Some days are sunlit perfection as if they were meant to fulfill half-forgotten dreams of moon dust.
A single child often doesn’t know what it is to give, to adjust, to share. I should know. A single, pampered child never learns that a bar of chocolate needs to be halved and shared. Unlike most children with siblings who know nothing really belongs solely to them. I am not much of a giver. If I carry lunch, it’s a newly acquired habit to share my dabba with the others I’m at the table with.
It’s not surprising then that I am not into social work. I don’t think I qualify. I’ve always thought it’s a bit fake to talk about empowerment, uplifting, and the like.
But today we did something very special at BWW. We often celebrate our Graduation parties at Cubbon Park with a potluck and readings. This time however, we had Father Mathew in our Foxes batch who is the Director of a trust for HIV infected children called Snehadaan who suggested we might want to visit the facility for our Graduation. Rheea Mukherjee, partner and soulmate, who is always enthused about social projects immediately agreed.
I had no expectations, really, from the outing. I thought it would be similar to those Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives I edit everyday at work. Those reports are full of how some team made an impact on the lives of those less fortunate and how they are satisfied they have done their bit for the underprivileged. In that sense, I was dreading today. What if we feel sad for the children? What if it fucks up my mind and I start feeling that life really has no meaning, and the world no future?
Just ten minutes in the place and I learnt so much.
The children there are happy, content, playful, full of confidence and sass. Not the brash O-God-what-are-they-being-taught-in-schools-and-home sort of attitude. More of a charming, confidence.
When we distributed chocolates we had to stop mid-way for a refill which took about a few minutes. When we mistakenly approached the kids we’d already shared the chocolates with the first time, they flatly refused another one saying they had already been given one.
When we began to paint a wall for them, we were moving around with paints. Since it had been a particularly long and exhausting day by then, my hands hurt as I carried two paint tins with me. A little girl who was only seven took one off my hands realising I was in pain and helped me place it elsewhere. When I said, ‘thank you, sweetie’, she smiled at me and said, ‘Teacher, I just helped you. It was nothing. If I help you today something good will happen to me sometime. Don’t thank me.’
We painted the outline of a tree and asked the children to paint on the inside. One little boy painted below the tree outside the outline. As I yelled at him with a ‘What are you doing! Why are you painting there? What is that going to be now?’ he replied with complete confidence, ‘Teacher, grass. This is grass I am painting.’
When I finished washing my hands in turpentine and forgot my finger rings, the children returned them to one of our writers.
These children in the age group of 5 and 13 knew about life, preferred real stories to fairy tales; knew that trees are meant to be nurtured not cut off; chocolate wrappers even when shiny are to go into a bin so the campus is clean. And they showed us about giving without reserve.
And most humiliating – they performed way better than any of us can even dream of on stage. Absolutely humbling because most of us who performed today had a background in theatre.
Little girls swarmed all around me, checking my newly coloured red hair, combing it for me, asking me about my lipstick – pink or purple? and shared themselves unabashedly with me. The little boys leaned on me, surveyed our art, and gave critique – ‘Not bad the tree is. But I am sure we could have done better’.
And as the evening ended, I was sure that they will do something better than anything we grown-ups have done so far.
There was gentle rain on the way back home. I was on a bike but felt warm all over. We had painted a tree and the children had added flowers and fruits and what not onto it. Our grass was green and spotted with red and yellow flowers. Our sky was orange and red with streaks of golden-yellow. The warmth stayed.
I have understood anew that I don’t have the patience to deal with a child so I might never have my own, but that nihilistic angst of ‘what is the world coming to if we are breeding half-wits’ has reduced considerably.
And while we went to give – chocolates, stories, entertainment – we came back like highly pampered, single children who have only received.
Sunlit perfection. That was today. And it even showered good-will.
Shantih. Shantih. Shantih.