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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.

Time has come for exams, tension, anxiety …..and hopefully the end of the academic year.  Then the rush for admissions, entrance exams, confusion of which course to take.

We teach children for 12 years in school, but do not give them any skills to choose their careers.  There is a mad rush for Computer Science Engineering or medicine, and lakhs of students prepare for years and years to crack JEE or NEET, without knowing what they are in for and where it is leading them.

It is the responsibility of all of us to give inputs and familiarize students, and their parents, about which career (out of innumerable lucrative choices) is suitable for any specific child, and to resist the herd mentality.  Please make that effort…..

It is a question of their whole future, they need a little hand-holding.

Learn to Enjoy Stress - By Dr. Ali Khwaja

How often have you felt that you are stressed out the moment you think of studies and exams?  Have you ever felt like just giving up and running away somewhere?  If you have faced or are facing such situations, did you ever stop to think how and why stress accumulates in some of us, while others are carefree and whistling their way through exams and life?

There are answers to these questions.  All we need to do is to take a short break, stop getting stressed out by thinking of exams all the time, and pay attention to a few important facts.  Otherwise we will become like the over-enthusiastic boy who was so happy when he got a contract to cut trees that he just went on chopping with all his might.  He never stopped to sharpen his axe, with the result that all his efforts were in vain.  The blunt axe could not cut, and in his frustration he kept hacking harder and harder till he dropped of exhaustion and lost the contract.  Are you ready to sharpen your mental axe?

The countdown to exams has begun.  You are probably counting days now, and are getting tensed, particularly when you think of those tough and boring subjects that you have begun to hate.  No one can be good at all subjects.  There are at least eight types of intelligence: mathe-logical, linguistic, interpersonal, intra-personal, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, spatial and ecological.  Eventually you will find the right vocation that suits your intelligence, but right now you have to study all subjects from languages to technical ones.  To make the best of it, here are a few tip:

  • Start with relaxing BEFORE you sit down to study. Don’t wait till you are tired and fatigued.  The fresher your mind, the more you will be able to take in, in the least time.  Find out a method of relaxation that suits you, don’t copy what someone else is doing.  A few examples are: Long, brisk walk; Jogging, Tennis, golf, Swimming, Aerobics / dancing, Playing with child/pet, Gardening; Driving into nature, Shouting loudly and freely, Yoga, Meditation, Prayer / discourses, Talking to a friend or counselor, Listening to (or playing) music, Maintaining an informal diary, Thought-provoking books, Punching a pillow, Tearing old newspapers.  Experiment till you hit upon the right one.
  • Take periodic breaks. Never study till you are so tired that nothing is going to your head.  Only you know how long you can study before you need a break, follow your mind.  The duration may vary depending on whether you are studying an interesting or boring subject.  At the same time, keep in mind that your break should be short and relaxing, and not taking your mind away into another activity.
  • Study systematically. List out all the chapters, mark those you have trouble with, keep periodically revising or reviewing.  Don’t get bogged down into one subject the whole day.
  • Keep giving yourself periodic tests, both verbal and written. Do mock exams even at home, they will prepare you for facing the actual exam.
  • Keep track of your biological clock, when you are at peak energy, and when you are down and out. Study difficult subjects when you are feeling energetic.  For boring subjects, allot a fixed time and tell yourself that you will finish as soon as the time is over.

As your exams get nearer, do not cut down on your sleep beyond rational limits.  You can certainly do with 25-30% less sleep than average, but cutting it down to 50% or less can actually add to your strain.  Keep up your hygiene, food habits, get fresh air and clear your mind periodically.  On the day of the exam, don’t cram till the last moment.  Have a healthy meal, go early and check out the place, talk to friends or family to calm down your nerves, and then begin the exam with the clear thought – it is just an exam, it is not going to kill you.

Ali’s Notes:

Technology has advanced immensely. Schools have state-of-the-art facilities in every aspect of child requirements, and millions are spent for providing all comforts and amenities to the students. Yet a survey by Banjara showed that 95% of all children, including those in high-end schools, still carry a water bottle in addition to the already heavy bag. Is it not possible to provide purified drinking water to the students in their classrooms? If we really cared for our children, we can think of these (and many similar) small steps to make life convenient to them.
We have still not managed to reduce the size (and weight) of the school bag in today’s e-learning era. We continue to give all our attention to home work, completion of portions, innumerable tests and exams, and rote learning.
If we wish to create a better world around us as the next generation takes over, it is high time we took some initiatives.