Ramkripal Tripathi with Ismile © Kalpesh Dobal

Ramkripal Tripathi with Ismile © Kalpesh Dobal

There is a small boy we have noticed at Bal Ashram from day one. He does not jog around the exercise yard with the others. He stays back from the crowd unless someone is specifically with him. He is awkward in movement and gives up trying at yoga. Yet he watches from afar. I asked Sumedha about the boy, describing him as “the slow boy” and she said, “Oh you mean Ismile. When he came to us he wouldn’t speak for nearly a year. You must interview him. We call him Smile.

Today’s interview pulled the heartstrings. It was also like pulling teeth until his favorite teacher and confidant volunteered to ask my questions about Smile’s experiences before coming to Bal Ashram. Ramkripal has a deep gash under his left eye – a scar Smile can surely relate to. Speaking in Hindi, I could not understand his short answers but could feel his words when they finally came choked out through tears. He was opening up, he was telling how his father died, his mother re-married and his stepfather didn’t want him. He said his family didn’t love him and threw him out to the streets. He survived like a stray animal.

He did seem slow and isolated when he was rescued to Bal Ashram, but the staff came to realize he wasn’t seeing properly. His eyes couldn’t focus together. He was taken to an eye doctor and given glasses. “He is actually very smart,” Sumedha told me, just physically behind.

We had to stop to change batteries and I asked the cameraman what he was saying in answer to the question “What is your dream?” He said with agitation, “I need to be a shopkeeper so I can survive.” The thought of this small waif, too long a nothing, a nobody, already worrying about surviving in the world undid me. He got up in tears, calling it quits to opening up his heart and his fears (a break-through), till his beloved teacher joined him. Walking away together, in loving arms in his new home, he was able to tell his story and then wear his name with a genuine smile.