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'Meet my husband, the British PM!'

Amidst their busy schedule on the sidelines of the India-EU summit, the Blairs visited a lawn behind the Hanuman temple to interact with street children fostered by the Salaam Balak Trust.

india Updated: Sep 07, 2005 23:07 IST
Liz Mathew (IANS)
Liz Mathew (IANS)

It was one of the rare occasions when Cherie Blair had to introduce her husband, the British Prime Minister.

"Oh, he is my husband, Mr Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister," Cherie said as she introduced her husband to a group of children completely enamoured by the 'gorimadam' (white lady).

Amidst their busy schedule on the sidelines of the India-European Union summit, the Blairs visited a tiny lawn behind the Hanuman temple near Connaught Place in the heart of the Indian capital to interact with street children fostered by the Salaam Balak Trust.

It was undoubtedly a different experience for the British first couple.

In the muggy heat, the couple perspired profusely -- Tony Blair's crisp white shirt was drenched within minutes -- but they gamely interacted with the children for 20 minutes.

The children were gathered under a banyan tree, around 20 of them belonging to different age groups. Most of them were dressed in faded but clean outfits, patiently waiting for their guests.

Most of them had no idea who they were waiting for.

"Someone big is coming," said 13-year-old Lakshman.

"I do not know who exactly -- maybe it is Laluji," his friend Arun ventured hopefully, referring to Railway Minister Lalu Prasad. That was only expected, given that the children were picked up from the railway platform.

It turned out to be someone quite different, but when Tony Blair went up to them and sat on the lawn, the children warmed to him instantly.

Four-year-old Madhu nudged Blair -- who was intently listening to stories about the children from Sasi Kumar of the anti-AIDS organisation Alliance -- to show him the drawings she had made.

"What is this?" Blair wanted to know from the little girl.

"It is a house," she explained in Hindi.

"Why did you draw this?" Blair asked curiously.

"Because I do not have a house," replied Madhu, and Blair was obviously moved. Patting her head, Blair turned to Sasi Kumar and asked what they were doing to protect the children and make their lives easier.

Blair collected drawings from all the children -- most of the below 10 years -- and handed them over to an official accompanying him.

While Blair was talking to the children, Cherie went to a group of adolescent boys and inquired about their life, education and ambitions.

The boys told her their dreams of becoming actors, painters and photographers. She wished them all the best.

Shankar Saini, an aspiring actor supported by the Salaam Balak Trust, was the happiest after the visit.

"They wished me good luck. I am sure I will make it one day with their blessings!" said Saini, who is studying at the National School of Drama.

The Blairs also enjoyed a street play in which the young boys recreated glimpses from their hard lives.

Cherie, who was in a black outfit, shook hands with all the children and picked up a little girl affectionately.

So impressed was she by the children, that after the interaction, she went and hugged Parveen Nair, founder of Salaam Balak Trust.

Noted filmmaker Mira Nair is a trustee of the organisation, named after her breakthrough film Salaam Bombay that featured street children in prominent roles.

"It was so inspiring. It was a fantastic experience. We have just seen potential in these children. With the help of this trust, it will flourish...otherwise it would have been wasted," Cherie told reporters.

Parveen Nair said that most of the children had run away from home.

"Their life in the street is so risky and they are exposed to all kinds of exploitation, including sexual abuse," she said, noting that anti-AIDS awareness and protection had become an integral part of the project to rehabilitate the children.

First Published: Sep 07, 2005 20:00 IST