number nine..

Over the past 7 years now, we at project why have been doggedly teaching batch after batch of slum children with a measure of success, if success is to be determined by examinations results. Many have passed out of school and joined the working world, others have selected to pursue academics in some form or the other.

I must confess that for some time we too basked in the glory of our achievement sometimes forgetting to look at the stark realities that stared at us or maybe choosing not to see. But no one can be so inured as to not be outraged when three children open their single lunchbox and find rotten food.

I remember how horrified we were a couple of years back over Preeti's lunch box, and how it had brought to the fore the plight of disabled children in India. And once again we set out to unravel the mystery of this lunchbox that belonged to three siblings that attend our creche.

A home visit brought to fore the reality of their lives. Eight siblings ranging between the age of 12 and a few months live in a tiny hovel. Their father who own 2 vehicles barely comes home as he spends his money, or most of it, on drink and women, and gives very little to support the family. However he does come home to claim his conjugal right with regularity. The mother manages as best she can and the children are often fed by neighbours. None of the children go to regular school.

This woman typifies many women that live abysmal and lonely lives in Delhi's slums, away from the comfort and security of their village. They have been brought to practically worship their husbands and defend them with pathetic conviction, as if their lived depended on it. They know nothing of family planning, AIDS let alone women's rights.

When we asked the mother why she dis not send her elder girls to school the answer was shocking though true to her reality: they only need to learn housework was what she quietly said.

That woman did not have dreams or aspirations, she just had to live or rather survive wondering where the next meal of her children would come from while she clutched the womb that carried her ninth child.