An unsung braveheart


Every year, around the Republic Day, when I hear about the brave children, my thoughts go back to one child and her chilling act of bravery. “A simple child that lightly draws its breath… what should it know of death?” asked Wordsworth. That may be true of the ‘rustic woodland child’. But this one, born and bred in the dusty streets of a city, knew all there was to know about death, life and living.

I got acquainted with the family after our regular, ‘iron-wallah’, disappeared. As I approached this couple for the service, I noticed that beside the many bundles of clothes there was another little one with an abnormal infant inside. The woman told me that the tiny one was actually three years of age.

“I got the operation done after I got the boy” she said with tears in her eyes, “But he didn’t grow at all. We spent more than Rs one lakh in various treatments. We took him to every indigenous ‘vaidya’ that people suggested. We visited every temple that we heard of. But God has not heard our prayers. Now we are deep in debt and only this one girl to support us in our old age.”

I wondered what the skinny girl standing by and listening to it all, was thinking. A couple of months passed. Then for almost two weeks, the woman did not turn up to collect the clothes. Nor was the cart to be seen at the usual spot.

Then one fine morning she was at the door step again. Her voice broke when she told me that the baby had died. “It is three days today.” She said. I offered my condolence and added that she should now focus on the girl. “She looks bright,” I said, “she will study well and come up.” “The poor child,” the mother said wiping away her tears, “she already understands our difficulties.”

She then gave the details of how it all happened. When the baby developed fever and convulsions, they admitted him to the government hospital. The mother and daughter stayed there while the man travelled up and down. Ten days of this and when they were completely broke, the mother got back to work, leaving the little girl to sit with the child.

The baby died that night. Apparently the night nurse told the girl to go home, and tell the parents to come with Rs 500, and take the body. “She knew we did not have the money. So when the nurse’s back turned, she wrapped the baby in the sheet and slipped out of the hospital. She hid in various places at night and got the baby home in the morning”.

The story left me literally speechless. How many people would have had the presence of mind and the courage to carry out such an act of bravery?

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