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 manage to tell you exactly what the organization does. It’s also enough to turn away a lot of people.
Another intern and I were assigned to go cover a story about something, something. The friendly people at the newspaper who gave us daily assignments over 10:00 pm phone calls always managed to describe the event in ways so generic that I’d forget about it by the end of the phone calls.
But 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 Rajiv sir, a very friendly man from the crime department who took a liking to me after realizing that I can speak and understand Kannada and Tulu. He had droopy C shaped eyes and always asked me to check things out. Like everyone else at the office he was exceptionally nice. It was rather strange, and maybe even a little disappointing, how drama free this newspaper office was.
My fluency in Kannada meant that no corner of the office lacked a smiling English medium intern (and an occasional reporter) with a recording of a press release or speech. But today it meant I was sent along with another intern who didn’t understand Kannada so well. We’d never heard of this 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.
The other intern was being rather unfairly suspicious of our skull cap wearing auto-walla and his meter during our journey there. Eventually we found a huge mosque that looked like something from the Arabian nights 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 all looked like they would wilt and fall over.
Both of us shuffled in awkwardly, regularly glancing at each other to make sure we didn’t have to speak to anyone without back up. ‘‘Do I know any orphans?’’ I thought to myself. There were exhibits on the tables that had been laid out in a ‘U’ shape all along the well-lit but very nondescript room. We surveyed the room and decided to start talking to people. I took a step back to see who looked most interesting when a mannequin suddenly offered me a flower.
Before I could do more than emit a very inelegant “EH?!” 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 how awesome it is that so many journalists turned up. It was only later that I began to wonder what it was about us that made us appear like journalists. We were both in jeans and bright T-shirts. 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’s exhaustive report. We were curious and free to do whatever we wanted. Mr. Rahman and the management were excitedly heading off to wait for a minister they had invited. But the minister never showed up.
Looking at all the exhibits I thought back to all the school science fairs I had been to and how we brats used to whine and half-heartedly recycle the previous year’s volcanoes unless of course one was lucky enough to have an overbearing parent make an exhibit.
The students, most of whom were girls, had gone insane with the motion sensors, circuits and other gadgets that were supplied by Mr. I.A. Khan who runs Nanotech Robo, an organization that usually charges about a lakh or two for supplies.
There were two mannequins that greeted and sent people off, 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.
I.A. Khan explained “Orphans aren’t any less intelligent than the other kids, neither are they dumb. They can do well if you help them and give them the facilities to explore their talents.” The woman who helped the kids with the whole thing didn’t want to tell us her name. She laughed nearly as much as the kids did and was always around to clarify any doubts. She was perpetually running around but the second we asked her for her info, she handed us I.A Khan’s card.
The whole set up was very impressive and came with the added effect of undersized orphans, semi enthusiastically describing their very impressive creations or reciting definitions.
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 the rather colossal bill they had raked up this year and a little about the orphanage’s 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 was now smelling 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 that all the women were in burkas. But this wasn’t true. None of the women at the orphanage were in burkas. The editors 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”.