Friday, September 14, 2007

My second day in Topsia (21st June, 2007)

The following is from my personal diary. It describes my second day experience in Topsia. Topsia is a slum area overpopulated with child labor problem, addiction and HIV-AIDS. Lets read it silently....

At present, I have started working with World Vision as a volunteer. Officially, I will be starting from 2nd July, 2007. However, right now, I am hanging around with my team of co-workers as a mere observer. World Vision is a Christian organization that has been working with exploited and vulnerable children in India over last 50 years.

Topsia is a place where I never visited before. Only yesterday, I went there by car with Biju and spend 10-12 minutes there and came back to the main city office of World Vision. Today, once again I went there and spend more than 2 hours.

I can’t even imagine how a place could be such a dirt and holy smoke! How could it possibly be a place for living life!!! I couldn’t even remove my hankie when initially I was entering into the area – on the other hand, it is the place which is giving birth of a child in almost every 7 days. At my very first vision, I was really scared to see the bridge under which there is a khal(1) and all the wastages from Kolkata pass through it. Besides which, a new life is born once again!

The bridge is made up of several concrete structures with a size of approximately 1.5 ft x 2.5 ft (not too sure about the size as this is not accurately measured, I just make an assumption as I have seen). There are at least 0.75 ft gap within those structures which is enough for an individual to fall down at night. I need to know whether there are any light facilities available there on the bridge. I am not telling or I don’t have any information whether any of the inhabitants there ever fell down, but you know why I am discussing this point, it is because, I believe, there is no possibility to receive service against any emergency situations like ambulance intervention, fire prevention, etc.

Today, I was there in our World Vision DIC(2) in Topsia. I heard that the entire place was burnt few days back and there are ample evidences scattered all around. Initially I heard that I could only visit the office today and meet the staffs. I did visit the office yesterday and meet few staffs. So I wanted to rush into my work. At least I wanted to make it sure that I can’t conduct any introductory session even.

I am little workaholic – I can’t take rest if I know that I have some jobs left in my hand. I know this is always not a better idea to meet, especially when you work in a team. Well, I find it entirely beneficial while I work as an online freelance writer as a self-employed individual. Anyways, so when I went there – after taking my breath (and of course letting Tapashee(3) to take her breath as well), I asked Tapashee to arrange the day and let us have the taste of some potential moments.

So Tapashee informed someone to call girls. The subsequent experience was so unexpected for me, please let me allow going on further. Initially, 4-5 girls dropped in. However in time, a flock of 23 girls reached. I did not have any experience regarding this community setup, but I did not follow any hard-core rule or any formal attitude. Rather, I tried to personalize the session by asking them about themselves, their studies and about their family members.

I remember once my elder brother told me that he received a real warm welcome message and hospitality from people living below poverty line during their visit in Sundarban area at the time he was doing his engineering projects. I heard how warm they were when the students met them. They insisted the students to have lunch with them with plain rice and boiled fish. “It was wonderful!” as my brother put the emphasis on. He also continued, “You know, as they provide us meals for one time, they might not have their foods at least for three days”. I am not stressing the statistical value here, but of course I am talking about the rapport building. What I mean to say, they are always stepping forward to stretch their hand to hold our hands.

I picked up this point. But hey, don’t you think I am somehow categorizing ‘those people’? Yes, I am doing this. And I am feeling really ashamed doing this. But almost all of us are running through the same line – sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. They are not different from us as a human being – all the factors making them different from us are not their acquired faults – but their vulnerable condition and exploitation are two essential factors driving them to experience life nothing more than hell.

So I practiced following the same line. I initiated my conversation with them very lightly. I asked them their experience regarding the previous sessions (as I heard that World Vision conducted various classes and sessions throughout 3 and half months, then it stopped). They were very happy with their previous experiences and also seemed little disappointed for apparent termination. I assured them that again the classes will be resumed. I conversed with them in a friendly manner, like whether any one like to help me how to make beni(4), for example. Some of them also insisted me to wear jeans in subsequent meetings and some of them also told about sarees, and the funniest part is that they also assured me if somehow I can’t manage the saree by myself, they will again help me to re-wear it. Somehow, I feel they found me understanding their pulse. They are enough intelligent who understand the difference between sympathy and empathy.

They found fun, I guess, and almost all of them were ready to become my beni teacher. Then some of the girls become freer, they told me that they learned about remembering names, they learned about the changes during adolescence phase. However, they did not want to speak about it. They found it little uncomfortable as one quoted, “didi jano ki sob kotha, bhishon lajja kore bolte” (Sister, you know I feel very ashamed and uncomfortable discussing those things). This proves at least they sense the fundamental topic.

As the discussion continued, I asked them about their family members. Most of them have 7-8 members in their family. I don’t have the statistical inferences regarding the situation, such as distribution, etc. but the situation is really worse, as few of them even reported to be belonged to single parent and almost all the mothers are working in leather factory. Lots of siblings and occurrence of multiple marriages are quite prevalent. The majority of the population in the area is Mohammedan. I introduced them with my husband in a very informal fashion, calling him ‘bor’. Some of them also spelled out ‘husband’ instantly. My husband is presently engaged with IDU(5) projects under the same banner. It seemed that they liked the way the introductory session ran.

As I told them that now I need to finish off, their faces became dull. I also felt like staying with them, but today I have to attend a ceremony called Jamai Shosthi(6), which is particularly a Bengali ceremony where son-in-law is specially honored by their mother-in-law. It comes once in a year and this is for the first time we (me and my husband) are attending this ceremony. We got married only 7 months before. So when I told them that I am leaving, they insisted me very politely. Then they repeatedly asked me regarding my next visit, when I will again come, how long I will stay and all. It seems that they are much interested to build their rapport with me. I don’t know whether my education played a kicking role here or not, because, as per their report says, they also liked Anindita’s visit there who is attached to World Vision as a counselor. I think somehow the study of psychology helps to understand an individual better. But of course, not sympathy but empathy plays the lead role here.

I went back from there with my husband by holding his hand. I was feeling really weak. It was only his hand which gave me strength to move ahead. My chest was full with pain. I don’t exactly know the source of my pain. I asked myself. Is it because people are staying in such a dirty place without any urbanized facilities which is no lesser than hell? Or is it because a girl with lots of dreams in her eyes waiting for to resume of her studies? Or is it just because of their smile and their innocence instead of their condition touched me so profoundly? I don’t know the answer. The only thing I could feel till I came back to my home that I could be able to make a call to Biju, my boss, thanking (or may be acknowledging) him for presenting me such a day and helping me to experience ‘life’. And the next thing, I could only do is to write this essay.

Last but not the least, I tried to sense the implication of every single moment I experienced during my visit over there, even the come back. I am particularly stressing the come back while I am finishing my essay. When I was coming back, I didn’t even know why I took such a tight hold to my husband’s hand. I didn’t even think of it as it was so unconscious and very naturally driven as I usually hold my husband’s hand while I walk on the road. But this was something else. I needed his hand to support me. Otherwise I felt like not being able to move even. This gave me the feelings that we should stretch our hands to them so that they can move. But believe me; they are not so weak like me. They are much stronger even we can really assume. What they need is only our support, our empathy and what we need is to shape our perspective where we can really consider and respect them as a human being. Let’s hold hand together.


1. Khal: Bengali word implying canal
2. Drop in centre
3. Tapashee: My co-volunteer
4. Beni: A particular hair style, Bengali term
5. Injecting Drug Users
6. A Bengali ceremony

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