This is the tale of a little boy from the city of dreams. For some peculiar reasons, people always tend to have either one of the two extreme possible ideas of a metropolitan. They’ll either imagine a pos, rich family with a father who earns more than he can spend, a suave new-age mother who watches Gray’s Anatomy instead of the useless nonsense on Star Plus, a son who studies Marx and Pounds alcohol with equal gusto and a daughter who harps over fashion and and goes crazy at the mention of how cute the new singer of some band is. Maybe throw in a pet. This is just one of the images. The other is of utter poverty where people barely have a meal to eat, let alone have savings. The mother looks like one of the patients on Gray’s while the son has only empty beer bottles to collect and dispose for money. The only fashion the daughter knows is that of the mistress’s daughter whose mother was kind enough to donate some clothes. Every stray animal is their pet. Most people classify the populace of a city into either of these two categories. This is the story of a boy who falls into neither but somehow is a reflection of both.
I met Soham/Akash( he kept alternating between the two, so I assume one was a nick name or a name used by close friends or relatives). It was a July afternoon in Mumbai, and it was pouring cats and dogs. Like every quintessential Mumbaikar, I wasn’t travelling with an umbrella.As a rule of thumb, I always stuck to a wind cheater if I was travelling within 4 stations of my house, and an umbrella for everything else. Borivali was close to Malad(by Bombay standards) so I had continued with my boycott of the umbrella but it wasn’t a decision I was particularly enjoying. Simply put, getting drenched in the rain, even with a wind cheater on, and trying to hail a rickshaw and not get pissed with each one that not only ignored me, but zipped past like a bullet, spraying me with the dirty water on the road. Suddenly, the last rickshaw which had done the same stopped roughly hundred meters ahead of me. A little kid hopped off with a thela in his hand and started running away.He had a pink umbrella and was wearing shorts,brownish-khaki in colour and a faded gray t-shirt which had black horizontal strips. I assumed that he had travelled his path and I rushed into the rickshaw. Out of curiosity, I asked the rickshaw wala bhaiya about the boy. He replied that the kid had just got onto the rickshaw a minute back but on seeing me, had asked him to stop and had gotten off. As shocked and touched I was, luckily I had the sense to be courteous enough and call the boy back. After some cajoling, I convinced him to let me drop him till Borivali station, which lay on my way home. As the rickshaw started, I looked at the boy. He appeared to be a curious little inquisitive kid, with the oily, mushroom shaped hair that only poverty begets. But the most arresting detail lay in his eyes. His eyes were yellow. Not the the rich, golden, flashy one but rather a shade that neared a dull ochre. But the dull colour was compensated by the shine in his eye as he talked about himself, and his life. In couldn’t learn much about him from the brief conversation we had, but all I know is this. Akash is a eleven year old boy who studies in the fourth grade of the local BMC school. He was on his way to Dadar, one of the most chaotic and busiest areas in Mumbai to buymogra flowers for a religious ceremony that was to happen at his home. I asked him why was he travelling so far just for some flowers. The smile on his face didn’t budge an inch as he replied “Bhaiya wahan saste mil jayenge.” . I gazed at him, wondering as to when was the last time I travelled kilometres in a stinky second class train compartment to buy something that was easily available, just because it was cheaper. I quickly hid my creeping blush behind my handkerchief, feigning a sneeze and changed the topic back to his education. He told me he learns English at school, but while he told me this, his eyes continued to stare in the direction of my phone, which had my earphones plugged in. I asked him what he wants to do when he grows up, and he replied without hesitating, “use a computer”. Again, I was puzzled and on some further probing I was informed about how his school authorities had told him that only people who pass their 12th grade exam can use a computer. I resisted my urge to laugh and simultaneously, cry.