Slumdog musings

Everyone is talking about Slumdog Millionaire. I have not seen the movie as it is yet to be released in India. I had read Q & A almost two years ago when the book had been recommended to me by a rather cynical acquaintance who felt I should read a book that talked about the world I had naively and bravely set out to change. I must admit that I was impressed by the clever and eminently readable way in which the author had managed to portray a world that no one is really interested in. And though it did seem a little far-fetched to think that all that was written could happen to one person, each story was a perfect cameo of the stark reality that I brushed everyday.

I had forgotten about Q & A till last week when it reappeared in its new avatar: a stunning movie that seemed set to bag every award possible. Slumdog Millionaire was the darling of each and every one and a world normally ignored and shunned suddenly became real. I myself received an email that said: I always knew about the poverty in India, but after watching the movie Slumdog Millionaire, I saw the severeness of what many young innocent children are going through.

I will not be cynical. I will not even begin to think how long will the euphoria last and how soon the world that so many are feeling disturbed about will once again be relegated to its usual status of anonymity and invisibility. I may have gone that way a few years back, but have since become inured to many things, and learnt to accept the world as it is. In the email I mentioned above I was asked many disturbing questions that all boil down to one loud and deafening WHY. Sadly I do not have the answers. I can simply say that I too asked myself those very questions many years back and not finding answers set down to finding my own. Today as the world toasts Slumdog Millionaire I simply hope that before the excitement dies down and gets overtaken by some other stunning tale, some whys are indeed answered.

However I would like to share some thoughts that have been troubling me for a long time and that once again beg to be aired. The plight of slum children that today looms larger than life on a silver screen is actually there for every one to see. Sadly there is not a red light in our big cities where a little beggar girl does not approach your vehicle or where a maimed child does not make you wonder how he or she got mutilated. It does not take much to ask one's self why gangs that use children are allowed to exist. And yet one passes them by, wishing they were not there, quickly rolling down a window and handing a coin just to be rid of what one views at best as a nuisance. We have lost our ability to feel compassion or empathy.

It is not simply the plight of the beggar child that leaves us unmoved. It seems also to be the plight of anyone in need. And I allow myself to speak with authority as I have been walking this road for almost a decade now! In my years of soliciting and panhandling I have come across resistance of all kinds particularly when one dares step across the invisible yet impregnable line. No Sir, there are somethings that are not for the poor!

I would like to share a story here in some way our very own Slumdog Millionaire tale. Almost a year ago a set of circumstances made it possible for us to envisage giving 4 terribly deprived children the unimaginable opportunity of breaking the circle of poverty they lived in and getting the best education possible. The stage was set, the protagonists in place and everything seemed to be working to perfection. Our euphoria was short lived and the dream turned sour as the individual who had initiated the idea and promised to fund it simply walked away leaving us high and dry holding the lives and dreams of 4 little kids in our hand. There was no reality show with a pot of gold waiting to be won. We had to make our own.

What followed was a battle against all odds, one we are still waging as there was no way we could have sent these children back to the lives we had saved them from. What we were not prepared for was the attitude and reaction of those we sought help from: how could we envisage giving a slum child what is actually the hallowed ground reserved for the privileged! But we did not give up and for the last year these children were in our foster care programme where they learnt and thrived and did us all proud. Last week they sat for their entrance examinations for their new school and are now all set to join it in their respective classes. As I write these words we barely have enough funds to see them through their first year and we are looking a miracle. We know deep in our hearts that the miracle will come by. It simply has to.