Remembering the influences on him during his formative years in a village in the Himalayas, his education that took him across continents, his drive to return to India and work with the poor and the marginalized, the genesis of PRADAN and his over three-decade journey, this acceptance speech brings alive the quiet determination and clarity and humaneness of the speaker, who co-founded PRADAN
I am grateful to the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for the opportunity to be here to speak with you. Ramon Magsaysay was a humanist first of all and it is an honour to be here in his land during his anniversary week.
I am not much of a public speaker and as an essentially intuitive person, am most comfortable in interactive dialogue. What I say here is, therefore, to bring you on board with me, with my journey as a professional and my work so that we can have a dialogue, in which I hope you will participate. I will quickly share with you my early years before I share with you my experience of PRADAN, the organisation I have had some role in fashioning.
150 years. With that background, it may sound ironic, perhaps even untrue, that I had not heard the term, much less encountered an NGO until I went to review one at the age of 31 in 1977. It is doubly ironic that this single encounter should have changed my life and given it a purpose I never imagined existed. But that is how it is. Of course, as a child, I knew of the independence movement of Gandhi and other stalwarts of our freedom struggle. There were freedom fighters among relatives, one of who would tell us stories of how they would walk night and day to participate in a rally—often dozing away and subconsciously keeping track of the ditches on the road. My father himself was a fee-paying member of the Congress during the freedom struggle; he had the portrait of Gandhi engraved along with those of gods and goddesses on a wooden beam over the entrance to our house in the village. The buzz and glow of Independence was still around when I was growing up as a child in a tiny village, up in the Himalayas. Yet, I had not a clue about what all this meant for my own life or career. Did I have a role in ‘development’ or in ‘nation building’, a phrase I learnt much later, I did not know. I have seen dire poverty from close quarters as a child. Though my own family never had to worry about food, clothing or shelter, and all seven of us siblings were sent to school and got college education, those who came to work in our fields were very poor and some lived sad lives. I remember a couple who had 11 children, not one of whom survived even a year. Yet, I never imagined then that I would spend a good part of my life nurturing an organization that would work to improve the lives of such people. The buzz and glow of Independence was still around when I was growing up as a child in a tiny village, up in the Himalayas. Yet, I had not a clue about what all this meant for my own life or career. Did I have a role in ‘development’ or in ‘nation building’.
The buzz and glow of Independence was still around when I was growing up as a child in a tiny village, up in the Himalayas. Yet, I had not a clue about what all this meant for my own life or career. Did I have a role in ‘development’ or in ‘nation building’
I had my first encounter with what I later learnt to be ‘development’ when I was about eight. The government had recently begun the Community Development Programme. A development office called the Community Development Block had been created for a cluster of around 100 villages; in all there were about 5,000 such offices across the country. Headed by a block development officer, it had a team of technical specialists and village-level workers. One such village-level worker came to our village to teach us the technique of growing paddy nurseries on raised dry beds. While helping him lay out the nursery, I remember being amused to see an ‘officer’ in neatly pressed clothes and shining shoes working with a shovel. While nothing much came of the nursery, my father would periodically talk of this or that ‘scheme’ through which he would get new seeds, saplings of fruit trees, money for paving the walkway and building a bathing place in the village, etc. So, this to me was ‘development’ and was done by some government office, just as schools were run and roads built. And I never thought of working in such an office.
Students good at math were expected to study engineering in those days. Things, sadly, have not changed much! So, I did, upon securing admission in an engineering college through a competitive examination. In a way, it was a prize earned for having done well in school rather than a choice made consciously. All I knew of engineers then was that they went around in jeeps, inspecting road construction, were regarded in high esteem and seemed to have much authority. As I learnt more about what engineers did and became more conscious of my proclivities, I decided against choosing the normal occupations for engineers in government and factories. I had to get a job to support my siblings in college, I, therefore, chose to teach engineering in my alma mater. Although I knew I would need a doctorate to get anywhere as a teacher, that would have to wait till my siblings finished college.
Deep Joshi is the founder of PRADAN. He delivered this speech at the Magsaysay Awards Presentation Ceremony on 31 August 2009, at the Cultural Center of The Philippines