By Ekam Singh:
I have heard of and participated in a few debates over the stage of the origin of leadership qualities in a leader. There are two basic heads of discussion – leaders are born and leaders are made. Which of these is true and in what circumstances is not the point here, neither is any analysis over which theory holds more precedence in the course of history. The point here is simply about the little boy you see in the middle of the three in the picture. The point is about the laser-like focus of his eyes and his unconsciously majestic style. He must be all of about six years but his sense of responsibility blended with his confidence says that he has a story. Through my passage, I will call this young boy Raju, not because that is easier than referring to him as ‘the boy’ or ‘young man’ every time, but because I think that he deserves an identity.
I happened to observe Raju along with his little platoon while I was on the way to a hill station with my parents. We needed a cup of hot Indian evening tea and after searching for a tea place for over an hour and having rejected a few over petty reasons, we decided to stop at whatever place we would come across next.
Once we finally made a stop in front of a shabby looking tea stall, my mom and I sat in the car with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner running. We began discussing the grim state of hygiene and other spheres of public life in our country and how progress in these areas is easier talked about than witnessed.
While we were talking, we noticed a group of six kids making their way from the other end of the street to the side that we were parked. They begged and played as they made their way through a roadside full of street vendors, stray animals, chatting groups and other beggars. When they reached the tea stall we were parked at and saw the evening activity, they stopped and murmured stuff to each other. Perhaps the aroma of the fresh samosas and the steaming tea enticed them. Raju gave his group a reassuring nod and with the slightest hint of a smile on his tanned but well-defined face, he marched up to the tea vendor. He said something to the vendor and on getting his reply, he reached into his pocket and got some coins out. He fiddled with them in his hand and began a negotiation with the vendor. During his negotiations, he kept his money tightly secured in his fist. While Raju spoke confidently and with the most fierce eye contact I have seen someone make, the vendor tried to hide his smile of amusement while he attended to this unlikely ‘customer’. The rest of his group, on the other hand, was waiting across the street with hope in their eyes and awe on their faces.
After their brief talk, the vendor resumed his job of making and serving tea and Raju beckoned the others to sit on a rusty bench placed outside the stall. They all ran and at once leaped on the bench. While these kids sat talking and playing, there was a clear distinction in the body language of Raju and the rest of them. He took the seat in the middle of the bench and without any protest, two others sat on either side of him, giving him enough space to himself and another two made themselves comfortable on the ground. He seemed to be the center of the discussion and the origin of their communication. I noticed an extremely subtle but inherent sense of obeisance among the children to Raju. He laughed and joked with them, but with an air of authority that none of them seemed to question.
About ten minutes later, the vendor brought them six cups of tea and three samosas. He placed them on the bench. I was not surprised to see what followed. None of the kids advanced towards the treat. They sat patiently but their eyes showed their enthusiasm. Raju then split the samosas into six and gave a piece to each of his companions along with a cup of tea. He took his share in the end. I figured that the cups were only half full because he did not have enough money for six and must have asked the vendor to split three into six. While I tried to take a few snapshots of this celebration, Raju happened to look my way. His immediate reaction was a beaming smile followed by the straightening of his posture and the re-positioning of his hand which held the samosa. The other two on the bench followed his lead and gave me the perfect shot that you see above! A couple of minutes after this ‘photo-shoot’, we decided to resume our journey. We drove off and Raju and his pack waved to us excitedly. I have not heard of or seen Raju since and I am sure that he doesn’t know that I exist. But those fifteen or so minutes I spent observing him were enough for me to respect him and his attitude.
I know that what I have written is not an extraordinary story. Perhaps it’s barely a story. But I feel that I owe this to ‘Raju’. I feel that his alpha behavior at an age when care is a right and not a responsibility deserves an acknowledgment. I feel that his ability to be a guide and a leader to others his age among people who are on an average triple his age is commendable. I don’t know who Raju will be when he is older or what he’ll do. I only know that he has the eye of a tiger and that right now, he’s a hero.
Well done, Raju.