How a six years old girl changed my life foreever
Post date: Apr 12, 2017 3:15:07 PM
July 2014: How it started:
It was a hot searing summertime afternoon in Kolkata. I left my desk for a quick cup of tea at a roadside stall right outside my office. Suddenly a miserable, somewhat scary sight struck me. It was a tattered barefoot little girl holding the hand of a skeletally thin woman walking by -- that must be her mother! This mother was begging for food. The diminutive girl was holding the lady's hand with great care so that the trundling mother could get some support. It was broad daylight. People were looking at the woman in utter surprise, how could a living human be so thin, a walking skeleton!
That was the first time I saw Reshma, that six year old girl who was trying her best to support her frail mother. It is a cruel world, I had so much of work to finish and so little time. I thought I should ignore the duo, finish my cuppa and go back to my desk. But somebody inside me was holding me back. "What can I do”, I wondered, “give them some money at most?" I was afraid to confront that bundle of bones; she looked fearsome, ghostly enough to scare all kindness away. Still I don't know why I could not leave that place. Probably I lost my conscious self, and it was irrationality taking over. I held my breath and stepped towards her. I asked, "What happened to you, are you ill?" People standing nearby were looking at me. It was definitely not normal to go and talk to such an apparition. She was not able to talk properly, going out of breath every now and then; her muddy eyes kept rolling in every direction looking for something in a restless fervour. After a few minutes, she seemed to settle down a little. Her daughter offered her some water from a dirty plastic bottle. Expressionless, she gave me a vacant look, sighed heavily and started telling her story.
Story of Hasi Sardar and her daughter Reshma:
Hasi Sardar, 28, was suffering from drug resistant Tuberculosis. I heard Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by bacteria that most often affect the lungs. When people with lung TB cough, sneeze or spit, they propel TB germs into air. A person needs to inhale only a few of these germs to become infected. I became afraid for myself, people with TB can die if they do not get proper treatment. Drug-resistant TB occurs when bacteria become resistant to the drugs used to treat TB. This means that drugs can no longer kill the TB bacteria. Hasi’s husband died of the same disease. She used to sell puffed rice for living. As she looked different and diseased people stopped buying from her. She was hungry, she needed medication, food. The only support she had in this world was Reshma, her six year old daughter. My soul was bleeding. I could feel the pain she was going through. I thought I must try to help her. I gave her Rs 500 and passed on my mobile number. I told her to give me a ring if she needed any more help. And I left.
It did not end there. I thought she would never call me back. But after a few days I received a call from Hasi, she had requested someone to call my number. She asked me to see her outside my office at least once. I could not ignore her request. I went to meet her outside office. She requested me if I could give her some money so that she could buy some milk, some eggs for her and her daughter. I said that I would try. Before I came back she would tell me in teary eyes, "I know my days are numbered. But after I die there is no one to take care of my little daughter. Please look after her if possible". I gave a brief reply, "I will try". That was the only way for me to escape from reality.
I discussed her matter with a number of my colleagues and friends. One of my friends told me that I should not fall in her trap, she could well be a member of some begging racket. Maybe she was just acting, my friend reminded me of a famous Bollywood movie "Traffic Signal", which dealt with the story of the business of begging. I had similar experience in the past too. So I thought I should verify her claims. I decided to visit her home.
Beside the special economic zone (SEZ), Sector V, Salt Lake City, Kolkata there is a small village where Hasi Sardar lived with her elderly parents and daughter in a very small, single roomed tenement. There was no window, no way for sunlight to enter. It was complete darkness inside. I wanted to see her prescriptions, medicines to cross-check her story. I took mobile snapshots of her prescriptions, X-ray reports and medicines and sent those to a doctor. He confirmed that it was a genuine case of TB. I made up my mind to help her. I decided to provide her food, money, medicine -- whatever it would take to bring her back to life.
I kept an elaborate logbook of whatever happened since then. I started requesting friends to help her, fiercely trying to gather whatever help was possible. I kept a log of everything and shared the status with all those kind-hearted people who donated money for Hasi. I will show you the sequential pictures of incidents that happened since then from my old facebook posts. I am going to share the screenshots of those posts. There will be a direct link alongside. You may click on the link which will direct you to the facebook page of Maha Jiban, a charitable organization founded by me, where I posted these incidents years ago.
August 27 , 2014:
January 31, 2015: As it got colder, Hasi Sardar's health started deteriorating. We admitted her to Hospital.
February 2, 2015: Hasi Sardar passed away. Uncertain future for Reshma.
Hasi Sardar passed away in the hospital. It was very difficult for me to face it.
I saw little Reshma crying in front of her mother's dead body. She became alone in this world.
I was clueless about her future. I hugged her tight. Bought her some food and chocolates.
She was staying alone with her elderly maternal grandparents.
In search of a safe and good home for Reshma:
Reshma's relatives asked me if I could arrange an accommodation at some boarding school for her. They also told me that it would be very difficult for them to raise her. I was puzzled, I did not know of any suitable organisation. But a friend came to my rescue. She told me about an international organization, SOS Children's Villages, in Kolkata. They had a place vacant for one child at the moment.
But to get an admission there Reshma needed a lot of paperwork and related formalities -- a birth certificate, consent from her grandparents, visiting appropriate government authority and explaining before them why her grandparents were unable to take care of Reshma. Reshma did not have any birth certificate. Her grandparents were illiterate and it was very difficult for them to arrange it. I used to visit them and guide them with regard to all necessary paperwork. I used to visit Reshma. Reshma did not break down. She was a brave girl, she used to talk with me -- I could feel that she felt reassured, happier whenever I visited her place. Reshma's smiles gave me the power to go through all these difficult procedural hassles. During lunch breaks, after office hours I spent time to get those formalities done. The representative from SOS children's village was also very cooperative.
March 29, 2015: A new home for Reshma:
Finally Reshma got a new home in the internationally renowned organisation which takes care of children like Reshma.
August 28, 2016 : Reshma, the Champion:
Visited Reshma, just before I travelled to Stockholm, Sweden on September 1, 2016. She was going to school, learning music, learning Karate with her other friends at the village. I could sense the confidence and happiness. I asked Reshma "Are you happy? Do you feel good here?" She smiled and told me that she was happy, she got her new mother there (a vivacious lady who takes care of ten children in one house, they call her their mother). Her teachers told me she was such a nice and smart girl! Waiting eagerly to see her again as soon as I return to India.
Reshma taught me some very important lessons in life :
1) To learn to be happy : We complain about everything -- an insufficient salary hike, a snarling office hour traffic, the questionable cooling efficiency of an aging air conditioner, a missed onsite money making opportunity, of not having the snazziest smartphone, of missing an attractive online shopping deal! We are the most unhappy people ever lived on earth. I found Reshma amazingly calm and smiling in every situation, always. She never complained about anything.
2) The poorest of the poor can share, but the richest of the rich may not :Eating an egg was a rare luxury for Reshma. Once her mother gave her a boiled egg from her own diet. I was visiting them at that time. I found Reshma dividing the single egg in four equal pieces and sharing that with three of her friends. The sight of Reshma sharing her food with her friends brought tears to my eyes. She taught me, generosity resides in our mind, not in our bank accounts. I have never seen anyone so generous as her. I felt that "Maslow's hierarchy of needs" is not always true.
3) If you want to be happy, help others :It is a punishment to think only about your own good. The sooner you start realising this, the better it is for your own mental health.
4) If you love it, you can do it : I never thought I could do anything for Reshma. But I loved that little girl and genuinely wanted to help her. Today it gives me confidence to reach out to people and help them at their times of need.