A dear friend and supporter who lives in Paris sent me an email today. Like all Parisians he is still under the shock of last week’s tragic events. He, like all else in that city and probably the world over, are asking the deafening question: what next. I do not want to be world-weary or pessimistic but how many times have we asked ourselves this question, collectively and individually. After 9/11, 26/11, the 16 Decembers 2014 Peshawar slaughter of children, the December 16 2012 gang rape in Delhi, the umpteen beheading by ISIS, the unaccountable rapes of children, the honour killings, the Boko Haram massacre, the 8 year old little girl turned into a human bomb. The list is endless. And each time we ask ourselves what next? But the question remains a question. And we remain mute and catatonic. How many more horrors will have to be committed before we are jolted out of our inertia and garner the courage to read the writing on the wall and look within ourselves to see what we have done wrong to allow our world to reach where it has! Our holier than thou attitude has to change. But when!
You may be wondering why I added the name Anjali to the title of this blog and why the picture I have chosen illustrate this blog is blurred. Anjali is a little girl I met two days ago, but Anjali is also the face of those we have conveniently been forgotten and blurred out of our hearts, minds and lives.
I met Anjali on Tuesday January 13th 2015 after I completed my vow at the Kalkaji temple. She was eating a plate of food at a hawker’s cart. She had a beautiful face and endearing eyes, though the colour of her hair and her puny size were glaring and disturbing proof of her being malnourished. I do not know what made me stop and ask her her name and hesitantly if she went to school. She proudly answered that she was in class IV of the Government Primary School in B Block Kalkaji. Knowing the reality of how school functions and how useless education is without support, I asked her if she went for tuition and the answer was: no.
I did not ask Anjali what her parents did. They could be the professional beggars that earn a living in all temples across the land or one of the hawkers that proliferate in such places. What mattered was that in her case, her parents had sent her to school. This was priceless. I asked her if there many like her who lived in the temple vicinity and went to school and did not go for tuition and the answer was yes. I decided that we needed to do something and enquired from the food stall owner if they could find space for us to help these kids. Come on if we have the space all that was needed was a teacher. The process, you guessed right, has begun.
This morning Dharmendra met food stall owner and was shown a room that lay empty in the day as the inmates of this space only came back in the evening. The room was perfect to hold classes for 30 children or so but that was the least of the problem. In the course of the conversation with the hawker, it transpired that most of the children in the area were to put it as best I can, free spirits, and would not be easily amenable to serious studying. Some did go to school, lured by the midday meal and the fact that nothing really happened in class. You could easily slumber your way through. What we were offering meant work, and work was anathema to them. Dharmendra, the ever wise one, suggested that we needed to come up with an altogether different approach. They had to be ‘seduced’ into learning. No mean task.
You may be wondering how and why Anjali fits in my what next story.
It takes two to tango and no extremist group can ever survive if they do not have hands to do their dirty work. And where do they find these hands? In vulnerable and abandoned children like Anjali who can be seduced easily; children that have been forsaken or at best treated like second or nth class citizens by society. They exist every where and if we do look within us with a modicum of honesty we realise that the one thing that has happened is the widening of the gap between the haves and have nots. But unlike yonder times where feudal ways ruled the roost and every one had their stations in life well defined, today the dream machine that is communication and television to name just two, has crossed the invisible barriers and the erstwhile dreams of a few, are now the dreams of all. What a perfect target for all those with wily and venal agendas. You just have to become a merchant of dreams and then when your prey is seduced, anything is possible.
I am not saying that this is the only reason for all the ills we are seeing, but it is certainly one.
The other would be undoubtedly the fact that we have allowed religion to cross the threshold of our homes and be hijacked by politicians and megalomaniacs. The cocktail is heady and terrifying. We have ample proof of that fact.
You wonder why I have said that we need to look at ourselves. That is because not only has the gap between rich and poor widened, but the former have perfected the art of looking away. Compassion is no more one of the virtues we follow; neither is tolerance.
As I have often said, and will continue saying: we have to learn to look with our hearts.