Celebrating the Third Sector: World NGO Day

Ponder this…

Helpage India runs 152 Mobile Health Units which travel to 1920 community locations spread over 22 states, and has provided 3 million treatments to vulnerable seniors at their doorsteps.

The Association for the Mentally Challenged, Bangalore was founded in 1960, and since then has been supporting children, adolescents and adults with intellectual disabilities, with the aim to educate, train and rehabilitate them.

Association for Democratic Reform works to improve voter knowledge by disseminating information on candidates contesting local and national elections through all media across the country.

Akshaya Patra Foundation strives to eliminate classroom hunger by implementing the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in the government schools and government-aided schools. Today it is serving meals to 1.8 million children across India.

Pratham focuses on high-quality, low-cost and replicable interventions to address gaps in the education system. Working  directly with children and youth as well as through large-scale collaborations with government systems, Pratham programs touch millions of lives every year.

Give India, itself an NGO, is the largest and the most trusted giving platform in India. It enables individuals and organizations to raise and donate funds conveniently to any cause they care about.

Goonj aims to build an equitable relationship of strength, sustenance and dignity between the cities and villages using the under-utilized urban material as a tool to trigger development with dignity, across the country.

Centre for Environment Education has been working across the country for the last 40 years, to increase awareness about the environment and sustainable development, working with schools, higher educational institutions, policy makers and reaching out to youth and the general community.

The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), a pan-India wildlife research organization, has been promoting the cause of nature conservation since 1883. Its mission is Conservation of nature, primarily biological diversity through action based on research, education and public awareness.

Sulabh International Social Service Organisation developed a two-pit pour-flush using ecological compost toilet technology. Sulabh flush is based on a simple design that is eco-friendly and uses just around 1.5 litres of water to flush. Over 1.5 million such toilets have been constructed across 492 districts of India.

All the organizations mentioned above belong to what is called the ‘third sector’. It is common to refer to three sectors of society, viz Government, Business, and the Non-Profit sectors. The academic Maciariello. J (2005) explains it thus: ‘First, there are public sector organizations through which the work of government is carried out. Then there are private organizations, organizations established to meet the economic needs and wants of society. And finally there are social sector organizations to care for those welfare needs of citizens that are not met fully either by public or private sector organizations.’

World NGO Day

The relationships among these three are complex and dynamic. They may be complementary, supplementary or antagonistic.  For instance, government looks to business to produce goods and services that people want, provide jobs and underpin the economic growth of the country. At the same time, it regulates how business functions. Similarly, governments and businesses look to NGOs to provide last-mile services to communities. At the same time, governments regulate NGOs; both the others sectors fund them; and both government and business are sometimes sceptical about them. There are also NGOs and activist organizations which bring to light the misdoings or shortcomings of governments and businesses, and speak up for the interests of society, especially those who do not have a voice—the under privileged, the environment, etc., and hence are on the opposite side to the other two. But what we need to understand and accept is that each of these has its own responsibilities and tasks in a well-functioning society.

As per the definition in India, NGOs are Non-Governmental Organizations working towards various causes or charitable purposes, i.e., activities which are carried out for relief of the poor, education, yoga, medical relief, preservation of environment (including watersheds, forests and wildlife) and preservation of monuments or places or objects of artistic or historic interest, and the advancement of any other object of general public utility’. (Section 2(15) of the Income Tax Act, 1961). These organizations aim to do good for society, and not generate profits. Hence, NGOs are legally not allowed to distribute the income from their working to their members. According to some reports, there are over 30 lakh NGOs in India. However, it is difficult to be quite sure of the number of working, functional NGOs.

In terms of legal structure, NGOs can be registered as Societies under Societies Registration Act (1860); Trusts under Indian Trusts Act (1882); or Non-profit company (Section 8 Company) under Companies Act (2013). There is no difference in status among these forms (though there is a lot of difference in terms of disclosure, transparency and governance requirements, with Section 25 companies required the most stringent compliances), and it depends on the context of the organization as to how it chooses to constitute itself.

NGOs differ greatly in the scope of their work, the nature of their work, size, objectives, mission, thrust areas etc. Some may have only a few staff members, while others may have employees running into hundreds. Some may work in a single village, town or community, while others may work across geographies, even internationally. Some may work on a single theme like girl child education, while others may work on holistic rural development or variety of issues from health to environment to sanitation. Some may be involved in grassroots work and delivery of services, while others may be involved in capacity building, or advocacy, innovating and creating new models of delivery of public goods and services, or policy work or funding.

Often, NGOs are accused of financial mis-governance, programme mismanagement, or not making an impact. But there are as many bad apples in every basket! Who has not encountered a bribe-seeking babu or a governmental system which needs to be oiled? How many times a month do we wake up to headlines about the shenanigans of bad corporates which cost the nation in the hundreds of crores? There is no particular reason to point fingers at the Third Sector, who for the most part work with a great deal of commitment and passion, in difficult circumstances and with less rewards.

The need is for society to understand the important role that NGOs play, the value they add, the key role they play in social development and building a just and more equitable world, and not stereotype them—either as impractical do-gooders or a self-serving bunch.

That’s a resolve for World NGO Day, marked on the 27th of February every year!


Nothing to Sniff At

One of the numerous lingering impacts side effects of the not too-long abated COVID pandemic was the loss of the sense of smell for many people. For those who escaped this side effect it was difficult to imagine how people who could not smell anything may be feeling. For those who were affected, it must have been a really unnerving sensation.

The sense of smell, or olfaction, is the special sense through which smells are perceived. While impairments of the sense of sight or hearing are more apparent in the person with the disability and more evident to others, an olfactory dysfunction affects the person very personally, and less is less noticeable to others.

One of the side effects of losing one’s sense of smell is the losing also the sense of taste or gustation. These two senses are closely interconnected. In fact our sense of smell is responsible for about 80% of what we taste.

Both are chemical senses. The perception of a smell occurs when substances in the air pass through the nose and stimulate the olfactory (smell) nerve. The experience of taste, or gustation, occurs when the taste buds in the mouth respond to substances dissolved in saliva. Without our sense of smell, our sense of taste is limited to only five distinct sensations: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and the newly discovered ‘umami’ or savoury sensation. But what we call ‘taste’ is actually ‘flavour’–a combination of smell, taste, spiciness, temperature and texture. Much of the flavour of food comes from smell. Thus both the senses–taste and smell–contribute to the experience of flavour. When we are unable to smell we lose much of our ability to experience flavour. Most of us have experienced that when we have a cold and our nose is blocked most foods taste bland. But not many of us have consciously registered that when we are hungry our sense of smell becomes stronger! Think of how all the aromas emanating from a kitchen or bakery start making our mouth water!!

So how exactly does humans’ sense of smell work? This is where the nose and the brain work together. Inside the nostrils are tiny cells, called olfactory neurons, that have long cable-like connections that send electrical messages to a spot at the front of the brain, known as the olfactory bulb. Each olfactory neuron connects with a different neuron in the olfactory bulb, which then sends this information to other areas of the brain. When odours or distinctive smells enter the nose, they travel to the top of the nasal cavity to the olfactory cleft where the nerves for smell are located. The combination of activated neurons generates all the unique smells that we as humans can detect.

The way the brain deals with smells is very different to how it deals with other senses, such as seeing and hearing. For example, we can identify the different instruments playing in a band, or the different shapes and colours in a painting. But it is very hard for us to tell the individual parts of a smell mixture

The brain does more than help us smell, it triggers memories associated with the smell. This is how sometimes a particular fragrance immediately conjures up memories of a person who one associates with that fragrance, or a food smell brings back memories of childhood kitchens and food lovingly cooked and served in the family. Some smells may also trigger sad or unpleasant memories that one thought had been pushed away in the farthest recesses. As Helen Keller said: Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived. 

The sense of smell is not just about enjoying the flavours of food or relishing memories evoked by fragrances and odours. This sense is important for our well being. Smell helps us to distinguish good from bad odours. Often we smell stored food to know whether it has “gone bad”. Food that smells over fermented or not as it should is a warning that it may be harmful if ingested. The smell of a “dead rat” (literally) or rotting matter alerts us to the state of hygiene in a particular location. The smell from a gas leak or “something burning” is an early warning system of potential danger.

While we take these smelling tests as a normal part of our daily life, the inability to use smell as an early detection aid can be dangerous for those who lack the sense of smell.

In fact this lack is a medical condition called ‘anosmia’. The term refers to the inability to perceive odour or a lack of functioning sense of smell. Anosmia can be caused by a wide range of factors. The most common reasons are due to upper respiratory or sinus/nasal infections or viral diseases. The condition may be temporary or permanent depending on its cause.

While anosmia is the complete loss of sense of smell, other types of smell dysfunction include: hyposmia, which is the partial loss of the sense of smell; parosmia, which is when the perception of smells becomes distorted, so pleasant smells start to seem unpleasant, or an odour appears to change intensity; and phantosmia, which is when a person believes that they can smell something, but it is not actually there.

Compared with other disabilities, anosmia is a condition that is relatively undiscussed. This leaves a lot of people who are affected by it feeling isolated and lost. This was exactly what Daniel Schein an American, who suffered from congenital anosmia felt. Growing up with anosmia, I never knew anyone else with the disorder and it was just something I accepted and lived with. But I soon learned that there were many people all over the world in the same situation and different groups doing important research. I started Anosmia Awareness as a way to bring together everyone interested in anosmia, encourage research and spread awareness.

Daniel Schein’s awareness campaign was formalized through the launch of an Anosmia Awareness Day in 2012. Now an annual event, the day is marked on 27 February every year. Daniel also runs the website anosmiaawareness.org which is a valuable resource for those who are keen to know more about the condition.

The day was not well-publicized initially. However the movement got a boost when a UK-based charity called Fifth Sense joined in supporting the cause. Today this group is dedicated to support and advice people with smell and taste-related disorders, and to making this day an international reminder of the gift that we often take for granted.  


Wrap it up!

On Saturday, our 4 year-old neighbour celebrated his birthday. I was my foster grandchild’s ‘plus one’.

It was a lovely affair—games, fun, frolic and yummy kiddy-eats.

And of course gifts of various sizes and shapes. What united them all was that they were beautifully wrapped in metres of gift paper—shiny, animal printed, cartoon printed, etc. etc.

And the birthday boy, as would any 4-year old, quickly ripped open the packages eager to see what was inside. And the sad pile of paper at his side grew and grew and grew.

Which got me wondering about the waste the practice of gift-wrapping produces.

I fully appreciate how beautiful wrapping adds to the allure and attraction of the gift. How a well-wrapped gift is elegance itself. In fact, countries like Italy and Japan have taken this to the level of a fine art, so that one would rather look at the gift and not open it at all!


….the waste!

Wikipedia informs us that ‘In Britain, it is estimated that 226,800 miles of wrapping paper is thrown away annually at Christmas. In Canada, 6 million rolls of tape are used and discarded yearly for gift wrapping at Christmas.’ There are no statistics that I could easily find for other countries, but of course, with the US being the largest consumer of wrapping paper, the waste there must be in multiples of these figures.

The global market for wrapping paper is estimated at about $ 17.3 billion and growing at a compounded rate of 7.4%. It makes up 2-3% of the world’s paper and paper board market. India and other countries with growing middle classes are expected to be high-growth markets for this product. It is estimated that total sales of gift paper in India will reach about $ 443 billion in 10 years.

I am not sure how much paper all this translates into, but surely sounds like a lot. And most of it is thrown out with the garbage the morning after.

We are assured by many industry sites that gift wrapping paper is sustainable, being made of recycled paper. But making recycled paper in beautiful colours and printing complex designs on them, embossing them, adding gold and silver touches—all of these take energy and release pollutants. And then they go straight into the dustbin. And let’s not forget the increasing trend of shiny, metallic and plastic wrapping paper which are surely not environmentally benign either in the production or disposal. Not to talk about the tape, ribbons, decorative flowers and bows that we put on the gifts.

As we worry about our climate goals and Sustainable Development Goals, this, to my mind, must find a place in our worrying. It’s not as big and visible as fashion and clothing to catch international attention and set off movements towards sector-sustainability. But it surely warrants some thought.

Environmentally conscious people do use alternatives, from unwrapping gifts carefully so as to reuse the paper, to getting creative and making beautiful wraps with newspapers or waste papers, to using bottles and jars for some items, to popping them into a reusable gift bags without wrapping them, to deploying reusable decorative boxes. The Japanese tradition of furoshiki stands out in this—it is the art of using reusable fabric to create beautiful gift wrapping.

But I think society itself has to change its attitude. If it continues to place more value on style than substance, the trend of increasingly fancy wrapping will continue upwards, as disposable incomes increase and societal norms of what is expected grow more and more elaborate.

It is quite the thing these days to say ‘No gifts please’ on invites. But that’s not always possible. No child wants a gift-less birthday party!* Maybe we could make a start by saying ‘No gift-wrapping please’?


* My friend Alka did try this once. She specified that kids should not bring gifts for her son’s birthday. Only to get a call from an anxious 10-year old, enquiring if no-gifts also meant no return-gifts! She assured him it did not, and the attendance at the party was 100%.

A True Gift of Love: Books

The last few weeks have seen a deluge of marketing gimmicks to remind people of the day which is meant to be a demonstration of love–Valentine’s Day. This love, as glossy advertisements remind us, is to be demonstrated by gifting loved ones with “appropriate” tokens such as red roses, chocolates, candlelight dinners, and jewelry.  Thousands of rupees are spent in this market-driven frenzy on products and experiences that soon fade, wilt, or melt away.

Lost in the glimmer and glitz of Valentine’s Day, was another day that is also marked on 14 February every year. This is International Book Giving Day.

This is a global, totally volunteer initiative that seeks to increase children’s access to, and enthusiasm for books. The goal of the day is to get books into the hands of as many children as possible. The day is said to be the brainchild of Amy Broadmoore, a K-5 school librarian in the United States. In 2010 Amy, then a mother of three young children started a blog called Delightful Children’s Books. As a lover of books herself she was passionate about raising her children to be curious, creative and to love books. She wanted to share this passion with others. Amy was also aware that there was a serious lack of access to books for children. Even in countries like the USA and UK large numbers of children did not have any books. In 2012 she collaborated with fellow blogger Zoe Toft to create an event that celebrated the gifting of books to children, especially to those who did not have access to books. The event held on 14 February made waves on social media. Emma Perry a UK children’s author reached out to Amy and offered to help. In 2013 Amy handed over the reins of the project to Emma. A decade later, the passion, fuelled by volunteers, has spread and the day is now celebrated in almost 45 countries across the globe.

International Book Giving Day is not just about giving books, but a symbol of the ongoing crusade to use books to foster a child’s appetite and enthusiasm for great storytelling and literary adventures.

Coincidentally, I was recently part of a stimulating discussion which posed an important question towards the same end. How to nurture children’s responses to literature? The panelists, themselves authors and educators, shared both experiences as well examples of how books can provide comfort, companionship, and entertainment. They discussed the critical role that books can play to stimulate imagination and foster creativity; create and answer questions, and expand the worlds of children.

The magic of books is beautifully evoked by American author Anne Lamott in a letter to children:

If you love to read, or learn to love reading, you will have an amazing life. Period. Life will always have hardships, pressure, and incredibly annoying people, but books will make it all worthwhile. In books, you will find your North Star, and you will find you, which is why you are here.

Books are paper ships, to all the worlds, to ancient Egypt, outer space, eternity, into the childhood of your favorite musician, and — the most precious stunning journey of all — into your own heart, your own family, your own history and future and body.

Out of these flat almost two-dimensional boxes of paper will spring mountains, lions, concerts, galaxies, heroes. You will meet people who have been all but destroyed, who have risen up and will bring you with them. Books and stories are medicine, plaster casts for broken lives and hearts, slings for weakened spirits. And in reading, you will laugh harder than you ever imagined laughing, and this will be magic, heaven, and salvation. I promise.

Which raises the primary question, of how to bring children and literature together, before they can respond to the magic.

The first step towards this would be to facilitate children’s access to books. Classrooms and libraries are perhaps the more formal spaces for such access, while homes are the cradle where exposure to books could sow the seeds of a life-long engagement with words and visuals. 

However, passive or organized access to books alone may not be enough. To nurture this initiation requires also facilitating contexts where children could express their ‘response’ to books. Which also raises the question of what do we mean by ‘response’?

Each child responds in a different and very personal way to the same book. Some children respond to the sound of words, some respond to the characters in the story, some respond to the situations, some respond to the pictures. Perhaps the last thing that children respond (or not respond to) is the “message”. But is that even really important? What the book has done for each child is unique to that child. What is common is that the child has had the opportunity to look at, touch, feel, (even smell and taste!) a book. Whichever way a child may respond, it is important that a child have the time and space to absorb and interpret the experience in its way.

While the panellists in the discussion agreed strongly about the potential of engaging with printed books, there was also the concern about the huge challenge to this posed by the overwhelming attraction, (almost addiction) to digital media. In an age of information at ones fingertips, fleeting bytes, and constant rush, these words by a Lithuanian children’s writer help us to pause and ponder, once more, the power of books.

No less frequently do we hear that we live in the age of information overload, haste and rush. But if you take a book into your hands, you immediately feel a change. It seems that books have this wonderful quality – they help us slow down. As soon as you open a book and delve into its tranquil depths, you no longer fear that things will whizz by at a maddening speed while you see nothing. All of a sudden, you come to believe you don’t have to dash off like a bat out of hell to do some urgent work of little importance. In books, things happen quietly and in a precisely arranged order. Maybe because their pages are numbered, maybe because the pages rustle gently and soothingly as you leaf through them. In books, events of the past calmly meet events that are yet to come. Books help us not to rush, books teach us to notice things, and books invite us or even make us sit down for a while.

I am sure that books are never bored when they are in your hands. Someone who enjoys reading – be it a child or adult – is much more interesting than someone who doesn’t care for books, who is always racing against the clock, who never has time to sit down, who fails to notice much of what surrounds them.

If only we could make this message heard more widely. Perhaps at an individual level each one of us can play a small role by gifting books to children in the hope that some seeds may find fertile soil to sprout and grow.


Tea and Biscuits

One has always associated the typical English cuppa with a snack of biscuits. A recent news item reported that the new trend in England, especially among the younger generation, is the popularity of samosas as the preferred snack with tea. This is indeed a total reversal of the traditional colonial notion of appropriate accompaniments to tea.

The English connection between biscuits and tea saw two different aspects during the two World Wars. Huntley & Palmers, the first officially designated biscuit manufacturers in England set up a factory in Reading in 1846. By 1874 it was producing tens of thousands of tonnes of biscuits, becoming the world’s largest biscuit manufacturer. When World War I started in 1914 it received a substantial order from the War Office to manufacture biscuits for the British army. The company manufactured Army Biscuits Number 4 and 9. The ‘Service’ biscuits as they were called, were about four inches square, and were made of whole wheat flour, without sugar. The biscuits provided sustenance, but were very hard and could only be eaten when soaked in tea or water. The fact that some of the biscuits survived intact for a hundred years attests to their durability!

Biscuits and tea found a different connection during World War II in England. By then sweet tea was favoured by the British working class. During the war, tea as well as sugar were severely rationed; there were complaints that tea was not sweet enough. So biscuit manufacturers stepped in by supplying the canteens for civilian war volunteers and other services with biscuits which would add a touch of sweetness with the tea. By the end of the war, it became a reflex for many to have biscuits with their tea. This English tea habit also took roots in what were then colonies of the British Empire.

In India, for many of a certain generation, the words ‘Britannia biscuits’ were almost synonymous. The history of these is interesting. Britannia Industries is one of India’s oldest existing companies. It was founded as a small operation in 1892 by a British businessman, with an investment of Rs 295/-.The first biscuits were manufactured in a small house in what was then central Calcutta. In 1897, the outfit was acquired by four Indian brothers, the Gupta brothers, and was called VS Brothers. In 1918 Charles Holmes, an English building contractor and friend of the Gupta family became a partner in the business. Holmes had a construction firm called Britannia Construction Co. and thus VS Brothers the biscuit manufacturer was renamed by him as Britannia Biscuit Company Ltd.

World War 1 (1914-1919) provided a huge boost for the newly-named company Britannia which was contracted by British colonial government in India to supply specially made biscuits for its soldiers on the frontlines. Thus Britannia joined Huntley & Palmer as suppliers of Service biscuits.

Britannia became the first biscuit maker in India to mechanize production, and the first one east of the Suez Canal to use gas ovens, which it imported in 1921.

In the early 1920s the two most successful biscuit manufacturers in the UK Peek Freens and Huntley & Palmers merged to create a company called Associated Biscuit Manufacturer’s Ltd. This led to world-wide expansion. Britannia merged with this larger company in 1924, and set up a factory in Bombay to meet with the growing demand. The company began establishing a reputation for quality and value. It further strengthened its position by expanding the factories at Calcutta and Mumbai.

During the Second World War, once again the company was contracted to produce Service biscuits, and from 1939-45 almost 95% of its total production capacity was used for this war-time effort. 

In 1952 the Calcutta Factory was shifted to spacious grounds at Taratola Road in the suburbs of Calcutta. During the same year automatic plants were installed there, and later in Mumbai in 1954. The same year the company began production of high-quality sliced and wrapped bread in India. This was first manufactured in a new factory set up in Delhi and first sold there. In 1955 the company launched the all-time favourite Bourbon biscuit in India, followed by Britannia cakes in 1963. In 1978, the Indian shareholding in the company crossed 60%. The Company was re-christened from Britannia Biscuit Company Limited to Britannia Industries Limited with effect from 3rd October 1979. By 1994 the annual production crossed one lakh tonne of biscuits. In 1995 Britannia made it a mission to make every third Indian a Britannia consumer and changed its corporate identity to “Eat Healthy, Think Better”. Since then the company has grown from strength to strength, introducing new brands that rapidly became household names. The company sells its Britannia and Tiger brands of biscuits, breads and dairy products throughout India and in more than 60 countries across the world.

While Britannia is one of the oldest biscuit manufacturing companies in India, today there are several companies that offer choices of sweet or salty biscuits. From Parle G, the world’s largest selling biscuit brand in 2021, to the cream or chocolate-filled cookies, to a host of “healthy, low-carb hi-fibre” options. These are not necessarily ‘tea biscuits’. They are multi-place, multi-use snacks, easy to carry, quick to unwrap and fun to savour even on their own. Even while crunching and munching on biscuits, Indians also continue to enjoy the traditional teatime snacks and savouries of which every state and even every household have their own specialties and favourites—from ganthiya in Gujarat, to murukku in south India, to regional varieties of vadas and pakoras. And of course, the transnational favourite samosa. 

Now it looks like we have come full circle—from Indians adopting English biscuits with chai, to the English adopting samosa with tea!


A House for Mr. Narayan

Generations of Indians have grown up on RK Narayan’s writings. If you have not read his novels, maybe you have seen ‘Guide’, starring Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman? Or the charming TV series ‘Malgudi Days’? Well, suggest you visit or re-visit all of the above!

RK Narayan was one of the first Indian authors to gain international recognition. His first novel, Swami and Friends, which he wrote in 1930 did not find a publisher for many years. But sometime in 1933, his friends in Oxford to whom he had sent the manuscript, showed it to the famous author Graham Greene. The senior author liked it so much that he recommended it to his publishers and the book saw the light of day in 1935. It got good reviews across the world. RKN followed this up with The English Teacher and The Dark Room, which also won appreciation. From then, it was a steady stream of novels, short stories and articles.

Narayan created the fictional town of Malgudi as the setting for his novels. So authentic was it to his readers that many even today believe it is a real place.

But why the sudden piece on RK Narayan, one might ask.

Well, it has been triggered by a visit to his house in Mysuru. Just last week, when I was there, I was lucky to get to visit this house. RKN spent many years in Mysore (as it was spelt then)—some of his growing up years, as well as his adult life when he accepted a commission in the State of Mysore.

It was in the second stint that he built a house which I visited. Set in the quiet area of Yadavagiri, it is a beautiful house typical of the 1950s, full of light and air, with red oxide floors and a beautiful balcony.

It was indeed gratifying to see the house so well preserved. Especially after we heard the story of how it was almost demolished. The author passed away in 2001. All of his family had left Mysuru by then. The house was falling to rack and ruin, when a builder wanted to pick it up and re-develop it. It was at this time that Mysuru woke up to this legacy. Led by a journalist, the people of the city protested. Finally in 2011, the city corporation bought the house and restored it.  

And we must be thankful for this! For not only is the house in good shape, it seems to have been restored fairly faithfully. There is also an exhibition of several artifacts, including his awards, personal items etc., many photographs, as well panels of text for those who have the patience to read them.


And it is a very big BUT!

When one thinks of the potential that the house has for the students, literature lovers and citizens of Mysuru, not to mention the thousands of tourists the city attracts, it is a tragedy to leave it to routine care-taking and not very imaginative management.

As we reflected on our visit, we could come up with more than 10 ideas in less than 5 minutes:

  • Have a lively permanent exhibition, along with special temporary exhibitions to explore specific themes: maybe selected books; his relationship and collaboration with his brother, the famous RK Laxman, who illustrated so many of his books; maybe the process of turning his books into movies or TV (he is said to have hated the movie Guide), RK Narayan compared to comtempory Indian writers, etc., etc.
  • Sell RKN’s books (no, unbelievably, they don’t!)
  • Make it the hub for meetings of book-clubs
  • Make it a venue for book-launches
  • Host lit fests
  • Have literary events for children
  • Have screenings and discussions of movie and TV shows based on his books
  • Have an author-in-residence programme
  • Develop an archive related to his life and work
  • Create and sell souvenirs based on Malgudi
  • Start a café in the lovely little garden space around the house, and serve his favourite dishes
  • Make it a wifi café, so young people hang out
  • And charge a small fee for entrance (the Corporation has kept entry free..generous but it would be more sustainable to charge something).

Ideas are of course easy. Execution is difficult. But do this for RK Narayan’s house we must. He is a very important part of Indian writing in English.

While India does not have a great tradition of making author’s houses into educational and enjoyable experiences, there are more than enough international experiences to learn from: Shakespeare’s birthplace; Mark Twain’s house; Emily Dickenson’s House; Jane Austen’s House; Milton’s House are among the many which are successfully keeping the legacy of these authors alive.

Maybe RK Narayan House can set the example for homes of other Indian authors?