(This was first written as an article)
The working title for this piece is Muslim orphanage. It’s the name of the place I went to. Yes, I know articles have headlines and not titles but there is something about those two short words that manages to tell you exactly what the organization does . More importantly the matter of fact name lets you know exactly who the organization might inspire discomfort in.
Another intern and I were assigned to go cover a story about something, something. The friendly people at the Times Of India, who gave us assignments, always managed to describe the event in ways that I’d forget about by the end of the daily 10:30- 9 phone call. To be fair it was our job to make the events sound interesting and the man who was talking to me on the phone was probably Rajiv sir, a very friendly fellow from the crime department, who took a liking to me after realizing I can speak and understand Kannada and Tulu. I’m certain he told me it was very interesting and that I should check it out.
My fluency in Kannada meant that no corner of the office lacked a smiling English medium intern (and occasional reporter) with a recording but today it meant I was sent along with another intern who didn’t understand Kannada so well. We’d never heard of Muslim orphanage before and ended up on Queens road because that’s where Google maps told us to go. Google had somehow managed to locate a plot of land that belonged to the orphanage about 9km away from the actual orphanage.
After a trip with the other intern being rather unfairly suspicious of our skull cap wearing autowalla we got there and found a huge mosque that looked like something from Al-Andus hiding behind some trees. Soon enough we found a handful of students in their blue, dark blue and white uniforms gathered up to perform the obligatory march past to welcome chief guests and like every student forced to do march past in the middle of the afternoon they looked like they would wilt and fall over.
The other intern started feeling a little awkward about speaking to orphans, or maybe I just imagined it. I certainly was. I realized that I have never spoken to an orphan before. Suddenly a mannequin offered me a flower. Before I could react the managing director S.S Rahman sprung upon us. He looked like a man in a desert who had not only found an ocean, but also a boat to cross it. He clearly didn’t expect the media to turn up and happily told us about how awesome it is that so many journalists turned up. It was only later that I began to wonder what it was about us made us seem like journalists. Did we really stand out so much from the crowd?
We smiled politely like only an intern mistaken for an important employee can. Soon enough we got around to looking at the exhibits despite Mr. Rahman given enough information to write a report. We were curious and were free to do whatever we want because some minister may or may not have made good on this promise to show up and Rahman had to go greet him. I don’t think the minister ever came.
Looking at all the exhibits I thought back to all the school science fares I had been and how we brats used to whine and half-heartedly recycle last year’s volcanoes unless of course you were lucky enough to have an overbearing parent make an exhibit for you.
The students, most of whom were girls, had gone insane with the sensors that were supplied by Mr. I.A. Khan who runs Nanotech Robo an organization that usually charges about a lakh or two for supplies. I.A. Khan explained that orphans aren’t dumb and do well if you help them. The woman who helped the kids with the whole thing didn’t want to tell us her name.
Two mannequins that greeted and sent off people, 5 drones, 8-9 toy vehicles that could move around, a gorilla that blew bubbles at you when you walked by and a few other exhibits that were made up of sensors and other material they’d put together. All very impressive. I don’t think there’s much point stopping to describe all of them because in an exhibit you’re supposed to look at things. And you don’t have the added effect of undersized orphans semi enthusiastically describing their very impressive creations either or reciting definitions either.
Upstairs the inauguration was underway. The chief guests hadn’t turned up so they started calling all the important board members to the dais. By the time the ceremony started there were about 20 people on the dais. They said the usual things you hear from a dais. I looked at the glossy list of achievements and rather colossal bill they had racked up this year and a little about the places 150 year history. I wondered why no one I knew had heard of this place before.
The other intern was very eager to eat the biryani she smelt but insisted we leave because she was increasingly paranoid about all the Muslims in the room. “We must be the only Hindus here.” she said. I told her I wasn’t a Hindu but she didn’t hear. I didn’t want to repeat myself and she wasn’t someone who’d listen to arguments. I didn’t want to think anymore and my head hurt. So I said nothing and we left.
I felt a little guilty when an old board member stopped us and very enthusiastically shook my hand and thanked us for reporting the event.
When we reached the office she said all the women were in burkas. It was then that I realized that none of the women at the orphanage had worn burkas. TOI didn’t publish the article we gave them and I’m not sure why. I think no newspaper can have enough bubble blowing gorillas but alas some people would have stopped reading at the words “Muslim Orphanage”.