Ramu stood beside his blue trolley which he called ‘chaat’ stall. He often placed it in front of parked cars in the ‘No Parking’ area annoying the intruders, as they honked vehemently for more space. Oblivious in such bedlam he hummed bhojpuri tunes in soliloquy. His customers came in all shapes and sizes- the poor child laborer to fill his vacuum, the rich out for their austere drives and the giggling couples celebrating new found romance. Ramu welcomed all with smile and served them all in similar platters, irrespective of their status or status quo. The platters were all made of folded papers, papers of varieties from magazine covers to newspapers to company catalogues and inadvertently he even popped out quondam exam answer sheets and question papers from time to time. But the irony was that they all meant the same to him- rip, serve and throw away. Raju his younger son often accompanied him and sat on the stool nearby, dad didn’t mind, just in case more patrons stepped in, sonny boy might be of help; after all this was where his future lay and faster he picks up the traits better it augured for him. Usually the craving for bhelpuri, panipuri and chaat remained limited, thus Raju could spend his day doing what he liked most- flying ‘paper’ planes and mirthfully anticipating them to touch the clouds, which they never did. He wished the planes had real wings and sometimes even fantasized the same for him, but wings he was told were bonafide properties of the privileged classes. The paper darts often swung into the nearby playground, where cherubs of pompous begetters picked them up, they found them majestic creations with multiple usage- one could read out ‘A for apple’ and then blow the same alfresco. Yet the inventor of this peculiar gizmo was no mechanical genius, nor was there any chance of this happening in distant future. The fact that Raju dropped out of school while still in primary class, never bothered his parents. More so because, the only school they could afford had no teaching staff and so classes were never conducted. Ramu grew up in the same way and still could feed 5 bellies a roti each, so what’s the fuss about literacy?
Though the characters here are all imaginary, yet their existence is omnipresent in our society. The kitty parties shed glycerin tears for child laborers and from behind the curtains, surfaces a kid with a tray full of chocolate chips and a teapot (keeping in mind alcohol abstainers). Similarly while Mantriji goes haranguing about child literacy schemes, the likes of Chhotus and Rajus queue up backstage for after-cleaning. There have been several debates over revamping educational structure. Different schemes like introducing mid-day meals in an attempt to lure the poor kids have flattered to deceive, the lackadaisical attitude of the impoverished seems an enigma to the government. While, mid day meal can stuff starved bellies for the time being, it does not satisfy the necessities of the whole household in the longer run. When a rich kid struts around in fancy tricycles, the tiny shoulders of the poorer bears the burden of cement sacks, when the former cheers for their fav IPL franchisee sitting in comfy couches, BPL quota is all the latter has to savor and treasure. Back home, we ideate our domestic helps as domesticated animals; an imaginary barter system exists, tantamount to the one between cow and man, where you feed the cow to extract milk. We never encourage them to think beyond our confined barricades lest they too start dreaming of greener pastures.
The stigma is rather a heritage, which comes down from generations- a servant’s son/ daughter should grow as a servant, a rickshaw-puller’s son should follow suit and the tale continues. While education for all is the motto of UNESCO, we forget the underlying fact that- ‘all’ covers adult as well as child education, whether you are 8 or 80 education is your birth right. The root to illiteracy resides in the attitude of adults and thus instead of going from bottom to top, here some planning has to be done widdershins, turning the hour clock upside down. Thus, the need to educate the parents is as much important as it is to educate the kids.
“No one is born a slave, they are clad later”.