A few years ago… I met a boy about 16 yrs old ..when I volunteering with NASEOH (National Society for Equal opportunities for the Handicap) ..an NGO that did just that. Gave and asked, no, demanded Equal opportunities for their children..not sympathy.
The director, Mrs. Sudha, a formidable lady ran the place like a well-oiled large corporate entity where timelines were adhered to, and, I can’t see or walk..could not be used as an excuse for mediocre work. She also asked that the “Volunteers”, like me have a time table and stick to it. And once in a month we would have a review. Three times missed mark (late coming or no show) was the limit. After which, you were asked to (sometimes not so politely) go. She was very clear that her children could not be used as an excuse for someone to feel good. They, kept to their time lines and who ever worked with them ..needed to be in integrity as well.
I learnt a lot from hey way of Being..
I have digressed...
The Story I want to tell here is of this boy, Shrikant. A quiet shy lanky chap, who would keep to himself most times. He had lost his right leg in an accident and refused to wear prosthetics. Shri, as most other kids called him, was way too old for his 16 years. I used to teach “Basic Computers” to them so that they would then be able to get data entry job work from leading IT companies as be able to support themselves financially with dignity and not resort to begging or crime.
Shri would sometimes just linger on after the class, and after a few weeks, I realised he wanted me to initiate conversation, which I did. He was very cynical about most things..and a rebel. He had a natural inclination to the subject, but it seemed like he didn’t want to succeed or go ahead. He refused to move ahead and knew that he was refusing. He was fighting on the inside, demons that only he could see and I could sense. He would, on some days, look long at me, as if silently beckoning me to understand, read his mind, get him out Fight him for him. I remember feeling extremely helpless.
So we would just sit and share the awkward silence and then he would make some random comment and the conversation would build one tiny scrap at a time. I was careful not to push. Till after a few months I began to see the story forming and began to understand some of Shri’s demons. These stories that he told me..kept moving between past, present and future, like wisps of black smoke, on an unpredictable windy day, and sometimes..as he spoke I got this feeing that he could see beyond this lifetime… he would have a faraway look of anguish in his eyes.
Shri, Shrikant was a child born out of a brutal rape. His mother, was abandoned by her family and society and left to fend for herself with Shrikant. She became a domestic help and eventually when Shri was 6, she died of untreated tuberculosis. Shrikant had been drifting from friends to social homes, till he landed at NASEOH when he was 14.
I could understand his angst for the unjust world that behaved unjustly with his mom and him, how unwanted he felt, judged, for no fault of his. My heart grieved for him, his mother and many like him who were just unfortunate “casualties” or a statistic.
and that is when I wrote this Poem, as I Imagined him..
White light – blinding pain
Wet sticky dark,
A Long, a very long journey
Voices-Loud – whispers.
A dark shroud.
What are they talking about?
The whisper is deafening
It reaches me, and my yet,
Not numbed consciousness
I remember now – memoirs
Managing to pierce through
My self-inflicted anaesthesia
Of time gone by
Days, Years,… lifetime?
What difference does it make?
It is still the same out there
People clinging to life
In a dead world
Relationships twisted with meaning
Waiting for death
Lie shrivelled an curled
Communities and Countries
All fighting for the same space
Actors, beggars, Authors, clowns
Crying behind the painted face
It’s the same door in the end
The same old race
So predictable -so shallow
So false-So narrow
The minds of people.
Don’t want to do down that road again
I have yet to erase the past tracks of pain
Time grotesquely bloats
A lot of unrest
Against his will
He is born
We continued our conversation , which thankfully were not as staccato. He shared how there were many like him and that one day he would take me to meet them.
I was with NASEOH for 2 more years after that and Shri gradually started looking up and not away. He started taking more interest in his work and by the time I left, he was in the running for a Team leader position. Still quite shy but now somehow , straighter.
Sometimes our own stories have the power to transform us, not to mention the one who listen to them. I walked away with strength and hope after y encounter with Shri.
Sometimes we just need someone to bear witness to our stories and suffering – that is all. And in that listening maybe healing begins.
I am struck by the power of bearing Witness and the privilege of doing so.