Four years ago on this very day Manu left us for a better world. On a cold winter afternoon he tip toed out of our lives without a sound. One minute he was there and the next he was gone. I have written umpteen blogs about him and me, and each time I revisit our bond, it is with new eyes and new meaning. It is a little like reading the Little Prince again and again and finding exactly what you are looking for. Manu and I were an odd couple to say the least: he a mentally and physically challenged young beggar roaming the streets and I a middle aged woman having lost my way. While he had spend his entire life in the confines of a tiny slum cluster, I had wandered across the world all my life. Like the fox in St Exupery’s tale, he seemed to have been waiting at one place for me to come so that he could show me the way and help me dig in my roots. When that blessed moment dawned in the summer of 2000 and our two somewhat lonely and lost souls met, our lives changed forever.
We had both come home.
There are many lessons Manu taught me, but I guess the biggest one was that no life, however miserable, wretched or seemingly hopeless, is meaningless. Every life has a purpose. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been without Manu. Futile and empty I guess.
When we first met, Manu was difficult to approach and would hobble away as fast as his legs could take him, letting out heart wrenching cries or mumbling abuses. I guess his encounters with humans had always been offencive and irksome if not violent. From his abusive family to the insensitive community, everyone had riled and assaulted him with words and blows. Love had no place in his desolate existence, and yet love is what he taught me. Love and forgiveness as Manu had no mean bone in his body, and forgave every one who hurt him.
Our ‘affair’ could have been a short one had things turned out as I had first envisaged. Seeing his plight I had thought that finding him a home in a well run institution would solve all issues. The only hitch would have been finding the required funds but that did not see an impossible task. But that was not God’s plan and of course my valiant attempts came to nought rapidly. With Manu it was till death do us part.
To give Manu back his dignity was not an easy task. It meant, first and foremost, to get him accepted by the very people who had shunned him and even treated him abysmally. I was shocked to hear that even the ‘kind’ souls who did consent feeding him, had a separate plate and cup for him, like you would for a leper in the dark ages. Some found amusement in hitting him with their cars or motorbikes and laughing when they saw him shuffle away in pain. The stories were endless and heart breaking. And yet his spirit held on, in spite of everything. He kept wandering the same stretch in extreme heat, biting cold and pouring rain. He never left that street, no matter the humiliation and sneers. He knew he held the dreams and aspirations of thousands of children in custody and had to hand them when the time was right.
It would take a decade for him to know it was time to leave. During that time he rekindled the dying spirit of a lost woman looking for an anchor to moor her drifting ship. He had to set it back on course. To give back Manu what I thought was his usurped dignity, I had to gain the trust of the very community who had shunned him. And to do that Project Why had to be created. The rest is history.
I realise today as I write these words, how wrong I was in thinking that Manu had been stripped of his dignity and that I was the ‘saviour’. Far from that. His dignity remained intact as did is undying spirit. It is I who needed to be saved and save me he did.
I owe a huge debt to Manu and there is only one way I can do that. I must ensure that Project Why lives on and weathers every storm that comes its way. That is the only way to honour the memory of a saintly and pure soul named Manu.