By Adarsh Madhavan
“We sleep afraid, we wake up afraid…”
Sometime ago, a young boy from a war-torn country wrote on Facebook: “We sleep afraid, we wake up afraid, we leave our homes afraid…”
I have been young too. I have been a boy too. I have slept scared too. But I had slept scared of the dark; of some vile imaginary creature lurking out there in the shadows, or under my bed, or rustling along with the wind in my mother’s leafy garden – but I never slept afraid thinking that a shell might drop on the roof of my house or a bomb was going to blow all us up to smithereens; I never slept afraid that someone was going to shoot me dead; I never slept afraid of a war; I never woke up afraid of war; I never left my home afraid of war.
I have been scared to get up in the morning because of being forced to make a speech in the English class; or because there was this dreaded math’s exam that day! I had been scared to go out because there were the senior bullies at the corner of the road who would call me ugly names and try to knock me out of my bicycle!
But I never had a problem going out because someone was shooting rocket shells at my home! I had never worried that my dad would not return if he went out to work or I would find my mom riddled with bullets when we I return home.
The only thing that came close to an explosion was during the Vishu festivities when even I joined in a riot of fireworks! No bullets, no bombs, no explosions!
I have been to orphanages in my hometown, Kannur, in Kerala and I remember once at one particular one where I had to try hard not to melt down after hearing a tiny nameless orphan tot in her worn out but scrubbed and ironed pink dress sweetily sing a birthday song for my then seven-year old son. Some years back we had decided to hold our son’s birthday party at this neighbourhood orphanage and the complete kids there, including their stately caretaker lady welcomed us so warmly that we almost wished we could stay and be with them, help them and adopt every single beautiful child there (including the caretaker)!
I crib and I complain. Even as a 50-year old ‘kid’! I have cribbed and complained as a five-year old and so it is natural that I do the same when I add 45 years to that. I think about those kids there and wonder what my yesteryear five-year old kid had to complain. Yes. We were middle class. Yes, we were hardly rich and just got on by. But we had a roof above our heads. We always had food. We even had a car, dang it! And most importantly, we had our parents. Alive, taking care of us, worrying over us, fussing, caring, loving…who did that tiny tot in the pink frock have?
The other day, an elderly-looking couple alighted from their station wagon in the front of a mall here and then slowly went behind their vehicle. The man opened the boot of the car and I saw a young lad curled up there. It took them some moments to take the boy out and put him in a complicated-looking wheelchair.
I was in a car directly behind them and so I was staring. I am not the type who stares, but I still did. It was crazy. I despised myself for doing that but I stared and I was also getting upset by the second. Nope, nothing bad was happening; the boy was not being harmed, no nothing, so what the heck was I staring at?
I stared because the quiet of my heart was stirred madly by the sight. I always think I am struggling and then I see these kids; I see their parents and I realise and wonder what a godawful man I was. How I was always blinded by my little challenges; how I fail to understand and thank my privileges; how I have failed miserably to understand that there are kids out there who are different and vulnerable; who are struggling, who needs to be understood, to be supported, to be warmly embraced, to be part of us and I despair.
Why don’t I ever lift a finger?