PRINT GALLERY

India Essay

It was 4:45 AM; we had just cleared immigration and customs and had retrieved our baggage. Chennai, a city of 7 million, was waking up to a sultry Monday morning, and the airport was bustling with activity. Our adventure began 29 hours earlier when my wife, Terry, my youngest daughter, Molly, and I left our home in Overland Park, KS. It seemed longer and we were exhausted:the type of exhaustion brought on not through physical exertion but through interruption of routine and the discomfort of travel.

 

Stepping out into the humid south Indian morning, we were surrounded by throngs of Indians and foreign travelers, like ourselves, searching for friends, family, and associates. People laughed and embrace das porters scrambled to earn a few rupees. Through this mass of human activity, I spotted a familiar face…smiling. It was Fr. Tom Aduri, a gentle man and a dear friend, pastor of Mother Teresa of Calcutta parish in Topeka, Kansas. He was there take us to the town of Porumamilla, 225 miles distant, seven hours north by car.

 

Rafi, our driver, is adept at negotiating the poor roads and congestion (to include, but not limited to, cars, humans, water buffalo, goats, and pigs) of Chennai, as we inch our way closer to Porumamilla, home for Fr. Tom, his parents, his sister and her family. The constant cacophony of horns from trucks, cars, buses, motor bikes and auto-rickshaws (or,tuctucs) announced their presence and desire for right of way. A motor bike pulled up alongside my window and I stared into the large brown eyes of a beautiful little girl. She wore a plaid school uniform and straddled the gas tank of her father’s motor bike. Behind her sat her little brother, followed by her father, driving the bike, and, finally, her mother, clutching an infant with one arm, and her husband in the other. “I assume”, Molly remarked, turning toward Fr. Tom,“child restraint systems aren’t too popular here.”

 

The disparity between the “haves” and the “haves not” became ever more apparent as we crept through the city. The number of people struggling to survive is staggering. Shanties of rusted corrugated metal, polypropylene bags, and palm frond thatched roofs comprised the dense slums lining the main thoroughfares. Goats and pigs rummage through the seemingly endless piles of trash, as flies, undoubtedly disease carriers, complete their circuits of piles, pigs, and persons. Fresh running water and sanitary sewer are noticeably absent: a mother bathes her son in a pale of soapy water; a little girl squats above the dusty road to relieve herself.

 

The magnitude of trash, as well as the density of population, abated as we exited and distanced ourselves from Chennai. We traveled north on poor roads through a country side where agriculture is the primary means of support. Farmers plowed small plots and herders tended goats and water buffalo:life appeared simple…and hard. We were off the major arteries, onto secondary roads; out of Tamil Nadu, and into Andhra Pradesh; away from Tamil road signs, toward Telugu. The state had changed, along with it the language, loyalties, customs, and fare. The Eastern Ghats mountain range appeared on my right, and, as instructed,Fr. Tom made repeated and obligatory phone calls to his sister, Rani, updating her on our progress. She was giddy with anticipation for the arrival of her only brother, whom she sees just once a year. “Aka”, Fr. Tom grinned as he pronounced ‘big sister’ in Telugu, his native language, “we are almost home.”

 

Entering Porumamilla, a rural town of approximately 20,000, the bulk residing on the main street, the only paved road, running through the center of town, vendors packed both sides of the road, plying their trades from stalls offering groceries, poultry, pots and pans, cell phones, clothes, hardware, and almost anything else one would need.

 

Turning off the main road, we spotted a brightly colored, three-story building: the Blessed Brian Home, our destination. As we drove closer we saw sixty to seventy people, mostly young girls, waving to us. Exiting the vehicle, an army of laughing children, some still in school uniforms, others in native Punjabis, swarmed Fr. Tom, yelling, “Father! Father!”

 

An orphanage, the Blessed Brian Home opened in June 2012, the fruit of over two years’ dedication spent in Topeka and Johnson County, Kansas, as Fr. Tom raised funds and, more importantly, awareness for the poor and neglected orphans in south India. Blessed Brian Home is a safe haven for children who have been abandoned or orphaned by at least one parent. The children come from small, poor villages surrounding Porumamilla, from huts with no running water and no sanitary sewer:most comprised of one room,dirt floors, and one electric line,host to a bare light bulb, perhaps a radio. Food and clothing are scarce; health care and education, if available, extremely rudimentary.

 

Rani and Ravi Chitta, Fr. Tom’s sister and brother-in-law, respectively, supervised the construction of the home and, donating their time and talent for the care of the children, manage the staff of six that operate the facility. Approximately, 30 local donors provide critical support for the home: food, clothing, and essentials such as clean water filtration, solar hot water system, computers, television, washing machine, rice grinder, diesel powered generator and, most importantly, private education and health care.

 

Spotless tile floors, brightly colored rooms, modern kitchen, clean toilet and bath facilities compose the aesthetic beauty of the home. Each child has a bed with sheets and blankets, and a spacious locker for their personal belongings. The true beauty of the orphanage, however, is found in the secure, nurturing, and loving environment fostered at Blessed Brian Home.

 

By day five, the children are calling Molly, “aka” (big sister), Terry, “auntie”, and me, “uncle”. We spent a large portion of our time speaking individually with each child. Pleased to be the focus of such undivided attention, something sorely lacking in their young lives, the children opened up and shared their stories. Most brought tears to our eyes:Salmabi, 16, along with her mother and brother, was doused with kerosene and set on fire by her father; Vishnu, 16, and his brother Nani, 10, were orphaned after their mother committed suicide due to abuse by her husband (her suicide was followed by that of their father’s);Lavanya, 10, was orphaned when her mother died in child birth and her father committed suicide in grief;Seyatha, 12, and her brother,Marshtan, 6, were orphaned when both parents died from tuberculosis. All of the 54 children have their own heart wrenching story.

 

As our stay neared its end,the children came up to us, grabbed our hands, looked into our eyes, and said, “Auntie, I am so sad you are leaving”, or “Aka, will you write to us?”. Vishnu said to me, “Uncle, are you coming back next year?” I replied, “I think I am.” He said, “Are you sure?” I said “I will try hard to come back.” He said, “Uncle, when you come back next year, I will be taller than you!” I bet he will be.