Guilttripping

Last year my brother got married. First in Kerala and then in Patiala, where his lovely wife is from. Not ones to miss out on this chance, the Mallu bunch, ably accompanied by a Norwegian, German or two, decided to make a Punjab trip of it – Amritsar, Waga border and then Patiala.

On a balmy April night, we were waiting at Nizamuddin railway station for our train to Amritsar. We grabbed some snacks, chatted, people-watched and waited patiently. There are few places on this planet that lend themselves to awesome people-watching like Indian railway stations. Soon enough, a beggar came along. A beggar with severely deformed legs, ankles and arms who partly crawled and rolled his way across the platform. He rolled around our bags and beseeched us. We politely declined.

Arvind went completely still. The shock of seeing someone in such a misfortunate state so up close and personal had gotten to him. I had never seen him look so appalled, so horrified.

“Pappa,” he anxiously pulled at the Viking’s T-shirt. “Do something. Give him something. Do something.

Giving him money will not help darling, we explain patiently. We try and explain in a way that is not too Slumdog Millionaire, not too awful.

The man rolls away.

Our son turns to us, tearful and furious and begins to hammer us with his little fists.

You did NOTHING! YOU LET HIM GO. YOU DID NOT HELP HIM.

It is possible that I don’t have the talent to adequately express the terrible heartache of that moment. His judgement back to back with my cold judgement of self.

The train came along and we climbed in; he curled himself up on his berth and sobbed even as I rubbed his back and whispered comfort.

The important background to this story is Arvind’s own deformity, his left arm, and how it was around that this time that he truly became aware of his difference. Of things that he either could not do or struggled to do. Of the way his arm would drag ever so slightly when he ran. Of his heartbreak over not being able to do his self-defence classes properly. Of struggling to tie his shoelaces. We had seen a lot of frustration and anger, yet somehow,  the grief had yet to find its vent.

On the train that night, my son’s long pent up grief  juxtaposed seamlessly with his grief for the plight of a complete stranger.

I hesitated with my words knowing well the deviousness of guilt. How easily it sneaks in and stays there. Yet at the same time, how do children or young adults develop empathy and compassion if they are never acknowledge how fortunate they are? And is acknowledging our good fortune possible without some guilt?

I struggled. To find the words that would make him aware of his good fortune. We are blessed in so many ways that we cannot take for granted.

Arvind, in particular,  is a remarkably blessed child. From the minute everything went to hell, we have never once seen a hospital bill. The severity of his injury was such that there were simply no neurosurgeons in Norway who could surgically deal with this. My father scoured google and mailed doctors the world over and finally found an Indian surgeon in Texas and a Swedish surgeon in London, who were familiar with the procedure. Our entire family was flown to London, all expenses paid by the Norwegian government, so that Arvind could be operated upon by one of the best surgeons in the world at the Princess Grace Hospital – the kind of hospital which offers patients five course gourmet menus for the likes of British royalty and Victoria Beckham. If we had lived in the U.S. the collective cost of his two cutting edge surgeries would have amounted to about $250,000. (The kind of people who knock public healthcare could do with keeping these kind of figures in mind.)

There is no way to receive a blessing like that and not feel an obligation to pay it back or pay it forward.

Since that day in Delhi, we have talked a lot about poverty and injustice. How unfairly the cards of life are dealt and how there is no real explanation for that. To everyone who sympathetically clucked, “Why this lovely boy?” we have consistently answered, “Why not? Why were we, in particular, to be spared in this entirely random game?” We have talked a lot about the things we can do to help. About spending some vacations travelling with mission groups to build homes and schools in communities. About volunteering more locally, getting involved in our own community. About speaking out when see injustice – even if it is schoolyard bullying.

Most of all, I have told him as much as I could about Raksha –  a wonderful school for children with special needs that was started in Kochi by my late Grand uncle and his wife. It is difficult to come across finer people and for me they are the ultimate example of how to walk the talk. And keep walking for 26 years. It is an institution that I am happy to brag about for all the fantastic work it has done and continues to do. This couple were not only a constant source of inspiration, but stand-in parents and guides with an open home and heart for so many confused souls, like me. I can safely say that my life, in its present form, would be impossible without their nurturing guidance back then. (Yes, we need another post about that village needed to raise a child).

We sponsor a child there, but Arvind has decided that he would like to sponsor a child himself. Someone whom he can visit and follow up on his trips to India. He wants to share his physiotherapy equipment and show his exercises. He wants to help, because his 8 year old mind has reluctantly comprehended that there was little we could have done to help the poor man at the railway station. Because he comprehends somewhat that knowledge, experience and stamina are important resources to share as well.

It’s time to pay it forward.

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29 Comments

Filed under Arvind, Life Lessons

29 responses to “Guilttripping

  1. I think mine is the first comment simply because no one knows what to say. I’ve read the post a dozen times and I am in awe of Arvind. He has such spirit and I didn’t know about his arm. He couldn’t have been more blessed, yes, but mostly because he has you two as his parents. And the family that he has.

    I’m sorry he had that brush with illness and poverty. What can I say? My kids get upset everytime they see a beggar on the streets and we live in India. The Brat cries after seeing the injuries, some real, some faked. And I have no words and no solutions.

    The OA and I give to some charities (It’s the only thing I don’t blog about) and somehow even that doesn’t seem enough, does it?
    hugs

    • Mom Gone Mad

      I feel that we don’t do anything close to enough:-( But there is something to be said for the very insular world of families with small kids. You get so hyperfocused on that aspect. Once we are all out of that bubble, I hope it will change.

      I think there can always be words. And there are so many people working with solutions that it is possible to maybe focus on those. The last thing any of us want, I think, is to expose our children to such awfulness without showing them that there are people working to make a difference. They are too young to lose hope, too young to be uninspired by amazing people.

      I worry about shrugging and shutting up, because we risk them taking away from it all that a) we don’t care enough and b) there is nothing to be done. (In most individual cases of begging on the street, little CAN be done then and there, but this does not necessarily mean that action cannot be taken at other levels, right?)

      • pxbalak

        Very beautifully said MGM. It’s not easy to put a positive spin on things that impact your life directly forever, but in the random game called life, there is nothing if there isn’t hope.
        Arvind is a blessing to this world, as much as he is blessed to have a family like yours.

  2. Ni

    I have to agree with the Mad Momma. I wouldnt know what to say. My son is three year old. He is beginning to understand a bit but in his innocent world everyone is role playing and the beggar he sees on road- will wash up in the evening, go to his comfortable home and tell stories to his children like his own dadda. At some point he will know the truth and I have no idea what he will go through. I am the practicle sort he is the sensitive child, I go to insane lengths, sometimes, to protect him from the emotional damage the exposure causes. You handled it beautifully , and as MM said, Arvind is inspiring. God bless.

    • Mom Gone Mad

      Hey Ni, welcome.

      Hmm.. I see your point, but I wonder whether the end result is actually proctection. Or could it be nipping in the bud a great possibility for learning compassion and pragmatic action? I think the sensitive kid needs needs to know that pragmatic ACTION is possible (if not necessarily solutions) only so that they don’t drown in despair and give up entirely.

      These things are so hard for us to talk about because it makes us face our own incompetance in this matter. I had to face mine. But my discomfort be damned, looonggg term – I would like for him to be the sort of person who can step into situations and make a difference. If that openness and that education does not begin when they are small, I’m terrified that it will be too late:-(
      Hang in there. Am sure you will figure out the best for your kid!! (and each way is different!)

  3. Shal!!! You know I could not read this without choking up and shedding copious amounts of tears, don’t you? But I am holding up….so there!! Raksha, Baba & Amma walking the talk and my darling Adu and his response. Bless him. Zoo and Tam give me the look when I turn my face away and don’t do anything. They are convinced they have been birthed by a cold, heartless, wicked, mean witch straight out of the Harry Potter series.
    Love and hugs…..

    • Mom Gone Mad

      I know that you one of those who could identify most with this. Thank you for being a part of all that passionate, great work.

      Sometimes we have to turn our face away. What can you do? you can’t engage everyone who is begging for alms. BUT…it will help to tell them why you are reacting the way you are reacting. And introduce them to your work, woman!!! There is so much to be inspired by.

  4. Some events shape us in ways one never imagined- Adu’s surgeries sound like that. Thank God (and Norway) for providing you with the best possible care. How I wish that basic, decent healthcare was within reach of everyone.
    His heartbreak at the station has led to such positive results. His plans sound really well thought out, bless the lad.
    You, my dear, may please keep writing here. FB doesn’t even begin to cut it!

    • Mom Gone Mad

      Some events do, don’t they?? Yes, I really wish too that these rights were universal!
      Ach and the writing. I am trying NOT get freaked out by who is reading what.. and as fr FB, I have begun to truly loathe it, but all my interesting friends are on it. What to do?:-)

  5. Raksha, of course, was very much a part of the Cochin scene when I was living there some years ago. May it grow from strength to strength.

  6. Parag

    Shal, he is a blessed child. And what a touching post. You have a way with words!

    Parag

    • Mom Gone Mad

      Thank you Parag. You have a way with words too, you know! I love those posts you wrote about your parents!

  7. God Bless that boy of yours. Arvind is someone who will make a difference. Spread the love, compassion -we need plenty in this world.

    BTW; MM’s nudge did wonders eh? glad to have you back. I missed your posts.

    • Mom Gone Mad

      Thank you, Sukanya. I hope your wishes for Arvind come through.

      And thank you being faithful and coming around!:-)

  8. surabhi

    Beautiful post. It was amazing to read about his response at the station, but equally powerful was your response and your thoughts about what transpired.
    And your comment on public health care- spot on!

  9. Your kid Arvind is not only a brave soul but a kind-hearted one too. And kudos to you both for imbibing those values in him. There is not much I can say but I’m awed by your little boy.

    • Mom Gone Mad

      Minal, I wouldn’t give us that much credit:-) Most of it is all him. But there are many days when I am totally awed too:-) Thanks for your comment.

  10. CRD

    The incident has made an impression on his life. And yours as well.

    Cheers
    CRD

  11. Ariel

    Oh ..How I miss reading you. My bro s birth was a premature breech case. Thankfully the cord was wrapped round his shoulder and not neck. Delivered by a pair of interns in a govt hospital he couldn’t move his arm for a couple of years. Which in a baby means missing all the milestones for flipping, crawling etc and being labeled developmentally delayed. It took yrs of physical therapy again shuttling between various Indian govt hosp to get that arm moving. Oh the hrs we ve waited for a 30 min appt. But obviously its still not ‘like the other one’. Its been over 30 yrs and my mom still hasn’t gotten over the horror of it all. You are doing so good with Arvind and his nurturing.I still struggle to find the grace to ‘give’ . Having had to work up from the bottom rung of the class ladder with no help at all,l I find myself always cynical towards any kind of “need”. I guess I have to learn to let go the anger of the unfairness of a lost childhood.

    • Mom Gone Mad

      Ariel, I wanted to wait before replying to you. That is some story. I can imagine how tough it must have been on the family – your parents in particular. How is your brother now?
      When it Arvind, we get so much help from council physiotherapists, school aids and what not. We are very lucky. And a bit spoilt because we have not had to deal with it ourselves the whole time.
      I really do get your point about being cynical about need. I have not known that. We were not very wealthy, but as children, we did not see any real struggle either. Its also more complicated in India, where it can be hard to make out the fraud from the really needy. But I do know about anger and and I can only say that you will know when it is the time to let it go.

  12. What a compassionate child he is. I felt really moved when I read that post where he gave his 500 kronor for the earthquake victims, but this is just amazing – his empathy and his willingness to share his time, equipment and exercises.

  13. DG

    Hi MGM,
    I have been wanting to make a donation to Raksha ever since I read this post weeks ago, but their site as well as careandshare.com
    (am based out of US) gives me an error. Commenting here since I could not get your email. Is there any other way of donating/sponsorship(via Paypal etc.) that you are aware of?

  14. God bless your child, S. And your family. I’ll be emailing you in a bit with a link to share with Arvind. But first, I’ve got to blow the darn nose.

  15. Chooch

    I’m almost as late to read this post as you were in posting it;)
    What a compassionate little soul…well done to you and The V for nurturing it within him…children see and learn, so there’s no doubt that the care and concern come from you and the rest of your family..love the idea of him supporting another child…he will be blessed in countless ways-and I don’t mean in material things.Love to you and yours

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