Hi, I am Bindu.
It’s funny how my parents named me Bindu because I am a boy and boys are supposed to be named Rajkumar or Dheeraj, or Rahul, not Bindu. But I guess they couldn’t think of a better name. Or probably, they didn’t have enough time to worry about names. They spent most of their time building that big bridge over the busy road. That was where I was born: right under that bridge. When I was younger, I had asked my mother why she and Father have to work all the time. She had replied that because we don’t have a big enough place to stay and enough money to eat. I’d thought to myself that this Mumbai city is so big but still not big enough for 5 of us to stay comfortably, even after working day and night building that bridge. Our house was one room, but we had heard that there were houses with as many as 2 rooms! I had never been to a house like that. One day, I accompanied my father to work where I saw a group of children dressed up similarly, going somewhere. They carried something on their shoulders, and they looked so happy. They talked and laughed with each other. I asked my father about where they were going, my father said, they were going to school. I had no idea what ‘school’ was. My father said, it’s a place they teach to read and write but it wasn’t something that I should bother myself about. He handed me a small digging bar and asked me to bring in it some sand to him.
But I had liked the idea of learning to read and write. I gave the digging bar back to him and said that I too wanted to go to school. He didn’t reply and instead continued digging. At the end of the day, I decided that I won’t be going home until my father agrees to send me to school. I’d thought he’d give in and say yes, but instead he got angry, picked me roughly, almost dragged me and gave me a sound beating until he got tired. Then he went out of the house and disappeared for several hours. I never understood where he went every day, but whenever he returned, he would always be in a bad mood. He would beat my mother with utensils and call her names. I hated him for beating my mother so, and I hated him more for calling her names. My mother used to cook food for us in a small gas stove which was next to where me and my sisters slept. She cooked wonderful food and everyday, I relished the boiled rice with salt made by her. Sometimes, whenever she felt like, she would bring us vadapau. I love vadapau. My mother had stopped working under the bridge and now, used to clean other people’s houses, because my mother liked
In our entire row of houses, there was one boy who went to school. I asked him what it was like going to school. He explained to me that apart from the usual reading and writing, the kids in school also have to pray every day and also, take beatings from the teachers. The teachers are too strict, they give something called ‘homework’ to them, which leaves the kids no time to play. The boy really hated the school, but I loved listening to it all. I was now more eager to learn to read and write. I decided that I would go to school, no matter what. I ran home and announced my decision to my sisters. My sisters shushed me, saying that going to school needs money and we don’t have the money. I asked where exactly I can get the money from. My sister said that I will have to work day and night like our parents, build bridges and buildings, and only then I will be able to afford something like a school. I said that mother and father work every day then why we can’t go to school. My sisters told me that I won’t understand and went back to cleaning the utensils.
But my hopes were watered when my mother came home. She had got her salary and had brought gifts for us. Two dolls for my sisters and one small blackboard for me. I was delirious with joy!! She promised me that once she saves more money, she will send me to school. I hadn’t even told my mother about my dream of going to school, how had she come to know, I had no idea. It was like my dream was coming true. I ran out and showed my blackboard to everyone and told them about how I am going to go to a school soon. I could feel the envy in my friends who also, like me, had never gone to school. But I promised them that I after I go to school, and become a big, rich man, I would send them all to school as well. I also agreed to let them write on my blackboard once a day. They were happy and satisfied then. I returned home to find that my father had arrived. I showed him the blackboard and told him excitedly about mother’s promise to send me to school. Everyone suddenly went silent, including my mother who started stirring rice even faster. That remained for some time and then my father got up and left as usual. At midnight, I was frantically awakened by my sisters. I was in a sleepy daze and asked them what had happened. My sisters said that my mother had got burnt. I looked around to see my father sitting nervously in a corner. I went out with my sisters and saw a crowd of people gathered around something black and red and as we went closer, we realised that the black and red bundle was my mother. I never saw my mother again, and some people took my father away. I don’t know where. I don’t understand why my parents were taken away from us when we needed them the most.
Our neighbours told us that they have told a home for children like us and they will come to take us anytime. Then we will have good food and good bed to sleep in. We waited for 3 days. No one came. On the 3rd day, my youngest sister fainted. I and my other sister tried to beg for a handful of rice from the neighbours and they obliged. We fed her the entire handful since we thought she needed it the most and we remained hungry. The next day, my sister suggested that we sell something to get a few more handfuls of rice, she too was very hungry. There was nothing in the house worth selling, except my small blackboard. I sold the blackboard to a shop-keeper outside the train station in exchange of 1 vadapau. I loitered around the station for a while, looking for something more to eat. There were so many people. No one even cared that I was sitting there hungry, all they did was talk and eat. Surprisingly, there were some boys and girls of my age, who begged from those people, and ate food. I too joined them. In one hour, I made a whopping 10 rupees and bought 2 more vadapaus for my sisters. I was so happy I will finally get to eat. We hadn’t eaten properly after my mother disappeared in that bundle of black and red. I and my sisters ate heartily. But only the first day seemed profitable. For the next week, I managed to make only 5 rupees per day.
Sometimes, I would buy food for my sisters and I would sleep hungry, while thinking of my mother, which made it somehow bearable. Once I reached the station very early in the morning, there were not many passengers. I started begging but without luck. I sat down, tired and hungry. I looked towards the station to see if huge crowds come out and noticed a shop-keeper of a newspaper stand staring at me. I first got scared that he might take my money from me, but then I realised I had barely made 2 rupees till then. He didn’t stop looking at me, and then suddenly, he called me. ‘Oye, chhotu..idhar aa’ (Hey little boy..come here!) I wasn’t sure why he was calling me, so I hid my 2 rupees behind a broken tile on the pavement and went to him. He asked me if I would sell his newspapers on the local trains. I didn’t know what the newspaper business was about. He said that he will pay me 50rupees in a day and would pay more if I sell more than 50 copies. I was overjoyed. I agreed immediately. He asked my age. I said I was big enough, 6 years old. He smiled kindly and handed me a bundle of newspapers. I went to the platform to wait for the next train. The train arrived and along with it, brought hope for am better future, hope to be able to feed my sisters every day, hope to be able to go to school someday - to be
able to read and write.