On the very day the Nobel laureates were receiving their award and addressing the world, I had my own moment! The venue was a palace hall replete with the pomp and splendour associated with such places. My audience was a group of CEOs of the French tourism industry. My mission was to bring to life the dreams of the project why children and make those present not only believe in them but reach out and help them come true. A tall order it was! How do you give life to the aspirations and hopes of slum children standing in a space that is so alien to the reality they belong to. Most of the persons in that hall had never been to India and the little they had seen was touristic spots, luxury hotels on the one hand and annoying beggars on the other: the antipodes that India is far too often known by best exemplified by the jaded image of maharajas and snake charmers! I can never forget how angry I was when a classmate of mine refused to believe that Indians lived in houses; she thought we all lived in trees! This must have been way back in the late fifties. I had requested my nana to send me a picture of our home to prove that we too lived in houses.
So here I was, in this magnificent hall that was once used by a maharaja to hear petitions from his people, having less than an hour to get this people to cross the line, albeit virtually, and be touched by the vibrant and real India far too often concealed and misunderstood. I decided to share my own story of discovery and how I one day had crossed the invisible barriers and fallen in love with a part of my land I barely knew existed. I talked about my tryst with destiny that had changed my life forever. But that was just the tip of the iceberg as what I had to do was also share the problems and challenges that these souls faced everyday and how we could overcome them with a little help from friends like them.
It was a stroke of serendipity that the Nobel prize was to be conferred on the same day and that the invisible ones were centre stage. I pegged my discourse on this and could talk of children and education with ease. I spoke from the heart urging all present to hear from their heart what they could not see, hoping that my words would evoke the images in their true colours. I shared stories of success as well as stories that captured the harsh reality that such children lived in but that could be easily resolved if one wanted to.
It was much later in the day that I heard the speech
of one of the Nobel laureates and was amazed to how akin our thoughts were. I guess that anyone who has had the courage to look deeply into the eyes of a hurting child is compelled to react in the same manner. Kailash Satyarthi recalled the words of a little girl he had saved from bonded labour and who asked him why he had not come earlier. Earlier that day I too had reminisced about the young man who was the local goon of the area we worked in and had apparently threaten to 'kill' me. When I met him, I did not see a thug, but a young boy with gentle eyes who assured me that no one would touch our school as long as he was around, a promise he has kept till date, and then who asked me in the quietest of words: I wish you were there when I was growing up
. I too see God everyday in the eyes of every child of mine.
I know I poured my heart out in that glitzy hall. I was the voice of all my children and of all their dreams and aspirations. I simply hope that at least one person in that gathering was able to open the eyes of his or her heart.