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Yuletide Celebration May 14, 2007

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Christmas eve was charged with energy. There was a bust-up over balloons, which the kids all wanted, and then Niranjan tried to lock everyone in the building. But when the three volunteers snuck downstairs to stack presents for the kids, add finishing tweaks to the tree, and make use of the tv for the end of the latest Bollywood movie, all was right in the world.

25th Dec.

The plan for the day goes as follows:

9.30am Christmas brunch, kids, staff, volunteers, in the lobby.

Present giving.


Christmas lunch.

2pm: transport to Mercy Home, to give out Christmas sweets and give them something to smile about.

Drop-off at hotel in town, where the 3 volunteers shall revel in luxuries: new foods, alcohol aplenty, tv, the chance to wander freely, tv, and a bathtub!

Simple, right?


7am. Cate and I embark on a very surreal pre-breakfast Christmas occupation. It involved a tube of veet .

And we’re back upstairs, starved enough for nutella on toast and mugs of hot chocolate, as Pravar slopes in, practicing the ‘HoHoHo’-ing we challenged him with during the Great Christmas Eve Wrap-up.

All goes to plan, and I couldn’t be happier as I see Beebo and Lali cuddled up with carers, investigating wrappings.

All goes to plan, that is, until Manoj has a drop seizure and causes himself major damage to his cheek and upper gum. We’re asked to drop him off at the hospital for a consultation on our way to M/H. No problem. Except that, still having seizures, in pain, and scared, they want the kid to go in alone.

Megan’s sloshed, and entertains us with bangle throwing and raucous singing en route;I think it disturbed Manoj a little.

I’m not sure why Sanjay is surprised when I put our plans (mine, anyway) on hold, and offer to stay with him. So, the others head off to Mercy for a singalong.

It reminds me of home, of endless trips to Jimmy’s with clients, and of being on call the previous Christmas day. Some stuff never changes.

The hospital staff are crap as ever. They want to stitch up the outside part of his wounds with that old-fashioned wire thread stuff, and a dodgy looking needle.There’s no mention of painkillers, no explanation for Manoj, until I push hard for it (which gets easier with Hindi phrases, but I couldn’t have done it without Narayanan). They don’t want to do anything for the inner wounds, despite it still bleeding hours after he fell. They don’t want him to see the dentist to check that his teeth will be ok, but eventually see sense.  The dentist might be in, in a few hours.

By the time us lowly volunteers get to the hotel, it’s dark, and Megan’s fallen asleep (or passed out, never determined which) in the back of the vikram. We get her inside, but she sleeps through the evening.

Cate and I indulge in vodka-orange’s in the restaurant, along with a huge selection of foods. And then we head out into the streets.

There’s so much life on the streets of Gwalior in the evenings. And contrary to what we were led to believe would happen, neither of us were groped, raped, stabbed, or anything worse than being wished a merry Christmas in a dodgy English accent. We vow to get out here again, maybe even to get on a bus and see where it takes us.

I make use of the city’s power to call R, and not only do I get to hear her voice, but I’m passed around the family, too, which was exactly what the Christmas Elves had ordered, even if it did make me miss folk.

And we head back to the room for more vodka, with a strange-tasting juice drink, and tv.

And as for the bathtub, there may have been no plug, but there were bubbles.


Wishes Do Come True May 13, 2007

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Christmas 2006

As Christmas drew nearer, my heart shrank in on itself. The Civil Surgeon and the Commissioner were ‘out of town’ and ‘unavailable’. Stalking had little effect. And though the complaint we placed about the Civil Surgeon rang true the Commissioner’s Board’s ears (one very, very odd experience, walking unprepared into an interview with 15 suited men, to pitch our concerns for the kids/ lodge our complaint) they did not act upon it. We had Narayanan and RK accompany us to talk to the Civil Surgeon. We made an official apology for our complaint (not my idea. Still, desperation’s kicking in. When you see evidence of sexual and physical abuse, when people LAUGH at it, you’ll do anything). We withdrew the request to shift Shubahn and Adesh (again, not my idea, but as adult males they were a lot safer than the others) because the evil, evil woman was continuing to refuse, because MH uses the pair as extra (ie. all of the) labour.

I was absent from Mercy Home for a couple of weeks during The Curse Of The Vampyrs’ attack, and then on my first return. Maggie left, the others were traveling, so nobody went. By the time new arrival Cate and I finally get to MH, The Girl Without A Name has bitten through to the bone on her own finger, to cope with the trauma of everything she’s been subjected to.

Still, they do nothing. Why should they. 4 nameless kids, out of sight on the outskirts of town, who have a bed (if they’re lucky, and then they’re rat-infested, shit-coated beds) and food (I guess that’s what you’d call it. God help you if you cannot feed yourself, or get to the courtyard at mealtimes); who cares!

And Christmas draws closer. It’s surprising how much decoration goes on in Gwalior, where Christian input is so small. The M.Theresa’s thing detailed in another post, coupled with a few of our staff getting rather excited at their ‘first real Christmas’ mean we can’t ignore it.

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that Christmas traditions won’t be happening out here. Of course I’ll miss it, but that’s okay. Cate and I are getting the kids to make decorations, despite protests from certain people who don’t see the point. Actually, sneaking the kids into the classroom 2 at a time, all top-secret-mission stylie, is kind of fun. And we have a tree! Not a fir tree, but a tree, with bright streamers and shiny stars  and baubles. And I might’ve lost the battle to get the kids building a mud-man, but they decorated the tree, and we made more mess with the paint and glitter than we ever could with dirt!

I’ve come to terms with the lack of Christmas food. Doesn’t matter.  Not having Christmas Eve stories; I can replay them in my head. Family; we’ll talk on the phone. Presents; actually don’t care. But I can’t no matter what I do, reconcile the idea that after months of argument – after hard evidence that All is Not Right – Lali (she has a name, on official papers, the staff simply never bothered to learn it) and the others will be at Mercy Home. I’ve hoped, I’ve prayed to every possible God there is, I’ve screamed, and cried, and had a crazy moment when I couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. I even reached back into the realms of childhood after a few too many drinks, and burned over a candle, my letter to Santa, with one, single request: Let us get them out before Christmas.

The most regularly played song on the volunteer floor, is Olivia Olson’s All I Want For Christmas.

But time goes by, their chances and my Christmas spirit are dwindling.

Until, on the 22nd, as I return yet another blue-handed child to class, Megan walks into the building, returned for Christmas. And then, miraculously, we get the call. If we put off our Mercy Home trip today, we can pick up the kids tomorrow, they’re being signed over as we speak.

Saturday holds the stressful shifting, including traumatic shaving after 3 hours of nit-picking has little effect. Megan and I, with terrified bodies pushed against us, cry all the way home.

That night, the four of them are snuggled under blankets, clean blankets. They’ve had their fill of food which isn’t going to kill them. Lali has a bear beside her on the pillow. And nobody will touch them in that way again.

The Stupid Girl And The Lost Data March 17, 2007

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Once upon a time, there was a scatty young girl living in
India. She always meant to do things. In fact, her favourite phrase was ‘when I’ve done this, I’ll do that.’ Only, the problem was, that in
India there are far too many distractions and things take so long anyway, so she never managed to get things done.

One day, she had a close shave with her computer, and although she lost some of her work, most of her files remained intact.


After that, she meant to back everything up; she really did. Only there was never any power, except when she was eating, or playing with the children, or wanted to watch tv. So the weeks went by and still she didn’t save anything.


And suddenly, as she was pre-writing content for her website, the computer switches itself off. And won’t turn back on again.


Only this time the kindly gentleman in the repair shop could find nothing. Not a single song, or word file, or photo. Months of work, of pictures she could never recapture, and music and video enough to entertain you solidly for a fortnight, gone.

Big Brother in India? March 17, 2007

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Following a sequence of bizarre events, it is suspected that we have unwittingly been drafted into some cruel reality TV show. Volunteers of Snehalaya ask that any persons with information come forward. Please.

Cate and I wake excited today; we’ve been asked to attend a Christmas Goodwill thing at Mother Theresa’s, where 500 of the poorest people in Gwalior will be provided with food, blankets, and clothes parcels. Narayan’s going too, we’re told. There’s no mention of the Sharma’s joining us, or I might have questioned our expectations. Anyway, we set off thinking we’ve been asked to help with the mammoth but worthwhile task of handing out 500 parcels. We’re both dressed accordingly, in clothes scuzzy enough to be jostled and dirtied.

It’s not what we anticipated.

We’re paraded (named and all) at the front of a very bizarre performance: school-kids’ music and dancing, which, though well meaning, would torture all but a handful of the crowd with what they have not got. Several of the kids looked less than pleased to be there. Traditional Indian dances – much like Morris dancing, without the bells – were mixed with odd Indian-tuned versions of English Christmas songs like Rudolf, and ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’. It’s a shame I can’t post videos here.

 Then, ‘token’ parcels were distributed with a flourish – each recipient kissing the donor. One man dropped his bundle. Not one person stepped forward to help him as he scrabbled to get everything together. Cate and I squirmed, not daring to move from our ‘VIP guest’ position, lest we cause the others to lose face.

not going near a package (grateful that we don’t have to partake in the weird distribution thing) we’re ushered into a room beside the nursery, visible to all the resident women (who I’m not allowed to talk to today, although all the guests are taken to see the babies) for cakes and chai that I really don’t want, but they so obviously do.

When we leave, Mrs Sharma insists on pulling down the 3-wheeler’s plastic blinds to shield us/ her from the outside world. Incidently, being stuck in a Sharma-sandwich is not the most comfortable way to travel.

Back at Snehalaya everyone is staring at us/ standing behind us and failing to conceal discussions about us. Everyone. People who see us every day, who work alongside us easily, on a normal day. We never did work out why.

 Naranjan continued his jumper-envy fuelled theatrics.

So convinced are we of BB action by nightfall, that we bolt my door and sit, lights off, around (in as much as two people can) a candle, whispering so they could not hear us as we hit the vodka. Somehow, we didn’t think of decent microphones or night-vision cameras. It became quite a tradition – the candle-drinks – even on saner days.

Thespian’s Guild March 17, 2007

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19th Dec.


Things have been getting a little weirder round here. Naranjan in particular. He’s been weird around volunteers since being reprimanded for eating my stash (including the Sacred Hobnobs) and told to work chiefly downstairs. He’s simultaneously aloof with us and clingy – clamouring around us and vying for attention.


Yesterday and today, as night wraps us in its ice-box, Naranjan shuns his jumper. Every time he passes me, he audibly shivers, shakes enthusiastically as he wraps his arms about himself, and, pained expression on his face as he eyes my fleece, says “Sarah, cold.”


“Naranjan, you, jumper/ jacket?”


“Yes.” He looks hopeful.


“Ka ha?” Where?


“No. Me, no.” his eyes flick back to my jacket.


“You have. I’ve seen.”


“No.” pause “Sarah,” he points at my fleece “me, jacket?”


“No, Naranjan.”


So he returns to his shivering, hoping I’ll feel guilty enough to change my mind.


What tips the balance from annoyance to hilarity, though, is that when he’s 5 paces away, almost in the kitchen or on the stairs, he drops the act in favour of his usual ‘I’m cool’ strut, only to act pathetic when he returns.