Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bhimbetka Rock Shelters

A Sunday morning spent in bed, is hardly as refreshing as a trek up a hill. That too, not a hill of less importance in history, than one which would lead me to the Rock Shelters here close to Bhopal, called Bhimbetka Rock Shelters.

As we, a few of us from the office and their friends and family arrived at the entry point we realized the Gateman was more asleep than us. The gate would open at 8 am but we were in a hurry to trek up. Leaving the vehicle behind we began our trek up to the rock shelters.

Seeing is believing I have heard. Yes, it truly is! Take a look!

Surrounded by the northern fringe of the Vindhyan ranges, Bhimbetka lies 46 km south of Bhopal. In this rocky terrain of dense forest and craggy cliffs, over 600 rock shelters belonging to the Neolithic age were recently discovered. Here, in vivid, panoramic detail, paintings in over 500 caves depict the life of the prehistoric cave-dwellers, making the Bhimbetka group an archaeological treasure, an invaluable chronicle in the history of man.

Executed mainly in red and white with the occasional use of green and yellow, with themes taken from the everyday event in their daily lives, be it scenes of hunting, dancing, music, horse and elephant riders, animals fighting, honey collection, decoration of bodies, disguises, masking and household scenes. Animals such as bisons, tigers, lions, wild boar, elephants, antelopes, dogs, lizards – you see them all if you have the patience to look carefully and patiently at the rocks.

These drawings they say are from different periods – ranging from Upper Paleolithic, to Mesolithic, to Chaleolithic, Early Historic, to Medieval. Bhimbetka is a UNESCO world heritage site.

It is noteworthy to mention that as we entered, there was hue and cry among the real inhabitants of the place, hoots and war-calls, warnings from lizards, birds and monkeys that there are possible invaders around. However, at the end of our visit, they hoarded around us at the Entrance/Exit gate staring at us.

Perhaps from over generation, they have been the original inhibitors of these beautiful stone shelters. We stared at them as they looked us up and down, got bored and even lay down. A fascinating round of primates not too far away from how we look ourselves.

They say, child is the father of man. So is the primate.

Getting There:

By Air: Bhopal (28 km from Bhojpur, and 40 km from Bhimbetka) is the nearest airport. It is connected with Mumbai, Delhi, Indore and Gwalior.

By Rail: Bhopal, on the Delhi-Madras and Delhi-Mumbai mainline is the most convenient rail-head.

By Bus: Both Bhojpur and Bhimbetka are connected by bus with Bhopal.Bhopal is also the most convenient base for visiting Sanchi.

By Car: Bhimbetka is well connected by road with Bhopal. Bhopal is connected to Mumbai (781 km); Ahmedabad (571 km); Delhi (728 km); Gwalior (422 km); Indore (187 km)Drive straight out from Bhopal

To view more pictures of Bhimbetka Rock Shelters

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Lesson or Two This Summer

can you as a citizen do anything if a school teacher does not turn up to teach at your local government school? If a doctor in a government hospital does not attend to patients? If a ration-shopkeeper is siphoning off ration supplies? If a policeman does not respond despite repeated complaints? If the engineer colludes with the contractor and makes a road which wears off within a few days? If a sweeper does not turn up for work and your area remains dirty and unhygienic?” – Arvind Kajrewal, Only Affirmative Collective Action can save India (

I am only going to pick on this - “can you as a citizen do anything if a school teacher does not turn up to teach at your local government school?

In the last 15 days, I have heard about shocking stories of how, in fact teachers in Primary Schools do not turn up at the schools, even that there are some who have become sadhus and come to just sign the register and leave after that. They collect salaries for NO WORK DONE.

This is what I gathered in Madhya Pradesh. I am not sure that it is happening in all states in India. But a few years ago, I happened upon the The Pratichi Report on Education at Primary Level in Bengal. The Pratichi Foundation is the Trust set up by Prof Amartya Sen. I present here a report from Kumar Rana , Senior Research Associate, Pratichi Trust -

West Bengal’s problems with education begin with its outright neglect of primary education. In spite of several declarations on universalizing primary education, the funds allocated to primary education have been consistently low. …..

A single example would make the point. In 2002 there was an average of one teacher for 54 primary school children in West Bengal, placing it as the third worst state in an all-India pupil-to-teacher ratio ranking. ……..

Organisational problems

If bad policies are harmful, weakness in implementation is sometimes worse. The shortage of teachers is well known; what is less known is the miserable organisational failure in allocating available teachers. Marginal areas are marred by unjust distribution of teachers. In a semi-urban area of South 24 Parganas district, that has comparatively better accessibility and connectivity, the local primary school had six teachers, including four females, to look after around 100 children. On the other hand, a primary school in a geographically remote village had only one teacher for 232 children. Single-teacher schools formed about 6% of the total in West Medinipur district (same as the state average). But Belpahari, a marginal block in the district, had 23% (21 out of 91) single-teacher schools when we visited the area in November 2005.” (

Just last week, I visited Ujjain for different reasons. An NGO called Eklavya which works with schools that are interested in improving their educational standards, ( has been actively involved in not only trying to improve the educational standards in Primary schools in Madhya Pradesh, but has been for over twenty years trying to involve children in activities which are extra-curricular activity.

I went to attend one of these functions at Ujjain. I was presently surprised to see how actively the children participated in all these activities, over ten days, even though it was so terribly hot during the day. The activities began at around 8am and closed up at 11am. The Principal of Model School where it took place every day shared -

"There are no library facilities in most schools. Most teachers are not interested in any other activity other than finishing the syllabus. If you ask them for value-addition in their education, they feel they are overloaded and so are the children. Thus, both the system and the teaching staff are geared to make robots. Hence, any activity that is of the nature that Eklavya is involved in, is highly appreciated because it is sowing seeds in the minds of the children, which will sprout at sometime."

I was happy to be there and also engage myself in discussion around water-harvesting.

"Ma'am", they said, one by one, during rains you can collect the water and have it pass through the pipe back to the earth. You can save water by using less water. Instead of keeping the water tap open when cleaning the teeth in the norning, use a mug of water. Water which you use to clean the floor, can be used to water the garden"

Okay! I thought to myself! And really these children were from all strata of society, and from all religious backgrounds. It was not possible to make out the difference at all.

"can you as a citizen do anything if a school teacher does not turn up to teach at your local government school? - Yes, you can! You can develop your own programme and execute and keep the learning process on and active for children. You can encourage parent participation in activities and learning that go with and beyond the school curriculum.