Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Loneliness Of A Long Distance Runner

Peter was not at his usual best. May be he was trying a bit too hard to impress us or was trying to cover up his inner vision with a happy mask. Whatever it may be, Peter did not impress us today. In my last visit to Aradhana [a school near Hadapsar for the economically challenged children, Huh.. I prefer calling it an orphanage as that is closer to the reality] he was an outstanding discovery among 200 similar aged children. I was awestruck by his elocution skills, leadership qualities and the confidence with which he interacts with total strangers like me. I repeat for the umpteenth time that if given a proper platform, Peter will definitely become a very successful CEO, cliché yet true. But today he was nowhere near that. His words and actions reflected the image of a child [But after all, that is what he is, a mere 9th grader].

What could be wrong with him today? My mind was not able to find an answer. We went ahead with the distribution of Diwali goodies to the children. The usual Peter would have come to help me out with it. But today he opted to sit somewhere at the back looking at the ground. I went near him and gave him a packet. He took it with both his hands and thanked me with a broad smile on his face. I gave a smile back and hugged him.

When all the formalities were over, my team dispersed and everyone left expect for me. I went along with some kids to their “sleeping room” which apparently is their classroom in the morning. We shared some jokes and happenings about people at the school like some guy forgot to wear his zipper to the class, some sardar jokes, some nicknames and reasons, some fat guy’s eating habits, etc. Between all these, I failed to notice that Peter was missing from the scene.

When it was getting really dark, I told the kids that I was time for me to leave. Mangesh asked for my phone number so that he can call and wish me on diwali. Another kid, Lokesh asked whether I have a mobile phone with me.

“Yes” I replied.

“Can I call my mom? I won’t be seeing her during diwali vacations” he asked.

Even before I could ask why, all the other kids in the room wanted to call their parents too. I took my phone out and asked Lokesh for the number. I dialed it and gave the phone to him. He spoke for over a minute and gave it back to me. Soon every kid took turns and called their homes. Some were lucky to speak, some couldn’t remember their phone numbers and for some nobody was answering the calls. Peter would have come to know about this and came running into the room.

“Can I call my mom? “ he asked.

“Ofcourse you can, after these two guys” I pointed at two kids who were in the queue.

He waited for his turn and dialed the number and took the phone towards one corner. I didn’t notice what he was upto as there were so many kids in the room swarming me. After sometime he gave the phone back to me.

“What did your mom say? “ I asked him.

“Nobody’s picking up the phone” he said looking at the ground and ran out of the room.

I knew that it was a lie. I remember seeing him speak to someone. I gave the phone to the next kid in the queue and went near Mangesh.

“What happened to Peter” I asked him

“His mom beats him everytime he goes home. She doesn’t come to see him hear and neither does she want him to go back to their home” Mangesh whispered to me.

So this was it. I told the kids that it have to leave as it was getting really late. There were so many kids waiting to call. I knew it would take ages by the time everybody calls.

“Ok. This will be the last call and whoever didn’t get a chance this time can call their parents next time when I come” I said.

I was expecting a me, me sound to fill the room. But every kid was pointing towards someone else and was recommending others to make the call.

“He won’t be seeing his parents for diwali, let him call” was a common thing I heard there.

How many of us are like this? They are so altruistic at such a small age. Not just in this moment, even when I finished distributing the chocolates [two micro mini packs of dairy milk which they would have seldom seen], they opened the pack immediately and none of them ate the whole thing. They made those into pieces and every kid made it a point that they give some share of it to the teachers and us.

Finally they decided on one guy, Sanket, to make the call. I dialed the number and gave it to Sanket. Meanwhile, the kids gathered around me and gave a hand made card for diwali. We hugged and wished each other. I came out of the room with a heavy heart and went towards the bike. I saw Peter sitting on the parapet near the place where I had parked my bike, but facing a small pond in the opposite direction. I went near him, put my hand around his shoulder and took my face near his ears.

“How about a long ride” I whispered to him.

“Hmm” he replied and got down.

When the other kids saw Peter at the pillion, they also wanted a ride. I told them that I want to talk about the children’s day event that we are planning to organize and took Peter out for a ride.

We went to a nearby hillock ten minutes away from Aradhana. He didn’t speak a word during the whole ride. At times, I literally had to turn around to check if he was still at the pillion. Finally, we reached to a place after which we have to trek to reach the top. I parked my bike underneath a tree and started to walk.

“Are you going home for Diwali” he asked me breaking his silence.

“No”

“Why? You don’t want to see your parents? He asked

I didn’t know what to answer.

“How about you” I asked him.

“I want to go, but my mom doesn’t want me to come home. The last time I saw her was about a year back when I had severe fever and my teachers told me to go home” he said with his eyes filled with tears.

“ My mom beats me all the time I go there and she did that last time too” he continued

“How about your dad?” I asked

‘He left us when I was in Bombay. My mom was working as a servant maid in a house. My dad took away everything we had and locked us out” tears flowed out torrentially.

“My mom, bro and I didn’t know what to do. I kept on crying for a long time”

“Then?”

“We found a place to live in nearby. I started to work in a tea stall. As my bro was very young, my mom used to carry him along when she goes for work. Later one uncle told me that I cannot work now and have to wait for some more years and put me in this school. After this, my mom had to work for more hours to bring us food to eat. At times, some people used to come to my house during nights and they’ll give us money to buy our food. My mom will ask my brother and I to sleep under a banyan tree in such nights. Later on, she told me that my bro and I cannot stay with her anymore and made us stay in the school itself. Earlier my mom used to visit us regularly. But slowly she started hating and stopped visiting us. Everytime I go back home, she used to curse me for all the mishaps in her life and beat me with wood and belt. In the past two or three years, I have seen her only thrice.”

I wasn’t sure how to console Peter. I thought it is better to be an orphan than to be a Peter. It is very hard to run the long distance race called life, alone. Especially when you know that there are people around, but nobody cares about you. Trust me, it is better to be an orphan!!

“Is your mom like this too? Does she beat you” Peter asked me.

“No. Only when I do something wrong. That too, when I was like you” I said

“Then why are you not staying with her? If I had such a mom, I would have never come here” he said.

These words struck me like a lightning. This is one of the questions to which I’ve been trying to find an answer myself. What Am I doing here? What is the meaning of my existence? I wanted to cry as much as I could, but didn’t. The gentle breeze and the evening sky that made us closer to the nature was making the moment easy.

We stayed there for some more time and I dropped Peter back in his school. I promised that I’ll take him to the infant Jesus church someday, his long term wish. I rode back to my house reminiscing my happy childhood and thanked God that I didn’t have to go through such events in my life. I sat at the balcony gazing the starless sky in the night like an insomniac. There is something that is fundamentally wrong in the place where we live in. These little children have their share of dreams too. There are so many doctors and teachers among these children dreaming that one day; they will be back with their family living a happy life and what are we doing about it?

We can’t dream their dreams, but we can empower them make it come true and encourage them to dream higher. I just don’t want to be an ephemeral rainbow during rains; I want to be the stars that make their night beautiful. May be I should stop chasing the winds across the world and lend my wings to the Peters of this world to fly along. May be I was born to help our Peters to slay the Goliaths.

2 Comments:

Blogger Balaji said...

hmmm...wot ever i typed got away with the beta blogger settings...so cant re write everything! i guess its you have got to take care of yourself...and convey my wishes to all those beautiful souls..

8:47 AM  
Blogger vinay said...

is thz a true account?if it is hats off to u for wat u hav done...nt many people wud spare time for such noble cause.i cud feel peters pain wen i read the blog..keep blogging and i wil keep visiting...mayb visit peter as wel one day...

7:05 AM  

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