I had to do what i got to do
I have never been so conscious of my age as I am right now. I have always celebrated my number of years as a rich experience and the growing desire to think of others before myself. I have taken care of myself and have been generally healthy. Today this deadly Covid 19 constantly reminds me that I am on the wrong side of sixty and therefore fragile and vulnerable. I have never looked at myself as fragile before. Although I never thought of myself as invincible I felt that I had many good years left of me to take care of others. I have tried to do that for the last 20 years with great sincerity.
When the Corona virus hit our shores and the media kept blaring about the dangers associated, my first reaction was to go numb. I got stuck to the TV and WhatsApp messages and could only think of myself, my family especially my 89-year-old mother who lives with me. I kept thinking that maybe this was nature’s way of culling out the old and make way for the young and new. For, after all, haven’t we, the old, done a bad job with this planet, anyway?
When I started getting messages from the slums where the Parikrma children live, that they were running out of rations and were going hungry, I mobilized myself from this slumber of age and fear. I told myself that I could still be in charge if I took care. Being safe did not necessarily mean bring gripped with fear. This was the time to really show courage and how much we really love our children. We talk about it in meetings, write about it in our brochures, even show it in our daily school life. But real love and real courage emerge in moments of crisis.
So we have begun serving food with the help of Feed My Bangalore and Parikrma teachers who have become valiant warriors. It requires a lot of courage to teach in a school like ours where we deal with sometimes severely damaged children. To get these children to pay attention in class, believe in the value of education and begin to enjoy learning, requires a great deal of patience, compassion and inspiration. Most of my teachers do an excellent job and the results show how well the Parikrma children are doing in life. We have Selva Kumar, who wrote his homework in his father’s cobbler shack, went further to do his BSc in Nursing and is actually combatting Covid 19 patients in a reputed hospital. We have Victor, a great athlete who did his BSc in Biochemistry and is looking at viruses in a lab. We have two of our boys in the army protecting our borders. We have many others who are software engineers; Team Leaders in BPOs, lawyers but this is not the moment to talk about them. This is the moment to talk about how many of our children from the slums will actually impact what is happening in the health of our country. And it was my teachers who made our students who they are today. And it is those same teachers who have sent all fear to the wind and have come out of their homes to take care of the children they teach. My admiration for them has spiraled many folds.
I have one rationale that has driven me all these years. I believe that it is the poor that are the most vulnerable and whatever the situation may be, it is they who succumb first and fast. If there is any calamity like floods, famine, epidemic, riots and even war, it is the poor that get impacted first. That is because they are the most exposed and don’t have layers of protection that wealth and power gives the rest of us. And policies and laws are rarely made for them. The government machinery, whichever political ideology it may be following, is far removed from what is happening in the ground reality. Great welfare schemes are thought of but it dilutes and changes form by the time it filters through layers and layers of bureaucracy and informal vestiges of power. Look at what has happened this time itself. A total lockdown was brought by the government to freeze movement and rightly so. But before the state lockdown happened all the airports should have been closed totally. Those that travel by air have many other options. It is never a life and death situation for them, maybe just some inconvenience. But those that travel to their villages by bus or train have no other option but to walk home or starve in the city streets. So our television screens are full of heart-wrenching images of all the daily wage labourers with their children and meager belongings, walking several hundred miles to go home. It has taken the government a very long time to understand that these labourers too have emotions and in this moment of crisis they want to be back home with their families. I heard one such daily wage labourer say that if he has to die he would like to die at home rather than the streets of a city. Is that too weird an expectation? If not, then why do not policymakers think about those nameless. stateless, homeless people too before making a law?
So while I fretted about what is happening around me and my helplessness in dealing with it, I decided that I should concentrate on what I can do, in whatever small way. We, therefore, began the feeding program. Our scheme I TOO CAN EARN was designed to give rations and money to the households of our children where most of the earning came from daily wage. Since our schools had to be closed we knew our children were missing the three meals we gave them in school. Their mothers who work as maids or in factories and fathers in construction labour, have been out of work and stopped earning. It is very important for Parikrma families to be dignified even in poverty and be practical about wealth. We asked our mothers to stitch cloth bags at home and come to school once a week and get rations for the family for the week. We would pay them for the bag and give some weekly homework for the children as well. Imagine the plight of our children in their 100 sq. feet homes for 5 people with no fans and most times no electricity. It is in these times we should feel blessed about how many options we the privileged have. We have at least another room to walk into. And yet we want these kids to stay at home not only because of the virus but also from the clutches of the anti-social elements that we have been protecting them from. For such elements, no social distancing works.
We did all our calculations and came to the conclusion that feeding our children and their families would cost us much more than our savings of keeping our schools closed. We would have to continue to pay for the rent of our school buildings and our teachers’ salaries. While I know many schools will deduct the salaries of their teachers, we cannot. They too have families to take care of. We have therefore started a fundraising campaign (I don’t know whether I should call it a campaign or just an appeal) to raise funds to buy the provisions for the families. We have been giving a few kilos of rice, dal, ragi powder, oil, a cake of soap and a few eggs to each family. We have devised innovative ways to create social distancing to reduce risks and bring in the sense of discipline amongst our parents and of course ourselves.
A few days ago we got a call from a newly founded nonprofit that wanted to give out food to the poor. They were good at the production level but did not have any distribution channels yet. With the help of Feed My Bangalore, we have been distributing food to our children and families as well. We began with 500 meals in our Koramangala school which has got ramped up to 1000 meals and from today we have begun with another school as well. We feel good that our children and their families are getting at least one hot nutritious and delicious meal a day. We will continue to give them the provisions for the other meals and also because in the process of buying the bags from our mothers we are actually giving them some money in hand that they have earned. So the message is that even if you have lost your job and are stuck in your house you too can earn.
So my story continues. I now know that sitting at home gripped with fear and finding excuses not to act does not help anyone. As long as you take protection, as long as you are aware and careful, there is a lot that can be done and has to be done. We have neglected the poor all these years. We have either left it to the government or their fate to take care of them. We are so much more fortunate than those thousands around us who have been born in poor families for no fault of their own and the vicious cycle of perpetuates. Someone called it an “embryonic accident”. Close your eyes and imagine you are one of those without food, without shelter and just no money in hand. You think your face mask can shield the virus but can it shield the truth?
So whatever age I maybe, however fragile the health fraternity may consider me to be, I have got to do what I have got to do.