The one that knocked me down.

I had duly hoped that the first blog post I would make about my time at Teach for India would be a positive one, full of hope and magic. But as realities go, this one is starkly opposite to what I had in mind. But I need to write this and I need to put this across.

It has been over a month since I started teaching in Malvani, Malad at a low income school as a part of my Fellowship with Teach for India. For those of you who do not know Malvani, it is an underdeveloped area in Malad West with a low everything. Low Human Development Index (HDI), low Public Housing (PH) ratio, low on civic amenities, low on health care, low on sanitation. You can read up more about Malvani and its current state here. Or you could just look it up on Google. I teach Grade 6, with a total of 54 students. I had 54 students, till Monday.

My class is now a class of 53, because we lost one of our kids recently. I am not naming him because I still can’t accept the fact that he is no more. I will be referring to him as ‘my kid’ henceforth. The reason? Fever. Sounds ridiculous, right? A boy of 11 years, seemingly fit and fine, who has hardly ever stepped out in the world. When my co-Fellow and I found out about his demise, we were stunned. We still are, we haven’t been able to wrap our minds around it. Since it was late in the evening, we decided to wait a day to visit his parents. All I did on Tuesday was to recall every moment that had him in it. We saw him on Saturday, just before the school broke for Ganpati holidays. We gave him holiday homework. He nodded his cute little head like he always did, and happily wished us happy holidays.

On Wednesday, I went to visit his parents who live in Ambojwadi. It’s a slum near Malvani. I do not want to go on to describe Ambojwadi at this moment because it will soon crop up. His parents told me that he was fine till Sunday night. He had dinner with his older brother and his father. On Monday, around 6 am, his father as usual began to wake him up for school. He smiled in his sleep and reminded his father that he had holidays at school. He went back to sleep. An hour later, his brother sensed that my kid’s body had gone cold and he was spitting out spit from his mouth. His heart beat had shot up. They immediately took him to ‘Hindu Hruday Samrat Balasaheb Thackerey Trauma Care Municipal Hospital’, which is in Jogeshwari East, just off the Western Express highway. My retelling of what ensued there is a roughly patched series of events that his parents narrated to me.

His first report that came out, apparently was normal. The doctors assured the family that everything was alright and the situation was under control. Time-check: 11 AM. His mother then showed up, because she was at Chembur till this time, nursing a cancer-afflicted brother. They weren’t allowed to see my kid, and they started to get suspicious because things did not seem “normal”. Soon they came to know that my kid wasn’t conscious. The hospital doctors said that once he gains consciousness, they will get an MRI done. The mother has been working with Child Care Helpline for three years, so she is a bit informed. She immediately called up another brother and asked for a second opinion. By the time the external doctors come, it is 3 PM and they assess that my kid is in a very delicate situation and his chances of survival are pretty thin. I cannot even imagine the disbelief his parents must have experienced at that moment. The parents were aghast, and couldn’t even voice out their shock at not being warned in advance, so that they could at least shift him to some other hospital. No sooner than this happened, my kid slipped into a coma. The only communication which came from the doctors was that they couldn’t say anything for certain. At 6 PM, the doctors (both the hospital and external ones) had lost hope. And within a few hours, my kid breathed his last.

Now coming to the cause. Officially, the doctors said that my kid had fever since 5-6 days and that the parents neglected it. His post-mortem report has come normal. I saw him in class on Friday and Saturday and he did not have fever. Yes, he did complain of a constant headache but he had said that he couldn’t see clearly and his mother had taken him to an eye-doctor. Everything was fine. Or at least seemed fine.

The area which he lives in- Ambojwadi, is inhabitable. I do not mean to sound judgmental but I am sticking to the facts. The place has open drains, has narrow, jammed, make-shift houses crammed up together. Animals and humans alike, roam in a deplorable state. Fleas and mosquitoes are permanent members of the community. I am sure we have all seen chawls once in our lifetime. This has been the most unhygienic one I have ever visited or will visit. (More about such areas here, and this article has it mellowed down compared to what it actually is like.) This made me think hard. My kid and another thousand people who live there, are denied of basic health and sanitation which results in some disease or another. I met quite a few of my students while I was in Ambojwadi, and everyone has some problem or another. One father had his hand cut in an injury, one kid has low platelet count. One kid’s father is bed-ridden due to an accident, one kid’s parent lost his battle to Malaria. They have had limited access to formal education for the longest time and whatever percentage is educated, is not enough. The generation that currently goes to school consists of almost 50% first-generation learners. The families fall under the Below Poverty Line segment of the society and can hardly make both ends meet. I gather that much of their expenses go in treating one ailment or another, which further worsens their living conditions due to limited cash availability. What vicious cycle is this?

I am very new at matters that fall under the municipal corporation and have negligible knowledge about it. I am at a loss of actions. I have lots of words in my head, which are even pouring out on this page right now, but I do not even have one concrete action to begin with. All those articles you read one day on the Internet about how municipal doctors take it casual, started to make sense. Maybe there was some truth behind it. You start thinking about the value we hold for the value of one life. The worst part is, I cannot say anything with absolute certainty. Was it the doctor’s fault? Was it the parents’? Was it the unhygienic conditions? What was it?

I only know one thing. We lost one of our students. And I would have never been bothered by these things, had I not experienced it first hand like this. But now, I am bothered. I am restless. Makes me feel incompetent and useless, the knowledge that whatever I am doing, is such a nano unit of whatever needs to be done. In an ironical way, it also reinforces the importance of what I do. Perhaps, even if one student can grow up to be a problem solver and can help change the community from within, there is hope. As they say, to solve a problem, you need to be a part of it. You need to get your hands dirty. I wonder how useful I am, sitting comfortably in my chair and writing this. A lot to consider, but little to do.

What do I take out from all this? I remember one of the Directors of TFI once saying:

“We struggle for the kids who have no choice but to struggle”.

I think it is time we all became just a bit more socially conscious. Try adding and creating value instead of stressing over bank balances and the next luxury. I am not saying money is not important; how can I, after all that I have just written. But just look at the distribution, is it equitable by any standards? I am not saying leave your comfortable job, or do not travel by auto-rickshaws. What I am just saying is to be a bit more aware. Just look around you when you are travelling, and you will know what I mean. This time, focus on all the details you ignore by default. Just look around. Responsibility is not that bad, it is just doing your bit and through it, experience and unravel life even more. Yes, life is beautiful and all this sounds a bit depressing. But think about this: doesn’t everyone deserve to call life beautiful? Why is it beautiful only to some? Do think about this and it might not cause any waves in your life; that’s okay. But if it caused even a ripple, I am sure it will go a long way.

Thank you for reading, and hope that my kid is in a much better place now. 🙂


About Dhvani Parekh

A simple girl in a complicated world.
This entry was posted in Experiences and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The one that knocked me down.

  1. Skanda V says:

    Solutions to BMC menace
    1. Fix accountability. Whom do we blame for poor hygiene? Bureaucrats? Politicians ? We don’t have a NY/London style mayor. Idea of collective responsibility has led to no responsibility for anyone.
    2. Embrace “swatch bharat” in its true sense. We can’t encourage social entrepreneurship with a tax rate of 25% on revenue.
    3. Our cities are over crowded. Push for minimum wages to ensure industries from big cities move out. This in itself will have a tremendous impact on growth and income distribution.

    • 1. Is there a way to initiate this? Any idea if this is being discussed or does it need some form of public push?
      2. Again, what can be done? You are speaking on a scale of a Parliament bill being passed.
      3. This one I agree to, the most. I have always believed in “un-populating” the cities. The real estate price farce has been one of the ways to keep people from migrating inside Bombay. Hopefully, centers around Mumbai will pop up so that more people move out.

      • Skanda V says:

        For #1 many parties have already said no. Who wants responsibility , accountability and no money ?
        For #2 money bill can easily be passed , doesnt require a lot of support. But changing laws is easier than changing outlook. The fact that you are charging the public in philanthropic causes shows a deep mistrust for the general public by our politicians. Ironical but true.

  2. Jishnu Mehta says:

    Looking at the description of the place he lived in. I am dead sure he is in a much better place now. My heart aches like a stabbed wound when i type this; but may the KIDS’ soul rest in peace 😢

  3. mark says:

    its because people from north india =UP,BIHAR ,MADHYA PRADESH,ASSAM,RAJASTHAN have very high TFR . + muslims give birth to many kids . dont feel guilty . you are gujarati . and gujarati, and jains pay highest tax and follow all laws in India. By paying taxes honestly we are doing charity . these peopple who build illegal slums steal water, electricity. request you to wear a mask , gloves when you enter such areas. thanks

    • I appreciate your concern. But let’s not bifurcate people based on their states, and if birth control must be also included in basic education, then so be it. I understand it becomes frustrating for a tax payer, but my being Gujarati has got nothing to do with my paying taxes. A lot of Gujaratis and Jains do creative accounting, which goes unnoticed.

      And if these people build things illegally, what are our regulatory bodies doing? We cannot pin things on where people come from. If they are misdirected, let’s make it our job to direct them.

  4. Vijay Lakshmi says:

    Iam a teacher teaching in a highly reputed school.Most of my kids are very rich.l have often seen them complaining of small facilities which are not available like the AC didnot cool their room,they have to share apparatus during practicals. When I read the article I felt if only basic facilities could have been provided to the child things would have been different.

    • Hi Vijay Lakshmi, thank you for going through the blog and commenting. You are right, but what I have also observed is that difficulties are relative to a person’s situation. These rich kids therefore complain about not having AC because they have never seen worse. It’s about how you ground your children. 🙂

  5. Ranga Kiran says:


    1. It’s heart-wrenching to know that a kid lost his life at a very tender age. My heart goes out to the family of the deceased.

    2. Going by the description of locale of Ambojwadi, the future of the habitats looks bleak. It’s high time for the authorities to pull their socks up and get the sanitation done.

    3. In order to avoid such incidents in future, I would like to propose a few things as below:
    a. On behalf of the habitats, we can take the issues up with the concerned authorities like District collector’s office, BMC, the Corporator etc. either by writing letters to them or by visiting them to apprise of the situation at the ground level and pursue them to take necessary action.

    b. We can form a group of volunteers and conduct ‘Swaach Bharat’ campaign at Ambojwadi by cleaning the surroundings, enlightening the residents about the necessity of cleanliness etc on every month. By doing so, we can spread awareness among the locality.

    c. We can approach an NGO(s) to conduct monthly health camps at Ambojwadi.

    I would like to know your thought about the aforementioned.


    • Hi Kiran, thank you so much for the comment. I definitely plan on doing the first action, which is to write to the concerned authorities.

      Regarding the Swacch Bharat group, I am not absolutely sure as to go about it.

      And yes, I want to connect appropriate NGOs to work in this area as well.

      • Ranga Kiran says:


        We can also file an RTI application (Online) with the concerned authorities seeking information about the sanity activities and health camps being undertaken at Ambojwadi.

        Regarding Swaach Bharat group, may be you can talk to your MAD contacts to get information about the same. They might direct us to an NGO where they train people to undertake voluntary sanity activities at an area of our choice. Once we get trained, we can start a group ourselves for doing the activities.

        Below is the URL where Hindustan Times supports such initiatives:

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