By Harsh Chauhan:
It was 6:30 a.m. when the alarm went off. He woke up and rolled out of bed. A soft moan managed to escape his pursed lips as he glanced outside the window. Grey clouds still covered the morning sky; it had been days since he’d seen the sun. The past week had been a bit rough on his soul as he visited one Anganwadi after another; those dimly lit rooms in shabbily built structures. The centre he visited yesterday made him feel miserable.
Located in some downtrodden area of the state capital, the centre was the ‘daycare’ shelter for about 15 children and five cows, as it was being run out of a cowshed. The roof leaked every time it rained, making it impossible for any productive learning to take place during the season.
In a dark corner of the room, the children sat quietly on a tattered rug, much like the clothes they were wearing. It was the lack of proper lighting may be that had prevented the officials from seeing their pale faces, brimming with questions that they were never taught to ask.
An hour later, he was standing in front of the mirror, neatly dressed for another visit. Just as he was about to turn around, a speck of dirt on his right shoulder caught his eye. Hastily, he tried to brush it off; but couldn’t. A few unsuccessful attempts later, he gave up. He found angst easily these days; a feeling of guilt had overpowered his previously clear conscience.
“Am I too hard on myself?” he questioned himself, or “Have I been too lenient my entire life?” “It’s not your fault that your family was well off. There’s nothing you could have done,” argued a voice. “Yeah, right! Like all that money spent on overeating at overpriced restaurants could not have been used to for better purposes,” argued another. These never-ending arguments left him wearied. He sighed. Mustering whatever little enthusiasm was left, he stepped out of the door, hoping to see a changed reality.
He was in luck today; you would have thought if you saw the centre. Situated about a kilometre from the CM’s villa, this Anganwadi centre looked nothing like the others.
As he walked inside with a colleague, the brightly painted walls and happy kids running helter skelter caught him by surprise. “Namaste bhaiyya! wo kal Independence day function tha na, to mantri ji ne saare bacchon ko yeh laal rang ki uniform di hai!” informed an overzealous karyakarti (Anganwadi worker), as soon as she saw his colleague. (Namaste! It was Independence Day yesterday, and there was a cultural programme. The Minister gifted all the kids this red uniform.)
“Harr saal ki tarah sabhi bacchon ke liye gift bags bhi diye.” (Like every year, this year also the kids were given gift bags.) “Aur wo dekho Kishan” (and that’s Kishan), she pointed towards a young lad in his mid-twenties, who was measuring the wall, “Isko bhi bheja hai, centre ki repainting ke liye.” (The minister sent him to repaint the centre.) Once all the information was out of her system, she finally breathed.
While she and his colleague started discussing the event that was organised the previous day, he decided to look around. There was a classroom full of colourful chairs and desks, a separate playroom with toys and puzzles, an office for the karyakarti, a kitchen larger than my where I was staying, a water cooler, and a clean washroom. He was quick to assume that this must be where all the senior officials were taken when they wished to see an Anganwadi, and rightly so.
Upon inquiring, the colleague also told me that there were a few others like this centre within the city. He didn’t know how to react. Should he be happy that these kids were getting what they deserved or feel miserable for those who sat unaware in dark rooms due to the government’s neglect?
When he was on his way back, a thought struck his mind – “A city can be considered an organ if a country were a living organism; functioning and thriving because of several of its units working synergistically. The children would then represent the newly formed cells, which require appropriate care and resources to develop fully to keep the organs running. What would happen to an organ if only a few cells were nurtured, while the majority were left to deteriorate and fend for themselves?”
Today, he saw what he wished to see, but unfortunately, didn’t feel how he thought he would.