There are laws and declarations, organisations and institutions and more all seeking to protect children’s rights to be children. Conferences are held and debates too..
But if I were to tell you that the right to be a child lies hidden in every child rich or poor waiting for the opportune moment to spring up and claim its place?
Yesterday our star friend gave pwhy kids a treat: a movie and all the add ons that make a movie show worthwhile, the fizzy drink, the popcorn bag, the burger and the scoop of ice cream. Never mind which side of the city you belong to and whether the goodies carry a label or not, you do not need laws and conferences to savour them. They just have to be there and little eyes light up, hands are held out and the thrill is palpable.
It was a motley bund of children of all caste, class and creed. Some had never been to the movies in a hall, specially our little lohars (gypsies). And even those who had never got the whole lot of goodies.
They wore their Sunday best, never mind the jarring colours and the ungainly cap a worried mother has insisted upon. Nothing could and would spoil their day. Today they had claimed their right to be kids for the duration of the outing. They knew that they had to go back to their dark world, to chores and jibes and even blows, yet for now they were kids and we all needed to understand and respect that.
click on the picture to share this special moment
Nanhe’s predicament haunts me ceaselessly. As someone wrote: this is the battle of the mind and the heart, and none of them are wrong.
Nanhe is precious to many of as we are addicted to his smile. Somehow when Nanhe smiles than for that tiny moment everything seems so easy.. and most of us would like to believe that we would fight to save it no matter what.
Easily said than done as this time the battle is anything but fair. Till now, every time the smile was in danger a few days at the hospital, a surgical intervention, a few strips of medicine was all that was needed. But now he needs a new kidney and suddenly the adversary has turned formidable.
The docs dismissed the mom by quoting an sum that would seem astronomical to any one, let alone a poor widow with three challenged kids and a pitiable cart that she fills with whatever she thinks saleable. It would have seemed the same to us but somehow offers have come without our asking.
But the real issue is not whether we can raise the money or not, it not even whether we can find a kidney or not in lies in doing what is right for Nanhe. I recently read an article on compassion and about the need for caring, and how little of it there is around. But in situation like this compassion itself is challenged. Where does true compassion lie: in getting a complex surgery done knowing it is wrought with danger, in spending an astronomical amount of money to give some more time to a child who will never be able to survive this world, in finding the courage and the right words to tell a mother that her son is dying.
One could also try and explain to her that it is in not simply the one hundred thousands rupees asked for but the cost of dyalisis and expensive medecine, the risk of rejection and so much more and the care needed afterwards. one could gently remind her that she has three more children two of whom as challenged and the other a daughter that needs to be married soon. But have you ever tried talking to a desperate mother fighting for her child’s life, even the gods in heaven sometimes have to accept defeat.
Once again today I wish I had a dream catcher
It was a very special day, Utpal was to visit his mom. He got up early. wore his new sweater and shoes, and was all set to go. He has asked his best friend Kiran to accompany him.
His little head was filled with confused images. there was a time, only a few months ago when he and his mom and the man he called dad lived in a tiny room together. True that those days were sometimes not the best, but everything was bearable when one had a mom’s love, even if it was punctuated by drunken violence. Then one day, that little world came crashing. A long trip across town resulted in mom going to a rehab centre, and Utpal learning to live alone. he was just four!
His new world was filled with nice people, and pals and open spaces and song and laughter and though at first it was not easy, utpal the ultmate survivor set out to play his part with perfection. He made friends, walked into many hearts and stood first in his class. His mom fought her demons and in spite of all stuck to her programme.
Last month she was moved to a midway place where she was reunited with her daughter and ready to take te first haltinf steps into a new existence. Little four years old do not know how to express their inner most thoughts in words. If you want to know them you have to look with your heart.
I did not go with him, but six pictures said it all. We adults who have thought that a four and a half year old meeting his mother after some months would rush into her arms and smother her with kisses. Not quite. Utpal is not your regular four year old.
When his little world came to naught, it was Utpal who emerged as the man of the house. He let his mom go, not creating a scene and settled in his school knowing intuitively that this was the only way to heal his shattered family. But the long nights in a lonely place were not easy and even f he did not have the words it was time to show what he felt. As he entered the premises of karam marg he suddenly detached himself from the little group and walked on alone, like any little man would. And as his mom tried to hold him as if nothing ha happened, Utpal resented this attitude. What did not wash away the hurt s easily.
The silence was overflowing with emotions and unsaid words as he held on for a while, keeping at a distance, trying to make his mom understand. And then when he was ready, he walked towards her telling her that he cared and loved her but conveying at the same time that in this new journey they were beginning, he would show the was and set the boundaries.
They had reconnected but this was just the beginning…
My mother died of cancer. Many do. The difference was that she stubbornly refused all form of treatment. She bore her excruciating pain with rare courage. Life had to be lived till the very last breath was her leitmotiv, and she did, remarkably alive as she quietly died.
She could have had the best treatment and at least the most sophisticated pain killers, but somehow she refused them all. For many years after her death I battled with ifs and buts and ceaseless torment. My demons were only set to rest when I met a leading oncologist who shared his view about terminal diseases with me.
Dr de Souza had been with Bombay’s leading cancer institute for many years and has held a unique discourse to many patients and their families who come remote parts of India. Strangely enough he has ofter sent them back, counselling them not to spent their meagre resources or sell their last possessions for a treatment that will never cure the disease. One must remember that the poor only come to such specialised institutes when the disease is too far gone. His advise is to take care of the living and their future rather than fight a lost battle. Instead of hospitals he set up hospices so that the terminally ill could be cared for, and the family find some support.
All this came back from some recess of my brain as I made sense of our poor little Nanhe’s mom was trying to convey. She had just been told that both Nanhe’s kidneys had packed up and that his only chance of survival was a kidney transplant. I wish he had just taken the Dr de Souza way and sent her home with the right advise, no matter how harsh and cruel it sounded as what awaited her was even worse.
The doctors who gave her this unreachable ray of hope knew Nanhe’s condition and what awaited him. They were aware of the fact that even if he got a kidney he would never walk, never comprehend the world and never be able to survive. One is not even thinking of the innumerable obstacles that exist on the way to an organ donation. To rid themselves of the constant nagging of a loving mother, they just told her to buy a kidney at the cost of Rs 100000. Maybe they thought she would be scared away by the astronomical figure, but they forgot they were dealing with a mother.
But we know we are.
But how does one tell a mother that there is nothing much that can be done for little Nanhe. How do we tell her that her son is slowly getting ready to move on to another and hopefully better world. How do we explain to her that what the doctors have said were empty words, and that for this one time ever a mother’s prayer will not be heard.
We have had many a difficult moments, bu this is one that defies them all as where does one find the words to say that Nanhe’s smile is today in real danger?
Have you ever wondered how much a handful of spinach costs? A few coins on a market place, a little more in a fancy store… and a few leaves picked up in a field would not be missed by its owner.
Not quite. In a remote village in the state of Bihar a little 10 year old girl lost three fingers as she dared to pick a few spinach leaves from a field. Before you express indignation let me simply add that the little Khushboo is a dalit and the owner belongs to a higher caste! And if that was not enough the girl and her father are too scared to open their mouths.
At times like these I am left speechless as nothing one can say can even begin to explain this horrific equation: a few leaves of spinach = three little fingers! I hang my head in shame as I try and look for the beginning of an answer that would explain this..
One has heard ad nauseum about the reservation issue that is threatening to destroy our social fabric. One is led to believe that the creamy layer of the so called lower castes will hog up all our place in the sun. But nothing can make up for the three tiny fingers cut off in a fit of rage for a few leaves that may have just wilted and rotten had they not been plucked.
Why did little Khushboo commit that offence? Was it to ensure that her family would not go hungry, was it because she could not bear to see her mom beaten by a defeated and helpless father, was it because it had been so long since she had tasted the freshness of a green vegetable. This is something no one will know as the little girl will keep her secret locked away inside her.
When someone decided to divide human beings into what is known as castes, I am sure that the reason was not to give one caste the licence to snip off fingers. So we before we battle about the right of one caste to accede to higher learning, maybe we would address the question of Khushboo’s finger and take on the responsibility of their loss. Khushboo’s fingers, Priyanka’s life are just two examples of the countless tragedies that some of our own suffer because they were born in the wrong caste.
It is not reservation or affirmative action that will right his wrong. Neither is it the few fleeting expression of indignation that cross our minds as we see or hear such stories. We need to go deep within ourselves and to see what made us lose our human compassion down the line, what hubristic demon took possession of us and made us lose all sense of reality. What gave us the right to treat another fellow being in such a barbaric manner.
Khushoo’s fingers will heal and her father may have to pay a few more rupees to find a man for this child. The perpetrator may or may not be caught. At best he will spend a few days in jail as all he took away were three little fingers. And all of us will move on with our lives till the next tale of horror jolts us back into momentary compassion.