Saturday, October 22, 2005


The building was very ugly to begin with. And Solid. And yet, some one decided it needed a face-lift. Scaffolding all around. Huge lengths of green thick cloth, hung haphazardly. Sheets of corrugated tins placed all around the building to create a safe area – apparently to ensure that no visitor would be injured by falling shards of cement and debris. But this made it impossible to walk down the narrow path in front of the building. Visitors now have to hop onto the green (mostly mud) stretch to make it to the entrance which hey presto, has vanished. A sign, on a piece of card board, no doubt torn from a carton, the writing faded in the hot sun gives direction to the new entrance…the best treasure hunter would be at a loss to decipher. The construction goes on and on. No sign of any change even after weeks. The busy throng of people pours in and out of the building. Workers are up and down the scaffolding. In dusty clothes and yellow hard hats, (very incongruous with their clothes - no overalls) perched uneasily on their heads… The green canvas, the yellow hard hat, the corrugated sheets…all appear to be there, not for safety but to ensure the fulfilling of some international safety standards.

I look up and find, a young woman. Up on the scaffolding. Maybe on the 5th floor. In a saree. Yellow hardhat on head. (I am wearing a saree as well). She looks down at me and her eyes follow me as I pass below. I am shocked to see her up there (no stereotyping this…but u would be, had you seen her). God knows what goes through her mind when she sees me. Perhaps angry at why am I down there and she above? Why is she in her dusty saree, me in my fine one? Why does she have a hard hat and me cradling my smart file of papers? Why is she up on the scaffolding and I am on terra ferma?

Or perhaps she is just curious.

I find the new entrance to the building. Amid debris, little dunes of sand and cement, the betel-juice-stained walls. The ugly metal detector, the lazy guard. And as I gingerly step on the wobbly concrete flooring, I see a little kid seated on the bare earth. Can’t be more than two, powdered by dust, all alone, looking up at the world as it passes by. Welcome to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.

....Perhaps, the woman up there was just curious. I'd like to think that. But the truth would be, she was too busy trying to do what she had to, look forward to the next break, when she could come and pick up the little tot floors below, waiting for her, patiently (already aware that he had no other choice, no luxury of temper tantrums that other fortunate tots can afford to throw). Both aware of their roles, unawares that right inside, the enormous and complicated machinery inside the ministry toiled amid files and meetings and projects and plans working for health and welfare of families of more than a billion people.

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