The future of My Country...
'Hi' said Shweta, 'this is Anshu'. A few mins later we were walking out of one of Mumbai's best western suburb mall. No Breakfast and lunch had made them hungry. As we walked back, we saw the three huge apartment complexes being built, they had the raw look with a shade of dust around. This was our destination, right where Rustomjee Elanza was now rising.
We found our way around. Drove into the huge large black gates. The guard asked us to park the van right next to the gates, the driver then asked him to let us to the school. As we made our way through the short dusty road, I saw a building made of bricks, it wasn’t finished. A small head peeped out of the door and vanished in another second.
'Aur bachhe hain?' shweta asked. 'Sab ko bula lo' she continued. Off went one of the youngsters who looked older than the rest. 'Mission sab ko bula lo' now had a go-go. The teacher in the mean time managed getting all the kids in one room. Hritik Roshan, Khushboo, Laltush, Asadur, Rinku, Jyosna Sapidul, Piya, Medina, Imran, Pramila, Mamta, Sibu sat in front of my eyes now. One of them caught my attention; she had these strange green eyes. There a sudden flash of the National Geographic cover page from the Afghan war. I was back again, looking straight into the eyes of each one of them. She was one of the few people whom Gautam caught in his frame. He today was all set to capture a billion emotions. Few smiled, few avoided, some just stared...endlessly into my eyes. It was a very strange feeling. A very very strange feeling...I had in front of me a select future of my country. There I was; looking at them as a toybanker! Hoping to bring a smile on their face, hoping to give them a part of their childhood which they rightfully deserved, hoping to make a difference. And yes, Hritik Roshan was the name of a kid, mother of whose was a die hard fan of the Bollywood hero!
'Chalo taali maaro' and soon everyone's hand went up in sync. This amused me to no extent. Reminded me of P.T at school. This was probably the teacher's way of bringing in a sense of discipline. He was back now, having, managed 5 to 6 more kids. The teacher said 'Bangali ko nahi bulaya, maratha ko bhi nahi bulaya...'. States seemed to have divided our population everywhere.
Sahil and I now decide to take a walk through the hutments...or should I say 'Modern Hutments'. As I walked through them I saw dim huts, I could see a small baby in one. The mother moved inside while I walked through. Some smiled from inside. “Bacchon ko bhejo” I would say, “Bhej diya” would come as the reply as I would see two fragile legs finding some space in a corner in the house trying to avoid my sight. Marina was lying there on her mother’s lap. She smiled, I said “Issko school leke jaana hai”. “Uske bhai gayen hain” “Toh kya hua, isse bhi le ke jaana hai”. She nodded her head. Went in, I could hear some utensils moving. A red short and a white t-shirt in had. Marina was now out of the house, while her mother tried to cover her up with clothes. I could see an injury on her hand, a cut on her legs. I looked around. It was just metal all around. I looked no further. I held out my little finger. Marina looked up in amazement. But she held on to it immediately. We walked, but then I realized she couldn’t match her baby steps to my gigantic ones. So I picked her up and held her in my arms. I smiled, and thought “No susu okay” :)
While we were making an exit Sahil showed me this corner and said “there are kids there too. But you will have to call them”. I walked up there. There were loads of men around, there was some kind of fear, but then I smiled, and they smiled back. I said “Bacchon ko School le ke chalna hai”. A lady got out of the hut; she had a typical Bengali black tika. There was a boy of about 8 yrs in age and right next to her sat this small girl. The lady called out “Payal, chalo school”, so Payal moved in. I asked for the boy to get dressed too but she said the boy was unwell, I walked up to him and put my hand on his forehead, he was running temperature. “Haan isko Bukhar hai” I said. In a second Payal peeped out of the door and she said “Amake o Bukhar ache”. Ah, the Bengali family I thought. Thanks to my birth in the eastern part of my country I did catch up with a language close to Bengali. So I shot out a few sentences in Oriya and soon the lady had both Payal and her brother dressed up walking towards the School.
Back in the school I now saw new kids who had joined the bunch. My eyes swept through the room. Four kids who lay along the wall were sound asleep. I smiled. It was off course an obvious thing to happen. The school unlike the tin shed hutments was with a brick roof automatically making it the coolest place in the whole construction site. No wonder each one of them would relish catching a nap in the corners.
Shweta and another Toybanker had now got everyone in a circle. Shweta then announced, we are here only and only to have fun. Yes, that was out sole objective. We were there to have loads of fun in that 20*20 feet room that we had to ourselves. The volunteers were now with the kids, making merry, talking and smiling. The music went up and we tried passing the parcel. The music stopped and Asadur, probably the eldest kid there was asked to dance. He did but to only a nice song. His ambition as he quoted towards the end of the day was to be a dancer. I stood right at the door. Looking at each one of them, my eyes stopped at Rinku as he pulled his short about the knee. I saw a dark black patch. It was an injury which had gone dry now. I looked away; I walked out to catch some fresh air. As I stood there gazing at the tall structures, Shweta walked out “Tu kya yahan statue of liberty ki tarah khada hai”. I just smiled, I was lost in thoughts.
Chintan had now arrived with his bank of goodies. Books, food, pens and stationery. FOOD! :)
We smuggled all of it through a window to one of the other rooms. The kids now were in a free dance mode. The 20/20 feet room had transformed into one of those hundred discotheques that the rich and famous visited. The only difference being that this one was had no lights except for sunlight. There were no 1000 watt speakers but just a television which doubled up as speakers. This was pure happiness, a source of letting go their fears, living the moment. The room fell short for the madness. They were jumping all over, falling on each other, climbing on each others feet, but then there were just smiles all around. Sheer bliss!
One of them wanted to leave. We as volunteers tried resisting. But he just wanted to. A minute later he was back. He pointed towards his toe. There was blood. The numerous open iron rods were the cause. I asked for a first aid kit, there was none. The driver of the van suggested putting some engine oil on it! I froze, dumbstruck. I washed his feet; he said there was a first aid kit in the office. He left for the same. It is an amazing fact, there seemed to be no pain, no hurt, no emotions and neither any regret in his eyes as he left. I compared it to what a much smaller injury to me would do to the world around me. This was a stark contrast. I was yet again left with no words, no thoughts. Probably the Nth time in the day!
The toy distribution started. Neatly wrapped toys in newspapers made their way from big brown carton boxes to tiny little hands. Hands which probably never seen anything close to a toy. There were smiles, a few clapped, I wonder how many of them knew what exactly lay in there hands. But there was genuine excitement. But then there was this look that I saw in a few eyes. It wasn’t happiness, there wasn’t any joy, there seemed to be a question for which there were no answers. A question which was a simple “Why?” “Why did it take so long for them to come” “Why didn’t we ever know a toy existed” “ Why only now”. We had brought a smile, we had got them a part of their child hood which they rightfully deserved, and we had made a difference. We don’t know how long would the memory last, we don’t know how long the happiness would last but then a small part had been played.
Things inside had changed now. The volunteers were now noting down the names of the kids for the database. We captured the name, the age and the interest. The ages varied. The interest though was being asked as a question…”Bade hoke kya banoge…”. “Kuch Nahi” was the first reply, “Kuch nahi” was the second, “Kuch Nahi” was the third. I close my eyes, whom do I blame? Whom do I blame but I. For a world that lay beyond these tall structures, for they shall not be there to see it. For them the world rallied between places of construction, cement, iron railings, helmet and tin sheds. There was noise, lot of noise in my head. It was not I, but WE were to blame. “Bade hoke kya banoge…” “Police” “Teacher” “Doctor”. I saw hope, I saw our future. There were 37 kids who registered; there were 8 ambitions, 3 police officers, 1 actor, 1 teacher, 1 dancer and 2 doctors. They were my hope and along with them the 29 others were my hope. I could not give up on them. They are what we are. A small thought but a true fact. In them lay our country, in their smiles, in their ambition, in their joy and in their hope.
The kids hurried off home. The Toybankers sat back. There were quick updates, I was still thinking. We left, to meet again some day, to get them their smiles, to get them their deserved rights.
Happy Toybanking & Eid Mubarak!
Find all the pics and the smiles here!
PS: Asadur came back while the toybankers caught up. His toy was incomplete. It was a board game. He had a request “Car”. This one thing that I knew in a second that I would not give him. I pulled out a game of brainvita. A warning of “no goli” to be played. I explained the game. Told “Deemag wala hai”. He was not convinced. “Deemag to hai, yeh nahi chahiye”. I challenged him. He said “two games, one marble on the board”. I said “ok, we then go to the mall and get you the car. We were four games down, there were four marbles on the board. I left him with my phone number and a promise to see him this Saturday. If he leaves the board with one marble, he gets the “Car” and probably another challenge. He noted my mobile number. I noted his down. I await his missed call. I live with a hope that my phone rings now, and it reads “Asadur”. This is hope, this is faith, this is belief, this is what a toy can do to a child.
Giving back the Right to a Childhood.