The Forsaken Souls
by Meenakshi Varier
I was called in for the monthly check up of all the fifty residents of the Harmony orphanage. In our duty roaster every month, one of the staff nurse were assigned with the job of visiting the orphanage and ensuring children were well. As my vehicle approached the old building that stood on a lonely hill, it felt uncanny. I felt I was looking at an old mansion in a horror movie, that held the souls of the abandoned. As I got closer, i could see little hands and faces peering out of the window.
I walked over to the building,which from outside looked filthy and old. I was hoping it would be much better inside. But I didn’t have my hopes high because it was a government facility and that meant things never improved much. I was greeted by humming sounds, which I had no clue as to where it came from. I headed straight for the reception. After the basic enquiries about the welfare of children, I was told by the caretakers that none of the nursing staff actually ever bothered to visit children physically. Their monthly visits would end at the reception where they got a fair idea from the caretakers about the condition of the children. They would then fill in their register and leave.
I insisted on meeting the children personally. As I walked through the corridors to meet them, I was appalled by the decrepit condition of the building. From rusty, leaking roofs to filthy and smelly bathrooms, things looked horrific. More than any of those what struck me most was the state of children. All caretakers but one named Savithri refused to accompany me. I noticed chairs and on some of them sat children rocking , rocking relentlessly. I was particularly drawn to one child who sat in one corner and rocked. “He is Ravi,” said Savithri “When he had come here, he was able to run around, but slowly his condition deteriorated”. “But how”, I asked. “His legs got weaker, as he suffers from cerebral palsy, and moreover he wasn’t assisted to move around much. He gave up bit by bit and became restricted to the chair”.
In another corner, I came across little Shyna who was being mercilessly tossed and turned for a change of her diaper and clothes. The caretaker was cussing under her breath and she pushed me aside and walked away. “Does your duty end here?” I asked Savithri. With no answer to give me, Savithri began to walk away. But in stopped her and demanded an answer. “I alone can’t make much of a difference” she said. “ We are paid just to attend to basic needs. That includes feeding,bathing and changing them. More than that no one cares about anything else. When I feel sorry, sometimes I take them for a walk or spend some time talking to them. We all have our limits, don’t we?” she said. “OK,” I said.
I moved to little Shyna's cot. Her gaze were unsteady. She was barely three years old and she was sucking on her thumbs. They were red and swollen from all the sucking. For solace, she relied on her little thumb for. Savithri told me that sometimes children resorted to self harm by banging their heads on the wall or sucking their thumbs until they turned gangrenous. I was lost for words. I told Savithri that I had to go.
I went to the reception, and followed the customary routine that the other nurses did. In the comments section, I wrote that all the children were doing well. Feeling ashamed at the blatant lies that I had written, I walked away.
As my vehicle veered off, those little heads were again peering out through the windows. But this time, I knew that they were secretly asking for much more, maybe to be loved.
I thought again and again of what I had seen and what I was told about. The sights refused to fade away. I thought about little Ravi who had been abandoned by his parents for no fault of his own. A child who once ran around and danced to music, now just sat on a chair the entire day and rocked himself.
His limbs were wasted because he never used them. He was never talked to, not cuddled, not even tucked into bed with a goodnight. Since he was born blind, he never attempted to wander on his own. All these children were mechanically looked after, bathed, changed and fed. They have never experienced a mother’s love or a father’s protection. Those born blind were not even told that the sky was blue road that the birds flew. They were outcomes of poverty, rape and hatred.
The caretakers weren’t paid to look after their emotional needs. Then why would they do it? If their own parents didn’t want them, then who would? After all they were children of the sky and earth born to be abandoned. They rocked themselves to sleep, they hummed to themselves for entertainment and sucked on their fingers or comfort. While the television set and radio blared, they remained oblivious to everything around. Some fiddled with a piece of cloth. Others hurt themselves because they were possibly venting their frustration. Nobody bothered to hold their little hands and walk them around. They weren’t told how beautiful the flowers were and how lovely their fragrance was. They knew no warmth on the cold December nights. The only had each other for help and companionship. They never communicated but I think they recognised each other through their hums.
Whom shall I blame,I thought. The government, the caretaker,the people who created them and then decided to abandon them or God Himself? They were hurdled like cattle, during their meal hours. They ate with great urgency and tried to snatch each off of each other’s plates. Nobody had taught them table manners after all !
I knew I was only looking at the tip of the iceberg. These were the few who were rescued from dump yards, or found on the railway tracks wrapped in plastic bags. There were many others unseen and unheard of. The government and caretakers can never make up for the love and care a mother has to offer.
When I got home, my husband and son were fast asleep. I sat on the foot of my bed and wept. I didn’t know whether to feel sad for them or happy and thankful for what I have. I ran my hand through my son’s hair and kissed him. I thanked God on his behalf. He was destined to be in my womb, to be born as the child of a woman who had no unfavourable circumstance or a heart made of stone so as to abandon him. He had a home, good food, family and most importantly a mother and father.
The next day, instead of going to work, I headed straight to the orphanage. I went there not as a nurse but as a visitor. I had carried with me lots of supplies including food, clothing, medicines and toys.
After the customary exchange of greetings, I went to see Ravi. I sat next to him. He was rocking. I asked him if he slept well but got no response. I then gently touched him on his shoulders. He stopped rocking and reached out for my hand. He took my hand and bought it close to his mouth. I ran my hand through his hair and hugged him. He didn’t move. He hugged me back and I gently rocked him. He lay rocking against my chest and in a matter of minutes, the little five year old was asleep. I gently lay him on his cot and told him to remember me . He smiled in his sleep, I don’t know t what. I went away feeling happier.
When the caretakers thanked me for my generous supplies, I told them that anybody could do it. It was nothing out of ordinary. But I was happy about donating something that was not materialistic. I was happy about donating some of my motherliness to at least one of the children, who found it so comforting. This needs were so little and yet nobody understood them.
I knew i would come back to this place for Ravi, for Shyna and for many other quiet, unwanted souls. Or the mother in me would never be complete and motherhood would remain unaccomplished. ***