of stolen shoe laces and missing dusters

Yesterday we spent some time with the kids at the boarding school. Two of the wonderful persons who have made this incredible adventure possible for were in town and wanted to meet the children. Calls were made and permissions obtained and we reached the school a few minutes after 12pm. It was refreshment time and the kids had gone to get their morning snack. We soon found them and settled under a tree for a little chat.

The kids were happy to see us and were all smiles. They answered all questions and shared a little bit of their world. We were told about Nikhil’s missing shoes laces that seemed to have been stolen by other kids just like his biscuits. Nikhil is your simple benign kid and the ideal target for practical jokes. We quickly understood that this was not in place to feel outraged, come on, things like this happen in all boarding schools! Babli told us about her dance performance during Independence Day celebrations and showed off the pictures of the event. A kid came rushing asking Utpal about the whereabouts of the class duster which seemed to have been in Utpal’s custody and was needed pronto. Utpal darted across the grounds then changed his mind as he decided there was no hurry: the teacher had not yet come back to class.

Though the children displayed impeccable manners we soon felt like intruders. Parents are only meant to come to school on PTM days and not drop by when they wish. We were undoubtedly de trop and we felt that the children were rearing to get back to their routine you see 7th period was games and 8th Art & Craft. But there was one last matter to be settled and Utpal finally asked the question all wanted to hear: what goodies had we brought. On hearing that there were sweets and chocolates, the kids instructed us to hand it over to the housemother as she would then give it to them. They bis us farewell and dashed back to their classroom.

We spent a little time with the Principal and the staff. It was wonderful to hear that all the children were doing well and were extremely well mannered. We were happy and very proud of our little motley crew that had the ability to walk in people’s heart and stay there. What an incredible journey it has been for them and though there was still along way to go, we jnew they were safe and would reach their destination.

the washermen

Utpal loves taking pictures. Every time I go to his school he takes my camera and shoots to his heart’s content. He did just that last week during his PTM. He took pictures of his pals, his bed, his favourite teachers and more. Then he handed me back the camera and set out to play. Some time later he came back to me and asked for the camera again declaring that he had to take pictures of the laundry. I must confess I was a little perplexed but did hand him the camera. He set off again and took the shots he wanted.

It is only when I downloaded the pictures that I realised he had taken pictures of the washermen as they worked. I was deeply touched as such people often remain invisible as we simply take them for granted. And yet here was this incredible child who ensured that they too become visible and recognised. A lesson for all. But then Utpal knows how to see with his little big heart!

It only happens at pwhy

Sunday December 2nd dawned as just another day for many. For a bunch of us it promised to be a special day but none of us could have imagined what it was to be.

At 9.30 am a tempo traveller reached our doorstep to take us to Utpal’s school. Us today was quite a party: there was Kim and Fen who had made a huge detour to come and spend a day with us, Barbara, our lovely senior volunteer who adopted us, Sophie our young volunteer who just came by, and of course our die hards Utpal supporters: Dharmendra, Amit, Kiran and maamji!

At 10. 20 am, we had a rendez vous with our sunshine man and his lovely family who joined the party. A few minutes later we entered the gates of Utpal’s school. My thoughts went back to the time when I had been asked by the school authorities whether someone would attend the monthly PTMs. I knew I would be there – God willing- but never imagined what Utpal’s parents would turn out to be!

Of the many incredible tings that have happened at project why, I feel that utpal’s story eptomises the essence and spirit of project why. This wondrous child has walked into so many hearts and proved beyond doubt that everything is possible if you just learn to look with your heart.

What we did that day would perhaps seem mundane to some: visited the school, watched children play, ambled in the winter sun, drove to a neighborhood market, ate pizza at a mediocre fast food joint, bought a woollen beanie cap, captured some moments on camera… This is how the day seemed when you looked just with your eyes and as my friend the fox from the Little Prince would say you would have missed out the essential.

But if we looked with our heart than the day became different. The tone was set at first by the protagonists of the moment who should not have been together as what do an emiment journalist, a famous photographer, a slum kid, a retired civil servant, a young professional. a business man, a french nurse and an ageing lady have in common. And why should they chose to spend a Sunday attending a PTM! It almost seemed as if St Exupery’s tale had come to life in its XXIst century version with its own little prince who strutted with a swagger as he set upon making each one of us rediscover things his way.

The day was filled with Kodak moments that beat any description. Utpal showed us his new antics as he rolled in the grass and ran up the slide and sashayed across the school. He then had a serious lesson in photography with Fen as he discovered the magic of a profesional camera that he handled with a confidence beyond his years. The mediocre fast food became a gourmet meal and the beanie cap a shopping spree. And the ride in the traveler a magic carpet ride.

When it was time to leave, only I could see the fleeting twitch of sadness in his beautiful eyes as he waved us bye bye. As we drove back in silence, my heart was overflowing with gratitude for all that I had been blessed simply because a little child had walked into my arid heart and allowed it to bloom again.

You can share some of those special moments here


give me a wet one!

The last few posts have been grim and and bleak so I thought that one needed to share some happy times, and no one can compete with our dear Popples when it comes adding a ray of sunshine to one’s life.

After almost two years Utpal came home for his Rakhi break. Home this time was not mine but his mom’s room in our newly set women’s centre where Jhunnu now lives. In her room were his preferred toys and in her cupboard his clothes! The fridge has his favourite goodies and his mom cooked him a meal after 2 years.

Utpal’s joy was palpable and his excitement knew no bounds. He even went shopping with his mom as he did before, but this time his mom was healed and whole.

I was invited to tea and he set out bringing me one treat after the other. I could barely hold back my tears as I watched this brave little soul make up for lost time. At one pint he came to me and asked me for some money as he wanted to buy some chips. I gave him a twenty rupee note that was a little soiled. He looked at it and gave it back saying in a serious tone: give me a wet one! He did get another crisp one and I just hid the soiled note in the corner of my bag where it still lies.

one year later..

It was just a year ago that a little red bag sat packed in a room in my home and that I wrote one of the most difficult letter of my life as little mr p set out for his first day in a boarding school, after bidding a poignant farewell to his mom in her first rehab centre.

Since that day a lot happened. Utpal learnt to settle in his school and did it as the stalwart survivor he is. He mastered the alphabets in 2 languages, his numbers, three letter words and host of poems. he even learnt to ride, swim and play foot ball and performed a well choreographed dance in front of an audience. And above all created a great network of friends that includes the school guard and his kind principal. Today the red bag is packed again but this time it has been filled with precise requests: I want Bournvita but do not give me Chawuanprash as everyone else takes it!

Unfortunately the road has not been easy for the mom who has moved to three places and never really settled and with her the journey has to continue till we reach the final destination knowing that we will reach it soon.

all god’s angels

All God’s angels come to use disguised said James Russell Lowell. We have had our share dropping by project why in all shapes and sizes to help and guide us, and like all angels flown away before we even realised who they were. However, there has been one little angel that decided to stay and deliver his miracles as and when needed.

Little Popples a.k.a Utpal is that angel. I cannot forget the day when I first saw him, swathed in bandages his death sentence written on a green hospital card, and yet the eyes that met mine were filled with life and hope. That was four years ago. Since he has been busy delivering his miracles big and small, even if we do not have the power to recognise them, or do so only in hindsight.

Wherever his chubby feet fall a miracle is in the making. Two weeks back he entered the world of a women’s rehab centre to spend his summer holidays with his mom. Some time later the kind lady in charge of the centre was taken ill and the only way out for her was a very costly operation, way beyond the league of this brave single mom. We came to know about it and sent out an appeal hoping that someone would come forward. Less than twenty four hours and a phone call later the miracle had been performed and the money promised. Our Angel had done is work and was back to being the endearing child he is!

Wonder what his next miracle will be.

PS: the cost of the surgery is much more than what was first estimated by the hospital. Sowe ned more angels!

Blowin in the wind.. revisited

How many times must up a man loop up, before he can see the sky, wrote Bob Dylan way back in the sixties in his legendary song: Blowin in the wind, an ode to all the unanswered questions that dot our lives.

Today I am reminded of this poignant words as I watch Utpal packing his little red bag for yet another uncharted journey. Like all school going children Utpal is on summer vacation and will in a few hours make a short trip that will take him to his mother. But this time the mother and child reunion will be in a different place altogether. Utpal is going to spend a month with his mom in the rehab centre where she has checked in subsequent to her recent setback.

It was just a year back that I had walked the hot lanes of a crowded market to find the little red bag that now once again sits in he hallway and that was to carry Utpal’s things to his new boarding school. At that moment I could not have imagined the numerous times it would have to be packed to accompany this remarkable child to various destinations and wonder how many more are yet to come.

When I look back at Utpal’s five tiny years packed with so much pain and strife, I wonder how much more will he have to endure. The answer, I guess, is just blowin’ in the wind.

bahar tak to ajao…

Utpal came home for a few hours on Sunday. It was the last Sunday of the month and normally one should have made the trip to his school and shared his lunch of beans and rice but the extreme heat made me change plans and have him come over instead.

We spent the morning preparing his favourite food and bought all the goodies he likes and is not allowed in school: the fizzy drinks, the spicy chips as well as a lot of fruit. Some of his toys were brought down from the attic and the cooler was switched on. The excitement was palpable as we all waited for him.

he came by at 1pm and at first stood shyly but moments later he was his adorable self and reclaimed his proprietary rights. He opened the fridge and took out some oranges. Son the house come alive with his laughter and endless prattle. All his extended family was there and he played to the gallery ensuring that no one felt left out.

The day flew by and soon it was time to leave. His face did fall a little and my heart missed several beats as it does each time I have to let my popples go. The proverbial coward, my pace slacked a little as he started to leave the house. He looked at me with his huge melting eyes and said : bahar tak too ajaho ( at least come till the gate).

I did sheepishly and with moist eyes…

smiles to die for

This is a sneak picture.. it was not a PTA day. Dharmendra had gone to Goyla to meet Utpal’s school principal and while he was waiting for him, he managed to get a glimpse of Popples surreptitiously.

This picture will set to rest the minds of all the die hard Mr P fans who may think he is unhappy in school. This snap was taken post lunch on the way to rest time and the huge smiles on our little gang of three say it all.

It speaks volumes for the school as it opened its doors and heart to a child that fitted no mould and enabled him to find his place. Today Utpal has been promoted to the next class. He has his set of pals and is on the way of carving out his future on his own.

Kudos to this little braveheart who has fought many odds in his tiny life.

planet why – hope and believe

When a package enclosing two healing stones marked ‘hope’ and ‘believe’ landed on my table after travelling an incredible 12 000 km all the way from Ontario, I knew something huge was about to happen in the existence of project why.

The stones were actually meant for Utpal to be in my custody till he graduated from grade and high school, but somehow for the very first time I did not feel guilty when I unabashedly asked my friend North whether i could keep them. Needless to say she agreed.

I must confess that at that time I was confused and worried about the future of project why as one was faced with the indubitable reality of a metro line looming large and heralding the relocation of the slums we work in, and the bleak future of the handful of children of a lesser God whose only hope lay in our hands.

I usually do not sink into despair but I was close to that as one also knew that some supporters were also tiring of the comfort zone we seemed to be sinking into. The sight of those two stones somehow lifted me to a new high and I found myself planning the impossible: planet why. Nothing seemed to large, or to big. It just seemed to be the obvious way to go.

In just under a week a plan had been formulated and friends sounded and the response was amazing. As I write these words a piece of land has been identified and the initial budget is being worked on and I know that planet why is on the way to becoming a reality.

It will be known as planet why – hope and believe!