It was in 1990 that Anjina Rajgopal’s heart bled when she came across a beggar boy being thrashed by a local fruit vendor during a visit to a temple in Noida. This boy was mentally and physically challenged. In her words,” On seeing that, I went up to the fruit vendor and asked him if I could take that boy home. He immediately agreed.” After giving him a fresh pair of clothes and some homely cooked food, Anjina chatted with him to understand where he’s from. With the few details he could share, she tried locating his family but all in vain. That’s when she decided to take him in and bring him up as her own son. That is also the day, as she puts it, “she became a mother.” That young boy, whom she named Rajat, lives with her, till date.
Rajat, who suffers from a speech and hearing disability, thus became the first resident of Bal Kutir, which is the name she gave her home as she took more orphan children in. I was lucky enough to spend a day at this lively home. Located in Noida, I was delighted to enter a packed home – more than 100 children. I was quite happy to learn that outside of these 100, there’s 11 who live independently, 3 with families they married into and few have even been reunited with their families, thanks to help from the local police.
My day at Bal Kutir made me realize how destiny had favored these children. With no family, direct or indirect to care for them, these children had been brought to Bal Kutir through the local Child Welfare Committee (CWC). As clichés as this sounds, I could see that Bal Kutir was way more than a roof over their head. Anjina’s genuine passion and love for the cause is what makes these “homes” as in the true meaning of the word.
All Sai Kripa’s children go to the organisation’s own Sai Shiksha Sansthan (SSS). Started in 1991, it is a formal English-medium school, for Kindergarten to the 2nd standard. Open to non-Bal Kutir kids too, they currently have 1,000 students. From no fees in the initial years, to not be taken for granted, SSS now charges Rs. 150 per child, per annum. This small move has surprisingly seen the desired result – attendance rates, which were abysmally low in farming months, are at a good level now. An undesired result of the fee was that families stopped sending girls to school – thanks to the traditional belief that a girl will go on to marry and leave the house so no point in educating her. So, there was a reversal in the fee decision only for girl children.
As parents of most children want, Sai Kripa too wants its children to develop interest in activities, outside of studying. So, many children learn music, dance, and other arts after school hours. On weekends and vacations, the organization fulfills its other parental duties of taking the children to the movies/museum/zoo or on a picnic. I couldn’t help, but smile as everyone (i.e. not just the children but even the staff members) lovingly referred to her as ‘Mummy.’
In a continuation of how a family runs, the children stay at the home until independent and confident (versus reaching a certain age). Once they enter the working world, and are able to support themselves, they “physically” leave the home. Just as Rajat, who is 30 years old today, has done. Rajat, who works at another local NGO in the city, also mastered carpentry skills during his years at the home.
During my visit, I also met Sanya, who was brought in when she was just 5 months old, and is the youngest member of the home today. Another teenager at the home, 18-year old Pallavi, very cutely shared with me, “I want to become a Company Secretary and am studying hard to be one. I will surely take mummy’s cause forward in the future and will help others like me.” I also met Raju, whom Anjina made special mention of. Raju was dropped off at Bal Kutir by his grandfather when he was just 6 years old. He is a salesman by profession and a chef by passion. In his own words, “I love cooking for the kids and making ‘mummy’ happy.” He spoke proudly about how she encourages him and teaches him to care for the younger kids.
When it comes to her “daughters”, Anjana knows she has an added responsibility – right until they’re married. Meera was brought to Bal Kutir at age 10 by volunteers working in the slums. Today, she is married and has a child of her own. Says Anjina about her, “She was the naughty one. Always beating somebody or harassing somebody. Because of her constant fighting, she was always hyper.” To which Meera laughs and says “Jo mummy mana karti thi, mujhe wohi cheez karne mein maza aata tha.” (“I used to love doing only those things which mummy said I shouldn’t do”)
Interestingly, Anjina has never put up any of her children for adoption – and never plans to either. “When people come and say do you have a boy who’s well, very good looking, who’s parentage is good, I feel terrible. If a person wants a child why should they be so specific about his good looks and parentage? It’s not like you’re going to buy something from the market. I have never given any of my children up for adoption; as this is not an orphanage but a home which showers love and affection on God’s unwanted children. Mine is just a big family. Besides, those who want to adopt usually have a hidden agenda. I want these children to be unselfish so that when they grown up, they also support others like them.”
Once a caretaker, then a mother, and now even a granny, Anjana’s life has come full circle. She says, “My mom, grandmother, and in fact every woman I have come across helping serving and playing a vital role in making others smile are my inspiration,” she says. And as if to keep that circle going, Anjina is inspiration to the children (and staff) at her homes!