Read To Be Loved – Part 1 here.
With Suman nearly 2 years old, Maya was due to give birth any day with their second child. Throughout her pregnancy Maya didn’t receive pre-natal care even though hospitals and clinics were within walking distance of the slum. Her second birthing experience was no less dramatic than Suman’s birth in Nepal. Home alone once again, she felt a sharp pain and realized quickly that the baby was getting close. She climbed down the rickety wooden ladder to the tap below and began washing her face and was about to call her husband. (During this part of our conversation Maya became very animated and laughed as she told the story). Still standing over the tap, she heard the small cry of a child and looked down. Without so much of a warning or much pain at all, the newest addition to her family was poking his head out of the bottom of her loose pants. She let out a small scream to alert her neighbours and sat below her tap with her newborn son wrapped in her clothing. (Maya laughed loudly as she explained the story and said she literally felt no pain when he was born.) Neighbours arrived and helped cut the cord, freeing her son. The birth of a son is a joyous occasion for most Indian/Nepalese families and they decided to name their new son Prem, which means “love.” Prem’s interesting birth experience may explain his fear of heights and swings.
Mumbai, the city of dreams, draws thousands of rural Nepali villagers every year to the already overcrowded streets with rumours of well paying jobs, hospitals and schools. These rumours travel on the backs of distant relatives and friends who send back stories of their success, whether true or not, luring families with bright hopes and dreams. Mumbai has an altogether different reality and the dreams are available for the relatively lucky ones. With a population of nearly 20 million people, over half of the city live in slum communities made up of rural villagers from India and Nepal.
Pramad and Maya soon realized that life in the big city was never going to be easy with two mouths to feed, rent and bills to pay. Tension grew in the small home spilling over into physical and emotional abuse, with the blows landing hard on a frightened Maya. As tensions grew, so did the violence in the home with the realization that Maya was pregnant once again. Suman and Prem were also very sick, weak from malnutrition, worms and overall bad health. Maya attempted to borrow money from neighbours but with no luck. The children were taken to small clinics, but when the prescriptions came Maya’s husband ripped them up because they didn’t have the money to fill them.
This first time I met Maya, she was five months pregnant with two very sick children in her arms. She barely looked me in the eyes as Ashley and I asked her questions about her children and their health. The next day we took Maya and her children to a hospital and found out just how sick they were. We also learned that Maya had ingested a small amount of poison in an attempt to abort her third child. The doctor prescribed supplements, de-worming medications and a new diet for the children that DWP supports financially. An ultra sound gave us the good news that Maya’s unborn baby appeared healthy. Maya was given a choice by the doctor to abort this 5 month old fetus and she quietly refused. Over the next few months, my mom, Ashley and I visited with the family daily and started to see signs of improvement in the children. Their eyes became less glazed over and even brimmed with excitement from time to time and we were excited to see them slightly rambunctious. Just under a year ago, Maya gave birth to the worlds most precious and beautiful baby girl. (Those of you who have had the opportunity to visit DWP here in Mumbai, can back me up on this.) Little Nandini was born in a hospital and is the first person in the family to have a birth record. The last year has seen tremendous change in the kids. Both Suman and Prem are now enrolled in our free Kindergarten School. Suman is attentive and eager to learn. Prem, although bright and energetic, is more interested in his toes, but he likes his uniform. The kids laugh easily, their good health allowing them excess energy to burn. All about mischief, they are adept at hiding, playing and initiating a chase. Suman is often seen lugging a smiling, teething, Nandini on her hip searching the laneway for someone to play with.
All photos by Kane Ryan
Portrait of Prem
Nandini sharing her orange with Kane.
Prem standing outside the school.