This picture of the Afghan girl, whose rags were her only riches, is almost as old as me. I was two when this photo which mesmerised the world was taken. She stared right into the world's conscience and became its silent ache. 14 years ago, a girl from Kuwait, looked at me like this, and she became to me, what this snapshot became to the world.
I can never forget my sixth grade in 1991. Iraq invaded oil rich Kuwait and my many relatives headed back home, as paupers. In the middle of that turbulent term, to my class came a malayalee girl, scarred by war, terrified of the world. She was alien to us, for we never knew what war meant, though we played it every other day.
She sat in a corner, green eyes peering cautiously over glasses with a thick transparent frame, aware of every movement in the classroom. My female classmates tried to make her feel at home. For us boys, wrongly, she was the perfect alien, different from us and the way we grew up.
Our school was a strict vegetarian institution. It was sacrilege to even mention meat. On her second day at school, she brought an egg roll to class, neatly packed in her little pink Tiffin box, and all hell broke loose. Boys surrounded her and started chanting that she had committed a grave sin. The little face, with fear already writ large on it, swelled up with tears, but bravely, held.
All the while, I sat there, little and stunned and stupid, unable to move. Her eyes looked for an escape from within the growing, chanting circle. She looked at me for help with eyes I will never ever forget - It truly held the pathos of a hunted animal. I changed school soon after, completely losing track of her. Her eyes kept returning to me, on and off, for the next 14 years, reminding me of what I should have done, but never did.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006 was like any other day, except that I met her on the net unexpectedly. The sad, unsure young girl had grown into a confident young woman. It gives me strength to apologise, for being the scared young boy that I was, who could not help her when she really needed help. That said and done, god knows - tonight, I will sleep the most peaceful man on earth.