“What’s your name?” The new teacher was enquiring of each of his students to get to know them better.
“Irshana,” the little girl muttered with her eyes downcast.
“How is that you landed up in the Kilkari Girls’ Home?” enquired Ajay.
The ten-year-old girl was silent.
Ajay Singh had been newly appointed to teach the forty odd children in a government school, near Kashmere Gate, Old Delhi, under the Teach for India programme.
He had been briefed that Irshana was found wandering near the Old Delhi Railway Station and the police had admitted her to the home for orphans and abandoned children two years ago.
Though Irshana remembered that her father’s name was Mohammed Shoaib and that her village was called Bishenpur, she did not know her state and district and any nearby big towns.
When Ajay asked her more details of her village, she either kept quiet or wept.
Over the days she began to slowly share bits of information. “There was a big road, a railway track, Jama Masjid, orchards of plum and mangoes.”
One evening, Irshana had boarded a train from her village without her parents’ knowledge. She fell asleep on the train. When she woke up, she had reached the last stop, Old Delhi, hungry.
When 23-year-old Ajay returned to his room, his mind was full of Irshana.
‘Are her parents still looking for her? How long will this child live like this?”
Ajay decided to reunite her with her parents. He contacted his father, a railway employee, to find out where her village was. Ajay zeroed in onto one Bishenpur village in Darbhanga district of Bihar. It was a two hour ride from the railway station.
Taking a local man along with him, Ajay began enquiring for Mohammed Shoaib. There were many with that name. But none were missing a daughter. Ajay began to get frustrated.
Finally a villager pointed out a thatched hut at the far end of the village. Ajay and his companion walked over to the hut, but Shoaib was not at home.
They met his wife. Her features were similar to that of Irshana. But she did not show any emotion of missing a daughter.
After much prodding, she finally revealed that she had a daughter called Irshana, who had gone missing some years ago.
With great delight Ajay asked her, “Do you have a photo of Irshana?”
She brought out an old photo from inside her hut.
Carefully examining it, Ajay got excited. It was indeed Irshana. He then showed her a recent photo of Irshana on his mobile.
Her mother’s face brightened. Her eyes welled up with tears. She wanted to see her daughter immediately.
Ajay then called the home to speak to Irshana and told her to talk to her mother and her siblings. Her mother broke down. Another daughter began talking to her, crying. All were weeping.
Returning to Delhi, Ajay completed all the paperwork required to send Irshana back home.
When he returned to Bishenpur with Irshana, the whole village had gathered to see her.
When Ajay left for Delhi next day, he felt a vacuum. But he also felt the great joy of uniting Irshana with her parents.
Today, Irshana continues her education in a government school.