The Lost Childhood

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My morning begins with a cup of tea. To say the obvious, most of my friends know I am insanely addicted to tea and I cannot go about the day without it. 2 cups of tea in the morning, 8 during the work hours and 2 post-work. However, this blog is not about the 2 cups of tea that I have pre and post work. This post is about those 8 cups that I consume during the work hours and it is more about the one who delivers them.

He is about 16 and hails from a small village in Rajasthan. He has a dark feature and is exceptionally thin. He stands at an average Indian height and sports long hair, neatly combed from one side to the other. The oil applied to his hair is in such excess that it makes them shine and one can even smell them from a distance. At times his hair slowly slips in front of his eyes; to which he gives his head a quick backward jerk and they are all set again. His eyes are small and glimmering all the time as if they are desperately seeking something. He smiles with a pride, flaunting his red paan stained teeth. He wears the same maroon checked shirt over an off white trouser every day. His sandals have worn out from the sides and he manages to hide them by walking methodically. The threads tied to his wrist signify his belief in God. He carries a small pocket diary and a pen. Often he sits by himself on the stairs, scribbling in his little diary. Ask him what he is writing and he will hide it in his back pocket immediately. His name is Dinesh and most of us call him Dixie. He works at a tea stall downstairs.

My work begins at 10.30 in the morning. Even before I switch on my computer, he greets me with a cup of tea. I smile at him and he reciprocates the same before getting back to his thermos. I smile because I am amazed at the fact that in the past few months he has never missed a single morning without delivering the tea in time. He comes back for his second round and then the third and so on.

Our building is seven storied. I ask him out of curiosity, “How many trips do you make in a day?” to which he only replies, “a lot.” And then I wonder if he is restricted by his ability to count.

He shies away from speaking in public but talk to him in private and he will open up. The first time we spoke was months back; he shot long sentences without a full stop in Rajasthani. I did not understand a single word. I ask him to speak in Hindi. He stops, stares at me for a moment and shoots another wave of long sentences in Rajasthani. I don’t think he understood that I did not understand his language. It took a few weeks until he realized his language was untraceable for me. And finally, a slow painful Hindi sufficed.

Realizing that he wore the same clothes every day, my friend Kapil and I gave him a few couple of clothes that we could manage. Yet, months later, he still wears the same checked shirt. I ask him what happened of those clothes and he forces the smile on his face but does not answer.

A few weeks later, he informs me that he must go back to his native place as his father is taken ill and bedridden. He feels sorry for his father but is also excited about seeing his family after a long time. I can easily spot the mixed emotions building in the corner of his eyes. Another week passes by and I still find him at the work. I ask him why he has not left for his home yet. He puts on the same deceiving smile again and says, “We can’t find a replacement for my work.”

Now I realize something. Why would a kid come to Mumbai at the age of 16 and work at a tea stall for 12 hours a day? Now I know where the clothes went.

In India, every poverty cursed family has a son or a daughter working in the streets of the metros. Hunger is one such atrocity that makes you do the worse. And what can be worse than a child losing his childhood. They work at a joint selling cigarettes or delivering tea at a tea stall or in the train selling lemons, newspapers and little alphabet books or in irani restaurants cleaning tables or at a construction site carry heavy boulders. They are everywhere.

Where is the future of India? There it is, in the streets, naked and hunger struck.

Dinesh is only one of those million children who have lost their childhood and surrendered in the battle against the poverty and hunger. The time that these kids should spend in schools, studying, playing and making friends, is being spent in washing cups and dishes. The age when the tender hands should pick up a pen are being roughed and bruised on a construction site. The hands that should write their own future are being forced open and begging for alms.

“What is your birth date?” I ask him.

“I don’t know.” He replies and an embarrassment spreads on his face.

One of these days, I will buy him a gift and that will be his birth date.

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Change We Believe In

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I went for a job interview once. After a series of questions, the interviewer asked me, ‘Where do you see yourself in next 10 years?’

To which I replied, ‘I see myself still being a nice guy.’ I dint get the job. From next interview onwards, I said what the interviewer wanted me to say.

Still don’t understand where am I going with all this, do you?

Every morning I wake up, I try to picture where I want to see myself in the next 10 years. When I was a kid, they told me that the competition is fierce in this open world and I have to work hard to make my mark on the geography. I never really understood what that meant.

Someday my son is going to ask me, ‘What do you do Dad?’ And I am going to look in his curious eyes knowing he expects me to be some kind of super hero. But I am not. His eyes are going to turn into disappointed ones in a matter of second. I cant be just another common man who earns enough to give his son a bauble. I have to be better than that.

When I walk on streets, I think of so many things that ought to be changed in this country. I want to fill up the potholes that create such massive traffic jams. I see a naked beggar shivering in rain and I want to buy him a shirt. I see politicians fighting on cheap issues of naming a bridge and I want to slap the hell out of each one of them. I see a businessman get out of his BMW and pee on the streets and I want to kick him right where his balls are. So I thought, Why not take initiatives to change a few things around. I befriended a street kid and asked him if he wanted to learn ABCD to which he nodded. I reached for a pen and paper in my bag and sat him down.

“Lets see how much you know.” I asked curiously. He started mumbling something. I reached my ear out to grasp every letter he uttered anxiously. To my surprise, the kid knew most of them. Now that was an irony, as I had not expected a street kid to know English alphabets. Hence, I decided to peep into his life.

“How do you know these things?” I asked him.

“I go to a municipality school. They teach me there.” He replied dropping his head.

“Hey don’t be depressed. You are doing well. I bet you what, in 2 weeks you will know all the alphabets.” I assured him.

Over the next 2 weeks, he knew almost all letters, except that he kept getting confused between M and N.

“Are you studying from the book that I gave you? You should be good by now.” I asked.

“I don’t get time to study,” he said, to which I lost my cool.

“Why?” I shouted. He said nothing.

He came back the next day and we started with “A for Apple and B for Ball” lessons. He seemed to be doing well except for two things. For him, E stands for Elephant as well as Giraffe. And Zebra is pronounced as Ghebda. As we were working on these two problems, a man in his late 30s came rushing in and slapped the boy hard in the face. I looked at him in utter confusion and was just about to slang my way through when the man burst out, “I don’t pay him to sit and learn ABCD. I pay him to wash dishes. Don’t you dare entertain him?” Saying so, he walked away with the boy who was now rubbing his cheek trying to hold back his tears. I felt guilty and disgraced at the same time. Guilty for now I knew where the boy spent his time after school and disgraced at myself because I failed at what I had taken the initiatives for.

I went back home, in front of the mirror, looked at myself and thought. How am I alone supposed to change things around when people themselves don’t want to. I want to believe that people like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa and Baba Amte evolved in this very country. And I am so sure that these people are ashamed of me for failing the task.

I believe in change. And I believe that my change will change the world around me. But honestly speaking I want someone to hold my hand and tell me that I am not alone. I want to see the change that not me alone believes in. I want to see the change that We all believe in. With or without anyone, I will try to change at least one bad thing into good, no matter however small it may be. This is one common man’s thought. And if we all start believing in this change, we are all going to be superheroes. This country needs to change, and that change is us. THE CHANGE, WE BELIEVE IN.

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