We are quick to judge – ‘The system doesn’t work,’ ‘All government officials are corrupt,’ and more such naive, over-inclusive statements. We are quick to categorize, shake our heads at the ‘dismal’ conditions, fix responsibilities, and then go on to lead our cosy lives.
Meanwhile, at a shelter home for abandoned children, a caretaker has just gotten back from the hospital with a fifteen-day-old baby. The little girl had been abandoned by her birth-giver – using the term mother for her is disrespectful of all other mums. So, this nurse stayed by the infant’s side for last thirteen days as the doctors fought to contain the damages brought on by a concussion on the head. The concussion was a result of a fall – not at the hands of any ‘negligent’ caregivers but at the hands of the one who brought the little one into this world. For when these little ones are abandoned they are not put in a cradle gently, wrapped in warm clothes, they are thrown away – sometimes they fall on soft grass, sometimes they get caught in bushes, and at others they end up in a hospital because garbage bins do not come padded with cushions.
So once the infant is found in the garbage dump, the system that ‘doesn’t work’ takes over – tirelessly sitting at the bedside, caring for the discarded baby, fighting against odds to get her to see another day, and take brickbats. These people work round the clock and get paid barely the amount that an affluent family would pay a nanny to care for one child who any way has an entourage following him around the house. But then we are probably convinced that they must be making a neat ‘cut,’ siphoning off the money.
Remember the time when the little ones were really little and feeding every two hours or less? Remember how much we cribbed because one little baby had turned our existence upside down? Now imagine doing that with six infants, at the same time, all the time. The visitors who go to the Home sometimes complain that there was a pile of nappies in the corner, or the toddler who ran down the corridor had a snot smeared cheek and more such whines. Picture this: on an average, 60 kids, 12 caregivers, and severely inadequate funds and no mother. So at all times one caregiver is taking care of five babies – some of whom require special attention. And the flow of kids never stops or slows down. There is a check at every corner, a keen eye follows each child and the caregiver, yet all we perceive is callous attitude and greedy officials.
How many times have we passed a slum area by, wrinkled our nose, shaken our head in disdain and thought, ‘nothing can come of this nation’? And then, of course, the light turns green and we step on the gas. Did you know that the ‘dysfunctional machinery’ runs many schemes to get the children living in those narrow by lanes to schools? That some of the ‘corrupt officers’ actually come up with the blasphemous ideas that could lure the kids into the school and also give some amount of money to the parents who send them to school so that the kids can be kept off the road? Then how come some of them repeatedly land up on roads again? The ‘naive, lazy official’ coaxes them into school and the parents pull them out at the first opportunity they get, that’s how.
But the sad part is that all we notice is the fly in mid-day meal and shake our heads a little more. We haven’t seen the joy and relief in the eyes of the caregiver when one of the infants gets adopted, never mind the two new ones that just came in this morning. We don’t see the anxiety in the faces when the new parents take the baby away – would they be nice? Would they adjust well? What if they get the baby back? – These questions flood the mind of the ‘good-for-nothing government official.’ Yes, get the baby back – because not only do some dump the little ones back because ‘they don’t listen,’ they sometimes also reject the infant because she is too dark, too old or some other ‘too’ that we never talk about. We are after all busy – busy trashing the government, busy pronouncing the entire system corrupt since our car hit a pothole or saw a beggar, who in all probability ran away from the home for the third time and is being frantically looked for by the same cogs of the rusting machinery. We are busy shaking our heads and busy moving on far too quickly.
No I am not a delusional optimist. I know that there are problems but I am also not short sighted enough to expect all cogs and wheels of the machinery to work smoothly. In a society, we have a spectrum of people ranging from the mother who loses sleep over one sniffle from her baby, to the one who tosses the newborn – not lay her down gently but discard her like the overflowing garbage liner – bunched up and thrown away. So why do we expect the system to be any different? There will always be the ones who work against all odds, and the one who oddly do not work at all. What we chose to focus on, and more importantly help and encourage is our choice.
The fly in the mid-day meal is unacceptable but so is measuring everyone up with the same scale. I see the system up close everyday, and I see the obstacles rise as the parts of that system try scaling them – sometimes they climb the forbidding wall, sometimes they drill a tiny hole at the bottom to get ahead – to work, to make things better, bearing the scowl of public opinion, bearing the thankless glances and the doubts in our minds. Things are not perfect but those who are walking against the tide silently need to be applauded, encouraged and thanked.
Not all has failed. Not all are out there to make a big buck at the expense of a weak, hungry child. Some of them spend a good part of their lives doing just the opposite and yet they get cast as villains. Next time when one of us makes a blanket statement about all officials, politicians and the heap of nappies on the floor – we need to pause and think. Think, if the world really is that bad a place? Pause and look for the good things. And if indeed things are that bad, would you and I be willing to pledge one day to the darker alleys of the society? Just one day spent with the bunch of children on the street or in that slum cluster to understand where we could truly help, other than just benevolently distributing blankets on Diwali and feeling the halo around our heads?
Writer and journalist Oliver Burkeman rightly said, ‘The important thing to remember, whenever you’re reading or watching the news, is that someone decided to tell you those things, while leaving out other things. They’re presenting one particular view of the world — not the only one. There’s always another side to the story.’ But then can we blame the newspapers when we, the readers, are the quickest to neatly fold the paper to the article screaming of gore, blood or corruption and tut-tut at it over a cup of tea? Yes, we glance at that side column that meekly announces the discovery of a baby in a dump but we move on to more gore. Ever tried to find what came of that little one? Chances are that none of us have, since we were too busy raising a din against the system, which by the way, sometimes sounds more annoying than nails scratching across the chalkboard.
Give it a rest. The world, the machinery, the system, our country is not as bad as it is painted to be. There are lots good eggs – the rotten ones just stink more. Don’t let the stench mask the ones who are tirelessly trying to make it all work. There is hope, there is goodness, and yes there is dedication, for somewhere a nurse had her first good cup of tea after sitting at the bedside for thirteen long days without any respite, because the baby shall live – despite being thrown away, she will live.