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The Banjaras

The Banjaras, also known as Vanjaras, Lambadas, and Lambanis, originated as the gypsies of Germany and Austria. Being nomads, they kept travelling all over Europe in search of the exotic orient, and made contact with the Moguls and other martial dynasties. They started following these invading armies, providing them with their services, livestock, food, and getting intelligence reports of enemies. When the Mogul armies completed their conquests in the Deccan plateau and went back to their base, the Banjara tribes stayed back and scattered around the areas now covering Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka. They chose nomadic life, camping for a few days on the outskirts of villages, providing implements, livestock, traditional medicines etc. to the villagers before moving on to a different location. They have a different culture of their own, different worshipping practices, language, dressing style, and a very rigid values and moral upbringing, answerable in all ways to the elders of their ‘thandas,” the shifting villages. They remained isolated from other communities for centuries, perfectly contented in their simple living, not seeking any benefits or luxuries.

Our association in the early fifties, before Ali was born, was through his father, who was an anthropologist, and was awarded a United Nations Fellowship to study the movement of these tribes from Europe to India, to understand their needs and to support them in getting rehabilitated. As an IAS officer, he set up the first Tribal Welfare Department in the government, and also was instrumental in settling them down (including building his own house to be with them), in the area which is now known as Banjara Hills in Hyderabad. After finishing his studies at IIT Bombay, Ali went back to Hyderabad and spent considerable time helping them become a recognized Scheduled Tribe, brought out their first publication ‘Banjara News’ and was a counselor and Mentor to this community of simple, dedicated and honest nomads.

The birth of Banjara Academy

The name ‘Banjara’ was, therefore, the most appropriate when an institution was to be formed to reach out and connect to people. What began over forty years ago as an ‘extra-curricular’ activity, slowly evolved into a full-fledged institution, which is not just appreciated, recognized and praised all over the country, but is one of the few organizations from India to be granted full membership of World Federation of Mental Health, with voting rights. The first step was to open our doors for free counselling. It has been a joy to see that since 1983 anyone can feel comfortable to walk in, phone up or write to our ‘Helping Hand’, and for the sake of confidentiality, we do not maintain records, so we do not know the number of people who have benefited. Many other activities evolved over the next 30 years making Banjara a true oasis in today’s world of emotional turmoil and loneliness.

Our Courses

We started offering short-term courses in 1990 and the demand kept increasing, leading to the thought that we should have a full-fledged year-long program where the participants experience the issues being dealt with every week, come back and clear doubts, and put their learning into practice as the course goes on. When starting long-term counselling courses two decades ago, we were even offered an opportunity to affiliate with a top university, which would have given us credibility and an official stamp. But we resisted that temptation since it would have involved having a curriculum, textbooks, formal exams and lots of theory to memorize. We were very particular to keep this as a fully experiential course, enabling students of all ages and backgrounds to sharpen their practical skills of reaching out, understanding emotions, giving support and empowering counselees – while enriching their own life. Improving, innovating and bringing inappropriate changes every year, we now have the DCS course enriched with the experiences and feedback of twenty one batches, and this is the journey on which you can embark to become a Banjara with us.

“I worked more than 12 hrs a day continuously for office and rest for household activities, slept so very less and missed my time and relationship with my husband and child. The moment of truth reveals itself when I had a conversation with my manager a few months back just before my mid-year review when she mentioned that I was not giving enough and it did not meet her expectation from me! I had given my all in the last two years to scale up squeezing myself to be there where I was today.

“We lost one of our team members suddenly, while his wife cried saying only one thing “wish you spent more time with us than on your office calls / meetings”! Even after this incident there was no sign of empathy in the team; they continued to push for costs/headcount cuts while the existing folks had to do more and more.”

I need not comment on this, you can read between the lines.  My only request to you if you are reading this, is: “Be not so busy making a living that you forget how to live.”

Unhappy with course you selected?

Dr. Ali Khwaja

Some students have very clear goals, lofty ideals and high benchmarks – most common being to get into IIT, National Law School, NDA or MBBS.  The competition being so high, barely 1% of the aspirants actually get a seat.  Even very capable students miss out if they develop stress or are not keeping well on the day of the exam.

Those who have Plan B ready and have made a list of their preferences in descending order, manage to move on to an alternative course. But many students select a particular course in a college they like (often based on what others have recommended), and then realize within a few days or weeks that they have made a wrong choice.  It could be because of the subjects, the teachers, the college ambience, or a fear that that particular course may not get them a good job.

In such a situation, you have three choices (1) continue with the course and somehow complete it even if you do not get very high marks, and plan what you would do after completion, including moving on to a different field through post-graduation or entry-level work experience. A university degree never goes waste, even if you change your field, and a strong foundation would have been laid to move into something which you truly desire (2) continue with your studies planning for entrance exams to get into a better institution next year. In this option if you do not get your favored choice even in the second attempt, you have not lost out and can go through the balance years to acquire the degree you are in (3) drop out, spend the year gaining in-depth knowledge of alternative careers and colleges, doing internship and short on-line courses in the field of your choice, and making a strong effort to get into a very good institution. In the third alternative, you should be very focused and spend the year fruitfully.  I have known students who have dropped out, wasted the year directionless, leading to bigger disappointment in the next academic year.

The essential factor in making choices is to understand and narrow down to your long term career goals, based on not just interest but on a combination of multiple-intelligences, personality traits, specific skills, social and commercial acumen, concentration and attention span, general knowledge and academic capabilities – which taken together determine your aptitude.  Then it becomes much easier to select courses that are most suitable to you and there will be no regret.  I have counseled students who selected a course such as engineering under peer or parental pressure and then felt that they could not cope or are not sustaining interest.  In frustration they dropped out and blindly took up a general course like BBA thinking it will be much easier, without knowing where it is leading them to.  Such students rarely carve out a rewarding or meaningful career in the long run.

Choices in courses and number of colleges and universities have expanded significantly in the past few years, and there are innumerable options in each field including technology, health care, life sciences, social sciences, communication, creativity etc. Detailed and careful selection can ensure that any mistake or wrong decision can still be set right.  The important factor is to select based on your capabilities, and not get influenced by what everyone else is doing, or where there is apparently good ‘scope’.

Completed 10th Standard?

Similarly, those who have completed 10th need to take a decision regarding their academics for the first time in their life i.e. to opt for science, commerce or arts, which combination of subjects, and which Board of study.  Some are very particular about a specific college, but either do not get a seat there, or are disappointed once they start attending classes.  More or less the same principle applies here. Explore whether it is still possible to change optional subjects (which should be done based on your aptitude as mentioned above), change college if admissions are still open, or go through at least one year and explore deeply to determine whether a change is required and for what reason. Taking a year off should be done only as a last resort, and with a clear goal of how that year will be spent meaningfully to ensure you move in the right direction.

One wrong choice need not mean the end of your dreams. If you do not succumb to frustration or depression, immediately start exploring alternatives, and take a calculated decision, you can perhaps move into a better and more rewarding career path.

Ali’s Notes:

In this era of people highly stressed out and frustrated with their jobs, I heard something very nice: The concept of Work as Worship, which translates into Workship”. We all have different forms of worship, and if we can think of our work (official, domestic, commitments) as a way of worshipping, we will be able to overlook the hurdles caused by bad bosses, work stress, lack of rewards– & actually get engrossed in doing things with a passion & commitment that will keep our minds and bodies occupied, and we will experience serenity and fulfillment.