If I were to tell you there are a few silent heroes working in a village called Athaish Card Colony in Amtali area many people would not recognize the place at all. If I were to tell people that these champions of a cause run an orphanage called ‘Prantik’ barely 75 yards from Rose Valley Park most people would recognize the place. I was fortunate to visit the orphanage on last Sunday, 3rd October with two of my younger friends, journalist Manas and professor Nishikant. While Manas tried to drive his vehicle in a breakneck speed I tried to engage him in a conversation and control his speed. The only mark that a few mud-walled huts were our target orphanage was a small signboard declaring the place as ‘Prantik’, registration number 5555 of 2008. The sign board was donated by a business group who pronounces its e-mail address very visibly on the flex signboard proudly. Oh, so much so for quiet social service by business houses, I thought.
We came to be aware of the existence of ‘Prantik from a news item in a local newspaper which had reported about the inmates of this orphanage practically starving. Shekhar Datta of the Telegraph motivated a number of people, including yours truly, to raise some money and help the orphanage. Manas did not stop just at that point and he kept on motivating a number of persons to extend a helping hand.
Anyway, after we entered the courtyard of the orphanage we were greeted by a young boy, Bishu Debbarma. Soon the Secretary of the society, Kamal Barman and his friend, Babul Debnath joined us. Our friend Nishikant had brought some cash and a big carton full of sweets and samosas which, Nishikant insisted must be distributed by me. The inmates, 17 girls and 7 boys, stood in a queue, received the sweet packets gracefully and said ‘thank you’ one by one. The youngest kid was a little boy named ‘cassette’. I was wondering if the boy copied everything he saw or heard but no one could explain why he had come to be named as ‘cassette’.
The initial introductions over I came straight to my first question, ‘How did you people start this orphanage, Babul’? Babul smiled rather modestly and told me their story. In 2005, he and a few of his friends started a business of selling PCs and had a good business in 2006. That’s when they had to stay late at the office in Bardowali, were not able to go home and wanted to have a maid to cook their meals in the office only. Someone brought a little orphan girl called Soma as a maid but they found it was actually Soma who needed to be taken care of. Someone else brought another little orphan girl and they sheltered both the girls in their office. Babul and their friends had been searching for a place where they could build an orphanage and put those girls. They came to know about the generosity of one Toofan Nama of Athaish Card Colony. Toofan and his maternal aunt, Khusibala, donated about 5 Kanis of their private land for a good cause. With some portion of the land taken by the government for building a road the orphanage has about 4½ Kanis of land now.
Babul and his friends started the orphanage with six kids and a bamboo fenced hut but the number of kids quickly grew to 24. The organisers now simply refuse to accept any more kids as they know that they will not be able to feed one more hungry mouth. Babul and his friends were not skilled labourers, at least, in constructing mud-walled huts but they watched local skilled labourers, learnt from them and toiled hard to construct two mud-walled huts as they could not afford paying skilled labourers. Slowly three women, also destitute, came and joined the society to cook food for and look after the children. Many of the so-called-friends of Babul tried to scare them away from ‘Prantik’. ‘What would happen to you if some of the children die all of a sudden?’ they asked but the negative thoughts did not touch Babul and his friends who keep on visiting Battala, Gole Bazar, Math Chowmohani and even Udaipur markets to beg vegetables and rice for the kids. Some of the shopkeepers treat them as nuisance but they have become accustomed to the humiliation. I could not ask Babul if they got their inspirations from Anil Kapoor (Mr. India) or Shammi Kapoor (Brahmachari) – that would have sounded just one-dimensional. Kamal and Babul are not reel heroes of a make-believe world but real heroes. Apart from the society members Toofan Nama is the only person who keeps on visiting the place to see the children and encourage Babul and others.
I had a peek in the living huts and the community kitchen cum dining room. ‘What’s up for the lunch?’, I inquired. The lady cook replied rather shyly, ‘Kachur Tarkari, Daal, Bhaat’. The kids can not afford to be allergic to ‘Kachu’ otherwise they will have to go without food. In the living huts the old, worn out dresses of the kids were neatly hanging from ropes. Their beds were long cots made from bamboos. Life, probably, can not any more Spartan than this. The only luxuries these kids have are eleven water filters (donated by the local BDO) that can not filter water but can be used for storing water and an electric pump to draw water from a hand pump on a low land. Astonishingly, all the kids in the school-going-age go to schools. At least they are provided mid-day meals in their schools.
See the job profile of the members of the society running ‘Prantik’. Mangala Debnath is a house wife and president of the society. Kamal Barman is a newspaper agent and secretary of the society. Babul Debnath teaches computer to children and does servicing of PCs. Mintu Datta sells drinking water and PCs. Asim Chakraborty services PCs and is a private tutor. Rajib Banik manufactures and sells iron grills. Ramu Banik buys and sells rubber sheets and scraps. Sudam Deb rents out a Maruti car. Swapan Chakraborty is a private tutor and seller of PCs. The job profiles of all these people are sufficient to tell you that they are, financially, slightly above the lowest rung of the society but they are the silent heroes providing a service not dreamt by many of us, ever.
So, what are the immediate problems of ‘Prantik’? In one word the answer would be ‘many’ but I will make the list of needs smaller and put them in the following order: (1) fixing six doors and fifteen windows to the mud-walled huts which do not have any of these ‘fancy’ articles (2) a few water filters (3) one full time private tutor who would take around Rs. 2K per month (4) assurance of a little flow of money (5) regular visits of the orphanage by a doctor (6) mandatory auditing of the expenses of the society (Babul and others are not aware about it) (7) opening an account in a bank like Axis bank or HDFC bank for receiving money from some large hearted people from outside the State (at the moment the society has an account in Tripura Grameen bank) (8) preparing bio-data of all the inmates for future reference (9) getting a PAN card. No one spelt out one problem but I could foresee it: the girls are growing up. The society members will have to protect these girls from the wolves and hyenas in the guise of men shortly.
While we had been leaving ‘Prantik’ we noticed ‘cassette’, barely older than a toddler, roaming under the scorching Sun but one of her many Didis took him under the shade of a tree where the Didis had gathered some leaves to play their girly game of cooking. All the kids appeared all of a sudden and started wishing us ‘good bye’. After we came out of the courtyard of ‘Prantik’ I realised that though the physical distance between ‘Prantik’ and the Rose Valley Park was only about 75 yards the two places were, in reality, in two different planets. On the southern side of the village road was Rose Valley Park with private security guards at the main gate and swings, merry-go-rounds and other funs inside the park where children with their well-to-do parents had gathered to have some fun even in the scorching heat. On the other side was ‘Prantik’, a place for twenty-four children of lesser God who are not sure about their next meal. No, I am not condemning the theme park. I also belong to the advantaged section of the society. I told Manas and Nishikant, ‘We are actually fortunate people but do not realise this simple fact. We remain engrossed in our personal woes, real or perceived and that’s why we need to come here, from time to time, to remind us that we are actually fortunate, or shall I say happy, people’.