Sumedha Kailash was rushing to a hospital for a medical check when she heard about her husband, Kailash Satyarthi, winning the Nobel Peace Prize. She changed her plans and rushed to the office of his Bachpan Bachao Andolan, located in the busy market of South Delhi’s Kalkaji area.
She had to wade through an excited office staff and a battery of journalists swarming outside the two-storied rectangular building. “It’s been more than 3 hours and I am yet to congratulate him personally,” she jokes, alluding to her husband’s being besieged by journalists, including those from the foreign media.
“We have been expecting this for a while but didn’t know it would be this year,” says Sumedha, now joined by daughter Asmita in one of the many rooms on the ground floor. Almost five years ago, the family says they’d expected he’d get it but the prestigious prize went to Bangladesh. “Such was the feeling then that many women colleagues had fainted. Today, everyone is exuberant,” says Asmita, who doesn’t use a second name.
While Satyarthi is busy giving interviews to television channels on the first floor and the office staff struggles to manage over-enthusiastic photographers, accompanied by their reporter colleagues, Sumedha happily gives more details of her marital relations.
“Everyone has a love story. But ours is such that a film can be made out of it,” dressed in a white suit, she chuckles. “It was like love at first sight.” Satyarthi used to write expert pieces for a local magazine, for which Sumedha was a sub-editor. Her father invited him for dinner one night and Satyarthi stayed back with them. “In the morning, he was joking with all my four sisters, but not with me. Then, I realised there was something happening between us.”
She says October has always brought them good luck. “We met in October, we got married in October and now this.”
However, it is not that everything was smooth in their lives. Satyarthi’s decision to quit a teaching job for a social cause didn’t go down well with his in-laws. “There was a time when I had no money to buy milk for my one year-old son,” she says. Relations later got repaired.
Even as Sumedha spoke about her relationship, an office staffer called out names of journalists waiting their turn to meet Satyarthi. The narrow aisle leading to the stairs gave a glimpse of the work that takes place there. “Kailash Satyarthi Sir, Congratulations for the Noble (sic) Prize,” boldly read a white noticeboard in a corner. The other boards had cuttings from newspapers, lauding the rescue work undertaken to free bonded children across the country. The receptionist is busy turning down requests for help from callers. “Today, we can’t help you, because lots of media people are here.” Above her head hangs a black and white board, reading: “Total children released since 1980 – 83,525.” The walls, painted white with brown window panes, support paintings advocating work for child rights. On tables lay flower bouquets and water bottles.
On way to the first floor, Swati Jha, one of the many project coordinators, says they were so excited that they even hugged him for the first time. “He is such a nice person and always takes part in raids to rescue children.” The first floor has a big white noticeboard listing the scheduled interviews of Satyarthi with television crews. “I am not going anywhere. I will speak to everyone. Let me have tea,” says Satyarthi, strolling out of the room, holding a mug in one hand and fending off TV journalists with the other.