By Uma Sudhir
“The world conspires to make it happen.” These words of Paul Coelho in `The Alchemist’ have always fascinated me and I have secretly hoped that they convey a philosophical truth. In the strangest of circumstances I have found these words coming back to me.
I got a phone call last night that the National Commission for Minorities had decided that “the Hindu family who is reportedly bringing up a Muslim child who had been orphaned by communal riots in Hyderabad, recently reported in NDTV, is to be recommended by NCM for the Communal Harmony Award of the National Foundation for Communal Harmony”.
The reference was to Papalal and his wife Jaishree. Papalal says he was working at a temple near Hyderabad’s famous Gokul Chat centre when a bomb exploded there on August 25, 2007. When he went there, this child hardly four years old, clung to him and he brought her home after the police said there were no claimants for the child. The couple had no biological children and thought her a godsend. They named her Anjali and looked after her as their own daughter.
That the child was probably born to Muslim parents did not matter to the couple. But it did to some Muslim groups who insisted she must be brought up as a Muslim child, even if it is in an orphanage. “How can an orphanage be better than a home,” Papalal argued and the couple refused to give her up, believing also that the child was lucky for them. Childless for five years after marriage, after Anjali came home they were blessed with a biological daughter Ekta, her name perhaps meant to convey the unity in diversity.
Anjali’s name had to be changed though. She became Sonia on the advice of the APSHRC chairperson Justice Subhashan Reddy who thought a religion-neutral name may help the family win peace with some fundamentalist elements, along with the assurance that she won’t be brought up as a Hindu girl. That Sonia is now also called Sania, after her most famous namesake in the city.
Some Hindu elements did not like that though and Papalal says they seemed to be looking for excuses to harass the family. Papalal became a social outcast in his neighbourhood and even family circles. His own brother became hostile and turned against him. Papalal was facing social boycott, he didn’t get any work and he was in dire straits financially. A dispute between the brothers over keeping Sania got out of hand and Papalal went to jail. His wife had no money to pay for his bail And yet the couple wouldn’t give up Sania.
That is what we had reported on NDTV. What was overwhelming was the dozens and dozens of people who wrote in with words of encouragement and support for Papalal and Jaishree. Some offered legal help, some others sent in financial contributions to help the family. At the end of two weeks, the bank balance was over 5 lakh rupees.
Looking at the financial statement that Papalal got from the bank was to me a reaffirmation that there is reason for hope in the world. That the world does conspire to make it happen. That there are people out there with warm hearts that beat for good reasons and who are willing to part with their hardearned money without any expectation of either any kind of recognition or even a thankyou. That they are willing to take out time from their busy life to extend a gesture of support to a cause they think is worthwhile.
The bail amount and legal expenses for Papalal’s release from jail came from this contribution from people who are unknown to Papalal. The family hopes to get back the jewellery Jaishree had pawned to tide over a lean patch. The rest will be a deposit in Sania’s name.
The local police officer who booked the cases against Papalal took the initiative to get Sania and her younger sister Ekta admitted to an English-medium school in the neighbourhood. The couple has been told it will not have to spend on school fees for Sania.
The other happy news is that three days ago, the couple was blessed with a baby boy, their second biological child, but they specify, he will be the third child in the family.
With so many good people wishing the family well, I am more convinced about the world conspiring to make it happen. Aren’t you?