As Nutan’s story unfolds, India comes to light, with its hard realities and softer truths. Nutan is 30 and is suffering from a severe heart malfunction.
Years of ignorance laced with neglect, years of living the life of a woman in a society where women are lesser beings, of bearing four children with little or no help, of malnutrition and hard work have taken their toll on a frail body, where a heart was made to work twice as much because of a probable congenital defect.
When the body could not carry on, when the lungs hungry for oxygen started giving up Nutan was taken to the district headquarters of Purnea, in Bihar. There a doctor who braved the odds and dangers of life in this dificult state to bring a healing touch to those in need, diagnosed Nutan’s ailment and gave her the best possible advise: take a train to Delhi, to the AIIMS for immediate heart surgery.
The year was 2003.
Nutan then fell prey to the half baked knowledge of probale well wishers who scared her so much that she refused the treatment needed and pushed her all ready tired body to the very last.
Then two years later, when even living became difficult, she finally took the train. The verdict was simple: immediate surgery; the cost was staggering for a family who had already sold or mortgaged everything it possessed.
Ayan, a doctor friend from John Hopkins saw Nutan and confirmed what we all knew. I asked her what would have happened if Nutan had been born to a rich family. The answer was staggering: the pediatrician would have detected the heart murmur at birth and the corrective surgery would have taken place by the time she was 3. And anyway, had Nutan had proper medical check up during her pergnancy, the murmur would have been heard. And then the inevitable question, what if nothing was done, the answer was a quiet: 2 years at the most.
What conclusion to draw in this tale of missed murmurs?
The one missed at birth, the one missed four times and then the unexpected one from a kind doctor in a state everyone has given up on..
Nutan a mother of four was diagnosed having a severe cardiac malfunction in a district hospital in Bihar and advised immediate corrective surgery. Doctors were optimist.
That was two years ago…
For two years, Nutan suffered, her condition deteriorating day by day. You may think that the surgery was delayed for want of funds.. well not quite
Nutan became an unsuspecting victim of what one could call enlightend ignorance. In her small village in the back of beyond of what is now known as the most backward state in India, this broken woman was fed on horrific tales of what a heart surgery was. In betwen bouts of severe and almost unberable pain, she heard bribes of conversation that described her body being torn apart and mutilated by city doctors and leading to a possible death.
Slowly a deep seated fright took hold of her pain ridden mind and she simply refused to be taken to the city and thus shut out the one option that could save her life.
It took two years of withering away, of bearing excruating pain, of witnessing her body slowly giving up for Nutan to accept to come to Delhi.
Nutan can barely walk, actually she can barely breathe. She is now undergoing the pre-op tests at the cardio-thoracic centre of AIIMS. We hope we can raise the money required and above all use our sources to get a date for the surgery and see this mom back on the road to recovery.
But Nutan’s case is not unique. How many people fall victim to ignorance, or what is worse half-baked knowledge.
Education then takes on a whole new meaning, a far cry for multiplication tables and historical dates…
as children we have all dreamt of what we would want to be when we grow up… i remember wanting to be an air hostess, a nuclear scientist, an astronaut and god knows what else..
even slum kids have dreams: they often want to be teachers, doctors.. even actors.. and sometimes they even say ‘we want to be like you’.
the young boy in the picture is Sanju. His father ran away with another woman. Sanju has two younger sisters. Deepa the middle one has been sent to the village. Manju, two and half, comes to our creche. Sanju’s mom cleans homes and leaves at 6 am returning late in the evening, leaving Sanju is charge of getting little Manju to school.
Sanju is an angry young man who does not know how to handle his feelings. He used to come to project why but was a difficult child to control. He stopped coming and hangs around in the street in spite of our best effort. In the afternoon he does go to school but that also is not regular. And in the evening he often has to bear the frustration of a tired mother, who often hears complaints about her neglected kids.
This morning I spent time talking to him, wanting to know how I could get him to come back and study. In the course of our little chat, I asked him what he wanted to become when he grew up. After some thought he mumbled ‘mend chains‘. I was perplexed and asked him to explain. He did: Sanju wants to become a zip-repair man (there is one who roams giri nagar repairing people’s broken zips)!
I was filled with immense sadness faced with this child and his tiny dream, his one life ambition. I just sat long after he left lost in my own thoughts. How could the life of a man who wandered through streets holding a few zips and lugging a shoulder bag become the ideal of a smiling boy. At an age where one can dare dream of the impossible, what makes a child stop at something so insignificant.. how suffocating and sad must his life be… what did he see in this man who goes around shouting in the street hoping for someone to call him so that he could earn a few rupees… was it escape from the life of a surrogate parent when one wants to jump and play with others, or from the embarassment of having a little sister clinging to you..
Sanju has to be given back his childhood and te right to dream big, but how?
that is the question.
I did not get to see matrubhoomi, young Manish Jha’s much acclaimed film…
I left for chennai the week of its release and thought I would see it on my return.
matrubhhomi did not run for a second week in India’s capital city. it got good reviews and was awarded in cities such as Venice, Kozlin, Thessaloniki and Florence, but it was wished away in our own delhi… though it ran for a second week in chennai
is it just too close to reality… everyday infant girls are done away with, women raped even pregnant ones, striking gender imbalance figures are published by disturbing NGO’s..
this is just one side of reality.
there is a subtler side, one we do not see unless we look. we are faced with this alarming reality with obsessive regularity in our day-to-day work at projectwhy.
little girls are not given the same food as their brothers, they are never taken to the doctor at the right time, their vaccination schedule is not followed. it does not end there. at every occasion possible they are reminded that they are girls and this a burden to their families and by extension to society itself.
their school fees are not paid in time, school books not bought and their desire to study twharted and even sneered at by their male peers. and it goes on endlessly… without respite the same way as the endless abuse in Kalki’s body in matrubhoomi… as they are married at an age when they should still be playing with dolls and become mother as a time when their bodies have still not finished growing
Jha’s film should be viewed as being in a much larger context: girls have to be protected and cared for, nature has to be left alone and not tampered with..
i sometimes wonder at the need of education in its present avatar and I mean education for every child be it rich or poor. multiplication tables and spelling of never comprehended words, or rote learning of civic rights and historical dates with the sole purpose of getting as close as possible to the imposible 100 mark is not going to bring about the changes we need to usher.
maybe our policy framers should think of reviewing the course content rather than splitting hair over trivia. children should be made aware of their role in society, their duty as citizens to bring about change, they should me aware of the problems lurking at every corner and been shown the way to address them.
it is not impossible neither is it difficult; it just necessitates the will to do so.. just as we should not as a city have turned away from going and seeing matrubhoomi!
Note: According to the latest government data on births, the number of females per males at birth in Punjab was 775 to 1,000
the little fellow in red singing his heart out is Aman a little gypsy child.
last wednesday, his mom made him wear his smartest clothes, scrubbed squeaky clean in spite of the paucity of water in the camp where they live and sent him to project why.
in days gone by, i succumbed to the fashionable funding option of sponsorships even though every fibre of mine was telling me not to. but at that time the sources were few and the need urgent. the deal of course was that there would be no special goodies or add ons, but just the basic requirement for the child to be in project why. we carefully divided the cost of each section by the number of children and came up with a figure and got some funding that way. since we have ben able to try and get our message across and do not go for sponsorphips of individual kids anymore.
I have often wondered what is it that makes this so popular and once again one is compelled to conclude that it is a matter of giving in to the donor’s conscience. has anyone ever stopped to think how the kid who has a sponsor and smart thinks is treated by his peers, how he is marginalised and considered an outsider. have we not all felt this way in our childhood days?
Then how do we explain to one parent why the other parent’s child has been sponsored. and when you view a set of pictures what makes you select one rather than the other? the cutest one? the saddest looking one? Even in our group adoptions we have always found that it is the smaller section that gets the most support. Sometimes the special kids, as it is fashionable, never the secondary kids though for them it is the last chance to catch the train to a better future..
well to come back to my little fellow, he was one of the chosen one and last week after umpteen mails and calls the person was to come and meet him. we of course told all parents that we would have a visitor so that every child came looking his best.
So it was a bunch of really smart kids that set out that wednesay morning waiting for the guest to come… he never did.
I guess aman and the others never realised that they were kept that little bit longer, as project why is a fun place to be in. For them it was just another day…
and I just once again remebered the fox and his quiet message:
One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.
may i never lose that ability…