A heart for destitute kids
They picked up recyclable materials from the street, garbage dump, market or from trash bins. They were a group of four minor rag pickers between 7 to 10 years of age.
They meet at a point and start picking rags in the railway colony. They picked up anything which fetched them money, such as paper, cardboard, plastic, iron scrap, tin containers and bottles. Nupur, the eldest one helped the other three minors to identify the retrievable bits and pieces. She walked alongside them with a rod, tied with a piece of magnet to fish out salvageable iron bits. Their extreme poverty forced them to enter this profession to stay alive.
Arpan, a Vivekananda school student often saw them roving and collecting scraps from unhealthy plunk. Seeing them wandering all day in search of rags, slinging huge plastic sacks on their slender shoulders made his tiny heart cry out in pain. They went through a very tough time searching all over to eke out their livelihood.
He scrupulously watched their untidy and dirty clothes and careless hair, while standing on the side of the road. Very often, he saw them meet with injuries and fall sick due to toxic substances and sharp materials while they scrounged with bare hands as well as their bare feet. It is also a hard truth that no credibility is given to these deprived rag pickers who play a vital role in the waste management system, especially in urban areas.
Sometimes, Arpan broke into tears when he saw them sitting together, consuming food-waste collected from a pile of garbage. However, gradually he developed a helpful disposition towards them. Every so often, he would bring toffees for them or biscuits from his pocket money. He loved to talk to them and was eager to know of their well-being.
Thus, he became an identified face who ardently thought about them. Seeing him at a distance, they would run around shouting “Arpan da, Arpan da” and asked him if he could give them anything to eat. As soon as they got his nod, they would hop and shout with joy and accompany him to the shop. They hardly found him empty-handed while he was on his way to school. Those poor children also felt delighted to meet Arpan everyday at a fixed time.
Sometimes his diminutive head was indoctrinating them to go and attend the nearby government school where there is a provision of mid-day meal. They said, of course they went to the school for a few days, but stopped in-between because it was hard to survive with a scanty single meal for the whole day. Hence, they decided to continue to pick rags and sell those to the middlemen for their living.
Arpan observed that they didn’t get much attention from their families and they didn’t heed their parents’ advice, as they met their own expenditure. Very often, they spent their nights sleeping on pavements or in shacks because of their weak links with their families.
One day, while Arpan was on his way home, he saw three of them involved in a fight, while Nupur was trying to disperse them off by standing in-between them. The cause of the fight was in regard to a valuable find amidst a mound of rubbish which was claimed individually by all three rag pickers. While they saw Arpan coming near them, the fight was almost clogged and they approached him for a convenient solution as to who should own the find. It was probably an earnest respect paid to Arpan which he earned over a period of time of cordial closeness with them.
Occasionally, Arpan used to call them to collect some reusable used clothes and footwear which were earlier worn by him and his sister. Therefore, he informed his father Siddhant about his promise to help those destitute kids. A couple of days later when Nupur and her colleagues came up to their railway colony quarter, Siddhant greeted them with some palatable dishes along with some available support as assured by him. Seeing them leaving his home happily, Siddhant‘s heart was filled with enormous peace and tranquility. At the same time, he was equally concerned about their future too.
After a few years of empathetic association with these street children, Arpan had to move out of the city to Chandigarh for his higher studies. And thus, their everyday flocking with Arpan came to an end.
By the time the older among the three boys grew up enough to ride a tricycle, he started collecting waste as an itinerant buyer directly from households, shops and offices. Though he started it independently, his relation with the other three guys was not over yet.
As they grew up, their behavior as well as their approach to see themselves started changing. They began to chew and smoke tobacco along with consuming country liquor with many other colleagues of the same community without getting interdicted by anyone.
One evening, teenaged Nupur walked up alone to Siddhant’s home with shaky legs under the influence of liquor in search of Arpan da. Siddhant was astonished to see her in that sleazy condition. Although she was boozed up, yet she maintained her prudence while enquiring about Arpan.
When she found out that Arpan stays far away from them, she said, “Okay uncle, please convey our good wishes to him and also tell him that we were remembering him.” Concurrently, she mumbled to herself, “Lest Arpan da would have been here today.”
Before Siddhant could say anything, she walked out wobbling all the way. Siddhant stood still for a couple of minutes looking at her until she was swallowed up by the dark.
That evening, Siddhant found himself in an awkward and helpless state of mind which banged him with many unanswered questions. There are thousands of Nupurs all over who are exposed to addiction, physical abuse, eve teasing and exploitation by outsiders. Teenage girls are the most insecure amongst the street children while they are in search for their basic needs like food and shelter.
Thereafter, she was not traceable for almost a year. One fine morning, suddenly she appeared at Siddhant’s home with her sparkling bridal silk sari accompanied by a smart young man. Siddhant was surprised to see her smiling face after a long span of audio-visual separation between them. This time too, before he opened his mouth to speak, she and her just married bridegroom touched his feet and asked for his blessings. Siddhant invited them in and blessed them for their long union of conjugal life and offered them some cash as a token of love. Then they said goodbye with a heart full of happiness and left holding each other’s hands firmly to start a beautiful nuptial life.
(The author is a freelance writer and presently works at the Indian Audit & Accounts Department in Guwahati)