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The Princess of Okhla

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Out of her place but not out of her comfort zone. Preeti, a seventeen year old, young lady, was picked up from her one room slum shack, and taken to a five-star hotel to perform a dance for some visiting Europeans who are supporting Project Why, the charity school she attends. To get out of her home she has to walk on stepping stones forming a makeshift path through the overflowing effluent from a broken sewer. Sometimes the filthy water is so high it comes in through the door of her home meaning she can’t even get out because she can’t walk over it, she cannot stand on her legs. Since suffering polio at an early age her legs won’t support her weight, instead she shuffles along, sitting on her heals, using her hands to move her feet, she can get from one precisely placed stepping stone to the next, rarely if ever accepting help. Being in a five star hotel she completely took it into her stride, didn’t appear out of place nor looked round in awe at the plush surroundings and so make herself conspicuous, in fact she acted as she was there every day. After the dance performance, by the school, to loud and enthusiastic applause, the kids exited the room but where then invited back by the staff of the hotel to have breakfast from the buffet bar. Not only were the hotel staff generous in offering but in action too, serving the kids like they were the rich and affluent costumers of norm, not the slum kids they are and used to being treated as third rate citizens. Every child acted with politeness and manners even though excited by the opportunity to sample high-class food and so much of it as well, sometimes their families are too poor to provide breakfast at all and so arrive in class hungry, so this was a real treat for them. Preeti was served tea from a silver tray by a smartly dressed waiter, who placed the cup and saucer carefully down and withdrew discreetly as though serving a princess. To anyone watching they may have been mistaken for thinking she was some sort of VIP, the way she accepted being served without even the slightest hesitation or giggle nor so much as a flicker of the eyes as though this was a normal everyday occurrence. An hour later, changed into their normal, sometimes threadbare, clothes, all the children were back in class as though this had been a thoroughly normal day. They had acted with the pride they all have but, more notably, made all those who run the school very proud indeed, they were a credit to themselves, their families and the school.

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