Most of us live our lives cautiously. Self-preservation applies not only for our physical selves, it is equally true for our conscience, heart, soul, or whatever we may call it. We tread the conventional path for the fear that we may get lost in the woods of the unknown. We dread the moments which make us uncomfortable, those which we have never experienced before. Even though we might hold high the ideal that we grow the most from our new experiences, when the moment arrives we unconsciously try to make excuses – we develop body aches, we fall ill, our heads start to pain – everything imaginable. I did not make an excuse. But I was jumpy, I was curious and I did not know what to expect. I have never spent a lot of time with kids, apart from at Prerna where we go to teach rural kids. But that too was not for a long duration. This was a whole day. And these kids did not have parents – either they had passed away when the children were quite young, or, unable to bear the financial burden of yet another kid, they had abandoned them. Either case, they had not known their parents. I knew I was doing something very special, and even before I began my day, I knew it was going to be the most special 15th August that I have ever experienced.
Social Entrepreneurship and Consulting Cell (SECC) of Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM) Pune has time and again given me an opportunity to put a stamp of meaningfulness on my existence. This was another such special opportunity, right at my doorstep, yet again. We at SECC were organizing Umang, an Independence Day event where we planned to invite 25 children from an orphanage in Dapodi near Pune, and spend the entire day with them, starting from a performance by them at the Independence Day function held at our Lavale campus, to food and interactive indoor as well as outdoor games, and ending with an animated movie in the Convention Centre. Every one of us at SECC was excited about the initiative and instinctively knew that it was going to be something special.
I woke up quite late at 7:30 am. The function was supposed to begin at 8:15 am sharp. So I hurriedly took a bath and got ready. Adding to my bewilderment, I could not see a soul on my way to the function. I dreaded that this could only mean that either the function had not begun at all, or it was already over. But as I approached the flag hoisting area (of all the things you will miss in our campus, walking is not one of them), I could hear an intermittently thunderous sound. At the clearance, as I began to see the huge number of people gathered for the function, I was stupefied. Having missed last year’s Independence Day function, I had no clue the gathering is this huge. Students from a variety of colleges under the Symbiosis umbrella seemed to be present there. I quietly slid next to the team, the volunteers, and the kids. Now everyone knew I was quite late.
But I had not missed the beginning of the event. A group of dhol wallahs were wearing white clothes, with a yellow turban, and were beating dhols with absolute gusto! It was mesmerizing, and their energy was contagious. It was followed by a short speech from the Vice Chancellor of the Symbiosis International University, and a few performances by some professors. Then the whole SECC team was called upon by the SIBM Pune director, Dr Vivek Sane, and we, along with the kids went towards the stage. Some of the kids had prepared a dance performance for the occasion, and we were anxious and looking forward to their performance. But as soon as their performance began, we knew it was special. The shortest and the tallest of the 20 kids who had finally come were present in the group of eight that was performing. Their dance brought out huge cheers from the crowd, and everyone loved their performance. The passion and enterprise that clearly came across impressed one and all. Needless to say, we were proud of them.
After their performance, but before the function ended, we took them towards the mess for breakfast, as the weather surprised us and the sky was clear which made it hot enough so that it was difficult to sit in the sun for long periods and some of the kids were getting uneasy. A special breakfast was arranged by the campus authorities for the day. We prepared plates for the kids and it was a pleasure serving them. What surprised us was to see how well behaved the kids were. Each one of them waited for the food plates to arrive for everyone (we were able to fill the plates only one by one), and then, before beginning their breakfast, they said a thank you prayer out loud. We looked at each other with impressed looks. Not just this, but they had the courtesy to say ‘thank you’ when we served them the plates. Most of them seemed demure in their behaviour and for the moment, we could not locate the loudmouths or the bullies that one can expect in a group of children with varied ages.
After the breakfast, we took them to the Recreation Centre, where we played games like Dog & the Bone and Musical Chairs and danced with the kids. The smaller ones came up to us and asked us to hold them from under their arms and swing them in circles. It was fun, but one had to spin another kid in the opposite direction so as not to feel nauseous. After this we took them to our huge badminton court where we played Dodge Ball with them – the kids formed a circle and we, standing in the middle, had to dodge the footballs hurled at us by them. It was a delight to watch the kids in pure rapture, while some drifted away to other corners of the court to explore unchartered territory and satiate their curiosity. This was followed by a session at the basketball court, where one of our team members picked them up one by one, held them high in front of the basket and they had to score.
While this was happening, I saw a small kid lurking on the periphery of the court, dawdling among the bushes, playing with small flowers that were strewn all over. I asked him his name. He promptly answered “Kailash Parvat Thanda Tel” (Kailash Parvat Cooling Oil). But, he said, other children call him “bhaiya”. Even though he may be younger than most of them, they called him so, for reasons unknown. Kailash’s stand was vindicated when another kid approached us and called him “bhaiya”. Kailash started talking in a drawl, with head movements towards the sides, typical of a kid his age. He told me that he joined the Saraswati Ashram over a year back. I silently wondered where he was before that. Initially, he did not like the place as it was new. But slowly he started knowing the fellow kids and now he liked it there. Our conversation was broken when I saw that we were taking the kids to the mess area as it was time for lunch.
The kids could not have a heavy lunch, as most of them had stuffed themselves during the breakfast. After the lunch, we took them towards the Convention Centre where we had planned the screening of the dubbed version of The Lion King for the kids. By now, we were joined by a lot of volunteers from the first year, and some of them brought chocolates for the kids. We were floored when, as the movie started, a kid came up to us with a packet full of empty wrappers. He was apparently collecting wrappers from everyone who had had sweets so that we don’t strew them on the floor in the Convention Centre. Such good manners are hardly seen among us adults today. And these kids were, time and again, proving the quality of their upbringing. Before the movie began, we sang a few songs on the guitar. A moment of painful irony presented itself when we, for a lack of choice, started strumming Papa Kehte Hain. We figured it is a song that everyone would have heard. But Chinmay stopped the strumming as soon as he started it, as we realized the cruelty that presents itself in the song. We pretended as if nothing had happened and proceeded to another song, but in our hearts, each one of us felt the searing pain.
After the movie, which everyone seemed to have enjoyed, we took them for a round of the campus. They went wild over the soft green grass at the helipad and jumped and somersaulted like crazy. We also sprawled on the grass and took in the essence of the moment. From there, we went back to the convention centre where we danced and sang. It was a beautiful moment and it was a treat to watch everyone, the children as well as the volunteers, in a moment of such utter delight.
We keep saying that the world has become fast-paced, and that people have become selfish and don’t have time for each other. This myth was up in smoke in no time, when we saw how everyone from our college was chipping in in their own special way. The ones who were comfortable being with the kids danced and sang with them. The shy ones came and helped in any way they could. Some distributed sweets. Some brought a cake for the kids. We even saw a few students from other colleges contributing in their own way. It is times like these which bolster my faith in the goodness of humanity.
Also, there was a sense of protectiveness among the bigger kids towards the smaller ones which is not seen anywhere among unrelated children. Like I said, no one seemed to be the bully of the group, and the elder ones held hands of the younger ones and guided them. This sense of camaraderie is something that we found missing in the rural children of Nande, who we go to teach weekly as a part of Prerna. It is debatable if the social structures of family and relatives and neighbours is not the strength of a well-groomed character. Rather, it is the values that the child imbibes through learning, and even without parents, a loving caretaker can make wonderful people out of small kids. This, among many others, was a learning I went away with on one of the most special days of my life.