Hey you! Yes, you. Comfortable in the your little bubble? I bet you’re probably irritated about the heat, or the amount of homework given over the weekend or probably you might be irritated at your parents because they didn’t get you something you wanted- perhaps a new dress, or a new set of shoes. All your friends have got them and you need it to be as cool as the others? How could they not understand, right? Let me invite you to take a look outside your bubble like I did.
I was never a “kid-person”. I’ve seen people who kids meet and within a matter of 5 minutes, they’re laughing, playing and joking around as if they’ve known each other for years. Heck I find it hard even with adults. Somehow it was really hard for me. I don’t have the urge like most people to run and hold a child when I see them or look at them and say “aaww”. Its not that I don’t like kids, it’s just that I’m not much of an expressive person or an extrovert and I can’t run around with them, and kids obviously don’t enjoy the company of someone who sits quietly smiling and watching everything. I like kids but I’m not someone you’d find running and playing with them. Enough of the prologue, lets just get to the story.
It was Saturday. Munna and the other Trivandrum MAD fellows had gone for their Leadership Conference to Bangalore and would be back only on Monday. Munna texted, asking me if I was free to take my car the following morning. I thought hard and couldn’t find anything I had planned up for then. I texted him that I’d be free. He told me there would be a MAD Placement Activity at Kowdiar Palace where the royal family planned to give “onakodi” (gifts given during Onam festival) to the kids, he needed few volunteers with cars to help transporting the kids from their centers to the palace. To be honest I was a little reluctant as all my friends were either out of town for Onam holidays or for the Leadership Conference, being the reserved person I generally am, on realization that my friends wouldn’t be there, my first thoughts were on how I could get out of it. Finally finding no other way of escape I decided to go ahead with it. The following morning, I reached the center at sharp 10am, one of the few times when I have been on time. I parked my car and got out, expecting an awkward situation where I didn’t know any of the present volunteers or the kids but what happened next was a surprise. A child came running to me and held my hand and said “Veerappan chetan” (in reference to my handlebar mustache), the volunteers who were present came by and joked around about how once you’re tagged with a nickname by a child its permanent. As we were waiting for a few of the cars to get filled, I was sitting there looking at the kids running around and playing when one of them came to me and remarked about my graying hair. He told me he could pluck them all out for me. And trust me, he did try. He plucked out a dozen of them and if he had a few hours more, I’m sure he would’ve been successful. I was surprised that I was actually getting along with the kids like all the times I’ve seen them with others. Abhijith called me to get the car ready to take the kids. A dozen kids raced to the car, trying to get the front seat. I recall one even tried to get the seat by jumping from the back seat. Finally once the car was packed with 7 munchkins and Gautham got into the front seat with one small fellow on his lap, we were ready to go. This is where the story actually starts. I started my car, switched on the AC and got on the road. “Wow, the AC is so cool.”, the little one on Gautham’s lap exclaimed putting his hands and face near the AC to get as much of the cold air as he could. One of the kids in the back said “Cheta, don’t drive too fast. Let’s get there slowly.” I told them I didn’t have a music CD and they would have to listen to FM instead. They didn’t even classify that as a problem. The kids asked me to go through the underpass tunnel so that they could scream and hear their echoes. They sang along with the song on the FM as we got there. When we reached the tunnel, they screamt their little asses out. We finally reached the palace and the kids met the royal family. The children were given gifts (brand new clothes) by them and they took it happily. I even remember one of them asking the Maharaja, “Enthirade perre?” (What’s your name in strong Trivandrum slang) And he responded “Aditya Varma”. All of us volunteers were giggling watching their conversation. On the way back one of the children made me follow the route that went by his school so that he could show it to us. When we reached back, few of the kids insisted on remaining in the car till I had to leave. They didn’t mind that the car was off and hot sun was out.
This story isn’t about what happened when we reached the palace, it was more about the car ride to and fro. It made me realize a lot of things. There are many things around us which we take for granted, when we get in a car and switch the AC on, we don’t consider it a “big thing”, but for a child who has not had the privilege to experience it, it really is a big thing. For those children, small things like singing along with the stereo, screaming into the tunnel and even sitting inside a car was a big deal. We complain about things like not getting matching shoes or the latest phones when we can’t just look outside and see the thousands of children around us who don’t have so much. What if we could reach out to their lives and help them? Sparing a few bucks? Kids don’t need money. They need an education. They need to be able to stand on their own feet by the time they’re out of school. They should be able to reach out and realize that they can accomplish their dreams to become a doctor, or a pilot or a dancer, or whatever they wish to. They have a right to reach out to their dreams too. It’s very easy to turn a blind eye to everyone outside our bubble, to rationalize saying that there are far too many for a single person to reach, but let me ask you, supposing you could reach out to ONE CHILD, what if you were that child? Imagine not being able to read. Not having anything to look forward to. No dreams. No future. Now let me ask you again, if you could reach out to one child, do you still think it’s worth it? For all those who asked me why I joined MAD, this is the reason I’ve always given them. In MAD, volunteers take classes for the children. They teach them things we’ve all learnt at school, like Math, Science. We help them through their Board Examination, their Entrance Examinations. They help the children live their lives. And in return the kids do teach us a lot of things as well. After my visit that day, seeing the joy on their faces, I realized the children have something which we don’t. They have happiness, something which our busy lives and our ever growing need to satisfy and gain acceptance from society and people around us stop us from attaining. Every child has a right to education and we can’t expect things to change on it’s own, unless each of us makes an effort. How can we bring about this change? As Vivo’s motto goes- Change..Change begins with you.
P.S- I’ve been growing my mustache for quite some time now and I was unsure if I should cut it. One of the children asked me if I was a “thampuran” at the palace. That made my day! Now the mouche is on to stay!