With rain pouring heavily yesterday evening, I decided to leave my two wheeler at office and take an auto back home.
Two street urchins (who looked 15-16 years old) sharing the front seat of an auto approached me.
We conversed in Hindi throughout, but is translated to English here.
Me: “Queen’s Plaza, Sushant Lok. 40 rupees.”
Street Urchin 1: “Get in. Just tell me the directions”
I get into the auto.
Me: “You look very young. Do you have a license?”
SU1: *turns back* “No.”
Me: “How old are you?”
Me: “And you?”
SU2: “Should be 15 or 16”.
Me: “Is this your dad’s vehicle?”
SU1: “Yes. He drives throughout the day. Now, he is very tired and lying at home. We take care of the auto post 8 pm”
Me: “What’s your name?”
SU1: “I’m Munna. He’s my younger brother, Akash”
Me: “You guys go to school during the day right?”
Munna: “No longer. We cannot afford it now.”
Akash takes on from there.
Akash: “Munna went to school till Class V. In Class VI, he wanted to shift to a better school. The fees they asked for two years was 15000. Our dad couldn’t afford that much. We had to stop schooling then. 4 years ago. It never really took off from there. Now we’re comfortable doing what we’re doing.”
Me: “What are you doing now?”
Akash: “Outside Gate 2 of Ardee City, we have a Tea Stall. My brother and I take care of it during the day, while our father drives the auto. In the night, our papa takes rest and we take care of the rides from 8 pm till 11-11.30 pm.”
Me: “That’s good. You’re working hard. Why don’t you think big? Why don’t you go to school now, if you can afford it?”
Munna: “Sir, to think big, you also need big money. Our mom had a heart surgery and half of my dad’s income is spent buying medicines only. Our mom can no longer work. How can our dad’s income alone take care of our studies, mom’s medication and regular expenses? We have got used to it now. There’s no way I am going back to school now”
Me: “Can you read English?”
Akash gets all excited.
Akash: “Yes, yes. A bit. See that board there? It reads ‘Gold Souk'”.
Me: “Where are you guys from? Natives of Delhi?”
Munna: “We’re from Malda district, 12 hour journey from Kolkata. We rarely get to go home. Once a year, may be”
Me: “Even I’m like you guys only. I’m from Chennai, but get to go home only once in three months”
Akash: “Oh, Chennai. We’ve never been to any place south of MP”
Me: “You like to travel?”
Munna: “Of course! There are lot of places around our home town in Jalpaiguri we’ve seen. Very good places”
My house arrives. I ask them if I can take a picture of/with them.
Akash smiles and agrees.
Munna: “Why sir? What will you do with it? You’ll send it to us? Actually, I’m feeling a bit scared. We are less than 18 and driving auto without license. What if police figure us out with that photo”
Me (smiling): “No problem. Do you know what day it is, tomorrow?”
Akash: “Our nation’s Independence Day”
Me: “Happy Independence Day in advance”
Munna: “Same to you, Sir”.