Eklavya Chennai Express

On a sunny morning, I was seated in a crowded bus, submerged in Amitav Ghosh’s novel. But I couldn’t concentrate on the story much for my mind wandered into thoughts about my day ahead. It was my first day at a shelter home. I was assigned to teach English to a few children at the home. The thought scared me. I was never the social work kind, nor was I social. When I couldn’t understand adults itself, I wondered how I could interact with children I’ve never met. When I myself was afraid of change, I wondered how I could change someone else’s life. For all the heartbreaking things I have seen in everyday life, neither did I feel empathy. I’ve seen children sleeping in garbage bins, covering themselves with sacks to keep warm. I’ve seen paralysed children clean toilets. I’ve seen mothers feed their children in public toilets, and done nothing.

So, why did I chose to pursue this path? Here’s why.

I always had enough. In fact, I had things in abundance. And one day, that very comfort and sense of sufficiency created a balloon of guilt in me; the guilt of having things in abundance, which could otherwise have been distributed so as to bring prosperity among more families.

Coming back to my story, after a long journey and a couple of enquiries, I found the shelter home and stepped in. There we almost 30 children seated on a mat with a book in their hand. Some smiled, some hid their faces with their hands while some others looked non-committal. I smiled at them all. One boy raised his eyebrows quickly as though to greet me and turned away. Then, he swayed his neck merrily and hid his face with his books. Later he ran towards me, jumped in the air with his fingers shaped like claws and landed a foot away from me. He did it several times.

I continued to examine each child in the room. After a period of uncertainty, I could see acceptance, love, hope, innocence and most importantly, immense imagination in their eyes. I peeped into the notebooks of a few children. One of them read a story book with a curious picture of a pond on it. One other child (whose name I later found out to be Sameer) sat in a corner, sketching beautiful pictures of Ganesha. I was taken aback at the serenity in his face. Then, the child who had involved me in his innocent game slowly kicked a football towards me. I passed the ball back to him. In a matter of minutes, I was surrounded by few more children with who I played for some time.

After a while, most kids went away. Then, from afar, I observed Sameer again. He was lying down on a mat and gazing upwards, at the sky, the sun, the birds, an old Bargad tree and more. I envied the calmness in his face. The peace he possessed. At that moment, I wanted to lie down beside him, fold my hands behind my head, and look at the world the way he did. Who needed change, or empathy, or charity? We were all just fine.

– Sanidhya Agrawal, Pune

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