Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rahat Indori's ghazals, Suma Josson and Priyajit Laha - Audio files

Today, 45 more files were added to the audio library. This comes really close on the heels of our major update.

This addition has a lot of poetry - Rahat Indori, Suma Josson, Priyajit Laha, and we have added a new language - Maithili. Its from a youtube rendition of poetry.

We hope you enjoy it.. we certainly did. Thanks to the yourvoicetheirworld project, I have started recording poetry again :)

With this, we reach 17 languages and 2185 files.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


It was not a regular day for me on February 28th, 2014. I was told a week before that I’d be attending this discussion forum called Rex Conclive and I was quite intrigued to know what I’d expect from that forum. Morning 8 am, I along with my team mates reached our NGO head’s home and from there we were to go Jesus and Mary College, Chanakya Puri, New Delhi, where that forum was being held. There are certain things that happen on a big day. You may not have the best start to this all important day and that’s pretty much what happened with us. Unfortunately we  were up against heavy Friday morning traffic and we thought we might miss the slot. However the almighty was on our side and we finally managed to reach the Conclave on time.

Since this was my first time to this conclave, I wanted to understand what I could expect from this visit. I was told by my NGO Head Mrs.Nidhi Arora, that it’s like the TEDx of our country. A platform where people can share ideas to make this world better. I was quite impressed to see the thought process behind such forums. How people go  beyond their way to think for the society that we live in and how we can contribute to make India and the world a better place to live.

We reached the place around 10:30 AM and I was quite overwhelmed to see people from various walks of life sharing their ideas. Each and every session was followed by a Q and A from the audience. It was very professionally conducted and it was moderated by Jeroninio Almeida  who was moderating the same for the last few years. My NGO head was also one of the speakers of the event and I was quite excited to hear about what she was going to speak on. Knowing how eloquent she is, I was quite confident that she’d do remarkably well and so she did. She co-presented the session with her long time mentee Raju who inspired the audience with his genuine speech.

Nidhi spoke about how important it is for somebody to identify what interests them and what are they passionate about. One needs to understand how interest and passion are two different games played with the same ball! One can be interested in a lot of things and interest doesn’t necessarily allow one to remain focused in a particular activity. One needs something more than interest and that is called Passion. Passion is something that brings longevity to a course of action and leverages the sustainability factor. For example, Sachin Tendulkar had passion to play for India and play Cricket. This enabled him to play for over 23 years. He’s a classic example of how passion can actually create longevity. Great inspirational leaders have always had passion in them to make them successful in what they did. Steve Jobs was passionate about Technology, Nelson Mandela was passionate about creating Equality amongst his citizens and there are a lot of other leaders who had passion that made them successful. It was quite inspirational to listen to what Nidhi and Raju had to say and I am quite sure people who were there in the forum thoroughly enjoyed their time.

Overall the event was a learning experience for me. It moved me to find out how so many different people in the country are passionate about creating a better world for us to live in. Some of the ideas that were shared were thought provoking to say the least and it really gave us a wakeup call and sparked a thought amongst us SOIL students to do better for the society.

Major Update to the Online Library

Over the last 2-3 days, we have worked on a major update to the online audio library at www.braillecards.org/audio.php

We have gone from 1951 to 2141 files in one go. Usually, I write about the files that have been added in a release, but in this case, there are too many files to even talk about the highlights...

So, for the first time, we are going to just list out the total no. of files we have in each language. As we speak, the no. of files are:

Bengali - 103
Bhojpuri - 1
English - 586
Gujarati - 19
Hindi - 1129
Hindi- English - 3
Kannada - 10
Kashmiri - 7
Malayalam - 11
Marathi - 39
Oriya - 15
Punjabi - 100
Sanskrit - 9
Sindhi - 10
Tamil - 17
Telugu - 13
Urdu - 69

Wow! That's skewed! And the languages of the North East are not even represented!

Ye soorat badalni chahiye.. we must change this.. go on, its the summer break.. please encourage your children to record if they can.. they will learn the language and we will add to the library.. please help!


Monday, March 31, 2014

Autista by Mad Rat Games.. Good Going!

It was one of those regular book store outings with my son. There, sandwiched among really big brands, was a small box. It read "Aksharit". I took it out, more out of curiosity than anything else. It was Scrabble in Hindi!

That's how I first got to know about Mad Rat Games. I came home and researched this organisation - who makes Scrabble in Hindi! How Brilliant! I loved that story.. and the game went on to become the return gift at the said child's birthday party.

Cut to now, a few years later.. this email in the inbox made me smile, then grin.. how many folks think of Autism? How many of them go out and actually make an app to help??

Here is the message, as sent by the Mad Rat Games team. We at Esha think its brilliant, so here goes:

Do you know that there are around 70 million children worldwide suffering from Autism (10 million children in India alone!)? It is a lifelong disorder that affects how a person can communicate and interact with other people.
Privy to this problem, we at MadRat Games have been working on a solution and are now proud to announce the launch of Autista, a free-to-download iPad app to help kids with Autism and other learning disabilities improve their verbal and fine motor skills. The App is the outcome of an year long collaboration with Cornell University (Prof Mathew Belmonte) and Communication DEALL (Dr Pratibha Karanth) center for children with Autism.
The app has been developed scientifically by working closely with Autistic kids and the response we have seen during this process has been very heartening. More about the launch can be read on our blog and we require your support for this app to reach children with Autism and other learning disabilities who need this.
Download the app here for free and spread the word to parents, therapists and children who can benefit from it.
And on another high note, we're also proud to announce that MadRat Games wo
n the Games of the Year- Special Mention award at the NASSCOM Game Developers Conference. MadRat won the award for Autista in this conference that was organized to propel the evolution of the gaming sector and to evangelize the game developer's community in the country.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Saksham Stall at the World Book Fair

The Sunday was spent at the World Book Fair.

Pleasant Surprise no. 1: A Punjabi Mushayara in Seminar Hall no. 1, Hall no. 14. Some lovely poetry was heard.

Pleasant Surprise no. 2: The Saksham stall at the same hall. I was asked to register, then given my name card in Braille. Then, we were blindfolded and taken inside another space to play 4 games. The volunteers are happy people who try their best to help you do better. To our credit, we scored all 40 points!

There, I also met a kind gentleman from Saksham, who took the time to talk, get their cards braille enabled, showed us a new kind of plastic brailler (which, by the way, had the same issues as the metal brailler) and also gave us the sad news that a brailler now costs 35000 rupees! We discussed CLABIL with enthusiasm and I also got a demo of the awesome Daisy Reader.

We exchanged information and decided to work on areas of synergy. I look forward to that one!

Sanat Sir from Saksham who spent some time talking. I then requested him to please pose with this powerful poster.

There, we got a perfect score.. with some help from the lovely volunteers who remain unseen

That's the stall for you - in a corner, but definitely not quiet.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Namchi Blind School , Sikkim

Its a gruelling 3 hour drive from Gangtok. At the end of which, you arrive at a small, beautiful building in a lovely place. It is early January, it is cold, and there is no one about.

The experience at Namchi Blind School cannot be described in words. Perhaps that's why this blog post is so belated. Of all the experiences that I have shared at Esha, few have been as deep as this one.

The school has never heard of audio. They were delighted when we told them that we could send them audio content. "What is it like?" asked the principal sir. On the spot, I downloaded some content from the library on the smartphone and played it to them. Their faces went from lack of recognition to beaming smiles.. "This is really good!"

We spoke about other things.. the lack of resources (but that's for another post), how much the school administration is trying. They didn't need to tell me about the lack of resources. It was obvious.

And then I met Tenzing sir. He is an SP at the Namchi Blind School, but every weekend, he is at the school. When the school's only hall was damaged in a fire, he didn't ask his orderlies to paint for him. He saw that the school had no funds, took a paint bucket and paint brush and just got started. On that cold winter day, he was out, trying to repair the plumbing of the school. A pipe had burst and he wanted to use that opportunity to create 2 taps instead of one, because the children don't wash up properly with only one tap and so many of them. Yes, people like that exist.

The principal, the few students who were there.. everyone..

When I asked them what we could record in audio for them, everyone told us unianimously that they wanted only English. "Your files the English is understandable. we want this only."

Some days ago, the Devnar Foundation in Hyderabad also asked for no Telugu, only English.

And I wont write more about the personal trip that was Namchi.

Photographs from our Facebook are available here.

Devnar Foundation for the Blind, Hyderabad, and the Namchi Blind School, Sikkim

Between the end of December 2013 and January 2014, we forged 2 important partnerships.

It was a pleasure to visit and partner with the Devnar Foundation for the Blind. Here, I ran a Theater workshop training for students. We started the day with about 15 students, and at the end, only 4 students were selected for further training on the workshop. Before the end of February, we will be ready to deliver 9Tanki workshops in Hyderabad. Do spread the word. 9Tanki workshops are a hit wherever they are conducted. The uniqueness of the Hyderabad model is that for the first time, we will have 2 facilitators doing 9Tanki.

Presenting some pictures from that visit. They are on our Facebook account.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Year in Review - 2013

Its that time of the year again.. when we look wistfully at the year gone by and hopefully at the year coming up..

This is also Esha’s annual roundup for you – in familiar bullet points J

This was a very good year for Esha. We entered into some lovely partnerships:

·         SOIL – School of Inspired Leadership. 4 students from SOIL are doing an year long internship with Esha, where they contribute one day a week to working with us. It has been a lovely experience with Rosemary, Sabrish, Sahil and Vipul. SOIL students recorded for CLABIL for the third year in a row during the Joy of Giving week. The relationship with everyone at SOIL has been too wonderful and enriching to be put into words.
·         The Sri Ram School, Aravali also was a year long partner. Class 7 students of TSRS Aravali went to a blind school as part of the school’s partnership with Esha. I always say that the blind don’t get greeting cards. But this year, students of Class 7 surprised us by making one card for every student that they were going to meet at the blind school. I was, simply, overwhelmed. Am taking the liberty of attaching a picture of the cards they made, along with their teachers.

Every single student of Class 7 also recorded for CLABIL. J Every visit to the blind school was an enriching experience for both sides – the guests always prepared something for their hosts – a song, a card, a skit.. the works. The enthusiasm of these children truly made one grateful for the work that happens through us. 180 students are today more sensitive to the needs of visual challenge, thanks to the initiative of their school.

·         The Kahaani Project was our third important partnership of the year. Now, we will share each other’s content and use it for common good. Thank you, Ajay for contributing over 50 files to CLABIL.

·         In May this year, we ran a 3 day training program on Open Source based personal computing for the visually challenged. The potential was immense. This training was run at 3 blind schools in the Delhi NCR region as a pilot. Unfortunately, that training will have to be part of our lessons learnt, till we are able to redesign the model and launch the program again. But one good thing came out of that training – we got an Open Source evangelist who is now working to familiarise his peers with the free software that makes personal computing so easy. Thanks to Archana, he also has a personal laptop of his own, and he uses it to good effect.

·         Braille cards continue to be popular and well liked. The Delhi center, which was operational for the most part, had to be closed (again!) because of the migration of the person doing that work here in Delhi. It is my fervent hope that these adults, who learn the Braille enabling of visiting cards, are in some way, doing things in their own villages too.

·         The theatre workshops had a very good run in the first half of the year and slowed down in the second half. Am now planning to have public workshops and am working towards getting the space for that.. if that happens, we will be able to offer workshops to a lot more people.. you can wish us luck on that one, and yes, if someone you know is looking for a fun activity for their team in the NCR region, do think of the 9Tanki theatre workshop. It will be a lot of fun!

·         This year, we ran an exhaustive market test study on the Tactile mazes and on the basis of the results, we have had to take the tough decision of discontinuing tactile mazes as an Esha product. But they will always remain special. You can see this much loved, but unsustainable product here: https://www.facebook.com/eshabraille/media_set?set=a.165678970149679.58488.100001227328495&type=1

·         CLABIL continued to grow – organically. With volunteers and partners and loving friends. We close the year with 1960 files  - just short of 2000. But there is a lot more work to be done.

I noticed that the update is really long, and we have only tried to sum up the most important points.. J There is no end to how far we can go, when we travel with friends.. so i will end the year with the emotion one feels most at this time – Gratitude. For every single Friend of Esha. For everyone who has been with us as we complete 9 years and enter our 10th year in January 2014, and for everyone who joined the caravan along the way.

For every prayer that was sent up for us, and for every hand that helped.

But most of all, for the God that chose an instrument, and kept believing in it.

Wishing you and your loved ones a very happy 2014!

The Social Project at SOIL

On 22nd of October, we started a small social experiment at SOIL - School of Inspired Leadership.

The project was simple. A set of books on a table, with a collection box next to them. You pick up a book, pay what you think is fair for that book, and take it. No one mans the counter - night or day. The piggy bank is not locked, its in the college canteen. its a small earthern gullak, the kind that cannot be locked, can only be broken.
All proceeds were to be donated to Esha, but I really wasn't thinking of the money in this project.
How was this project to be sustained? When people want to donate books, they leave them there. That simple. Two other volunteers have already donated books.

Why did I do this?

1.       Because, inherently, I love books. And I want them to reach more people while we do fundraising.

2.       Because this is a world that shares very little and wastes much. I want us to share. To reuse. And to waste less. Especially, books.

3.       Because I want to believe in the inherent goodness of people. Because I do believe that an experiment like this needs no policing. Sure you can pick up a book and pay nothing. But will you ? Sure, you can run away with the collection box. But will you? I wanted to find out.

Sometime in mid December, we  broke open that gullak - and were pleasantly surprised. More than the money, it restored one's faith in the inherent goodness around one..

A few days later, Rosemary shared the video. Am sharing it with you. The opening of that gullak was such a celebration!

Meanwhile, the project continues in the SOIL canteen at Gurgaon. If you are ever there, do look up our book stall and see if you like a book, or if you want to donate some..