Sunday, 13 September 2009

Children of Hope

Childhood, the age of innocence and the time of laughter; is it not the right of every child to enjoy that stage of life? Apparently not and there are myriad innocent angels around the world struggling to smile, forget laughing, in their first few tender years. War, terrorism, hunger, poverty; the reasons for their sufferance are innumerable. When from amongst these less fortunate souls, there emerges a hard working yet content soldier, the world suddenly seems to be a more beautiful place.

MU, the broker, and I were taking a late night stroll by the sea when we were approached by a young lad selling chocolates. Akash, the boy, had a simple an honest pitch to us – he bought Cadbury chocolates for INR 90 apiece and sold them for INR 110. The INR 20 profit he made was to help his father repay a loan. If we bought one it would be great, but if we bought two, he swore by the Lord that he would give us a discount and if he met us again would never sell us another bar. MU bought two bars and a content Akash was on his way when MU stopped him. Given the late hour MU offered to drop him home after he was done selling the chocolates.

On the way to drop him home, MU and I started a conversation with Akash, who spoke fluent English. I was impressed and asked him if he went to school or was he self taught. He explained that he indeed attended school, and a good one at that (Don Bosco in Matunga for those familiar with Bombay). Further he informed us that at fourteen years, he is the youngest of five. His father has a small grocery shop and took a loan so that Akash’s grandmother could fulfil a vow she had taken. Now to help the family, all the children studied and worked. In Akash’s words, “I go to school, come back and help my parents, the sleep for an hour; get up and study, then play for an hour and then come here to sell the chocolates. Is it not nice – I get to study and help my parents.” A very interesting view at that young age!

Before we could reach the fishing village where he said he lived, Akash asked us to stop by a police booth and got off. He said his brother would come to get him. That struck me as weird and I remarked to MU that it was rather strange for the boy to have not taken a lift home, especially as he had mentioned that he would have taken a cab home if he found two more customers after us. MU‘s response was stirring – “whatever be the reason, he must be desperate to sell chocolates at this late hour. Don’t give it further thought.”

While I thought no more of it as we drove through the night, sitting at home, my thoughts keep going back to Akash. How does he manage such poise with all the hardship surrounding him? Where does he get the strength and stamina from? And then, was he being honest about his family or is he being exploited by a gang that uses children to make money?

I sincerely hope that he is not being exploited. And for all his composure, honesty in trade and hard work – well he is a real Indian hero. It is people like him who give this country the different touch that it has, and it is unrelenting soldiers like him who make this country run. We, the privileged, can definitely learn a lesson or two from Akash and his kin. Someday I hope that children like Akash, in India and around the world, can have a carefree and laughter filled childhood. One that they deserve.

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