Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Children of the PYRE!!!

We are guilty of many errors and many faults,
But our worst crime is abandoning the children, Neglecting the fountain of life
Many things we need can wait ,But the child cannot.

Right now is the time; His bones are being formed,
His senses are being developed, His blood is being made
To him, we cannot answer, “Tomorrow”,
His name is “Today”.

By Gabriel Mistral

I was 14 when I lost both my parents, at that tender age all I could understand was that I missed their presence in my daily routine and missed hugging my mother in the night & playing & getting pampered by my Dad J!!!

Childhood...it’s the most beautiful period of our life...a period in which we experience the bliss of life as we are not trapped in the wheels of attachment & expectations. In spite of losing my parents at an early age, I was fortunate to have had a wonderful childhood where every day was worth cherishing!

So when I came across a documentary film – Children of the Pyre ; not in my wildest dream I had thought that the whole idea of childhood would be so different for children living 1500kms away from me...in a city which is country’s oldest & holiest religious place, A city of Lord Shiva, Gautam Buddha, Sant Kabir and Ganga Mata...A City of Varanasi!

For a 15yr old Ravi, childhood means eating 15-20 packets of gutakha (tobacco) everyday, have गांजा (marijuana) in the night and make his living by burning 20-25 dead bodies.

Yes! Ravi is one among hundreds of children who are – Children of the Pyre, whose day begins and ends by hearing ‘Ram nam satya hai’ (a mantra said while carrying a dead body – means the name of ram is truth) and during the day, it’s a battle with the fire which they fight to pay the funeral rites to thousands of bodies which come at Manikarnika cremation ground – India’s most busiest cremation ground!

Some of you would know this, but for me this was the worst account of humanity, religion, hypocrisy and a complete disrespect for the ‘All Mighty’

My first reaction after watching the films was – I was ridiculed by the naked reality, I was sad, into tears imagining to what extend can a human conscious degrade under the veil of religion, rituals, practices and संस्कार!

Every boy’s story is the same - मज़बूरी का नाम ज़िन्दगी! They say if given a choice who would want to come back to this place! Yet I saw that each one of them had mastered in accepting the reality and was truly living in a ‘moment’. Their life is full of so much uncertainty but still they manage to retain their childhood by enjoying themselves thoroughly.

But the downside is...there is hardly any hope! Hope & ambitions are very closely related to the dreams we have or we see, but for these children who literally sleep in the cremation ground...all they dream about are dead bodies, burning pyres, half burnt parts of dead bodies which they have to pick up and throw back into the pyre! One of the boys said, in the night he sees all the dead bodies get up & have bath at the Ganges! Scary isn’t it!!!

The film has a very deep & haunting impact on my life. Somehow...somewhere I am unable to accept that when one of our loved one dies, we are actually using hands of 14-15yr olds to burn their pyre. (& BTW...a friend of mine told me that people even negotiate the rates with these children for doing so!)

If this was not enough, the biggest irony came when it was shown in the film that these children are considered as ‘untouchables’. Why! Because they touch what no other person has got balls to touch! Dead bodies...half burnt parts of dead bodies!

There is so much that I learned from these children. They are stronger both physically and emotionally that ANYONE else I have ever known!

The PYRE still remains an integral part of hundreds of children at the Manikarnika ghat of Benaras...but there is light...HOPE!

Post the documentary, An NGO based out of Varanasi has started a project called ‘Bhagirathi’ to rehabilitate 300 children...an attempt to give them the childhood that they deserve!!!

P.S. – I would really urge everyone to watch this film once. But a word of advice – Be prepared to watch some of the most disturbing real life incidences of your life and please do not watch it alone!

A request not to download or use a pirated copy.