It was a cold January evening when I spotted a boy of around 7-8 years sitting in the corner of the class in Prayas center. He was wearing a red/blue stripes T-shirt, a shabby half pant, no pullover, no cap, and no shawl. It was one of the coldest winters in 50 years (as the local newspapers claimed) and a child without woolens in that weather was gruesome by my standards. Extremely agitated on the irresponsibility of his folks, I approached the child and asked his name. He mumbled something and I caught the voice saying “Reetey”. My first thought was.. A meaningless name.., probably his parents were in hurry to go out and work to earn and that putting thought to the name of child was a futile exercise for them. I asked him, “Why are you not wearing any woolens?? Don’t you feel cold?? Didn’t your mom ask you to wear something warm and go out?? How many woolens do you have??” Poor child terrified by the questions of a stern looking large girl replied –“ek thha mem.. wo dho diya.. abhi mera sweater sookh raha hai” . I made a mental note to meet child’s parents before leaving for the day. We walked to his house and I kept yelling on him, lent him my shawl, felt guilty & angry to be feeling warm when a little child was feeling cold!
It was in coming months, I got to know that the child was an orphan who lived with his elder brother and nephews & niece of his age. Also his name was “Hriday”, an extremely thoughtful name. I never came across a name more meaningful than this amongst all Prayas children. He was a brilliant and laborious child, as per the feedback from our teacher but during my activity classes, the child was usually a passive and shy student, a drooping flower. I considered such reaction an outcome of intimidating initial encounter. Nevertheless, I decided to give the child his time to bloom and his space to feel comfortable.
During the exercise of getting our children enrolled in quality schools, Hriday performed well in the screening exams, and was admitted in “Om Foundation School”. The chairperson and the admissions authority were kind enough to pre-consider the fact that the child was an orphan.
On the first day of his school, when I went to visit “Om Foundation”, the other children from Prayas were squealing and giggling with excitement when they saw me, and waved to me. However Hriday completely refused to take note of my existence and kept his head immersed in fresh new books. I smiled and said a ‘hi’ to him, and talked to his teacher, and left. That weekend when I went to take the activity classes, Hriday came to me and said “Mem ji, ek baar aur aana naa mujhse milne mere school”. I was taken aback by this request, but I complied with it. In the next visit, he showed the courtesy to smile in return of my gestures.
Hriday is now one of the most vociferous and regular student of my batch and his teachers always give a positive feedback on him. He now speaks very confidently, has been on stage on many occasions, and there is a lot of activity in the class when he is around.
As a mentor, I learnt a lot from the child. One basic fact about child psychology, and that is “have patience with a child and give him time to bloom”.