Nagpur: “Social Worker?!! Please don’t call me that – I consider ‘social work’ as minding other people’s business – that’s not my cup of tea! I run Shradhanand Anathalaya because I promised my late mother in law that I would do it.”
“She passed away in 1989, I became a Trustee in 1990 but became Secretary only later – when the Orphange had really fallen into bad hands and lots of illegal things were going on. I had to set matters right.”
“The Anathalaya land belongs to my (Buty) family, we built the building, so I feel a responsibility to keep it running – but I often ask in frustration ‘ couldn’t the family have started something else?”
You realize 5 minutes into the chat that Nisha does not mince words, she expresses what she feels without hesitation, but rather eloquently! She is a D Litt in English Literature after all and an Author of two books and an Academician/ Researcher to the core.
Being point blank and straight forward also comes to her from being an Army child. The middle daughter of Brigadier Moghe , Nisha’s mother Vimal was a ‘princess’ of the Jamkhandi Principalty near Belgaum. Her elder sister, younger brother and she were all sent to various Boarding Schools from the age of 5 to 15. Nisha and her sister went to St. Joseph’s Convent in Panchgani.
It was one of the best schools of the country at that time. Till 1948, it was run completely by English, German and French sisters but Indians took over after that.
“From 48 onwards we had Goan sisters who were very into Music, Art, Sports, Gymnastics and games like Hockey. For picnics we walked from Panchgani to neighboring Hill station Mahabaleshwar and back. Discipline was everything, there was no mollycoddling.”
And if you think it must have been a very luxurious life in the lap of all creature comforts think again! When Nisha joined, it was War time (second world war was on which ended only in 1949) so food was often scarce. They had to make do with what was available – it taught them to be non fussy and be thankful of what was put before them.
Boarding school was also a necessity since her father was in the Army and was always getting transferred. There was no transfer allowance then and the children could often visit their parents just once a year during summer holidays – travelling by themselves and changing trains 2-3 times.
Their Army dad too took them on long treks in forests and mountains on his free days – so physical fitness is something ingrained into them right from childhood.
“Moping, sulking, making demands of parents… were absolutely not known to kids then! I observe it in children only now – even in the Orphanage kids.”
College was partly in Loretto Calcutta and then Delhi where Nisha had to be a Home Scholar despite getting admission in Miranda House since her mark list did not arrive in time.
When she got married into the Buty family of Nagpur both her husband and she were still students. He a Medical student and she English Literature.
Her mother in law was fully into running of the Anathalaya. Nisha, who was busy raising her family and reading and writing her books was given just one instruction by Sasuma.
“Keep this Anathalaya for orphans and destitute women going after I am gone.”
Nisha first joined as a Trustee.She was at first just an observer and did not believe in rocking the boat. Also meetings were held just 3 – 4 times an year. But she could sense something was wrong – very wrong. Though lots of funds were supposed to be coming in from foreigners the children looked malnourished and had rickets.
Then she heard rumours of children/ babies being sold to foreigners without proper adoption proceedings. Sumatibai Dhanwatey was the President and Mrs. Abrol was Secretary. The racket that was being run by these two finally came out in the open and created a scandal. The shit hit the fan. Yeshwantrao Chavan, who was C.M. at that time had to mediate and a High Court Committee was set up to supervise the running.
Meanwhile, Basantlal Shaw, whose NECO was new to Nagpur that time and the family was “just coming up” according to Nisha, was made President. He gave donation of Rs. 5000/ for which he never got a receipt! That was the state of affairs.
Finally in 1999 Nisha reluctantly took over as Secretary. “Only because I had promised to do so.”
She then realized how beset with problems the Anathalaya was. Women and children did not have enough to eat. There was sickness and unhappiness all around. At the first opportunity girls tried to run away. Unwed pregnant females came in from the ages of 13 to 40 – sometime widows even.
“If a girl/ woman came in at the beginning of her pregnancy we looked after her nourishment well and babies were born healthy. But when women came late in their pregnancies they gave birth to babies who were often just one Kg in weight and had heart problems too. The mothers did not want them and refused to feed them or look after them. We had to depute ‘ayas’ and ‘dayis’ to accompany the babies and women to GMC and back all the time.
But some of these babies grew to be strong and healthy despite all problems – they got adopted and are now studying in schools like Bhawans! When this happens you think it was all worth it!”
When Nisha took over, and people heard about the change in management, many donors came with funds and help on their own. She and Mr. Shaw pulled the orphanage out of the mess.
“We get only Rs. 950/ per child from the Government which is hardly enough. We have to feed them, clothe them, send them to school and most importantly chaperone them all the time. Even if one child goes missing ( read – runs away) we hear no end from the Police. This happens often with Beggars’ children who are brought in forcibly after they are also found begging. We don’t want them here and they don’t want to be here either. So they run away at the first opportunity!”
The frustration and strain shows in Nisha’s voice. It is a sign of someone who cares, cares deeply.
“We send the girls to Corporation schools where most of them flunk or do extremely badly. They are just not interested in studies. ‘What does the future hold for us anyway?’ they think. If a teacher is strict or tries to discipline them they threaten to go to the police. ‘We know the law’ they say!”
The one way girls could be motivated to do better and feel a part of society is if ‘normal, middle class, well to do’ ladies come in to talk with the girls, read to them, make them feel cared.
“But who has the time? They would rather go shopping, gossip about their mothers in law and servants or play cards! The whole fabric of society has gone awry.”
The only thing people are happy donating is food it seems. “They are sometime stuffed with food that even we don’t get to eat often. If they want ‘ganne ka ras’ we have a donor bring in sugarcane in a truck and fresh juice is given to the girls. Sometime they want pani puri, and they get it.”
But as Buty says, people should give of themselves also sometime. Friendship is something that is rarely offered and very valued, she says.
“Yet, we take care of the girls till they turn 18 and then even find boys for them to get married to. Often financially sound people come looking for girls. (Probably as a result of the male – female ratio imbalance?) But we do not marry them off without doing full scrutiny of the family and their home. Even the girls are sent to ‘see’ the house with a Anathalaya official. If they agree, only then they are married.”
When the happily married ‘moms’ come visiting with their babies, it is another reassuring moment.
But then there are also some women who never find husbands and have nowhere to go. The Anathalaya keeps them on giving them petty jobs and even paying them ‘salaries’.
At any time they have between 150 to 155 inmates.
“I am sick and tired and fed up of this job for which I get no salary myself” says Nisha. “The govt. is not helping by bringing in new laws and making things very rigid. CARA, rules that everything must be done online now. A couple wanting to adopt registers online, pays Rs. 40,000 and has to accept a child anywhere from the country. This has broken our link with society and also potential donors.” Complains Buty.
She gives the example of a rich ‘Peanuts’ King of Nagpur who came to adopt a male child. (They have boys upto the age of 6 who are born to inmates). He was so happy with his ‘new son’ that he wanted to do something worthwhile for the Anathalaya. Nisha asked him to take responsibility of doing up the baby ward.
“He had it painted, brought in new furniture, new curtains everything. It is so posh now!” She beams.
But Nisha misses her books and her English study very badly. “That was the life I wanted” she says ruefully.
Why don’t you hand over the running of the Anathalaya to one of your own daughters in law? I ask.
“Yes, Gitanjali does help me, she is joint secretary – but with the online thing and the constant interference of police, it is not a pleasant enterprise to hand over. But since the land is owned by our family we owe it to society to keep it running. And i will run it, as long as I can.”
And then when she has convinced you that it is all very depressing business she tells you this:
“Some time ago, I was in Pune for a month because my daughter was quite sick. When I came back and went to the Anathalaya in the morning, a little 4 years old girl came to me and asked ‘Tai, where were you? I missed you so much!”