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For this narrative, I am trying a little trick that I picked from one of Jeffrey archer’s short stories.
I will try and narrate a day in two different ways, how the things would have been different were one thing or the other turned out differently.
Janu didn’t want to wake up from his sleep. It wasn’t that he was feeling sleepy or anything. How could one with four others lying on a single cot in the hot and humid climate of Delhi, with nothing but the sky as a cover over their heads.
No. he did not want to wake up because of the tedious day which he knew was lying ahead of him. All he wanted to do was to keep on lying on the cot and not having to beg on the streets for once. But if that is going to fill his belly, then begging he would have to do. It’s not like he had any other option. At 7 years of age, there aren’t many employment opportunities for him. Well come to that, post recession not many opportunities for anyone. And having been separated from his family since that unfortunate incident 2 years ago hasn’t exactly turned the things in his favor either. How he longed for the day when he would be back with his family, or at least free of all the troubles and be able to have a normal life.
The other children in Janu’s group had similar background as him. All separated from their families at different ages, and for different durations. With parents who half of the time couldn’t care if one of their litter was lost or at the other times didn’t have necessary resources to search for their child. One thing was common in all of them. None of them, in their wildest dreams, could ever imagine getting back together with their family. Such was the plight of their being, having lost all hopes of ever reconciling with their brethren.
Today, the bhaiyya managing his group of 10 children came early to the shelter, if you can call two cots under the New Delhi station bridge a shelter. Not that he used to come daily, anyways. Bhaiyya ji generally did not come that early to the shelter. He used to come to the shelter on a weekly or a fortnightly basis to collect his share of the “collections”. Even when he used to come, it would be in the evening and in time for his “Get Togethers”.
So when Bhaiyya ji came to the shelter that morning, everybody was a bit surprised but so much used to him that they didn’t expect a lot different than the usual. But little did Janu know that things were about to change for him.
Bhaiyya ji announced that there was to be a rally at India Gate and that he needed a couple of children to take with him for begging and some low level pick pocketing if need be. This would also be a treat for the selected kids as it would mean a higher collection, equaling higher personal share as well as chance to scrounge on a whole lot of leftovers of the various kinds.
Janu was the first to think of volunteering and for the first time, felt that being young of age helped him somewhere as people were still bound to give him alms as compared to other grown up kids.
Now the two ways to proceed forward in this story are Gates of Hell and Heavenly Bliss, in that order.
Gates of Hell
Janu was so sure that Bhaiyya ji would pick him from the crowd. Bhaiyya ji, on the other hand, had different thoughts. He picked up two teenage kids who, due to malnourishment, looked younger than their age.
“I too would like to go” piped up Janu before he could stop himself, not that he really wanted to stop anyways. He was sick of being in this shelter or the New Delhi Station. Sick of all the sweat and abuses from people hurrying to their destination. He wanted a respite for a day. This, however, did not go down well with either Bhaiyya ji or his fellow mates, who looked as if they could kill him.
“So we have an outspoken one amongst us” chided Bhaiyya ji. “Perhaps some other time, but not today. Meanwhile I hope that you all can teach him a manner or two about addressing elders or you all would have had it.”
Moments after he left, all the rest of the kids gathered around Janu and began to beat him blue and black for bringing them so close to facing the wrath of Bhaiyya ji. Once done, everybody left him to nurse to his injuries and went off for breakfast. Every movement was a pain for him and he was not able to see from an eye. Not willing to take a chance of standing up and then falling down, Janu decided to keep on lying down till his body got partially used to the aches.
When, finally, he felt like being able to move, he went to to the eating area only to find that no breakfast was left for him by the others. Cursing his luck, he set towards his begging spot lest someone should take that too away from him.
Fortunately, or not so much, such was not the case and his spot near the red light was available for him. And so he began his day of begging the young and old, women and men, people in big cars and in small cars for whatever amount of alms. This being Monday was a normal day, unlike Saturday when he would be expected to wear black costume and carry a small pail with some oil in it. Or on Tuesday with Saffron attire and a plate with Lord Hanuman photo and incense stick.
So he sat on the corner when a white van with dark mirrors stopped on the red light. He made nothing of the van or anything. Suddenly, as the light turned green, two hands shot out of the van and pulled him inside. Before anyone around had any chance to react to the sudden development, the van was gone taking Janu with him; never to be seen in that area ever again.
A week later, an unidentified dead body of a boy was found dumped near old Yamuna Bridge. The boy was approximated to be around 7 – 8 years of age and had multiple bruises on his body with his rectum torn open, suggesting gross sexual acts committed to the boy.
And to think, it was the thought that some other day might be luckier for him; which used to keep him going.
Just as he had hoped, Bhaiyya ji picked the two youngest kids in the group, which of course included Janu. He felt the happiest that he has been in days.
Hopping in the back of a van with Bhaiyya ji, Janu and Kartik began to count their blessings and wonder what they would do with whatever extra money they are left with in the evening and what all would they see at India Gate. They had never had the chance to be away from their shelter or Station.
As it happened, the rally at India gate turned out to be a baba teaching his followers the best techniques to exercise in the ancient Hindu manner and how to cleanse the body of all that acts as a contaminant. While baba was not even the main event for Janu, it was the horde of people milling around to get a good look at baba, so that they can tell their friends that they met The Baba, without actually having to exercise. Even the weather was helping them out with the usual scorching sun replaced with slightly cloudy skies and fair wind blowing across the place. That alone made being out in the open more bearable than he could have hoped for.
With so many people around baba and his entourage, not to mention all the families out there, Janu soon realized more returns than he had ever been able to. To add to the bonus, there were several vendors around offering a wide variety of snacking options to families. It was more than a feast for Janu and Kartik as a lot of families were buying a lot of stuff but not being able to consume all of it, would pass them on to the loiterers. Once, he was even able to convince a memsahib to get him a packet of those fancy chips that are shown on the TV. An aunty also gave him a small car that her toddler was refusing to play with. The highlight of the day, however, for Janu was when he stumbled across a 5 rupees coin lying on the lawn. He decided to keep that a secret for himself and not having to share it with Bhaiyya ji. What a wonderful day this has turned out to be! He got to have loads of collections, food different from the regular daal roti and a return gift of a 5 rupee coin.
All those thoughts about a lucky day, this, he thought, must be it!