Hoping Against Hope

Anuradha Bhosale of AVANI and Gandhi Worldwide in Kolhapur India

Anuradha Bhosale

In 2005 we received heavy showers within a short time span. Kolhapur’s main river, Panchganga and its major tributary, Bhogawati, burst their banks and flooded vast areas. That year is particularly memorable for me and my co-workers because our fledgeling residential school for deprived children near the river’s high floodline at Donawade village got severely damaged.

We had at that time 23 children in our charge. Some of them were from far – off districts such as Vijapur in Karnatak State. Parents of all the cohort, for that matter, were from far away Donawade. Therefore, our responsibility about their children became all the more intense. In such an emergency situation we shifted the school to our Chairman’s newly constructed building in J.N.Park. We feel somewhat constrained here, no doubt, due to its limited space. Still it must be said, we have ever since enjoyed a kind of stability, which we would have sorely missed in a rented space. 

Baby Ballu Rathod, a girl in her sixth year from the Laman tribe, was one of the early boarder group at Donawade. From the start I was very keen on this girl because of her exceptional intelligence. Her widowed mother, Yellava, herself came and saw the new school house and dormitories. She declared her satisfaction about the arrangements, and shared with me her strong determination to educate Baby Ballu, come what may. That being her life’s mission, Yellava implored me for help in the same spirit. Baby had some distinct qualities which marked her apart from all others of the group. I found her always neat and clean. Soft- spoken, but not a retiring type, very alert in her responses.  Endowed with convivial temper, she was an easy mixer with children of her age group. Quick on the uptake at school, she scored top marks in all subjects.

I was a close witness to baby’s all round progress. Her fair face, with an aura of innocence, had a flower-like freshness, but she had no trace of self-consciousness about her looks. She dressed herself simply, and unlike other girls, did not show any desire for cosmetics even of the simplest types.

Two years after her entry into our school four more children of her tribe came in. They gave her good company and made her happier. By virtue of her qualities Baby became the cynosure, the centre of attraction of our staff. It was undeniable that she was well on course for splendid attainments in her growth. In October 2008 Yellava took Ballu home for the Diwali vacation (the semester holiday) Quite some days passed after the vacation was over, but Yellava and Baby did not turn up. All of us felt much concerned.  We tried in vain to contact the phone number she had given. We sent two of our activists to a road construction site in Latur where Yellava was known to have been last employed. They searched all the probable spots, besides, but with no success. Finally, they returned empty handed.

Baby’s disappearance was a big jolt to us. All our hopes about her were dashed. What must have happened to her? We could only speculate.  Baby probably was on the threshold of puberty.  Was Yellava coerced by their Clan Council (Jaat Panchayat) to stop her education? Must she have been married off much against Yellava’s will, or, otherwise  victimized? None of us have any clue. A beehive of such dire thoughts haunt me in my quiet hours. Yellava and Baby just vanished in thin air and I am left pining for her!

Even now, five years on, I remember Baby with a mixed feeling of admiration and deep regret. The yearly cycle of labour migration from Vijapur to Kolhapur has continued. Each time when a worker batch from Vijapur arrives at the outset of the work season, I have caused enquiries to be made. But our activists have drawn a blank. No one was willing to talk about them.

I am unable to forget her. She has left an indelible scar on my memory. Did her beauty prove the cause of her undoing? In the moments of retrospective silence, my mind’s eye still wanders hither and thither, searching for her in forlorn hope.

This time I pray silently : Let her come to me in any condition. I will receive her with open arms and endulge her every wish to the fullest measure!

Free English rendering : Arun Chavan
Original Marathi by : Anuradha Bhosale

Baby Ballu at AVANI in Kolhapur

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Anuradha Bhosale graduated from the Tata Institute for Social Work in Mumbai and worked as an apprentice to Arun Chavan at Verala Development Society. After understanding the needs of the area she branched out on her own creating a small organization called AVANI which is a Marathi language acronym for Clothes, Food and Home for the poor children.

Arun Chavan was a professor of English Literature at Kolhapur University when he saw the poverty and destitution that surrounded him. He decided to give up his job and devote his life to working for the poor. He founded the Verala Development Society and has been working for the past 40 years to bring about a socio-economic change in the area

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