It was a sunny Monday. The Mumbai local was teeming with all kinds of people; categorizing socio-economically. One could easily observe flashy phones, shiny bags, expensive brand labels, cheap trinkets, tied buns, worn out clothes and what not! We get all sorts on a Mumbai local.
I managed to find a so called ‘fourth seat’ after a few stations past Dadar. Being a teacher, an important part of my job is assessment. I was going through a very interesting submission of a Mathematics assignment by a student when a very young boy, around 8 years of age, came by, to sell pocket-size recipe books. At first, he just concentrated on selling his books throughout the whole compartment. Then, after the disappointing sales for that day, he chose to sit on the compartment floor. I couldn’t resist the urge to ask him, “Why aren’t you at school?”.
When he made an eye-contact with me, I asked to see some of his books and he readily came over and started describing all of them. I was surprised to see the descriptive skills of such a small boy.
I bought two books from him and saw a smile flicker on his face. I asked him, “Why aren’t you at school?”
He replied very cheerfully, ” My teacher teaches me from morning 7 am to 8 am only. He then continues in the evening around 7 pm.”
I was glad to know that he attended school. I then asked him about his family.
He said, “My family lives in Hyderabad. I live here with my uncle and some friends in a slum. I have seven sisters to take care of in Hyderabad.”
I was taken aback to hear the “take care of” phrase from such a young child. There are a lot of people in the whole world who are poor, have no basic amenities to themselves and are of every age. But nothing makes it mandatory for an eight year old boy to take the burden of a family of nine people on his shoulders.
I asked, “Why can’t your parents take care of your sisters? They are with them in Hyderabad.”
Without any emotion conjuring in his head, he plainly replied, ” My parents told me that they are very poor and they always have been. If I don’t earn, they will remain poor forever. So I came down with my uncle to Mumbai and started selling books on road and in trains. I make 30-40 rupees a day and send most of the money to my parents so my sisters can live a better life than them. My uncle takes care of my food and education.”
I was dumbfounded. One can’t imagine the amount of practicality this kid had. I didn’t know what to talk with him further.
He started observing the pages in my hands and then fixed his eyes on the red pen in my hand.
His eyes lit up when he spoke, “You are a teacher! I want to be a teacher someday too!”
I gave him an extra 10 rupees and asked him to treat himself with a chocolate bar. And this wonderful child reacted in the most unexpected way.
He said, “Thank you for the money. I will go to Masjid (Mosque) today and feed a beggar with this money. I will make a dua (prayer) for you and your family.”
Maybe it is his teacher, who is keeping him this strong. Maybe he is the one who has been feeding optimist thoughts to this little soldier’s brain.
I don’t even know his name but I do know what he has been facing. I see it happening to a lot of kids, everyday. Deprived of basic amenities like food and education, these kids resort to cheap paying jobs and try to fulfill their daily needs. Something, a lot of adults cannot accomplish.
The train touched Andheri station and the boy got down.
What never came off my mind was his simplicity and understanding of life and its demands. At such a tender age, he faced life at its worst and still didn’t have the greed of a small chocolate bar. He still believed in God. He made me believe in myself. He made me hope for the things which I dream of. He inspired me, in a span of ten minutes, for the rest of my life.