Enter Grandson Thomas

“When in girlhood my heart was opening its petals, you hovered

as a fragrance about it.

Your tender softness bloomed in my youthful limbs, like a glow

in the sky before the sunrise.

Heaven’s first darling, twain-born with the morning light, you

have floated down the stream of the world’s life, and at last you

have stranded on my heart.

As I gaze on your face, mystery overwhelms me; you who belong

to all have become mine.

For fear of losing you I hold you tight to my breast. What

magic has snared the world’s treasure in these slender arms of

mine?”

Rabindranath Tagore

Thomas Alexander Glenn

Nickie with new born baby Thomas Alexander Glenn. 20 March 2017, Sydney, Australia

I had been reading a few days ago Tagore poems and thought this was so apt for my daughter-in-law, when I saw this photo. Today, when she asked me “Aren’t you going to do a blog for your new grandson, like you did for Freya,” I was taken a bit back by surprise! “That blog came up faster,” said the son, a tad accusingly. Achchi is the self appointed family historian but lately, the Achchi has been accused of laying bare her life on the blog and FB, being addicted to techie gadgets and teaching granddaughter to take selfies! Besides, Achchie has not been blogging for a long time but said “Sure!” A good time as any to get back to blogging and writing.(No matter that I accidentally deleted the first draft pics and all an hour or so ago!)

Photos had been coming in thick and fast today. Looking at them I had a little time to reflect on how times have changed. For all those who talk about the good ole’ times, I say these times are greater. Dads have evolved a lot more and mothers go to work, keep their careers but still find time to have babies, nurture them and hold the family sacrosanct. Fathers, when we had babies stayed well outside the delivery rooms and had to be told to send flowers the next day! But now they are in the thick of the drama armed with the ubiquitous iPhones. So the Best Photo award for this year goes to my son Suren for capturing this decisive moment , when the grandson took his first breath and yelled his lungs out. This was awesome, and yes this was how Thomas Alexander Glenn de Silva, arrived into our family.

First breath & cries

Thomas takes his first breaths & yells his lungs out. Photo copyright Suren de Silva

“I wanted to call him Thor after Thor Heyerdahl,” says son. Good thing they didn’t, that would have been more difficult to explain to the Sri Lankan family than Freya! ( Thor in Sinhalese is a less refined form of you – to put it mildly).

Suren, Freya & Thomas

Suren, Freya & Thomas

Freya had a long preparation to welcome the baby brother. Gifts from baby brother were brought, etc and that reminded me that I too did that and we bought a train set for Suren to say this was what his baby brother brought him. However, after an initial showing, it went to live on top of the wardrobe, for the father to take down and play, when the kids were safely asleep.

Suren & Freya

Father and daughter bonding and building a toy cupboard, the day before Thomas arrived. Photo copyright Nickie de Silva

Will Thomas one day ask as Tagore said ”

“Where have I come from, where did you pick me up?” the baby asked

its mother.

She answered, half crying, half laughing, and clasping the

baby to her breast-

“You were hidden in my heart as its desire, my darling.

You were in the dolls of my childhood’s games. …” Maybe the big sister will explain as she is almost ready to step into that role.

Bathing Tom day 3

Nickie with new born baby Thomas Alexander Glenn, and Freya joins in bathing baby. 20 March 2017, Sydney, Australia

A baby is a miracle of life, that gives joy unbounded and a new lease of life specially to grandparents.

Liz and Tom

Liz Thompson, Nickie’s Mum and the indispensable Nanna with Thomas. Photo credit Jacqui Thompson.

I will take back unequivocally what I told a colleague long time ago before grandkids actually arrived: “I won’t go ga-ga oover grandkids, all my mother instincts are satisfied!” Just looking at all these photos I turn again to Tagore for so eloquently saying what is in my heart today:

“I wish I could take a quiet corner in the heart of my baby’s very own world.
I know it has stars that talk to him, and a sky that stoops down to his face to amuse him with its silly clouds and rainbows.
Those who make believe to be dumb, and look as if they never
could move, come creeping to his window with their stories and with
trays crowded with bright toys.
I wish I could travel by the road that crosses baby’s mind,
and out beyond all bounds;
Where messengers run errands for no cause between the kingdoms
of kings of no history;
Where Reason makes kites of her laws and flies them, the Truth
sets Fact free from its fetters.”

One last request for all those Techie guys out there – can you please hurry up and get the “Beam me up Scotty” gadget into the market!

Dhaka Diary: Living in the Urban Jungle and Writing with Light

“That was fun, wasn’t it” Photograph© Chulie de Silva

These were special children from a UNICEF-supported ‘Protection of Children at Risk’ (PCAR) project. The children from Dhaka and Barisal are now under the care of two NGOs – Aparajeyo-Bangladesh and Padakhep Manabik Unnayan Kendra.

Launch will come soon and we have to get onboard. If I am given something to carry, I will have enough to buy breakfast. Barisal Launch Terminal, Barisal, Bangladesh, 2010. Photo: Md. Mohasin Hossain, 12

They grew up in poverty-stricken destitute families where survival was an ordeal.  Every day was a challenge, another lurking threat, in a hostile environment where they were beaten and ill treated by step parents, aunts, uncles, and employers. Facing great adversity, they took stock of their suffering and thought that they could do better on their own living in the streets. They slept on piers, carried heavy luggage to collect some money for food.  “I slept, ate and lived in the streets,” says thirteen year old Md. Foysal.

The cameras and the photography training gave them an opportunity to explore their more sensitive side.  Tell their stories with their photos, under the expert guidance of two equally sensitive tutors, Habibul Haque and Tanzim Wahib of Drik. The children blossomed as they learned to write with light (‘photography’, etymology of, from photos  light, and graphos writing).  Their joy at holding a camera and learning to use it is palpable. They bravely opted to go back to the streets/slums where they lived and they wrote their stories looking for beauty and truth, Many focused poignantly on other children trapped in poverty as they were.

Seven-year old Ayesha has no idea whether she lives is a good or a bad environment. She is in a place where leather is tanned. Fish and chicken meal is a byproduct of this process but the tanning pollutes the environment. Hazaribag Tannery, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 2010, Photo: Shahin Alam, 15

Translating into English with my colleagues at Drik their short narrative biographies, I could see that the sorrows in their short lives were plentiful. “Did we suffer because we were poor?” asks another thirteen year old Labony.

 

Kazi Labony. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

 

My mind races back to our magical childhood growing up by the sea at Hikkaduwa or with my grandparents and aunts and uncles in Panadura where love and care were bountiful.  My father was not rich by monetary terms but he was rich in loving. We were never slapped or caned and I specially rejoiced at his ruling on no Sunday school  — much to the dismay of the strongly Buddhist clan in Panadura – five days of school was enough and Saturday and Sunday were days for play. The only warning I used to get was that he would cut off my pony tail if I was naughty, and that was enough for me to toe the line.

That love and a happy childhood has sustained me through many difficult times in adult life and I wondered how these scars of childhood would affect the lives of these children.   I saw in their writings a deep sadness at the way life has treated them but also great fortitude and many wanted to put the bad times behind and move on. When troubles come they face it them with courage almost as if they out-stared it so that “Trouble” begins to regret that it ever bothered them and goes off to find itself a more acquiescent target. The children luckily found their way into the “Drop in Centres” run by the two NGOs.

Many of the labourers in our country do not stop their work when they get tired. They are allowed to relax only after finishing their work. I took this image of a tired worker taking a short break on the way back home from Sadarghat. Photo: Md. Foysal, 13

Yesterday evening at the launching of the “Living in the Urban Jungle” exhibition and the book launch at the Grand Ball Room of the posh Sonargaon Hotel, they  entered the world of the rich they had glimpsed from the other side of the street.  Yesterday, they were the shining stars, praised and honored.  They proudly pointed out their work and were disappointed when I couldn’t speak to them in Bangla.

I wish I could have told them of Sri Lanka’s National Child Protection Authority and how the lives of many have improved but that work is ongoing and for us too in Lanka there is much to do still to improve the lives of poor children. But instead I told them that their photos were infinitely better than any of mine. Labony’s face lit up and she said “Thank you” in English. Pretty as a picture, I wondered how anyone could beat her so much for her to run away and question why Allah sent her to this world.

Just now the world is theirs, the applause is theirs. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

“I want to be a photo journalist,” “I want to teach photography to other street children,” “ I want to have a beauty studio and a photography studio,” they said in a short video shown at the launching ceremony. Just now the world is theirs, the applause is theirs.  They were being interviewed, photographed. The cameras have opened the doors to a new world for them. They are like “Cinderellas” on a spree. Their appetite for photography whetted, they are rearing to do more photography.  They are all dressed up but the ball will end soon once the exhibitions (gallery and mobile in both Dhaka and Barisal) ends. Can the fairy godmothers still hover around them and smooth their path to more learning to prepare them to be the photojournalists they want to be ?  Will their wish come true that many others they know are in similar circumstances can also be helped?

“Please don’t despise the street children, given a chance they can do well” pleads Foysal. I for one will never be able to look at the street children of Bangladesh without their pain in my heart.

I sell newspapers here. These children and I play with this clay tiger and dream about the real ferocious ones and our future. Photo: Md. Roni, 14

See also: From the other side of the fence by Shahidul Alam who asks “Empowerment can only be explored where equality has previously been denied. How then does one approach exploitation? How does one undo wrongs when one is on the ‘wrong’ side of the fence?”