Sachin’s poem


neither friend nor enemy I have,
nor fear of dying, nor wish to live
seems that while god gave me life
he made me forget how to walk sure,
he gave me a body, but forgot to fill it up with life
I myself have now forgotten whether I’m alive or if I have died
when misery is taken to be happiness
and happiness sorrow, this we call everyday life
when pain dissolves in laughter, this is called Chingari
the love shown by Apa and Didi and all the folk
at Chingari has taught me to love my life




Sitting in Sussex, thinking of Sachin, I see him always with a grin stretched right across his face. This is the way he is these days in the photos that come to us from Chingari.

Usually he is carrying a bat, but he always did. I’ve known him for years and think of him as a friend, without once having met him as I have not been to Bhopal for a while. If you look at pictures of Sachin when he was little – when he first came to Chingari – you see a solemn little lad, not very sure of himself. (See the front cover of the Bhopal Marathon.) These were the first pictures I ever saw: our cover shot by French photographer Micha Patault, and a picture of him batting taken by Maude Dorr (page 168).

As Sachin grew, so did his smile. Look at the picture by Nino Ellison (page 167). He’s now 16, and a happier lad it hardly seems possible to find. So it was startling to read the first lines of this poem, sent to me by Chingari’s tireless Tabish. But in the last lines perhaps lay the clue to the change in those photographs.

Something amazing is going on at Chingari, as it has also at Sambhavna. When Sachin wrote of the love shown by Apa (Rashida Bee) and Didi (Champadevi Shukla) and, as he says, all the folk at Chingari, I knew he meant it, because I have felt it too.

I talk to Tabish most days, I suppose, and he is always full of stories of this or that child, and what they’ve been up to: ‘Shyam Babu saw me and said, Tabish, you look stupid in glasses. Don’t wear them.’

The patience of the staff during the recent sports day was evident in the hundreds of pictures that came in. Although some of the children had struggled, all wanted to take part and did, and every single one won a prize, and this wasn’t an empty symbolic gesture since every one of them had done their best and deserved a prize. Play and games are an essential part of childhood, vital to children’s physical, intellectual and emotional development, but for many Bhopali kids, playing games is something they can only dream of.

Abdullah’s father came to thank Chingari and told Didi how pleased he was that the boy had started to talk. He could say ‘pa pa pa’. Didi said Abdullah had eaten four bowls of rice pudding at Chingari that day. For parents who often have had to watch their children go hungry as there is no food and no money to buy any, Chingari’s nutrition programme is a godsend. Every day they get a different meal. So far rice pudding and fruit seems to be the favourite.

What is most striking about the tales one hears from people who have worked in Chingari, from volunteers and photographers like Alex Masi (see pp 172-3) is how much the kids like going there. Damaged children, especially ones with speech problems or difficulty moving, frequently find themselves in a lonely world where they have no friends and are painfully aware that they are in some way a problem, or even a shame. Some families, naming no names, keep disabled children out of sight. Often the only love a child has known will be the arms of its mum, and she has other children and a house, and all the other problems that make a woman’s life in Bhopal so particularly hard.

Chingari’s reputation is spreading, we have more than once instance now of a Bhopali child being taken to a physiotherapy centre in Mumbai or Delhi to be told, ‘you know the best place for your child is the Chingari clinic in Bhopal.’

I decided to ask Apa and Didi what in their view makes Chingari special. Didi said, ‘My eldest boy was constantly in distress because his lungs had been badly affected…’ She stopped and said, ‘but it isn’t that.’ Apa said, ‘It’s when a child comes, like Ayaan, who couldn’t speak or walk and he comes smiling to greet you and your heart just lights up.’

‘Yes,’ said Didi. ‘That’s it. What can you call it? Well, I suppose… I suppose the word is mohobbat.’ ‘Prem,’ Apa agreed. ‘Yes that’s it.’ Two words, both meaning exactly the same thing – which is love.