Tales of Ragini, a Chennai Slum Dweller – A heart of Gold!

When you don’t have clean water, when you don’t have a sewer system, when you don’t have access to electricity or television, well all that put together, imagine. Ragini is a 9 year old kid jumping around slag-heaps, piled scrap of strewn garbage and mounds of mud, in the streets of Chennai. How dreadful a destiny to be lying down on a cold floor, on the slimy stones and foul drain pipes but, she has a story to tell, a story of profound wisdom and hope, that at the end of the conversation, I owed her more words than she did..

Are you happy?

“Always”

Do you yearn for things you don’t have?

“I yearn for this warmth, but can I ever get this back?” shows a photo of her mother.

I hug her and ask,

So what do you want to do in life?

“I want to buy a blue car!”

So, you love cars? Do you know to drive one?

“No, I don’t love them. I want to buy one and destroy it”

But, why?

“My mother was killed by a blue car while she was crossing the road to get me a balloon that I asked for. I hate cars since then!”

What is the best memory of you with your mother?

“She fed me and put me to sleep on her lap. It isn’t the same when someone else does it for me now”

She is around, seeing you and blessing you and wishing the best for you. Do you want to make her proud?

“Yes, I want to. I will drive an airplane one day and hug her directly atop of the world!”

So you want to become a pilot. Do you know you have to study hard for it?

“I top my class.. I have been saving money secretly for paying fees else I have to discontinue school”

How do you earn the money?

“Sometimes, I find a rupee in the garbage…”

What if you don’t save up enough money, will you accept dropping out?

She sheepishly ruffles her hair, shuffles her feet and says, “I think I can save the money I need”

Gazed at her optimism, I continued…

But you are barefooted, don’t you want to first buy a pair of shoes?

“There is a temple past my school. I pray for a pair of shoes over there. I will get it soon”

You will, my child. But why didn’t you simply ask your father to buy you a pair?

“I don’t want to buy. I want it as a gift from my mother. She used to say if we wish something, it will happen. That is why I am praying”

I didn’t have the heart to break the tether of hope.

What does your father do?

“He irons clothes for rich people”

Do you hate these rich people?

“No. I like them. They are giving my dad a living”

Do you want to be rich someday that you can give others a living?

“I don’t know Akka. The happiest and protected I was when I had my mother’s arms around me. No one can give that back to me. I will always be poor”

Will you protect your siblings the way your mother did?

“I will”, with gleam in her eyes.

Will you promise me you will remember me when you become a pilot?

Shying away, she says,”I will. But will you not see me until then?”

We cannot conquer death and bring the dead alive, so I left her a pair of shoes.


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