Two Angels landed in my life without any warning and changed my life forever. The first was Manu. Manu was the kind of being you pass on the street and never look at. To many he would be just a beggar who seemed deranged and bedraggled. He roamed a street I passed regularly. I often wondered what could have got him there, but it was a fleeting thought that disappeared in a trice. But one fateful day the heart rendering cry he let out as he was being riled by someone pierced my heart and soul in a way that I cannot describe in words. It was like a deafening cry for help targeted at me and demanding to be heard. I did hear it. The rest is history, something I have written about time and again. Manu was a mirror to my soul, the reason that really made me take the less travelled road. His mission as I see it was to show me the way at a time when I was somewhat confused and did not know which way to go.
All I knew at that instant was that I had to help him. How to help a beggar who roams the streets is not written in any book, you just have to find your way. And in finding my way, a larger plan enfolded called Project Why! I made myself a promise that no one knew till maybe much later. Manu would one day have a warm bed, a set of friends; would share a meal around a table, and would watch TV to his heart’s content.
To many it would have sounded ludicrous but to me it became a life and death decision. At that moment the ‘how’ and ‘when’ were of no consequence. As time passed we moved a step at a time towards a dream that rested in the recesses of my mind.
Project Why grew by leaps and bounds. Every day was better than the previous specially for Manu. He was bathed, fed and had his own bed in the veranda of what was our office. And when we launched our class for special kids, he was Roll no 1! So to some perhaps it could seem that the game was over, never mind the dining table or the TV. Not not for me. The small challenges and big ones we managed to overcome gave me the audacity to start dreaming big, too big. Was it hubris? I do not know. Maybe. The idea emerged in my mind when we began thinking about long term sustainability. While on the ground the ideas were mundane – chocolates, earthen lamps, candles, paper bags and even pongamia oil soaps – my mind was busy conjuring what came to be know as Planet Why! In its first iteration that was in my head it was to be a place where Manu and his mates could grow old and die with dignity. I imagined a green building, with terracotta bricks and old style floors, with arches and little windows that would let the breeze in. It would be Manu’s home, and workplace as he was able enough to learn gardening. And the strange things is that many believed in this dream. We bought the land, drew the architectural plans and set out looking for funds.
But then on a cold January Day in 2011, my dreams did not fit with those of the Gods of Lesser beings.
They decided Manu had completed his mission and he breathed his last leaving me lost and rudderless. There would be no Planet Why for Manu.
The best I was able do was craft a small residential unit where Manu and a bunch of special and regular kids lived together. Yes there was a dining table, there was a TV, there was a refrigerator and cold water and special treats. Often it was Manu who decided the menu and of course we never ran out of biscuits, Manu’s all time favourite. Manu died quietly after having had his tea and biscuits. The Angel who sustained and protected me for more than a decade flew away leaving me with one unanswered question: did I fulfil the silent promise I had made to myself.
When I feel a little lost ,all I have to do is look at his smiling face that sits on my wall frozen in time and remember that the only way to honour his memory is to continue my journey.
What a sweet tribute to Manu. It is rare that we are touched by a stranger and inspired to be our best selves, and to help them, in turn, be theirs.k It’s a special thing. Somewhere, Manu – and maybe his mother and father – are smiling. Your work is not yet done, but he (perhaps unwittingly) got the ball rolling and so many are benefitting from that, today.