• Project Saathi

Chocolates, Chauka, and Cha-Cha: Memories from Camp

Bhavya Pandey

“I just don’t understand these English words”, he complained, “if vegetarians eat vegetables, then what do humanitarians eat?”

Walking alongside an open drain in the labyrinth of tightly packed, temporary dwellings of Khirki Village, I tightly clutched the palm of the skinny boy leading me towards his home. He was talking animatedly about the school work that he wanted me to help him with. He turned his head to look at me and grinned with amusement at his little joke. The stench of raw sewage, the squelching sound of mud beneath our shoes and the dire sights of the slum were too consuming for me to return his smile. For him, this was life, he had never known it any different.

Located right off the residential locality of Malviya Nagar in South Delhi, Khirki, named after the Khirki Mosque, houses the Balmiki Camp, an urban accommodation for more than 700 families living in acute poverty. That day was the first time I had decided to visit Vishal’s home despite having helped him with his studies during the ongoing summer break from school, for more than 3 weeks now; the first time that I had witnessed the reality for myself. He relied on summer volunteers and tutors such as myself, like many elementary school children from Camp to support his education, where I was giving a hand for the summer.

Vishal’s favorite things - his ardent love for cricket, his smooth dance moves on the latest Bollywood number and excitement for sweet milk chocolates never reflected the darkness and penury that has shadowed his childhood. If I were to think of things that were my favorite, the smell of new books, Chinese dinners with my family and car rides with my friends would feature on the list; but more importantly, so would sharing Vishal’s satisfaction after nailing a particularly dicey algebra sum. Despite his inhibitions regarding the prospects of what the future holds for him and his family, Vishal’s constant optimism and cheer glistened in his eager eyes.

My interactions with Vishal and the other children at Balmiki Camp made me realise that people are not weak, in fact they have a lot of potential even though sometimes they may be told otherwise because of their socio-economic status or the pin code they were born in.

Working to do my bit to somewhat empower others, I realised how much momentum I have in my life and how rewarding it is, to share it with others with hopes of them discovering it for themselves. Aside from understanding and addressing the ‘issues’ they are forced to combat each day, we must also be willing to share with and work alongside those whose daily routines are plagued by injustices and dearth of resources; while not creating any barriers in the process. I perceived that an open mind, a smile, and the willingness to simply observe, go a long way. Our community, with its inequalities and differences, is a tapestry of diverse individuals and the sharing of self can make it more vivid; not just a facade of utopianism but in reality as well.

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