the key to her morrows

The scars on this beautiful face will soon be things of the past. Today a 10 am, little Meher will be admitted in s swanky hospital under the care of a top plastic surgeon and tomorrow will begin a series of complex procedures all aiming at rebuilding her scalded face and her maimed hands. To me she has always been beautiful and I feel in love with her indomitable spirit the moment I lay my eyes on her. It was also when I hurriedly mouthed a prayer to my friend the God of Lesser Beings seeking a miracle.

As always he heard my plea and the rest his history. He sent his messenger: Nina a warm hearted volunteer who crusaded for Meher with rare passion. A beautiful complex network was set in motion, and soon the miracle became reality. Meher is on her way to recovery. Once again, just as he had a few years ago, the God of lesser beings had decided to set things right. If all goes well little Meher will next year join the band of pwhy kids in boarding school.

When I sought a miracle for Meher, it did not stop at getting her reconstructive surgery as that alone would not secure her future. To me what was more important than her face was her hands as they held the key to her morrows. If Meher was to break the circle of poverty in which she was born, she had to be given a sound education and for that she had to regain the use of her hands. Armed with a good education the world could and would be hers. Without that she would simply follow in the footsteps of her mother and probably be married off as soon as feasible.

I have always been weary of half hearted attempts at helping others. I have always felt that often these are done for all the wrong reasons. Reaching out to another is a complex and delicate operation. Often it can do more harm than good if one is not careful. If you cannot go all the way then it of often better and wiser to leave things as they are, rather than create ripples that can go out of hand. It is undoubtedly very gratifying and uplifting to reach out to someone in need, but before handing out the help sought one has to look at the long term implications and see whether one has the strength to go all the way.

I want to go home

Ghar jana hai – I want to go home – are three words that I heat twice yesterday. Simple words that could have been said innocuously by anyone. But in this case these three anodyne, words took on a whole new meaning as they were mouthed by what one may call homeless souls.

The first one to whisper these words was a little seven year old a.k.a Utpal. He is home for his end of school year break. Home in this case is our women centre. Since its inception in October 2007 it has been the place where little Utpal has come each holiday. Sometimes his mom is there, and sometimes not as has been the case the last three times he came. She is once again in rehab. But the tiny rooms of the women centre are replete with things that make a place home be it the heap of toys, many broken, the cupboards filled with clothes – his and his mommy’s – the little shrine where mom prays not to forget the TV and all the favourite programmes. It is also where each one tries to make sure that mom is not missed each time the little boy lands for a few days. Kind Roshni aunty who makes all the special treats, or the 3 bhaiyyas – Rajesh, Ashish and Parth who spend the night with him in turns. And of course home is where all the little pals wait for the prodigal pal!

Yesterday I took Utpal for the mandatory shopping spree. We had to buy new shoes, new clothes and a host of things that the school wanted. Once the shopping done, I decided to bring him to my home so that he could meet my little grandson and spend some time with us. Now a two month baby is not really what interests a 7 year old. After the cookies and the cold drink and then lunch, everyone settled down for an afternoon nap. The house was silent and the little boy did not quite know what to do. A while later he came to me and whispered in my year: I want to go home.

I must confess that at first I felt a little peeved. Was this not home too? And was there not a time when this was the place this very little boy pined for? But then I realised that a lot of water had flowed and that rather than feel vexed I should be elated as one of the things I most wanted for this little boy was to give him a real home, and never mind if mommy was not there all the time, the women centre was his real home. A few phone calls later, Utpal was set to leave. I hugged him tight and he whispered into my years: come to my home tomorrow. The house felt strangely empty for a while…

Later in the day Shamika and Rani came back from the hospital where Manu is fighting for his life. Upon my enquiring how he was they said that he looked better and kept repeating to them: ghar jana hai.-I want to go home. The same words again but murmured this time but one whose home for years had been the street. The one for whom I had conjured a dream and fulfilled it. For Manu home was not where he spent almost 4 decades, but the little flat he had lived in for barely a year, the one he shared with his friends and roomies. The ones he missed as he lay in a lonely hospital ward. I decided to do everything possible to ensure that he returns home as soon as possible.

Two lost souls were pinning for what they called home. Homes we had crafted with love and care in the hope that they would assuage the years of pain and hurt and make up for all the lost years. Today three tiny words proved that we had succeeded. The remnant of sadness at not having a little boy spend more time with me lifted and was replaced by a feeling of joy and contentment. I too was home.

ward no 10, bed no 27

Ward no 10, bed no 27 is where Manu sleeps today. It is not what I had wished for him when I first set eyes on him in May 2000 and threw myself a seemingly impossible challenge: to give to this street soul a home with a warm bed and a family. I guess it is at that precise moment that planet why was seeded and perhaps immediately forgotten as the task at hand seemed daunting. Manu was a street beggar, caked in dirt, with a mane of tangled hair, and a wild temperament that made him almost unapproachable.

We had to take things one day at a time. Tame him at first, just as the little prince had tamed the fox. Learn his ways and decipher his moods. We did just that and to do it had to settle roots in the very street he roamed. Thus began pwhy.

The first days were difficult as he used to hobble away each time we tried to get close, or let out a heart rendering yell that stopped us in our tracks. But then we realised that he too was beginning to learn our ways and would find him waiting for us or hobbling towards us as he saw our car approaching. As I look back on those days I am filled with an incredible and yet indescribable feeling of warmth and love. My mind is flooded with feel good memories that I had forgotten. There are so many of them that come rushing, each filled with hope and tenderness. I remember the first meal that I shared with Manu. We had got him some warm rotis and dal and sat him on a stool in front of our little classroom, his meal placed on another stool. He picked up his plate and balanced it on his knees and then patted the now empty stool and gestured me to sit on it. He then broke a piece of roti and dipped it in the dal and held it out for me. I took it and ate it oblivious of the glares of those around me who saw the dirt of Manu’s hands. I only saw love. That was perhaps the very instant when I was taught the true meaning of the fox’s secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. Yes I realise today, as Manu is fighting for his life, that he was the one who taught me to look with my heart.

There are many special moments in the nine years that we have known Manu. Many huge moments like the first time Manu ate with a spoon or the first time he picked up a pencil and drew a picture (it still sits on my wall). I remember his fist ride in a car when we went to the jam session for special children and the first dance I had with Manu. I was amazed at how well he danced. I remember his first pedicure with Shalini rubbing his feet with a pumice stone and he making funny faces and sounds. I recall with pride and satisfaction the first meal Manu had in his own home after spending a night in his warm bed. And that is not all, this child of the streets who had spent the best part of his life as a beggar, turned into a perfect host as if he was to the manor born!

There are so many memories as Manu is intrinsically linked to pwhy, our very first student and the one who made it all possible.

Many may never believe that one such as Manu holds the destiny and dreams of many in custody. And yet if it was not for Manu pwhy would not have seen the light of day. It is because he came into my life and taught me to look with my heart that the rest happened: be it the child salvaged from the flames who now runs in the sun, or the fifteen little mended hearts, or the hundreds of children who pass their examinations every year.

Everyone lands on this planet with a purpose and a role to play. Even one who may seem hopeless and woebegone. Every child of God has a destiny to fulfill. And Manu is a true child of God.

Ward no 10, bed no 27 is where he sleeps tonight. I had dreamt that he would be the first inmate of planet why that I wanted to be his home. Will the God of Lesser Beings grant me my dream just as he has granted the dreams of all those who have been touched by Manu’s smile.

For those of you who do not know Manu, here are some glimpses of him

Note: Manu was transfused with a unit of blood yesterday night. he is holding on. please pary for him

Manu’s spirit

When Manu spent his first night in his own bed in our foster care after sharing a hot meal with his roommates, I felt I had reached home after a journey that had taken almost a decade. Had I not fulfilled the silent promise I had made to myself the day I had set eyes on him as he rummaged garbage heaps for food and let out heart wrenching cries: to see him one day sleep in a clean and warm bed.

Manu took to his new life like a fish to water. The young man who had spent the better part of his life roaming streets seemed simply to the manor born. For the past year we watched with gratitude and also a tinge of satisfaction the little motley crew of the foster care get along with their day-to-day life. Nothing could have prepared us for what was lurking around the corner.

A few weeks back Manu got sick. It looked like a simple viral fever and we took him to the doctor. The fever persisted. Slowly Manu began losing weight and we were terribly worried. Last week he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. His liver and kidneys severely impaired, his haemoglobin down to 6.2. We were shattered and at a complete loss, unable to comprehend how it all happened.

We did swing into action and Manu is now under constant medical supervision but it is all touch and go. And yet I will not despair. Manu has an incredible spirit and is a survivor. I know he will fight and we will be by his side. And I want to believe that the God of Lesser Beings will once again work his magic.

Manu is so intrinsically linked to pwhy that one cannot think of one without the other. For the last ten years his smile has been the one to greet me, sometimes with a flick of his hand, at others with a hug. Even when he has been in a bad mood, I have always got my smile, even if it was a lopsided one. He was always there for me. I must admit I took his presence for granted: the proverbial good luck charm.

It is only when news of his illness reached me that I realised how much Manu meant to me. Much more than the one we got off the street and cared for, he was the one who pulled me out of my gloom and gave me a reason to carry on. When I fist met him I was rudderless and looking for an anchor. The loss of my parents had left a huge gaping hole in my spirit and for many years nothing had been able to fill it. It was when I first lay eyes on him that I found a reason to fight for. Manu had to be given his dignity back and to do so pwhy had to happen. But what Manu gave me was something I have never acknowledged till this instant and I am not talking of the kudos that have come our way. No Manu was the mirror to my own soul, the one who gave me the courage to look at myself with honesty and candor. The one who showed me what I was capable of and gave me the determination to walk the road less traveled. I could not have become who I am today if I had not met Manu.

So as I sit writing these words I realise that it is not Manu who we saved, but it was Manu who saved me. Today I reach out to all the Gods that exist and beseech them to heal Manu and bring him back to health. He is a true child of God and God cannot forsake one who has never done any wrong.

Please do say a prayer for him.

I wish…

Some months ago our dear friend Sabrina shared a project she had in mind. She wanted to write a song and record it with the pwhy children. What was special about the song was that she wanted the lyrics to be written by the children and based on their dreams and wishes. It seemed wonderful but I must admit I was little nervous. Sabrina and Chris came in February. There were workshops and rehearsals, and even a recording in a studio. They left with images and sound tapes and leaving me even more anxious. This morning I got a mail and a link to the song. I was simply floored.

The song is beautiful but what is touching are the lyrics, yes the ones based on the dreams of my children. So what do they dream of you may ask? Simple things: flowers and trees, no fighting but peace, schools and universities, play grounds with a swing and clean water, to be a dancer or simply to read, new shoes, a doll and a gift for their mom!

Take a minute and listen to the song. Look at the beaming faces and the trusting eyes and ask yourself a simple question: are these children asking for anything more than what should be rightfully theirs? Are these simple wishes not something we could and should make theirs?

I wish… I could do just that

the little boy had lost

Let me to tell you a story:…

Once upon a time in a big city a little boy was born. His parents belonged to different faiths and both had their own families that they could not or did not want to leave. They both also had a little boy each from marriages they had not really wanted. They met, fell in love and as is often the case gave life to a child they could not really tend to or care for. Like many others the little boy was brought into the world for all the wrong reasons. No one ever thought of a life map for him or cared about his future. He was just two weeks old when he landed quite inadvertently into the arms of a bunch of people and crawled into their hearts. They decided to build him a future, one that would be safe and secure.

He learnt to smile, to hold his head, to sit up and to crawl under the watchful eyes of caring strangers. As the story of his life enfolded, the hopelessness of his existence became a stark reality. In a land where the right labels were mandatory his were lopsided and flawed. He had no caste, nor creed. He did not even have a proper father. The caretakers who had taken on the challenge of crafting him a solid morrow felt that perhaps his chances would be better if he could fly to another land with new parents.

Luck seemed to be with him as a seemingly kind couple reached out to him. The tedious process of what is called adoption was set in motion. As adults began playing the complex game of adoption, the little boy’s life was filled with joy and hope. Wonderful gifts, smart clothes, outings to fancy places and scrumptious treats cames his way. He turned one, and then two and three. His life was almost picture perfect and he enjoyed it oblivious of the drama being played. Yes there were a few days spent in ugly buildings called courts but the new mama and papa were always there to buy him an extra treat.

Then one day everyone seemed to be jumping with joy as the big people had decided that he could be adopted and even the grim court seemed happy that day. Everyone thought that it was only a matter of days, perhaps weeks and the little boy would fly away. But then a phone call and news that another little boy had been found for the couple in their own land and the new papa and mama had to fly away to complete another adoption game. But they promised to come back for the little boy. Months went by, and then a whole year. The little boy was four. He still showed off his now faded tshirt and said it was his other mama that gave it to him. The paper work seemed endless and the wait unending. The new papa and mama stopped calling and then one day a call informed his real mama that they were giving up and did not want the little boy anymore. They did not even want to be part of his life at all. The game had ended and the little boy had lost! All he had left were a few faded and hazy pictures, some broken toys and some hazy memories of the mama and papa who spoke in a funny way.

This is not a story. The little boy exists and is in our creche. We are all stunned by the news. We can understand that sometimes administrations and laws are callous and complex and do not go he way we would like them to. But what has really shocked us and hurt us is the fact that the people who once wanted this child and were willing to give him the world and more did not want to have anything to do with him.

I am not normally in favour of adoption. In this case I relented as the little boy’s situation was terrible and that he would have to live with too many shadows in a society that could be cruel to children with his kind of past. Somehow it felt right to have him grow in a land where he could run his race without handicaps. I had been concerned about the complexity of the legal battle and scared of its outcome. I had even suggested to the adoptive parents that were things not to go the right way, they should at least ensure that the child gets a sound education as that could be his key to freedom. I had feared that perhaps things would not turn our way but never had I imagined that the very people who had once wanted him with passion would not only turn away but leave the child high and dry. How can anyone be so callous or heartless. I guess the God of lesser beings saw through them and decided to make a course correction in time.

The little boy will next year join the five little pwhy children in boarding school. Till then he will remain under our care, safe, secure and truly loved.

No adult should ever be allowed to play with a child’s life. This is the worse case of child abuse!

no glamour to barter

Where will it all end are the words that came to my mind as I watched the two little slumdog kids walk the ramp for a famous designer duo. I had just recovered from the news that the same children would now be used by the ruling party to campaign for them!

Let us stop a moment and gather our thoughts. We are just about recovering from the dastardly news about a father raping his two daughters to better his business prospect and the sad but of indubitable reality that child abuse is a stark reality and as supposedly concerned citizens and sensitive human beings we are outraged. Now as the same supposedly concerned citizens and sensitive human beings what should our reaction be in the face of kids walking ramps and raising slogans? Many have reacted to the news and rightly so. One such comment is: my fear is that these kids would be taken advantage of, & then thrown away when they won’t be needed any longer! This world can be really brutal! This probably sums it all up.

Are we not witnessing an insidious forms of child abuse, one that is so well packaged that it becomes acceptable and even laudable. The designer in question said making the young kids walk the ramp was an endeavour to bridge the gap between the glamorous and the unglamorous, the rich and the poor. The politicians too have their answers ready to be lobbed at the right time. Stop! I am ready to throw up! Enough is enough.

I guess I have acquired the right to voice my opinion. For the past 10 years now I have been trying to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. For the past ten years I have toiled to get the glamorous to reach out to the unglamorous. And for the past ten years I have banged my head against impregnable walls. True I did not have any glamour to barter: no Oscar winning movie or acclaimed achievement. I simply had innumerable slumpups with incredible potential. I simply had many simple scripts that would help them realise their dreams. The most ambitious one was to give a handful of these kids a real future: a sound and upmarket education. What I got when I asked for help was a harsh rap on my knuckles: one was not supposed to dare disturb the existing social pattern. We did and today four little kids have begun their journey to glory and we are really proud of it.

But coming back to ramps and election campaigns, what we seem to be witnessing is another kind of child abuse, and my heart goes out to these two little slum kids who are being used and abused to perpetrate selfish agendas. If anyone, be it the glam designers or the famed politicians, truly held their interest at heart, the children should have been quietly sent to a good school and not flaunted like circus animals. If mileage had to be sought, then it could have been done in a discreet manner, after the children where happily settled and on their way to fulfilling their destiny.

..doesn’t take a day off and neither can we

It kind of trails off after the holidays. We would love to keep the issue in the front of everyone and that child abuse happens all year long. Abuse doesn’t take a holiday, doesn’t take a day off, and we can’t either. (Jane Donovan)

The it referred to in the quote is child abuse.

It was in the news again yesterday in abundance: a father raping his daughter for 9 years with the tacit consent of the mother because a voodoo man told him to do so, a bunch of caretakers raping their visually and hearing impaired and mentally challenged wards, an thousands of miles a way another father simply getting 15 years of prison for the heinous crime committed against his won child. One again we were treated or should I say subjected to an array of debates of discussions about a range of issues. The whole drama seemed stale and played out, something we had heard over and over again each time a crime of this kind was perpetrated. Remember the Ghaziabad Girls?

We were the whistle blowers then. Sadly nothing much happened: the tormentor, a so called holy man walks free (he is on bail) and the little girls live in different poorly run homes lonely and lost. Every effort we made to try and see them to give them some much needed healing failed as we knocked helplessly on the heartless door of an insensitive administration.

Child abuse does not take a day off, it simply continues to cast its shadow for the length of many lifetimes. And we watch mute and helpless for reasons that are nothing short of unacceptable. Just like the mother of the young girl too scared to go against her husband or too mesmerised by the so called holy men who lurk at every corner looking for prey. Or simply because we feel unconcerned.

Abused children, specially challenged ones, are not vote banks and hence not interesting to our law makers and protectors. The stories makes good TRPs and award material. We all feel outraged for the day till some new story takes over and we forget the abused children. We hang our heads in shame, but is that enough. Is there not something more we need to do.

In my last post I wrote that every Every new born child is a message from God that he has not lost faith in man. Perhaps it is more than that. The innocent and trustful eyes of the child urge us to look deep within ourselves and find the courage and determination to be worthy of the man God has not lost faith in.

a message from God

Every new born child is a message from God that he has not lost faith in man wrote Tagore. The quote was sent to me by a dear friend upon the birth of Agastya Noor. I guess even the cynics would admit this, particularly when you look deep into the eyes of a young life. At that moment not a thought is given to what is to come. All you see and feel is the joy of a new life and the incredible feeling that all has to be right. And perhaps what Tagore says is true: it is a message from God, only we humans fail to understand it.

I have been blessed in more ways than one. Over the last 10 years I have witnessed many messages compelling me to believe that even if things looked dark and bleak and even hopeless, God had never lost faith in man. In my book Dear Popples I wrote about the big picture, the one that was always bright and beautiful and near perfect but that we humans were unable to see fully as it extended beyond space and time. Being only able to see bits of it we hang on to the dark parches and hold them as true. Yes I have been blessed in more ways than one as I have been able to see glimpses of that perfect creation time and again: in the little boy who should have died but is today alive and kicking and ready for class II, in the four little children who should have joined the ranks of child labour but are soon going to walk into the portals of a boarding school, in Manu who does not wander the streets and rummage through dustbins but sleeps in a warm bed.

The list is endless and the big pictures enfolds itself in front of my eyes one with almost obsessive regularity. I see it in the reports cards held proudly by those who were once failures, in the first sound uttered by one who never spoke, or the faltering step taken by one who never walked, in the spirited gait and beaming smiles of pwhy teachers who were once only considered good enough to clean homes… actually in each and everyone of what is now known as the pwhy family: a motley crew of young and old who should have lived in the shadows but have reclaimed their place in the sun.

Seems huge and it is undoubtedly. And yet when I look back at the years one by I realise how absurdly simple it is and well within the reach of anyone willing to keep their eyes wide open and see with their heart. The big picture is there withing the reach of each and every one of us. It waits to be discovered and savoured. One simply has to be willing to look beyond today and believe in tomorrow as God has not and will never lose faith in man.

My little miracle maker

I saw my grandchild for the first time yesterday. I was such a huge moment that it took me more than twenty four hours to process it and be able to write about it. As I held the little bundle of joy and delved into his luminous grey eyes I felt a sense of indescribable joy and wonder. It was a breathtaking moment.

In the last 24 hours my life seems to have changed for ever. Does holding the child of your own child catapult you into another realm of life, freeing you in some way of bonds hitherto in existence? Do yo somehow acquire a new status and thus need to redefine the meaning of your own life? Does it compel you to stop and review your own life and above all evaluate it? So many questions needing answers that I know I will have to seek some time later.

But as I looked deep into his eyes I knew that the little bundle of joy had brought with him a bag of miracles for his granny. This may sound dotty and over the top but I held on to my belief. And the miracles came….

An email dropped by the very next day informing us that a kind lady from Germany had agreed to sponsor the education of our three little foster care boys giving me the miracle I had prayed for. It was such a huge moment and I was left speechless. I simply went to look at little Agastya Noor and saw him smiling in his sleep. They say in India that when children smile in their sleep, they are in deep conversation with God. I silently mouthed a word of gratitude and tiptoed away. This simple email had put to an end to many a sleepless night. The news was welcomed by joyful exclamations: amazing said one, while the other quipped holy moly! These were friends who had for the past months now toiled to make things happen. It was indeed time to celebrate and to be grateful!

A short while later another mail dropped by this one from an extraordinary young lady who had spent a short week with us and left promising to help project why. Harriet is not your usual young teenager she is one a kind. Not only did she organise a bake sale for pwhy and write about us in the local newspaper, but managed to get her school to raise funds for us and they did at their commemoration and mufti day! Harriet wrote to inform us that they had collected more than they had anticipated. This was a true miracle for me as it validated and proved what I always held as true: if you learn to see with your heart miracles come your way. This is a tried and tested formula, believe me!

The miracle for me is not the money collected or promised. It is far more than that. It is the comforting proof that compassion still exists, that there are people young and old who can still look with their hearts and reach out to others, it is the conviction that dreams do come true if you hold on to them tight and miracles come your way if you simply believe in them. I guess this is what little Agastya wanted to tell his grandmom.

My mind wandered back to a beautiful quote by Deepak Chopra: Miracles happen every day. Not just in remote country villages or at holy sites halfway across the globe, but here, in our own lives.