For the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I’m blogging 26 days in April based on the alphabet and bringing you stories from the nonprofit Project Why.
It would take volumes to write about Utpal, Project Why’s poster boy.
Utpal and his family moved into the tiny hovel adjacent to the Project Why office less than a month before that fateful day in March 2003, when he fell into a boiling wok.
It was left unattended for just the time needed for a sleepy toddler to topple in. The tiny boy sustained third-degree burns. Project Why nursed Utpal back to health, and the child walked into his Anou Ma’am’s heart forever. As his scars healed, the frightening reality of his existence emerged: alcoholic parents, violence, abuse and the total absence of any tomorrow. His completely dysfunctional family was one where no child could thrive.
If the days were safe as both mother and son were under Project Why’s care, the nights were at risk. Anything was possible from no food in the belly to a night at the police station.
Utpal negotiated both worlds the best he could. He was an endearing child and wise beyond his years. Should anyone want to visit his home he would run ahead on his chubby legs to hide the bottles consumed at night, saying: “Mama was naughty.”
His days were spent at his Anou Maam’ji’s hip as he went along with her from place to place and imbibed the world around, with huge curious eyes and a charming grin. But things at home went on free fall till the day it became too much. The mother’s alcoholism was out of hand and the child unsafe. That is when Project Why unfolded plan B: mother to rehab and Utpal in boarding school. He was just 4.
Utpal is now 14 and in class IX.
The intermittent years were not easy. Utpal learned to integrate into his new life but would still come to his family on holidays, where the situation continued to worsen, and he was still at risk. Another incident compelled Project Why to the next step: secure his legal guardianship as they feared the family might take him out from school and vanish. Anouradha Bakshi was made the legal guardian.
The next blow for Utpal: his mother disappeared one day, not to give sign of life for 4 years. Utpal was lost and thrown off balance. He became aggressive and his grades fell. He became withdrawn and not communicative, and it took years of counseling to make him whole again.
Today Utpal is making up for all the lost years and the wise little chap of yesteryear has given way to a delightful adolescent with all flaws that come with teenage. He has made friends with his scars that had made him the butt of a lot of bullying and riling. He’s now a natty lean young lad, a mean skater, who teaches skating to smaller children in his school, plays tennis and football. He’s extremely fond of ‘engineering’ : he takes apart a multitude of objects and rebuilds the when he’s home with Anouradha for the holidays. He loves music and dancing and locking himself up in his room like any other 14-year-old.
Utpal’s life wove together an incredible network of supporters that broke all barriers. They come from across the world and from diverse social backgrounds: from the high commissioner’s wife who went to her staff seeking used and softened dupattas to make his baby clothes after his accident, to the young student who worked extra hours to send him a treat from across the seas.
Utpal is a true pied piper for those who see with their hearts.
What would you say to Utpal? To Project Why? Do you have school kids in your community who suffer due to issues in the family?
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