Whenever we see street children picking up plastic bottles or stuff from the roadside, the first notion that comes to our mind is that they are drug addicts and thieves. The following incident changed my views.
During my post-graduation days, I was undergoing an internship at Bose Institute, Kolkata. Since my university was quite far from the institute, I shifted to my paternal uncle’s home so I could complete my training properly. To reach the centre on time I had to start early from uncle’s home and catch the 7:30 am train from Konnagar to Howrah, and so had to leave home in a rush by 7:00 to reach the station on time.
As the long shifts of training left me exhausted, I always got up late, around 6:30 am, and had to rush to complete my daily chores. Early in the morning, the Konnagar station would remain quite empty, and only the garbage pickers could be seen, picking up plastic bottles and various other stuff from the railway line.
That day, I somehow reached the station 15 minutes before the arrival time of the train. I saw a small boy picking up bottles from the station. He was around nine to ten years old. I don’t know what I found so interesting in him. He was holding a kitten in his hand and talking to it. It was as shabby as him. He dropped his bag full of bottles in a corner and started looking here and there. Then, suddenly, he started approaching me. He said to me, “Ai didibhai dos taka de na oi billir baccha take dudh khawabo (Hey sister, lend me ten rupees, I will feed this kitten milk).”
I was taken aback by his cuteness and his simplicity. The notion that despite possibly being hungry himself, he was more concerned about the kitten, touched my heart. I took out fifty rupees from my purse and said, “Ota ke dudh kawabi r nijeo kichu kheye nibi (Buy milk for the kitten and have something to eat for yourself).”
At first, he hesitated and said, “Nah, ammi boka debe (No, mom will scold me).”
At that moment I saw the train entering the station and quickly grabbed his small hands and tucked the money in them, saying, “ Ammi boka debe na bolbi ami diyechi (She won’t. Tell her I gave it to you)?”
He looked at me with astonishment but didn’t speak a word.
Two days passed, and I was once again standing at the Konnagar station to catch the train. I saw the boy approaching me. He came near me and handed me a bunch of flowers. Some of them already dead.
I was astonished. I knelt to reach his height and said, “Ai chele aiguli kothai peli r amai kano dicchish (Hey kid, where did you get these and why are you giving them to me)?”
He said, “Ami tule enechi, oi khane akkhan biye hoychilo oikhan thekae. Tumi oi din amare ponchash takka amni dichila je ammi bolche tomare kicchu akkhan dite tai dilam (I picked them up from a wedding nearby. You gave me 50 bucks that day, mom asked me to give you something in return).”
I couldn’t stop laughing, because his simplicity touched me. But then it seemed that it had hurt him. He asked angrily, “hassla je (why are you laughing)?”
I understood that my laughter had annoyed him. So I said, “Nah re amni, keo amake kono dino amon sundor kore ful dai ni toh tai, kano re raag korli naki (Just like that. No one has ever gifted me flowers before in such a sweet manner – that’s why. Why, did I annoy you)?”.
His small eyes sparkled with satisfaction and he slowly lowered his head in embarrassment. I handed him 20 rupees this time and asked him to buy breakfast for himself.
At first, he hesitated, but then he took it and ran away.
This, then, became almost a daily routine. I got to know his name. He was Irfan, who stayed with his mom and three siblings at the nearby slum. Being the eldest, he used to work along with his mother. His other siblings went to the madrassa to study. He could only go on Saturdays and Sundays, because the rest of the week he was busy picking up plastic bottles and selling them to vendors. Or working as a daily wage-earner in some shop or hotel. Sometimes I used to give him money, and sometimes I would buy small story books, colour pencils, copies, pens, etc from Howrah, and give them to him the very next morning. This continued for almost two-and-a-half months.
Then came the last days of my training. On a Friday, as usual, I was waiting for the 7:30 am train in the morning. Irfan had come with some marbles for me. I took them and handed him a packet with a T-shirt I had brought for him.
He hesitated and said, “Ammi boka dibo didi, aita lomu na (Mom will scold me, I can’t take this).”
I knelt in front of him, and controlling my emotions, I said, “ne re Irfan amar kaaj prai sesh tai porer soptah theke ami r asbo na. Robbar din chole jacchi (Take it, Irfan. My work is almost over, so I won’t be coming from next week. I leave on Sunday).”
I wanted to give him the gift then, because at evening when I returned to Konnagar, I never met Irfan. Since the next two days were holidays and I was to leave for my hostel on Sunday evening, I thought I would never meet him again.
His eyes were almost tearing up as he said, “Kaan aiba na aar (Why won’t you come again)?”
I said, “Amar kaaj akhane sesh tai (Because my work here is done).”
At that moment, I saw the train coming. I quickly took my purse out and tucked five hundred rupees into his hands. He stood still. I boarded the train but then as the train started suddenly my purse fell down on the station and there was no way of picking it up.
At Howrah I called one of my friends and borrowed some money – enough to go back to Konnagar. I even blocked my cards. Then, I went to the institute to fetch my certificates. I was unhappy that day, both because I had dropped my purse, and because I might never meet Irfan again. He had unknowingly taken a special place in my life.
It was almost nine in the evening. As I got down from the train at Konnagar, I had a painful feeling which reminded me of Irfan. I stood at the station for a few minutes, my eyes unconsciously searching for him. I got out of the station to hire an auto when someone came and grabbed my hands. I shivered. As I turned back to see who it was, I realised it was Irfan. I almost shouted in excitement, “Irfan!”
He looked towards me and said, “ho (yes), Irfan.”
I was astonished to see him, because as I said before, I had never met him during my return in these three months of training. He grabbed my hand hard and said, “Aikhanei darao ami aitachi (Keep standing here, I will be back).” Saying that, he left. Almost half an hour passed by but Irfan didn’t come back. It was almost ten in the night, and I was receiving constant calls from my uncle’s home. So I thought of leaving and started looking for an auto again.
Suddenly, I saw Irfan running towards me. Almost out of breath and panting hard, he handed me a plastic bag and gestured at me to open it.
I took the plastic bag and opened it. Under the halogen street lights, I saw that it was my purse. I stared at Irfan and there were tears rolling down my cheek. I wanted to meet Irfan, but never expected that he would keep my purse intact and wait for me.
Catching his breath, Irfan said, “Oi folaalla bolchilo tumi ai somoy rooz din assho tai atokhon tharai chilam. Bag ta amar kacche thakle harai jaoibo tai ammi re rakhte dichilam. Nao dekha nao poisa gulan thik aasse ki nai (That fruit seller told me that you come here every day around this time, so I was waiting. I would have lost the bag, so I gave it to mom for safe keeping. See if your money is intact).”
I couldn’t believe that he had been waiting at the station since morning to return the purse to me. I didn’t know what to say to him. He made me learn such a great lesson that day that my notions about street children changed completely. He made me understand that honesty can exist anywhere. This incident made me realise that our backgrounds don’t matter, the values we practice do.