Thanks to the wonder of Skype I get to see and talk to my grandson every day. Never mind that the 12 hour time difference muddles our good mornings and good nights! Anyway we get to live a few moments together and that is nothing short of wonderful. Agastya treats me to his version of daily trivia. The latest was his visit to the zoo where he saw a popotamus! He then went on all fours to show me what the popotamus was all about. Then it was showtime for the new toys he had be bribed with: the transformer, the car, the truck. Yes the kid has to be bribed because he does not like the new school he goes to. Understandable as till now he was attending the project why creche where he was king of the castle and the centre of all attention. This despite my repeated pleas to treat him as any other kid. But all pleas well on deaf ears: he was Anou Ma’am grandson.
I keep or at least try to keep a straight face when his little face crumples, his radiant smile vanishes at the mention of school. I try to convince him that his school is nice, his new ma’ams kind but my heart is not there. I guess both of us will have to get used to the new reality. I need to accept that he is growing up. But I know that from now on in our home a hippopotamus will always be called a popotamus just as an AC is a thanda machine (cold machine) and cars are vroom vrooms.
My thoughts go back to another little boy, now all grown up, who added the word Boman to my vocabulary. It was ‘bhagavan‘ or God and was to this little fellow anything that was big, made of inert material and had to be shown respect. Never mind the creed! The little boy has grown up and now does not use the word anymore. His God has now assumed an identity and a creed. I only wish all Gods remained Bomans. The world would be a much kinder place. I still find myself praying to Boman when things get tough. Maybe he is the real God of Lesser Beings I so often quote. Children make the world a better place and give us the best lessons in life. Why then do we not listen.
Far from that. We commit the terrible sin to letting them down and even abusing them. Every day stories of such abuse hit us in the face but we chose to look away and shut our ears. I urge you to try and listen, just once if you can. And if you do miracles will enfold and light your life. And if each of one did then the world would be a safer place for children at least. I wonder what would have happened to Utpal, Babli, Meher, Manisha and so many others if I had not listened.
Today little Falak is fighting a lonely battle. Every breath she takes is a loud scream that she wants us to listen to, if not for her, at least for all of India’s suffering children. Will we hear her?
She is battling alone for her life. She is just 2! She was named Falak. It means star. Wonder who gave her that name. But it was the right one as this little girl refuses to stop shining. Her story is nothing short of barbaric. She has been abused in the most inhuman way imaginable. Broken bones, smashed head, burnt and bitten, not by a animal but by the worst predator possible: a human being. If she lives the doctors fear brain damage. A beautiful little life has been maimed forever. And the whys scream to be heard but only silence resounds. A disturbing silence… the silence that always surrounds abused children. It is time we heard her cries and with her the cries of all the abused children of India! The children who have no voice, the children who are no one’s vote banks, the children we refuse see, hear let alone help. The children who beg on the streets, the children who are abused in orphanages, the children who are abused in their homes by those they trust most. The children who remain invisible.
Falak’s poignant story has to be heard. Maybe this little star’s life has its own meaning: to be the voice of all the suffering children of our land. How much more will it take to make us get up and scream. Are we so inured, so insensitive, so cynical, so heartless, so cold blooded, so blind.
What dark secrets does little Falak’s story hide: abuse, trafficking. Why did she land in the home of a minor who also seems to have been abused. What was the sinister game plan for this little toddler. What made it all go so terribly wrong. Questions that may never be truly answered. And even if they were what punishment will be meted out to the perpetrators. A few years in jail?
How long will we remember Falak. I guess as long as another story takes her place. One that will engage us for some time till another comes along. Switch on your TV and you will see that it has already happened: the cricket debacle is now the order of the day, then will come elections and so on. Falak will soon be forgotten by the media.
Falak deserves more than that. She cannot be made into another political issue and used to settle scores. The CEO of our city promised help. Let the report come out. Delhi Government will extend all possible support. We will do whatever is required said she!
What report! And what does whatever required means. Let me tell you what it means: it does not just mean some money for her treatment but it means life long love and care for this child who may be scarred for life in more ways than one. It means giving her a home and not throwing her in an orphanage where she will soon be abused like the little girl like her who died a few days ago. It means walking the talk all the way. If she lives, Falak may suffer permanent brain damage and that means she will join the sad rank of the mentally challenged girl child. In one of the numerous debates that aired the day Falak’s story broke, a lady did ask the question of who would adopt this child of God and take her into their home and above all heart. I would like to have said: I will but stop short of it. At my advanced age can I really give her what she deserves? Do I have the strength to be there for her 100% for times to come. No. Even if I do have the heart, I do not have enough time. Nurturing a child like her needs much more than I can give. I know it as God has already sent me a little Angel named Utpal whose life and dreams he has entrusted me with.
Falak is battling like a star all alone in a big and scary hospital. She is battling so that we can hear the voice of children who are abused and hurt every day. Her life has a meaning, a mission just like Manu’s had. No life is useless. Every one is part of a plan we have to unravel. Maybe she simply wants us to see with our hearts and take up the cudgels for all the suffering children who have no voice. Children are not vote banks hence they do not matter. I was appalled and amused when the Leno remarks got the support of UK politicos. But come to think of it they were just protecting their vote bank!
But who cares about vote banks. We are talking of a child who has been abused in the worst way possible and whose every breath urges us to hear, see and jump out of our comfort zones. Will we before it is too late for Falak and all the hurting children of India.
I will never forget Ram’s dying words: Don’t lose faith in India! I won’t. I refuse to! In spite of all that urges me not to: the innumerable scams, the rampant corruption, the sinister agendas. I do hang my head in shame at the grim statistics that stare you in the eye: the 5000 children dying of malnutrition each and every day, the 40% of undernourished the children, the 60% of stunted children for whom no hope remains, the 21 million children who do not go to school. I am outraged when I hear that children in our capital city have to study in the cold because their school is a flimsy tent. What about the ones who sit on a cold floor because the purchase of desks takes 3 long years and more because those whom we have chosen to rule us cannot get their act together. I am incensed at the failed promises, the usurped rights, the hijacked hopes of voiceless people. I am repulsed at the cynical attitude and unacceptable immobility of those that have a voice but do not use it. Yes there is a lot that pushes one to lose faith in this land, but I still refuse to and say with loud and clear I am proud to be an Indian.
I am proud of the millions who in spite of being let down in the most abject way continue to live with dignity and grace. I salute the man who each and every day wakes up at unthinkable hours to go to the vegetable market and buy his ware, then patiently and lovingly sets up his cart before going to his appointed area where he walks lanes after lanes notwithstanding the scorching heat or biting cold, selling his vegetables till late at night so that his family can eat and his kids go to school. I salute the woman who brings up her family with courage and dignity bearing the burden of a drunk husband she never chose; the carpenter who sits on the roadside in the hope that someone will need him that day; the farmer who tills his land with grit and determination to ensure that we do not go hungry; the soldier who stands watch in the most extreme conditions so that we are safe whilst his superiors perfect the art of enriching themselves at his cost. I salute the children who study in unthinkable conditions and still manage to dream and hope. I salute the millions who have turned survival into a dignified art of living. The millions who will not give up the values we are proud of. They are the ones who allow me to scream loud and clear: I am proud to be an Indian. They are the ones that make me want to continue walking the road less travelled until the very end.
It is with immense pride that I hoisted our national flag with the project why children this morning and sang our national anthem with fervour. It is for these very children that I have to hold on to Ram’s dying words and never lose faith in India.
Happy Republic Day
I normally do not check my Facebook account in the day. I did this morning. As I scrolled through the home page I was appalled to see a post that said:ONE TENTED CLASSROOM & 390 STUDENTS OF DEL GOVT CO-ED SEC SCHOOL! There were pictures to substantiate this unbelievable fact. The school is in Sundar Nagri, New Delhi 10093. A part of the city the likes of you and I may not exists but is still very much a part of our Capital. The very capital where two days from now India will celebrate its 63 Republic Day and showcase its misplaced might.
In all likelihood the children of this school will, perhaps tomorrow hoist a flag and proudly sing the National Anthem with fervour and enthusiasm. Now I ask you a simple question. Are these children not citizens of India? Don’t they have the rights enshrined in the very Constitution we are celebrating? Do they not have the Right to Education that states that schools should meet certain basic infrastructure requirements like a building, a library, toilets etc. Then why this aberration!
Imagine your child having to spend hours in the cold without a proper roof on his head, let alone a desk and chair. Having to learn in the biting cold when hands freeze and minds numb. What about summer? Imagine 320 children crammed under a flimsy tent that must be hot as hell? I guess you would bring the roof down! And yet these children bear the ordeal day after day with a simple hope: that of getting the much lauded education that is meant to open new doors. These children dare to dream and dream they must. But should we not all lend our voice to their inaudible one and set matters right. Is this not a cause that we should espouse or are we only going to champion causes that affect us.
How can the powers that be accept such a situation and allow it to happen. It take minutes for our Parliamentarians to adopt a bill to raise their own salaries. Why is it that such a glaring aberration does not make them budge and speak. When will we stop letting our children down. I am livid and want to hang my head in shame.
On January 26th India celebrates its 63rd Republic Day. There will be the usual parade with all its pomp and drama. On display the might of the armed forces, the famed tableaux representing our diversity ans skin deep progress, the school children, the folk dancers, the horses, camels and elephants. India will put its best foot forward for the world to see. Watching all this will be our so called rulers eager to take ownership of all on show. Forget about the price tag attached to this spectacle. Millions will tune on to their TV sets and feel a sense of national pride. Are we not the biggest Democracy!
For a day we are pushed to forget what goes on behind the show. But can we. It is time we asked ourselves what we are truly the Republic of? The choices are many. Let us start with hunger. In spite of the glitzy, high tech and affluent image we want to project – we have the maximum billionaires in the world; guess it goes with the size of our population – we have the worst record when it comes to malnutrition. 5000 children still die every day of malnourishment. Our statistics are worst than those of sub Saharan Africa. 42% of our children are malnourished! Recently our CEO declared that this was a national shame. Wonder why it took so long and what will be the outcome of his statement. So are we the Republic of Hunger?
Let us continue to find the right definition for our Republic. Corruption is what comes next. I guess everyone agrees on that one. 2011 witnessed a lot of hue and cry on the issue. But again to no avail as voices of dissent were overpowered and futile and pointless solutions set into motion. We all know nothing will happen and corruption will remain intact. And this across the board from the small street vendor who wants to eek a living to the big corporates who want their pitch accepted, everyone will have to grease a palm confidently proffered. It almost seems that we cannot live in our dear Republic without mastering this art. Are we the Republic of Corruption?
Are we then the Republic of failed promises. Perhaps. Look at all the lofty promises made by the powers that be, promises meant to be a panacea to all ills but that get hijacked on the way and become new avenues to enrich the executors. The examples are endless. Look at all the grand schemes that are heralded ad infinitum and bear complex acronyms: ICDP, MNREGA, XZYZ and so on. One of our erstwhile leaders did admit that not even 10% trickles down to the beneficiary.
Are we the Republic of the absurd where politicians of all hues promise free laptops in a land where millions still sleep hungry. Where a politician asks a school child to tie his shoe lace at a public function and when admonished simply answers that his doctor has advised him not to bend. Has he not heard of slip on shoes, maybe one should send him a pair!
Are we a Republic of extremes where the rich get richer and the poor poorer by the minute. The gap is widening in every walk of life. Let us talk about our children. Instead of progressing our children are are regressing. The education infrastructure is abysmal. According to a recent article India has a shortage of 1.5 million teachers. Now don’t tell me cannot find teachers if we truly wanted to. Sanctioned amounts are never released. On the flip side schools for those who can pay are proliferating. Education is a lucrative business. The state of health is no better. Health care for the poor is lamentable: overcrowded hospitals where you need to wait for months and even years for a simple surgery, quacks who fill in the gap with their half baked knowledge. The rich however are wooed by luxurious hospitals that burgeon by the day and cater to your every whim provided you have the moolah.
Our Republic does not have the will to house its poor. They are left to fend for themselves and come up with solutions often illegal but that soon get the blessings of those in power always on the hunt for new vote banks. You cannot imagine what some of these dwellings look like and what living in them means in the heat of the summer or the winter freeze. Can we called ourselves the Republic of shame.
We could also be called a republic of feudalism, forgive the paradox but what else would you call a country that is divided along every line possible: caste, religion, gender and economic status. Invisible and impregnable walls separate them and some arrogate to themselves the right to trample others.
You may think that all these are just generalities. Not quite. In the last few days we have had the above stated shoe lace aberration, a woman mercilessly beaten up by a cop, 12 babies dying in 2 days in a state run hospital and more.
A sad picture is it not? But I would like to look at matters in another way. In spite of all the chaos and failures millions of Indian live one day after the other with infinite dignity and courage. Millions of children defy all odds and dare to dream and build a better future. Thousands of Indians have the grit to take the road less travelled and bring usurped smiles back. Faceless millions continue to protect the values and principles many have waylaid. Millions of Indians refuse to give up on their cherished country. We are the Republic of smiles, hope, courage and dignity.
God bless India!