From the blog of Shobha Warrier, Rediff correspondent: ( )


Udavum Karangal

Udavum Karangal, an organization started by a man called Vidyakar for the unwanted in the society. The mail was about sponsoring the education of the children of Udavum Karangal; children who have no father or mother, children who have no families, children whose home is Udavum Karangal, children whose only family is Papa Vidyakar.

I still cannot forget my first visit to Udavum Karangal, especially to some parts of the home. One was a huge hall, neat, clean and devoid of any furniture. That was the home of the babies between the ages of one and a half to two and a half.

Through the glass doors, I could see lots of babies in the room, all seated on the floor. Some were lying on the floor looking at the ceiling, some sitting gloomy faced and some playing with toys. The kind of noise and enthusiasm associated with babies of that age group were missing in that room. Even at that age, their faces showed pain, melancholy and sadness. Though I knew the answer, I asked myself, how could small babies sit so quietly? They were not ordinary small babies who were carried, hugged, kissed and loved by their parents. The three women in the room had to take care of all the babies and it was not right to expect them to give personal attention to all the babies all the time. But they tried their best to make the babies happy.

With me was photographer Sreeram. We opened the door and stepped inside the room. What happened next was a scene I still cannot forget. All the babies who were sitting so quietly jumped to their feet and ran towards us, the room was filled with their childlike laughter. It was heart wrenching to see so many babies surrounding you with their hands raised. All of them wanted to be lifted.

We took them one by one. When I carried one baby, the others would tug at my dress and call me with their hands raised. They caught hold of us so tight that we could not keep them down. They just clung to us. They wanted to be hugged and kissed. They were yearning for physical touch and love. When we carried the babies, those who were standing down would hold our legs tightly.

It was then that their Papa Vidyakar entered the room. The moment they saw him, all of them ran towards him. He carried two of them in his hands while others clung to his legs. He sat on the floor so that all of them could climb on to him.

After an hour when we were about to leave the room, they hung on to us not letting us leave the room. As we walked away from the room, I turned back. Outstretched tiny hands were still on the glass door as if pleading us to take them. Those eyes; there was only sadness and disappointment in them.

From there, Vidyakar took us to another room where babies below the age of one lived. If the slightly older babies ran to us, most of these babies crawled on all fours to us, mostly to their Papa Vidyakar and some who had already learnt to walk, walked unsteadily. Vidyakar sat on the floor and the babies crowded on him.

Suddenly we noticed a baby sitting at the far end of the room, sulking. He waved her to come to him but she just sat there looking at him with no smile on her face, and then she fell back with her head banging on the floor. He then got up and walked towards her. “She’s very sensitive and obstinate.”

As he carried her, she was still sobbing in pain, and tears rolled down her cheeks. It was then that I noticed the shocking truth; she didn’t have arms. Her name was Rohini, named after the star of the day she was brought to Udavum Karangal.

After Vidyakar wiped Rohini’s tears, after she knew she was firmly seated in his arms, she looked at us for a whole minute and then a bright smile appeared on her face. A child’s innocent smile is one of the most beautiful sights in the world, and we kissed her on her lovely cheeks.

Rohini had lovely curly hair, bright eyes and a lovely complexion. How could a mother throw away such a sweet baby? Perhaps, she had no other go. I told myself.

Then Vidyakar told me the bitter truth, the cruelest news I have ever heard in my life. No, she was not a mistake; she was not the result of someone’s uncontrollable passions. Yes, she was abandoned and she was unwanted. Her parents were educated, well educated; they were both doctors, and the very woman who carried that baby for ten months, and the very man who was responsible for her birth chose to abandon her in the hospital she was delivered. Do you know why? Because she was deformed, because she had no arms. They did not throw her in a dustbin. Instead, just connived with the hospital, and arranged to send her to Udavum Karangal. They could do all that because they had money and power.

A few days after her birth, the baby was brought to Udavum Karangal and Vidyakar insisted on hearing the truth from those who brought her there. That day was the star of Rohini, and the nameless, armless baby got a name the day she became an inmate of Udavum Karangal. She was named Rohini by Vidyakar.

I just stared at the baby who was smiling at me. How could a mother, how could a father abandon their baby, one who needed parents most? Should they not be feeding her because she cannot eat on her own? Should they not be combing her hair and dressing her because she cannot? Should they not be wiping her tears because she cannot wipe her own tears? When her parents should have been her arms, they threw her away. How can anyone be so cruel? I don’t know, I really do not know.

When I met Rohini after a year and a half, she had changed completely. She no longer smiled. Her lips were firmly placed as if she didn’t want to say anything to anyone, as if she was very angry. There was no brightness in her eyes; only pain, anger and frustration. That was the first time in my life that I saw anger and frustration in the eyes of a two and a half year old.

“She now knows she is different. She can’t play with the other kids, and she can’t do most of the things the others do. But we are training her to use her legs. She is picking up,” Vidyakar told me.

Resentful Rohini, smiling Vatsalya

I am writing once again about Rohini because it is not possible for me not to. And, many readers of this blog wanted to know more about her too. Perhaps I am using it as an excuse to write about a sad and resentful little girl of seven. I wonder how she would have turned out if her parents had not chosen to abandon her. But then different people, rather children, react differently to situations. That is why I also want to write about one of the most pleasant and lively little girls I met recently at Udavum Karangal.

I was at Udavum Karangal to do a profile on Vidyakar as one of the heroes of free India for our new India@60 section.

It was after a long gap that I was meeting Rohini; she is seven years now, and has grown big. I was surprised to see her in school uniform; gone was the little girl who used to bang her head on the floor and cry. But I was saddened to see her tight lips and unsmiling face. Sreeram, our photographer had to really try hard to bring a faint smile on her face.

The girl who came there along with Rohini was Vatsalya, a little girl of seven with a beautiful shy smile on her face.

“Do you remember Vatsalya?” Vidyakar asked me. Unfortunately I couldn’t recollect her first.

Then he said, “You have seen her. She was the one who was thrown from a train.”

Yes, I did remember the baby, one of whose legs was crushed beyond repair. Vidyakar had told me then itself that doctors had advised amputation of that leg.

I do not know how someone can throw a few days old baby from a train, and how cruel people can be. They did it maybe because she was a girl; maybe because she was unwanted. Fortunately for the baby, she didn’t die; she only lost a leg. She was rescued from the railway track and given life by Udavum Karangal.

Today, she has an artificial leg with which she not only walks and runs but dances too, and she said she “loved dancing Bharatanatyam.” She told me flashing that wonderful smile of hers that she was a topper in her class, and wanted to be a teacher.

On the other hand, Rohini, the girl who was born without hands still cannot get over the anger and resentment she has of the world that abandoned her. As she sat down on the floor with a book and pencil to show me how well she wrote, Vatsalya also sat beside her to write a poem in Tamil. Rohini turned the pages with her leg and wrote the table of seven.

Unfortunately, she made mistakes, and when she found that Vatsalya had finished writing, the little girl said grudgingly, “she writes everything very fast. See I made a mistake. I don’t know how she gets first rank all the time.”

In reply, Vatsalya just smiled.

Later when I asked Vatsalya who her best friend was, she gave a name, and that was not Rohini. Rohini was angry again. “She (Vatsalya) is my best friend but she has another best friend.” She then turned to Vatsalya and said, “I don’t like you because you have another best friend.” To that accusation also, Vatsalya has only reaction; a disarming smile.

Rohini talked a lot, and had a lot of questions to ask but Vatsalya only shyly smiled. Then, they started walking back to school, Vatsalya throwing an arm around her, like ‘best’ friends; Rohini who has no hands and Vatsalya who has no leg.


Rohini and Vatsalya

Vatsalya, Vidyakar and Rohini