Wedding Worth Attending

by Ravi on Feb 14, 2010

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February tenth dawned as a big day for the family of COME.  Mitalee was getting married to Sidhant, her childhood buddy from the Railway station in Gorakhpur. Mitalee came to live with us, her first home in the village probably because she got the first experience of a true home with love and security. She wanted to get married from Apna Ghar, Pharsar.  For the past few days I busied myself with arrangements for the wedding.

The whole family (about 250 children and 40 staff) wanted to be at the village. It was too expensive to have everyone at the village, especially the children and staff from the Delhi home which is about thousand kilometers in distance from each other. There was a small group of children representing each home. About 120 children gathered for the wedding. In India weddings in villages hold the protocol that sees the entire village being invited.  Usually the tradition is such without options of not leaving anyone out.  This tradition will continue for generations to come.

Dominant population of our village is upper caste people within the ancient caste system that still prevails in the village. Our parents belong to the upper caste so our home is in the locality of upper caste people. When I started my work in 1998 the villagers learned about my work of helping the lower caste and street children.  Some of them were not comfortable. They had certain reservations. One of them even suggested that I move from the locality to start “this kind” of work where “dirty people” will come, rather than in their locality where they feared these so called deviants would come to their own side of the village.  I was a bit skeptical whether the villagers will accept the new couple as part of the village community. This was a genuine concern for my children.  Invitations were sent announcing “Ravi’s daughter is getting married.”  My friends and the villagers were well aware that I regard these children as my own children. So there were no questioning about the bride and groom except some relatives who are not so familiar with my mission asked me if it was my marriage and was I getting married!

The wedding was scheduled for 6 pm in the evening. The response of the villagers was overwhelming. About 500 people witnessed the wedding. There were some uninvited guests as well who heard about the wedding and could not stop themselves witnessing this wonderful occasion.  We made them very welcome.

I was immersed in an ocean of gratitude. Finally, I was to witness my children being accepted by the community and also friends and relatives alike.  My brother Shashi and his wife Aradhana flew in from Singapore to attend the wedding. Their presence had a very positive and harmonious effect on the villagers and the relatives. My sisters Pushpa, Vyjanti and Sudha were prepared for all the rituals. They did not want the couple to miss their biological parents which calls for ‘mother/father’ to be present at certain times during the wedding rituals.  I wanted very much to take the role of the bride’s father (as Mitalee wanted me to do) a role I had taken in her life since the age of thirteen when she first regarded me as her father.  At this stage in our relationship there was no questioning of these roles which were long established.  I did all the rituals of the bride’s father with pride and an intrinsic joy.  Mitalee refers to my sister Pushpa as “Mother” so she was doing the Mother part which came naturally for Pushpa.   Sidhant, the groom addresses Phoola as ‘Mummy’.  Phoola is one of our caretakers at Gorakhpur.  Brother Shashi did the father rituals for Sidhant.  Dance and music is an integral part of Indian wedding so all the children danced for more than four hours. This wedding celebrations transported the children into another world.  A world of joy, harmony and celebrations.  A world removed from troubles, activities, fears or other ongoing issues.  Some of the guests too joined them in letting go of normal life and partaking in the collective consciousness of these celebrations.  We had to close this wonderful celebration around 1 pm.

I tried to sleep but the memories of Mitalee and Sidhant flooded my mind. The very first time when I first met them at the railway station in Gorakhpur.  I recalled a young strong headed, stubborn Mitalee filled with resistance and mistrust, all of thirteen years of age, who could blame her? She did what she did, at that time, to survive in a tough world that was not on her side.  Perhaps it was these character traits that saved her and protected her, until she came to have us in her life.

The first time when I succeeded to have a real conversation with her I noticed her arms very injured and she was bleeding. When I asked her about her injury her face changed.  She took on her tough stance and replied brazenly “I have sliced it using a razor”.  My concern increased as I was confused and perplexed. I asked her if she had done this to herself.  She nodded with tighten jaws making her face look even harder.  I asked her why she had done this.  She paused for a while and replied with bitterness, “Whenever I am angry or hurt I slice my arms, it releases all the pain”.  Her reply surprised and saddened me.  I could not find words to speak at that time.  To me, it was unbelievable to learn about the experience of this thirteen years old girl struggling to survive in her world.  I asked her when she had sliced her arm for the first time and how she found out that this would help release her pain.  She said that the first time happened when she was beaten up by a person for no reason.  She recalled that she was chased out of the station.  She explain her anger.  She went on to say that a friend of her did the same thing and gave her advise to do the same.  Street kids have role models too… She took this advise literally and thus began her self abuse.  She told me that it helped her deal with her anger.  Children’s solutions are not always the answers but in her case, this was her only way of dealing with not just her anger but all her other sadness and emotions in a life filled with disappointments and nobody to care for her as a human person.

I was overwhelmed with compassion and felt like hugging her and taking away all her pains. At that time I knew very little about self abuse and it filled my mind with confusion, sadness and an over whelming feeling of powerlessness to do anything about it.  I now know differently and am able to understand that self abuse happens to children who have unmet needs.

As time passed and I talked to Mitalee over a period of time, she became more approachable and friendly and a trust was being earned gradually with one another. She told me that her father was working in Rajasthan. The whole family was living together until the day she saw her father after he had committed suicide.  He had hung himself and little Mitalee was a witness to this.  After this event her mother suffered a mental breakdown and could not longer care for her two children.  Her mother disappeared and no one knew where she was, leaving Mitalee her brother to care for themselves. Very soon they were on the street and ended up at Gorakhpur railway station.

Sidhant, the groom was a leader of a small group of street children .  He had a short temper when I first met him. He did not know who his parent were or how he ended up at Gorakhpur railway station. He had compassion and soon he joined me in helping the children at Apna ghar in Gorakhpur.  After staying for three years at Apna Ghar he opted to go for a tailoring course in Delhi. For the past two years he has been working in a factory after completing his one year training programme. He lives independently in Delhi.  Sidhant is a role model for other children who now has patience to talk with other children and to instruct them in a positive way.  I admire these qualities in him.

Last year in January 2009 we had an annual function at our village, the first Apna Ghar which was established in 1999. Sidhant came from Delhi and Mitalee from Lucknow. She was getting training in craft work. During the function I could see the attraction between them. The spark in their eyes after seeing each other was obvious to me and others who noticed the same. My sister spoke to Mitalee and me to Sidhant. They agreed that they are in love and will consider to get married. After a year of counseling and learning the key points of a successful relationship they decided to get married. We were so happy and blessed. They make a good match. It was complementing that the wedding of Mitalee and Sidhant was to be at the end of a cold winter and into the beginning of spring. A season of new beginnings. A new path in their lives leading to hope, aspirations and sweet dreams.  It held much significance for the start of something new for the couple before me, looking ahead to a life with promise and hope.  I wanted to say all these things and more but was held back by the gush of emotional tears of joy that choked my voice into a reflective happy silence.   Mitalee is the first child from the family of Mother Earth to marry.  Sidhant closely connected to Apna Ghar when his life entangled graciously with Mitalee.  Destiny had met one another.   The first child to fulfill the outcomes I so desire for each and every one of the children.  The end result of a wonderful life, worth saving, resulting in a wedding worth attending.  Every mother and father raising a child awaits these delightful rites of passage and when it arrives can and does give a parent a strange sense of happiness and satisfaction that no one can explain. It has to be experienced.

The past eleven years has been a long journey, a journey worth taking.  We are able to witness this beautiful day because of the continuous help from our supporters. We were able to sustain our help on a long term basis to these children preventing them from delinquency and transforming them into a responsible person. To transform these lives it did not just take financial support.  For children to transform it needs a variety of support systems from counseling, coaching, emotional support, technical assistance along with a variety of other support like daily love and care, all these and more make the real difference in the lives of children. Furthermore, the community that partook in this wedding, I wanted them to see past the music, past the decorations, past the dinner, past the rituals, past the religion. I wanted and hoped that they could see how it does take a village to raise a child and in turn these young adults can return one day, perhaps to save a village.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving us the opportunity to transform the lives of all the children that come to live at Children of Mother Earth.

We are forever, grateful.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Clovis Lai December 14, 2013 at 6:29 AM

Dear Ravi, I am touched by the feelings expressed so deeply in your writing about the wedding and the lives of these young people who have had the blessing to cross your path. When we visited you and the children for a day in Delhi in February 2013, the wonderful work you have done is seen on the faces of each child we played with during painting, cooking and at games. I have looked through slums online but the actual experience when we were in India is truly indescribable in the reality of the lives of people trying to survive daily in poverty. It is a life beyond the “tough” that we can ever imagine. And yet the joy, happiness and love was so prevalent at the home of Mother Earth. Thank you for the work you do which has allowed many like me to contribute from the comfort of the lives we live. I wish you the best of health and long life for the love you have shared with your children and touched so many. Hugs.

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Evelyn Tan Hoon Ngoh March 10, 2014 at 5:58 AM

Hi Dear Ravi, I give thanks and the due respect to you for being willing and obedient to walk out of the comfort zones of Singapore to serve your parents’ homeland in India through this humanitarian work. I dare say that many Singaporeans can just raise their voice and talk. But few really dared to roll up their sleeves and pants and be down to earth to start and work through a project like what you did in India right now. Of course in recent years, some Singaporeans are beginning to take positive action like what you did. Again, I say, ‘I give you the due RESPECT FOR YOUR COURAGE AND WILLINGNESS’ to walk the untrodden path. Let us get in touch. I am coming to visit some of my friends in India including you and the COME HOME. From Ms Evelyn Tan Hoon Ngoh. Pioneer of Social Enterprise, ‘Gift With A Heart’.

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Helen Newman May 11, 2014 at 5:36 AM

Dearest Ravi.
It was so lovely to stumble across this wedding story, albeit belatedly. I remember us filming Sidhant on his first day at the tailor’s in Delhi. He seemed so shy and nervous, but determined to do his best. You must be so, so proud of these two beautiful young adults you and COME have raised. Love to you all.
Helen Newman

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Unique Wedding Planner May 31, 2014 at 10:46 AM

Amazing!!! It seemed to be a special wedding with lots of people and children. Unique weddings are always remembered by people.

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