“Be the change you wish to see in the society."
- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
I am Mulanath. I am 17 years old and live in Keshorai, in the western part of India. Till 3 years back I, like many other boys of my age, loved playing near the Ram Temple, loved eating porridge in my grandmother's lap as she told me tales from the Bhagvad Gita, loved skipping classes at our makeshift school - and playing kho-kho or celebrating festivals instead. Three years ago I lost my parents and elder brother in a stampede as a helicopter dropped relief packages on a hungry crowd below when a terrible drought had struck my village. I envy other children as they all live lives of luxury while I labor tirelessly, juggling menial work with school to earn wages as a farm help.
I'm John. I'm 13 years old and live partly in India, and partly in China. Partly, you ask? Yes, because I am always on the move. I've been suspected of possessing illegal arms and my father was hanged in public after being proved guilty of transferring them across borders. But I know that my father was innocent. He was just crossing the border to visit Lhasa as he religiously follows the Dalai Lama. The government probably wanted to show the world that it is taking this issue seriously. But it has permanently unsettled my life. Earlier they suspected I was possessing arms passed down by my father although I was innocent, but now I really do possess arms. Yes, extreme poverty and the fact that I am the sole bread-winner of my family have forced me to be a contributor to the civil unrest movement that I consider hideous, anti-social, and inhuman. There really aren’t two ways about it. I did not have an alternative. I fear that I will end up the same way as my father did.
I'm Bhupinder, a 16-year-old from Chandigarh. My life's ambition is to walk to the Sikh Temple in Amritsar and pray to the holy book for a better future. But I know that I will not make it. I'm worried about the present. I have barely enough to make ends meet. Both my parents were wealthy lawyers and I was their only son. On the day they announced that they would bequeath all their possessions to me and none to my uncle who lived with us, they were killed in an accident. My uncle is cruel to me now. He thinks I am old enough to support myself. But how wrong he is! Today, I roam the streets of the city, homeless, jobless, looking for food.
I am ten-year-old Subbulaxmi from Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu, a small village in the south part of India. I live in a makeshift house with plenty of other orphaned children who (un)fortunately survived when a monster of a tidal wave ate up my village, the three other members of my family and my life on December 26, 2004. I faintly remember praying to God, leaving the local temple on that fateful Sunday morning and then witnessing God's fury and Nature's wrath unfolding before my very eyes. Millions of rupees have filtered in from worldwide donations but I don't see them being used anywhere here.
I'm Mpumelo, an 8-year-old from Eritea and adopted by a family here in Goa, western India. My mother was Ethiopian, my father, Eritrean and, with those two countries at war, I could not remain there with people hell bent on killing their fellow humans in a cruel game of catch-and-cook. I have received no news from Africa or, probably, haven't been told anything. I long to get back. I don't like it here. When I see photographs of other children from other war-struck regions around the world on TV and newsprint, I am filled with untold misery.
I am 12-year-old Chunni from Bara Banki, a village in central India. It's 2007 and you would expect an 'emerging' India to leave behind its old traditional vices that have plagued our society for years. But my life suggests exactly the opposite. I was never sent to school. I was made to marry a total stranger at the tender age of eight. My father committed suicide hecause he could not pay the dowry. I was tortured and beaten and the society even hurled abuses at me. My ‘husband’ died while working in a mine and I was told to sit on his funeral pyre and die as well. I valiantly refused and now I am on the run from an entire village hell-bent on killing me. I work as a maid to a rich money-lender's daughter in Agra. Why is God so kind to her, why not to me?
I am 9-year-old Pravin from Gujarat, India. Normally, traveling in Indian trains is nothing short of amusing, but I detest trains because of a hideous incident that changed my life forever. First degree burns killed my parents and crippled me when the coach we were travelling in was immolated in a town called Godhra. I have heard it was due to religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims as a reaction to temples being demolished and mosques being burnt down in other parts of the country. I also have skin cancer and will probably perish soon to join my parents wherever they are. I am not only complaining about Hindu-Muslim disunity – I am also complaining as to why the world does not stand up and take notice and do something about the millions of children affected like me by such incidents, if no one else. Did Gandhi get us freedom so that his soul would be disheartened after seeing such incidents? The question is rhetoric. But who is going to accept the answer?
I'm one-year-old Mannat from New Delhi, the capital of India. I stare at the photograph taken at the time of my meeting with the President of India. The meeting did not result in success. My father had been sentenced to death by hanging. He was proven guilty of attack on a government building 7 years back and was labeled a terrorist. I’m worried about my family – what will happen to us? We thought the government would at least think about us. What fault is it of my 84-year old grandmother and seven siblings that my father chose to take this path? We had faith in rationalism and ethics, we had faith in humanity, if not the legislation. But our faith did not lead us anywhere. My blank and emotionless face reflects my feelings. My even more blank mind reflects my expectations for the future - blank, zero, zilch.
I am nameless, a month old and from Bangalore. I am India's first test tube baby but nobody is accepting me. My parents were forced to abandon me because their families threatened to disown them if they brought me into this world. They are calling me 'artificial’…
I am from Doon School, Dehradun, one of the most prestigious boarding schools in India, and do not want to disclose my identity. I am depressed because I have failed my exam and I am constantly ragged for my issues with disability. A bottle of sleeping pills lie in front of me... Should I take an overdose?
The reason as to why I have written these stories is because I dream of a new world, a world where no child ever feels sad, helpless, in a lose-all situation. A world where no child begins to believe that he does not have a better future waiting for him. He should know that he has many challenges to conquer, many avenues to explore, many mountains to climb. These stories, though centered in India, find resonance all over the world – there is civil unrest, there are natural disasters, there are unfortunate social customs all over the world – and it pains my heart to see children getting affected by these, simply because they don’t deserve to suffer the consequences of the world’s problems. What they deserve is a solid education, at school and at home, the chance to form some lifelong friendships, the opportunity to go out and play every day for a while, the chance to develop their talents and explore what they want to do in this one lifetime.
Would you have grown up to be the person you are now if you were placed in a similar scenario as these children in my stories? Children might never have been good at listening to their elders but they have never failed to imitate them. Tolerance breeds patience, encouragement breeds confidence, fairness breeds justice and affection breeds love. Can you give us all this? I am all but 18 years old but I ask for just one thing, for just one change ... Can you give us a world free from sorrows?