I am 'crazy happy busy' these days. Dad is here and I am a Daddy's girl. After a lot of cajoling he agreed to leave his painstakingly grown fruit trees, vegetable garden and numerous flowering shrubs behind and pay his only daughter a visit in the great US of A. Since these are my last few months in this country I was eager to show him around this Maha-Mayanagri of all Mayanagris. The weather is great and the weekends are flying by.We have visited the usual Desi 'Teerthsthaan'..Niagra.A trip to the beautiful wine country or also famously known as Finger Lakes region, and Lake George in upstate NY home to the Adirondack Mountains was a delight.
Just before my trip to Lake George I had hurriedly read my friend and classmate(from TISS) Ashwadhy's beautiful post on her experiences with a little boy inflicted with AIDS. This got me thinking about a weekend long time back. A weekend I will not forget and do not wish to. It has to do with another little boy. Such is the nature of our work, I guess. And here goes the story....
I was fresh out of boat...the boat being a protected environment of a strict all- girls-Grad-school-residence-hall of the top arts college in India. A small town girl I was suffering from panic attacks in a teeming and fast-paced city like Mumbai.I was there to do my post-graduation. I was tortured by the non-stop Mumbai rains. I was failing miserably in mastering the art of boarding and disembarking the Ambernath local safely and at the right station and at the right times. As a student in TISS I was expected to do 2 days of field work ..Mondays and Tuesdays every week. I had been assigned to a Government home for Boys in Ambernath. This home housed boys from the ages of 6 to 16 ...orphans, economically deprived and juvenile delinquents. And interacting with these boys was killing me.
My problem was that I was falling in love with so many of them. I could not fathom a life inside the dark and depressing confines of the Govt. Home.It broke my heart when after some months a 13 year old begged me to take him home. He whispered to me that he would cook,clean,mop.....anything that allowed him to stay with me. I was his road to the other side. And I knew I would fail him like so many others. And then I got assigned a task which the other 2 students accompanying me refused because it meant having to give up our precious weekend. I was supposed to escort a boy to a similar Govt. Home but for girls in Dadar. I was told he needed to meet someone there.
This boy was little in every sense ...9 years old or was he 8 ...he looked 6. That fateful Saturday I asked my then best friend and now husband a hard core IT guy, to accompany me...just because I have a pathetic sense of direction and wanted to prevent a search and rescue mission for me and the little boy who I was responsible for.
When I picked up the Little Boy(LB) he was freshly bathed, oiled and had taken a more than a casual effort to comb and dress up in his Govt. provided uniform. Minutes into our walk from the Govt home he asked to stop at a local Patel shop. He with the little money that he had bought some balloons(the unblown variety) and a few toffees. He did not have sufficient money for the little he bought and I paid the required amount. He was embarrassed about this and spent the rest of journey either in silence or thanking me profusely. All for Rs.10.
I had been told to keep a watchful eye on the LB and I too was suitably scared of either losing my ward or of him running away under my watch. He kept to himself throughout the journey and I wondered what occupied his little mind. Upon reaching Dadar his excitement was obvious. He walked ahead of us. And we had to almost run to keep up pace with him. When we reached the Home a formidable looking institution he seemed to be full of nervousness and an uneasy excitement. After completing all the required paperwork we waited patiently on a typical Govt. issued wooden bench. The LB was completely dwarfed sitting on it.
And then I knew 'she' was there. He jumped up and almost skipped, hopped and ran to 'her'. 'Her' being a Little Girl...smaller than the LB. Dressed in a white and blue uniform. Her hair oiled and in two high pigtails. My lips quivered and my throat hurt when I saw them hug....both refusing to let go.
'She' was his little sister. He handed the balloons and the toffees to her with so much love and tenderness, that I had to remind myself of how little the LB really was.As I tried to blink away my tears I smiled at the LG and told the LB that we would step out and be back when his allotted time was over. We walked out in silence. The silence unbroken as we aimlessly wandered, our minds trying to wrap around the cruel reality we had witnessed. From the corner of my eye I saw my best friend wipe away tears. How I willed for time to stop that day. How I prayed for a miracle. I begged God to not let me do this. I hated myself and everybody for having to go inside and tell this LB and the LG that their time was 'up'. I willed my mind to go numb and not see how the LB and and the LG kept turning back to look at each other. I wished to go blind when he went running to her as she started to cry assuring her of ...I don't know what. As we walked out I thought my heart would break...I do not dare think what the LB must have been feeling.
He was stoic in his silence. A LB with glassy eyes...eyes brimming with unshed tears. His hands clenching and unclenching.His brows creasing into a determined furrow. His jaw set in steely determination. I knew he was telling himself that one day he would be re-united with his only living family.His Little Sister.
Or was he fighting with his God?
That evening I begged (long-distance) my mom to take me away and marry me off to the first willing suitor. I begged God to take away my power to think and feel. I was mad at myself and at the world. At the injustice and the cruelty of it all. I cried myself to sleep that night and many more nights to come. I can still cry today when I think of them. My heart hurts and I worry about them.
I say a prayer tonight for them and hope that, so will you.