City Buzz

Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Issue 21

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2011 at 9:25 am

Hot cakes
‘Adult’ cakes are all the rage at Bengaluru parties, and event managers are more than ready to meet their customers’ oh-so-naughty demands, finds Asha Menon
This city appreciates a naughty sense of humour. Every ten days Bengaluru asks at least one event manager to think up something kinky.

According to Any Surprise Any Place (ASAP), an event management company, they get orders for adult-theme cakes (also called naughty cakes) from all corners of the city.

The cakes are advertised online, and come in various shapes, ranging from the embarrassing to the amusing. They look like genitals, breasts spilling out of a shirt, bubble baths, lingerie, corsets, and so on. The bigger cakes are shaped like nude men and women, but small, kinky cup cakes can be ordered, too.

Naughty confectionery is a favourite at bachelor parties and hen nights. Tina (24, name changed) wanted to surprise her friend Pooja before her wedding. So a few common friends got together and decided on a bachelorette cake.

“The event managers gave us a list of cakes to choose from. We decided to play it safe and ordered a muscled man, with the photo of Pooja’s fiancé pasted on the face,” Tina recalls.

There was a lot of laughter and jokes, and the crowd was mostly between 24 and 32 years. “Someone said he would have to work hard to live up to the cake,” says Tina. “Pooja loved it.”

The cakes are usually priced between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,000. But the friends didn’t stop with the cake. “When we called to place the order, the event company gave us a few more ideas for the party, like risqué shot glasses and personalised napkins.” With a satin sash and a tiara that said “Bride”, Pooja was made to give an acceptance speech – like she had won a contest.

These days, naughty cakes find their way to birthday parties too, says Rohit from event managers E Factory. “People order it for their friends mostly and once we had a customer ordering it for his brother,” he told City Buzz.

Dhyan SN, a techie with Accenture, ordered one such cake for a friend who for some reason was scared of looking at even pictures of bras. “We wanted him to overcome the phobia, so we decided to gift him a cake shaped like a woman’s breast covered in a colourful bra! It was for his bachelor’s party and it was amazing. The cake was cheap at Rs 500 for a kilo, and trust me, it is still the topic of discussion among our circle of friends.”

Customers are usually between 20 and 40 years, says Ruchi from ASAP. And, here’s a surprise: most often it is the women who are placing these orders for their husbands.  “Couples in the city gift these cakes to each other or their friends for fun or on their anniversaries,” Ruchi explains.

Suraj Gowda, a business analyst, recalls the time his wife decided to surprise him with a naughty cake on their anniversary. “For our first anniversary, my wife who knew a friend who bakes such naughty cakes, had ordered a 2kg cake which looked like a honeymoon bed with lingerie spread out on it! As it was close friends and a few young-at-heart people celebrating our anniversary, we really enjoyed the cake, and it tasted good too!” he says.

Event managers say people across all industries order fun pastries, but the more ardent customers are from the media and advertising industries.

ASAP is a New-Delhi based company, but promises to “deliver happiness at any corner” of the country. In Bengaluru, they work with an army of bakers who are just starting out in their profession or who work from home. They are more than happy to do something innovative. The company sends out the idea to the bakers and they in turn make it happen, says Ruchi.

While there seems to be a bunch of adventurous bakers in this city, they seem to operate from the shadows. Few bakers are willing to talk about adult cakes to the press. They are either wary or afraid of being misrepresented.  But in a city that thinks up delicious fantasies in chocolate, it seems sinful to be shy.

Order a delectable embarrassment at the nearest occasion, we say.

BOX

Bachelorettes just wanna have fun

Bengaluru women know how to party. There are tempting candies, outrageous shot glasses, napkins that are hardly polite, and sometimes, male strippers.

Reva (name changed) and her friends organised a surprise bachelorette party for Neeta a day before her wedding. Though their cake was plain old blueberry, the rest of it was impish. “We had wild shot glasses, which came in handy when the party was at its peak, and then there was a hamper of kinky lingerie. The event manager even thought of a fun quiz.” What is a four-letter, must-have for a wedding? Ring!

The party was strictly for friends and so there were laughs and drinks. In the end the bride did a show for her friends, flaunting her new lingerie. While Reva’s went well, some have had unmanageable embarrassing moments. An event manager got a frantic call from a client asking for help. “She had, by herself, managed to get a male stripper to her party and he turned out to be terrible,” says the manager. “We refused to get involved.”

 

Issue 20

In Editions on March 24, 2011 at 9:54 am


The charity brigade

Pastime, publicity, career advancement, corporate exercise – charity today seems to be about everything except compassion and commitment. A report by Sonali Desai.

As Japan struggles in the aftermath of the worst earthquake recorded in human history, many in Bengaluru are busy talking fashionably about charity.

There’s no escaping it these days. Millionaires, corporates, celebrities, college kids, it would seem that there is no one who is not into charity these days. Everybody wants to ‘give back to the society’ and for reasons that are not strictly charitable. Be it birthday celebrations at orphanages, concerts for a cause or clean-up drives by corporate employees, to be involved in some form of charitable activity has become mandatory, and even fashionable for most well-heeled urbanites. But how many actually put their heart into it?

Forced goodwill

In most IT companies, charity is usually something employees are forced to do in the name of CSR. Or else, it is something imposed on employees who have been ‘benched’ (who temporarily lack work because they are waiting for projects to start etc) so that they are ‘kept occupied.’

“If you are a technical researcher and you have no work to do then you are asked to do charity work,” said Manjunath Chennannavar, who did not want to reveal his company’s name.

Chaitanya Gandhi, who works for the IT company Ebiz, is in favour of such policies, even if it involves compulsion. “In our company it was a compulsion for every associate of the company to teach computers to two people a year,” he said. “People don’t do it unless and until they get something out of it, so I always try to explain that by helping educate people one can improve one’s interpersonal skills.”

Abhijit Mukherjee, director, resource mobilisation at the Association of People with Disability (APD), which regularly gets volunteers from corporates to teach its child inmates, said, “The trend of professionals volunteering for charitable work started when human resource departments in IT companies started encouraging their staff to do social work and develop their skills by involving themselves in such activities. Some of them are compelled to do this work, but gradually get absorbed.”

Career incentive

Many college students volunteer for charity work because it looks good on their resumes, or because colleges require them to do projects or internships with NGOs like APD. “We have internship programmes for students, and they pick up a topic of their interest and work in that area. Most students are not very serious as they are not guided properly since their lecturers lack experience in the field of social work,” said Nagaraj, public relations officer at APD.

Nagaraj also says that the interest can be only created if colleges take an active role in it, and encourage students to give feedback and also follow up on their volunteer work. But when asked about the commitment level of students, Nagaraj admits, “No one gets back after the internship is over.”

Publicity factor

Anita Gracias, volunteer at SAHAI helpline, says that there is increasing awareness among youngsters about social responsibility, leading them to volunteer their time for NGOs after school, college and their work. But she is opposed to the tendency to use such activities to gain publicity for oneself by posting pictures of volunteer work on social networking sites and so on. “After you have done a good deed, don’t publicise it. The focus is not on ‘you’,” she says. “Some also feel that since they are doing social work they should be recognised but that should not be the reason they are here. If they really came to help, the need is still there.”

Others like

Swetha Rao, corporate coordinator at Yuva Bengaluru, say that any kind of publicity is useful for them as organisations. “We conduct a lot of events on Valentine’s Day and other occasions, and the pictures are uploaded on our Facebook page, which helps spread the word. We have got many people joining us after seeing the kind of work we are doing.”

‘Volunteers of convenience’

Kiran G, founder and president of Yuva Bengaluru, says that very few volunteers are committed and most people who are into charity limit themselves to celebrating birthdays at orphanages. “Some youngsters get into charity after they have had break-ups, and it often depends on their mood. Only if you make ‘giving’ a policy in your life can you stay committed in your charity work,” he says. He feels his own team of volunteers is very focused and serious.

Anita Gracias minces no words when she says many volunteers come when they find it ‘convenient’, but very few are committed and genuine. “They don’t have to come because they have nothing to do. We need people who are patient and compassionate,” she said.

This is seconded by Vijai who runs Roots, an NGO that supports orphanages and old age homes. He is of the opinion that initially many volunteers are very enthusiastic but “after attending some three events we have to chase them to get back.”

Arundhati Gupta, founder of Mentor Together, which works towards mentoring the young urban poor, says, “We called for volunteers and received 40 applications but shortlisted only 10 who we found were serious. There is a lack of long term commitment today.”

Abhijit of APD says that though they have permanent staff, volunteers are necessary because they serve as ambassadors who add influence to the NGO. “We need volunteers, but when they are not regular and don’t complete a task, it affects us,” he says.

Shah Nigar, senior manager, resource mobilisation at APD, says, “We observe the volunteers for two to three months and if they continue at least for a year, then it proves that they are genuine and sincere.”

Charity etiquette

Anita says that while some youngsters are really committed and do good work, the problem is with the “rich kids” who visit orphanages dressed in designer brands, who only help to make the orphans conscious of how little they have.

“Everyone celebrates Christmas and no one turns up for the rest of the year. Also, if they are doing it with passion then they would know that they cannot offer spicy or rich food to the kids; as they are not served that type of food daily, some of them even bring chicken to old age homes. So, often there is no thinking behind such charity, often it is not serious,” she says.

She also points out the importance of doing one’s home work before setting out on doing social work so that there is clarity about what one can and should offer NGOs, and how to be of real help to them.

APD’s Shah says that it is good to celebrate birthdays and festivals at NGOs as long as one does it regularly. “We get many college students who come here to celebrate their birthdays but they are not regular,” he says, pointing out that their concern is as important to inmates as the treats.

Lisa, who works as a software developer, admits to eventually losing interest in such celebrations.  “I celebrated my birthdays in an orphanage and an old age home and had initially planned to celebrate all my birthdays there but afterwards I lost interest. I was serious when I celebrated for the first time, but not now.”

‘Foreign volunteers better’

Abhijit of APD feels that western volunteers are much more committed than Indians. “Foreigners are very focused and committed and they do not hesitate to visit slums or remote areas. Also, they are very task oriented when they pick up a task they finish it with full dedication. Whereas, if I ask an Indian to visit slums they would not be very keen on doing such tasks, they want easy tasks instead.”

Susannah Morcowitz has come all the way from London to work with inmates at APD to “attain practical knowledge in understanding people and to work with the disabled in the developing country,” and intend to spend a year here working with and doing research on the disabled. She said she has visited several remote areas as she found it was the only way to understand how people live there and what problems they face.”

Young and giving

If you have been thinking there are no genuine social workers or volunteers around, then there are enough examples of committed volunteers around to prove you wrong. Vijaya, a member of NGO Mission 5, insists that youngsters are serious about charity work. “I don’t think youngsters are doing charity work for publicity. There is growing social concern among the young today; all they need is a platform to serve.”

Tanu Kulkarni, a student of Mount Carmel who joined Yuva Bengaluru in 2008, believes some youngsters take their charity work as seriously as their profession.

Get involved
For those who want to get involved seriously in charitable work, here are some tips on how to go about it:

  • Choose an area or cause that you genuinely feel for – you may not last long if you select one because it is more fashionable or popular
  • Locate an organisation that has an established track record and reputed people to recommend it
  • No task is small enough for your beneficiaries – they need all the help they can get, and not just the ‘glamourus’ ones
  • Ensure that you stick to it for an extended period of time – all too often volunteers give up after the initial excitement fades, leaving beneficiaries to their own devices
  • There are dozens of areas which are unattended by existing organisations – if you identify one, why not start a charity of your own?

Issue 19

In Editions on March 16, 2011 at 2:01 pm


* Exposed, organisers repay some candidates

* Third fake job fair in a year

Nearly 5,000 jobseekers were conned into paying up for an IT job fair that did not place even a single one of them. A report by Sarmistha Acharya

An IT job fair recently held by a ‘consultancy’ firm failed to place even a single candidate from nearly 5,000 jobseekers who had paid an ‘entry fee’ and a ‘test fee’.

Faced with furious candidates who found out they were being taken for a ride, the organisers refunded some of them. City Buzz’s attempts to trace the organisers were of no avail.

Preceded by advertisements and write-ups in leading newspapers and websites, the ‘IT Job Fair’ was held on February 26 and 27. The organisers, who identified themselves as AMA Business Consultancy, left no postal address. No one picked up when we called their phone numbers either. The company’s website (www.amabusiness.com) does not have any address in it, but describes the firm as an ‘information solutions’ company in “IT & Resource Consulting, ERP Services and Managed Staffing.”

Thousands conned
Advertisements, which appeared under the name of AMA Business, said about 100 IT companies were expected to participate in the fair.

Jobseekers who attended the interview complained the fair was not approved by the government, as the rules require. There were only 14 stalls at the venue, and even they did not have a single IT company representative. “Just six or seven consultancy companies had come to recruit candidates,” said Sagar MR (22), a jobseeker who attended the job fair.

Alert candidate
That the job fair was a scam came to light on the second day, February 27, soon after the ‘aptitude test,’ which was the first of the three-round tests that candidates had to attend.

According to Bindu HP, a jobseeker who was in the venue at the time, a commotion broke out after a girl started shouting that the job fair was fake and the organisers were just out to make money.

She had noticed that the question paper for the aptitude test was the same as the one distributed for other batches who took the test.  The standard practice is that aptitude test papers are changed from one batch to another, so that the later batches do not get hold of the questions in advance.

The girl then threatened the organisers that she would inform the authorities and a TV channel, but when she tried to do so later, the channel’s reporters said they were unable to come as it was a Sunday.

According to Sagar, at this point the other candidates started supporting her. Those who had attended the test earlier compared their answer sheets and found many discrepancies. “There were some who shouted that even though they had written the same answers, they were given different marks,” he said.

Candidates selected in the aptitude test were never informed. “I passed the aptitude test but was not called for the second round even though the organisers had told us that whoever gets through the aptitude test would be informed by mail or over the phone,” said Sagar.

Forced to repay
After the jobseekers started to demand their money back, the organisers had no option but to repay them, although they did not refund all candidates. Swati V Rao, one of the attendees, said each candidate had paid Rs 50 as entrance fee and Rs 200 towards the aptitude test. Out of the thousands who attended, only about 300 who came for the test on the second day (and were present at the time the scam was exposed), got their money back.

Also, only those candidates who had their entry tickets got their money back. Sagar and other jobseekers who spoke to City Buzz suspect hundreds of candidates who attended the fair the day before may still be unaware that it is a racket.

When City Buzz attempted to contact Zeeshan Faridi, who identifies himself as ‘manager operations’ of AMA Business on some websites, and whose name appeared on some of the online ads for the job fair, there was no response. Similarly, there was no response to emails and text messages sent to AMA’s email and mobile numbers, and the company’s address, given simply as ‘Nagwarpalya, CV Raman Nagar’ also could not be traced.

What the cops say
According to BNS Reddy, Dy Commissioner of Police (South-East), this is third such incident of fake IT job fairs in the last year alone. Cases have been registered against the organisers of a fake job fair in Koramangala and another one in Whitefield, where two men and a woman were arrested.

Apparently, apart from fake job fairs, the gang is involved in other fraud cases as well. Since their scam went unexposed during the fair, unlike at Palace Grounds, they even went ahead and issued ‘appointment letters’ in the name of some companies to candidates who had got through the tests, who soon discovered that the companies did not exist.

Reddy adds, “To avoid getting trapped by such scamsters, jobseekers must thoroughly verify the facts about the organisers of such fairs. After all, they are an educated lot, who ought to be capable of handling such things. From the side of the police, announcements are made through newspapers and TV channels that jobseekers should always be careful in paying up for such job fairs.”

Issue 18

In Editions on March 10, 2011 at 8:55 am

XXL? Marry here

A matrimonial website caters exclusively to match-seekers on the plump side, reports Sonali Desai

If you aren’t exactly size zero, and are looking for a spouse, you just might find one at Overweight Shaadi (overweightshaadi.com). The portal offers unique matrimonial services catering to “full figure” adults; it also attracts admirers of the plump who may not be overweight themselves.

“Who says healthy people are not beautiful?” asked a member who wanted to remain unnamed (Many in the northern states say ‘healthy’ for ‘fat’ or ‘plump’).

Akshay Agarwal, who lives in Gurgaon, told City Buzz, “On other matrimonial sites, healthy people are overlooked but on this site, I have been able to connect with many prospective brides.”

Shamita, an interior designer from Bengaluru, has been a member for three months. She is not overweight but is okay with an overweight partner. “I have shortlisted three men and they are overweight. I don’t believe too much in physical appearance, and it is important to connect with the person you want to marry.”

Aditi Gupta from Delhi, founder of Overweight Shaadi, came up with the idea at a wedding reception when she met her overweight cousin, who was finding it difficult to find a life partner. After a year, the cousin got married to a man who accepted her the way she was.

The website, started in October 2008, received some 700 registrations within a month of its launch, and now boasts 2,000 members.

Founder speaks
“People believe poster couples are the best couples but I have noticed that couples who are not necessarily very ‘good looking’ are happier,” Aditi told City Buzz. She has noticed that marriageable young people are hitting the gym to lose weight. “To find one’s soulmate, one need not lose weight,” she said.

Bengaluru has responded with registrations, but Aditi can’t report any major success story from this city yet. More women register on the site than men, with the ratio being 55:45. “Women are more conscious of their weight. Nobody wants to be rejected. Here, every member is aware that fellow-members are okay with overweight partners.”

Many matrimonial sites are becoming hubs for dating. “We continuously monitor the activity, and are in constant touch with members. If any member has a problem with another pestering him or her for dates, we cancel the membership of the erring member. Our aim is to encourage matrimony, not just dating,” Aditi said.

Psychologists’ view
Dr Vinaya Prabha, a counsellor from Bengaluru, agrees women are self-conscious about their weight.

“But the concern is more in their head… Actually, boys are not put off by girls who are overweight; they want girls to be comfortable in their skin. Recently, there was a woman I counselled for her weight, but her husband was not so critical about her size. Sites like Overweight Shaadi will definitely make women like her feel better,” she told City Buzz.

Dr Sridhara A, a practicing psychologist in Jayanagar, says, “Many parents come to me when their daughters are nearing marriageable age and are excessively concerned about their weight and looks, which according to them is a hindrance in getting a good match. This inferiority complex is more often seen in women, I haven’t come across any men with the same problem.”

Banashankari based psychologist Dr Usha Rao says that it may not be just all in the mind. She recounts a case that seems to illustrate this: “Many years ago I had a patient who was overweight at the age of 15 as she was indulging in alcohol and late night parties. She is now 25 years-old, and for more than two years now her parents have been looking for a groom for her but is yet to found one.”

That concerns about weight are real is confirmed by gym instructor Sudipta Pillai: “Most youngsters of marriageable age wake up to the ‘weight issue’ only when they are close to the wedding date. They then rush to the gym so they can look good and slim on their wedding day, but no one realises the importance of keeping fit for life long. I have had lot of youngsters come up to me facing problems in getting good life partners because of their weight; this is in cases of arranged marriages only.”

Success stories
After almost a year on the site, Shreya found Akshay Jain on the website and they tied the knot in 2009, even though they belonged to different communities.

“I am from Delhi and he is a Jain from Pune and we could connect only because of this site. I’d been a member at Bharat Matrimony but had not found a match because of my weight problems. We are happily married now,” said Shreya.

Dipti from Delhi also has a success story to tell. “When I met Rajat on the site, we instantly connected and felt we were made for each other. I am really grateful to the team at Overweight Shaadi for helping me like a true friend.”

Gaurika, a member based in the US says, “I felt very good after meeting Abhishek for the first time. Without the professional team at Overweight Shaadi it wouldn’t have been possible for me to find my life partner.

‘Healthy business’
According to the World Health Organisation, 47 per cent of the Indian workforce is overweight. This means a huge market for sites such as Overweight Shaadi.

This matrimonial business in India, which was operated as a loose network of friends, astrologers, family priests and a few bureaus, is now worth a whopping Rs 900 crore. The online matrimony industry in India took off in the 1990s, and is close to touching Rs 270 crore this year, which is not surprising as India already is the fourth largest Internet population in the world.

Membership details
Registration is free for basic membership. Membership is not restricted to those who are overweight, but new members are registered choose from a list of body types ranging from slender, average, athletic, a few extra lbs, heavy set, lean/slim, swimmers build and muscular. It’s optional for them to add their weight.

Premium members can send personal messages to others, view validated contact numbers, and use the ‘compatibility calculator.’ Members can also use instant messenger and video chat. The site also offers online classified ads.

Special matrimony websites
http://www.diabeticmatrimony.com: For diabetic patients which was started by Dr Ashok Jhingan in New Delhi. It is an initiative by Delhi Diabetic Research Center.

http://www.imilap.com:  Has a special section for the blind and other disabled Indian brides and grooms from around the world, operated by BroadLink, LLC.

http://www.positivesaathi.com: India’s first matrimony portal for HIV positive people.

Issue 17

In Editions on March 10, 2011 at 8:52 am



UNHOLY INTENTIONS ?

Scam-tainted Muzrai Board chairman SN Krishnaiah Setty has hired two tankers to bring 60,000 litres of Ganga water from the Himalayas. A report by Manju Shettar

You’ve probably heard that a BJP leader is getting Ganga water down all the way from Haridwar to help Kannadigas celebrate Shivaratri. City Buzz brings you the story behind the story.

Six men: SN Krishnaiah Setty, former muzrai minister, has sent six of his men to Haridwar to do the ground work. They have taken flights out, and will return the same way. That’s a lot of money, but as Setty says, it’s all for a good cause. And that’s also an opportunity for the leader to offer a junket to his supporters, no?

Two tankers: Setty is hiring two tankers, and the drivers are from Haridwar. And they are carrying 60,000 litres of water that will be distributed among the temples in Karnataka. It takes five days for the tanker lorries to travel all the way to Bengaluru.

Who says it’s polluted?: The water comes from Brahmakunda, a point high up in the Himalayas, and whatever else you may read in the papers, it’s not polluted, Setty says. This is the second time that Setty is bringing Ganga water to the state.

Just Rs 5 lakh: Setty was ousted from his ministerial position some time ago, but he says he’s spending Rs 5 lakh from his pocket towards bringing the water down to Karnataka. That’s a noble thought, sir, and we also know you’re a moneyed man. But we hope your government doesn’t simultaneously privatise water supply, and allow the Americans to loot us. For those who just tuned in, the Americans are coming to Bengaluru to exploit, by their own admission, the 50-billion dollar Indian water market.

‘Holy’ intentions: Setty once issued a circular asking all temples in Karnataka to perform daily pujas for the welfare of – no, not citizens – but chief minister Yeddyurappa. That brought him enough bad press, and he changed his mind. He’s just the chairman of the muzrai board at the moment, and enjoys the perks of a minister, but he wants to be a minister. A minister is a minister, no?

Sin cleansing: Setty told City Buzz, “I am doing this to help people rid themselves of their sins by drinking holy Ganga water. It will go to 2,000 Shiva temples in jerry cans,” he says. There’s much sin-cleansing that the Karnataka cabinet needs, and we hope Setty sends some of the water to his chief minister and the mining Reddys.

Supply in jerry cans: The water will be poured on Shiva’s statue and then distributed as teertha. “I am using 30 vehicles to distribute it in every distict and taluk. The muzrai department will be on the job,” he said.

Water pity: Setty is unfazed by criticism of his water project.

“Karnataka has five crore people, and two crore vote for the BJP. Opposition parties blame whatever we do, but we believe in Hindu rituals and culture. The Ganga is a holy river and has power and importance.” he said.

Isn’t the Cauvery holy then?
K Marualasiddappa, Kannada literary personality and former director of Nataka academy, believes Setty is fooling citizens.

“He wants to impress the gullible sorts. Ganga means water, so every stream or well or ditch can be called Ganga. It is sad that he is suggesting that the Ganga is pure and the Cauvery is not. This is a cheap gimmick to get votes, and should be the use of the muzrai department, which is the part of government, for such a purpose should be opposed”.

Holy water and unholy deeds
SN Krishnaiah Shetty (who sometimes writes his initials as Yes Enn) was muzrai (religious endowment) minister, and resigned following allegations of irregularities.

He was involved in a land purchase and sale scandal involving the state-run Karnataka Housing Board. Higher education minister Dr V S Acharya now holds additional charge of the muzrai portfolio.

Issue 16

In Editions on March 10, 2011 at 8:49 am

Montessori  The untold story

Developed by an Italian doctor who visited Bengaluru, the system encourages intuition rather than rote learning. About 500 institutes sport the Montessori label, but not all of them follow its methods, finds Sarmistha Acharya

Parents increasingly prefer Montessori schools over regular schools, but experts warn against ‘fake’ institutions that don’t fully follow the system’s principles.

Bengaluru has about 500 schools claiming to do this method. They sport the Montessori label, but don’t exactly follow Montessori teaching principles. About 150 Montessori schools follow its principles in letter and spirt, without any deviation.

The Montessori system was evolved by an Italian doctor who visited Bengaluru 70 years ago. Montessori is not a trademark, and Montessori schools may not necessarily be affiliated to any central authority such as the Indian Montessori Centre. Parents must be careful to select a school that is genuinely Montessori, which encourages intuitive rather than rote learning.

Dr Maria Montessori (1850-1952), founder of Montessori educational method, came to Bengaluru in 1939 and people trained under her started opening their own institutions. The Montessori method took root in the city sometime in 1942.

The city, according to Ananth Padmanabha, director, Indian Montessori Training Courses for Bengaluru South, is the hub of Montessori training today. “From 1999, several branches of the training centre have opened in Bengaluru,” he told City Buzz. In 2004, training was conducted for just one batch, but in 2010, the number had gone up to five.

Indian Montessori Centre (IMC), which has a branch in the city, is another body whose training course is recognised by depart of education. Montessory schools do not have a central accreditation body because theirs is a method of teaching, unlike the CBSE or the ICSE, which are centred around particular syllabuses.

The Montessori system is thriving at the primary level, but only about 10 to 12 Montessoris offer high school studies. Just three follow the ICSE syllabus, while four follow the CBSE syllabus. “The popularity of such education is increasing by the day in Bengaluru,” said Ananth Padmanabha.

Montessori schools believe in a mixed age environment, which means not all children in a class are of the same age. They encourage individual and group activities. For younger children, the method encourages use of specially designed material to help them develop their sensory capabilities.

What’s so special here?
Classrooms are child-friendly, with cupboards within easy reach of the child. A Montessori classroom resembles a home with a reading corner, and an activity corner. Each classroom has about 30 children and two teachers. Children are encouraged to call their teachers ‘uncle’ and ‘aunty’, rather than ‘sir’ and ‘madam.’

The child stays in the same environment for about 3 years. There is a lot of peer-based learning and transfer of concepts to younger children by older ones. The child learns to be independent and the method teaches self-discipline.

Archana Ravindra, founder of Child’s Day Montessori House of Children located at Padmanabhanagar, believes Montessori schools create friendly learning conditions. “We let the child know more, and we help to sharpen the child’s senses,” she said. “Children remove their own shoes, spread their mats, and keep their bags on the shelves.”

Learning by sharing
To join a Montessori school, a child has to be at least two-and-a-half years old. Children up to six years are regarded as pre-primary students, and they share an environment for three years. Children from six to nine are called primary students and sit together, while those from nine to 12 are regarded as upper primary students, and grouped together. Children from 15 to 18 are considered high school students.

“In a class of about 35, the idea is to make a child observe others and learn,” said Sudha Prasad, director, Indian Montessori Training Courses. For two years starting from two years and six months, a child in a Montessori school is guided to explore things through presentation by adults.

Teaching material
Materials such as cylinders, blocks, colour tablets, and noise boxes are displayed in a preprimary class and children observing these learn about their physical properties, and use their knowledge in daily life. Childrens also watch adults cut vegetables, pour liquids into glasses, wash the table using soaps, and fold clothes.

Letters made with sand paper help children learn the alphabet using three senses: visual, acoustic and muscular. When a child is trained to trace his fingers on the letters, the impression of a letter is stored in his muscular memory and the child utters the sound of a letter guided by an adult. A Montessori student gets to know about the letters before he starts writing.

“In traditional schools a child is forced to start writing soon after he joins school,” said Shyamala Rao, director, Montessori Training Courses, Bengaluru North. After a child starts writing, he needs six months to get ready for reading.

According to directors of the Indian Montessori Training Centre, the knowledge of a child in a preprimary section is equal to the knowledge of a student studying in the third standard of a regular school.

Sudha Prasad said the environment allows the child to live freely as in its own house. “Whenever a child feels sleepy in the class, he can go and take a nap, whenever a child feels hungry he can go and have snacks… There are no restrictions on a child,” she explained.

 

A student’s experience
Srujana S Ramaswamy, who passed out from the 8th standard from Anweshana Montessori, now studies in Legacy School, Bengaluru.

She found no difficulty switching schools, and continues to win top ranks. “In regular schools, they just mug up definitions, but we learn everything with examples,” Srujana told City Buzz.

She recalls that she used to be asked to choose any topic and discuss it with the class. Once the discussion was done, students would be asked to explain its ideas to the younger children.

Parents are also inspired. Sridhara TV, both of whose children are studying in Anweshana Montessori House of Children, said he wanted a rounded personality for them, which is why he put them there. “Parents are allowed in regular schools only on certain days, like when they have an event or a parent-teacher meeting, but in Montessoris parents are welcome inside the classrooms. We are allowed to sit for a full hour in a class and encouraged to give feedback to the educator,” said Sridhara.

Montessori children who move on to regular schools generally perform better than other students.

“They take initiative in class. In the beginning they face some problems but they gradually adjust and perform well,” said Anitha A, teacher at Jyothi Kendriya Vidyalaya.

 

The challenge of change

But the children may find regular schools rigid in some ways. “In a Montessori, the decision of a child is important, whether she wants to read or she wants to play, but in conventional schools, the decision of a teacher is important,” said Ananth Padmanabha.

Shymala Manohar, directress of Anurag Montessori House in Jayanagar, says the change of environment can be a challenge. “In Montessori schools, kids are close to their aunties. When they move to traditional schools, they miss us a lot.”

Regular schools encourage copying of notes from the black board. Montessori children are not used to that. “But that disadvantage goes within no time,” she said.

So what’s genuine?
Shyamala warns parents against fake Montessoris. “They should find out if a school is actually following our methodology,” she said.

Parents have to be patient when they put their children in Montessori schools. Those who feel their children must be forcibly taught are better off not sending them to Montessori schools. In a Montessori school, a child learns, but nothing is ‘taught,’ though concept presentations are made.

Parents see results as the child grows. Each child learns at its own pace. But the school alerts you if there is a serious delay in meeting learning milestones.

“My daughter was not introduced to alphabets and writing until she was in Preprimary 2, or what regular schools call UKG. People used to tell me that she was not learning anything. But I knew better. Today in Class 7 she reads children’s classics and well-known authors and also writes for an e-magazine. So I would say a Montessori grounds the child for long term goals,” said Uma HS, a parent.

How to spot a genuine Montessori school
1. A real Montessori environment will have the full set of Montessori materials that are needed to help children to pursue this method of learning.

2. The learning environment (or classroom) must have children of mixed ages, which helps the younger and older children to learn from each other

3. The child should have freedom of choice in the choice of learning material and methods.

4.  The child must have freedom of repetition, freedom of movement and freedom to speak to others in his or her learning envrionment.

5. A Montessori school must have trained Montessori educators

(As told by Sophie Sivasankar, founder of Akshara Montessori House)

Issue 15

In Editions on March 10, 2011 at 8:43 am

BBMP’s AERO SIDESHOW

BBMP crime ring has been using the air show to swindle taxpayers. In three years, they have ‘spent’ Rs 177 crore on the gala, claiming it helps create a good impression in visitors. A report by Manju Shettar.

They avoid calling tenders for civic projects
They draw funds under emergency clause
They pocket your hard-earned money
Opposition calls for a CBI investigation

The BBMP sanctions huge amounts of taxpayers’ money for the annual Aero India show, but much of it is siphoned off by a corrupt network of engineers, contractors, and officials.

In the last three years, one engineer has used up Rs 313 crore under an emergency clause, bypassing the tender process. He says he used Rs 177 crore of these grants towards preparations for the air show.

Aero India, the five-day biennial show which opened in Bengaluru on Wednesday, brings thousands of visitors to Bengaluru from all over India and abroad. A BBMP audit report says much of the money purportedly spent to prepare for the show has actually gone into the pockets of corrupt engineers.

Last week, City Buzz had revealed, with documents, how a larger criminal network operating from within the BBMP had swindled taxpayers of a staggering Rs 2,187 crore. That makes it nearly 40 times as big as the Bofors scandal, which allegedly cost India about Rs 60 crore.

Suspended, and brazen
Prahlad, executive engineer, Yelahanka, who allegedly flouted many municipal bylaws to help contractors, has now been suspended. He faces many serious charges, like overlooking huge deviations by contractors, and not following procedures in evaluating estimates.

Prahlad sanctioned routine projects and drew funds under Section 4 of the Karnataka Transparency in Public Procurement Act, 1999 (KTTP), which can be invoked only during a natural calamity or an emergency declared by the government. The money was used for routine jobs like repairing roads and de-silting of drains.

What is particularly startling in this case is that a loophole in the KTTP Act, the very law implemented to ensure transparency in the procedure for inviting and processing tenders for public works, was used to siphon off crores of rupees of public money.

In Yelahanka, where he was working, Prahlad undertook 157 projects claiming exemption from the tender process under the Section 4. He is allegedly responsible for some of the air show funds being misused and pocketed.

“I invoked a sub-clause,” Prahlad told City Buzz, when we contacted him after the scandal broke. “And there are no restrictions on the time we can take to complete a project under this sub-clause.”

He said he couldn’t react in more detail to the allegations since he had already been suspended, and had to follow certain restrictions.

Had Prahlad been as disciplined with tax-payers’ money, he might still have been in his job. But sources in the BBMP say he, and others suspended, have no regrets. “Prahlad has pocketed Rs 20 crore,” a source told City Buzz. “And there are others who have made more.”

Prahalad says he used only Rs 39 crore for last year’s show. The BBMP gives out money to improve roads in the area to enhance Bengaluru’s image in the eyes of visitors.

M Nagaraju, leader of the opposition in the council, has been seeking action against corrupt officials like Prahlad.  “I have written some 400 letters to the commissioner and mayor so far, seeking action against those who pulled off this fraud. I have not yet got an appointment from the Governor to discuss it,” he said.

Is CM backing them?
Nagaraju says chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, who holds the urban development portfolio, is backing corrupt engineers and officials.  “Many bills have been sanctioned for projects not on the budget list,” he said. “The CBI should investigate this scandal.”

Prahalad has claimed he used the Rs 177 crore on road repair and garbage clearance. The records show that Rs 146 crore was spent on other works.

Nagaraju is outraged that no tenders were called when so much public money was being spent. “If Prahlad says there are no limits on amounts he can draw, and the time he can take to complete these works, he would have gone on for the next ten years.”

He urged the government to order a CBI investigation into the scandal.

What’s Section 4?
As the name indicates, the Karnataka Transparency in Public Procurement Act, 1999 (KTTP) was passed to ensure transparency in tender process for public works, after it was noticed that (it says in the ‘Objects and Reasons’ of the Act) “irregularities in the processing of tenders occurred.” But the Act has plenty of loopholes for officials determined to subvert the law for their own ends, especially the notorious Section 4 which defines the exceptions to the Act.

This section lists several conditions under which it is not required for a tender to be called as the Act dictates. These include, among others, natural calamities or emergency declared by the government, cases where the good or services required are available only from a single supplier, and cases in which specific procurements are notified by the government. It is in the guise of these ‘exceptions’ that funds have been diverted to all kinds of projects in the name of the air show.

Issue 14

In Editions on March 10, 2011 at 8:39 am

A ` 2,187 cr SWINDLE

City Buzz exposes BBMP’s work code scandal

A criminal network of engineers, contractors and municipal officials cheated citizens on a never-before scale, reports Manju Shettar

BBMP insiders fudged work codes and swindled a staggering Rs 2,187 crore last year, a document in the possession of City Buzz reveals.

Last year (2009-10) saw cheating and fraud on an unprecedented scale, according to an internal audit in the municipal body.

The work code system was introduced to ensure judicious use of funds, and to avoid repetition of bills. But it was flouted and abused by a criminal network of officials and contractors.

The audit report was submitted to the commissioner in the first week of January, but has not made it to the public domain till now.

Fraud took place at many levels. For example, the deputy controller Raghu (Head Office), Vani, assistant controller, finance (East) and Ramesh Reddy, assistant controller, finance (West) of JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Rural Mission), a central government-funded project, issued work codes for 935 projects, totalling Rs 200 crore, without the consent of their superiors or the BBMP commissioner. This is a gross violation of rules.

Ramesh Reddy, Raghu and Vani deputy controller (finance), reportedly committed irregularities on a scale that would put older scandals to shame, and were among 22 officials suspended last month for misappropriation of funds.

Project costs were escalated in several instances. The commissioner had allowed 23 emergency projects worth Rs 1.1 crore in Rajagopalnagar and Chokkasandra, but the outlay has gone up to Rs 11.42 crore while issuing work codes. Amazingly, the additional sum of Rs 10.32 crore has been sanctioned.

Section 4G, which the officials and contractors cited, is to be used only during times of a natal calamity or an emergency declared by the government. It was used by officials for routine projects like construction of roads and de-silting of drains.

A project in Hegganahalli (Dasarahalli limits), estimated at Rs.110 lakh and given a work code, scandalously changed to Rs 1,142 Lakh. This means Rs.1, 032 was taken away without permission. The assistant controller (accounts) of JNNURM is allegedly responsible for this swindle.

 

Earnest money waiver
When a contractor bids for a project, he is expected to pay an earnest money deposit. Many contractors who paid no EMD got approval and work codes. This caused a substantial loss to the BBMP.

The report says no proper documentation was done during the tenures of former commissioners Bharat Lal Meena and Dr. Subramanya. Projects not included in the budget were taken up and money sanctioned.

Many project files were given money even when they had no work codes.

Change of project names
File JC/D2/PR/672/08-09 indicates an appeal for 24 work codes. After approval was granted, original project names were changed with the help of a whitener. The approval was allegedly overwritten. Projects fraudulently approved have no dates.

Assistant controllers have not taken permission from chief account officers from JNNURM, and have rewritten several work codes.

Under Code No. P1732, executive engineers had granted Rs 44 crore, but controllers gave out work codes for Rs 135 crore.

In Mahalakshmipura a work code is numbered 028-10-M-G-E-R-AS-009 and in Shankarnagar, a work code is numbered 029-10-M-G-E-R-AS-005, but they are described similarly, which means the contractors collected money twice for one job. The files show no estimates.

In many projects the work code has repeated and the amount lost is Rs 22 crore. The best example in Hebbal where project was to be discussed. The officials ignored the note of their higher-ups, and sanctioned money to contractors after getting them to finish it.

In Sarvajnanagar  a project was done by a third party and not the bidders.

Councillor M Nagaraju has been urging the filing of criminal cases against engineers Nagaraj H T, Mohandas, Devendra Naik, Prahalad and others, who have been suspended by commissioner Siddaiah under the KMC Act.

“These engineers have taken up projects in violation of the KMC Act. They haven’t taken the commissioner’s approval for many projects, and have waived earnest money deposits,” he told City Buzz.

If investigations are conducted properly, these engineers should soon be in jail. Commissioner Siddaiah must ensure that they are punished severely so that their colleagues are not tempted to swindle taxpayers of their hard-earned money.

Issue 13

In Editions on March 10, 2011 at 8:30 am

CLOSING TIME?

The two all-women police stations in the city close their doors at 8 pm, much before your neighbourhood grocer, and one of them does not even accept complaints. Senior police officials are considering shutting them down for good. A report by Sonali Desai & Chetana Belagere

It is 8 pm and complainants are still coming in at the Ulsoor Gate women’s police station. But constables are leaving the station, saluting their inspector and calling it a day. Complainants are told to come the next day as it is time to close the station for the day.

The station authorities might as well have issued an order saying ‘No crimes should be committed against women after 8 pm.”

If this sorry sight is a daily routine at Ulsoor Gate police station, near the BBMP head office, the scene at the city’s only other women’s police station in Thyagarajanagar is even worse. Six months ago, the inspector here got suspended, and no replacement has come in her place.

Bengaluru now has 87 police stations out of which two are All-Women Police Stations (AWPS). While the Ulsoor Gate station controls four areas, North, Central, East and North-East, the Thyagarajanagar station has South, South-East and West under their jurisdiction.

The Ulsoor Gate station, with 28 on its rolls, is where most FIRs by women are registered, while the Thyagarajanagar police station has stopped registering cases altogether, after the suspension of its officer.

The staff claim they receive no complaints, but City Buzz learned that they are instead passing on complaints to their overworked colleagues at Ulsoor Gate, who in turn pass them on to the relevant general police stations!

Senior police officials are aware of the problems, but have a ‘different’ solution to offer: shut down the women’s stations altogether. One reason why the shutdown is being considered is that the government has earmarked ten per cent reservation for women in all police stations. Today most police stations have women personnel working round the clock, at least on record, although the fact is that many shirk night duty, thanks to their ‘chivalrous’ male colleagues.

Alok Kumar, Joint Commissioner of Police, (Crime) says, “We have had women victims complaining that women police stations close by 8 pm, and there is no one to address their problems after that hour. So we are considering whether to close down the women’s police stations and have women in all general police stations at night.”

City police commissioner Shankar Bidari confirms this, and says, “The Karnataka government has proposed a 10 per cent reservation for women in general police stations that has been met, and we are now considering whether we should continue having women-only police stations. When there are women personnel in most general police stations, women-only police stations have become irrelevant.”

Good riddance?
If women police stations are soon going to be closed, are women in Bangalore comfortable going to general police stations? Shailaja Prakash, senior counsellor at Mahila Dakshata Samiti, says, “The idea is whether the station is public-friendly or not. Also, the Ulsoor Gate women’s police station is too far for victims coming from Yelahanka and other places. So, the concept of having women personnel in all police stations is good for everyone.”

Pramila Nesargi, former chairperson of Women’s Commission, cites the maltreatment of child victims by policemen as a reason why there should be women in all police stations. “I have had cases where children, especially boys, were ill-treated by men personnel and so every police station in the city should have women, who are more sensitive,” she says.

Shwetha KJ, a Wipro employee who had filed an FIR to trace her mobile phone, believes women’s police stations must stay. She points out that but when it comes to cases of assault, women would be more comfortable at women-only police stations.

Women cops say
Anjumala T Nayak, inspector at Ulsoor Gate police station, admits she is often short of hands, especially when dealing with large numbers of women protestors at rallies. “We have to send constables for special duties; every situation is difficult and on top of that ,we get some cases from Thyagarajanagar, because they don’t have an inspector, even though it is not our jurisdiction.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, another woman police officer said that they have limited staff and also no powers to act. “The cases we deal with are very complicated. It is really an uphill task for women police personnel. Yet we try to do our best. Care is necessary to ensure that families are not torn apart by a rigid application of the law. Sometimes we have to be rude to both men and women if the case needs to be settled,” she said.

Understaffed or not?
G Ramesh, DCP, Cubbon Park, believes otherwise. He said, “It is not at all understaffed, and they have enough constables. But I don’t want to comment on the Thyagarajanagar station as it’s not my area.”

Inspector Govindraju at Banashankari has been the officer in charge of the Thyagarajanagar women’s police station ever since its inspector was supended.

“I have no time for my area, and it’s an additional duty for me. At best I look into the cases, but I can’t look into other issues at that station,” he said. He expects an officer to be appointed in a month.

The question remains whether shutting down the women’s police stations would help solve complainants’ problems, or make them worse. When City Buzz asked Anjumala of Ulsoor Gate station about the possibility of the station being closed, she had this to say: “We will obey the orders and work according to the rules, whatever they are.”

‘Women cops are nastier than men’
Those who have visited all-women police stations say staff there aren’t as sensitive as the government wants them to be.

Women constables are not only corrupt but they also get into arguments with their colleagues and often get physically abusive. They use the filthiest language, and pass lewd comments.

Some say women constables live a life that resembles a daily TV soap, with all the gossip and the masala. At the Thyagarajanagar station, especially, with no officer in charge present or complaints registered, the women constables sit chatting, and kill the time knitting sweaters and shawls.

One reason for the police commissioner to consider closing down women-only stations is the poor perception they have created in the public eye.

Not trained
“In cases of marital disagreement, women officers act in an abrasive manner if they aren’t bribed. They subject both men and women to mental and physical harassment,” said Srikala (name changed) who has been visiting the Ulsoor Gate police for the past three months to settle a domestic quarrel case.

Geetha Menon, an activist and president of Stree Jagruthi Samiti, agrees. “I have found that women policemen are not trained to handle cases, and they lack adequate powers. Women complainants feel embarrassed here,” she said.

Uma Srihari, another women’s activist, narrates an incident. “When a woman in her 60s approached an all-women police station seeking help to prevent her husband from getting married a second time, the officer-in-charge made nasty remarks against her. If they can pass comments on a 60-year-old woman, imagine what they would say to a 25-year-old,” she said.

Men dread to visit these stations. In fact, several men have gone to court and filed petitions against the atrocities and harassment at women’s police stations. Rajendra Naik, a senior business analyst, is one such petitioner. He says, “The women cops put men to shame during inquiry. It is better to visit a regular police station to get our marital problems fixed. One visit to this police station can ruin not just ruin our marriage but also our reputation.”