Bouncy Mehta, a resident of Mumbai, was in Nepal a few years ago and taking part in the relief operations in Sakhwa village, just around the time when the massive earthquakes hit Nepal. He happened to see a little girl who was not more than 8 years old, playing in the mud, looking shabby and weak. While the villagers shooed her away, Mehta seemed interested in her actions.
"Out of the blue, she came towards me and gave me the tightest hug… all she was craving was some form of affection because she gave me the biggest smile when I hugged her back. She ran away soon after, but it was when I asked around a little more that I realised that she had no real family. Her father was a drunk and never around; her mother abandoned her and ran away with another man and her uncles who cared for her weren’t financially able to send her to a special school and provide for her more than basic food and water."
Asking around about her, Mehta found out that she did not even have a name and she could not speak because nobody attended to her head injury that happened some time ago. As a result, she lost her speech and her right hand ended up shrivelling.
I don’t know what took over me, but I knew that I had to get her out…I couldn’t leave her there like village cattle. Before I could come up with a plan, we were stuck in the second quake while distributing supplies. After a 30-hour wait we were rescued by the Chinese army. I was lucky to be alive and to be transported back home in one piece, but even though I had barely just survived—the image of that girl and her beautiful smile stayed with me.
On his return to Mumbai, Mehta got in touch with his friend Rajeena who lives in Kathmandu. The two friends started making calls, to find out about the little girl and her well-being. It took them a month to reach out to her uncle and they arranged for their travel to Kathmandu from Sakhwa. The girl was admitted to a special centre for rehabilitation and education.
"I finally named her—Anaya; caring, guardian, protected. It’s been a few years since that day I met her and she’s come a long way. She’s the life of the centre… always laughing, always happy. Her hand is healing and she’s started saying a few words. I’ve made around 10 trips to Nepal to make sure that she knows there’s someone who’s looking after her and every time she sees me, she runs to give me a hug. She’s learnt to say the word 'baba' and for me, that’s enough. So that’s the story of Anaya, and how she changed my life with her smile."
With inputs from Humans Of Bombay