scared and shoo me away,’ said Mithun, as he struggled to speak.

‘They said go and stay at your home and play. I feel sad. Everyone is frightened of me.

‘I was on the bridge and someone came over, he was scared and began to scream… “There is a ghost, there is a ghost”.’

Something must be done

For Mithun’s family – which includes five siblings – going to the doctor is a ‘luxury’ and the nearest hospital is more than 100 miles away.

But 1,200 miles away, journalist Sanjay Pandey felt so moved after reading Mithun’s story, he travelled to the isolated village to investigate.

‘I thought something must be done for this boy. The operation costs £10,000 so I set up a crowdfunding appeal.

‘I woke up the next morning amazed. Within 24 hours the target had been reached. It was overwhelming.’

Catastrophic risks 

Mr Pandey approached Dr Ashwini Dash who agreed to perform Mithun’s surgery in January.

Mithun’s surgery would be two fold – removing his many tumours and extensive facial reconstruction.

Last year, the plastic surgeon carried out a pioneering operation on a 12-year-old boy to save his nose from a severe infection by growing another one on his forehead.

Yet despite knowing Mithun was in expert hands, the procedure was highly risky and his anxious parents were warned he could bleed to death on the operating table.

At Life Care Hospital in Indore, doctors carried out a brain scan ahead of surgery only to discover a further complication – Mithun had a brain tumour.

The boy had drugs to reduce it and was eventually well enough for the operation to go ahead.

But during surgery, the boy took a turn for the worse and  began losing a lot of blood.

Dr Dash’s team removed five tumours in total before they had to abandon the rest of the surgery.

Mithun’s life hang in the balance for 24 hours until, to his family’s relief, he stablised.

Too poor to say in hospital 

Mithun was told he would need a second operation – but to be able to afford to come back he had to be discharged before his wounds had healed.

Back in the village, Dr Dash’s worse fears became a reality when the boy’s face became severely infected.

 

After being given antibiotics by a local doctor, Mithun pulled through and was able to return for the second operation in March to remove the remaining tumours.

This time his oxygen levels plummeted, and his organs were at risk of shutting down.

Dr Ashwini Dash managed to do what he could in the time he had, taking skin from Mithun’s groin area to help rebuild his forehead.

Welcomed by the villagers  

Having survived the ordeal and recovered well, Mithun has been accepted by the villagers and has been allowed to return to school.

His father Ramji said: ‘Since we came home our boy has been fine. The village people and the children are not scared of him.

‘The children play with him now.’

Not only has the operation transformed Mithun’s looks, but his outlook on life too.

He said: ‘I am happier than I was. Previously I was in grief.

‘In the future I will learn to be a doctor. I want to get married and have a family.’

Extraordinary People: The Bubble Wrap Boy is made by Transparent TV and airs on Wednesday at 9pm on Channel 5.

 

Teenager stunned after stomach pains turn out to be 20kg unborn parasite twin

  • WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT 
  • Narendra Kumar had suffered sickness and weight loss from a young age
  • His family, in Allahabad, India, did not know what was making him unwell
  • Hospital scans and X-rays showed an unusual growth in his abdomen
  • Doctors diagnosed him with the extremely rare ‘foetus in fetu’ condition

A teenage boy who went to the doctors with mystery stomach pains was shocked to discover they were were caused by the parasitic foetus of his unborn twin.

Narendra Kumar, 18, sought medical help in his home state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India after suffering chronic pain and vomiting with no explanation.

 

Medics found a three-stone mass of bone, hair and teeth in his stomach, which turned out to be his twin’s malformed foetus.

The parasite had formed an umbilical cord-like structure to the teenager in the early stages of pregnancy, allowing it to live and feed off him.

Following the incredible discovery, Narendra, who had been forced to stop going to school due to his illness, was diagnosed with the rare condition ‘foetus in fetu’.

 

There are only 200 cases of the condition worldwide on record.

Dr Rajeev Singh was the surgeon who uncovered the cause of the teenager’s stomach pains while operating on him at Swaroop Narayan Hospital in Uttar Pradesh.

He told MailOnline: “The boy’s stomach grew, but his plight went undiscovered for years because neither his parents were of his medical condition nor the doctors could diagnose the condition at an early stage.

Narendra-Kumar-Parasite-twin_0124

“Technically, the foetus was alive and was growing due to metabolic activity in his body.”

Although Narendra had previously sought out medical advice, Dr Singh was the first expert to undertake a thorough investigation, allowing him to discover the parasitic twin.

He performed an ultrasound and CT scan on the teenager – and was astonished by the findings.

Doctors subsequently carried out a three-hour operation to remove the 20cm-wide mass – which featured a staggering 6.5 feet of hair and yellow ‘amniotic-like fluid’ – from Narendra’s stomach.

Now, the teenager is no longer in pain, and is expected to be able to return to school.

His father Prem Chandra, a farmer, told MailOnline: “Now that it has been removed, I am relieved. He can now go back to school and lead a healthy life.”

Narendra-Kumar-Parasite-twin_0122

In cases of foetus in fetu, the organs of the foetus have a working blood supply from the healthy twin.

However, the mass has no functional brain, heart, lungs or gastrointestinal tract.

It has no hope of life outside of its twin’s body, and can often threaten the life of the carrier.

This piece appeared in several international publications, including CBS, IFL ScienceMirror and the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Magazine.

Boy who lost his nose after being treated by quack doctor has another one grown on his FOREHEAD

A 12-year-old boy who lost his nose to a severe infection was able to grow another one – on his forehead.
Indian doctors performed the remarkable procedure on Arun Patel whose nose had disappeared after the tissue shrivelled and died following treatment by rogue doctors when he was a baby.
Village doctors, with no medical training, administered injections to his face when he was just one month old, causing the tissue to die and drop off.
But thanks to unusual plastic surgery, the boy, from Indore, had a nose reconstructed on his forehead before it was transplanted into place.
Speaking to MailOnline, Dr Ashwini Dash, who led the surgical team said the procedure involved several stages.

Arun Patel lost his nose when he was a baby after he developed a severe infection and was treated by village doctors with no medical training. He has since grown a new nose on his forehead which was then transferred to his face (right) after three months.
Arun Patel lost his nose when he was a baby after he developed a severe infection and was treated by village doctors with no medical training. 
He has since grown a new nose on his forehead which was then transferred to his face (right) after three months.
He has since grown a new nose on his forehead which was then transferred to his face (right) after three months.

 

Surgeons used cartilage from his chest to grow the new nose on his forehead. It was then transplanted into position on his face

‘Arun Patel’s nose had disappeared due to a side-effect of an injection when he was just one-month-old,’ he said.
‘A normal rhinoplasty was not possible on Arun’s face as his nose had almost disappeared.
‘Therefore, we decided to perform a special plastic surgery on him, which is medically called as ‘pre-fabricated forehead flap rhinoplasty’, he said.

Doctors first reconstructed the nose on his forehead before implanting it to its proper position.
The rare surgery was performed over four phases carried out over the space of a year.
During the first phase of the surgery, a special silicon ’tissue expander’ was put on his forehead to make room.
Then a special chemical was injected, causing tissue on his forehead to expand.
Then surgeons took cartilage from the lower part of his chest wall and created an artificial nose.
It grew on his forehead for three months, where there was a good blood supply to help the tissue to develop, before being removed and implanted on his face.
The nose grown on Arun’s forehead was later removed and implanted on his face, Dr Dash said.

The nose grown on Arun’s forehead for three months before it was removed by surgeons and implanted where his nose should have been

He then had further surgery to repair the part of the forehead where his nose was grown.
Doctors said they would monitor his nose implant carefully in case further operations are needed.

Dr Dash told Mail Online that he had read about a similar story in China.
‘Since then I was on a lookout for such a case where I can grow a patient’s nose in his body and help fix his affected organ. ‘Luckily for me, the boy’s case came to me to help me realize that dream.

Since the boy comes from a poor family, we incurred all the cost of his treatment during this year-long process,’ he said. Meanwhile, Arun told MailOnline he was delighted with the results. ‘I was too scared to see myself in the mirror I would always walk on roads with my head down,’ he said.

‘In school, the children used to be afraid of me and made fun of me. ‘For me, it is just about getting a new nose, it is like getting a new life. ‘Now, I can face the people with head held high.’

Exclusively appeared in Daily Mail

It’s school time for grannies!

Every afternoon, a group of elderly women – all over 60 years, and some nearing 90 – head to a new school in their village near Mumbai to learn the alphabet and fulfil their lifelong dream of attaining literacy, says Dinesh Dubey

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The temperature is a sizzling 36°C in the village of Phangane in Thane, some 120km away from Mumbai. In a small two-room brick house, Kantabai More is in a hurry to finish her daily chores. Dressed in a bright pink sari and white blouse – her uniform – she is getting ready to head off to afternoon school, but there are just a few more tasks to complete. Food needs to be prepared for the family and the house needs to be swept and cleaned.

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It’s school time for grannies!
Every afternoon, a group of elderly women – all over 60 years, and some nearing 90 – head to a new school in their village near Mumbai to learn the alphabet and fulfil their lifelong dream of attaining literacy, says Dinesh Dubey

By Dinesh DubeyBy Dinesh Dubey15 Apr 2016 | 12:00 am

 

Source:Satyaki Ghosh/News Lions
The temperature is a sizzling 36°C in the village of Phangane in Thane, some 120km away from Mumbai. In a small two-room brick house, Kantabai More is in a hurry to finish her daily chores. Dressed in a bright pink sari and white blouse – her uniform – she is getting ready to head off to afternoon school, but there are just a few more tasks to complete. Food needs to be prepared for the family and the house needs to be swept and cleaned.

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Finally, she serves herself a couple of chappatis and a vegetable curry and wolfs it down, all the while glancing at the clock on the wall.

It’s already 1.15pm and she knows she’s going to be late if she doesn’t leave soon.

‘Please hurry up or I won’t be able to drop you to school today,’ shouts out Nitesh, a young boy.

‘Just a minute, I’m on my way,’ she says, picking up her school bag and slowly hobbling out of her house, holding the hand of the boy tightly.

Kantabai knows she can’t afford to hurry on the road. If she trips and falls, she could be bedridden. You see, she’s 65 years old and suffering from age-related rheumatism. Nitesh is Kantabai’s grandson who does the school run with her every afternoon after returning from his own school.

The grandmother is going to school to ‘rid myself of the stigma of being illiterate’, she says.

Kantabai is not alone. Around 30 grannies in Phangane, between the ages of 65 and 90, are going to school – many of them for the first time – to overcome the shame and pain of being illiterate.

‘When we go to the bank, it’s shameful to use a thumb impression instead of a signature,’ says Kantabai, clutching a blue school bag with books and a couple of pencils, braving the summer sun on her way to class. ‘Sometimes people laugh at us for not being able to sign our names. I’ve always wanted to be able to at least do so and read the headlines in newspapers. This is why I decided to go to school.

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‘As a child, I could never attend school because my family was too poor. I have four siblings – two sisters and two brothers. My parents were farmers and barely made enough to feed us.

‘Our father would tell us that he did not have the money to educate all of us. So only my brothers got the chance to 
go to school. My sisters and I stayed home and did all the household chores.’

Things didn’t change for her after marriage.

‘My husband, also a farmer, is moderately literate,’ says Kantabai. ‘But he was too busy working to encourage me to go to school or learn how to read and write. I too got busy with raising our children – three boys and a girl.’

One major factor preventing illiterate adults from learning the alphabet is the lack of schools for them. ‘There were times, like when my children were grown up and married and I had a little more time at home, when I felt I could spend some time learning how to read and write a bit,’ says Kantabai. ‘But unfortunately there were no options available in our little village.’

But that changed last month when an aajibaichi shala or grandmothers’ school started functioning on International Women’s Day (March 8), stirring the nondescript village – where most families make a living from subsistence farming or doing menial jobs at the industrial units in nearby towns – into action.

Conceived by Yogendra Bangar (left) and set up by the Motiram Ganpat Dalal Charitable Trust, the grandmothers’ school in Thane is off to a great start.

Set up by the Ambarnath-based Motiram Ganpat Dalal Charitable Trust, in collaboration with Yogendra Bangar, an award-winning teacher from Phangane Zilla Parishad’s primary school, the grandmothers’ school offers a beacon of hope for the illiterate elderly women in the village.

A rudimentary two-room building was donated by village farmer Dattatray Deshmukh for the cause. Construction work is still in progress.

‘Initially it was set up with men in mind,’ says Yogendra, who conceived the idea of the school.

‘But we realised that while most of the men could at least sign their names, the women were struggling and often said they felt embarrassed because they had to use their thumb impressions in place of signatures in all official documents such as identity cards and ration cards.’

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When the women voiced their desire to learn the alphabet, the trust decided to start the school for them.

Classes at Aajibaichi Shala begin at 2pm and continue until 5pm. ‘We chose the timing keeping in mind that these women have daily chores at home to take care of,’ says Yogendra. ‘We did a survey and found that this was the most suitable time slot when they are usually free.’

The teacher also recruited Sheetal More as an instructor.

‘In the beginning, I was a little hesitant to accept the job, because I was not sure how the elders would feel when a much younger person like me is teaching them,’ says the 25-year-old teacher.

‘I was a bit embarrassed too. I kept wondering how I could teach a class of students that includes my mother-in-law. But surprisingly, it was she and my two children who coaxed me into accepting the offer.’

Once she got over her initial hesitation, Sheetal quickly took charge of her students.

Classes begin with a 10-minute assembly where Sheetal briefs the women about what she plans to teach them that day. Attendance is taken and the names of absentees noted; they’re contacted the next day and asked to explain their absence. The students then fish out their slates, on which they are asked to copy down the Hindi alphabet, which Sheetal writes on the class blackboard.

‘I was a little nervous on the first day,’ she says. ‘But I realised that they were like children – curious and cute – in class. They don’t mind if I shout at them or say some harsh words if they are not attentive in class.’

Alphabet practice makes up the core of the session. Sheetal sits down with each of the grannies individually and coaxes them to write the chain of letters of the alphabet.

‘My aim is to get them to write their names within the next three months,’ she says.

One student is Ramabai Ganpat Chandelle, an 87-year-old widow. She has no children and lives alone. ‘I feel the school has given me a sense of purpose in life,’ she says.

Like any schoolchild, Ramabai is excited about the idea of doing something new. Just a tad hard of hearing, she has a powerful voice and grins when showing off her new bag and slate to me.

‘I rushed through my chores, got ready in my uniform and came to school with my neighbour’s son,’ she says. ‘He accompanies me in case I fall or need help.

‘I am like a ripe fruit that might fall off the branch at any moment. I couldn’t go to school as a child and remained illiterate all my life. But I don’t want to die illiterate.

‘Now, I am happy that I would be able to read and write a few words when I go to the other world.’

The women, like Gulab Kedar, have received massive support from the community and their families, especially children and grandkids.

Her neighbour Gulab Kedar’s hands tremble slightly as she attempts to reproduce the letters from the blackboard on her slate. Peering through her thick glasses, the 72-year-old meticulously copies down all the letters and leans back victoriously.

‘I also never went to school,’ she says. ‘This is the first time I’m seeing what the inside of a school looks like.’

Gulab’s 15-year-old grandson drops her to school every day.

‘The first day I requested him to accompany me, he started laughing,’ she says. ‘‘‘Are you really going to school?” he asked. But when he saw I was not joking, he said, “Good, I’ll drop you to school”. Now he is the one who reminds me in case I’m getting late.’

Of the 28 students, many are frail. Some have weak eyesight, others are hard of hearing and a few struggle to walk long distances. Luckily, the school is right in the centre of the village so hardly more than 500m away from the furthest home.

The anxious grannies are coping daily with homework and an upcoming test. This will be their first exam in a formal teaching space since they started going to school.

‘When I return home, our grandchildren too chip in to help me with my homework,’ says Gulab.

‘My grandson, 12-year-old Lakshman, sits with me and shows me new words and even maths. They sit and study along with me. It’s great fun. I’m now trying to read some of his text books. I may be old, but I’m so happy that I’m able to read some letters.’

To start with, the school is teaching the alphabet to elderly women such as Kantabai (top) and Radhabai (right).

Nathuram Dalal, a 38-year-old man whose mother Radhabai also attends the school, says he initially felt the elderly women would not be keen to study.

‘But I was surprised by their determination and willingness. My mother tries to finish all the work she has and looks forward to going to school with her friends. They are really like little schoolchildren. I’ve bought her some basic books to help her hone her reading skills.’

Support and encouragement for the school from the little-educated or unlettered villagers have been overwhelming. ‘The best thing about this project is that everybody in the village encouraged us,’ says Yogendra. ‘There wasn’t a single dissenting voice. All the people said: “Nobody has done something like this before. Whatever you are doing is good for the society. We are with you”.

‘Knowledge is important, particularly to educate these elderly people who never got an opportunity to study. We started this school to bring happiness to their lives and make the village 100 per cent literate.’

 

Though the school’s first goal is to make the women literate, it has other plans for the ladies as well. ‘We have planned some creative initiatives where they will be trained to make handwoven quilts and paper bags,’ says Yogendra.

Besides regular classes, the school also organises excursions occasionally. Late last month, the grannies, who had never ventured out of their village, were taken on a bus trip to Ralegan Siddhi, the village of social activist Anna Hazare, about 10km away.

‘It was very nice to travel with a group of like-minded people,’ says Gulab. ‘We really enjoyed ourselves. We are hoping they take us out more often.’

The Motiram Ganpat Dalal Charitable Trust started the initiative to ‘convey the message that these elderly people are very important for our society. We started this school to inculcate love and respect for the elderly,’ says Dilip Dalal, the founder of the trust.

 

The school has given these elderly women a purpose in life. Instead of sitting in an isolated corner of their homes, they are now communicating with their classmates and teachers at school and enjoying themselves.

At home, grandchildren have become their classmates and even mentors. They sit together and learn from each other. Suddenly, the generation gap seems to have disappeared.

‘I am in the last leg of my life,’ says Gulab. ‘I don’t know when I will be gone. But I know that I won’t die unlettered.’

 

HEARTBREAKING! Elephants feast on RUBBISH dumped by civic body in India

Gentle giants of Gudalur, southern India feast on garbage which includes deadly plastic waste.

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THESE heartbreaking photos show hungry elephants rummaging through steaming piles of garbage in a southern Indian dump.
The pics show the gentle giants forced to feast on rubbish in the town of Gudalur, Tamil Nadu, where 19 tons of waste is dumped every day.

Despite the plentiful vegetation in nearby woods – the animals’ huge trunks cannot resist the stench of the dumping ground.

Local authorities deposit a massive 19 tons of waste, generated by the town’s 50,000 residents, in the four acre plot every day.

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The dump yard is close to Mudumalai forest which is home to the group of elephants.
Sightings of the huge beasts are so common in the area that drivers often see them walking along the road side.
The elephants even anticipate when the garbage trucks arrive at the dump – which is around eight times a day.

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However, there have been reports of the huge animals dying from ingesting plastic from the site.

In 2014, an elephant was found dead with around two kilograms of plastic waste stuck in its bowels in a forest clearing in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala in the south of the country.

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Conservationists say dumping urban waste in elephant areas poses a grave danger to the beasts.

Sadiq Ali, the founder of the Wildlife and Nature Conservation Trust (WNCT), said: “It’s a life threatening issue.

“There is a high chance of diseases spreading to the wild elephants.”

The Tamil Nadu Forest Department has written to the town stating that the dump is located in a notified forest area.

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Authorities have proposed to erect solar fencing around the garbage dump with the help of charities.
Environmentalists have also approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT), India’s court for green issues, to rein in the local authority.
The town originally started dumping the waste following an NGT order which banned disposing of the garbage in the nearby areas of Thorapalli and Chelukkadi.

The story was exclusively published in The Sun.

INDIA: Laying down India’s road to development

The government in India has recently introduced a number of measures to expedite stalled or lagging construction projects, and to revive investor confidence in the road and highways sector.

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The country’s road and transport ministry has set up a review committee that meets every month to take stock of progress.

With government plans to increase the pace of road construction to 30km a day, as against the previous rate of just 2km, construction companies are under pressure to finish projects on time or even before the deadline.
This is where the company Bharat Vanijya, headquartered in Kolkata, India’s second largest city, is making a name for itself. “Early completion of a project allows us to go ahead with another project while improving company turnover and sales figures at the same time,” says company director Gokul Agarwal.

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He acknowledges the major role played by Volvo Construction Equipment in the company’s success. “Thanks to our Volvo machines, our increased capacity helps us to complete projects on time,” says Agarwal. “Over the past decade, we have used numerous competing brands of equipment on various worksites. However, experience has taught us that Volvo’s high productivity and efficiency contribute to our timely completion of projects which is always well appreciated by our clients,” he explains.
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FLAWLESS
Athough the capital cost of a Volvo CE purchase may be slightly higher than some other machinery brands, Agarwal says the company tends to look more closely at fuel efficiency and productivity and weigh up the benefits.
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“We compare all the figures, including depreciation, capital cost, investment cost and maintenance, and expenditure is quickly recovered thanks to Volvo’s flawless performance.”

There are currently 11 ongoing World Bank-funded projects across India’s road network. Bharat Vanijya is working an 84km stretch from Bankura to Purulia, the only such project in the state of West Bengal in eastern India, extending across two impoverished districts. With connectivity being a basic tool of development, projects such as these have a socio-economic impact and are designed to foster a better economic and business environment.

“We were given 30 months to complete the work, using a fleet of Volvo machines,” says Agarwal, who forecasts the project will be finished within 22 months, saving almost eight months. This is no idle boast: the company has already completed three major projects in the same district in less than half the time allocated.
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“Early completion not only helps improve the company’s image, but also helps it to save a considerable sum of money,” says Agarwal.

Bharat Vanijya’s Gokul Agarwal
Bharat Vanijya’s Gokul Agarwal
TEAMWORK

The company’s equipment includes 16 Volvo EC210B excavators, 7 SD110 soil compactors, and 3 DD100 asphalt compactors. The Volvo fleet is completed by a PTR220 pneumatic tire roller, an HB22 rock breaker, a P4370B wheeled paver and a P5320B asphalt paver.

As Bharat Vanijya builds its Volvo machine fleet, its confidence in Volvo CE also grows and Agarwal points to the reasons being superior service, efficiency and productivity.

With 52 people on the engineering team, including seven mechanical engineers, the project began in September 2015. In total, around 470 people are working around the clock on the carriageway, plus an additional 250 unskilled and semi-skilled laborers also hard at work.

Agarwal estimates that Bharat Vanijya almost doubled its target for the beginning of March, thanks to the combined efforts of the company’s team and machines working closely together. “Client satisfaction comes with progress and quality – we have achieved that in the past and are doing it again with this project.”

The existing two-lane road is 5.5m wide and crosses numerous waterways via seven major bridges and approximately 84 small cross-drainage structures.

The task involves construction of a flexible pavement of up to 10m wide in some places, known as a two-lane patroller road.

For road projects such as this, having built up the company’s fleet of Volvo machines over several years, Bharat Vanijya has worked closely with Volvo CE to train its operators.

“Volvo has got a very good plan of action,” says Agarwal. “When they sell the machines they also train the operators to use them. For example, paving machines have sophisticated sensors and require trained operators to use them properly – Volvo has set up a program to train paver operators.”

The Volvo machines, checked over once or twice a week as recommended, continue to run smoothly in spite of being put to work daily for up to 15-hour stretches at a time.

“Another machine brand might require servicing after 250 hours, but with Volvo it might be 400-500 hours,” says Agarwal. “A 14-15 hour a day with another brand, means the service time might come within 15 days, whereas for Volvo it would be more like 25 days.”