Priyanka is a student of Class 9. She writes- poems and short stories. Her poems are well thought out protests against social ills, against smoking, or a call to youngsters to rise and serve their country. Her stories are memorable, full of ghosts and villains and innocent girls. She is bright for her age. She sings a little, dances a little. She could have a bright future, maybe graduate with honours if she tried, and study further and have a good career of her choice. She has a career of choice. She wants to be a nurse. She will complete her 10th and go for nurse's training. Why, you ask? Priyanka is an inmate of Shishu Sadan, an orphanage, that she was sent to when she was 5, by her mother. Her mother is the only earning member of a family of four and could not afford to keep her at home.
In Thakurpukur, near the Cancer hospital, tucked away is this home for needy girls. With an inmate count presently of about 100 girls, between 5 and 18 years of age, it gives shelter to girls who have lost either or both parents, or are too poor to be sustained by their family.
The girls go to school in nearby areas, education is in Bengali board. They are sent here by relatives or aquaintances and probably get the childhood here that they would have otherwise lost. They study, play, sing and dance, cook and do some gardening too.
The orphanage is not in very pristine condition though. The main rooms are fine, though like very old homes without maintainance, they have paint peeling off the walls showing plaster, furniture a mix of metal, wood and plastic. There is a 'teacher in charge', a lady in her 50-s who, the girls told me, takes good care of them, much like a mother. The caretaker is a man of 45-ish, and seemed to me to be kind and simple, with the wellbeing of the girls as his primary concern. Apart from that I did not get the necessity of the presence of the couple of men that I saw, one with half open shirt and bad manners, the other most probably the account keeper.
The living area of the girls have no separate gate or boundary but can be walked to easily from the reception rooms. The bedroom consisted of 2 attached sheds, with open asbestos covers. It would be open to climate influences, both in winter and summer. The bedroom seemed at that time to be quite unkempt and unmanaged, beds all falling on each other, floor unswept, untidy to my somewhat finicky eyes. Maybe I was expecting something unrealistic.
But the girls looked happy. They study and learn to sing and dance and some art, when they get some volunteer teachers, the orphanage cant afford to get paid teachers. They have a cook who they help in teams to prepare all meals. That is how they learn to cook. They have to leave when they complete their 10th standard. Some of them become nurses, others go back home and I never really got to know what happens to them. I did not hear of even one girl continuing studies. They are too poor to afford it.
It is a great thing that these girls are getting a chance at life. They are not spending their childhood working i people homes as maids, getting abused, or cooking in tiny rooms with a dozen siblings to take care of. They are normal, leading normal childhoods. I just wish something could be done that they have a normal adolescence and normal adulthood, continue studies till a level, and work in respectable professions which gives them financial independence. Only that could pull them and their whole families out of the muck that is Indian poverty.