In 2002, Irshad, was 10 years old living in the slum with his parents and siblings in a tiny dwelling. Irshad was a child-laborer who worked 9 hours a day making locks for metal trunks. His daily wage was 10 rupees (roughly 20 cents). Each week he would collect his money, give 55 rupees to his father, and keep 5 rupees for himself.
After one such week, he decided to use those 5 rupees to rent a bicycle for a few hours. He had never ridden a bicycle before, but having spent so many hours watching other children, he was sure he would get the hang of it quickly. For a while he rode around the slum with enormous joy and pride and sense of accomplishment. But his joy was short-lived. While riding past a woman frying Indian sweets, he lost control of the bicycle and fell on the frying pan of burning oil.
Irshad was rushed to the government hospital where he was diagnosed with 60 percent burns, which began at the base of his neck and ended half way down his right thigh. He was injected with numerous painkillers, but after 3 days in the hospital little had been done to heal the burns. His cries of anguish were incessant, while, day-by-day, Irshad grew weaker. His older sister then came from the village and decided that her brother should die at home in peace surrounded by his family, rather than in this hospital with people in every bed, every inch of floor space used, blood stained sheets, doctors who had become numb to the pain which surrounded them, and dead bodies which lay covered until staff from the morgue made their evening rounds.
Noah was having lunch with his dear friend and teacher, Lucy-didi when a message came to her house with the news that Irshad was dying in his home. Lucy-didi and Noah rushed to the house where they found Irshad lying naked on the cold dirt floor of his family’s dwelling with his head resting on his father’s lap. The burns were inflamed and infected; he was in excruciating pain. Within minutes they had put together a makeshift stretcher and together with his father, carried this dying child through the slum to a private clinic operated by a friend.
It took hours for the nurses to clean and dress his burns and infections. While this was taking place, Lucy-didi and Noah each held onto Irshad’s hands and Lucy-didi sang songs to him throughout the day and evening. Each day Lucy-didi and Noah went to visit Irshad, and day by day their young friend became stronger and stronger. After three months of hospitalization, Irshad was strong enough to leave the hospital. His scars were deep, both physically and emotionally, but his youthful strength had returned, an inspiration to all of us.
Shortly thereafter, Noah was called to Irshad’s house and told that Irshad had a gift for him. Noah arrived at his house and found that Irshad had borrowed a tape player and was putting on his favorite Hindi film-song. The boy then began dancing passionately, and continued for 10 minutes, perspiration dripping from his forehead and his chest, but delirious with joy. Noah felt like the dance was just for him; he speaks of it as the most beautiful thing he has ever seen.
Irshad later had minor surgery which allowed him to walk with greater ease and he visits regularly with his Calcutta Kids friends. His hope is to be a doctor like the doctors who saved his life.
Noah and Irshad remain very close. When Noah was married in January 2012, Irshad was one of his groomsmen.