A group of retired army officers have come together to provide a home for girls who never had a home before.
'From the bottom of the pit, we want them to climb the tallest mountain,' says Ghar founder Colonel Mickie Uberoi.
Down a quiet lane opposite a gurdwara is a home for children who once lived on footpaths and begged to survive.
It is simply called 'Ghar' or Home -- undeniably the warmest, most comforting word in the world.
Started by an empathetic retired Indian Army colonel who put his life's savings and built the home on ancestral land, Ghar is run by a trust comprising four retired army officers based in Pune.
The nameplate on the gate simply says 'Ghar' (external link) which leads to a tree-lined five-storied building. The building is tastefully done and thoughtfully designed keeping in mind the needs of those who live here.
The brand new swings in the play area are in gay colours and of good quality. Yellow and white balloons are tied around the pillars from the birthday party the previous evening.
It is a calm morning; the 33 girls who live in the bright coloured dormitories with bunk beds are away at school.
Before they arrived here in April when Ghar opened its doors, most of the girls between the ages of 6 and 16 had never been to school. They lived on footpaths or in sex workers enclaves -- orphans or daughters of single parents unable to look after the children due to the circumstance of life and poverty.
A seven-year-old child was brought here by the district child welfare committee with wounds on the face and head sustained as a consequence of begging late into the night.
Three sisters who lost both their parents to Covid; daughters of sex workers and ragpickers are among the group of children that have found a home in Ghar.
The children have been admitted into three schools that have given a discounted fee for the first year, and are provided targeted tuitions in small batches by volunteers who come to teach in the study room called 'Pathshala' when the kids return from school.
The activity room called 'Khushi' has a library and neat row of computer stations - the computers will arrive shortly.
For the girls, Ghar is now their home, a long way from the footpath they have left behind. 'I will live here even after I die,' said a child recently.
The children have come to Ghar through the district child welfare committee and NGOs.
"Life is all about opportunities. Ghar is about opening the door of opportunity to orphans and children from the footpath," says Founder Colonel Mickie Uberoi, a man on a mission to ensure that the girls live, explore and achieve all the opportunities that are available to other children.
"One day our girls will go on to be officers in the armed forces and civil servants," continues Colonel Uberoi who knows the story of each child, their habits, their medical complaints, their progress and their childish natter very well.
The children call him 'Uncleji'.
"We want to change the course of the rivers of their lives -- from the bottom of the pit, we want them to climb the tallest mountain," he says with admirable conviction.
The girls were undernourished, unlettered, unhealthy and most often with no official identity like an Aadhar card.
As per the government laid Child Welfare laws, the girls undergo a series of medical tests at the time of admission which helps in ascertaining their date of birth. After this, the application is filed for issuance of an Aadhar card from the government.
There is a dedicated doctor's cabin with an examination table for the children. Retired army doctors volunteer their services and come in once a week to examine the kids.
Those needing clinical interventions like dental, blood work etc are taken to the military command hospital, often in Colonel Uberoi's car. A child with a cleft palate has been examined by doctors at the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune.
Ghar's aim is to provide a home not only for girl children, but elders and paralysed women as well in the months ahead.
The 5th floor has rooms with wide doors and wheelchair-friendly bathrooms for paralysed women. It will soon open for admissions.
The 6th floor has individual single and double rooms for elders. This is the only part of the home where the elders have to pay a reasonable amount for the stay.
Ghar envisions a joint family setup where children, adults and elders live and mingle with each other under a common roof.
"There is Life in this building," says Lieutenant General Sanjeev Kanal, PVSM, AVSM (retired), former commandant of the Officers Training Academy in Chennai and a member of the governing body at Ghar.
"I wanted to give back to society after my retirement a couple of years ago. Since Ghar was started by a former army officer, I did not hesitate to come on board," says the officer from the Regiment of the Artillery who has served four tenures in Kashmir and was a helicopter pilot in the army.
General and Mrs Meena Kanal had arrived in the morning with bags of ration for the girls. Mrs Kanal is actively involved in organising a band of dedicated teachers to tutor the children so that they can catch up with the rest of the class.
"The children come from a background where they had no knowledge of alphabets or numbers. Therefore, they need focussed tutoring after school," says Mrs Kanal who teaches every Saturday and was trying to organise a sound box so that children could listen to rhymes or tables before bedtime.
Ghar has a couple of paid teachers as well and is striving to ensure that the girls progress with every passing day.
They have also contacted the Bombay Sappers Regimental Centre in Pune to allow the girls to train for football on their ground under the regiment's coach.
"I look forward to the day that our girls from Ghar lift the trophy of the junior football tournament," says Colonel Uberoi.
What stands out in Ghar is the discipline, order, attention to detail, quality of infrastructure, facilities and the care provided to the children. Garnering funds has remained a challenge for the retired pensioners since they do not get any grants from the government.
Some generous donors have stepped in but the road ahead is long and hard. "We are looking for CSR funding from a company that will support Ghar in the long run so that we can run this institution the way we envision it. It has been a challenge so far, but we are not giving up," says General Kanal.
The children are back from school and the sound of the chatter wafted through as the made their way to the dining room.
Noodles and fried rice was on the menu that afternoon. The tutors had arrived and the girls went into the Pathshala to study. It is the most used room in Ghar, said Colonel Uberoi.
"These girls are like clay," says Colonel Uberoi. We want to mould them as good, accomplished human beings. They will carry this home on their shoulders and impact society."
"They will be our agents of change."
Those who wish can donate to Ghar:
Beneficiary Name: Sant Ishwar Foundation
Name of the Bank: HDFC Bank
Branch Address: 9/2 Kalpataru Gardens, Boat Club Road, Pune-411001
Branch Code: 000039
IFSC Code: HDFC0000039
Account Number: 50100290200233
MICR Code: 411240004
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com