He was a ragpicker. He was young, very young, probably a kid of 8-9. His face was full of innocence and enthusiasm. He wore a dirty cream coloured tattered t-shirt and half pants of black colour. I could see the playfulness in his acts. He was trying to make rag picking a fun activity which seemed unusual for me.
I lived in Satna, a small town in Madhya Pradesh. My father was a teacher in Kendriya Vidyalaya and we lived inside the school campus, in teacher’s quarters. The school campus was away from the main town, close to a small village.
I had noticed him outside my school campus a day before at around the same time as that day when I was going to tuitions. He was not alone. There were few others as well. Some younger, some older. But he looked most enthusiastic of all. I could see and tell that he was mischievous for he was laughing out loud and was all in jolly mood. It seemed that others enjoyed his presence. Since I had to go to tuitions, I rushed without paying detailed look. I saw him the following day and the next as well.
I was studying in class XII then and since board exams were coming closer, I was more involved into finishing up my syllabus. Apart from thoughts of studying and preparations and worry of exams, rarely did a thought cross my mind. But that night I felt restless and it was not just because of the usual pressure that was ongoing. I could tell that for sure as that night when my mother served me dinner, I couldn’t resist thinking of him. I also thought of him when I went to bed.
Next day there was no sight of him or his companions. I didn’t pay lot of attention probably because of exams pressure. I didn’t see him for a few days after that and he went out of my mind. Life continued in usual way and I was engrossed in preparation. Maths was giving me a hard time and there was a notion that geniuses are those who understood integral calculus. To soothe my mind sometimes, I used to curse those who sat at the high levels in Education ministry or whosoever designed the CBSE course for XII class. To me, it seemed like a challenge of climbing Mount Everest (or PEAK X which would have been 4000 metres higher than Everest, if there existed a PEAK X).
That day is still vibrant and a part of the memory is fresh in my mind. There was supposed to be a test the following day at the tuitions. I had put on the new shirt my mother had bought some days ago for me and was happy because of that. Yes, wearing a new piece of cloth makes me happy. So, anyhow, to reach early to my tuitions to ask a lot of doubts, I hastened. After crossing the main gate of the school premises, I saw HIM there, alone, having the same cloths on. It would not have been more than ten days when I had seen him last. He looked the same and did his chore with the same energy. Something inside me urged to go and speak to him. What, why and how were secondary to me, I just felt like speaking to him. So having parked my bicycle near the gate, I started walking towards him. At first, he didn’t see me and when he did later, he seemed a little confused. He probably got scared and scurried in the opposite direction. I called him, he stopped, turned and gave a hesitatingly look.
Him- Kya hai ? ( what is it) [reluctantly]
Me- Arre suno, kya naam hai ? ( Listen, what is your name?)
Me- tum yaha aur logon ke saath aate the na (You used to come with others as well, isn’t it?)
Him- Haan, aaj wo log nai aaye. (yes, they didn’t come today)
Me- Tum yaha roz nai aate ? (Don’t you come here daily)
Him- Nai, aata hu, kabhi kabhar dusre jagah me bhi milta hai shishi ya bottles, waha chale jaate hain (I come here and I also go to other places where I get rags to pick) [with a smile on his face now]
Me- acha Raju, ye sab cheezein kaha bechte ho, kitne paise mil jaate hain ( Raju, where do you sell these and how much money you make out of it)
Him- [ Said some name of a place where he sells and some small amount, I cant recollect after all these years]
Me- Ghar me kaun kaun hai, papa mumi hain?? ( Who are there in the family, your mother, father??)
Him- Papa bimar hain, ek choti behan hai aur maa…[pauses]… kabhi kabhar idhar udhar kaam karti hai. (father is ill, I have a younger sister and mother…[pauses]… does some work here and there when she gets a chance)
Me- acha wo log kaun hain jo tumhare saath aate the (who are those who used to come with you)
Him- accha wo [smiling], wo meri basti me hi rehte hain, hum sab ek saath ghumte hain. (ohh them [smiling], they live near my home only, we wander in search of rags together usually)
At this point he was smiling and still I could see the spark of innocence and mischievousness in his eyes, I felt elevated by his smile and I asked him…
Me- School jaane ka mann karta hai ? (Do you feel like going to school?)
Him- . . . pauses, tries to speak and pauses again, his smile fades away instantly, he tries to fake the same smile on his face, he looks away and then gasps, makes eye contact with me and then meekly opens his mouth to say and tears rolls down his cheeks, he looks down, and sobs….
he was unable to speak… not even a mere yes or no…
I was dumbstruck. My question had made his smile vanish. I felt very small for a minute. I felt smaller than him. For a second, I felt thrashed to ground. I struggled for words to say, to console him, to make him feel better or just to make him stop crying. I could see him wiping his tears and my eyes went wet, I felt inconsolable myself…I cried… I cried with him. I hugged him and wanted to speak. But… he was silent and so was I.
On my way to tuitions that day, I was just thinking, why did I ask him that last question. Of course, he wanted to go to school. Millions like him do. But do I care if some random kid named Raju goes to school or not? Does it matter to me when he cries if I ask him such a question? Why the hell did I cry with him, or probably for him? I should just mind my own business. I struggled with emotions and conflicts in my mind. Is not it the duty of humans to help each other. Are we not called the most intelligent piece of God’s creation, so shouldn’t we be “Humans” in a real sense. Everyone works for himself and herself, for his or her dear ones, but shouldn’t we be also empathetic towards them whom we don’t call ours?
This incidence made a lasting impression on my mind and I vouched to help such kids in my own small way, in whatever possible way I can. It has been years since that incidence happened, but I can’t forget his innocence and eyes. I always wanted to share this piece of incidence and so I have written about it. Whenever, you see someone of such sort, please understand that there is a story behind it. Everyone has a story to tell. There should be someone to listen.
Let us join our hands to make this world a beautiful place to live, in whatever small possible way, try helping others, it will give you immense satisfaction which no money can buy, I can guarantee you that.
Thanks for reading.