In life I found nothing was forever. It was only my choice, in every moment, that mattered.
When I went looking for love I imagined to be consumed by passion. When love found me, it healed my wounds and warmed my soul. I desired a perfect conversation with a hundred, aah! me toos. The disagreements I had in the actual ones, helped me grow like never before. I thought there was a purpose that had to be sought through endeavour. Halfway through the journey I realised, I was the one creating it for myself. I thought if I could fix everything around me, I would be happy. In reality the only person needing fixing turned out to be me. I looked for answers everywhere, until one day I realised following my curiosity was the only way to go. When I wrote the perfect story, there was a happily ever after.
In life I found nothing was forever. It was only my choice, in every moment, that mattered.
'There are some very fortunate friends that I see. They looked at a map, and instantly knew it as theirs. Things worked out for them and they became Sharma uncle’s envy and Papa’s pride. For others, like me, it isn’t that straight. Sitting on a horse back we were also supposed to conquer the world, but somewhere in between we got curious about it, maybe even started loving it a little bit and got off the horse. Now the horse is gone and so is the plan. That is where the route ended for us and a journey began.'
She would happily sing along. Sing along happily she would. Every morning she would fly out of her home, and sit on grandpa’s table. Chirping while she ate the crumbs. And then go sit on mummy’s lap, and sing for her while she had her breakfast before work. Then when Sunny came back from school, she would sit next to him and he would tell her of all the wonderful stuff that happened in school. She would understand. Sunny found a friend in her. She would pick his papers from the sofa and leave it on his table. She loved to help everyone. She liked it when they smiled. They were her family.
Her room was a large window with a small door. She would sense when she needed to be in her room, and would come and sit without complaint. Infact she loved to choose her solitude. She was free, she was happy and never interfered. Some days when the sun was bright she would go out for a fly in the beautiful blue sky, resting on the lush green trees, meeting friends who spoke her language. And when it was time she would come back home, rejuvenated. No questions asked.
Life was perfect with few glitches.
And then the day came when she was given to the aunt. She, who had an opinion on everything birds should or should not do. She, who smiled at her and told her to be proper, teaching her what proper was. She closed her cage at proper times, lest she flew out. She wanted to fly even more then and meet her friends. The aunt fed her well, her favourite worms, but she did not like them and felt gloomy. The aunt would complain often, of the feeble singing, after all she was a bird, she was supposed to eat and sing.
What she did not know, she was a special bird. She could only sing when she was free . Nothing else mattered to her.
Salil got ready for school, Vasu aunty gave him breakfast. He had some time on hand, so he decided to play some games on his new I-Pad. Salil loved his I-Pad, dad could not attend his 11th birthday but he send him the latest I-pad from the USA. Sweet memories. Then as usual Azhar uncle dropped him to school.
That day Ms. Shah decided to teach the class about empathy and she asked all the kids to write about one person they saw but they had never spoken to. They had to imagine what their life was like. Somebody who was different from them. ‘Different how Ms. Shah?,’ asked Parul. Ms. Shah used her favourite answer, ‘ You have to figure that out kids. You have to think.’
Everybody loves Ms Shah, she is strict about work but she is affectionate and always open to questions but she always tells them, they have to find their own answers. So when she said, ‘Go, figure.’ Salil knew it is all on him now.
Salil kept thinking about who should he write about. Suddenly his car stopped at a signal and a little boy asked them if he could clean the car. Salil looked into his eyes and all of a sudden he felt really sad. Azhar said no and shood the boy away. Salil’s eyes followed him, noticing every detail, his unkempt hair, his yellow-white shirt, his toes showing from his battered shoes, the dirty cloth he carried, everything. Salil decided to write a piece on this little boy.
' I saw a little boy on the streets. I do not know his name but I will call him Sikandar. He cleans cars. When I looked at him, I knew he wanted to sit in the car with me. I wanted to call him, but Azhar uncle would not have allowed me to do it. I think he is really really poor, and does not get to go to school like me. He does not have any gadgets, and probably does not know how to play video games. I think Sikandar is smart, because he works and earns his own money. I also think Sikandar has lots of brother and sisters and all of them have to go and earn money. Sikandar’s parents probably do not love them, if they did, why would their children not go to school? School is free now. Ms Shah told us that all children can now go to school for free. I wish I can do something for Sikandar and other kids like him when I grow up. I will ask mom and dad too if they can do something about this. It seems very unfair and I feel so lucky to have everything in life. ’
आज का दिन अच्छा था, १२० रुपए मिल गए थे गाडी साफ़ करते करते, कल स्कूल बंद है तो वो और भी कमा सकता है। Private स्कूल महंगे होते हैं, बाबा अम्मा और उसकी कमाई मिलकर छुटकी और अनमोल दोनों Private स्कूल जा पाते हैं। अँग्रेज़ी अच्छी नहीं पढाई जाती उस स्कूल में पर सरकारी स्कूल से तो अच्छा है। अंग्रेजी उन दोनों को तो खैर सायन वाली दीदी पढ़ा देती है। सरकारी स्कूल में बिल्कुल पढाई नहीं होती, हाँ वहां दाख़िला ज़रूर ले रखा है, 27 चीज़ें free मिल जाती हैं उधर। पैसे बच जाते हैं।
चाहें कुछ हो जाए अम्मा छुटकी और अनमोल के लिए गरम रोटियां ही सेकती हैं और रात को सब बड़े प्यार से बैठकर खोली में एक साथ खाते हैं , कौन बनेगा करोड़पति देखते हुए। बाबा को पढ़ना नहीं आता, पर वो हमेशा ज्ञान वाली बातें करते हैं, वो बातें स्कूल में नहीं सिखाई जाती। उन्ही ने अनमोल को समझाया था कि पढाई, खेल और काम सब हो सकता है अगर जीवन में अनुशासन हो तो। तब से अनमोल अपने जीवन में हर काम अनुशासन से करता है।
सुबह उठकर पहले वर्जिश करता। फिर लोटे में गरम पानी भरकर अपने और मुन्नी के कपडे इस्त्री करता, घर के ऐसे छोटे मोटे काम निपटा कर वो स्कूल जाता। Homework वो स्कूल में खाली समय में ही कर लेता। स्कूल में आधी छुट्टी में जल्दी से खाना खत्म करके, क्रिकेट खेलता। क्रिकेट अनमोल को बहुत पसंद है। बहुत अच्छी बॉलिंग करता है अनमोल। फिर घर पे कपडे बदलकर वो काम पर निकल जाता। कुछ लोग अनमोल को काम दे देते, कुछ लोग फटकार देते पर अनमोल को बाबा ने समझाया था की किसीकी भी बात का बुरा नहीं मानते। हर किसीका जीवन जीने का अपना तरीका होता है, हमें चाहिए कि हम अपने जीवन में किसीको कष्ट न दें । अनमोल को यह बात भी बहुत पसंद आयी थी।
अनमोल धारावी का हीरो था। सारे माँ बाप चाहते थे कि उनके बच्चे अनमोल जैसे ही बनें। अनमोल था ही कुछ ऐसा। सबकी मदद करता , सबको खूब हंसाता, बहुत लगन से काम करता और पढाई में भी तेज़ था।उसके दिमाग में कुछ हफ़्तों से एक plan बन रहा था। वो चाहता था कि धारावी के और बच्चे भी उसकी तरह अंग्रेजी सीखें। वो ६ महीने में हज़ार रुपये इकठ्ठा करके, अपने घर की दीवार पर एक Black Board बनवाना चाहता था। दूकान वाले अंकल भी राज़ी थे। उसकी खोली में शाम को ३ - ७ बजे तक कोई नहीं रहता था। दीदी ने कहा था की वह कॉलेज के बाद free में बच्चों को इंग्लिश में ट्यूशन दे देंगी। यही नहीं वह अपने कुछ और लोगों को भी साथ ले आएँगी। सब कितने अच्छे हैं। बस कुछ महीनों की बात है , उसके बाद कई और बच्चे अंग्रेजी सीख पाएंगे। वो सब अनमोल जितने Lucky हो पाएंगे।
मेरी balcony से ज़िन्दगी कुछ और नज़र आती थी
उसके दरीचे से झाँका तो कुछ और ही मालूम हुआ।
I look at her from the corner of my eye while pretending to work. I was told she is 22 but she looks significantly younger. I see her looking at me sometimes while we work,I, at my computer while she does the dishes and I can feel her desperation. I have had the education she can never have, that so many women in this country can never have . I saw her crying one day, her parents had been fighting for two days straight. Her mother, she can’t get a divorce despite the everyday fights. Only if she were financially independent. It is heart-rending, the state of women in this country, the helplessness as if child-bearing and house-work is all there is to life.
My country needs more feminism, we all need to get together and bring an end to the senseless patriarchy
She told me yesterday that she is getting married and her eyes, my god her eyes, they were crying for help. I could only stand there and empathize with her. I wish I could go and put sense in some people but I knew I could not fight for her despite feeling her pain.
I wonder what her life would be after the wedding, will she ever be able to make her own decisions? Will she ever be able to travel the world like me? Can she decide not to have kids? Can she decide anything in her life?
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Madam कितनी सुन्दर हैं। एकदम हीरोइन जैसे। ३० साल की होंगी, पर बिना मेक-उप के उनकी आँखों के नीचे कितनी झुर्रियां दिखती हैं। इतना काम जो करना पड़ता है उन्हे। मैं तो ४ जगह बर्तन मांज के free हो जाती हूँ। मैडम तो दिन रात काम करती हैं, विदेश भी जाना पड़ता है उन्हें काम से। कभी कभी मुझे लगता है कितनी अकेली होंगी। अम्मा बाबा किसी और शहर में हों तो मैं तो उनके पास भाग जाऊं। Madam बहुत बहादुर हैं। इतने बड़े मकान में अकेली रह लेती हैं। एकदम Perfect हैं मैडम।
समझ नहीं आता , इतने साहब आते रहते हैं, कुछ तो साथ भी रहते हैं, फिर उनकी शादी क्यों नहीं हो पा रही। शायद उसका भी टेंशन रहता होगा उन्हें। तभी तो जब मैंने उन्हें अपनी शादी का बताया, उनके चेहरे का रंग जैसे उड़ सा गया। मेरा बस चलता तो मैं ही उनके लिए लड़का ढून्ढ देती। पर इतनी पढ़ी लिखी हैं , मुझे कहाँ मिलेगा उनके लायक कोई लड़का। कम्प्टूटेर (Computer ) पर ही ढूंढ़ना पड़ेगा उन्हें।
बच्चे देखके कितनी खुश हो जाती हैं वो। बच्चे होते ही ऐसे हैं, मैं अपनी मुन्नी को खूब प्यार करूंगी। माँ कहती हैं 35 तक गृहस्थी बन जानी चाहिए , वरना बहुत तकलीफ होती है। Madam जी के पास 5 साल हैं। सोचती हूँ तो उनके लिए बड़ी टेंशन होती है मुझे। अम्मा शायद ठीक ही कहती हैं, ज़्यादा सोचना नहीं चाहिए। भगवान सब कुछ देखता है। तभी तो अम्मा इतनी खुश रहती हैं, बाबा से झगड़ा हो तब भी और घर पे पैसे खत्म हो जाएँ तब भी। कितने मज़े से वो मुकेश के गाने गा गा कर रोटियां सेकती हैं। अम्मा को देखती हूँ तो मैडम याद आ जाती हैं। मेरी शादी हो जाएगी, मेरा घर बस जाएगा , मैं अम्मा की तरह भरा पूरा परिवार सजाउंगी।पर Madam जी का क्या होगा ?
क्या उनकी शादी अच्छे से हो पाएगी ? क्या बच्चों का सुख उन्हें मिलेगा? क्या वह एक जगह घर बसा पाएंगी? क्या उनके परेशान चेहरे पे कभी वह रंगत आ पायेगी, जो मुकेश के गाने गाते गाते मेरी अम्मा के चेहरे पे आ जाती है?
कभी कभी ही होता है जब मैं सोचती हूँ की क्या अच्छा होता कि ढेर सारे पैसे कमा लेती, भगवान ने अच्छा खासा मौका भी दिया था। Bombay में गर्मियों के मौसम में दोपहर के कुछ ढाई बजे जब लोकल गरम सांसें छोड़ती है, और ज़िन्दगी का रस पसीने से नम भीड़ में पल ब पल निचुड़ रहा होता है, तब अक्सर मुझे ऐसे ख़याल आते हैं।
खैर, तो ऐसा ही एक दिन था, लोकल में बड़ी 'गर्दी ' थी और रोज़ की तरह मैं आस पास के लोगों में, चूड़ियों की खनक में, मोगरे की महक में, गोवंडी की गालियों में, होठों की लालियों में कहानियां ढून्ढ रही थी और साथ में सोच रही थी कि ये दौड़ती भागती कहानियां पढ़ने और बनाने में ज़्यादा मज़ा है या किसी कम्फ़र्टेबल गाडी के AC में। जवाब में फिलहाल 'AC ' आने ही वाला था कि मुझे लगा की कोई बच्चा मेरा कुरता खींच रहा है।
नीचे देखा तो वह छोटी सी गुड़िया बोली ' कैरी ले लो न आंटी' । आंटी सुनकर हमेशा दुःख होता है पर वह मेरी तरफ बड़ी हसरत से देख रही थी। गेहुआँ रंग, तारों सी टिमटिमाती आँखें , सूखें होठों पे एक ज़बरदस्ती की हंसी, मैली सी हरे रंग की frock । खुद भी कैरी सी लग रही थी, एक छोटी सी प्यारी सी कच्ची कैरी । कुल चार कैरियाँ थी उसके पास। 20 या 30 रुपये मांगे उसने, मैंने कहा ठीक है दे दो। मैंने पैसे निकाले ही थे की स्टेशन आ गया। जैसा की अक्षय कुमार जी ने कहा है, मुंबई में लोकल रुकने और चलने के बीच सिर्फ एक 'take' देती है और यदि इसमें असफल हुए तो आपका राम ही मालिक है ।
जब तक वह कच्ची कैरी उतर पाती, गाडी चल दी थी, मैंने झांक कर देखा तो वह प्लेटफार्म पर घुटनों के बल गिर पड़ी थी, उसकी आँखें थोड़ी सी बंद हुईं और होठों के एक उलटा चाँद बनाया, जैसे की वह रोने जा रही हो, फिर वह अचानक ही रुक गयी। उसका चेहरा एक पल में बुझ गया। वह एक पल अक्सर मेरे पास आकर घंटो मेरी आँखों में देखता रहता है ।
बच्चे रोते हैं , ज़िद करते हैं , क्यूंकि उनको देखने वाला, उनके रोने से आहत होने वाला, उनकी ज़िद मानने वाला कोई होता है।
कैरी रो भी देती तो कौन देखता ? कौन उसके घुटने को सहलाता ? कैरी एक ऐसे देश में रहती थी जहाँ उसके जैसे कई बच्चों को रोने तक का कोई हक़ नहीं था। ऐसे देश में उनकी कहानियां सुनने वालों की और उन्हें कहानियाँ सुनाने वालों की बहुत ज़रुरत है। Teach for India में काम करके शायद हम सब ऐसे ही कुछ बच्चों को पढाई के साथ साथ इस बात का भरोसा दिला रहे थे कि उनकी हंसी और उनके आंसुओं,उनकी कहानियों का मोल है। शायद तभी मेरी हज़ार गलतियों के बावजूद वो मुझे माफ़ कर देते थे।
AC गाडी नहीं, शायद कैरी की तरह लोकल ही अभी के लिए मेरी असल जगह थी। ये कहानियां ही मेरे मुस्तकबल की परवरिश थी। मैं बस इन्हीं को साथ लिए ज़िन्दगी का सफर तय करूंगी।
Joseph Campbell once said, “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.” I believed him.
Out of the many beautiful experiences that made me dig deep within myself to find hope, this one holds a special place. It is one of those places embedded so deep within happiness yet moistened to the last bit my melancholy.
We had organised an eye-camp in a small village near Kanpur. Though such camps are held time and again in villages, it was probably for the first time that there were vehicles arranged for the older people in the area who could not walk, to get an eye checkup. We also had a dental check-up for kids in the same school. Chai, samosa and our very own Parle G biscuits, the smaller ones were arranged knowing the wait could be long and some people might go hungry. So, here we were surrounded by about 300 people, half of them kids who just could not contain their energies and elders for whom it was an effort to go from the waiting area to the testing room. We were helping them by sometimes leading the way, sometimes supporting and when necessary picking them up and carrying them to the room.
Everytime I had a moment, I would stand back and watch. It was a satisfying sight, the kind of satisfaction that can only come with a sincere act of service, when you know that you are doing something that is easing pain. The kind of sight that makes life a pursuit.
It was then that I saw him. Old, painful, very painful eyes, white clothes that had turned yellow much like the color of his skin, wrinkles that seemed to to tell many stories at once, nails that time had bitten off, old battered slippers, ankles that had turned to stone and then developed cracks. He probably had lost vision in one of his eyes because of cataract and the other had been paining because of an infection for years now. His wife was with him, who also had cataract but could still see. Though we had arranged for some medicines, the one that 'dadaji' (as we called him) needed and the doctor did not have it.
Though old people in pain is not an uncommon sight in India if we choose to look outside our silos, something in me was deeply moved and there was an urge to go and speak with him. I went to him to offer Parle G since he already had tea in his hands. He took the packet, looked at it with one eye , smiled and asked -
'Yeh dawai hai kya beta?' ( Is it a medicine?) with the kind of hope that can pierce through even the most stoic of hearts.
and I only claim to have a very weak one.
It took every ounce of restraint in me to not break down right there. To say I am sorry repeatedly for some unknown reason and to leave everything and take him to the city and get him treated like he was my own grandfather.It was not his distress but his hope that was killing me. The hope that he would finally get some relief while, despite my urge, I had none to offer. Before my mind could start working again, his wife had already told him they were 'just' biscuits. The hope in his eyes vanished slowly. He did not say anything, no complaints, no regrets, but his eyes that could not see spoke a thousand words in a second. I am not sure how long I stood there watching him eating the chai biscuit with his four teeth. Then they got up to leave and I realised that I had to move on. I asked my partner to stop at every medical store and ask for their medicines, before dropping them and their neighbours off.
When he returned I was busy with other stories, and when I finally got the time to ask him, he told me that the medicine wasn't available in a 50 km radius. By then I knew there were just too many people who had a similar story and I decided to help the ones I could instead. It was a practical decision and the right one in the real world. But every time I get too carried away by the beauty of the world and the ambitions it offers, I see those eyes in my dreams. And every time I see them, I know that I cannot take up every fight.
I would have to carry incomplete stories in my heart every time I try but somehow they also strengthen a part of me, in an inexplicable way, they help me find myself over and over again.
If I could classify this as a job, it is the most difficult one I have or will ever do. If it is a mission, it is more important than anyone I can ever dream of undertaking.
I am overwhelmed today with the task at hand.
I go back after over a month of forced and diwali vacation to torn charts, a broken almirah, stolen books and as usual a filthy isolated classroom.
I go back to a dysfunctional school, where nobody cares. And all who care quit because they are so overwhelmed by how things function there.
I go back to kids who have learnt that violence is a way of life, be that physical or verbal, who have seen more than anyone deserves to see in an entire life, who do stuff I just wish I did not know right now.
Its a dark place down here. I am scared today . I dont know why but I am.
Today Kunal asked me to go to the toilet. Usually the class rule does not allow going to the toilet during instruction but when kids say 'didi zor se aayi hai' , I let them go. Well I am the trusting kinds ;).
Right before Kunal asked , I had seen his brother outside the door. As soon as Kunal said zor se aayi hai , kids prompted me saying 'Kunal bhai ke pas jaa raha'
The rest of the coversation :
Didi : Kunal are you telling a lie . Jhooth?
Kunal : Nai didi. No jhooth.
Didi : Kunal you are going to the toilet and not to your brother. Bhai ?
Kunal : No didi. Toilet.
Class : Nai didi jhooth bol raha. I see the brother outside running away.
And then I do what I do most of the times. Trust.
Didi : Kunal go to the toilet and come back quickly. ( I acted the quickly part)
Kunal : Yes didi.
One hour later.
I am called for an important work. I ask the kids to work quietly. As I come back I hear a couple of kids shouting. I come back and ask who was shouting.
The class: (as usual) didi yeh -- nai didi woh.
Didi : Apne ap, on your own stand up and tell me who was shouting.
No one gets up.Again did yeh didi woh.
Didi : Tell me the truth. Sach bolo.
Kunal gets up. The only kid to stand. And though he was talking when I entered I am sure he wasnt the one shouting. I knew Sahil and Arbaz were and when Kunal stood up there were 10 more who stood up including the both of them.
My trusting paid off. That is why I love kids. They tend to respect human elements much more than adults.
Thanks Kunal. You inspired me to trust people, few people do that.
It was my history book that gave me my first and strongest shot of nationalism. I tend to visualise most of the things I read and if you ask me, at 10, I actually saw the independence struggle infront of me. I remember crying when i was reading about jalianwala bagh and beamed with pride at Gandhi's victories.
My inspirations were these stories for a long time. I wanted to be like one of these national heroes, Bhagat Singh was one man I absolutely adored .
As I grew up, movies and their patriotic songs became my link with patriotism. So much so, that I would listen to these songs every 15th aug and 26th january.
Things have changed drastically now. Today the inspiration is not local, it is not India. Its global.
Nothing made me realise that more than TFI.
Most of its inspirational songs are bollywood and hollywood numbers. Most of its inspirational leaders are present day teachers and no, they are not limited to India. National heroes, even social reformers hardly find a mention. Rabindranath Tagore and his ideas on education which changed the way I thought about education as a whole, have also been considered too philosophical for the movement.
But people are inspired. They do not know about the 1857 struggle, they do not want to know about it and the best part is probably that they do not need to.
The present inspires them, the idea of humanity inspires them, art and music inspires them. They do not need to look at the past. Its the present that they derive their energy from as they focus toward a bright future.
This is our new generation and I hope we get some change in place.