Dec 13, 2007

Ghost stories of reality

Children - they are said to be wild flowers. As innocent, as fresh and as full of life. But then, the innocence at times gets wrapped in gelatin paper, there is a coat of dust on it, a layer of something thats not as fresh.

"UNICEF’s estimate of 11 million street children in India in 1994 is considered to be conservative. Estimated 100,000 – 125,000 street children each in Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi, with 45,000 in Bangalore."


Walking down the raod with Mariette last week, we spotted a little girl selling books for children. And as is usual with the both of us, we started chatting her up. We sat on the cement porch outside Mocha's and started asking her about whether she goes to school, etc. We made her tell us what she studies and then talked about how she should study well so that she won't have to sell anything on the streets when she grows up.
"Woh gaadi dekhti ho? Aapke paas bhi aise gaadi ho sakti hai. Phir aap driver rakhna aur sab jagah ghoomna. Aapko yeh sab bechna nahin padega."

"Gaadi? Padhai karne se? naah."

With utter disbelief she clucks a no while we desperately continue our efforts to ingrain the importance of education ito her to some level at least. We start a conversation and ask her puzzles or tell her to recite the alphabet. We discuss her study time-table and stories of how strict or not the teacher is. Slowly her shyness evaporates and she blossoms as a talkative girl willing to show off what she has learnt. She talks about tutions and then calls her sibling who starts boasting about how he secured 99 per cent in his exams.

("We never got that" says Mariette)

He has faith in our motivation stories and believes us when we say that studying harder will make you wealthier with a proper job. He talks about how he studies hard interspersed with anecdotes by his sister of him getting beaten up at school for a prank.

But as the stories lengthen, we realise there is probably a large part of what they are saying that is entirely fictional. They are actually telling us stories in the true sense maybe. They like it. They like the attention. We do not know and cannot even figure out how much of that is actually a fact. Bth of us wonder at the 'innocence' before us - the innocence that kids are said to have and whether is this a part of it. Or does all this smart feigning mean they have lost it? Are these tales just like the fairytales other children like to hear and tell - of ghosts and monsters and tiny elves. Only here, the tales are about their own lives. with the ghosts of poverty and illiteracy.

2. Yesterday, again near Marine Drive there was another small girl selling roses. I bought one from her, letting her select the best one she could see. Even that gave her so much joy! I presented the rose to Lakshi who flipped with happiness. Apparently she had wished for a rose today. There was another one asking for money. She refused to talk to me. I refused to give her money:
"Bhook lagi hai? Paisa nahin doongi, par baith. Khane ko deti hoon."
She took the food I offered her and ran away.

Walking down the street after a few hours I again encounter another girl. She talks to Lakshi and me. And keeps asking for money. She told us how she and her family lived near the maidan and were evacuated. Then they shifted to some other place and again were thrown out. And what struck me was the casual manner in which she said this tale of losing homes! She went to school, but we figured it was not regular because more than attending school, having a place to live was of prime importance. School did not matter then.

At the end, Lakshi gave her a pen, pencil, sharpener and ruler and she walked away in a gay mood.

I wondered again - the government is trying to make primary education compulsory. The country's economy is progressing at a fast rate. The fastest developing age-group is the youth batch. But with even the basic needs not met, is education even considered by children like these? Let alone economy, all they worry about is how much they sell or earn daily. And with their life spent such, are they children as we imagine - the innocent pygmies bouncing and jumping around spreading smiles?

Has their childhood faded away somewhere due to these ghosts that have enveloped their lives and imaginations? Do they even have a dream beyond this life of theirs now or have they resigned to it restricting their imagination to the world they know?

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