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Tales of courage...

RANA A. SIDDIQUI meets Harsh Mander, social activist and administrative officer, who has penned his experiences with the downtrodden as inspiring tales to guide others... .

Harsh Mander... reeling out unknown tales.

`WHEN THERE is no hope, there is no endeavour,' thus said Ben Johnson. And that is what Harsh Mander, the social activist, writer and former Indian Administrative Service officer has always believed in. Hence, be it the tribal States of Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh where he worked for more than two decades as head of district administrations, or working for dalits, bonded labourers, rights and custodial justice for the disabled, land reforms, literacy or health, he moves in a direction that leads to humility, where each human being counts.

This Country Director of ActionAid, an NGO working for the cause of most underprivileged sections of Indian society, has penned his experiences of working with those trapped in unfortunate circumstances in his recent book, "Unheard Voices: Stories of Forgotten Lives" published by Penguin India. But these true stories are no sob tales. They are tales of hope and courage, of writing injuries in sand and kindness in marble and of a belief that if you pin all your hopes on God, you won't be pinned down by man.

All this saga of achievement through enterprise that has earlier been published in his columns in established magazines is now available in the form of short stories. A part of these chronicles was also transformed into a documentary by famed scriptwriter-director Saeed Mirza, a close friend of Mander's.

Among 20 tales of courage spread across 225 pages, there are victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the communal carnage of 1984, the Orissa super cyclone, as well as street children, sex workers, dalits, leprosy patients and the blind. It is an account of all those who survived facing all odds and stood as examples for others like them. Be it a small boy whose parents die in the Bhopal gas leak and who manages to rear his siblings in an exemplary way, a one-time street child counselling others like himself for self employment, a leprosy patient establishing an ashram for other patients or a blind musician couple struggling and finally getting land from the Government to establish a colony for the blind.

"The intention behind penning these true lives is to make people respect humanity in whatever strata they appear before them. It is to make all believe that there is a conviction in every human being," says the author. Does it make a difference? "That is the pun here." Despite receiving "encouraging response to even make a serial or film based on the book," he does not want to spoil it. "If a sensible director like Saeed Mirza directs the film, I have no qualms," he reasons.

Mander's spirit of penning a "sequel to this book soon" is high now.

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