Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mela at Latika Vihar!

Everybody loves a mela. Shaila and the Latika Vihar team were dead set on having one NOW, in spite of my warnings about outdoor events in the rainy season. Would they listen? No, they would not. So a mela it was, and on their heads it was to be it.

And - Praise the Lord - the weather was perfect (just a tad hot). We had a record turn-out and made a profit of over 10,000 rupees! All of it will go toward the one lakh we need to renovate Latika Vihar.

There were so many things happening it was hard to decide which ones to photograph. So here's a random sampling from a day chock-full of fun, excitement and the joy of being alive and with friends on a hot summer day.

We begin with the pinata series. Here are the boys trying to confuse Ajay so he can't remember where to swing his stick:

Then he gets his bearings:

And takes a mighty swing!

While his fans cringe in anticipation. . .

The little ones performed an outstanding play - "Akbar and Birbal" which featured the most charming and unrepentant thief I have ever seen:

and the standing-room-only crowd loved it:

Our older boys staged an amazing dance performance which mesmerized the audience

and proved so inspiring that the whole group stormed the stage when they were done to do their own renditions!

But in the end, melas are about food, right?

Here's one little girl who had her fundas right!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Inconvenient Christ

My mother was the editor of our local Catholic newspaper for most of her working life. Every Christmas, she used to do a photo essay which was carried one picture per page right through the whole paper. Every year she outdid herself in the theme and the quotes (and I am pretty sure that's where my passion for the Karuna Vihar calendar got its start), but one year's effort was so remarkable I still know it by heart.

It was called "The Inconvenient Christ" and she wrote it herself.

It began:

This Christmas, let us consider
the Inconvenient Christ
who comes when He is least wanted
in our inns
and in our hearts.

The photo with that one was a window with a big "NO VACANCY" sign.

The essay went on to illustrate all the ways Christ manifests Himself in our lives "He's in the boring elderly who talk too much" (that was a photo of my grandfather, long since dead when it was printed, so not offended) "and the rebellious teens who won't talk at all."

The last picture of all was a photo of me, dressed as Mary, holding my then baby sister in my arms.

The caption read:

This baby Jesus is manageable enough
when He sleeps in Mary's arms,
but once you start to love:
Beware of Him,
Beware of Him:
He will awaken.

Puppies are not babies and grownup dogs are not "the boring elderly who talk too much" but as I consider the pup I so carelessly let into our lives last week and the whole family she has brought along with her, I can't help but be reminded of the dangers of love. It is almost never on our terms. You think you have contained the extent you are willing to go, but almost always, once you open the door or your heart, you find yourself being stretched far beyond what you thought you were capable of.

The other night I went to check on Glenties. There was her mother, gobbling all the food in the dish and there was her brother, beneath the mum, frantically suckling. (Dad was lounging in a chair on our verandah, smoking a pipe.) Glenties, of course, had been totally sidelined.

We don't get to choose. Once you say yes to anything in this life, everything and everyone else floods in behind it.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dog Dilemma

Last week, a bedraggled little puppy struggled up Moy Moy's wheelchair ramp, pushed open the screen door and limped into our kitchen. She was filthy, covered with a flaking, unsightly rash and so infested with fleas she could not sit still without scratching.

I am not a dog person. I gave her a little milk and roti and hoped she would go away.

Of course, there was no chance of that.

I met her mother later that day - a wraith-like beast so thin every bone is visible - and it was clear she wasn't up to the task of nursing her. She seemed to be putting what little energy she had into her other pup, who is male and much healthier looking. Our little one had come to us out of desperation.

Five days later, she is still with us. Today I gave her a bath and picked dozens of fleas off her tiny little body. This evening the vet came, diagnosed the skin infection, gave her two injections and said he would be back tomorrow to give her more. We have named her Glenties (after my grandfather's village in Ireland - and in honor of my Masi's dog who was also named Glenties and who died the day this one arrived on our doorstep).

Pretty straightforward, right? Lots of people adopt street dogs. Here's the dilemma: when the vet came this evening, Glenties was miserable. She whimpered piteously when he gave her the injections, crept over to her bed and lay down trembling all over. He assured us that she would start to feel better in an hour or so.

Sure enough, an hour later, I went to check on her and discovered that she was gone. I went out on the street to look and there she was, cavorting with her brother as if she hadn't a care in the world. Her mother sat looking on, all protective and maternal. There was even a shifty looking father figure lurking in the background. The perfect little family. And there was me, the do-gooder missionary, bent on saving Glenties.

The vet had told us we needed to keep her in the garden and not allow her to go out at all or his treatment would be useless. Scabies is extremely contagious and if she hung out with her family she would surely be re-infected. So here's what we are offering her: life inside a locked garden, two injections a day until she is cured, a collar, a leash and plenty of food. Her mother offers scabies, a starvation diet, the love of a family and an early death.

Ravi, who is totally into this project, said I think too much. There's nothing to think about, he insisted. You're saving a puppy's life. You do as much as you can. So I decided not to think too much. I went and plucked her out of her family's warm embrace and took her back to our garden where I tied her up for the night next to a bowl of milk and chapatties. Her mother followed in a scolding rage, barking and trying to nip at my feet. I hardened my heart.

It was painful when the mother parked herself right outside our gate and was soon joined by the other pup. And then the father arrived!

It is now past midnight. Both the parents are still stationed outside the gate, whining and whimpering. The pup is trying urgently to get back to Mum. I feel like the judge in a case of child neglect, sternly refusing to allow a mother to be with her baby, solemnly intoning that it is in the "best interests of the child" that I take over where she has failed.

What would you do?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cool Dudes

Our Latika boys are pretty sharp. They arrive dressed to kill and they just love to pose when I bring my camera around.

The older ones set the tone and the young ones follow the leader.

I just love their shining faces and their sense of promise and potential. It breaks my heart to think of the chances they won't have, the opportunities which will be closed to them, the crazy risks they will keep on taking and the extent to which we will fail them.

We are trying to get them through school, to make good choices for the future and to see how awareness and responsibility will make all the difference.

We are also trying to give them some fun and some happiness.

There I think we succeed.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tree Boys

I love seeing children in trees. I still remember when the sight of a tree evoked an irresistible urge to climb it - an urge so pointless (unless there is fruit to be stolen or a kite to be released) the activity must rank high in the pantheon of pure fun.

Summer days when I was a child meant home-made popsicles on the front porch, a slow moving sprinkler on the lawn, bicycle rides to nowhere and climbing the old chestnut tree in the neighbors' back yard. Seeing these boys brings it all back in a rush.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Starting from Scratch

We enter the world pretty much like this little boy. A bit more helpless, perhaps, and a bit more naked, but barefoot, on a long road, with tools and skills we can only hope to grow into and a big pile of bricks just waiting for us to run up against

Do I sound grim? My laptop crashed ten days ago. Anand assured me that they would probably be able to save my data. Today, in Delhi, which is where the closest Apple store is, the guy informed me cheerfully that it was practically certain that he wouldn't be able to do anything about it. He said he would give me a new hard drive (for free since it's still under warranty), but if I wanted to save the data, I would have to go to a specialist who would charge at least Rs 9000. And, he said, still cheerful, if I did that, the warranty would be void.

Bravely, I told him to go ahead and give me the new hard drive. Three years of work - documents, presentations, proposals, articles, photographs - gone. I feel as barefoot and overwhelmed as the little boy above: the task before me as formidable as that pile of bricks in the distance, the tools at my disposal as inaccessible as that cycle he is too small to climb up on . . .

And yet, there is something liberating and exciting about a new laptop with nothing on it. No remnants of my past mistakes, no tired old phrases there to be cut and pasted and recycled once again: Tabula Rasa!

And somehow, it reminds me of William Carlos Williams' beautiful poem Spring and All:

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken

That's me: gripping down, MAC-less, wide awake. A profound change indeed.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The View From A Village

Our Awareness Team is truly a marvel. Since early this year, they have been working tirelessly to expand our horizons and take the message of inclusion to slums, government schools resettlement colonies and villages. Their work has yielded outpourings of support from a range of previously unreachable groups like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, government officials, Doon Hospital doctors and nurses, village leaders and even a few politicians.

They say it's easy, they say all it requires is patience and persistence, but I am simply astonished at their determination and resolve and with what they have been able to achieve. They have orchestrated concession camps in urban villages, made friends with every ASHA worker in the district, filed Right to Information briefs to find out how many people with disability have been employed under the government's various quotas and even gotten permission to set up a help desk in the employment exchange office.

Their latest coup occurred this week: they succeeded in getting the government health services to give us space in a village Primary Health Center to set up another satellite Early Intervention Centre.Here's the place. And here's the view from what we hope will be our front door:

And here, In'sh'Allah, are some of our new neighbors:

Unbelievable! It's where we have always wanted to be. Thanks to the wonderful awareness team that made it happen.