This picture must have been taken sometime in the summer of 1999. The location: the Bhatti Kurd village located near the Bhatti Mines. I had forgotten its existence and was reminded of it last week when reading an article
on the very same village. The article begins with the chilling words: most girls in Bhatti Village have never been to school
. My memory got a huge jolt as I time travelled 14 years back and recalled our tryst with this very village. This was way before project why as you all know it existed; not even in an embryonic state. At that time, pwhy was still searching its identity and had a multitude of activities mostly related to nutrition. As I have said time and again, the sight of a child begging had and remains unbearable and makes me feel angry, sad and helpless at the same time. That is why one of the very first avatars of project why was a programme aimed at urging the people of Delhi to stop giving money to beggar children and give nutritional cookies instead. The idea was to give every car owner a smart box that would contain 50 cookies and have a tie up with petrol pumps where people could 'refill' their boxes. The cost 100 rupees for 50 cookies! The idea was to stop mafias from using children as children would not get money. For me it was a win win situation. I was really naive.
Then came the version 2 whereby we found children in organisations and distributed them these nutritive biscuits which had been specially designed and contained the required daily vitamin and mineral needs. An organisation ran a programme for the Bhatti Mine children and we began distributing them cookies and also a frothy chilled drink called Ice Cream Wash. This was obtained from ice cream factories and was a kind of milk shake that was the result of washing a machine with high pressure potable water before changing flavours. We collected the same in large igloos and every kid bought a glass from home and got its share. Needless to say the kids loved it and so did we as the distribution was accompanied by games and dancing!
It was heartbreaking to read the article as it took me back 15 years in a time warp. It was as if I was reading an piece written in 1999. After 15 years the only thing that seems to have changed is the age of the children. The village still has no amenities: roads, schools, dispensaries, a waste disposal system and even sufficient drinking water
I sat for a long time lost in my thoughts and in some heavy soul searching. Had I made the right choices? Should I have soldiered on working with the nutrition programme and the very deprived children in villages? Should I have marketed my 'don't give them a coin; give them nutrition!' mantra with more conviction? Could I have, with all my shortcomings been able to make a difference in their lives, keeping my abysmal track record of battling wily politicians and greedy bureaucrats? And most what would have happened to Manu
, my alter ego and conscience keeper and above all the indomitable spirit I still draw strength from.
As I always say, I simply do what the (wo)man upstairs wills me to. I cannot afford to look back with regrets or remorse. But I can surely shed a quiet tear for my Bhatti Mine children.