Mostly about the kids

What to when you have such a whirlwind trip, but to start at the end, and then jump around from event to event until you cover everything, or at least, almost everything.

We left this afternoon in a van. I’m never allowed to just go to the airport on my own. Everyone comes to drop me. The group of us: Manoj, Arjun, Ratan, Sagar, Ritesh and I hopped into a Taravan from Ritesh and Sagar’s house. It’s what we do. The trip couldn’t start without visiting my misil pav guy to pick up ladoos for home. His ladoos are so yummy. We also stopped for some chas. When I went there last time I took a bunch of pictures. He knows that I love the food. I was treated like another regular. We drank our chas and I packed up some ladoos and got his card. I would love to send him the picture of us when I get back home. He charged me market price. He didn’t have to. If you’re lucky (and live in New York) I might even share one with you.

We were off and barely hit any traffic until we got to Mumbai. We stopped to get a snack on the road. I got bhel of course and some sabudana kitedi. Oh food how I will miss you. We were about 10 minutes away from the airport when the police pulled over our van. My flight had been delayed but I wasn’t ready to risk the traffic and tempt fate by passing away time getting stopped by a police officer. Boy, was I wrong! The driver was told to get out. It must have been a funny site for the officers to see a foreign girl with 5 Indian guys in a van. We got out one by one but the officers seemed calm and said just one minute when we told them about my flight. Apparently, our calm and collected driver was drunk. Ratan and Manoj both confirmed his breath wreaked of alcohol. We had no idea. He drove really well and all we can think of is how lucky we were that nothing happened. What did the police do? They got into the drivers seat, and drove us himself to the airport. It was nuts. Thank you Mr. John Sakde of the Mumbai police!

On the way to the airport, Indro called Ratan and I got to see him as I waited until the last moments to check in. We sat in the canteen area eating the last of my skittles and talking about how crazy and lovely the trip was.

I think I want to break this up into sections for the rest of the writing. If you’ve read this before, you’ll probably know that I would like to start with the kids. My friends, I’ve sung their praises so many times. They know, or maybe they don’t, how much they mean to me on so many levels. Don’t blush guys!

A week before coming, I sent a video message on whatsap to the kids. Ritesh delivered and they sent a message back. They’re huge, they’ve grown so much, but I didn’t realize how shocking it would be until I met them in person. The day I reached Pune I met them. I love them so much. They’re the same. Ishwar is much more of a leader. He’s quiet, pensive, and smiles as much as he used to. Ganesh is still crazy, a comedian, but much more toned down. He’s grown up. He’s polite with sorrys and thank yous and has also become more of a leader. Prakash is the one who I would say changed the most. He has a small mustache and seems much more grown up then the others. Chapel is a young man! He doesn’t wear his hat anymore, but rather has a nice clean cut. He has acne (which one of the other boys asked me why he had), and is a little more outgoing (just a little). The other little ones who were always around but not one of the four are also more grown up. All except Ajay and Aftab who look almost exactly the same, and behave the same too. They’re younger. Anyway, on the first day Ishwar wanted to know when we would be coming back. I said I don’t know and that we would come on Sunday and figure it out from there. He suggested that we should come every day. We did. It was great. I was speaking with Manoj and we were discussing how this time we felt much more a part of the community. The moms and older sisters were always friendly, but the ones who we know were much more inviting. We faced some obstacles from one of the drunk guys in the community who tried to intervene when I was passing out some postcards. He wanted one, I had a limited amount for just the kids. He spoke very good English. He wanted to know what we were doing and saying that he would take one. I explained that it was for the kids and not for him. After he yelled a little, Ishwar was ready to hand over his, but I didn’t let him. They shouldn’t submit to bullying. Eventually he was ushered away by some of the young men who we’ve made friends with, but not without a dirty look. That was the only trouble though. Ishwar and Ganesh’s mom were the same as were Ganesh’s sisters. A girl joined us on the last day. Yelama has always been around, she comes out every time we’re around, but has never come to the garden where we play; no girl has. The last day she did. She’s a gem.

We either just hung out by their houses or went to the park each day. It didn’t matter, we would shift from conversations within and between age levels. They’re a great group of friends; they take care of each other. One day we just sat in the park and talked, did some capoeira (they still remember), and played around. The next day we came earlier in the day and sat in the sand pit. Some boys had outlined a wrestling circle and were wrestling. Our kids sat down and started drawing in the sand. Soon, all the kids were drawing in the sand. It was so great to watch such a transformation.

It was Ganesh’s birthday and we sat in Ishwar’s house and clicked pictures, sat with all the kids, and talked. Ishwar and Ganesh wanted to make us chai. We didn’t allow them. We brought Ganesh a cake and cut it with him. It’s the tradition to feed a piece to the birthday person and wipe some icing on their face. By the end, we all had a little icing on our faces. Everyone got some cake.

Today I had to say goodbye again. It’s never easy and now even thinking of it there are tears welting in my eyes. We went to the park to draw. A friend of a friend of mine gave me some really good designs as a part of a project. People around the world color them in. A group of us sat in the park, way past its closing time (it closes as 10:00am till 4:00pm). The watchwomen let us stay. We walked back, Yelama on one side, Ishwar on my other. We hung out in the community a bit longer, taking out the sketch pens and papers, a lot of them were distributed to the extended family of kids. It was time to go and Ishwar also had to go to school. He has a cycle now. We said our goodbyes to the families and the smaller kids and walked with the main ones up to the road. Ishwar had tears in his eyes, which brought tears to my eyes. They are really special, near and dear to me. There aren’t words for it. Ishwar is in 10th standard now. Next year, college! Ganesh and Prakash will graduate in the next two years. I hope to see them before that.

If you made it to here I have an update:

I was under strict instructions to call Ishwar today at 9:30pm his time. I called early just in case and someone else picked up. When I asked for Ishwar the man said it was too early and I would have to call back at 9:30. He uses other people’s phones in his community. I called back and he picked up right away. We talked for almost 10 minutes giving each other updates on what has happened in the past couple of days.

More to come about the rest of the trip soon!

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