The Secluded Crib

June 18, 2009

The twins had a bunch of clothes that they’d outgrown, and I wanted to give them away (the clothes, not the twins – do I have to clarify that?). I phoned around to various NGOs (that means charitable organizations), starting with the Red Cross. Guess what? Nobody wants old clothes. Not even if they are in decent condition. And these clothes are ok-ish. My kids would still be wearing them if they hadn’t grown out of them.

I would have thought that we, in India, surely have enough people who live in conditions of such abject poverty that used clothes in good condition given away free would not be spurned. If we don’t, if our poor people are well-clothed enough to be able to turn up their noses at cast-off clothing, it would be a good thing. It would indicate, surely, that all our people are well fed – because only after they had spent whatever they could on getting sufficient food, would they spend on new clothes and only then would they spurn used clothes. Or only after all the charitable organizations had ensured that the people they looked after had enough to eat, would they spend money buying them new clothes. Surely? Or do we have well-dressed people in this country who are poor and starving? One meal a day, but wearing new clothes, not rags?

What about victims of natural disasters who have lost everything? Those who were not particularly well-off to begin with, who had no bank accounts? Do they also not need or want somebody else’s clothes? Not even for their children, who are hardly likely to fuss, or even know the difference? Or do they have good clothes for their children already? Are there so many people and organizations sponsoring new clothes for the needy that old clothes are really just not needed?

Or, what I think is more likely, are these NGOs not even reaching the really needy people? Are they providing for the haves, not for the have-nots? I’ve seen slum kids in the cities dressed in rags. Haven’t you? Ok, let’s not talk about beggar kids – we know it’s a racket and they’re made to dress in rags, and who’d want to give money to well-dressed kids. But slum kids are those who have parents, families, food, perhaps, but not clothes – at least, not much. At any rate, what they do wear falls far short of the kind of stuff I’m looking to give away. Does nobody want to take the clothes that more fortunate kids have outgrown and pass them on to these unfortunate kids?

I don’t really understand it.

But, after some phoning around, I did find an orphanage willing – not overly eager, mind you, but willing, almost as though they were doing me a favour – to take the clothes. So off I went to deliver them.

As I was leaving, I noticed a small, secluded crib hanging near the gate. It had a built-on roof. There was a bell attached to the roof. Suddenly, I realized that it was there for parents – mothers mostly, I suppose – to put their “unwanted” babies and disappear.

The realization gave me goosebumps.

Whether it is ever really used like that any more, or whether it’s largely symbolic, I don’t know. But the fact remains that mothers do leave their babies, it happens all the time. I can’t bring myself to believe that they throw them in the gutter in a completely callous manner. Surely they tuck them up carefully, whisper goodbye, pray that their child will survive, somehow, maybe even flourish. I thought of someone leaving her child in the crib, ringing the bell, scurrying out before anyone saw her, hiding, watching, crying. Oh, very Hindi-film-ish, but suddenly it just touched a raw nerve in me.

Our girls were left like that. Not in a crib at an orphanage, they were left at the hospital where they were born. That’s just as bad, or worse. I’ve known this since we got them, but it suddenly became too real to me. I found myself crying as I walked away from there.

It’s stupid, of course. I, of all people, should be happy there are mothers who leave their children. That’s how childless people like us get ours. But I look at my girls with their cheeky smiles and their bright eyes and I think of them left there, symbolically in that secluded crib… and I have no words for what I feel.

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