It was a wintry night when a tiger invaded Salim’s house and hauled away his younger brother. It was an endless struggle of scars and paws but eventually, the man-eater won. Salim was shrouded with anguish forever.
When I first met Salim…
It was part of one my 2017 visits to a primary school in Kharagpur as an NCC cadet to interact with the children. Salim was a boy of no more than twelve who crouched in the corner of the classroom while everyone else participated in the activities we organised for the children. It was the first time that I had seen someone that young that forlorn instead of restless. I decided to talk to him once the session got over.
The school had no desks or chairs so everyone sat on the floor with a slate. My team distributed notebooks to the class at the end of the session, which is when I met Salim for the first time and had a heart-to-heart talk with him.
The very first thing I asked him was if he was unwell or exhausted because he looked very out of spirits. He wore worn-out shorts and an old, tattered shirt with several holes. His hair was a frizzy, unkempt mess. He didn’t own any footwear or schoolbag and came to school on foot.
Salim was slow to open up but I think it was the first time that he received a notebook from a stranger so was grateful and more welcoming than before. As we delved into a conversation, he began to tell me about his family.
The night of the attack
A farmer’s household like Salim’s doesn’t have much to boast of. You wouldn’t find luxurious cars and home theatres there but what you did find was strong community bonding and a firmly rooted system of family values. Salim’s father always taught him to put his family above everything else. While his parents were away on the fields, Salim took care of the cows and played with his baby brother. Once Salim started working on the fields as well, he got less time than before to spend with his brother but that only made him grow fonder.
Salim and his brother slept in the same room but that fateful night, his brother shivered from the cold as the fire had gone out. He went to sleep in his parents’ room which was warmer and where the fire was still lit. He slept close to the door, which was just a curtain hanging down a rod, so as not to wake the parents up.
Somewhere in the middle of the night, when his brother was half-asleep, he heard a slow, grunting sound. Quite accustomed to a starving stomach, he dismissed the sounds and tried to go back to sleep. Soon, the grunting grew louder and he heard footsteps approaching. He shifted the thin blanket from his face and could not be mistaken. The silhouette of a tiger against the curtain that served as the door grew larger and larger in size as the tiger drew closer to the hut. Within seconds, it shredded the curtain and attacked its closest victim, Salim’s brother. The parents woke up in a start and the father put up a massive struggle to free his son from the clutches of the tiger.
However, it was too late to rush the little boy to the doctor. Enough blood had been lost and there was just one doctor in the village, whose house was rather far away. Nonetheless, Salim’s family got to the doctor’s house in a frantic tizzy. After dressing the wound, the doctor asked them to make it to the town hospital as there was still a slim chance of saving the boy.
Salim’s family got onto a bullock cart with Salim’s mother at the back with the boy in her lap and Salim on her side. The father hurried down the mud tracks in the dark. He paused only on hearing a shriek of joy from his wife, who announced that the boy had regained consciousness. He started to explain the sequence of events leading up to the life-threatening attack but lost consciousness again after some time. On reaching the town hospital, the doctor announced the boy dead.
A change of scene
Salim grieved for months after the incident. His last few moments with his brother occupied his mind like a record on replay. The family shifted to Kharagpur after the misfortune and that’s where I met Salim.
His father began working in a shop and admitted him to a school.The new environment, school and company of his friends probably took his mind off things a bit but he still described himself as ‘permanently wounded’. Feeling sorry for Salim, I decided to play a game with his group of friends to cheer him up. Salim took a liking to the idea and immediately ran off to call all his friends and get a ball.
My team of NCC cadets played football against the schoolchildren on the field under the blazing Sun. Somehow, the heat of the Sun didn’t get to me that day. Perhaps I was too immersed in watching Salim kick the ball as he played with a smile and sad eyes.
The atmosphere of school is what helped Salim move on from his dark past. Several such children only dream of school. You could make a difference to their lives with your contribution. Shraddhanand Mahilashram is a shelter home for abandoned children, helping countless children like Salim. If you wish to alleviate the living conditions of someone less fortunate than you, your smallest donation would prove extremely valuable!