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Have you looked at vagabonds on the streets — the man who sits by the bridge everyday wearing the same torn shirt, the woman with a little baby who begs at the traffic light and the little rag-pickers who scavenge in the dust-bins near your office — and wondered about their life stories? Well, for all you know, these nameless, faceless people you see every day could change your life. At least, that’s what happened here.
Mumbai-based Bouncy Mehta’s story about a cheerful little girl from Nepal whom he helped live a better life is breaking hearts on the Internet.
Shared on popular Facebook page Humans of Bombay, Mehta’s story is about how he met a little girl, who was ‘treated like cattle’ back in Nepal. He was one of the volunteers helping the locals rehabilitate after the Nepal earthquake. That is when he met the little girl who ran to him and hugged him, while others in the village shooed her away. Her tragic life story – how her parents left her and how she lost her speech and her arm shrivelled — moved Mehta. He came back to Mumbai after the second earthquake, somehow reached out to the girl’s uncle and helped admit her to a Special Education and Rehabilitation Center. And he named her — ‘the girl who changed his life with a smile’ — Anaya.
“A few years ago, when there were terrible earthquakes hitting Nepal…I was a part of the relief operations set up in a Nepali village called Sakhwa. One of those days while I was working, I happened to notice this child, not more than 8 years old, playing around us. She was muddy, shabby and the villagers kept shooing her away…asking her to leave, poking fun at her and dissing her every move. Out of the blue, she came towards me and gave me the tightest hug… all she was craving was some form of affection because she gave me the biggest smile when I hugged her back.
She ran away soon after, but it was when I asked around a little more that I realised that she had no real family. Her father was a drunk and never around; her mother abandoned her and ran away with another man and her uncles who cared for her weren’t financially able to send her to a special school and provide for her more than basic food and water. In the village she was treated like cattle — it broke my heart the most when they said, ‘she doesn’t have a name.’ When I asked why she didn’t speak, they said that a few years back, she had hurt her head but because no one attended to her injury… she lost her speech and her right hand shrivelled up.
I don’t know what took over me, but I knew that I had to get her out…I couldn’t leave her there like village cattle. Before I could come up with a plan, we were stuck in the second quake while distributing supplies. After a 30 hour wait we were rescued by the Chinese army. I was lucky to be alive and to be transported back home in one piece, but even though I had barely just survived — the image of that girl and her beautiful smile stayed with me.
As soon as I got back to Bombay, my friend Rajeena from Kathmandu and I started making phone calls to these villagers, asking for ‘the nameless girl’. It was tough — the lines weren’t always connecting, the villagers were indifferent to her existence and didn’t care enough to make the effort but we kept pushing. Finally after a month, one villager finally got hold of her uncle and her and we had our first breakthrough conversation. We put a plan in place, and within a few days we arranged for her uncle and her to travel to Kathmandu where Rajeena received them and she was finally admitted to a Special Education and Rehabilitation Center.
I finally named her — Anaya; caring, guardian, protected. It’s been a few years since that first day I met her and she’s come a long way. She’s the life of the centre…always laughing, always happy. Her hand is healing and she’s started saying a few words. I’ve made around 10 trips to Nepal to make sure that she knows there’s someone who’s looking after her and every time she sees me, she runs to give me a hug. She’s learnt to say the word ‘baba’ and for me, that’s enough. So that’s the story of Anaya, and how she changed my life with her smile.”