The scars on this beautiful face will soon be things of the past. Today a 10 am, little Meher will be admitted in s swanky hospital under the care of a top plastic surgeon and tomorrow will begin a series of complex procedures all aiming at rebuilding her scalded face and her maimed hands. To me she has always been beautiful and I feel in love with her indomitable spirit the moment I lay my eyes on her. It was also when I hurriedly mouthed a prayer to my friend the God of Lesser Beings seeking a miracle.
As always he heard my plea and the rest his history. He sent his messenger: Nina a warm hearted volunteer who crusaded for Meher with rare passion. A beautiful complex network was set in motion, and soon the miracle became reality. Meher is on her way to recovery. Once again, just as he had a few years ago, the God of lesser beings had decided to set things right. If all goes well little Meher will next year join the band of pwhy kids in boarding school.
When I sought a miracle for Meher, it did not stop at getting her reconstructive surgery as that alone would not secure her future. To me what was more important than her face was her hands as they held the key to her morrows. If Meher was to break the circle of poverty in which she was born, she had to be given a sound education and for that she had to regain the use of her hands. Armed with a good education the world could and would be hers. Without that she would simply follow in the footsteps of her mother and probably be married off as soon as feasible.
I have always been weary of half hearted attempts at helping others. I have always felt that often these are done for all the wrong reasons. Reaching out to another is a complex and delicate operation. Often it can do more harm than good if one is not careful. If you cannot go all the way then it of often better and wiser to leave things as they are, rather than create ripples that can go out of hand. It is undoubtedly very gratifying and uplifting to reach out to someone in need, but before handing out the help sought one has to look at the long term implications and see whether one has the strength to go all the way.
Ghar jana hai – I want to go home – are three words that I heat twice yesterday. Simple words that could have been said innocuously by anyone. But in this case these three anodyne, words took on a whole new meaning as they were mouthed by what one may call homeless souls.
The first one to whisper these words was a little seven year old a.k.a Utpal. He is home for his end of school year break. Home in this case is our women centre. Since its inception in October 2007 it has been the place where little Utpal has come each holiday. Sometimes his mom is there, and sometimes not as has been the case the last three times he came. She is once again in rehab. But the tiny rooms of the women centre are replete with things that make a place home be it the heap of toys, many broken, the cupboards filled with clothes – his and his mommy’s – the little shrine where mom prays not to forget the TV and all the favourite programmes. It is also where each one tries to make sure that mom is not missed each time the little boy lands for a few days. Kind Roshni aunty who makes all the special treats, or the 3 bhaiyyas – Rajesh, Ashish and Parth who spend the night with him in turns. And of course home is where all the little pals wait for the prodigal pal!
Yesterday I took Utpal for the mandatory shopping spree. We had to buy new shoes, new clothes and a host of things that the school wanted. Once the shopping done, I decided to bring him to my home so that he could meet my little grandson and spend some time with us. Now a two month baby is not really what interests a 7 year old. After the cookies and the cold drink and then lunch, everyone settled down for an afternoon nap. The house was silent and the little boy did not quite know what to do. A while later he came to me and whispered in my year: I want to go home.
I must confess that at first I felt a little peeved. Was this not home too? And was there not a time when this was the place this very little boy pined for? But then I realised that a lot of water had flowed and that rather than feel vexed I should be elated as one of the things I most wanted for this little boy was to give him a real home, and never mind if mommy was not there all the time, the women centre was his real home. A few phone calls later, Utpal was set to leave. I hugged him tight and he whispered into my years: come to my home tomorrow. The house felt strangely empty for a while…
Later in the day Shamika and Rani came back from the hospital where Manu is fighting for his life. Upon my enquiring how he was they said that he looked better and kept repeating to them: ghar jana hai.-I want to go home. The same words again but murmured this time but one whose home for years had been the street. The one for whom I had conjured a dream and fulfilled it. For Manu home was not where he spent almost 4 decades, but the little flat he had lived in for barely a year, the one he shared with his friends and roomies. The ones he missed as he lay in a lonely hospital ward. I decided to do everything possible to ensure that he returns home as soon as possible.
Two lost souls were pinning for what they called home. Homes we had crafted with love and care in the hope that they would assuage the years of pain and hurt and make up for all the lost years. Today three tiny words proved that we had succeeded. The remnant of sadness at not having a little boy spend more time with me lifted and was replaced by a feeling of joy and contentment. I too was home.
Ward no 10, bed no 27 is where Manu sleeps today. It is not what I had wished for him when I first set eyes on him in May 2000 and threw myself a seemingly impossible challenge: to give to this street soul a home with a warm bed and a family. I guess it is at that precise moment that planet why was seeded and perhaps immediately forgotten as the task at hand seemed daunting. Manu was a street beggar, caked in dirt, with a mane of tangled hair, and a wild temperament that made him almost unapproachable.
We had to take things one day at a time. Tame him at first, just as the little prince had tamed the fox. Learn his ways and decipher his moods. We did just that and to do it had to settle roots in the very street he roamed. Thus began pwhy.
The first days were difficult as he used to hobble away each time we tried to get close, or let out a heart rendering yell that stopped us in our tracks. But then we realised that he too was beginning to learn our ways and would find him waiting for us or hobbling towards us as he saw our car approaching. As I look back on those days I am filled with an incredible and yet indescribable feeling of warmth and love. My mind is flooded with feel good memories that I had forgotten. There are so many of them that come rushing, each filled with hope and tenderness. I remember the first meal that I shared with Manu. We had got him some warm rotis and dal and sat him on a stool in front of our little classroom, his meal placed on another stool. He picked up his plate and balanced it on his knees and then patted the now empty stool and gestured me to sit on it. He then broke a piece of roti and dipped it in the daland held it out for me. I took it and ate it oblivious of the glares of those around me who saw the dirt of Manu’s hands. I only saw love. That was perhaps the very instant when I was taught the true meaning of the fox’s secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. Yes I realise today, as Manu is fighting for his life, that he was the one who taught me to look with my heart.
There are many special moments in the nine years that we have known Manu. Many huge moments like the first time Manuate with a spoon or the first time he picked up a pencil and drew a picture (it still sits on my wall). I remember his fist ride in a car when we went to the jam session for special children and the first dance I had with Manu. I was amazed at how well he danced. I remember his first pedicure with Shalini rubbing his feet with a pumice stone and he making funny faces and sounds. I recall with pride and satisfaction the first mealManu had in his own home after spending a night in his warm bed. And that is not all, this child of the streets who had spent the best part of his life as a beggar, turned into a perfect host as if he was to the manor born!
There are so many memories as Manu is intrinsically linked to pwhy, our very first student and the one who made it all possible.
Many may never believe that one such as Manu holds the destiny and dreams of many in custody. And yet if it was not for Manupwhy would not have seen the light of day. It is because he came into my life and taught me to look with my heart that the rest happened: be it the child salvaged from the flames who now runs in the sun, or the fifteen little mended hearts, or the hundreds of children who pass their examinations every year.
Everyone lands on this planet with a purpose and a role to play. Even one who may seem hopeless and woebegone. Every child of God has a destiny to fulfill. And Manu is a true child of God.
Ward no 10, bed no 27 is where he sleeps tonight. I had dreamt that he would be the first inmate of planet why that I wanted to be his home. Will the God of Lesser Beings grant me my dream just as he has granted the dreams of all those who have been touched by Manu’s smile.
For those of you who do not know Manu, here are some glimpses of him
When Manu spent his first night in his own bed in our foster care after sharing a hot meal with his roommates, I felt I had reached home after a journey that had taken almost a decade. Had I not fulfilled the silent promise I had made to myself the day I had set eyes on him as he rummaged garbage heaps for food and let out heart wrenching cries: to see him one day sleep in a clean and warm bed.
Manu took to his new life like a fish to water. The young man who had spent the better part of his life roaming streets seemed simply to the manor born. For the past year we watched with gratitude and also a tinge of satisfaction the little motley crew of the foster care get along with their day-to-day life. Nothing could have prepared us for what was lurking around the corner.
A few weeks back Manu got sick. It looked like a simple viral fever and we took him to the doctor. The fever persisted. Slowly Manu began losing weight and we were terribly worried. Last week he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. His liver and kidneys severely impaired, his haemoglobin down to 6.2. We were shattered and at a complete loss, unable to comprehend how it all happened.
We did swing into action and Manu is now under constant medical supervision but it is all touch and go. And yet I will not despair. Manu has an incredible spirit and is a survivor. I know he will fight and we will be by his side. And I want to believe that the God of Lesser Beings will once again work his magic.
Manu is so intrinsically linked to pwhy that one cannot think of one without the other. For the last ten years his smile has been the one to greet me, sometimes with a flick of his hand, at others with a hug. Even when he has been in a bad mood, I have always got my smile, even if it was a lopsided one. He was always there for me. I must admit I took his presence for granted: the proverbial good luck charm.
It is only when news of his illness reached me that I realised how much Manu meant to me. Much more than the one we got off the street and cared for, he was the one who pulled me out of my gloom and gave me a reason to carry on. When I fist met him I was rudderless and looking for an anchor. The loss of my parents had left a huge gaping hole in my spirit and for many years nothing had been able to fill it. It was when I first lay eyes on him that I found a reason to fight for. Manu had to be given his dignity back and to do so pwhy had to happen. But what Manu gave me was something I have never acknowledged till this instant and I am not talking of the kudos that have come our way. No Manu was the mirror to my own soul, the one who gave me the courage to look at myself with honesty and candor. The one who showed me what I was capable of and gave me the determination to walk the road less traveled. I could not have become who I am today if I had not met Manu.
So as I sit writing these words I realise that it is not Manu who we saved, but it was Manu who saved me. Today I reach out to all the Gods that exist and beseech them to heal Manu and bring him back to health. He is a true child of God and God cannot forsake one who has never done any wrong.
Some months ago our dear friend Sabrina shared a project she had in mind. She wanted to write a song and record it with the pwhy children. What was special about the song was that she wanted the lyrics to be written by the children and based on their dreams and wishes. It seemed wonderful but I must admit I was little nervous. Sabrina and Chris came in February. There were workshops and rehearsals, and even a recording in a studio. They left with images and sound tapes and leaving me even more anxious. This morning I got a mail and a link to the song. I was simply floored.
The song is beautiful but what is touching are the lyrics, yes the ones based on the dreams of my children. So what do they dream of you may ask? Simple things: flowers and trees, no fighting but peace, schools and universities, play grounds with a swing and clean water, to be a dancer or simply to read, new shoes, a doll and a gift for their mom!
Take a minute and listen to the song. Look at the beaming faces and the trusting eyes and ask yourself a simple question: are these children asking for anything more than what should be rightfully theirs? Are these simple wishes not something we could and should make theirs?