The kids kept adding names to the list while they sat knee-to-knee in Indu’s one-room home drawing Christmas trees, adding sparkles and stars and strings of bright lights rendered in crayon. They made Santa Claus masks that looked more scary than sweet and wore them as they ran through the laneways shouting and singing their version of jingle bells. Hindu and Muslim kids in the community love the notion of Christmas. Religion aside, it’s a reason to celebrate and be festive, to dress up and receive sweets. So we planned a party that we would host in our apartment. The list stopped at forty-two names, thankfully.
New Year's Eve (Indu's home)
Usually the girls come to the morning tuition class with unwashed faces, their hair in yesterday’s braids with the mandatory school ribbons still entwined but not so tidy, wearing grubby clothing from a late night of playing outside with their friends. The kids all play barefoot in the garbage strewn laneways, wander through gauzy sheets of dust, pick up debris to use as toys and taunt each other with sticks while saving toddlers from falling into gaping, filthy gutters. However, when it’s time to party, they transform into butterflies fresh from a long stay in a gritty cocoon. The laneways fall silent as the kids hop behind curtained doorways to have bucket baths and change their clothes and then magically reappear as shinier versions of themselves clothed in a frenzy of sparkly fabric, bright colours and glitz, with oiled hair and polished faces. The girls line their eyes with kajal and apply lashings of bright lipstick in gaudy contrast to their beautiful ebony skin. They help each other braid and twist their long, thick strands of black hair into whimsical side parts and anchor the fanciful puffs of hair in place with fancy clips. The boys polish their faces with almond oil, add a puff of perfumed powder and wipe their oiled hands through their hair so it sticks in place. They smell like sweet dust.
Divya's neighbour helps her apply some kajal
The party started during the thirty minute walk to our apartment after first removing the six tiny toddlers from the line-up and stacking them in a rickshaw with Karan and Todd to keep them from trailing behind or wandering into traffic. The rest of us walked two-by-two through construction rubble and broken pavement while fourteen-year-old Sachin and Indu kept the line from bulging into heavy traffic that moved in every direction like a raging river overflowing its banks.
Todd and the kids in the candy scrum on New Year's Eve
Once the last shoe was piled in our doorway, Bollywood music blared, there were prizes for trying to get a cookie off their forehead and into their mouths while lying still, some musical chairs, too much balloon popping and gifts for each child. Stacked in boxes under the table were Santa Claus and Christmas Tree shaped donuts filled with cinnamon cream, not discovered until we brought them out to eye-popping excitement. The toilet and the taps and the bed are always a source of amusement and bewilderment and a reason to explore our one-bedroom apartment as if it’s a theme-park with room to roam. They gaze out the big windows and jump on the bed (so hard it doesn’t move under the weight of ten kids), open cupboards and check themselves in the mirrors. As much as the music, games and prizes, they love the opportunity to sit on furniture and open doors to another room.
Noorsaba and Roshni dressed up and ready to go
We’re still finding sparkles and a few smears on the walls that were missed in the massive clean-up after the kids finally rambled out of our apartment and down the street wearing Santa Hats, full of excitement and food, on our march back to the community. When they spied the tattered dwellings they call home their pace quickened and they started to run. Home is home despite their grim living conditions and they were ready to get back to playing games in the lanes, napping on their cool, cramped floors and watching cartoons on their fuzzy television screens.
Krishna enjoying an excellent donut at the Christmas party
The festivities didn’t end with the Christmas Party as Karan and Sachin decided to plan a New Year’s Party to be held in Indu’s one-room home in the community. They made a new list of names and admonished each child to give twenty rupees. They needed the money to pay for samosas, coca cola, potato chips and cake. Their budget only allowed for samosas and coca cola so we bought the cake and the chips. Thirty-six kids piled into Indu’s house for dancing and games and ended in Kane Sir’s garden where Karan tossed handfuls of chocolate candy into the air causing a dust storm amidst the flurry of arms and legs rushing and crashing into each other for a morsel of chocolate. They emerged from the dusty scrum with handfuls of dirt and for some a bounty of chocolate. Despite the potential for injury and the probability of not emerging from the pile of bodies with chocolate, they love this game.
Fun and games at the Christmas party
And so 2017 begins. We’re still in the ridiculous clutches of demonetisation which is making everyday life difficult for everyone in the slum community and the rest of India. Parents are not getting their daily wages and school fees can't be paid.We’re hoping the government allows a significant change in the withdrawal limit at ATMs soon so we can resume paying school fees. Until then, we march on and work within the limits of the small pittance we receive from the ATM while we search out businesses and shops that will take our personal credit card for the needs of the community. In India, one must adjust. Here’s hoping 2017 is a year to remember for all the good that happens in the world.
Walking back from our apartment to their homes after the Christmas party
-gifts for each child (KinderEgg, bracelet, mustache straw, crayons)
-prizes for games
-food (juice, sandwiches, chips, donuts)
-napkins, cups, plates
New Year’s Party
-cake (enough for each child to have a giant slice)
-plates and cups
-2 bags of chocolate candy
Total: 2 parties for approximately 80 children:
(includes unlimited revelry, gifts, food, prizes, and heaps of fun)
Rupees: 8500 rupees ($170 CAD) ($2.13 CAD per child)