By Saurav Keyal:
Accustomed to the swearing, which he knew would continue throughout the day he woke up, Still, there were a handful of stars scattered here & there against the morning sky. Generally at this time of morning, one takes a walk and breathes in some fresh air but he had no time. The plates from the last night had to be cleaned. After taking care of that he took a bath followed by sweeping and dusting the stall. Early birds had already started arriving for their cup of tea. He knew the day was going to be hectic but he was prepared, after all it was just another day. Cleaning off dishes and cups, serving biscuits, getting people their cigarettes and of course being treated as no human being this has been all about. At least he breathed. At 10, this is how he was spending away his childhood.
It was two years ago that his father had decided to visit the Kumbha Mela and take a bath at the intersection of the three holy rivers. Things were not going great for them and someone in the village had suggested that this would help. A new life filled with prosperity. All was set and the very last parts of the father’s savings were spent on the trip. Obviously, his son working at some tea stall in a complete strange city was never the part of the plan. Had it not been for the stampede at the ghats, he would still be with his family. For sure, the bath has changed his life. He knew whatever prosperity was, itÂ didn’tÂ taste like the stale piece of bread which was thrown at him at the end of the day. His life would have been different only if he knew his way back to home. He wondered what a fool his father was to believe all about washing away sins and starting afresh. This had only given his family, including him, something more to grieve about.
Down the road, five minutes away from the stall was a school. During day when there was nothing much to do and Ramji, the owner of the stall, took a nap he would steal a few moments away from the misery and walk to the school. Standing across the road he saw students sprinting out of the gate towards the buses waiting for them. Ramji fed him & also provided him with clothes yet he felt that he was naked and starving. That anything, let alone a human being, can exploit him. He felt insecure. But when he saw those kids, he saw them well fed and well clothed. Their eyes were not occupied by insecurity, in them was a fire rising which left no room for fear. These kids had confidence in their eyes that they can & will face the world. The knowledge that he could not ever go to school and learn things like other kids scared him.
There was this visit by a few men. They threw at him a bunch of questions like why he worked at the stall, whether or not the owner treated him in a fair way and whether he would like to go back to his parents. Would he like to go to a school? He was confused that why suddenly someone was interested in him. They also talked to Ramji. He knew that this would make him angry. That night, instead of bread being thrown at him he was served kicks & punches and abuses. He was told never to talk again to such people. Three days later they were there again. This time he stayed away as far as he could. They looked for Ramji and talked to him. From what he could deduce from the color of his face was that he was not happy. He had given away. While going back, one fellow from the group told him “Chottu! You are going to school!”
The showers had forced the classes to be dismissed a little early. While walking back to the stall, he was smiling. For the first time in the last two years he was actually happy. Content. In his eyes he had a spark, which he had lost the day he had lost his family at Kumbha. It was raining cats and dogs. Completely drenched in the rains, he was walking with pride. The rush was more than usual, of course the weather demanded a cup of chai. The humiliation & swearingÂ didn’tÂ bother him. It never crossed his mind that unwashed cups & dishes were there to welcome him at the stall. Right now, occupying his mind, was the future. Studying hard and graduating from a college & finding his family. The stall was just a few feet away. Get into a job. He was now crossing the road. And of course heÂ wouldn’tÂ let this happen to other children. He would also work like the people at Akshar, the NGO that helped him, for children like him; saving childhood. He saw himself being happy. What heÂ didn’tÂ see was a lorry speeding down the road. Thud! The sound of rain striking the tin shed of the stall filled the air.
You go down the road to have tea at some stall. Usually what you expect is that a kid who probably should be in a school, is actually washing your dirty dishes. It’s disappointing on government’s part that still we have child labor in our country. What is more disappointing is that we are completely okay with it.