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We’re blind to the lives of the less fortunate, who are all around us. Here is a peek into their lives, their fears, and their bravery.
I always saw him at the red light – tiny little thing, wrapped in tattered clothes, his smeared face, his not-so-white teeth, around 6 or 7 years old. Something about him was different. At every red light his mother would nudge him to go reach out to the flashy cars… “make a sad face, get some tears” I had heard her saying once.
He looked at her and got up reluctantly. Then, he came and stood silently by my car, peeping in. The signal was not working that day, and it took a little longer for the car to move on. Cars were honking, trying to cut lanes, people were shouting at each other – it was total chaos. That was when I noticed him. I looked at him. He looked straight back at me, right into my eyes. I thought – How can parents make their kids beg? as if reading my thoughts… he did not spread his hands to beg.
I never give money to kids, but for some strange reason, before I could realise it, I was reaching out for my purse. The kid looked at me and retraced his steps. He looked at me from a distance. I called him, and handed him a packet of biscuits along with a one rupee coin. He quietly took the biscuits and left the coin. In a low whisper, he said “Thank you…didi jee”.
He ran away to his mother and saw that she was not so happy about his earnings. She snatched the biscuits and kept it under her rug, and pushed him away for another round. His tiny eyes now sad, looked at me and then he disappeared, in the crowd of cars.
I moved on, and soon I was engrossed in my daily tasks, forgetting almost everything about the boy.
The next day, when I was preparing to leave for office, I was reminded of this boy. I fished out another packet of biscuits. I found myself calculating the time I would need to spot him and hand over the packet to him. What if I don’t see him? What if he does not see my car? Will he come to me ? I may not be able to hand over the packet to him as this red light was for a short time.
What if I don’t see him? What if he does not see my car? Will he come to me ?
Just as I approached the red light again, I saw him from a distance. For the first time I was praying for the light not to be green. As if god answered my prayers, I saw him. He came running straight to my car. I looked at him, smiled, and said “ good morning “ while handing the biscuits to him. I could not wait to see his mother’s reaction but could recall her frown. I looked in the mirror of my car and saw him waving at me.
Every day, I made sure I carried something with me, and I started looking for more exciting options over biscuits. The joy I would get on seeing him smile was priceless. He would now come straight to my car, with a big smile on his face and say “good morning didi”. He would smile back after taking his daily treat, and say thank you. I never saw him with anybody else but his mother, who lived on the pavement. And I never saw him in the evenings.
I often wondered how he braves the heat, or rain – what would he do when it would be cold. My heart ached as I imagined him sleeping on the road in the cold, or getting wet the whole night.
The strange attraction towards him grew stronger everyday. I started leaving a little early and would stop my car a little before the red light, so that I could speak to him. Now I knew his name, he was called Pappu. He had no father, and he stayed with his sister and mother under the lamppost. His house was a blue plastic, with two mattresses and one blanket. He had some broken toys which he had picked up from garbage piles.
His house was a blue plastic, with two mattresses and one blanket. He had some broken toys which he had picked up from garbage piles.
“Do you like what I get you to eat?” I asked once. He nodded shyly, and whispered “My sister likes it more. I eat only one, and keep the rest for her so that she can eat when ever she gets hungry. She is small and needs more food, my mother cannot get her milk.”
“Can I meet your sister?”
He was suddenly scared, “My mother will not like it. She does not like it when anybody tries to come near my sister. I will get her tomorrow morning when I come to meet you,” he shouted, running away.
The next day he came with her, “Her name is Payal,” he grinned. I could feel a sense of pride in his voice, “ isn’t she beautiful?”
She was plump, and much cleaner. She had big eyes, and she looked at me and smiled. She was very attractive. I wanted to lift her in my arms, but never did. She might have been just around two years old. Suddenly, I saw a woman running towards us – she looked scared, flustered and almost in tears. She slapped Pappu. “Why did you get her out? I told you to stay away from her!”
I was shocked. Before I could react, Pappu ran away with tears bursting from his eyes, “I hate you! I will not come back!” I stood there as if glued, as the woman lifted the girl and walked away.
I could barely sleep the night. What if he actually meant it? What if he ran away somewhere?
I could barely sleep the night. What if he actually meant it? What if he ran away somewhere? I looked at the clock, it was around ten. I decided to drive up to the red light. As I approached the red light, I realised how quiet the road was. I saw him under the lamppost, with a book in his hand – I was shocked. I parked the car and moved towards him, he looked equally shocked to see me “didi ?”
“What are you doing here this late?” I asked. “You know how to read?” the surprise in my voice was evident. “No didi, I try to, but can’t read that well. I sometimes go to that school where they teach kids like me, so I can read little”
“Where is your mother?’ I asked. With his eyes lowered, he fumbled.“ Where is your sister?are they fine ?why are you here? why are you not sleeping?” I questioned. He pulled the blanket wrapped around him and I saw Payal sleeping peacefully in his arms. He kissed her forehead.
“Are you angry because your mother slapped you in the morning?” “ No didi, Amma does that sometimes,” said he, trying to justify her action. “You see, she has a lot of tension,” then he further lowered his voice, almost a whisper, “ because Payal is so beautiful. She is always scared for her, she keeps her hidden from all. Somebody may take her and spoil her like they spoiled my mother.”
Then he said with a loud voice, “ I will grow big and protect her from all. I’ll protect my mother too, from all these dirty men who come to her with their trucks in the night. I am the man of the house but I am small right now, I cannot fight them.”
“They come and they give amma some money, amma is saving them all so that one day, we can have a home and we can send Payal to school.”
“Should I show you some thing? he took me to a place where his bed was, and pulled the mattress. I saw all the biscuits hidden there. I am saving these for Payal, so that when she is hungry, she has food, and she never has to go in front of those dirty men to beg.”
I turned away to hide my tears, as I did not want this brave boy to see me. I looked back to see him, and he was fondly kissing Payal’s head. He looked at me and smiled, covering Payal with a blanket.
I dragged my self to the car, tears streaming down my eyes, my throat choked. As I sat there , trying to absorb all that I saw and heard, I realised I had a new reason to go through that road every day – I had one more friend now. Her name was Payal.
Pic credit: theparadigmshifter (Used under a CC license)
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