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A big leap for Khushii

Kishore Singh  |  New Delhi 

Aman Nath & Co tie up ‘Generation Next’ for an NGO that is hands-on in the villages where it operates.

Aman Nath the “connected” hotelier and businessman is familiar across corporate India as much for his group of “non”-hotels as for his interface with the who’s who of India’s many social sets. And now, at the Neemrana Fort and Palace, which kick-started the chain of heritage buildings turned into hotels by him and co-founder Francis Wacziarg, a very unlikely conversation is taking place. Looking down the 15th century fort, across steel ropes, gaggles of sports junkies are zipping from one hill to another.

The zippers come from a very different world from that of the villagers of Neemrana (population 12,000) who live below, and where the NGO Khushii (Kinship for Humanitarian, Social and Holistic Intervention in India) runs many of its very successful programmes. Spearheaded by the likes of Nath, former cricketer Kapil Dev and VLCC’s Vandana Luthra, it has used a glamorous fundraising auction that allows India’s A-list celebrities to paint alongside masters and well-established artists to raise the money to run its activities.

The first such event was held in Delhi, in 2006, and netted Rs 15 crore, the next in Mumbai in 2007, raising Rs 20 crore. Those who painted with India’s leading painters have included P C Chidambaram, Ratan Tata, L N Mittal and Gursharan Kaur among a glittering marquee of celebrities.

The third was to be held in Dubai but the global meltdown and recent events contributed to its postponement, and eventually to its return to Delhi. On February 6, at the Malaysian High Commissioner’s residence in New Delhi, it will host the third auction fund-raiser in which eminent celebrities across different walks will once again collaborate with artists to paint something that bears twin signatures.

Ahead of the auction, we have just toured the hospitals, spoken with the “leaders” of the community self-help groups, to giggling women who have empowered themselves running shops, or buying cattle, on loans taken by these groups on nominal bank interests, to others who have learned to read and write at the adult literacy centres.

Women and children are being trained as computer operators, beauticians, hospitality and medical attendants, are being provided vocational training, there are job placements, tele-medicine, rigorous practices in ensuring inoculation for infants, nutritional diets for pregnant mothers.

If things seem idyllic, it’s because 500 passionate, earning workers and volunteers of the NGO have taken on some of the responsibilities the government finds itself reluctant, or indeed paralysed, from performing. Only a handful of years old, Khushii is now finding that it’s difficult to sustain all that effort: it is strapped for funds.

“We can’t have someone like Amitabh Bachchan each time,” reflects Aman Nath, basking in the Rajasthan sun under a hat, “so we’ve asked the next generation of celebrities to take it on.” This ties in too with its Next Generation push-up via Navya, launched in April 2008, and aimed, he says, “at those who say they want to do something for charity, and not necessarily through contributing only funds”.

This includes sustainability groups, and modern technology, and those who come to participate in the monthly Navya meetings include “CEOs of companies, consultants with multinationals...”.

“The more you do,” acknowledges Aman Nath, “the more you realise you have to do.” “You can’t just say, after a few years, that funds have dried up,” says Nath, “you can’t suddenly abandon thousands of your children.”

This time, besides the physical auction — conducted by Christie’s — there will also have an online link (“http://www.khushii.org/indiaoncanvas2009”) to enable those elsewhere to put in their bids. Participating artists include Ram Kumar, Akbar Padamsee, Jayasri Burman, Laxman Shreshtha, Manu Parekh, Yusuf Arakkal, Manish Pushkale, Farhad Husain and others (non-collaborative artists being auctioned are F N Souza, J Swaminathan, Anjolie Ela Menon, Jamini Roy and Shyamal Mukherjee) while the celeb counterparts include Gautam Singhania, Rishi and Neetu Kapoor, Kokila Dhirubai Ambani, Brian Lara, Geetanjali Kirloskar, Siddharth Sharma, Priya Paul and Ekta Kapoor.

The odds, though, are on artist Tyeb Mehta who has painted on canvas with his grandson Ali Akbar. Proceeds are most likely to go towards developing more vocational training centres, as part of a 20-point programme aimed at ensuring a continuous flow of funds and collaborations to sustain Khushii’s work. My bet, however, is on the painter Ranbir Kaleka who has collaborated with musician A R Rahman on a canvas. That just might be the ‘slumdog’ draw of the fund-raiser.

First Published: Mon, January 26 2009. 00:00 IST
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