Miss Beatty’s Children: Making a difference since….

No dream is too big, and no dreamer too small.- Make a Difference (2006-Still Counting…)

Sometime during 2001-2002, when I was in IVth-Vth and called the Suratgarh Air Force Station my home, I was in the process of discovering the joy written word brought me. I became known to the library as the kid who would issue the maximum number of books always and would visit the library within the same week to get another round of book issues. This pattern was to follow throughout my school and college life wherever I went and would ensure that I was always on a first-name basis with the librarian in charge. Ideally speaking, I should have ended up sticking to the Secret Seven and Famous Five series back then. However, as is the case with most children, I had a certain fascination for books kept in the adult section. That is how I ended up reading Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice-Candy Man and Princess: A true story of life behind the veil by Jean Sasson, much before I was mature enough for the disturbing content. I might have found Miss Beatty’s Children on the same shelf but even at that age, I could sense that it held deeper significance for me. I was enthralled by the gutsy and determined Miss Beatty’s passion for serving children on her terms. I especially enjoyed the pages dedicated to the rescue of children and how they bloomed under her guidance. A few years later I learned of the buzz created by former Miss Universe, Sushmita Sen when she adopted Renee in 2000 and the challenges that came her way as a single mother. I still remember being so awestruck and inspired. By the time I passed out of school one thing that I was sure of was that I wanted to be part of an NGO. However, this plan took a back seat as I tried figuring out my way academically speaking. I was thrilled at the prospect of interning with an Institute of Social Studies Trust, a non-profit organization after the completion of the first semester at law school. Apart from compiling data and preparing reports, I would assist in teaching children studying in primary school after school hours and conduct workshops for them. I would have probably been happier had I stuck to the development sector but I felt compelled to explore litigation and corporate law firms and eventually succumbed to peer pressure. The fact that I had little exposure to the other career paths that can be charted out as a law graduate only made things worse. I was involved with Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access, an initiative of the late Shamnad Basheer for a short while right after its inception. Any other attempts I made during this period to get involved with volunteering did not yield any positive results. Finally, in 2016 after recovering from severe depression I managed to join Make a Difference popularly known as MAD all over the country. My profile was that of an Academic Support Volunteer for the academic session 2016-2017 with the Bengaluru Chapter. Although I am dying to rave about my children, it would be rather unfair to skim through the recruitment workshop. Since all such events last the entire day, I reported to the venue groggily on a certain Sunday at 9 AM. Half an hour down the line I had been energized enough to go bungy jumping, through a wide array of activities meant for the applicant. It was followed by a presentation about MAD and what each of the volunteering positions would entail. The rest of the day went into role play enacted by each of the groups formed, carrying out the specific task associated with the profile opted for and personal interview. By the end of it, I was feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, because that’s what MAD does to you, provide you with a safe space and a feeling of belongingness which is hard to find otherwise in the outside world.

I was allowed the 9th grade at Saint Patrick’s Boys Home along with a co-teacher. From nervously starting with teaching on the first day to the last day of when all of us were formally thanked by the institution, it was a life-changing experience. The sense of accomplishment I felt when my children would get something right was priceless. Thats when I learned the true essence of teaching. As amazing as this feeling was, there was something even better than surpassed it. The love and validation I got from my children is something I cherish to date. They inspired me to put back pieces of my life together after a harrowing personal experience. I never grew too fond of the city, but the one thing I was heartbroken to leave behind was my children. Since the organization has a brilliant system in place of acting as a substitute teacher and I had a lot of free time in hand, I was fortunate to teach at Samarthanam, Don Bosco, Angel’s Akashdeep, and Saint Mary’s. As a result of which I learned about the ethos of each of the shelter homes and how classes were conducted in line with those values at each of these institutions.

Over one year I learned how to effectively raise funds through community fundraising and conduct telephonic interviews for recruiting our next batch of incoming volunteers. Being part of the experience sub-team that designed Dream Camps, which were annual experiential camps for the children, was an experience that beat the others hand down. They comprise of carefully planned out meals including one exposure meal, workshops, life skill-building sessions, gratitude circles, carnivals, and chill-out sessions to name a few things. It’s an experience so beautiful that it cant be described in words. You got to be there to know how it makes you feel. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that it is an experience that stays with you for a lifetime. No matter what you are doing as a volunteer in MAD, it always ensures a huge grin on your face and misty eyes sometimes.

I couldn’t be a part of MAD for the next years as I was pursuing my Master’s from TISS and was going through a transitional phase of my life. Last year I re-joined the Delhi Chapter as a Foundation Support Volunteer and I presently continue to be associated with it. I used to teach a lovely bunch of eight fifth-graders at the Arya Girls Shelter Home before the pandemic struck. Having been used to children jumping around throughout the class previously I couldn’t be more grateful for my extremely well-behaved girls. I am eagerly waiting for our online classes to begin. It has been a long wait since I last saw my children. As I try to stay patient while pursuing other MAD activities, I love watching movies that revolve around children. I would soon be concluding my posts about child welfare on the eve of Children’s Day for the time being. I hereby dedicate this penultimate post to my children and the story which acted as a starting point in my life. I began with Miss Beatty’s Children, the novel as penned down by Pamela Rooks, and would be concluding with the Miss Beatty’s Children, the movie as directed by her.

As I have mentioned previously I read the book at a very young age and can recall the subplots in bits and pieces. While growing up I never came across the book being referred or discussed by anyone around me. I discovered the movie based on the novel around the same time that I learned of her untimely demise at the young age of 52, on 1st October 2010 after being in a coma for five years caused by a road accident on 27th November 2005. After having revered her for so long, I was had been anticipating a great deal when I sat down to finally watch the movie. To my utter disappointment, a movie with a champion of child rights as its protagonist had surprisingly little scenes capturing the innocence of children. Forget about the magic women on screen by child actors in The Sound of Music and Mr. India, children in this movie don’t even have a screen time of 10 minutes out of a duration of  1 hr 45 minutes. Miss Beatty’s interaction with the children is so sparse and superficial, that she never seems believable as the passionate heroine, that the movie tries hard to portray her as despite the long sermons she delivers here and there. It turned out to be not even half as engaging as the book. The story follows the journey of an English woman, Jane Beatty who fights against all odds to rescue and raise Indian children during the 1930s-1950s since the time she arrives in India to join Mabel Foster a passionate missionary at Trippuvur. The accusations that were heaped against Avatar for making a hero out of a white guy when it comes to fighting for the rights of an indigenous can be levied against this plot as well but there is a catch. The British policy of not intervening with some of the disturbing traditions of the natives such as the devadasi system is criticized and the policy of Christain Missionaries to promote Christianity is criticized in the same vein as the devadasi system itself. The book had very delicately captured how Jane goes about rescuing the first child she eventually adopts. She is named lovingly by Jane because of the striking light brown color of her eyes. In the movie, we are just informed that she has been rescued from being made a devadasi and is adopted by Jane because she is horrified by how it works when in Bengaluru. However, due credit has to be given for highlighting the cruel practice of Indian children at shelter homes being taken as companions for English children and then being returned after a few years. In the book, each child’s rescue and traits are covered expansively whereas in the movie one just gets to encounter some of the rescues rather erratically. Even those acting as helpers are well etched out characters in the books whereas most of them don’t even exist in the movie. We never get to experience the acclimatization the children go through at the Beatty household or even witness them growing up. We witness a few births and deaths here and there. The brood keeps on increasing and the viewers don’t even get to know the names of all the children. That’s because the focus lies on Jane fighting the secretary of the white men’s club for not letting her children attend the Christmas party going on, Jane taking piano lessons to make money, Jane letting her children decide which religion they want to follow, Jane returning the financial aid anonymously provided by a desi style Robinhood and Jane even acting as a midwife. You get the drift; it’s all about Jane rather than the children. Although I would agree that the last two instances are reminiscent of an instance from Midnight’s Children, where a doctor is made to prescribe medicines to a female patient based on glancing at the effected boy part through a hole in a bedsheet acting as a curtain and questionable sources from whom Mother Teresa accepted the donation for the Sister of. To make things worse, even the love story involving the charismatic Dr. Alan Chandler is given a full filmy treatment, to shift the focus entirely on Jane again. I had been itching to write that I highly recommend the movie when I had started watching it with immense regret I would like to state that if you are someone who loves watching movies revolving around children, this can be given a miss.

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