Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Renuka Shahane on her childhood and more

I met Renuka Shahane last year when she was in the city to promote her directorial venture 'Rita'.

It's hard to believe that the demure and soft-spoken Renuka Shahane was a 'crazy' teenager or that as a child she used to pick up stray cats and bring them home. Talking to YB about her childhood, Renuka laughs, “My brother and I drove my mother mad by bringing stray cats home everyday. It didn't last very long because my mother put her foot down.”
A student of King George School (now Shri Chatrapati Shivaji High School), Renuka as a child spoke Telugu and not Marathi. “My father was in the Indian Navy and we were stationed at Vishakhapatnam port. I spoke Telgu till I was five. Only after returning to Mumbai I learnt to speak Marathi. Now, of course, I am extremely fluent in the language,” says the popular TV star.
Renuka who had dabbled in Marathi theatre as a student never intended to become an actress.
I was very fond of children and I wanted to become a Child Psychologist. I had finished my MA in Clinical Psychology and wanted to do my Phd in Child Psychology, but before I could fill the form, Circus, the television serial happened. The director of the serial and my mentor, Aziz Mirza told me that my calling lay in acting,” she says.
Renuka then turned her attention towards acting, but she has managed to retain her love for children and her interest in psychology.
I cut down on my work because of my two kids, Shauryaman and Satyendra. My mother was always around when my brother and I were growing up, dropping us to school, packing our dabbas, making us complete our homework. I had a very normal childhood and that's what I want the same for my kids too,” concludes Renuka with a smile.

Nirmalya Trust

I did this story for the women's supplement under 'Community Connect' slug.
People reading this....please help if you can.

Headline: A Part of the Whole

Life is like a jigsaw puzzle. And we are the pieces trying to fit in. Each of us has a place; we just have to find it,” says Meena Bedarkar of the Nirmalya Trust.
Bedarkar founded the trust so that the visually, hearing impaired and paraplegics could 'find a place of their own' – in this case, employment.
All over the world, parents worry about their kids. 'Who's going to look after my son/daughter when I am dead and gone? Will they find a good job?' This concern is more pronounced in the parents who have challenged kids. Hence we decided to start vocation units for these youngsters and adults and also act as a placement agency,” says Bedarkar, who's daughter, Tanuja, is a spastic.
The trust, which was founded in 2005, supports nearly 1,000 persons with disabilities in both the urban and rural sector. Some of them work from homes, while some work at a park and their registered office tucked away in the leafy neighbourhood of Bhandarkar Road.
The first vocation unit they set up was a nursery, Sunkisd Plant Nursery.
The visually and hearing impaired worked in perfect harmony with the paraplegics. They worked with each other's abilities – like the hearing impaired tended to plants, visually impaired added soil and other nutrients, and the paraplegics packed the saplings in the bag. Their varying educational and financial background did not create any rift,” says Bedarkar.
At present they also have people making paper and cloth bags at their Taruvar unit. They also provide callipers, crutches and two-wheelers attached with side wheels to the paraplegics. The trust also caters to the educational needs of the disabled people.
In March we came out with the first Braille version of Maher, a Marathi monthly. We hope to bring it out month after month. We also wish to support them with tuition, hostel and mess bills,” she says.
The work, says Bedarkar, needs immense patience. But, she also adds, that working with the disabled people has changed her perspective towards life.
It's because of my daughter Tanuja that I am here. She has completed her Std XII through National Institute of Open Schooling and is an asset at our work. She finds it difficult to use her left side. So, she sits on the chair and with her right hand flip opens the newspaper. She is the first in the chain of making a paper bag out of the newspaper. When I see her attending to telephone calls and responding to mails and trying her hand at other things, I find it easier to motivate other people. Tanuja is my standard of measurement,” says Bedarkar, who was a craft teacher for 25 years.
The trust wants the disabled people gainfully employed. “We want to ensure that they get work and not charity. Our experience tells us that if they are gainfully employed they are able to adjust better with their families; their hurt and anger levels come down. When they see there are several others like them, trying to make a living with dignity and respect, they realise that they are a part of the whole” concludes Bedarkar.

How can you help
  1. Buy plants
  2. Donate raddi to make paper bags
  3. Volunteer to help the disabled people with English conversational or computer skills
  4. If there are any job vacancies, please call Nirmalya Trust at 9422509649

Hear Me Out

I had done this story on the Day of the Deaf (September 26) and International Week of the Deaf (which is the last week of September). I loved talking to Deepti Kelkar, the hearing impaired artiste. Some of her paintings are really good. I have not included the complete interview in the story.

On my first day in the senior college, I saw a new, pleasant-faced girl sitting on the first bench in the classroom. She looked a bit upset after the first class and I wondered why. For the next week or so, it was the same pattern.
One day I went up to her and asked what was troubling her. Asawari Bedge, my new friend, told me that she was deaf. She had to sit on the first bench so that she could lip read the lecturer. That was my first meeting with a hearing impaired student. And, I suddenly woke up to the fact that the 'normal' youngsters like me were unaware of the needs of someone like Asawari.
Asawari was one of the few lucky hearing impaired people – she could hear and speak just like you and me – thanks to early intervention and timely diagnosis by her parents and the doctor.

Early Diagnosis
In most cases, parents or the kin of the child realise very late that he doesn't respond to their calls.
Many parents discover that their child is unable to hear when he is two or three years old. The time lost is precious. If he doesn't hear, he also loses the ability to speak,” says
Shubhangi Ogale, the Principal of Modern College of Special Education.
Ogale, who earlier headed the Deaf Unit at Modern English School, says, “Once it's known that the child has lost hearing or has acquired deafness, the parents have a big role to play. First, they have to get the BERA test done to find the level of deafness. And, according to the result get their child the hearing aids. Secondly, they have to SPEAK and SPEAK with the child. Third, the parents have to play the picture game with their ward. In the picture game, they have to label each and every object of the house – flower pot, tap, fan, cot – and point out the objects and repeat the names. By the time, the child is four or five, he has to know his surroundings.”
It does sound very daunting. Do the parents need any counselling?
Yes. We have a parent-infant programme wherein we brief the parents about the problems they could face while rearing hearing impaired children. We stress on the fact that the children are normal and have to be treated as such. We also insist that the parents attend speech therapy classes along with the children. The children have to learn how to speak,” says Ogale firmly.
Vinny Fernandes, Headmistress, New Dawn Ashadeep School, Vasco, adds, “The parents of children with hearing disabilities need to be more patient and be in constant touch with the teachers.”
In some cases, the teachers who have children with special needs in their class, also need to be counselled.
Often when a teacher turn to write on the blackboard with his back towards the students, the deaf pupils, who can't lip read then, immediately begin to talk in the sign language. We then explain to the teacher to stand in a slanting position. We also encourage them to make use of audio-visual mediums as deaf students can benefit from it,” explains Ogale.
The teachers, who are a part of the Deaf Unit, or teach students with other disabilites, are specially trained for the job. Every five years they have to attend the refreshers course - Continued Rehabilitation Education (CRE) programmes.

Bright Side
Both Ogale and Fernandes say that the hearing impaired children are on par with the normal children. They might be weak in languages, but often excel at non-verbal subjects like sports and painting.
One such youngster is Deepti Shah Kelkar, an ex-student of Shubhangi Ogale, who is a budding artiste.
Deepti, who has 95% hearing loss, was a victim of improper medical attention when she was 9 months old. At the age of 2, her elder sisters discovered that she was not responding to their calls, and was then taken to the doctor.
However, Deepti doesn't believe that she is missing out on life or on opportunities. She happily talks to us about her school days, Alka tai (Alka Hudlikar, her speech therapist) and painting. When we don't understand, her elder sister, Shilpa Kelkar, explains things.
Deepti's talent for painting was discovered by Anuya Naik, her teacher at Deaf Unit in Modern School. She was the one who compelled her to appear for the intermediate examination in drawing.
Narrating one funny incident in school, Deepti says, “When the teacher turned her back towards the class, I used to get busy drawing. All my classmates used to thrust their incomplete drawing assignments at me. I used to finish those for my friends.”
Deepti and her sister, are all praise for Alka tai.
Deepti started going to Alka tai for speech therapy at the age of three and continued till she was 18. Alka tai didn't let Deepti use her hands to communicate. She was very harsh and we often cried for Deepti. But, tai was firm that if Deepti had to survive amongst the normal people, she had to learn to speak. Now seeing Deepti so confident and independent, we realise that tai was right then.”
After completing her SSC with 58%, Deepti did the Chitralekha Niketan's Foundation Course in drawing and painting, followed by a four year course in Abhinav Kala Vidyalay.
Deepti met her husband, Jaisal Shah, at the Deaf Club. Now, she has got her own studios, takes up independent assignments. Deepti also won a Spic Macay scholarship. She had submitted her work at the behest of Alka tai, who takes interest in her students, long after they stop coming to her for therapy.
Shobha Tendulkar, Headmistress, Lok Vishwas Prathisthan Virani Isani High School, Ponda, believes, “With education and proper training, the hearing impaired students can lead a fairly normal life. Seven such students from Lok Vishwas Prathisthan answered the Goa board SSC exams this year and passed. One of my students was working in a jewellery trade. I got inputs from her boss who said that she was extremely good at her job.”


Integrated teaching necessary
Shubhangi Ogale is a firm advocate of integrated teaching. “If hearing impaired children study with normal students and see them chattering away and whispering, they would long to be a part of the group. That is an incentive enough for them to learn to speak...”
She also says that the integrated teaching has to be implemented from smaller classes.

Deaf Units in Pune Schools
  1. Modern School
  2. Kanya Shala
  3. Bhave Boys School
  4. Apte Prashala

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Interview with Leela Broome

First-time author Leela Gour Broome's Flute in the Forest is everything that Leela stands for. We at Young Buzz, are fortunate to have had a brief introduction with Leela the musician, the dancer, a farmer and nature and wild life enthusiast and also a writer-contributor-artist.
All these facets are present in Leela's first book, Flute in the Forest.

Is Atiya Sardare, the 14-year-old girl, based on her?
No....no...Atiya is not based on me or anyone else. I have just picked bits and traits from adults and children I have met and interacted with during the Nature Trails programme. Atiya was always there at the back of my mind....the other characters were written to shape Atiya's personality.
The book is set in a forest reserve in South India, where Atiya's father Ram Deva Sardare is a Range forest officer. Thirteen-year-old Atiya is like any other girl or student of her age, except that she has polio and walks with a limp. She finds school boring and monotonous. Since she has no friend, and her father is always busy, Atiya decides to make the forest her friend.

Did you find it easy writing about the forest and wild life?
The forest and tea estate and the country life is what I have led for so many years that I didn't have to take any special efforts. I could always draw upon the experiences of camp life and 'interacting' with tuskers on the other side of the window when we were living at a tea estate. The cave incident in the book is real. Of course, when the incident occurred there were no children with us.
The second incident, which is again based on a real-life experience, is that of the German photographer Kronhaage.
Just before I joined my husband to live on the tea estate, a wildlife photographer was flung to his death by a tusker. The photographer had got too close to the animal and disturbed him.
In the book, Kronhage is killed by Rangappa, a elephant notorious for its temper.
Music being an integral part of Leela's a life – she is a trained pianist – has also been integrated in Atiya's character. However, as an antithesis, the girl's father doesn't want Atiya to learn or play any music. He fears that his daughter would leave him in search of adulation like his wife did. The musical side of Atiya comes from her mother Sarojini, who is a trained Bharatnatyam dancer and played the sitar. However, she leaves Atiya and her father after she realises that her daughter wouldn't be able to become a dancer because of the polio.

The book begins with a lonely Atiya, living with a single parent and a limp. But it ends on a positive note. Was it deliberate?
Yes. I would like to tell the children that there would be highs and lows and that nothing is insurmountable. There will be ways to overcome the lows, so just look around. So, all my stories will always end on a positive note. There is so much negativity around us. I didn't want my book to add to the negativity. The story is written, in such a way, that Atiya discovers fellow kindred spirit, she learns to reach out to people and finds out what she wants in life. There is a transition in the story which justifies the positive end. You have to work at an unbearable situation to make it positive. There will be no magic wand to set things right.”

Did you seek a feedback from children/teenagers?
The book is meant for 12+ children. My granddaughter, Aranya, is 11. Close enough to the age group. She did read the book, but couldn't get past the sad bits. She got very emotional. And, hence to seek an objective opinion, I gave the book to my Nature Trails camper, Mridula Vijairaghvan. She was studying in Std X then and she absolutely loved the book.

While you were writing, did you think that a book on forests as one of its theme would be accepted and appreciated?
Oh yes! I was very sure that the book would be accepted. I was a first-time author and yet I was sure that the book on nature and wild-life would be liked. Only when the manuscript came with rejected notes, did I realise that there was something wrong. I had written the manuscript and just sent it off to the publishers. After the rejection notes, I realised that it needed more editing.

Were you asked to write on 'magic' and 'wizards' considering these books are popular amongst kids?
No, I wasn't asked to write on magic by the publishers. And, even if I was asked, I wouldn't have agreed, because I am not comfortable with the genre. I think Indian kids should be reading something written for them. There should be more Indian writers on the issues with which our children are familiar.

Are you exploring a different genre in your new novels?
I am working on two books now. One will have history as its backdrop and will be based in Pune. The second one is on children from different communities.

Your comments on the writing process.
I am a very disciplined writer. I finished writing the book in three months. But, as I said, earlier, I sent off the manuscript to the publishers without editing it. With this experience behind me, I can say that writing is an easy process, the most difficult part is getting it published. Unless and until you are 100 per cent sure that it has been carefully looked at twice, thrice and several times, don't send the manuscript to the publishers.

Did you visualise the book in terms of illustrations since you also sketch and paint?
Yes, I did. I offered to the publisher to illustrate. In fact I had already sketched the jungle lodge and the owls. But, the publisher said the book was very evocative, hence it wouldn't need too many illustrations. We just decided upon illustrations for the chapter break and the cover, which is extremely nice.

Does the book have any message for children?
There are subtle hints. But I am not going to say it loud and clear in this interview. The children are often spoon-fed, and I am of the opinion that they should be learning few things on their own. If you look at it from the message point of view, the book has lot to say. But, it's not in bold or screaming for attention. If the children read the book and remember the few things said there, I will say my work is accomplished.