Sanskaar Express from Karachi to Carter Road
Imagine a stage without performers, without an audience, without the chaos of the back stage, without the animating effects, nothing, just a bare space. Carter Road on a weekday at 6.30 am feels like that empty stage, faintly echoing the sounds and chaos of the previous night.
Even while you are savoring this emptiness, enjoying the cool breeze from the sea, and appreciating this rare stretch of open space in the city, a group of young children with slightly worn-out clothes, studying on benches wet from the night’s rain will surely pique your interest and stop you in your jogging track. "These kids come from underprivileged bastis around Carter Road," says Mira Mamnani, trustee at the Navjot Foundation established in 1997. "This foundation caters to around 150 such kids, giving those lessons in English, Mathematics, and even computers."
A deceivingly young looking seventy-two years old Mira comes to Carter Road everyday in her jogging suit to look after the needs of the kids. The boot space of her car is like an oversized picnic basket filled to the brim with packets of bread, butter, jam, khakhra and juice tetra packs. "Once their stomach is full, they will automatically be able to concentrate better. Only then can they be driven to do something for themselves," she comprehends. "We don't accept money for the foundation. By God's grace, we get enough supplies of daal, rice, sugar and ata fortnightly that I personally distribute amongst the kid's families."
Her very humble beginning explains her empathy towards these kids and her willingness to make a difference. "There was complete pandemonium and people were scampering with whatever little of their possessions they could take along with them. My parents, my siblings and I were amongst the thousands of people boarding the train from Karachi, Pakistan to India. Being a learned philosopher, my father, unlike most other co-passengers just carried with him the Gita, giving us our first lesson in sanskaar," Mira says about her trying times. She further elaborates, "Though we got ourselves shelter in a colony in Chembur, there were times when we slept on an empty stomach. In spite of our less than meagre living, my father not once gave up on his morals. One day, he found a ten rupees note in the colony premises, which was a lot then. He created a dhindhora to return the money to its rightful owner. That was his level of devotion towards values and honest living."
"I passed out of Parmanand Vidyalay, now called Swami Vivekanand Vidyalay. Every year they would pass only one out of 40 students and I was that one," Mira smiles proudly, continuing her father's legacy of being educated who often quoted inspiring lines from Bharatendu Harishchandra's poems. "With a burning thirst for knowledge and driven by the desire to master, I learnt computer programming while working for the Reserve Bank of India. That was also when I became spiritually inclined and got actively involved in the Brahma Kumari organisation ," says Mira about her personal growth.
Mira's exacting journey probably paved the way for leading a life devoted to helping others. Her stint with 'giving' began with her making and selling bottle gourd soup at the laughing club for a mere ₹1. "They told me to charge more, but I wasn't doing this for the money. My sister then suggested that I should be serving those in need. That is when I joined the Navjot foundation and since then, I've been actively involved in managing it, "she says.
As Carter Road gradually gets filled with its in-house actors and it slowly regains its character, Mira continues to pepper her conversation with the kids with adages like 'age is no bar to learn' or 'karma is here only'. Mira believes that she is the 'nimit' for the children's well being. With her strict demeanour, she passes on wisdom of devotion, hard work, dedication and faith in the almighty to these children, who are simply happy to be getting food in return for some effort.