Saturday, February 14, 2009

Picnic to Circus

Hello friends…

I am sure all of you must be anxiously waiting for the snaps of our circus party….And here are they:
The photos by themselves narrate the entire story but for those who couldn’t make it for this, let me give you a brief account of this trip.

Frankly speaking, Kaustubh turned out to be the man of the show. Superb job done by him! Its seems he had decided to make up for his absence in our Republic Day celebrations by the way of his extra efforts this time ;-) He met the manager of the circus a week back & persuaded him for the 50% discount (front-most tickets (to get an eyeful of the show) worth Rs.100/- were given at Rs.50/-). We thought we would arrive at some cheapest & easiest way to reach the venue from our place…may be some 4-wheelers from our friends/relatives but unfortunately that didn’t work out. Many of us may not know this that when we were about to postpone the picnic to next Saturday due to the shortage of volunteers, Kaustubh was taking extra pains on the site to convince the manager for the same Saturday (14th Feb). He had gone to the extent of talking to the corporator of that area for this & then even managed to get 2 free tickets for us. The news about our change in plan made him again zoom in to the circus but then the words of the same manager that they were going to pack up by coming Monday (16th Feb) now instead of next Monday literally stunned us & we had to roll up our sleeves for getting more volunteers. How will we handle about 35 children? We met on Friday to decide for the mode of travel & after talking to bus conductors, travel agents & auto-drivers, we concluded that auto would be the most convenient & cheaper solution. We exchanged our mobile numbers with one of three auto-drivers & asked him to be there at 2.30 the next day. Kaustubh could manage to get 4 of his friends for this event. He even shouldered the responsibility of ordering the samosas from a shop near Kharegaon, sincere thanks to his friends Deepashree & Bhushan for their assistance. Special thanks to Amey & Aniket to rush in at the eleventh hour & help us in gathering the children from the two slums (Airoli Gaav & Sector-17). We loaded them with 3 children each on their bikes while I & Kaustubh followed with the rest at our meeting point— our tuitions place. Nicely dressed, the whole lot was fully power-packed for the thrilling drive. Thanks to our student volunteers Suraj, Sania, Nushrut, we could manage to get this uncontrollable bunch in the autos. My mom too gave a wonderful idea of making the children stand in pairs in the queue to manage easily. After counting the number, the 3 over-loaded autos (the gestures made by the drivers were worth seeing ;-)) headed for the venue while I, Kaustubh & his friends followed them on bikes. Harshada & Hariprasad joined us at the venue directly. Our new volunteer, Reena too joined us there. I am sure she had a great time with our children on her first day! It was already 3.50pm & Harshada confirmed with the manager while we were on our way for the number of tickets.

4 elephants standing out of the big impressive tent, the glitzy appearance & a huge crowd were well-enough to raise the curiosity levels of these children. We immediately rushed inside in a queue. The show had just begun. The children got glued to their seats seeing a joker playing wacky pranks & juggling around 5-6 balls in the air. 2 beautiful girls then came greeting the audience & stunning them on reaching the top of the tent (almost 40 feet) skillfully on a rope & that too while wriggling around on the way. Marvelous job! Series of exciting performances followed one after another & fully succeeded in getting out of our children-an intermix of all the emotions viz. surprise, cheers, fear, thrill, smiles, shocks… Stunts like the one by a stout-hearted man noisily speeding a bike inside a small circular wooden enclosure & then 2 courageous men racing up their bikes right out of the tent to the centre space while startlingly crossing & jumping off the colossal obstacles literally left them dumbstruck. 5-6 young chaps gave their best shot in the ‘extra’ high & long jumps while twisting & turning their bodies in the air. While one girl elegantly dressed up in a shiny white dress superbly & simultaneously moved about many rings around all the parts of her body, the other, lying down, carefully stabilized 4 columns of trays each carrying 9 glasses, on her hands & legs. Absolutely commendable! Jokers popped up at intermittent intervals making crazy faces & funny actions & how cute & lovely of the four doggies- pomerians- to showcase some amazing feats with a dolly-bird ;-) Even the scene of 3 elephants performing the puja of shiv-linga was awesome… showering the wreaths, offering the coconut, ringing the bell… a heartwarming stint; one can’t afford to miss out. Meanwhile Sania distributed chocolates among the kids while I quenched their thirst. What touched me most was our children patiently making turns for the single glass. This was succeeded by a brilliant performance by the gang of girls on bicycles followed by a dance number. What caught the eyeballs in this event was the thrilling stunt of a guy playing with fumes of fire while shaking his legs. As the girl finished her wonderful stint with the horse, the circus boys started covering the center space with the nets all around nicely intriguing our children. I put the cat among the pigeons by talking about the arrival of tiger ;-) But soon the brave guys at the top of the tent caught their attention & their spectacular feat filled up the entire tent in a loud applause. Though there is a net down to support them but even the fear of missing the hand is dreadful enough to chill one’s blood. Though last but the best event. The smiles on the faces of our children were illustrative of our success.

We started moving out after counting the number of children. I & Kaustubh personally thanked the manager for the wonderful show. (Some people feel why thank someone personally when he is being paid for his service? LEAD believes this simple gesture of kindness has enough power to set ripples across. Who knows this may again come back to us someday in some other form) Children got delirious on seeing the horses & elephants. So we took them closer. They even posed for a photograph with the elephants (Do watch out that snap ;-) How about enlargening & fixing it up in our study-centre? The expressions worth cherishing, isn’t it?

As per the plan, it was time for snacks now. Fortunately, we saw a park opposite the circus & so we started heading for it with the children walking decently in a queue forming a couple. It was a small but pleasant garden with a clean pond, nice greenery, & hey… there was play-stuff (swings, slides, see-saw etc) for the kids too…. It was very difficult to control their exuberance after seeing these things. We first settled ourselves, Kaustubh immediately hurried for the samosas & then after some time, we released the children from our bondage. Oh my god! It was almost unmanageable, at least, for some time. All the volunteers had to instantly scatter across to regulate this surge of energies. Laughing, crying, playing, yelling, fighting, and running in the sand…. The people & even their children around were simply observing, "'what is happening?" ;-)

Some unusual things cropped up. People started asking us whether we are from any trust, or we do this every weekend, where are our other branches, who gives you money for doing all this, how to give money to you, where is your office, any visiting card?…etc... We could explain them much as auto-walahs had already started irritating us from 7pm. (even when they were given the time of 7.30 pm) Almost all of them have take down our contact details & promised to get back to us… will they call us? Will they support us? Whatever be the answer, we are happy about one thing…. LEAD could spread out its message to the wider masses that you don’t need to be a full time social worker to do the social work. If anyone really wants to do it, he will not look for the excuses… etc… This makes LEAD think of two things:

1) Get some visiting cards (we even have our place now!)… If we know anyone who can do this for us in free/ discounted rates, please look for it…

2) Conduct some awareness camps/events to stimulate & sensitize the masses about the plight of unprivileged children & more importantly, the significance of ACTION…. Please, start thinking of this too…

Garam-Samosas had arrived by then. We made the children sit in a big circle; good that Hariprasad had a newspaper, we tore it off & gave off the food quickly… the most humorous part was children, now, demanded for ‘mirchi’. ;-) No mirchi, but we gave them mirchi ki chatni & believe me, they were so happy with that. Children were instructed to keep the surroundings clean & they obediently followed them. Alas, there was no water in the park & even no store nearby! So we started mollifying them telling “we will reach home in a wink by auto.” The excitement for auto easily dominated the thirst! Children started walking, paired again, near the circus campus where the auto drivers were eagerly waiting for quarrelling with us. (A nicely planned stint to loot the passengers in hurry) A pot of water near the bhelpuri stall caught Vinod’s eye & he made a run for it, instantly, unbothered by our loud calls. The bhelpuri-walahs were courteous enough to allow us for water. This was on the other side of the road. So I stood at the stall/water, holding 2 glasses ;-), & volunteers carefully sent the kids in groups of 4. (Shamelessly, the auto-drivers started blabbing again!) Smiles across, the children thronged into the autos with me, my mom & Suraj. Other volunteers- Harshada, Reena, HP, and Sania left directly from there itself. I don’t know what was happening in other autos, but I could put the children in my auto into a smart job. Read out all the hoardings/boards while on the way. They really did it & enjoyed it & we couldn’t even make out the distance. Ironically, the auto-driver didn’t say a single word while parting & he even seemed bit contented. Had he given up or did children’s class in the auto sensitize him?

We counted the kids & released the Sector-17 kids immediately as they were used to this time & route. We could merrily escort Airoli Gaav children till their homes on our way.

No doubts, this event had pushed in doses of adrenalin into the bloods of these children, but unfortunately, there is a darker part of this story.

LEAD’s most favorite children Madhuri & Einnetti could not be part of this. The recall of those dreadful scenes—neatly dressed up Madhuri is carried away back scolding & beating half the way by her coercive elder sister. … Einnetti is not responding to me, in fact not even looking at me when I am asking her to dress up for the circus… she keeps washing the muddy pant of her brother with her tiny hands & pieces of soap on a wide stone... when I stop her, she looks at me with her red eyes & muddy cheeks! Her silent staring look was a strong slap on my face. Who will take care of my brother? Who will feed him? Who will wash this bunch of dirty clothes? Who will bring the fuel-wood? Stammering, I lifted her up & instructed her to dress up & carry her brother along with her. But her happiness was so short-lived; cries of her brother gets transmitted as tears into her eyes & totally dejected & disheartened she gets down of the auto amidst the over-enthusiasm of her friends & makes her way straight for the home, caressing her brother ( but with no one to caress her!)

(For those, who consider this encounter as a common hackneyed sight/incident, let me tell you, we are in LEAD today… its all because of the fortitude & endurance of these 3 courageous girls--- Madhuri, Einnetti & Saroja). These are the 3 girls, who at this age should be part of every fun, every thrill, and every right they deserve but destiny (or poverty& ignorance?) has loaded them with the responsibilities they can’t even think of skirting off. They are the mothers of their younger siblings for the whole day! It is for this, that they can’t go to school like others, they can’t wear uniform like others, they can’t rome around & play like others, shackled with the bondages of parenting & poverty, there are millions of Madhuris, Einnettis & Sarojas in the nicks & corners of this country & shockingly, our government is liberal enough to free them from the labels of child-labor.
Friends, lets not look after the children from LEAD only. This will not solve the crisis. Let’s not turn a blind eye & deaf ears to the silent voices of so many Madhuris, Einnetis & Sarojas around! Be the example for others. Talk to people about your involvement with LEAD & experiences. Tell them this sharing is neither to garner praises nor money from you. Who knows, one out of 100 may get inspired & he can start some other movement at his place to look after such Einnettis & Madhuris. It’s only then, we can say we have contributed our drop for the ocean.

"Too often we under estimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."

Rupesh S Gesota

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