Welcome to our fourth edition of Bekind Update.This edition will focus on Brian and Shane's latest visit to Calcutta on behalf of Bekind Ireland, which took place between May 19th and June 12th 2010.
As in the previous edition of the newsletter you can click on any photos or videos to view them.
I hope you enjoy reading part 1 of this edition, which is written by Brian.
A Boy From Ranchi
Concerns last October 2009 over swine flu, which threatened disruption with our plans for Calcutta and the Castleknock Community College group, were unfounded.
This time, volcanic ash clouds caused unprecedented disruption in Europe, and flights being cancelled two days before my son Shane and I were due to return to India on May 19th were a new cause for concern. Once again, doubts were unfounded and we arrived. For me, six months had elapsed, for Shane it had been six years. We were back in this city which had altered the course and very meaning of our lives.
In May 2009, I visited the town of Ranchi in the state of Jharkand several hours west of Calcutta by rail.
An invitation from my friend Peter, whom I met back in 2005 in Nabo Jibon (Missionaries of Charity home for destitute in Calcutta), where he was provincial, was my reason. He gave me an insight into the lives of the people there and I was to meet many of the local tribal families.
As ever in India, stark contrasts exist and Ranchi is no exception. The residence of Dhoni, the current captain of the Indian cricket team, exudes wealth and opulence against the dire poverty in the surrounding area.
Meeting many children there, two boys stood out from the rest. I was addressing a group of children who attend school in a tiny one roomed building attached to one of Mother Teresa’s homes. School starts at 6am there and by lunch time many of the children instead of going home to rest, start jobs as domestic helpers in local houses. They work hard in sweltering heat for a few rupees to support their families. Joking, I asked them if anyone could give me a place to stay for a day or two. Many looked unsure and were curious about this strange man, but one boy’s arm shot up in the air and he smiled at me. Peter was to inform me that the boy, Raju, came from one of the poorest families and hardly had a roof over his head. Raju often came to school hungry and yet this was the child who was first to offer what little he had.
12 months later, Raju was back in my life, his smile as broad as ever. Shane and I stood in the one room mud hut with the broken roof, which Peter had described a year earlier. Home to Raju, his 14 year old sister and his mother, who was a chronic alcohol and substance abuser, in the slums of Ranchi.
On our home visits, we collected a little entourage and walked hand in hand with the children through the streets, enjoying our instant friendship. Stopping off at a little roadside stall, we bought some food for Raju and three of his pals: they tucked into plates of noodles and veg. We left them with a meal costing a mere 32 rupees (65 cents), a small cost for priceless happiness!
In 2009 the other child, a 9 year old orphan boy named Kabir, took a grip on my heart.
Kabir had fallen from a train at the age of 5 and lost his leg below the right knee; he also lost his toes and half his foot from the left leg. Despite this handicap, Kabir had adapted well, was very agile and well able to get around on one crutch. Previously, I had met several children with similar injuries who had been helped by the Hope Foundation in Calcutta. These children had been fitted with prostheses and undergone various surgical procedures. I wanted to do something for Kabir and vowed I would return to help.
At 5am on 28 May 2010, Shane and I took a taxi to Howrah station. We had tickets for the Shatabdi express train to take us to Ranchi. Accompanying us was our young friend Rishi, a student whose parents had hosted Shane during his time in Calcutta in 2004. The station was, as usual, a hive of activity, where over a million per day arrive and depart to multiple destinations all over India. A notice board showed our train had been cancelled, and soon we were to learn of a derailment and later the full horror of an evil terrorist attack, which led to deaths of 144 innocent passengers and horrific injuries to over 200 others. Maoist extremists had removed the retaining clips from the tracks during the night, causing the high speed train to derail and timed it to coincide with the arrival of an oncoming goods train, which ploughed into the overturned carriages, causing one of the worst acts of terror ever seen in recent times.
Two days later, we took an internal flight to Ranchi, determined not to fail in our task and continue with our schedule.
With a letter of permission from Peter for Kabir, we travelled by car to Jamshedpur. Outside temperatures hit 44 degrees centigrade, the aircon in the Toyota Previa struggling to keep its passengers comfortable. We had been collected by Sr. Elsita and her colleague Josetta, who were taking us to Amar Jyoti, a school and centre for tribal girls who are training for the sisterhood and a career in teaching. We are giving financial support to these students, who will go on to educate the poor in the rural villages of Jharkhand. Sleep the previous night in Ranchi had been short due to a wedding procession through the town consisting of drums, horns, bugles and chanting, not to mention the mobile fireworks, which lasted for hours! Our driver, Dhano, drove with “reasonable” care on the 3 hour journey as we passed many wrecked cars and trucks, some old, some very recent: all reminders of the dangers of travel in India.
That evening the tribal girls entertained us with dance and music and had put huge effort into making their costumes and looked so wonderful in their vivid traditional colours. Such wonderful talent and a special performance, just for us.
Shane sang “If I Can Help Somebody”, and not expecting the shy Kabir to heed my request to sing, the boy surprised us, rose, and sang a beautiful song about his mother and how much he misses her.
So chillingly ironic that Kabir’s mother had abandoned him after he became crippled at the age of five. My heart was filled with pain for him, for there is no bond closer than that of a mother and child, and when that bond is severed it hurts deeply. The pain and traumatic events of Kabir’s accident were no doubt a terrible experience, but the pain of losing his mother lives on daily with him, expressed by that sad song. What could I do to ease that pain but show compassion, in practical terms, by taking him with us for a chance of a new life, a “Nabo Jibon”. A new leg was not a problem as a limb can be replaced, but his little heart would take so much time to heal.
Next morning we arrived at Tatanaggar train station at 5.30am, having put-putted our way by auto rickshaw through the wakening streets, passing the huge Tata factory, which manufacturers heavy commercial vehicles, buses, trucks etc. With tickets unconfirmed and more chaos than usual on the platforms, due to the aftermath of the train crash some days earlier, we boarded the train feeling like stowaways.
Having been evicted several times from various seats by irate, legitimate ticket holders, and despite slipping a few rupees and speaking Irish to the puzzled ticket inspector, we eventually took refuge in the pantry car! Shane and Kabir sat on bags and I found a shelf to climb onto. We survived the four and a half hour journey back to Calcutta, chatting and making new friends along the way and not going hungry either!
We were one step closer to getting Kabir his new limb. In a taxi, Kabir’s big brown eyes got even bigger as we crossed the massive cantilever Howrah bridge, which spans the Hoogley river. On arrival at our guest house, he marvelled and took time to understand the use of the remote controls for the TV and air conditioning.
After some rest and lunch, we made our way across the city to the Hope Boys' Home at Punerjibon, where he was expected. We said our goodbyes and let him settle in with the help of Viswanath, a very special person working for Hope and counselling many children who have had such difficult lives.
A couple of days later, we were in the consultant’s room with Kabir for his appointment, in a clinic called Seva Sedan.
To see people with missing limbs in Calcutta is not at all unusual, but on arrival at the clinic there were hundreds of people of all ages: tots, teens and adults, who through whatever reason, had lost limbs. The consultant had a steady stream of people to see and insisted we stay in his room as he inspected his patients, revealing wounds and making various prognoses. We learned from a young man of 28 years how he had been under the influence of drugs and slipped under the wheels of a train, losing both legs above the knees. Shane and I hoped Kabir was not going to be as shocked as we were as we witnessed such injuries. The doctor, having inspected Kabir, stated that he would not require any corrective surgery and that he would be fitted with the new limb within days.
A phone call the day after we returned to Ireland from Viswanath informing us the boy was moving around on his new limb without any crutch, filled us with a joy that is hard to describe. A picture by email some days later showed a young boy, who had not only grown taller in stature, but one who had also grown in confidence.
Kabir returned to Ranchi and to school at the end of June. We also have been informed that his mother, who had been living in a shack by the railway line, has come to see him… perhaps a heart has been mended too.
If you would like to read part two of this edition click on the link below