Voices from India: Aaftaab’s story

by Delta Donohue / Jan 26, 2010 / 0 comments

He fell. He was playing in a location where he wasn’t supposed to be, climbing on an old iron gate he wasn’t supposed to climb, and reaching for some berries outside the gate that he wasn’t supposed to take.  Sounds like a pretty normal boy, doesn’t it?

Yet, when I think on his life, it has been anything but normal, and far from what a child’s life should be like. His mother died when he was very young and his father began drinking. When he was drunk, he would beat the young boy. So, when he was 8 years old, Aaftaab decided to run away. He spent the next 4 years riding trains through the major cities of India and living on the streets. At around 12 years of age, he came to live at Udayan, the children’s home run by Vatsalya. His true age is uncertain as there is no birth certificate or paperwork memorializing when he was born.

The fall was serious and Aaftaab needed surgery to repair muscle, tendon and ligament damage. He was beginning to lose feeling in his fingers and there was growing concern that the damage might be permanent if surgery wasn’t performed fairly immediately. Thankfully, a hospital of good reputation and an orthopedic surgeon agreed to donate their services.

I sat with Aaftaab at the hospital the night before his surgery. In India, each patient is expected to bring an attendant. This person is responsible not only for keeping the patient company, but providing food and running to purchase medicines prescribed by the doctors.

Aaftaab and I played math and English games to pass the time. At first he was very shy with me but then began to urge me to give him harder and harder math problems. He laughed with huge delight when he caught me in a math mistake.

I found myself watching him, looking to see some sign of this ‘street kid’ who must have been so strong and tough to survive on the streets. I tried to imagine him sleeping on dirty concrete floors at the railway station. I thought of the people who would have stepped over him, or looked around him as if he didn’t exist. I wondered how often he might have begged for a few Rupees in order to eat.

I saw a hint of that boy as we wandered through the hospital meeting with specialists in the days before the surgery. He had been to the hospital before and knew his way around. Even though he was injured, he began leading our little group through the confusing maze of hospital halls. He figured out how to get to the head of the line of the people waiting for the hand specialist. During the multiple times his arm was examined, he showed no sign of pain or impatience. He simply answered all the questions and held his arm so steadily. Mostly, though, what I saw was a young boy with an enormous smile that held a quiet promise of mischief in it. Just like any boy!

The surgery went well and Aaftaab will recover full use of his hand. I feel blessed to have spent such sacred time with him and our communication and connection was deep even though words in a shared language were few.  If you are interested in learning more about the incredible work being done by Vatsalya please see www.vatsalya.org, or to provide support from the US, please see www.NICFund.org.


Voices from India - Aaftaab



Delta Donohue is the Voices from India Editor for Wandering Educators