when utpal mondal was born on the ides of march in 2002, god had made a mistake.. somewhere down the line, just a year away he had to suffer the worst baptism of fire: he fell into a boiling pot!
I guess even the most forbidding God realises his mistake and sets out to make it right.. he must have worked overtime to set everything in place; he had to ensure that we shift our office and that utpal’s family shift next door, that radhey would be in a kind mood and agree to drive the scalded barely alive child and that the hospital have the rather absurd idea of sending home with a discharge slip stating snidely: chances of survival:nil!
He also had to make sure that the one volunteer working with us at that time was Sophie who was a nurse having worked in a paediatric burns department of a well known hospital in Paris. And above all he had to make sure that his beautiful face was spared.. making him endearing and beautiful..
I guess no matter how agnostic or skeptic one is,one has to admit that for once he did not do too badly.. 3 years down the line and Utpal is in school, happy and alive and even his alkie mother is on the mend!
So can we say chapeau bas or hats off!
Many moons ago, when we were in our early teens, one of our favourite pastime was to dial random numbers on the phone in the hope of catching some young man and enganging in silly conversations.. This was often done with your best friend in tow and one quickly slammed the reciever down the moment things went a bit out of hand..
Those were the days when phones were still archaic and no one could trace the number.. and often one did not even rememeber it to dial again…
That was in the early sixties
Today we have the situation revisited version 2006.. but much ihas changed. It is not young giggly adolescents who are engaging in this inane game, but women with grown children. This is the direct result of the proliferation of cheap cellphones that have invaded the slums of India, where women married often without their consent at a very young age and propelled into motherhood, are suddenly finding a way to express a seemingly harmless repressed sexuality by dialling numbers and engaging in flirtatious conversations.. but these get out of hand as numbers are recorded and then they come sheepishly seeking help as their being found out would spell disatesr in their conservative homes..
One comes to their rescue but one is aware of the time bomb that is ticking away as this is happening in a society which has no pity or mercy for women.
this touching sepia picture of Utpal sleeping should be enough to vindicate any wrong that may have happened in the six years of pwhy’s existence on the field..
some of you may have seen the revolting sting operation of a TV channel that caught doctors mutilating healthy bodies to fulfil the greed of beggar mafias..
This little body that sleeps soundly did not even need the help of a Dr Jekyll.. at the age of one he had had his baptism by fire and was mutilated enough to tug at the most cynical heart strings.
But that did not happen… instead he is today in a boarding school where he will break all barriers and reach for what would have seemed preposterous.. I do not take any credit for this but simply say that some god somewhere decided to right some of the wrongs he may have done, and placed us at the right spot at the needed hour.
In the six years we have been around we have been able to make a difference in some lives, a drop in the ocean that is India, but nevertheless an important part of the family to which they belong.
It is true that we have had our share of enemies, unfair blows and outrageous slander, all hitting below the belt in a women dominated organisation. Over the years one has tried to ward them off as best we could in the hope that our work would speak for itself and exonerate us..
Wishful thinking as three days back out came the read paint again and this time took care of colouring each one of us scarlet! We have always believed that no one born bad, and hence everyone can be redeemed.. but today I find myself faced with the dilemma of having to take action against one of my team members as her irresponsible behaviour as put a blot on my reputation.. and though I know that the person in question is not without blemish, I also know that she is a victim of circumstances and dependant of the salary she draws..
Six years down the line, and a fair track record to vouch for us, we are still battling the age old charges reserved for the second sex. I must confess that there are times when I feel like putting a lock on the door and calling it quits but then the pictures of all the kids that may not even have been around if we had not been there flash through my mind and put an abrupt end to such thoughts..
It will take all my sagacity and experience to find the just solution one again, but I just hope that the end to this infernal spiral is in the offing as I find myself at the end of my tether.
we read about farmers committing suicide because of their inability to pay back their loans.. we read about children taking their tender lives because they cannot meet the required standards some insensitive system created..
i have been watching in silent horror another monster lurking and waiting patiently for its pound of flesh and to borrow the title of a jefferson airplane song, let us call it: plastic fantastic lover.
or simply the credit card…
The multinationals were quick to see the immense potential of the other India and thus we have pouches of every imaginable product: from shampoos, to detergent, to shaving foam, to tomato ketchup.. never mind the load on the environment..
Then came the credit card which till date is often used for purchases such as motorbikes, or other r items.. but the day is not far when the simple folk realise that they can purchase everything with the swipe of a card: food, clothes, and other consummables. Whreas bank can recover bikes and TVs, disaster will hit when people find themselves in a debt stranglehold… and the ensuing infernal spiral..
The local moneylender does charge the outrageous 10% a month, but often after 2 to 3 years, once he has recovered his principal and a fair amount of interest, he forgets about you and goes looking for other fish.. but the plastic fantastic lover is heartless, merciless and will chase you till the end..
One is helpless.. maybe that is the price to pay in the new economic scenario we have embraced, but what a price
eight years ago i decided to call our field work project why.. the reason was the innumerable questions that needed answers.. and slowly and painstakingly we set out to answer them and we did.. children remained in school and passed their examinations, jobs were given to people who never thought they would get jobs, lives were saved, even those everyone had given up on.. and all along the way there was criticism often stemming out of jealousy of some disgruntled person or the other . So we heard veiled remarks about funds being pocketed, or hidden agendas of sorts..
But as if that was not enough out came the secret weapon reserved for the fairer sex. Let me just say that for the last six years I have heard that so many times that I have started asking myself whether we as women have a right to do anything without being coloured red!
Being over half a century old, I can take the slander but my heart goes out to all the young women who work with me and who have taken a step towards changing their lives for the better.. I know that it will just take one word for their still archaic families to stop them from working and thus end their dreams…
Do I stop all work and end the dreams of 500 kids and all the ones still to come.. just because of this stigma.. If I go to the authorities, then again we will have the jaded: if there is smoke there must be fire syndrome..
We could carry on as we have , but yesterday the accusation was made in a bank in front of a large audience.. and in a few hours I will have to go and face the little puzzled faces of my colleagues whose only fault is to have been born a woman in India..
Am I not entitled to be outraged…