work with DePauw university

I worked with DePauw University from Indiana, USA. Mr. Rajai Bimbo who is Assistant Director of Civic, Global and Professional Opportunities department at DePauw contacted me to assist him and his students during their one week trip to Varanasi. He basically contacted me because of my work with LGBT community in India. He was also interested in NGOs of Varanasi. BHU was already there host university but they were not happy with the way BHU professors and someone named Mr. Ramuji were not replying them on time. There was a time came when they asked what could I offer to their students for one week.

It clearly meant that once they thought about giving me the whole program but of course BHU and Ramuji are big names so I could not get the whole business. Mr. Bimbo told me once that he had contacted BHU professors and Ramuji asking them to collaborate with me so that we could work together but they did not want me to get involved in the program hence they said that I was good but not good enough to work with them. Finally Mr. Bimbo told me that I could not work together with them but he still wanted me to spend some time with their students to talk about LGBT rights in India and activism going on in Varanasi.

I was given a few hours to organize something for them and I thought a visit to Lok Samiti, interview with Mr. Nandlal Master, a visit to an real Indian village and Coca-Cola affected site would be great visit for the students so I took them to Mehdiganj. I organized a meeting with Mr. Nandlal Master where students asked questions about work of Lok Samiti and its struggle against Coca-Cola. After the interview I gave a tour of the village and then took the students to a site where a canal was being dug under MNREGA scheme. Students talked with the farmers and people working at the site which was really interesting to them. I have always given priority to work with students and it is my dream project to organize such university programs in my city but unfortunately BHU professors and Mr. Ramuji did want me get involved with DePauw.

The things that I was offering to DePauw was a lot better than what was offered by BHU and Mr. Ramuji but only because of politics and monopoly in the industry I could not get this business and students could not get most out of their money and time. Mr. Bimbo’s asking to BHU and Mr. Ramuji to collaborate with me was clear indication of they liking my work and offer. Anyways, I was happy to work with them and have done my best. Students and Mr. Bimbo both seemed happy with me which was the biggest achievement for me.


Hotel Haifa in Varanasi

Hotel Haifa is located near Assi ghat in Varanasi. They are recommended on several on online travel forum and have really good reputation in the market hence they are usually full. I also used to recommend their hotel but did not know about their strange business policy that they do not allow tourist guides inside their hotel. Actually I an American university ‘s student group was staying at Hotel Haifa and they wanted to meet me. They invited to their hotel and we were talking in the restaurant inside the hotel. Suddenly the owner of the hotel Mr. Ravi Mishra showed up to introduce himself to the group.

After talking with them he asked me how come I was there. I told him that the group had invited me because they wanted to talk with me and he seemed upset hearing this. He told me- Listen, I want to make this clear to you that I do not allow guides and outsiders to enter in my hotel. I was shocked to hear this. He said that he doesn’t allow tourist guides to enter in the hotel and talk with the clients. He asked me not to enter in his hotel again. After talking with me he told the same thing to the group. They were all looking at me with surprised face. They told me sorry for whatever happened.

I was really shocked and felt guilty for whatever happened with me. It was the first time when somebody insulted me. We stopped our meeting and left the hotel. I talked about it with a few people who had already stayed at the Hotel Haifa and one of them told me – The restaurant staff was eager to please, but I felt slightly intimidated by the demeanor of management. They do promote their own tour guides, money changing and travel agent services so that explains what they are doing to you. As an American traveling alone, I liked having one person I could count on and had developed a rapport with leading up to the trip. They want to be the guests’ primary resource or they have touts they want to network with.

I don’t know what to say about this but it is really strange if they do not allow locals or tourist guides to meet with their clients. I think they don’t want their clients to meet with locals so that their clients always hear them and finally they can be cheated easily. I had heard about British prohibiting Dogs and Indians at several places but it all happened in early 1900 and now I see the same thing happening in the 21st century even we are already independent and have our own government. Do you really think that you want to support such hotel by staying there? I am not going to work with anyone whoever stays there.

child sponsorship in varanasi

It has been more than 7 months since we started ChanceIndia education program and I am so happy that we have almost 40 supporters and we are sending 43 poor kids to the school. When Atilla and I planned to start the program we were hoping to find hardly ten-fifteen sponsors thus we had chosen only 20 kids but Attila got great response in Hungry. He gave his interviews to radio stations, TV channels and news paper in Hungry and did several presentations about the program and got almost 30 supporters. I was not hoping for that many sponsors because we did not have anything to show but fortunately we got great response.

Twenty three come from the village area where we are working with Lok Samiti and twenty kids are here in Varanasi city.  The program is 0% management cost program hence all the money is being spent on the children only. Attila needed an assistant so we hired one guy and Attila pays his salary from his own pocket and not from the Chance India’s account. Which shows Attila’s dedication for the program. Attila and Dora both work really hard for the program and they are always looking for any opportunity to help the kids who are part of the program.

Dora goes to Mehdiganj three times a week to teach English to the kids who come from the village area. She teaches to the kids here in Varanasi also. She has three classes every week. They have hired a computer teacher also who teaches to the kids in village area. Actually Attila wanted to do it but he noticed that the kids were having problem learning with Attila because of the language barrier. I really liked the idea of publishing all the financial transaction on Chance India’s website so that there is more transparency. There are always someone working as a volunteer which gives more opportunity to the kids practicing their English and I am sure it would help them a lot. I really hope that this program would be a successful program and would help the community a lot.

Coca-Cola Varanasi

I worked with a journalist named Bart Spellers from Holland who was writing an article about the Coke issue in India. He wanted to visit all the disputed Coke sites in India including Mehdiganj, Varanasi and I worked with him in Varanasi as his local assistant and translator. I also look for an opportunity of visiting Mehdiganj and talking with people about their problems created by Coke so I was happy to get this job. I took Bart to Mehdiganj, arranged interviews with Nandlal Master, a few employees, the union leader at the Coke plant, a few women and a few farmers. Bart did not want so many interviews but he wanted to talk with the right kind of people because he did not have much time for Benares.

I was kind of surprised to hear that he did not have much time for his work. He was writing the article on a very controversial subject and I think he should have spent more time in Benares in order to come closer to the fact. Anyways, I think they did good job because they talked with few but the right kind of people. I had an idea but was surprised to talk with the people in Mehndiganj. I was very well aware of the situation but thought it might get better this year but after talking with the people I realized that the situation is still the same as it was four years ago when I went there the first time to work.

All of the people were still angry at Coke and the government. They all said that Coke is responsible for the lack of water in Mehdiganj and the government is doing nothing against Coke. They said that the situation has been getting worse and worse year by year which did not surprise me at all. We had less than average rain last year and I heard that Coke’s market increased within the past year in India which would of course cause more ground water shortage. Nandlal Master said that the committee constituted by the prime minister of India to study the issue has submitted its report to the PMO but has not made it public yet which sounded strange to me.

Why not make the report public since the study has been completed? Nandlal said that he has used a RTI to ask when the report will be given to him and the concerned department replied to him that they have asked the district magistrate to get him the report. It is okay if they are going to provide the report but I still do not understand why they tried to hide it? Why was it not given to the media? After all it is a big issue . So many questions again and the government and Coke both seem suspicious to me. Hopefully someday something will happen, but it is not sure when.

Finally the article is published here:

Hindi classes with Italian cultural center

I have been doing something for the past two months that I had not done before. I am working as a Hindi teacher with the students at Centro Risorse India center. I am giving walking classes which is very interesting and fun but sometimes it is really boring when I meet someone who is really beginner. I was asked to give walking classes by Marco, the chief of Centro Risorse India center, about two months ago but I was not really prepared for it because I had never done it before but Marco told me to just try it once and if I like it, they would give me more work.

I also had two-three free hours so I decided to go for it. I worked with a girl named Caterina first time. I took her out and we started talking in Hindi. But I thought that only general communication in Hindi would be no fun for the students so I thought why not make it interesting by choosing some topic about Benares or anything in India and talk about it and it worked very well. Caterina, a student from University of Venice was my first student and I took her out but I was a little nervous first day. I chose the topic ” History of Nagwa” for my first day of work. Nagwa is the neighborhood where Caterina lives.

We talked about Nagwa for a while and then we talked about a few controversial political and social issues of Nagwa and spent two hours only talking about them and finally the class was over. Now I have worked with many students after Caterina and I like this job but only when students know good enough Hindi to express themselves in Hindi. I like this job because its not only me who talks about India or Benares in front of a foreigner but I also get to learn about foreign countries and culture by talking with foreign students.

Once I got a student who just did not know any Hindi, it was super frustrating. I finally told her to work on Hindi grammar first and then contact me. The students I have worked with have given good feedback about my work and now the university wants to give me some kind of language and teaching training in Venice for a month which sounds exciting but I am not sure if I should go there because they want me to come to Italy in June when I want to go to America. I will see but if there will be any opportunity for me to visit neighboring countries of Italy after the training then I would love to go there.

Josh Massad’s World Through Music

Josh with village kids

Josh with village kids

I am working with a musician named Josh Massad on a project called world through music which is about teaching music and other subjects through music. Josh travels all over the world and teach music to kids. When he works in the US, he teaches African and Indian music to American kids, when he is in Africa, he teaches Indian and American music to African kids and at present when he is in India, he is teaching African, American and Asian music to kids in Varanasi. He had contacted me about a month ago asking if I would like to work with him.

Josh teaching Kanjira

Josh teaching Kanjira

The project seemed interesting to me and I agreed to work with him. He wanted me to organize his performances at schools in Varanasi. I thought it would be good for Josh and his project if he gets to work with different kinds of schools and kids therefore I organized his performances at city schools, village schools, private schools, government schools, play schools and schools run by NGOs so almost 50 performances in 25 days. There are 25 performances at village schools where kids come from really poor families, 10 performances at NGO run training centers for girls, 10 performances at city schools and about 5 at NGO run schools.

Dancing with a kid

Dancing with a kid

I have organized a performance at a school for children of sex workers in Varanasi. Actually children of sex workers can not get admission in any school because they do not have any residential proof and any document talking about their father’s name and there is an NGO in Varanasi which started a school specially for children of sex workers and we will be working there as well. I have organized one performance with kids of my education program. I have organized a performance with day time bondage child laborers. Actually there are a lot of bondage child laborers in Mehdiganj and Lok Samiti runs evening classes for them and we have a performance with those kids also.

Josh teaching map

Josh teaching map

Josh carries a map and a few instruments from different parts of the world. First of all he talks about geography, he teaches about seven continents and countries in it and then show these continents and countries on a map and then he introduces all of his instruments and shows on map where they come from. It was so interesting to see that village kids did not have any knowledge of geography at all. They did not even know in which continent India was there or they could name states of India. I was shocked to see this but I hope Josh’s lessons would help them.

showing an Indonesian instrument

showing an Indonesian instrument

After introducing his instruments, Josh plays these instruments to kids and teach them African songs. He teaches different songs but the one song that he teaches at every school is a welcome song from Africa called Fanga Alafia, Ashe Ashe. Kids love this song. They sing the song together with Josh and enjoy it a lot. Josh teaches them different styles of clapping and sometimes he teaches some basic yoga techniques as well. The project is going well, kids are happy, josh is happy so I am also happy. Few teachers at some schools asked me why Josh is teaching African songs, they don’t think it is going to help kids in any way.

Kids also love to play the instruments

Kids also love to play the instruments

I just don’t expect kids to learn all of those Josh’s instruments and geography in one day but I am sure that Josh’s performances will at least create interest about world geography and music in the kids and if they just look at the map only once at their home, I will feel like the project is accomplished. Josh is planning to make a documentary about his work next year and he wants me to organize things for him. He is planning to start a mobile school in India and again he wants me to organize it. He wants to bring musicians from different places and travel with them and teach music and geography. It sounds really exciting and I am looking forward to it.

San Francisco guests at home

I hosted a couple from San Francisco for three weeks at my guest house. They arrived in Varanasi five weeks ago and stayed at a guest house near Assi ghat for two weeks but were not happy there as the bed in their room did not seem comfortable to them. They came to know about my guest house through Megan, my guest, whom they met in a cafeteria. Megan brought them at my place and they liked it and decided to stay here rest of their time in Varanasi. Both of them were physiologists from in San Francisco.

They wanted to learn Hindi and tabla in Varanasi. I introduced them to Indian classical music school next door and Uncle Sam liked them and decided to learn tabla there. Binit, the Hindi teacher, taught them Hindi. They seemed so interested in social work. Actually they were already working with Bal Ashram before coming to my place. Once I took them to Lok Samiti and showed them the work Lok Samiti is doing. I think they were so impressed by Lok Samiti’s work and asked Nandlal Master, president of Lok Samiti, to help him in his work.

Uncle Sam and Auntie Mar were really nice guests. They stayed only for three weeks at my place but we built such a strong relationship between us and I kind of miss them now. Uncle Sam gave me a net book which would be a great help to me as I can use it during power cuts and can carry it with me when I am travel.

Italian language course

I have joined Italian language course. I have always wanted to learn any foreign language but there was not much opportunity for me in Varanasi as BHU and Sampoornanand Sanskrit Universitiy were the only two places in Varanasi teaching foreign languages and BHU did not allow outers and going to Sampooranand was just like waste of time. I was not so interested in Italian but I enrolled for the classes thinking that if I would wait for BHU or any other place then I would not be able to learn anything for years.

I wanted to learn German and Sampoornanand University offers 6 months diploma courses in six or seven foreign languages and German is also one of them. I had enrolled for German classes about four years ago but did not go there because they were just not running the classes properly and I was so worried about it. The other students at the university told me to not worry about it because they give certificate to each and every student whoever enrolls for the program, even if they do not pass the final exam. So finally I decided to stop going there.

This Italian language course is run by an Italian institution called Centro Risorse India. Centro Risorse India doesn’t only teach Italian to Indians but they also help Italian students in India and I work as translator at Centro Risorse India Varanasi branch. The whole course is of 50 hours, 3 hours on every weekends. The classes take place at a school near Godoulia. They have two teachers. One of them is an Indian girl from Delhi who also works for Centro Resource India, Pune center and other girl is an Italian scholar who speaks good Hindi.

There are 6 students including me. One of them is also a tour guide and works with Japanese tourists. Other one is a Hindi teacher. Our teachers are very good. They are not using that traditional method of teaching where they use only books to teach. They put us in different kinds of games, role plays and make us talk often. I don’t really know how long would it take me to start speaking or writing in Italian but it seems so hard and confusing. The pronunciation and grammar is something completely new to me. I will try my best but lets see how long does it take.

Finally received tour guide license

I, receiving the certificate

I, receiving the certificate

I finally got my tour guide license on the 30th after three years of wait because I had applied for it in the year 2006. I started preparing for the entrance exam after applying for the license in 2006 and continued it for a few months but finally I stopped because the tour guide association of India sued the Indian government for issuing the license. They never want new people to come in the industry as they are afraid of loosing their bread and butter because most the old guides are not good. They got their license when it was so easy to get it. Now the process is tough but it will definitely produce better tour guides who are at least trained to not chew betel while talking with their clients:)

The certificate

The certificate

My brother Chandan, who is an escort, told me something really funny. He said that when he was in Benares last time with his group, he had hired a government approved tour guide who went with them for morning time boat ride. This tour guide started talking about Benares, Hindu religion, Benares culture and Ganga. He said several times that Ganga is not only a river for Hindus, she is considered as mother. After a few minutes when his speech ended, he started chewing betel and later spited it out in the river Ganga in front of his clients. The clients got really upset and they asked him if Hindus spit on their mother and he just did not have any answer. I hope the people who have attended this training program will not do such thing.

Sana and I at convocation hall

Sana and I at convocation hall

The tour guide training program was stopped several times because the tour guide association of India was always suing the government. They sued the government first time right after the application forms were open and then it took few months to settle things, and then government organized entrance exam and then again tour guide association sued the government and the program was stopped again for a few months as the case was going on in Delhi High Court. Finally the government won the case and High Court of Delhi ordered the government to start the training as soon as possible so finally training was started after 3 years in August 2009.

Happy moment

Happy moments

The training was held at IITTM in Gwalior where I got to learn a lot. The total duration of training was 16 weeks- 6 weeks of classroom teaching and 10 weeks for field work. There were over 75 lectures in 6 weeks and I did wrote my research paper on Benares. I focused on cultural diversity of Benares. There was a written exam and an interview at the end of the program and I passed both and finally got the certificate. Now I have to go to Delhi to India tourism office with a police verification certificate and then they will issue me a provisional license which will be valid only for two months. And after two months my red card (the permanent license) will be issued. I hope they will not create any problem in Delhi.

Child sponsorship in Varanasi

I came in contact with a Hungarian guy, Attila, who is a computer engineer in Hungary and volunteers for a Hungarian NGO ( This NGO runs a child sponsorship program in Africa. Attila wanted to volunteer in Varanasi. He wanted to come to India next year with his wife for a year and was interested in the NGOs working with children. He was mostly interested in education programs for children. I took him to different NGOs and he was interested in working with few of them. I was already interested in working on the same kind of program so I just asked Attila if we could start our own program in Varanasi.

Attila liked this idea a lot. He said that he had very good experience of working with kids in Africa and would love to use his experience to establish the same kind of program in Varanasi. We talked about how we can start this program in Varanasi and decided to do some research first. We went to a few schools nearby to get an idea of estimated cost of the education fee for one child. Attila was interested in providing one meal everyday to the children so that they don’t have to waste time preparing their meal at home. We decided to start the program with 30 kids, 10 from the city area and 20 from the village area.

We visited Mehndiganj once because Lok Samiti has an education program and Attila wanted to see it. We visited Lok Samiti’s school and training centers. We talked with the kids and a few of them had terrible stories. Lok Samiti has a evening time classes for the day time child workers. I love this program, it is my favorite amongst all of their programs. Mehndiganj has a lot of child laborers and most of them are bonded laborers. It was really interesting to see the kids work for 12 hours a day but they still come for evening classes. I think there were more than 30 kids at the evening center.

The kids at the evening center were so innocent. They just did not know anything except what they had. They asked Attila if he had any goat at his home in Hungary, what did he grow up at his farms, how did he come to India, how much money does he make. The kids make about Rs. 1000 per month so it was very hard for Attila to answer this question. We visited a few of the training centers of Lok Samiti which is for the girls above 14 years of age. They get sewing, embroidery, dance and basic education training like reading and writing. The idea behind running such program is to make the girls self dependent.

We asked Nandlal Master, the president of Lok Samiti, to choose 20 kids from his education program who are poor but interested in continuing their education and whose parents are also supportive. We did the same thing in the city also. I knew of a few families who are really poor and want to send their kids to the school but they cannot afford it. We met twelve families and chose 10 kids who seemed interested in learning. We met a 12 year old girl who used to go a English medium private school but had to stop because of the financial problems.

I think she is the most impressive girl in our program. Her name is Rashmi and she went to the school up to 6th standard. My niece who also goes to the same school where Rashmi was going, told me about her. My niece told me that her teachers still talk about how smart Rashmi was and how she had to stop her education. We met her and I found her to be a really smart girl. She was the only girl who really knew what she wanted to become and she answered all the questions Attila asked her. Other kids also knew what they wanted to become but this girl was something different. Her mother was also very concerned about Rashmi’s education.

Attila asked her what she wanted to become and she said “engineer”. Attila asked what kind of engineer and Rashmi said “computer engineer”. Attila asked why and Rashmi said she wanted to develop some computer program that could help poor people. Neither Attila nor I were expecting that kind  of answer from a 12 year old girl. All the kids whom we met were super interested in going to the schools but they were having problems. A few of them had already stopped going to school only because their parents could not afford it or there were a few kids who were smart enough to go to a good school but they were going to a government school which is just like passing time.

Finally we have chosen a few schools and we will send our kids to the nearest good school to their residence starting from March 2010. A few of the kids need basic English language training so that they don’t have any problem at English medium schools. We are working on organizing two hours of evening classes for the kids whom we have chosen for the program. Now thirty families have a hope from me because I was the local guy and I am completely dependent on Attila. Attila is back to Hungary now. He has already found few supporters and hopes to find supporters for all the kids.

We have decided to not have any office expenses until we have 50 kids. Attila will be living in Varanasi with his wife for one year and he will be managing the office work for the program. We have decided to not have an office so that all the money goes for the program. I feel so happy to be involved in this program and I am looking forward to work with Attila.