The little boy sat cowering on his bench, attempting to hide his face into his book. ‘Deepak’, he heard Mishraji, his class teacher, calling out his name. He stood up, still looking downwards and dispirited.
‘Whats the matter?’, queried Mr. Mishra approaching his bench. Nine year old Deepak nodded his head, implying nothing, head still bent down. Mishraji came nearby, placed his forefinger under Deepak’s chin, lifted it and began examining his face. There was a red bump near his eye, indicating dried blood. ‘How did this happen?’, he asked further. ‘I fell down yesterday while playing.’, he replied. Pride and self-respect intervened, making him swallow the truth before the entire class. Mishraji looked at him thoughtfully for brief seconds and headed back without saying anything to resume his lecture.
That evening while he was finishing his homework, he could suddenly hear heated discussions outside his chawl room. He came near the window to check and found Masterji arguing with his father.
‘Nandu, how could you hurt the poor boy in your drunken state?’
‘That bastard…I beat the shit out of him…he wanted money for school fees while here I am urging him to start polishing shoes outside of the railway platform. He has no sense to help his father when I am really in need of his support…when will he understand his father’s problems?…after I die?’…growled his father, still inebriated. Masterji, placing his palm on his forehead, nodded his head disapprovingly. It was no use talking to him.
He then noticed Deepak peeping out of the window and went inside. Draping an arm around the boy’s back, he made him sit beside him. ‘Deepak, will you now tell me truthfully, how did you pay your school fees?’
‘Masterji, I had saved the money I earned out of watering plants across the bungalows and cleaning the cars. However, baba wanted the money and I did not give him. So he got angry.’, he replied looking despondent. ‘Chutki’s baba too used to beat her and now she accompanies her Aai (mother) to wash vessels and clean houses. They are planning to marry her off to Kalra, the cobbler who lives in another slum, far older than her in age. Ten year old Chutki wants to study but who would listen to her? Her baba keeps shouting at her that it’s a waste of time and money, especially because she is a girl. Her Aai fears her baba and does not say anything. They always look sad.’, he continued with many such stories. There was Jaya who spent his whole day picking rags with his foster father, Rama. Seven year old Jaya was found abandoned as a new born infant near the city waste disposal area and was picked up too by Rama the rag-picker. Jaya, bound by obligation, had no choice but to follow Rama…there was the twelve year old Aslam who spent his whole day serving tea and washing dishes at a tea-stall outside the slum and many more such people. Such was the life of all these slum dwellers who lived a hand to mouth existence. Their life vested in nothing more than poverty, disease and malnourishment.
Mishraji went away thinking. He could not catch a wink of sleep that night. Deep concerns for these under-privileged children troubled him, for they had nothing except being subjects of constant abuse, neglect and depression. These were supposed to be the future of the country when their own, currently, was in the oblivion. They were not even getting the fair chance they deserved. This was clearly a call for initiative, which if, left unanswered, might spell doom for these kids. Deepak might just become another frustrated Nandu and someday, might be found lying in drunken despair on some street pavement while Chutki’s life could end up in total ruination much like many others.
Deepak`s attempt to endeavour the change, though resilient, was commendable. At least, the little boy had thought about it though it was not in the child`s ability to fight it all by himself. A change was due at this moment and when the step was already triggered by a small boy, more than anyone else, it was in his hands to forge and support the path. He would be the change agent, he decided.
Next day, he arrived into the slum with some child rights activists. They rounded up all the children, counted them and immediately dialled a leading NGO for all the necessary sponsorships and support. Gathering all the parents separately, they began the task of explaining and creating an awareness among them. It did take a herculean effort and a long time in convincing them since huge resistances followed. Some willingly agreed while others followed suit half-heartedly, unsure of whether they had any other choice. Financial barriers were addressed…school admissions were worked out…vaccinations and health check ups were arranged. The children happily went to a place called ‘school’…where they rightfully belonged.
Deepak and Mishraji smiled at each other. Gratitude outshone on one’s face while the other mirrored satisfaction. But both reflected success and happiness for themselves and for the others who benefited from their stride. It was a long-drawn path but for now, a remarkable objective was attained…if not much, at least a small and significant step taken in the void, towards betterment of the world where they both lived in.
If you come across a child that needs your support, please do not step back. At least refer it to a Child Rights Organisation (typically an NGO). One small but right step could save one life.