By Anna Maheshwaran
Coming to India has always been a dream of mine, but the experience I have had here has surpassed anything I could have possibly imagined. I thought I’d like the food, scenery, culture and people before I came so it was no surprise to me that once I got here I really did love it all. What I had never anticipated was the sheer amount I would learn about myself and the beauty of life itself. The people who have shown me the beauty of life most are the five children who lived next door to my host family. Their mother died when the children were young so they now lived with their father and grandmother. Of the five children, Sonam, Shivani, Saloni, Pankaj and Ankit, it is Sonam who has impacted me the most.
Due to their mother’s passing, Sonam had been left to do a lot of the cooking, serving food, cleaning and other chores the mother usually does in these communities. She no longer went to school and although I never asked her, I think she knew the path her life would most likely take. From being one of the main care-givers and people in charge of the house in her current family to playing the same role for her husband and children once she is married. Girls here marry young, aged 18 or 19 if not younger and I can’t help but feel slightly sad that she might not end up in a marriage that makes her happy. Her father has been known to drink a bit and get slightly violent too, something my roommate Jill and I witnessed on one occasion. I can recall Sonam calling ‘papa papa’ when he was drunkenly talking to my friend like she could already anticipate what may later follow. After that day I felt so angry and upset. These poor children had lost their mother and on top of that have a father who can act so irresponsibly.
Although this sounds like such a sad story, there is actually great beauty behind it.
Despite the pain these children have clearly been through, their strength, happiness and passion for life is deeply inspiring. They have so little in material wealth and the opportunities they have are ever so limited and it would take a significant fight in order for them to achieve their dreams (a fight which is by no means not do-able!), but the wealth of love, friendship, family, care, kindness, laughter, jokes and smiles is to me worth so much more than any material wealth could ever be.
Coming to India, I knew that the biggest impact would probably be made through the relationships that we would build here. I knew that I would impact people by being here and that they would in turn impact me, but I had no idea the relationships I form would have as much of an impact on me as these have. I look forward to seeing all the kids every day. I feel so much love and peace when I sit with them exchanging Hindi and English words and phrases, cutting onions together, climbing the guava tree and laughing together, dancing to songs, making up our own songs or simply watching each other wash clothes grinning and shouting ‘dhona kupada’ to each other every now and again. I feel like if I could speak the same language as the kids we would definitely be friends, but what I’ve realised is that you don’t actually need to be able to speak the same language to be friends because we already are.
One night my roommate Jill and I were out brushing our teeth as usual under the guava tree when Sonam came over to say hello like she sometimes does. We were doing our usual point to something and say in English then Hindi. I pointed at the stars and she replied and said ‘tara’. She then put one hand on her heart and said “my mama”, and pointed at the stars again. That moment broke my heart but also filled it with complete admiration for this girl. With everything that these kids have been through, Sonam could still point and say this with a smile on her face. It highlighted to me again how they have so little and have been through so much, yet are still some of the happiest and most welcoming people I have ever met. I have learnt so much from the people here, probably more than they could ever learn from me. The sense of community, family and love which is shared in this village is none like I have ever seen before.
They have shown me the beauty that the gift of life simply is. That all we need is ourselves, each other and love and nothing else. With this we can be forever happy and peaceful. If I can manage to be anything like the kids are here when I go home or further on in my life I will have achieved so much more from this experience than I ever thought I could, and I will be so happy with that.