Hello, my name is Raj. I am 12 years old.
I live in Mumbai city, with my Aai, Baba and two younger sisters.
My Baba owns a tea stall and Aai works as a maid in a lot of big, beautiful homes. We live in a small room, in a big slum called Dharavi. But last year, Baba managed to buy us an old TV that his friend left behind when he moved away and my sisters and I watch cartoons every evening before our parents return home.
My two sisters go to school sometimes, but they mostly spend their time playing with other children in the slum we live in. It’s not my parents’ fault, our local school has only one teacher, who often falls sick and forgets to take classes.
I attended school till I was 10 years old. I had to travel by train, which was very scary at first, but then Baba taught me some tricks to make sure that I would soon be able to travel safely, by myself. I would become very tired with all the travelling, but I loved school. We learnt so many new things that my Aai and Baba did not know, I got to play with other children and the teachers made sure that we did our homework and studied hard. I hoped that someday I too could become a teacher and help small children like my two sisters to become smart and intelligent, just like Asha Ma’am and Rohit Sir were helping me now.
Then one day, suddenly my entire life changed. While returning home from school, my best friend Atul was killed after he was pushed off a crowded train. That day, I lost my closest friend and my right to education. Baba decided that since attending school was so dangerous, perhaps I should start helping him at his tea stall instead. He hopes that I will gain some work experience and someday open up a business of my own.
Now my day starts at 6am. I help Baba serve customers chai till the morning rush slips away, following which I walk over to the nearby leather factory, where Baba’s friend has got me a job as an errand boy. Working in the factory is fun, I get to see how the fancy bags and shoes that are used in the homes Aai cleans, are made. Sometimes, my throat and stomach hurt at the end of the day, but a few workers at the factory once complained of the same problem and were fired. Now I wouldn’t dare do that, how else will I get a job in the factory when I grow older?
In the evenings, Baba sends me across our neighbourhood to sell chai to the various shops and stores that are open. This is my favourite part of the day. I learn the most through observing other people at work, the hustle and bustle of the city excites me. In my head, I imagine where these busy people might be going to and secretly wish that I too could travel to these fasc inating places. Sometimes I see a yellow school bus, filled with children shouting and playing with each other. This makes me sad and I begin to miss the games and activities we played with each other in school.
I love to learn new things and observe everything happening around me. After all, this seems the closest way through which I can never stop learning. I enjoy listening to the entertaining conversations Baba’s customers have with each other about their lives. The other day, I heard one man tell his friend that our Prime Minister was arriving in Mumbai to start a new project. Perhaps I could meet him and ask if he would help in building schools close to my home so I could start studying again. I am sure he will agree with me, after all, Asha Ma’am would always say that, “India is a democracy, the government is of the people, for the people and by the people.”
So my life isn’t all that bad. I’m still learning new things everyday and helping my parents earn more money so that we can shift to a nicer home soon. Hopefully, then I will be able to find a school close enough to attend, like other children my age. I never say no to Baba, sometimes I wish he and Aai would give our education more importance.
Who knows? I might still become like Asha Ma’am and ensure that other children like me, who love studying, will not be denied the opportunity to educate myself.
Who knows? Hopefully my sisters won’t have to suffer like I did.
Who knows? Someday Baba will realize that it is more practical to allow his children to study and access better job opportunities.
– Monica Moses
CRY Intern, Mumbai
(This is a fictional story that is a reality for many children in our country. Monica interned with CRY and was inspired to put down her thoughts as she learnt to look at life anew through the lens of a child. She is currently a student of St. Xavier’s College)