Dear Mr President,
Some very committed friends of ours have been working with children in post-riots Ahmedabad, trying to help them overcome their trauma and be absorbed back into the mainstream. We had recently accompanied them on a trip to Gujarat, but sadly we proved to be rather inept with children; at 25, we already tend to get impatient with them and are not particularly understanding of their needs. It was then that we thought of you and realized what a great gift you are to the children of this country.
We also thought of you on another occasion: we had been playing with children in Watwa, a locality where about 45 families, originally from Naroda Patia (and then Shah Alam Camp), have been temporarily resettled. Less than dedicated that we were, we soon grew tired and went to sit by ourselves at the doorstep of a kholi there.
We were informed that it was Shah Jahan’s house. Shah Jahan, who had lost a sister and who had almost been burnt alive herself. (Ironically, the bigger the loss suffered by a person, the more of a celebrity she became, to be put forward before all visiting dignitaries, media personnel, NGO types, etc.) This unfortunate ‘celebrity’ was prodded out of her bleak room to be ‘shown’ to us, bandaged, pained face, and unable to play with the other children.
"She’s met the President", we were told. Shah Jahan smiled - probably at the fond memories of her meeting with you (or if one were to be cynical, at the thought of having to repeat her sorrows to yet another batch of volunteers). Perhaps, that was the reason she chose to steer the conversation towards you.
She did not talk of high ambitions, though, or of your compassion, or even of your sensitivity -which she had clearly benefited from in those few minutes with you. We suppose that was a given. She spoke, instead, of the promises you had made her and how she clung to those as the only words of security that had come to her in a long time.
She told us that you had promised to see to it that her burns were properly treated. She asked us if we could take a message from her to you, since we would be going back to Delhi (We told her we could not. We were neither children, any of us, nor celebrities to get an audience with the President).
She thought we were being lazy but told us what the message was, anyway. She said that she had been waiting for her treatment; her burns were becoming more painful, her face was scarred and it was all too difficult. She believed that you had kept yourself abreast of her situation, and wanted to discuss the next step with you.
(We tried explaining to her that perhaps she had misunderstood you - misunderstood the fact that you had promised to have her fully treated and ordered the state to pay for her treatment. Or, perhaps you had recommended compensation, but the only reason it had not yet been paid, and her treatment consequently stopped, was because there were procedures to be followed before money could be handed over to victims. Most of all we tried to explain to her that it was impossible for the President to keep himself abreast of specific cases - despite his concern).
She dismissed us, of course. It was a matter between her and the President. She asked us to fill out your address on a post-card (which also we were unable to do very accurately). She will be writing to you. The post-card may reach or it may not.
Shahrukh Alam, Namita Malhotra, Warisha Farasat.