For the past 8 years, come January and my thoughts turn to Manu who left us all lost and bewildered on a cold morning in January 2011. On that day I must admit, I was close to giving up, as Manu, I had come to realise, was the one who had given me the strength to pick myself up when I lay broken and bereaved and given meaning to my life once again.
Who was Manu you may wonder?
To the uninitiated a mentally and physically challenged bedraggled, half-clad beggar, the kind you pass by without a second glance. So your next question would undoubtedly be what does such a being and a middle-aged apparently well-to-do lady have in common? Nothing and everything. I could either write volumes to explain our relationship or simply use one word: love. Manu simply redefined the world love and gave it a whole new meaning.
I came to know that he had lived on this street un-cared-for and unloved and it felt like he had circled the same path over the years to ensure that the day I walked it, he would be there. When we met, we both knew we had come home. There was no looking back.
It was for Manu that Project WHY was set up in the quaint street where he had been born and where he ‘lived’. To care for him, I had to find a way of being accepted by the very people who had riled and abused him, and Project Why was the answer.
For a decade our lives were entwined. Manu trusted me implicitly and knew I would be by his side till the end. But he gave me more than I ever could give him. He gave me a reason to live and showed me that no life is useless, however wretched it may seem. Was he not the best example! Had there been no Manu, there might have been no Project Why. Today, thanks to him, thousands of children are seeing their lives change for the better.
The other lesson Manu taught me was to never say die, no matter how hopeless things may seem.
And today when one of our main donors ends their commitment in a few months, and I face the prospect of seeing two of my biggest centres, Okhla and Khader shut down, it is Manu’s gentle smile that comes to my mind. I somehow know that the clouds will lift and the sun shine again.
He was a gentle soul with a quirky sense of humour. We shared many precious moments, dancing and laughing and many meals too! Spending time with him was a blessing, an intense feeling that all was well and one was safe.
I do not know what saints look like; I think Manu was one, a true child of God.
And Project WHY has to continue to honour is memory.
Manu remains safe in my heart.
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