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.