A new role in life : Mentoring a 12 year old girl

MMI school

At the school with MMI mentors and mentees

I have a little piece of news to share with you.

A couple of months back, I interviewed to become a mentor for a 12 year old girl through Mentor Me India (MMI). I got selected, went through two induction programmes and soon a new relationship in my life began. I was nervous before the interview and really wanted to get selected. Then I was super anxious the day I met my mentee, Without any prior experience with kids that age, I bit my nails worrying if she would like me and I would like her. But the guys at MMI are awesome, they tried to match the mentor mentee pairs in such a way that we would have some common interests. I fell in love with my little young girl the minute I saw her. I am not romanticising it, but do you know that unexplained tug at your heart when you meet someone for the first time and feel a connection? This little girl, Gauri, came right towards me and held my hand. All my anxieties flew out of the window.

This mentor mentee program is designed on the lines of Big Brother- Big Bister program in various countries, where a brother mentors a young boy and a sister mentors a young girl over the course of minimum one year. These relationships go beyond a year once the mentor-mentee pairs get involved in each other’s lives. But the initial commitment is for a minimum one year. MMI ties up with schools working in low income communities and the school is the meeting ground for first few months. These mentees are from an economically poor background and most people around them are employed at unskilled jobs with very less or no education. To have a mentor in life is to have some didi or bhaiyya who can show them what they can achieve with right education and awareness of the world. With professional guidance from MMI team, I am sure all of us mentors can make some difference in the lives of these mentees.

Gauri and Rutvika

Left – Gauri’s drawing of me. Right – Me drawing her.

On the second day after I met Gauri for the first time, I got a call from an unknown number. It was her calling me from a PCO. She had taken my number but her dad doesn’t have a cellphone, so I didn’t expect she would call me right next day. She said that she missed me and was thinking about me a lot. I can say I miss you to someone only after careful deliberate preparation and here this little girl easily told it to me- her didi who was non-existent till yesterday. The enormity of the situation struck me. These girls and boys have hardly anyone who take an active interest in their life. Their parents, who are overworked themselves can provide the basic necessities, but hardly anything more. Sure there are exceptions, good and bad, but generally these kids are one among a lot and neglected most of the time. So when a didi/ bhaiyya seems to be interested in them, they are drawn like magnets. We were appraised about all of these factors at the induction and the MMI handbook is very handy, but in a real life scenario, you are on your own.

I told Gauri on the phone that she should concentrate on her studies and that I will see her the next weekend.

Cut to the next Saturday, all the little girls whose mentors were not going to come that day, or all those whose mentors were late even by 5 minutes, were crying. Literally crying with a flood of tears. The teachers tried to placate them, but still Ganga-Jamuna was free flowing from their eyes. The boys on the other hand tried to show how they were unperturbed and continued to monkey around. I was late by 15 minutes (Note to self : never to be late) and Gauri told me that she thought I would do ‘khaada’ which means an ‘unexplained absence’ in Marathi. I told her I would never do a khaada, if for some reason I am unable to come, I will tell it to her in advance. She accepted it, but oh how do I reach her since she does not have access to a cellphone?! God only knows. Thankfully, one MMI co-ordinator is always available on call to help me reach out to the mentee, so we will have it covered.

Last Saturday it was mentors-meet-parents day. I met her grandma, her mother passed away a few months back in an accident. When she told me about her mom, this little girl of 12, she was very upset. I was at a loss of words. I am a mother to a toddler and often have nightmares about being in an accident and imagining what my son would do without me. Even the thought makes me dizzy. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I am paired with this girl. Maybe I can understand her situation better, but pray tell me, how do you understand something that is your worst fear?

Her grandma has taken charge of the household since Gauri’s mom passed away. She spoke fondly of her daughter-in-law. Later they also took me to their home, a cozy, welcoming house with several photos of different gods stuck to the walls. 2-3 of her cousins, similar to her in age, came to ask me if they can get a didi and bhaiyya too. I told them that I am Gauri’s didi, but the school along with MMI can get them a didi/ bhaiyya.

It is wonderful being a part of something larger than our self and little circle of things. I hope the time we spend together can be of some value to my mentee and that we grow together.

Meanwhile, if you know how 12 year old girls behave, what activities they like, what stuff to do with them, good economical places to show them, will you let me know?

Thank you!

Rutvika

The Cheat Code

I met a friend for dinner last week. She has two little girls under 10 and is a very smart woman. She recently found out that her husband has been cheating on her for the last 4 years. With a woman he used to work with. Many a times in the past 4 years her husband used to be on an official “tour” and apparently he stayed with the other woman, in the same city where they live. My friend has been married to this guy for 15 years after dating him for a couple years in college. She is totally shattered, but also very angry. She feels cheated and feels really stupid that she did not find about it earlier. It felt bad to hear all this, but at the same time I felt relieved that she knows about it now and refuses to take his bullshit anymore.

And then the maid who works at my office. She is married for 5 years to a guy and few months back she found out that he has been already married since last seven years and has two children aged four and two. Do the math. All the while when they got married and started living together, he was already with his wife and married the whole time. The maid is unable to conceive and when her husband readily agreed to get tested, I was surprised. I couldn’t help think that he already had a child somewhere. But this guy beats up all logic. He has splendidly convinced the maid that he loves her. And was married to that other woman only because of family pressure. And that both the children, mind you, two times, were sheer accident when they were made to sleep together by his mother.

The fact that he has taken dowry in the first ‘arranged’ marriage has been ignored by my maid. The guy is not willing to leave any one of them, and keeps assuring my maid that he can’t live without her. And cherry on the cake – he even drank phenyl to commit suicide when she threatened to leave him. As you can guess, he survived very well and now has her undying devotion.

But it happens to the best of us. Previously, in my early twenties, for a few shoddy months, I dated a guy from work. He was already dating our mutual friend. I was so blind and such a idiot (I punch myself even as I write this), I could see daal mein kucch kaala, but I refused to believe it. He chased me with gifts and flowers and sweet words and I fell for it. He was quite a pervert. When we went out he would ogle at other women right in front of me. And still, this went on for a few months. How I hate that part of life. But sometimes you have to date terrible people to cherish the good things you have.

Back to my friend. her husband now tells her to forgive him. His excuse – ‘Everybody does it, only a few get caught.’ It is as if he is asking forgiveness for simply getting caught. She is adamant on divorce, but doesn’t know how she will manage two kids and all other practicalities by herself.

Of the things that I pray to god, first is to keep life interesting and second is that husband and I are never disloyal to each other. God cannot help in both these things, but my wish is sincere. Extra marital affairs really disturb me. When we were watching Bajirao Mastani (the movie) it kept troubling me that Mastani toh haat dhoke Bajirao ke peeche padi hai. Bajirao – a married man with children. Although I believe that this movie is way different from history, but something like this (even a movie, yes) leaves such a bad taste. It gives me nightmares.

I cannot imagine what my friend and maid are going through. One is the first wife and the latter is the other woman. Both loved deeply, one still does, but where does this lead them?

I don’t even know what to tell them, it is difficult to fathom what is the right thing to do in these cases. My father a retired Mumbai police officer has seen several such cases, I ask him what I should tell them if they ask for advice. He says “Each case is unique and delicate, but divorces based on alleged affairs result in long drawn-out cases and often in total denial by the accused. And this leads to no or or very little maintenance and alimony from him. Hard choices have to be made. Money or integrity.”

The local police NGO my friend went to bluntly told her to accept that man back and forgive him since he is admitting that he made a mistake. Because nothing works without money. If you need him to keep contributing towards raising the kids, do not file for divorce.

The idealist in me cannot adhere to this notion, but it is the truth. Ask around, you will know. Good education and standing firmly on our own feet is the only salvation for women. This cannot be stressed enough. But what about these two women? Only time will tell.

Rutvika