Last week a real estate tycoon threw a birthday bash. It took place in a palace in the middle of a lake where special duck shaped boats floated on the lake providing a novel dancing floor. The tout India was there: a true reunion of the uber rich and famous. And to crown it all the waka waka girl was flown in a special plane to entertain the guests. It was some show!
As the rich feasted danced and caroused, children died without a murmur . It is estimated that 5013 children die each day in India of malnutrition! India has the dubious distinction of having more than a third of the world’s child mortality. Should we not hang our heads in shame! I do. Yet the haves keep on celebrating. Children die while food grain rots. Children die while some gorge and waste. This is nothing short of unacceptable.
What is infuriating is that many sound programmes have been set up to deal with the situation but you guessed right they have been hijacked on the way and money siphoned to greedy pockets. The best example is the famed ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) aimed at children below 5 and that would have ensured, if it had run as planned, that all Indians below the age of 35 were well nourished and inoculated. The reality is that almost 5o% of our children are suffer from malnutrition.
Last week one of our staff members was asked to visit a slum by local dwellers. The reason: they wanted us to open a primary outreach in their slum cluster. She was taken to the local anganwadi (creche) run under the (ill)famed ICDS programme. The so called creche was housed in a dark, airless, damp hole as I refused to call it room. There were a handful of toddlers sitting on the floor and a so called creche worker busy on the phone. There were no weighing machines, no toys or books, no pencils or crayons, no visible food supplements or at least plates and cups that would prove nutrition was given. The children were meant to sit and do nothing. This was how the ICDS programme was translated into reality. This was in the heart of the capital, a stone’s throw away from a swanky 5 star hotel! This was the place meant to monitor a child’s growth and development and take remedial measures. Frankly the child would be better running the in slum lanes. At least s/he would be in the sunlight and get some vitamin D! No wonder children die if programmes meant to protect them run like this.
5000 children die everyday and we remain silent. A statistic like this one should, if we had a conscience, make us take to the streets just as we did when one man gave his stop corruption call. It is true that in a convoluted way corruption encompasses the proper running of schemes but I am ready to bet my last rupee that none of US ever thought that we were taking to the streets or to our preferred social media to espouse the cause of dying children. We were there because we were fed up of the corruption that affected us. Civil society as it is called is made up of educated and aware people. Is it not their duty to raise its voice all all aberrations one encounters: children dying, children begging, children working in your neighbour’s house. But we are selfish and self centered and the dying children are not part of our minute horizon. So children keep on dying as we keep on living our myopic and pathetic existence. We pretend to be aware of things, well read and informed but will at best pontificate from the comfort of our homes or at cocktail parties with words that remain useless. If one of ours dies in suspect conditions we take to the streets, light candles, write articles and ensure that justice is restored. But the child that dies because of our apathy and indifference does not even affect us. We carry on the party while a child passes away every 18 seconds.
These 5013 are also our children. They have the same rights our children have. Their only sin is to have been born on the wrong side of the fence. Someone needs to take the cudgels on their behalf. Someone like us but will we?
Agastya my darling grandson finally left yesterday after 3 glorious months. A deafening silence pervades the house. It is almost eerie. Gone are the pattering of little feet and the giggles. Gone is the delightful prattle that got us all mesmerised. His last words were enchanthing. When asked by his mom to say bye to the staff in the kitchen Agastya set off on a mission to bid farewell. After saying a bye bye kitchen, he ran out and started a litany of byes: bye bye house, garden, bicycle, flowers, grandpas’ office and so on. He was so excited that he forgot bye bye nani! I did not say anything as I was busy fighting my tears.
The past months were a whirlwind. Every things was centered around this two and a half years bundle of joy. Our sleep time, waking time, eating time and above all playing time were orchestrated by the exacting yet adorable ring master. I was reminded of a quote by Sam Leveson: “The simplest toy, one which even the youngest child can operate, is called a grandparent“, a role I gladly played. At times I was on my fours playing with toy cars. But the preferred game was his version of Simple Simon: he led and we followed. Up, down, on your knees, touch the floor, wave your hands, roll them, hop, skip, jump. There was no respite as you followed the little man who got cross if you dared sit down. Forgotten where the creaky knees, or the hurting back. You just became a child and the special God children pray to ensured that the batteries of the toy were always charged and the pain on hold. All you skills often forgotten were tested: running, drawing, painting, singing. Even if you had never done it before you were commanded to draw a car and boy you did and even if it looked like nothing on earth it still brought a huge smile on the loved face.
There were special treats: a visit to the local the park, a day at Utpal’s school, a trip to the rides at the Kalka Temple and above all trips to the toy shop. Each was laced with oodles of fun and merriment that warmed the cockles of my old heart. Then there were the goodies: the hugs and kisses lavishly dealt out when he was in a good mood. They were heavenly and had the mysterious capacity to make you forget all your worries and woes. Life stood standstill and perfect. Time raced at the speed of light, each day melting into another without respite. One was so taken in by the magic that one forgot that this special time was limited and the day would dawn when the little one would fly away and leave you with your aches and pain and a bleeding heart.
Today time hangs heavy. The stairs that one ran up and down behind a little elf now look daunting as one climbs then slowly a step and a moan at a time. All the pains and worries put on hold loom larger than ever. The house is still replete with the toys, cars and clothes of the little one. Slowly they will be put or given away and the house will again regain its adult look. The pedal cars, scooty, and bicycles that the little fellow parked so painstakingly next to his granddad’s one before he left will soon be removed. How I will miss them. I remember how vehemently I had reacted some years back when little Utpal had left for boarding school and someone decided to put his bright yellow pedal car aptly christened ‘yellow submarine’ away. I wanted it left there, for me to see everyday. This time I did not murmur a sound when the neatly parked toy vehicles were put away. They would adorn the drive again when Agy came back.
I will slowly pick up the scattered threads of my life as it was before the bundle of life and energy landed upon us. The aches and pain will reclaim their lost place. Problems and fears will also once again take centre stage. The laughter and giggles will soon give way to frowns and worry lines. The sleepless nights that had vanished will reappear with a vengeance. New games will have to be conjured to fill empty time. I will have to learn to live on two time zones to catch a glimpse of the beloved face on a screen. Bless technology. Yes an old woman to have to live again till her little buddy comes back and makes her feel again.
Bye Bye little one. God bless you!
Got up this morning to some shattering news. A donor we had counted on to carry on our work has rescinded on his promise. This meant we were in deep trouble. In normal circumstances I would have been completely devastated were it not for the fact that I was on a high: you see yesterday was PTM day and I had been injected with my dose of my preferred stimulant:the smiles and hugs of my eight little Angels. That also meant that their dreams and morrows took centre stage and thus the option of dejection and depression was a no no!
Sunday was a perfect day, a lovely blue sky, a warm sun and the feel of winter in the air. We reached the school early and as it was also result day we headed towards the classes of our proteges. But as we reached the first floor we were greeted by a smart class XI student who requested us to first visit their science project.Needless to say we did and spent time looking at the models and listening to the young voices as they talked about their creations. The models were innovative and interesting and it was a special moment. Then it was time to make our way to each class for the anticipated result. I was a little anxious as any parent would be. Took me back many years when I use to do the same for my girl. But all anxiety was in vain as I got glowing reports in each and every class. Our kids had once again excelled. What a proud moment it was. I signed all the report cards with delight.
Our serious task completed it was time to have fun. We sat in the grounds and all the children came and shared their stories. There were many, each one special and blessed. It was really rewarding to see these very special children happy and brimming with self confidence. A far cry from the day they first entered the school. Even little Manisha had her tales to recount. Then an excited voice told me that the tuck shop was open. All eight kids charged to the shop and had their fill of frooties, chocolates and biscuits. Agastya my grandson who never misses a PTM when he is in town as Utpal Bhaiya is his special pal was having a great time running all over the place and playing with the kids and of course eating all the goodies usually not on his menu! We basked in the balmy mood as long as we could but the clock was ticking too fast and it was time to leave. So goodbyes were said and Agatya gave Utpal a special hug. Did they both know they would not be meeting for some time?
The ride back home was quiet as usual as one was lost in thoughts. The question up most on my mind was undoubtedly: Will I be able to fulfill the fragile dreams of these wonderful kids?
I entered the world of disability quite by accident. In hindsight it seems it was preordained. My first encounter with the Giri Nagar slums was for purely personal reasons. I had gone to meet Mataji, a healer, with the hope that she would cure me of the depression I had allowed myself to seek in post the demise of both my parents. She did much more than that. She was a true changemaker. But that is another story waiting to be told.
I often spent long moments sitting on the step of Mataji’s home watching the world go by, a world I felt strangely comfortable in. Perhaps it was because it was so very different to mine. Anyway it is while sitting on the doorstep which was on the street that I first saw Manu and got my first exposure to the plight of one who is disabled. Manu touched a deep chord in me and stirred emotions that I find hard to describe. Let us simply say that even today when I think of that instant I am covered in goosebumps. At first I just watched too frightened to ask any question. But then mustered the courage to hear a story that was heart wrenching. I do not know how it happened but I heard myself making a silent promise to myself, one that no one heard but me: One day you will have a home Manu.
The journey had begun. It took years to build the home pledged. And a very circuitous route with many milestones: a spoken English class, a day care for special kids – you see Manu had to have his set of pals – after school support, early education and so on. Till one day we had enough strength to open our residential facility for special people. Manu had his home. It is there that he spent the last days of his life and passed away gently leaving me completely lost. It is then that I realised how much Manu had given me and what an special soul he was. If not for him project why would not have seen the light of day. He proved beyond doubt that NO life is futile and worthless.
Over the years I have pontificated about the plight of special children and adults, about how tenuous their morrows are, about how insecure their life became once they lose their parents, about how little society has done for them, about how much they need to be accepted and loved. And it was for them that Planet Why was conceived. You can understand my dejection as I slowly begin to grasp the fact that Planet Why may never see the light of day and my special children may have to face indignity and disrespect.
All these sombre thoughts have been running in my head as I slowly watch the quietus of planet why and I wonder whether I truly gave it my best. Had I pushed the project adequately? Had I put my heart and soul into it? Was I paying for my new found reclusion that resulted in my isolation from the rich and famous? Should I have shed my disdain for page 3 soirees and slipped into my my high heels more often? How I regret not knowing those who have money. I know that I could convince them were I able to cross their threshold. But what is the point of lamenting now when it is too late. Or is it?
A few weeks back I lost a close one. Strangely this demise came with a rider. It is was not one that could be dealt with an adequate amount of tears and eulogies. This untimely death came with a deafening question: can you walk the talk! Let me elucidate. The one who left us also left a younger sister. She is challenged though no one ever accepted that reality. She lived all her life in a golden cage, jealously protected by those who loved her. No one was willing, as is often the case, to accept that she was special and thus needed special care. All her life she had been made to believe that she was like all others and kept away from the world, as her close ones built one for her within the confines of four walls and peopled by a handful only. Everything in her life was controlled and managed. She had no say whatsoever and the ones who ran her life had no knowledge whatsoever of the needs of a special person. We too never intervened as one would not have been heard and sometimes it is easier to let things be. But the God of Lesser beings had another plan. He took away her close ones in a short span of time leaving her alone but strangely also free. The question was would anyone help her enjoy her freedom.
One could have left her with what remained of her family and done the bare minimum: a few visits, a small gift thrown in, some hugs and comforting words not really meant. But as I said it was time to walk the talk, to remember the spiel on dignity and respect, on care and love. It was time to act and let the long imprisoned soul free. So barely a few days after the departed had been laid to rest I decided to get her out of her walls and into the big world. She would come to project why and be part of our special class. I must admit a little sheepishly that I was a tad apprehensive at first. How would she react? How would the others react? Would she like it? What can I say: she took to the project like a fish to water. She was all smiles and everyone took to this new aunt, for want of a better word. For the first in her life of almost half a century she had something that was really hers: a place to go to every day, friends to interact with, dance it, share a meal with and above all laugh with. I cannot describe how humbled I feel and how overwhelmed.
Was it time to make a last ditch effort for planet why!