The most exciting part of being involved in a magazine like Eyra is that we get to meet very different and very exciting people in our journey. We bring you the ones that touch us the most, and who have a very doable yet very inspiring story to tell us. Because at the end of the day, our job is to make all of us realize that we have it in us to achieve our dreams and do what we want in life.
One such person, whose story makes me want to forego sleep and start planning my dreams, is Nidhi Arora. Nidhi is a parent, a social entrepreneur, and a partner at a niche consulting firm, all rolled into one.
Nidhi runs an initiative called Esha (www.braillecards.org) which generates employment for the visually challenged. They do Braille-enabled visiting cards and a theatre workshop which is run by a VI professional for the sighted participants. The workshops are run at schools, colleges and offices. They also conduct general public sensitisation to the needs of disability – annual cycling events, Blind Walks, Open Braille sessions, Braille gift tags etc. Most importantly, they have a Central library of audiobooks in Indian languages (CLABIL). The library is available at www.braillecards.org/audio.php. It is a very simple and powerful way to make knowledge and literary resources available to everyone. The library is free and can be used by anyone who needs it.
Nidhi is also a fellow editor who started The Children’s Post (TCP), a newspaper for children, with clean, targeted and informative news sans the gory crimes and political drama that dominate the media these days. It is a newspaper designed for children, with the involvement of children and their parents. The newspaper is a very easy A4 size print-at-home model, collated and edited by parents in turn, keeping in mind the suitability for children and appropriateness of content.
Jyoti: Hi Nidhi, please tell us what made you take up such varied and challenging projects.
Nidhi: In 2012, I spoke about Knowledge Democracy at the REX CONCLiVE. The idea is that we have two types of people in the world – the Knowledge Haves and Have-nots. The Knowledge Haves, people like you and me, have access to knowledge on our fingertips. That is deeply empowering, and something we take for granted. But the Knowledge Have-nots do not have the same access, and it impacts every aspect of their life – employment, health, wealth management, access to opportunities, education, everything.
Google and Wikipedia have widened that chasm and made the resulting gap larger. We talk about concentration of wealth. But there is also concentration of knowledge – the top 30% of this country has access to knowledge resources that the bottom 70% does not – and that is contributing in a big way to their inability to climb the economic, social, and political ladder. Concentration of wealth affects only the financial aspect of our lives. But this inaccessibility of fair knowledge – it impacts our entire life, and how we will live it.
I want to, within my lifetime, create a knowledge democracy, where everyone has equal access to knowledge resources – in a language and format that works for them. Both – the children’s daily newspaper and the online library – are initiatives towards that larger goal.
Jyoti: Clearly, people prefer viewing to reading these days. From my own research, I see that videos get more views than articles on social media. How do you get your children to read in this environment?
Nidhi: For my son, I explain to him how the screen impacts the brain’s ability to focus.
We have a reading hour at home, in which all of us sit and read. Children are poor learners, but excellent imitators. So if the parents read, the children will read too. We do not consume news on TV at home. Both I and my husband read the newspaper – we buy four newspapers in two Indian languages.
Initially, for the first six months, I just ensured that when he wakes up, he always finds the paper in its designated place. So when he gets up and comes out, the paper is pinned to the fridge. Every single morning. And as you know, predictability builds trust. Once he knew the paper was waiting for him, he started responding to it on his own.
And of course, most days, we discuss the news in the paper. That helps a lot.
Now, almost two years into our own paper, reading the paper first thing in the morning comes naturally to him.
Jyoti: It is a great idea to have a children’s newspaper, without the drama of violent crimes. I love the idea of teaching the kids about elections and relying on their manifesto rather than the propaganda. How are you ensuring that it reaches a very wide audience?
Nidhi: That is where our challenge is. We know that this paper can create responsible citizens and aware adults. But we do not know how to take it to a larger audience. Currently, it is through word of mouth. Almost everyone who has read the paper has taken it to their own circle – parents to parents, even children to children.
We are devising ways to reach a larger audience.
One day, my son came home and said that he was in the park with a younger child. The father of the child brought him a copy of The Children’s Post, and the child, who was barely 7, dropped what he was doing, and just sat and read the paper. Listening to stories like this makes our day and reinforces our belief in our dream.
Jyoti: In India, you hardly ever get to see parents conversing with their children. Usually they talk at them and not to them. What’s your take on addressing this?
Nidhi: Oh, yes. You have touched upon my pet peeve here. So, we do two things:
- When we run polls or feedback, we are very clear about the instruction – ‘ask the child and answer.’ We do not want the opinion of parents. We want to listen to the children. Sometimes, even the children are surprised that their opinion is wanted, and even more importantly, valued.
- For all editors and contributors, our guideline is clear – ‘you are not allowed to talk down to the children.’ If we find an article that does that, we politely decline and do not carry the contribution. Children are equal participants in a conversation, and at TCP, they really are at the centre of everything we do.
Let me share an interesting anecdote. I ask my son very often, ‘Are we good parents? Do we love you enough?’ One day, he asked me, ‘Mom, why do you keep asking me this?’ And I said, ‘Because it’s an important question, and people don’t ask it. They read parenting books, they go to parenting groups and they ask on FB. But they don’t ask their own child, ‘How do you feel? Do you want me to do something differently?’ So when I ask you, think well and answer – you are designing your life right here. If something is not good, and you don’t tell me about it, I will continue to do it. And if you don’t appreciate something that you really like, I won’t even know that you like it so much. Communicating about the relationship is the most important part of any relationship.’
After this, he is now much more forthcoming and he shares a lot more on how he feels about everything in general.
Jyoti: These days, we have a lot of drama and media trials online. Of course, it is more in the area of politics and crimes. But what is your mantra for keeping that flavour out of your newspaper?
Nidhi: Very simple, and Rabindranath Tagore laid it out for us – A child’s brain is a match to be ignited, not a box to be filled. We give them the facts, and only the facts. We make sure that those facts are not one-sided, and we do not give any inference, opinion, or judgment.
All this goes into the DNA of the paper and is very inbuilt into all of us now. Fortunately, we are a part of a super dedicated, super strong team that really supports every member in a way that I have never seen before.
I truly wish that once in their lifetime, everyone should get an opportunity to be a part of a team like the TCP Editorial Team.
Jyoti: Every woman is required to multitask between work and family. You yourself are filling into four or more roles at one time. How do you do it and what would you advise our readers about prioritising?
Nidhi: You nailed it in the question itself – prioritising. A lot of people – both men and women, come to me with this – because they see me do all this and wonder how. And I give them just one line of advice – ‘You can’t keep juggling forever. You are going to drop balls. You are going to pause and rest. Decide which ball you are going to drop, and when you are going to pause.’ Mindfulness makes everything easy.
No one else can help you prioritise. Only you can do it.
Once that prioritisation is done, stick to it ruthlessly. One has to decline a lot of things, stay away from a lot of events et al, because they don’t fit into the list of balls that we have decided to juggle.
It does not take a lot. Just one small step a day, in the right direction. And it is perfectly fine to miss a day or two. But if we listen to the compass inside our hearts, it always brings us back to the direction of our lives. One small step a day is really all it needs.