Eight years back, a couple of friends of mine had sat down with a group of children in a slum in Andheri, spoken to them in what in hindsight can only be termed as ridiculous Hindi, started teaching them English over the weekends, and inadvertently started a movement called Dream India. We proceeded to engage a group of kids in an adivasi community in the Aarey milk colony region, another set in Borivali East, and one in Kandivali East. We tried our best to retain all these study centers, but of all these only the one in Borivali still remains, one of the girls we began teaching way back, messaged me yesterday on Facebook, saying she is studying well, collecting clothes from her community and donating to the poor, and also teaching younger kids in the community.
Dream India (DI) is now hugely active in Chennai with three fully operational centers, and lots of monthly events. DI Pune is always on the lookout for new opportunities and we are confident that something will pick up there soon. I moved to Bangalore eight months back and have been procrastinating trying to start off a center in this city. I had my eyes set on a couple of children in a tyre shop next to my home. I spoke to them 4 months back. They were from Bihar, worked 7 am to 9 pm on 6 days a week, and 7 am to 4 pm (Apparently a 'Half-working day') on Sundays, and were clearly not even close to the legal age of work. My initial contact with them that day was met with rude denial, the boys ticked me off showing clear disinterest in studying 'over weekends for an hour each.'
I didn't pursue it further though the picture of the boys repairing punctured tyres to trucks and cars daily assaulted my senses every time I crossed the shop which was on the main road.
Finally I went to the place today morning, sat down with one of the boys - the other was not around - who was sitting idle, staring into space, waiting for customers. The 'malik' was not at work and was expected only post noon. There was a good chance that he might not allow me to take his boy away from work, but would I be able to blackmail him by showing him that he is involving the boys in child labor and that I could easily make it a legal issue? I didn't know, but didn't need to try out. He was a tough chap, I shook his hand and it was as hard as the tyres he mended daily.There was not an inch of his body that was not dirty - his face was covered with grime, his hands are permanently black I'd like to think, and his shirt and torn trousers were different levels of black and grey.
'Have you been to school before, Raju?'
'Never stepped into one?'
'Do you want to go to school now?'
'Can I teach you something every weekend? Just an hour on Saturday and an hour on Sunday?'
Putting my hand over his shoulder, I spoke to him softly, trying to appeal to some deep portion of his heart that I hoped was longing to run away from the life that he was leading and get into something new, something fresh.
I stopped and waited. He yielded.
There was a small shack near the shop where gas cylinders were stocked. We went into the place and he gave me a dusty chair to sit down and he sat down on one of the cylinders. So I introduced myself as a married dude, with a 2 year old, and working in an NGO that works with lots of schools. I also told him of how I have, along with my friends, engaged a lot of children like him in different parts of the country. He himself hailed from a place near Patna, moved out of his house with some relatives at the age of 7, worked in Delhi for 3 years, before moving to Bangalore where he has worked in this tyre shop for the last 5 years.
'So what do you want to learn, Raju?'
'English? Computers? Anything else?'
'Do you know any English at all?'
'A, B, C, D...?'
'Tell me... A, B, C...'
'A, B, C...'
'Yes, you are doing well, continue.'
'I don't know after that.'
So we got into basic introductory sentences. 'My name is..', 'I have a brother and a sister...', 'I am 15 years old..' and so on.
Soon we were talking about likes and dislikes.
'What is the thing you like most in life? Something that you like doing or want to do?'
'I want to read, study.'
That answer spun my head around.
'But I thought you didn't want to come for these classes? I asked you 4 months back too and even today morning you weren't eager.'
'I just don't have the time.'
'Ok, what is it that you dislike most in your life? Something that you don't want to do at all?'
'Getting myself dirty like this, doing this job that I'm doing.'
I heaved a sigh of relief. Getting stuck with jobs is dangerous, but getting stuck and not realising how shitty it is, is even more dangerous. Thankfully, the boy didn't like what he was doing and was open about it.
I left him with a promise to meet him on weekends and also to talk to his malik and get his permission for some time-off.
The boy refused to take any chocolates, refused an offer for better clothes too. 'I have better clothes at home, I just don't wear them to work,' he said. He didn't play games or go out for pleasure. His half day off on Sundays are spent in washing clothes and catching some latest Hindi movie on DVD at home.
Is a long road I've put myself on again on what might well turn into Dream India'a first center in Bangalore. Suggestions and time to volunteer teaching him are always welcome...