Monday, June 19, 2006

Another "City of Joy"- Patel Estate

I reached CYDA expecting another field day with the kids in the weekend as usual. But was disappointed to see no one there except Harshal, another volunteer for Ehsaas. We decided to wait for a few more minutes before calling it quits for the day. Just at the nick of time, Vishal entered. I at least expected him because he had called me during the day asking if I was coming, Vishal has been one regular guy of the lot till date.
Not having our regular book that day, we thought of helping Vishal prepare a good introduction for himself, which he could readily speak whenever required. After a while, Harshal had to leave for an urgent work. Things looked dull with just me and Vishal. After spending some time preening his introduction, I pondered what to do next. I asked him to write an essay on Cow. But then, finding it to be too clich├ęd, asked him to write an essay about the place where he lived. He looked puzzled and asked me what exactly I wanted him to write. I asked him to write about the people there, the living conditions, etc. Soon I began asking him everything about Patil Estate, where he lived. Soon we got into a rigorous conversation. My curiosity arose with every bit of his description.

Wedged between a flyover and a canal, Patel Estate houses about 1000 hovels that have been there for around 20 years, as per Vishal. The inhabitants comprised of a maze of people from diverse religion and culture that included Punjabis, Muslims and Marathis. This is a place where drug peddling is rife of every conceivable contraband, something very common in the slums of India. The slum has a handful of public urinals which he said were left unattended my local municipal authorities and were unfit for use. And thus, the slum dwellers had to perform their bodily functions in open spaces near the canal.

According to Vishal, the people at Patel Estate live in constant fear being uprooted anytime by the govt officials. He said Amar’s condition was miserable after his house was demolished completely and his family lost most of their essential trappings. Something struck me then while listening to him and I asked if he would take me to his place and show me around. Vishal was more than happy and we both set out for Patel Estate. I parked the bike across the road and walked towards the slum. Huge heaps of refuse and scrap welcomed us with some people foraging minutely in it. For a moment I thought Vishal was taking me through a different path and I couldn’t for a while come to terms with the fact that this was actually the main entrance to the slum. Rails of trolleys adorned the pathway. It didn’t take me long to realize that it was actually a shanty town and not a colony as I expected. Disorderliness and filth were synonymous to a slum, I had always heard. The alleyway through which we were passing was in fact the main road inside the slum and there were narrow passages intersecting the alley, which if one followed entered the interiors of the slum. Just while we were about to turn to one such intersecting passage, we met Hemant, another student of Ehsaas. I asked him to join us at Vishal’s place. He came along. The path to Vishal’s house needs a particular mention. After reaching the end of the narrow path, we had to turn left. It looked like a dead end for me. But Vishal kept walking. The stretch ahead looked anything but a passage. You had to mind your steps carefully on that stretch. A slight miss and you would fall into a steep gorge. I again asked Vishal if he brought me through a short cut or something, and he said that it was the only path one could use to reach his house.

We finally reached his hovel, a small hardly 10x10 ft room built with shards of tin supported by bamboo.
The assortment of of utensils, TV and other paraphernalia at his house testified the number of years they had spent in that tiny cramped place. I met his grandma, his brother, sister, and mother. I was floored by the warm hospitality the family showered. Immediately Vishal took charge over the kitchen
(see pic for Vishal's house) and in minutes came with steaming cups for tea for me and Hemant.
After getting a taste of Vishal’s culinary skills, my attention veered towards a dilapidated and temporary shed covered loosely with synthetic sheets and shreds of cloth. “That is Amar’s place”, told Hemant(see pic for Amar's house).

My heart sank for a moment. The abject wretchedness that the small shed projected, elevated the respect manifold for that small kid. Amar, should be a 9 year old kid, whom I have known to be calm, gentle, obedient and well-mannered in our weekly classes. My mind wasn’t willing to accept that such a bright kid lived in such destitution.

Looking at the living conditions and unhealthy surroundings, I realized that the kids must be putting in some effort to make them look presentable when they come to their classes at CYDA. Humbled by the hard facts of life, I excused myself from there as I had to go back to office. On our way back to the road, Hemant requested
me to pay a visit to his house. I found Hemant’s house in better standards than his other friends. I met his family members (see pic for Hemant's house)
but couldn’t stay for long. Promising to come back again and have lunch, I departed. Hemant and Vishal accompanied me till the road. I could sense the pride with which they were introducing me to their friends and acquaintances as their English teacher.
I thank my stars for the opportunity I got to visit the slum and sensitize myself of the critical realities of life. More than that, meeting these noble souls, who in spite of leading life in such abject conditions, can find the hope and motivation to improve and better their life.
There are a handful of days in a man’s life that provides him a lifetime of enriching experience, and this was surely on of those days for me.

5 comments:

Swati Thursday, June 22, 2006 4:09:00 AM  

I didnt went to the place.. but reading this post .. had almoost same Exp as Ravi....

Fantastic post.. :)

Sharjeel Thursday, June 22, 2006 6:54:00 AM  

Hi Ravi,

Well, I am still scraping my brain for words... First things first: the writeup was really good (and engaging - if it could engage me, I believe it should (MUST) be defined as engaging ;-)

And well, yes, as far as the subject matter of the writeup is concerned, Ravi, I have been "MEDITATING" on this since long. Can only say that you have done a real good job by initiating something at the grassroot level... We all can speak (and do speak) a lot about these things, but mere speaking is not enough. And your writeup conveys that very well!! Keep up the good work...

Saurav,  Wednesday, July 05, 2006 11:25:00 PM  

The way u hv presented ur blog...its simply amazing...hats off to u, Ravi. and yes, u hv rightly called urself "wordsmith in the making"
I wish I had known u better when we wr close.

Anonymous,  Wednesday, August 27, 2008 12:24:00 PM  

Two drops of tears rolled down my cheek and I wonder why! Probably my conscious is still wondering...
Keep it going dude

ricky Thursday, July 09, 2009 10:36:00 PM  

Keep up the Good work...I think you are doing wonderfully Well :)

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