The Rag Picker and the School Boy

It was a usual summer afternoon; Jatin was coming home from school. The sun was over the head and full of energy and heat. Hot waves of air were sweeping the ground. Jatin was exhausted and drenched with sweat. He was thirsty and felt dizzy. Suddenly he spotted a water tap in the park and ran towards it. He drank as much water as he could and sat on the bench beside to take some rest in the cool embrace of the banyan tree. When he relaxed a bit he saw a boy sitting near the bench on the ground. The boy had a lean structure and deep dark eyes. His clothes were dirty and torn at places. He was barefooted and covered in dust. Jatin canvassed the boy very curiously from top to bottom. He had a sack laying beside him whose content was not visible to Jatin. The boy seemed bone-tired and hungry. Jatin sat there for a while and after feeling a bit rejuvenated continued his journey to home.

Jatin studied in the nearby school and passed through the park every morning and afternoon on the way to the school and back. The park had become a harbor to the exhausted and thirsty Jatin and an escape from the constant sunlight. He would drink water from the tap and, sit on the bench to wear his tiredness. Sun in the summer is very cruel in a tropical country like India. It just behaves like an arrogant and angry king wandering all around in fury and causing discomfort to its subject. Only the clouds came to the rescue of the people who would contain and calm the king and provide relief. But the cloud queen was nowhere to be seen and people like Jatin had only the park where he would seek refuge. Whenever Jatin came to the park he often thought about the boy he had seen in the park that day. The rangy,pale and barefooted boy with the sack, but to his disappointment, the boy was not seen after that day.

The monotonous life of Jatin caught a break one day when he went to the park he saw the boy sitting at the same spot in the same condition. He was wearing a different shirt that day however it was equally ripped and dirty and barely covered his body. Jatin felt sympathetic for the boy and offered him a piece of candy he was eating. The boy looked at Jatin hesitantly and reluctantly. After constant persuasion by Jatin, the boy took a piece of the candy and began eating it.

Then Jatin invited him to the bench. ‘Hey come here and sit beside me’, said Jatin. The boy looked at him all nervous and ambivalent. Jatin said it again, ‘Come sit here, the ground is too hot to sit’. The boy stood up slowly and approached the bench almost crawling. He then sat at the edge of the bench. Jatin extended his hand and said, ‘Hi, I am Jatin’. The boy met the extended hand half way and returned the salutation with a shy smile and feeble voice. ‘Hello, I am Bhola’, said the boy.

This was all very strange for Bhola. Nobody had ever approached Bhola like Jatin did, neither had anybody said him to sit along with them either, not a rich kid at least. Bhola was both awestruck and confused by everything that has happened in the last hour and so.

Jatin looked at Bhola and asked, ‘ Why do you wear such dirty clothes and no slippers or shoes? Don’t your teachers scold you?’.

‘I don’t go to school’, the boy replied.

‘Why so?’, demanded Jatin, ‘Don’t you know hoe important is school’.

‘I have to work and earn money for my family’ replied Bhola innocently.

‘Don’t your father earn money for your family’ Jatin asked.

‘ My father is dead, he died after drinking poisonous spirit’ said Bhola, ‘ My amma works but it’s not enough’.

‘But what work could you do? you are just a little boy with no education and skills’

‘ I am a rag picker’, replied Bhola, somewhat hesitantly.

It was late and Jatin had to go home. His head was overflowing with questions, different kind of questions. But he could not be further late as he was already behind schedule. His mother might be worried about him he thought. He said goodbye to Bhola and promised him to meet again at the bench.

Jatin took his school bag and left for home but Bhola sat there at that very bench deep into his thoughts. He could not figure out that why was a rich kid so interested in him and why was he answering to his questions without any hesitation and unease. He could not figure out anything but he felt a bond between the two. A bond he could not put into word. What was it? Was it a beginning of a new friendship?

After that day Bhola and Jatin used to meet in the park on the bench almost every day. They used to talk about a lot of things, almost everything that came in their tiny little minds. They talked about their family and friends and much more. Bhola loved to paint. He took out some of the worn out papers from his pocket and showed them to Jatin. Jatin was impressed, they were beautiful, mostly portraits of cinema star from the posters and billboard.

The friendship of Bhola and Jatin was growing with each moment they spend with each other. They sat on the bench and shared crumbs of chocolate. They exchanged the stories of school and slum. Bhola had a lot of interesting stories for he had traveled far in the city and had seen a wide variety of people. Jatin was astonished to hear the strange stories Bhola told him. Both of them enjoyed each other’s companionship very much.

Their friendship was very unique. They had nothing in common except for their longing for each other. They were like the people of two parallel universe yet they had this strong and pious bond. The bond of friendship and love. Both forget everything all the fatigue and hardship in the company of the other. The only common thing in them was the innocence of childhood.

Bhola wanted to be an artist. On the birthday of Jatin, Bhola had gifted him a painting on a nice paper. A paper he has specially purchaed for the purpose. It was a painting of two friends holding hands on the bench in the park.The picture celebrated their friendship. Jatin was touched by the gesture. He asked Bhola when was his birthday. Bhola didn’t knew the date.

He said, ‘Once I asked my mom,she too didn’t know the date. However she said that it is sometime in the monsoon’.

Jatin decided that he will gift Bhola a painting set for his birthday. He had some money he had saver for the fair. He will buy the gift from that money. Bhola will be very happy he thought.

The following day Jatin came to the park very happy as he had the gift for Bhola. He kept waiting for quite sometime but there was no sign of Bhola. He went home a little disappointed.

Next day also there was no trace of Bhola. This went on for a week or so. Then Jatin decided to go to Bhola’s home and see if every thing is all right.

The next day little Jatin went towards the slum. He asked people the way to Bhola’s home and they gave him directions. He went there but it was just a heap of tin and wood. All structure were demolished. When he asked a elderly women for his home. She replied that they no longer had a home. The government had demolished half the slum. Many people were displaced. Bhola stood there with Drawing book and pencil in his hand and tears in his eyes looking at the remains of what was a shelter to many and adobe to his friend.




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