Everyone who knew Anu would confirm this: She never let go of the child within her. In Sunday School, she chose to work with the youngest ones. At Head streams she would work with vulnerable children for many years. After she moved to Dubai with Yashin, the man she loved, and married at her own church, she continued to work with children as a counsellor, with special attention to children with learning disabilities.
‘Children’ was a theme that that ran through her life, it seems, while looking back.She and her best friends taught the youngest ones in Sunday School and VBS. I met a couple of youngsters the other day who said “Anuchech” was one of their favourite and most unforgettable Sundayschool teachers.
She was happiest at Headstreams. There, she found her meaning and orientation, under the able guidance of Dr. Naveen I. Thomas, the co-founder and head of Headstreams, and his Father-in-Law, Rev. M. C. George, whose spiritual presence and counsel she cherished like her own breath. On completion of a bachelors in Communicative English and Psychology at Christ College (Now Deemed to be University, Bangalore), she went on to do a masters in the UK. After returning in 2011, she went on to seek work in something related to the field of communication. But she did not find it meaningful and joined Headstreams ( Headstreams.org ). The idea of ‘play’ as a way of being and learning, aligned with her vision of life and her personality. At Headstreams she found another home, her purpose and a lot more joy. What she felt there, was reciprocated by the children there.
There is a beautiful backstory to this. It began with a man named Naveen. He dreamed of a movement that would touch the lives of children who were vulnerable and did not have the opportunities to learn at school due to their circumstances. Nursing his dreams, he founded a movement, together with like-minded friends in Bangalore. One day, Naveen called together some children and invited volunteers from the bunch of youngsters he knew. Anu was there that day — March 8, 2009. I tagged along with Dan. Dr. Naveen I.
Thomas’ embryonic dream bloomed and flowered into Headstreams, a non-profit organisation, that began its work among the neglected and homeless children found in the market-places.
Today this organisation is engaged in many projects and empowering programmes with children and the concept of ‘play’ at the centre.
Anu joined them exactly two years after her first outreach with the nascent movement — March 8, 2011, Woman’s Day, which Naveen tells me, was a date chosen by Anu, symbolically timed (so Anu!). And thus began her journey, with Headstreams which she never severed.
After six years as a full-time employee, and after her marriage to the love of her life, which took place, symbolically again, on 1.7.17 (“One seven one seven”, she reminded, during a phone call), she continued to be associated as a special invitee to the Board of Headstreams, a post she held till she passed away.
With her passing away, it seemed as though, that the chapter of her dream work with children had come to a close. That is when Naveen, the co-founder, sent me this message, which belittles and exposes death’s ability to create barriers with the living:
“For the children, Anu was Anu Akka. They waited to see her red car rolling into their area, because it meant a fun time of playing, learning and growing. Tackle is the name that Anu coined for this programme in Headstreams. It was a program where, every Saturday, we would take art supplies, games, and other play and learn materials into slums and villages. And for two hours every weekend they would have a fun time in a safe space facilitated by trained volunteers.
In honour of Anu and the spirit of positivity, empathy and play that she exuded, Headstreams is instituting a program. Through the program, we will train young women in 33 villages around Bangalore to become playful learning facilitators like Anu was. We will equip each of them with a kit called Anu’s Tackle Kit, containing library books, art supplies, and other play and learning materials, so that children who do not have easy access to such resources can continue to play, learn and grow.”
It seems as though Anu had already tackled death. Yes, the pain of her loss remains excruciating. There are questions which may never have answers. The future appears uncertain. Close family remains shaken. Everyone who hears the new shudders.
But one thing we know, is this: it’s not the end of her presence, or her name, or her legacy. Stories of the beautiful person that she was remain to be told again and again. Stories of empowerment, hope and courage, remain to be written through ‘Anu’s Tackle Kit’. All of this somehow underscoring the fearlessness she embodied, the defiance in the face of the most trying circumstances that characterised her.
I believe that they emerged from the confidence in what she believed from her Sunday school days — First as a student and later as teacher; as youth fellowship secretary, and as a choir member, singing hymns Sunday after Sunday, Christmas after Christmas, Easter after Easter:
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep… For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
(1 Corinthians 15:20; 53–56).
There is hope. But grief is on top now. We grieve with Yashin and their whole family. As friends and family. But grief will never be the end. Because she will continue to have a place in hundreds of hearts, and change the lives of hundreds of children from the thirty-three villages, through Anu’s Tackle Kit.