All of ten

He is all of 10! Has it really been 9 years since this little bundle of joy entered my life. Time has really flown past. Utpal celebrated his 10th birthday in school last week. We will do so on Friday when many of his old pals will be there. By old pals I mean those who have stood by him in all his trials and tribulations and boy he has had more than his share.

It was on Holi 9 years ago that he fell in a boiling pot and his life was transformed forever. Had he not had this 'baptism by fire' his life would have been very different. I often find myself wondering what his life would have been had he not fallen in that bubbling cauldron. At best he would have been going to a government school and coming to project why in the mornings. At worst, knowing what his parents were like, he may have been working in a tea shop or simply roaming the streets. But the God of Lesser Beings had other plans.

Utpal's life changed the day he came back from hospital swathed in bandages practically moribund. It took one look and not only the little one year old's life changed the fifty year old biddy's too! The following years could be qualified as 'combat' years.  First it was the fight to get the burnt boy back on his feet, the daily agonising dressing of his wound to the sound of Mozart that seemed to soothe the little one, the quotidian chicken broth lovingly prepared at home that he gulped hungrily; the innumerable toys bought to cheer him up as he lay in a cot in my office. This was a fight we won hands down as he gained strength by the minute. Soon the bandages came off leaving ugly scars. But we knew they would heal. And then he starated walking and was soon a student of our creche. I cannot tell you how eager I was to get to work every morning and see his darling face. He had as you may have guessed, walked into my heart.

As Utpal's life unfolded new battles began. The first one was the offensive against the bottle. His parents were both die hard alkies and though I did not much care about the surrogate father, I wanted to give back to Utpal a recovered mom. The first step was to give her a job and we did but the adversary was too strong. I remember the days she came drunk and we had to send her back; the days when I decided to pay the family a home visit and saw little Utpal running on his pudgy legs to hide the remains of the night's revelry. I remember the days when the little fellow told me with a serious face that his mom had been 'naughty' again, his word for drinking. I remember the day when he told me that his new motorcycle, a gift for hsi 4th birthday had gone. It had been sold for a few bottles of hooch. And I can never forget the day I was told that men had come to their home and while one stayed back with the mom, the other took Utpal out for a 'walk'. That day I knew that we had to change battle plans. I spent the night browsing the net for a rehab centre and also for a boarding school for the tiny brave heart. This battle was also won as I found both. The mom was checked into rehab and Utpal would go to school the coming July. I felt on cloud nine and started conjuring grandiose dreams: the mom would be in recovery and we we would give her a home and a job at our newly opened women centre - guess one of the reasons for the centre was Utpal's mom - Utpal would spend his holidays with his mom and life would follow on an even keel. How naive I was was soon to be revealed.

Whilst Utpal, in spite of his young age, took to his new life like a fish to water, the mom was another story. To sum it up swiftly let me just say that we went through three rehabs, a stay at the psychiatric hospital as she was discovered to be bipolar, harrowing times when all hell broke loose. The end came when she decided to revert to her old life and rejoin her drinking partner. The following months were nothing short of a nightmare: when Utpal came from school his parents would turn predators using the child to extort money for their beloved bottle. Utpal was in pain and I a mess. We both prayed for his return to school and for sanity. The battle was slipping out of our hands.

This is when we decided to seek the help of the law and to my delight the experience I had dreaded was rather easy and comforting. It did require a few visits to the children's court that were not pleasant particularly for Utpal who had to make the tough decision to choose between his mom and us. He did. He chose us. The paper work was completed and I was declared 'person deemed fit' to care for him. It was a battle won but only time would tell the price at which the victory came.

We again believed that all was in the bag and we could resume our lives but that was not to be. Utpal's mom who realised that she had no more to gain simply vanished leaving a little boy bewildered, hurt and confused.  Unable to express his feelings he regressed and withdrew. His grades fell and his behaviour became impossible. He turned aggressive, non compliant, demanding. It was pure hell. He refused to engage in any conversation or share his feelings. It was time to act. We first sought the help of a psychologist but the initial sessions were nothing short of a nightmare. We had to move a step further and seek the help of a child psychiatrist. We did. It was a miracle. He was put on mild medication and more sessions with the psychologist. Slowly things fell in place and once again the little boy I had fallen in love with re-emerged from the dark clouds he had hidden behind. Today Utpal is once again whole. Some questions still need to be addressed but I know the answers will be found.

Utpal's first ten years on this planet have been tumultuous and traumatic. I truly admire him for having withstood them with courage and fortitude. He now enters the second decade of his life as I enter my seventh. At the end of this decade he will be a man. I wonder whether I will be around to see him become one. I would so like to but that is not in my hands. Today as he sleeps in my home I can only pray to the Gods of all Pantheons to walk with him and guide him. He is a blessed child: the child of none and all.