Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Magical Smile


Yesterday I went to meet my Mausi who was visiting the city for a day for some official work. In the meanwhile she also wanted to sponsor a girl child in Bangalore. Sponsoring a girl child means paying for all her expenses including her schooling, clothes, food and living on an annual basis. The amount per kid is decided by the centre to which the child belongs. Sponsoring also means that you will now 'own' the child, not legally but emotionally and morally. You can come and meet her when you want, call her, write e-mail to her and give her gifts whenever you want.

My Mausi, who is currently residing abroad, belongs to Delhi and visits the city more often than Bangalore. So the first question that popped into my head was, "Why not sponsor a girl child from Delhi? You could meet her more often. Why Bangalore?" Her reply was not very different from what I was expecting. "Trust" she replied.Here it is important to mention that I am a Delhi girl who has shifted to Bangalore only 5 months back. I am still enjoying my post marriage sabbatical and so I have not had enough time to judge people in Bangalore. Therefore my notions come from what I have heard from others. I have been told that Bangaloreans are simple people with good moral & social values. They are trustworthy and honest. I repeat, these are not my words because, as an individual, I will need more time to experience and judge them. But that's the common belief and going by the same I was expecting the same reply that I got from Mausi. She continued, "I went to a centre for poor kids in Delhi as well and found a girl child there who was abandoned by her parents because they could not afford raising her. I sponsored the little girl. But soon after her parents got to know that someone has sponsored their kid, they began to ask for money on her name from me. They would come up with some new reason almost every day and ask for more money. The sponsorship money started profiting them instead of the little girl who remained in they centre as she did before me. Therefore I decided to sponsor a girl child from Bangalore as it is a place where you can trust people. Well at least that's what I have heard!" I smiled back. Even she had "heard" and not experienced. And now she was taking a huge step based on the assumption that she had formed from what others have said. We don't even know who those 'others' exactly are but they seem to have an opinion for everything in the world. Isn't it strange how notions and assumptions become reality over a period of time?

Anyway, we went to a centre for orphan & poor children managed by a group of sisters. She had got a reference of this place from someone she trusted. The centre building was pale yellow in color and had lots of windows, all open, like a hostel has. There was a Maruti Omni parked right in front of the gate due to which very less space remained to walk inside the building. As soon as we reached the gate, one of mausi's friend, who knew the warden of the centre greeted us. His name was Anil and was a typical South Indian man with dark skin tone. He must be around 35 and had a big smile on his face, that highlighted his white shining teeth. I could see him smiling almost every time I looked at him throughout our meeting. He was a professional documentary film maker and photographer and used his skills for social work.

Now this was my first time experience visiting an orphanage and I had a strange feeling all throughout I was there. The most natural feeling that would come on visiting an orphanage is 'pity' for the underprivileged kids. I was expecting to meet kids in need of money, care & love. Kids that will have a bag full of complaints with god as to why they didn't get the privilege like other and why were they abandoned by their parents after they were born. So I entered the centre full of pity for these kids on my mind. 

Mausi's friend rang the door bell and a small lady opened the door. She was Sister Louisa, the warden. She also welcomed us with a big smile on her face. "Oh please come in! I have been expecting you." We all introduced ourselves on the door itself and then walked inside. It was not a very well lit room. One tube light lit over sister's table. Another tube light lit over a group of girls who were sitting on a rectangular table where one girl was narrating something in English and others were writing it down. They all looked full of energy and excited about what they were studying. Sister Louisa started telling us about the centre, "There are about 60 girls in our centre, from about 9 years old to about 20 years old. We are a group of only sisters managing them and we don't have any helpers. We do the cooking, cleaning, washing, and everything ourselves with the help of some elder girls in the centre. The elder ones are studying in the mess and younger ones are downstairs. Come I'll show you the kids." she said with a smile on her face.

We went to the mess where elder girls were studying. The mess was also not very well lit. It had few dim tubes hanging from the ceiling which were not giving enough light to study without straining ones eyes. As we entered, all girls looked at us.They were wearing simple salwar suits, which showed dullness after multiple washing. "Say hi!" sister said with a smile and everybody waved at us with a smile on their faces not a mechanical smile that comes from the fear of the warden but a genuine smile greeting the visitors from their heart. This was contradicting to what I was expecting to see. 'How come these girls are not upset with their lives? How do they look so normal?' I was wondering when Sister said, "They have their exams tomorrow. Let's go downstairs to meet the younger ones."

We went downstairs and landed in a noisy room full of little girls. I was expecting kids a little dull, low on energy because they belonged to a help care centre. But what I saw was little girls talking, playing and laughing with each other as if they were not bothered about the world at all. They were not looking for our sympathy. They seem happy with their lives. The feeling of 'pity which I had on my mind disappeared completely and my heart was full of love for the kids jumping around in the room. I suddenly felt relieved. I was not sad for these girls and that feeling was nice. Who likes getting upset right?

Pitying the kids and feeling sad would be the highlight of my day, was what I had thought but that didn't happen. What instead grasped my attention was the constant smile on Sister Louisa and Anil's face. I noticed that all the members of the orphanage had a similar smile. A smile that reflects contentment and purity coming directly from heart. It reflected a feeling of peaceful souls & a belief that 'Life is not so hard.' Even while sister narrated us the difficulties they face and how lack of funds sometimes makes it hard to sustain the centre she didn't have any sadness in her face. She also shared some of her earlier experiences dealing with leprosy patients and how due to lack of medical equipments they had to clean the wounds with their hands so many times. "We used to start from our hostel at 8 in the morning and leave from their at 3 in the afternoon, working non-stop for 6 hours without not even a water break. Then we used to come back, take a shower, cook food for ourselves and eat." and instead of finishing a sentence with "It was a difficult time." I was amazed to hear, "It was a wonderful time! We all had become a family. The patients and all of us. It was the best time of my life." Even with so many reasons to complaint from life she was so happy and positive! She was so much at peace. It struck me how I had earlier complained about standing on the road for ten minutes, waiting for any auto to stop. 10 minutes? That's it! And look at these people, trying to stay positive and happy all the time with lives that are so much more difficult than mine and so many others in thy city. I suddenly felt very small!

Being a person who looks for a reason behind everything, I started wondering, 'Having faced so many difficult situations all her life, how is Sister Louisa still so satisfied with whatever she has?' With a quest to find an answer to this question, I started to think of possible reasons. 'Could it be because of her strong belief in god? But there are many other who strongly believe in God & are yet not happy with their lives. Instead they blame god for everything that goes wrong in their lives. Their belief is defined by the fact that 'God exists because he ruined this for me,' Strange.' With a myriad of thoughts in my head, my eyes gazed through the room we were sitting in. It was a long room with a dim lights. One side of the room was dark & some natural light was coming in from the open windows. The other side was lighted & kids were sitting underneath. The light was still dim and gave a gloomy feeling. We were sitting at the center on plastic chairs taken out from the chair bundles kept on a side. One of the girls had taken those out for us when we entered the room. Kids were sitting at a distance on the floor laughing, talking to each other least bothered about us also sitting in the same room. No girl was quite or sad. Their cheerful noise echoed in the room making me remember my school days. It was the noise that brings a smile on your face instead of a headache. That is when I realized that this noise of the kids was the reason behind Sister's content smile.

Altruism: Feeling of selfless concern for welfare of others. We all know, such thing exists in the world but how much do we actually think about it? There are so many things in the world that we all know but it only strikes to you one day that how that thing can affect your life. This was one of those moments for me. I realized how helping people in need brings inner peace and a magical smile on ones face. It's not something I didn't know earlier but it was somewhere below the hassles of my daily life. Today after meeting sister Louis and Anil, I have realized it existed and now I will take action to achieve the same.

We all think, 'I would have done the same if I was in her place' but merely our thought doesn't change anything. Words and thoughts can not help anyone unless they are converted into actions. What finally counts is how much we really do. It's easy saying 'The money I donate will go into pockets of wrong people & not to kids. That's why I don't believe in such activities.'But by saying that we're just being cynical to satisfy our own guilt.

If only seeing the magical smile on an altruist face changed a part in me, I wonder how much peace will, contributing to a cause, bring in my heart. My Mausi sponsored a girl child. She is a 7 year old little girl who I thought looked like me when I was her age. I can not afford to sponsor a girl child right now but I have promised myself to do that once I start earning again. I went there to accompany my Mausi & came out with a promise to help them myself because I saw how genuine it was and how it will not on ly help the people in need but also bring that magical smile on my face. I'll definitely go back there.

The feeling of content and satisfaction that is achieved by helping someone in need, is something that no other pleasure in the world can give. Maybe that's the reason why many millionaires are looking to fulfil an emptiness inside them while a beggar who feeds a stray dog has that magical smile.