One of the most difficult moments we have had to face at Project Why was the death of a child. But sadly children die. Over the years we have lost children, too many. Some may live on in the memories of their loved ones, but in poor homes, where life is a battle to survive, grieving is a luxury you may not have. And children rarely get their place on the wall with the customary garland draped on it. According to religious custom they do not even get a decent funeral and are buried on the riverbed with no grave or dumped in the river with a boulder tied to their little wrapped bodies.
We would like to share their tiny life stories in the hope that these become their obituaries.
Sonu contracted polio at a very young age. His family was very poor and did the best they could which was not much. His legs froze in a sitting position and would remain so. He had to be carried everywhere. He was one of the first students in our Special Class and we loved his gentle ways. He always spoke softly and never wanted to bother anyone. It must have been terrible for him to ask for the help he so needed. One day he caught a fever that he was unable to recover from. He died in the very fetal position he had braved the world in, without a sound, tiptoeing gently out of this world
|ROHAN AND PUJA|
Rohan and Puja were two delightful cousins studying in our crèche. One evening they went to the temple next to their home, never to return. A day later one of their shoes was found near an open drain at some distance of their house. The approach to the drain was across a vast expanse of open land dotted with thorny bushes and trees. To reach it you had to cross a busy road that even adults fond difficult to negotiate. The children had definitely been abducted and murdered.
In spite of Project Why’s best efforts, the case was closed and the deaths deemed to be an accident. The life of two tiny slum kids is not worth fighting for.
Arati was 3 when she first came to Project Why with her two older siblings. She had lost her mother and her father was a drunk. She lived in a home so tiny that her father who was six feet tall had to sleep with the door open and his feet hanging out.
She joined our crèche and was happy. One summer morning she came to class licking a bright pink candyfloss. She was in good spirits and went to class as usual. Sometime later she felt sick and was vomiting. We tended to her and she was soon back to her normal self. Later that night she got high fever and was taken to the local doctor who recommended she be taken to the hospital a good 40 minutes drive away. She never made it.
What killed Arati? The pain of losing her mother, poor nutrition, inadequate care, an abusive father who beat the children mercilessly, the quack unable to treat her, the long drive to the hospital or simply the total lack of love, one we were unable to make up for.
Rajani was a special child. She was 11. She was the granddaughter of Tau, the head of the Lohar Camp where we held classes. She was beautiful but was mentally challenged. No one in her clan understood why she could not walk or talk or be like children her age. Her mother simply left her with her grandmother who spoilt her silly. She was very shy, almost wild. It took a long time to persuade the grandparents to send her to Project Why. She did come and soon began to interact with other children and started learning basic living skills. But God had other plans for her. He took her away one fine morning, leaving us more than a little lost.
Anil was born with a congenital heart defect. Every breath he took was an effort and he could barely retain any milk. He needed surgery and we managed to raise the funds but the little soul gave up before we could help him.
She tiptoed on to our planet quietly almost as if she wanted no one to notice her lest we let her walk into our hearts. She would slink softly behind her loud mother, hiding her face lest you lost yourself in her huge melting eyes. She would sit in a corner patiently waiting for us to finish whatever we were doing. Sandhya knew she was a temporary guest.
Sandhya was what they call a blue or cyanotic baby, where the heart is malformed and the blood deprived of oxygen. Since 1944 a simple surgery called a BT Shunt can repair the damage. For Sandhya's family the cost was exorbitant, but friends pitched in and she was operated upon. However she did not make it. Maybe she knew that hers was not a life worth living in society’s eyes.
Saheeda was a beautiful young girl. She was hearing challenged and in a country like India where inclusion is not practiced, she was never able to go to a regular school and build a future. She was one of our students and though sometimes a little stubborn, she was pure delight. She had learnt stitching and was all set to begin a beauty course which would open new doors to her.
We had gotten her a state-of-the-art hearing aid and she was discovering new sounds and learning to speak.
One day she went to the village and contracted fever and was hospitalized but was not getting better. The state of medical facilities in our villages is rather poor. Her family brought her back and admitted her in a hospital in Delhi but it was too late. Once again God had other plans.
Nanhe was one of us for six year during which his incredible smile made us forget our worries and woes. He could not speak, barely walked but was able to lighten up the darkest room.
Nanhe was born with a simple mind and a broken body where everything seemed wrong. In his short life he lived with excruciating pain and was subjected to humiliating investigations, painful jabs and uncounted operations. But he never lost his smile.
One may wonder what a little broken soul like Nanhe could mean to us, how a little seemingly useless being could become such an important part of one's life. It is once again a matter of looking with one's heart. Nanhe was undoubtedly an Angel that the God of Lesser Souls sent our way. His message was simple and clear: no matter what, life is still beautiful and no matter how bad it looks, it is still worth a smile. And the little chap lived by the book; even in his worst moments of pain, he never lost his smile. And when you looked at him smiling you suddenly felt uplifted. No matter where and when, in a hospital ward where he lay or in his tiny hovel Nanhe smiled.
Today he smiles in heaven.
It did not take long for everyone to fall in love with little Sohail, with his huge head, tiny body, shrill voice and incredible smile. He had hydrocephalus, a condition when fluid builds up in the skull and causes the brain to swell and leads to brain damage. Sohail had difficulty in maintaining his balance and walked awkwardly. Yet he loved dancing and would do so leaning against a wall. He was a clever imp!
His parents talked of an operation, actually the placing of a shunt to drain the fluids. This operation was not without risk as it could leave him paralysed. A date was fixed but as is always the case in India, the day given was a year away. In the meantime we began alternative therapies which helped him walk better. We had high hopes.
But that was not to be. A simple fall in his home was all it took for his soul to fly away.
One death we mourn every day is that of Manu, the challenged beggar who was the reason for Project Why to begin. If there was one meaning to his wretched life, it was to teach us all that no life however miserable is worthless and every life has a mission. His was to set up Project Why. This would take more than two decades of wandering in filth, two decades of being riled and abused, two decades of walking the same beat so as not to miss the moment when that person would come and the two would meet.
Manu would live another decade beyond that tryst. His presence would take care of the faltering steps, the doubts and uncertainties, the moments when giving up seemed an option. All it took to get on course was his smile. Any giving up would be an insult to his life.
One day Manu knew it was time to go. The foundations were strong and the edifice would last. It was time for him to report back to his Maker.
For us it was time to honour his memory and ensure Project Why would endure.
God Bless these little souls. Each one marked our lives and made is better people.
May they Rest in Peace
Please join Project Why on its