Her father's last words to her were: "don't ever lose faith in India." Her mother --ever the realist-- left her a vignette: "when I was the young child of a poor priest, my cousins were wealthy. They would grudgingly give me a sweet-meat but only after pointedly licking it on all sides. Don't ever forget that such pettiness happens all the time in this land. They can scar lives."
With parents suddenly removed, Anuradha discovered that life was a serious matter. Her grief and reflections on her parents' values brought on a physical stress, a depression even. A few years before, she had visited Barka Koppa and was treated to the most exuberant bonhomie by her just re-discovered kinsmen. And yet all around her was some of the most casual inhumanity. Lost for answers, she became a near physical wreck. Was it a psychosomatic consequence of bereavement? Her physician had no such doubts: he pronounced her ailment 'spondylitis' and fitted her with a collar. Anuradha wore it for the next several years and cultivated a suitable stoop. In 1998 her younger daughter Shamika who had thriven in European schools found herself a misfit in an Indian school. Anuradha took her out of the system. The list of 'whys' was lengthening.
Manu shows the way:
She decided to 'do something'. "I shall deliver nutritious biscuits to scrawny children everywhere," she told herself. She began a trust named after her father, canvassed wealthy sponsors and the project lurched along. But somehow it seemed too superficial. There was more down there that needed to be faced. And that evaded grasp. So the collar stayed.
One day in 2001, an acquaintance steered her to a healer in Giri Nagar slums. The lady, a poor Nepalese whom Anuradha calls Mataji, was direct. "Your collar is a decoy and leads you away from what you should be doing. Get rid of it and start examining yourself through involved work for the needy." And that wisdom from a simple, unlettered, poor woman instantly turned Anuradha's life around. The collar came off after 9 years, without further ado. The bemusedly named Project Why happened the moment she met Manu, the young man who would provide a meaning to her life.
She met him as she sat waiting for Mataji. "Though physically and mentally challenged, Manu had spent a happy early childhood, tended and cared for by his mother," she says. "Mother passed away when he was a young lad. His sisters in their own way cared for him too but they were married off at an early age by their alcoholic father. Manu lived on the street, dirty, soiled, and neglected. The neighbours fed him, but like one would feed an animal. Children threw stones at him. He was abused in all conceivable ways. Manu was made to beg but the money was snatched away from him. No one touched him, no one hugged him. He learned to bear it all. When things became too much, he let out the most heart rending cry that no one heard."